Monday, July 25, 2016

Sermon on Colossians 2:6-15, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, "Baptized and Alive in Christ"

Sermon Outline
·         Passage speaks of our being joined to Christ Jesus through baptism—grace words: received Him, rooted, built up, established, taught. Passive for us on the receiving end, but describes the life that God is shaping in us: a living, active reality of faith. Walk in Him, abound in thanksgiving. New life created.
·         Rooted and built up in Him? How? How do roots grow, or is a foundation built? Overnight, or slow and steady process? Storms headed our way—trees that are deeply rooted weather a storm, buildings that are on a secure foundation weather a storm.
·         Time investment, priority, constant, lifelong attention to “sending down roots”. Cf. parable of the sower, shallow roots or no roots, plants are scorched and wither or choked out. Vs. a lifelong growth of roots, a person who is mature in faith, Ephesians 4:13–14 (ESV) 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Growing roots and being established on the firm foundation—in the Word, in worship, Bible study, devotion, prayer—rooted in Jesus
·         Thanksgiving overflows from a life that is firmly based in Christ Jesus. Transforms our outlook and counts the blessings instead of what we are lacking
·         See to it that no one takes you captive…captivity, imprisonment, slavery—no freedom. False teaching/clever philosophy/empty deceit/human traditions—man’s authority tries to overrule God’s authority. Captive to lies or “systems” that can provide no true freedom, only bondage and error. “All truth is relative”, make your own truth, follow some other god, prophet, or teaching/philosophy that is different than what was handed down to us from Christ
·         Instead we are to cling to Christ, the fullness of deity dwells in Him. Not part God, not mostly God, but the whole fullness of God dwells in Him bodily. Jesus is a flesh and blood human, and the entire divinity of God dwells in Him bodily. Where we find Jesus in His body, we find God. Maker, ruler of the universe.
·         Dwells in and with us. Fills us and makes us alive. Head and rule of all authority. Not the power structures of presidential candidates, Supreme Courts, Congress, councils, governors or mayors. People who fear the outcome of our elections, one way or another, need to constantly be reminded: Christ still is rule and head over all. Holds His position not by vote, but by being exalted by God to the highest place and all authority after His death and resurrection. Things may grow better or worse in this present life, but we are still called to follow the One Christ who is rule and head over all. God rather than men.
·         Circumcision without hands. Not in the flesh; Spiritual. Putting off the body of flesh (sinful nature must be stripped away). Repentance, putting to death the old sinful nature. Daily battle within us. How? By the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, raised through faith in the powerful working of God. Baptism is our “circumcision”—the cutting off of the sinful nature, killing and burying it with Jesus in His death, and raising the new nature. Resurrection power—in Christ Jesus, God’s powerful working. Same God who raised Jesus from the dead raises us. Daily strength for the battle, to walk in Him. Jesus is the agent for conquering the power of sin in us.
·         Came from death in sin, and flesh clinging to us, to life in Christ and forgiveness of our sins. Completely God’s work, to raise the dead. We didn’t raise ourselves.
·         Spiritual debt before God—sins and the legal demands of the law. All the record of what we had not done, and failed in the law. We were spiritually bankrupt, over our heads in debt, unable to payout. Nailed that record to the cross. Proof our sins have been paid for—debt was payable on Jesus’ death. Not a payment plan, but total release from our sin-debt. Cleared in the death of Jesus.
·         Stripped devil and his demons of spiritual power and authority. Shamed them and triumphed over them. Sin is forgiven, their weapons are useless—however they badger and crow at us, they have no power since we are in Christ Jesus. “If He is ours, we fear no powers, not of earth or sin or death” (LSB 818:2). The devil and his rulers and authorities would bring us down to death, but Christ has baptized us and raised us to life in Him. Rejoice and live in His triumph, and sing His mercies, new day by day!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. How does one become “rooted and built up” in Christ Jesus? Colossians 2:6-7; Ephesians 3:17; Romans 11:17-18. What can happen to us if we are not firmly rooted in Christ Jesus and His Word? Ephesians 4:13-14.
