Monday, September 25, 2017

Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34, for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, "Jesus, our Master"

·         Jesus’ soul searching questions and statements: “cannot serve God and money”  Sets up a choice between two masters, and we can’t have a split love or split loyalty between them. Considering the options, why is it infinitely better to have God as our Master, rather than money? If money is our master, what does it demand of us? We are in a constant pursuit of money, and like an old Lutheran hymn says “earthly wealth is not abiding, like a stream away is gliding” (LSB 732). Money is like a stream of water—it doesn’t stick around for long, and you can hardly hold it in your hands for long. If we are always chasing after money, we will not find happiness, but only the anxieties and worry that Jesus describes here. Money is a poor master—it can only give us more things to worry about. Money can give you cars and houses, but then those things cause us worries too, and they breakdown and cost us more money. The same is true for everything money buys.
·         Jesus, by contrast, is a Master that does not steal away our peace, or enslave us to worry, but rather He teaches us daily to cast all our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us. He teaches us true contentment, to know joy and satisfaction in times of plenty, as well as times of want—by finding our peace and satisfaction in Him.
·         When Jesus begins to teach about worry, He starts with the basics that money can buy—food and drink and clothing. Even these disappear with use, or spoil and wear out. But Jesus argues life is much more than these. And we all know this! We did not buy the people who make up our lives—our spouses, children, family and friends, and they have a value far greater than money can measure. Money can’t measure the value of life. Our individual potential, our God-given purpose and how we use our lives to serve others and glorify God—the fact that God has made us living souls, created and redeemed to bear His image. This is all far beyond what money can buy or value. Jesus teaches life is much more than money.
·         Jesus then gives several arguments from the lesser to the greater. He picks three things of small value—the birds, the flowers, and the grass. But every one of them is still cared for by God. They all quickly perish, but God still lovingly provides for them, and it’s amusing to even imagine that these things would worry or stress. They don’t even have the capacity for it. But His point is that we, who are of infinitely greater worth and value to God than birds, lilies, and grass—we who do have the capacity for worry—waste so much time worrying, as if God would care for the little things of creation, but not for us. You are precious to God!
·         So Jesus tells us not to worry. Sadly, we have this capacity for worry, unlike the birds and lilies, and we constantly worry to damaging effect! How many countless hours of our lives are wasted in worrying, when just as Jesus says, we can’t add a single hour to our life by doing it. In fact, we may very well be shortening our lives for all the stress and anxiety we create by worrying! If we personified worry and recognized the fact that worry is actually stealing from us, I wonder if we might be less willing to constantly give in to worry! Worry steals our peace of mind and fills us with countless unrealized fears instead. It steals our health and gives us heart trouble and high blood pressure instead! It steals contentment and gives us greed and jealousy instead. It steals our acceptance of the things we cannot change, and gives us the illusion that our worrying will solve the problem.
·         Our sinful mind is quick to answer—“But there are real dangers, there are natural disasters, there are unexpected deaths, times when money runs out and bills aren’t paid, times when our children make bad choices and we couldn’t change their path or mind”… and on and on. We give all these examples, and say, “What then?” As if to say these things spoke against God’s love or care for us. Yes the world is full of real dangers and disasters—the Bible never pretends otherwise. Jesus even makes it a point to say that people who die in disasters aren’t any more sinful than the rest of us—but we should be warned that life is short and to repent of our sins and be right with God.
·         So yes, the world is full of real dangers and disasters—but No, these are not evidence against God’s love and care for us. But they are evidence of a world that is groaning under the power and decay of sin. They are evidence that the world has gone wrong; far astray from God’s good planning, from His commandments and original purpose. And it’s no exaggeration to say that our human sin wreaks havoc on the world—so that we are constantly made the direct or collateral damage of sinful actions in this world, or are doing it to those whom we sin against intentionally or unintentionally. This world is a broken place. That would seem like a pretty good reason to worry, at least we think so! But Jesus firmly says NO! “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry for itself—sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
·         With all the trouble and uncertainty in the world—and I’m sure we all could make a long list of the uncertainties that face us for tomorrow—big or little, real, exaggerated, or imagined, likely to happen or not—even with all that uncertainty—Jesus says don’t worry! Don’t worry about them today, or tomorrow. Don’t worry about them period! We’ve already seen it does us no good. Instead, put your faith in Jesus, our Master. Don’t bow to money and the soul-sucking demands of that poor slavemaster—Jesus is a Master who gives us freedom and life. He came to earth to bring God’s kingdom, God’s reign, here. Jesus is the invasion of God’s kingdom into this chaotic, sin-filled world, to overthrow the sin and rebellion against God’s kingdom, by dying for our sins on the cross. Consuming that evil on the cross.