  2. What does it mean to be “taken captive” by philosophy or empty deceit? How do false teachings imprison? By contrast, what does Jesus do to set us free? Luke 4:18; Romans 7:6, 23; Galatians 3:23. What is our freedom? How are we to use it? Colossians 2:6; Galatians 5:13-14.
  3. What does Colossians 2:9 mean about the divinity of Jesus Christ? Jesus also fills us, and is the “head of all rule and authority.” Cf. Matthew 28:18. How does that truth comfort us in the face of a world full of leaders constantly competing for power and dominance?
  4. Colossians 2:11-13 refers to an Old Testament covenant—circumcision—and borrows that language to describe the New Testament covenant of baptism. When was circumcision typically performed on a male child? Genesis 17:12. Paul adapts the language of circumcision. What is the “circumcision made without hands” or the “circumcision of Christ?” Colossians 2:11-12.
  5. Baptism is not only a death and burial with Christ, but also what? Colossians 2:12-14; Romans 6:3-5. What is it to “walk in newness of life” with Christ Jesus?
  6. Forgiveness is God’s debt-cancellation for us. What was the reason for our indebtedness? Colossians 2:13-14; Matthew 18:21-35. Now that we have our debts cancelled, how are we to respond to others? Luke 11:4
  7. Who are the rulers and authorities that Jesus triumphed over? Colossians 3:15; Ephesians 6:10-12.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sermon on Psalm 119:57-60, 105, for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "Friends of the Law"

No sermon manuscript this week--just notes and you can go to the podbean link for the audio file of my sermon. A sermon about Psalm 119, and how is a Christian able to have a positive view of God's law? What resolves the tension in us about how we relate to God's Law?

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and is an “acrostic poem.” It’s divided into 22 stanza, of 8 lines/verses each, and there is one stanza for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (176 verses total). There are 8 key words used in the Psalm that are synonyms for the Law of God. These 8 words show up 177 times in the 176 verses, so that the Psalm “overflows” with words about God’s instruction. Read the section from our Introit, or any other section of Psalm 119. What does the author think of God’s Law?
  2. Look also at Psalm 19:7-11. What does that Psalm describe as some of the uses or benefits of God’s Law?
  3. Lutheran teaching about God’s Law ordinarily identifies 3 basic “uses” that God has for His Law: 1) a curb—to restrain sin, 2) a mirror—to accuse or “Show Our Sin” (SOS), and 3) a guide—a positive instruction in what is good and pleasing to God. Which of these uses seems to be in focus in Psalm 1, 19, or 119?
  4. A tension exists in every Christian with regard to God’s law, because of the conflict between our old sinful nature and the new spiritual nature in Christ. How does the new, regenerated person in Christ, view God’s law? Romans 7:18, 22-23. How does the old sinful nature view God’s law? Romans 7:10, 25. Speaking to the new man in Christ Jesus, why does it make sense to say that we delight in the law of God, ala Psalm 119?
  5. What joy is there to be found in obedience? 1 John 5:1-5. Choose one of the Ten Commandments, and write some notes or reflect on how there is joy to be found in obeying it. What hardships or challenges from the world will also accompany that obedience? How does Jesus embody perfect obedience, joy, and love to the Father? Psalm 1, Hebrews 12:1-2

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sermon on Luke 10;25-37, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, The Good Samaritan

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The Good Samaritan is probably one of the most recognizable stories that Jesus taught, in all the Gospels. And the parable is part of a series of questions between a Jewish lawyer and Jesus, beginning with this question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As we unfold this teaching of Jesus for us, consider also the words of St. Paul: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift, but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). This passage illuminates a fundamental flaw with the lawyer’s question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The faulty logic in the question is that you can’t do anything in order to inherit something. Like Paul says, if you are working for something, you earn your wages as pay that is rightfully due to you. Your employer is not giving you a “gift.” You earned it.