·         So when Jesus told us not to worry, about all those things beyond our control, He said “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Look closer. Seek first the kingdom of God.  Jesus made it clear, on several occasions, that with His arrival, He was bringing the kingdom of God among them. Jesus’ miracles, His power over evil; were signs of His kingdom power. Jesus said the crowning sign would be His death and resurrection. So when Jesus’ tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, it’s not a scavenger hunt or mystery—we don’t have to have a secret map to find it—Jesus is the kingdom of God among us. But what is His righteousness?
·         God’s righteousness is His perfect goodness and holiness. It’s the faithful obedience of Jesus, to the fullest, of all God’s Law. When we stand next to God’s Law, none of us can  stand up as righteous. Nobody makes the cut, meets the minimum requirements, gets a stamp of approval, or is judged innocent in the court of God’s Law. We do not possess that righteousness on our own. But seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Scripture teaches this amazing truth—Jesus gives us His righteousness for free, by faith. Trusting in Jesus, we receive a righteousness that was not our own, but is now ours by faith. He stood up under God’s Law, and was judged pure and innocent, and full of the righteousness, the goodness of God. And when Jesus suffered on the cross, His death purges us of all sin and guilt. So that now, when we stand up, not under the Law, but under Christ, we stand with His full righteousness. Gifted to us, credited to us, not by any works of our own, but by the faith that trusts in Jesus.
·         This is the big picture of life—facing life with Jesus means that our eternal security rests in Him. No matter what may happen to us in this life, God has us taken care of—not by our worrying, not by our works or careful planning, but by the gracious invasion of God’s kingdom into this world, and His pointed rescue of you. God rescues you from sin, to become His child, to become servant to Jesus—not to money, not to worry, or all the poor slavemasters that might lure us on earth. And with the big picture of life taken care of—with God giving you His righteousness in Jesus Christ, there’s no need to sweat the small stuff—no need to fill our lives with anxiety about the uncertainties of life. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.
·         God knows about all the rest, and He’s got it covered. It’s not a promise of a life of ease and wealth, or a life free of trouble—but it is a promise that God will take care of you—and in thick or thin, you don’t need to worry—it won’t even help to worry—so why do it? Rather, take comfort in knowing Jesus, your Master—He is the good Lord and Savior, and our Father knows all we need and well provides it. We trust it boldly, in Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. If “money” is our master, what does it demand of us? What does it give in return? If Jesus is our master, what does He call us to pursue, and what does He give in return? Matthew 6:24, 33.
  2. What does worry steal from us? What does it give to us? What alternative mindset does Jesus give us in these verses? Matthew 6:31-34; Philippians 4:11-13. How could you describe the experience of receiving God’s contentment, in contrast to a life of worry/anxiety?
  3. Jesus’ examples in Matthew 6:25, 31 refer to worry about food, drink, and clothing. While most of us are not today worrying about those basic necessities, what do we worry about instead? How does this demonstrate the truth that increasing wealth doesn’t decrease our worry, as Solomon wrote? Ecclesiastes 5:10-12. What happens to worry instead?
  4. What is the point behind Jesus’ amusing examples of imagining birds sowing grain and storing in barns, or lilies laboring or spinning cloth, or you adding length to your life by worry? Matthew 6:26-32.
  5. Does God’s provision for us mean that we may never face shortages, want, or even unexpected disasters? Do those events contradict God’s care for us, or do they tell us something else about life? Luke 13:1-5; Philippians 4:11-13. Does the loss of things in this life testify to us against God’s love? Job 1:21-22; 2:9-10
  6. Jesus leads us to a superior way to live, in Matthew 6:33. What is it? Jesus indicates during His ministry, that He is the kingdom of God, near to, or come among the people: Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:20-21. How do we come into the realm of Jesus’ working? Romans 10:17. How do we receive His righteousness? Romans 3:21-22, 26. Why is this the greatest source of contentment? Why is Jesus greater than all other masters we might serve?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19, for the 14th Sunday after Trinity, "Doctor of Souls"

  • Sermon outline:
  • ·         First glance? Miracle story + reminder to always say “thank-you”? < Scratching surface. Closer look > Dynamics between Jews and Samaritans (who were they?), dynamics between the healthy community and lepers (who were they?) , purity laws and priests verifying cleansing, value of a physical wellness vs. something more received by faith! Different levels of thankfulness/praise. Dynamics between Samaritan and Jesus (who is this man?).
  • ·         Our own semi-recent history with leprosy—Father Damien and the lepers of the Kalaupapa colony on Molokai. Sad and tragic stories—exile who was healed, refused by mother to come home—so great was the fear. 100 years Hansen’s disease sufferers banished there.
  • ·         Biblical times: had to live outside the community and wear torn clothes, cover their face and cry out, “Unclean, Unclean!” to those who would approach them (Lev. 13:45-46)
  • ·         Conversation about learning from our history, even dark chapters—seeing the hope and light that compassion and sacrifice can bring, even in great darkness and suffering. Understanding why fears of a former age were really misguided or unfounded—or when fears were real and contagion and death was real, to respect the sacrificial service of those who committed their lives. Before disease was understood or treatments, quarantine was common. Didn’t have to be as cruel as it often became, but it forces us to ask difficult questions when we face history. We’re quick to judge former ages, but are surely blind to the ways future ages may judge us—forgetting that our human nature is the same in every age. We are not spared from evil if we hide from dark chapters of history—only doomed to repeat them, unless we learn from it (overused, but bears repeating). Learn to transcend fear with courage and compassion, to overcome anger with love, to find better ways to help those who may be in danger, or are real a danger to others, without resorting to cruelty or neglect.
  • ·         Jesus entered history to change things for the better. Not in the simplistic way we might long for—all diseases gone, all suffering gone, all cruelty, fear, hatred, etc gone, but to put an end to the power of sin, give us a new spirit of love and self-control, not of fear. Very opposite of cruelty and neglect. Cared even for these outcasts and unclean. Divine and human presence and response. Ten lepers healed, many blind, lame, deaf, etc. But not every sick or paralyzed person in Israel. Why not? Couldn’t He have?
  • ·         Bigger picture of the gospels—all along, Jesus was on the way to a greater healing. Jesus was on His way to the cross. The bigger story of the New Testament is not the individual healings, but the greater healing this “Doctor of Souls” was preparing to give. The Samaritan experienced this when joy and thanksgiving made him return to Jesus and praise God. Was there no one else? All were healed, but only one remembered to give thanks. “Your faith has healed you” (saved). Double meaning and mention of faith helps us see that more was going on here. How can faith help us?
  • ·         Not like people often say, “you just gotta have faith” like extra optimism, hardening determination, or renewing effort. Rather, faith, used in the Bible, means recognizing our need to depend on or trust in God. Faith, is always trust in something—but trust in what? Not yourself, because faith is dealing with bigger problems than we can handle on our own. Instead, trust the One who is able to save you: Jesus Christ. Being “saved” also doesn’t mean instant rescue from whatever current dilemma—problem with your relationships, finances, health, work, etc—it’s not a magic promise fix-all for your life.
  • ·         But wait! Does that mean Jesus doesn’t care or want to be involved in all those intimate struggles and problem you face? He absolutely does! He encourages us to always pray, and seek Him. Again, that’s where trust or faith comes in—it steers us to Him. But being saved, is especially about the even “bigger problems” we can’t handle—sin, death, devil. Do we have a solution for death? Who will take care of us when we die? No need? Sure about that?
  • ·         Do we have a solution for our sin? Do we know that our sins close heaven’s door to us, if we think that we can rely on our good record to get in? God doesn’t grade on a curve. But Jesus has the solution for that as well.  Jesus has the answer for all those bigger problems, and He’s solved them all by His death on the cross. No premium or payment plan to get this “coverage.” God bears all the cost for redeeming us from sin. Jesus came to give us free salvation. That’s why Jesus is so eager for all ten, not just one, to return and give thanks. God has so much more to give us! If we only received help for earthly problems, would we even look to God for the great eternal questions, or would we write that off, or postpone thinking about it? Or when God blesses us in earthly ways, do we do a 180 and come back to praise Him and thank Him? Christ has more to give, and he wants “all ten” to return—He wants each one of you to sing “praise God from whom all blessings flow”—because there is no greater blessing than for us to know who is the Giver of all good things, and to know and receive His blessings in Christ Jesus. 
  • ·         Worship is a “W” not an “M” –we come here each week, not to assemble to perform our duties to God, as if He needed anything from us—as if we traded our praise to God for something in return,. That would make worship revolve around us. Worship is not a big “M” that’s all about Me. Rather worship turns our eyes up to God. We come each week with hungry hearts and empty hands to receive the blessings that God generously sends to us—messages of forgiveness, God’s companionship in our suffering and crosses, the redemption of our lives to serve God’s purpose and calling, honest reexamination of my life in light of God’s perfect law, a total humbling before God followed by a total rebuilding into a new person in Christ Jesus, which shows all the areas where I’ve been responsible and at fault, but does not condemn for it, but puts that all on the cross and gives us a new life and new spirit to follow Christ. Christians faithfully worship every Sunday for decades, their whole life through, not to fill a scorecard or earn some credits, but because we gather at Jesus’ feet to hear His Word, and at His church to receive the wellness He pours out to us in His gifts. Word & Sacraments, channels for Christ’s mercy into our lives. We come because we have learned that it is good and right for us to cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!” and that He eagerly responds with forgiveness, life, and mercy.