But inheritance is an entirely different matter. To receive an inheritance isn’t a wage or something a person earns or is owed for what they’ve done—but an inheritance is, strictly speaking, a gift. And a gift that is received because you have been named an heir, by the person who generously wants to give you what you did not earn. You may be a family member, or an adopted child, or a beloved friend. But your place in the inheritance is not by what you have done, but by the love and generosity of the giver. The same is true with heavenly things. “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, His faith is counted as righteousness.” God justifies those who have faith in Him. Not those who wish to justify themselves by what they believe they deserve or have earned. Notice what the lawyer was hoping to do, when you read vs. 29, “he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” He thought that he could justify himself, or find himself worthy of God’s approval and of eternal life. All he needed was the correct understanding of his duty, so he could do it.
This is all introduction to the parable, because at first glance, Jesus’ answers to the lawyer sound like Jesus is saying you can work or earn your way into eternal life. But with this introductory examination, and with further examination, you can see that Jesus was helping the man to realize how he was utterly unable to justify himself, and needed “outside help” in order to enter into eternal life.
So let’s go back to the beginning. The lawyer is trying to test Jesus, when he asks, “What must I do to eternal life.” Right away, we see his tainted motive, to catch Jesus in His words. By the way, who is the only other person, besides Pharisees, lawyers, and scribes, who puts Jesus to the test in the Gospels? Can anybody guess? The devil! And Jesus’ response to him, quoting the very law of Moses—that this young lawyer claims to uphold—He quotes: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We have to note these errors in the lawyer’s thinking and motive, as we hear Jesus’ response.
First Jesus turns back to the lawyer, to find out what is written in the law. The lawyer correctly summarizes the Law of Moses, in the same way that Jesus also taught. The Law says, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agrees with the summary, and says, “Do this, and you will live.” Now, this is the question we have to ponder—is Jesus agreeing that works are the way to eternal life, and that the young lawyer may be able to do them and earn that reward? The answer lies in the parable.
The lawyer wants to narrow down or put a finer point on his duty—if this is truly the way to eternal life—by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself—that sounds reasonable to this law-upholding lawyer. He’s ready to commit to the task, but needs to know, who is my neighbor? Even this question is misguided, as we’ll see how Jesus redirects it. It is a limiting question, that presumes that there are some who are, and also some who are not our neighbors. Now Leviticus 19, our Old Testament reading, is where the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” comes from. In that same verse, the lawyer might have remembered it mentions “the sons of your own people.” Perhaps on this basis, the lawyer thought his neighbor was just his fellow Jew. Or Leviticus 19 also refers to the “sojourner” or traveling foreigner living among them. But who wasn’t he thinking of, as his neighbor?
Jesus, in answering with the parable of the Good Samaritan, opens or expands the definition of neighbor as wide as possible. In the parable, the traveler who is robbed, beaten, stripped and left for dead, is passed by two religious Jews—a priest and a Levite. The curious thing is that each of them should have been guided and motivated by the Law, just like the lawyer. But they pass by and do nothing. Did they feel no compassion? Did they evaluate that they had no duty to get involved, and someone else would take care? Was there a risk or cost or something to be lost, by getting involved in this sticky, bloody situation—with a man who was potentially already dead, or  dying? Did they see the naked and bleeding man, and wonder if he was to be counted a neighbor or not? The parable doesn’t focus on their calculations, though we can probably recognize some of the selfish thoughts that might run through our minds. And is our willingness to help or show compassion driven by the human need of our neighbor, or by some other calculation that we make, about our duty?
But the Samaritan, when he sees, immediately has compassion. Jesus’ word for compassion is a deep, gut level emotion. A strong inner sense of mercy and desire to help. He immediately applies first aid, bandaging the man’s wounds. He places him on his animal, and leads him to an inn, where he gives further care to help and heal the man. He pays for the man’s further care, and promises to return and cover any additional costs. The Good Samaritan not only shows mercy, but a costly mercy to a complete stranger. The rescue for the wounded man comes from an outsider, one who is rejected by the Jews.
This becomes Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer isn’t “these people, but not those”—but rather the answer is, “Who can you be a neighbor to?” Anyone who needs our help is our neighbor. Jesus removes any limitation, and shows us that we are all to be neighbors to everyone, by showing mercy to others. So the Law of Moses isn’t upheld by selective interpretations and narrowing down who is and isn’t our neighbor. Here we come against the lawyer’s basic problem again. Can he, or can we, do enough to satisfy the Law’s demands? Especially in its deepest sense? Do we love God with our whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Every neighbor—not just the easy to love, or our friends, or those who look, act, and think like us—but every person? Not just the ones we notice, but all who need our help?
If anyone can confidently answer Yes to every one of those questions, I’d like to meet the person. The basic problem that confronts the lawyer, after Jesus’ parable, is the same for you and I. By all means, we are to “Go and do likewise.” Show the mercy of the Good Samaritan to our every neighbor. But if we cannot answer Yes, without reservation, to every one of the law’s demands—and more than just answering yes, have God verify that we have truly done all this—then we are finally, utterly unable to justify ourselves.
Paul again describes the shape of that problem for us in Galatians 3:10 “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” We are under a curse if we do not abide by all things written in the book of the Law. Or as James adds, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). The Law will not allow the least, the tiniest omission or deviation from it. If the lawyer wanted to follow Jesus’ advice to “Do this, and you will live”, he would quickly find that the curse of the law weighed against him, and he would fail.
But this does not mean that Jesus does not uphold the Law of God, as the lawyer might have hoped to demonstrate, by catching Jesus in His words. Rather, Jesus teaches that He did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets….but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). On a deeper level, the parable of the Good Samaritan shows a picture to us of the love of Jesus. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, like our sermon hymn beautifully describes. He is the rejected outsider who comes to show a costly love to those who are wounded and left for dead. For sinners like us, crushed and wounded in soul, Jesus comes to bind up our wounds, pouring on them His healing balm, and taking us to the house prepared for sinners—His church. He pays all our expenses, ensures our continued care, and promises to return for us again. These are the very things Christ does for us.
So when we come back to the question, and abandon the thought of what can we do to inherit eternal life—and think instead of simply how can we inherit eternal life—the answer comes back to the grace of Jesus Christ alone. Back to that verse I shared at the beginning: “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”. Believe in Jesus Christ, and you are justified—counted as righteous before God. And God, by His mercy and grace, names us His forgiven heirs and children. In the waters of Holy Baptism He adopts us in His house and into His family. In the bread and wine of Holy Communion, He forgives and sustains us in Jesus’ body and His blood. And in due time, when Jesus returns to His church—the house prepared for sinners—He will call us into our promised inheritance, of eternal life with Him. So trust not in your works to save you, but trust in Jesus Christ, our Good Samaritan—the One who showed us perfect mercy. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Luke 10:25-37. Jewish lawyers studied the Torah or the Law of Moses. It says in verse 25, the lawyer was “putting Jesus to the test.” Apart from the Pharisees and teachers of the law testing Jesus, who is the only one who “puts Jesus to the test” in the Gospels? Luke 4:12; Deuteronomy 6:16.
  2. What is the inherent flaw in the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What is an inheritance, and how does one become an heir? Is it something you earn?
  3. Notice the questions and answers in Luke 10:25-37. There are four total questions and answers, broken into two interconnected sets. What do the lawyer’s questions reveal about his intentions, both toward Jesus and about Himself?
  4. When he summarizes the Law correctly (in the same way that Jesus also did…Matthew 22:36-40), what is the primary challenge he faced, when Jesus instructed him, “Do this, and you will live?” Galatians 3:10-14; James 2:10; Romans 3:19ff.
  5. Why are we not able to “justify ourselves”? Romans 3:23-24; cf. Luke 18:9-14. Who alone is able to justify, and how? Romans 3:26
  6. In the progression of characters in Jesus’ parable, from a Jewish priest to a Levite, the next person to be expected might be a Jewish layman. Why is it startling and surprising for a Samaritan to be the third character and the hero of the parable? John 4:9, 27.
  7. How is the Good Samaritan a fitting picture of Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us? List as many parallels as you can find (see the sermon hymn by John Newton for help).  How can we show the mercy of Jesus? What does it mean to show costly love and have compassion?