  • ·         And as often as we gather in faith, worshipping and giving praise to God in a loud voice, we hear His answer “Go, your faith has saved you!” And Jesus sends us out into the world, with a new wellness that we received from Him by faith—refreshed to face life’s challenges anew; refreshed to love each other with the love of Jesus that He plants in our hearts. And His work takes root, not only in our hearts, but also in our eyes, giving us His compassion as we see poor, needy, suffering, outcasts, etc around us, and our eyes are awakened to their needs, so that we might serve God and our neighbor without fear.
  • ·         Americans today invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, recreation, money, medicine, etc, into physical wellness—and often to very good effects and results. But how God longs for us, like Jesus longed for those other 9 healed lepers, to turn back to Jesus for the greater wellness that the Samaritan found. God grant us this spiritual wellness—the wholeness of our salvation in Jesus Christ!  And the great news is that Jesus gives it for free! Knowing who He is; that God is the Great Giver of all things, that we return thanks and praise to Him, and find our life in Jesus Christ. He is our wellness, the wholeness above all else. This wellness is seen in believing in Jesus, being drenched in His mercy, receiving His forgiveness, being a healthy and frequent recipient of the healing medicine of His gifts, in short—having a living relationship to the Doctor of Souls. And Jesus Christ sees that we have received all He’s freely given, and gives us this good diagnosis of health: “Go, your faith has made you well!” Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Luke 17:11-19. Was the relationship between Jews and Samaritans friendly or not? How did they act toward each other? John 4:9. What did lepers have to do to keep themselves apart from the healthy community? Leviticus 13:45-46.
  2. Imagine being a leper. What would it be like to live under those circumstances? What feelings and hardships would you face?
  3. Why should we not hide from the lessons of history, but learn from them? At the right time Jesus entered human history. Galatians 4:4-7. What did He come to do?
  4. What made the Samaritan different from the others who had been healed? Luke 17:15-19. Who did he acknowledge for his healing? Vs. 19, the phrase “made you well” has a double meaning, of “has saved you.” What greater gift did He receive from Jesus by faith?
  5. Why is faith not trusting in yourself? What (or who?) does faith need to attach to? Mark 11:22; Acts 3:16; 20:21. What does this faith in Jesus receive? Romans 3:26; 4:16; Acts 26:18.
  6. What’s Jesus solution for the “big problems” of sin, death, and the devil? How can we afford this protection and “coverage?”
  7. Explain why worship is a “W” and not an “M”. Why do Christians come to worship every Sunday, year after year? What do we find or receive there?
  8. Our reading pictures physical wellness and spiritual wellness together. What effort do we invest in either or both kinds of wellness? Who is the true Giver of spiritual wellness? When He has given it, and we have received it, what good diagnosis does He speak? Luke 17:19

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sermon on Luke 10:23-37, for the 13th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr. lectionary), "The Good Samaritan"

To know and to do—very different things (P. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary). Jesus established that the teacher knew the Law correctly—but to do it is a far greater matter. A great many good things we know we ought to do, by the 10 Commandments, but how much harder is it to do than to simply know? A child may know their parents told them not to fight with their siblings—but doing it…
Jesus teaches the Law’s promise: “Do this and you shall live”. That’s all well and good if you can do it, but if you don’t do it? Gal. 3:10-11 tells us this very command becomes a curse to us, because “cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them. 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.””
Teacher wanted to justify himself. Betrays his motive. Wants the law to do what the law cannot do, because of our sinfulness. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Gal. 3:21-22). Law can’t give life—only the promise of Jesus Christ gives life. Last week: the letter (law) kills; the spirit gives life.
Law commands good things—love God with heart, soul, mind, strength. (self-examination—how is our love?) Love neighbor as ourselves (self-exam—how broad and expansive the command, and how short our love?) Prayer of the day: “give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what You have promised, make us love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ”.
Parable shows how the law is not given to give us life, but for us to love our neighbor. By trying to give the law an “unlawful motive” the teacher tried to narrow the law down enough so he could justify himself. But in wishing for the law to be narrowly defined, he would have left his Samaritan “enemies” and others out of the command. Jesus blows open the narrowing and legalizing that even we are tempted to do.  “legalizing” might come up with definitions of who is and isn’t my neighbor, how much and how far I am required to help. Turn the law into a “low bar” that we can achieve. But the parable teaches: Who is my neighbor? Everyone! Better yet, you are to be the neighbor to whomever  is in need! The law is not about who they are, and whether they fit the bill for you serving them—it’s about who you are to be—a merciful neighbor, regardless of whom you are asked to help or show compassion to.
There is a chilling coldness in the actions of the priest and Levite, who have the appearance of religion, but who pass by on the other side of the road. By contrast, just look at how Americans have pulled together regardless of race, religion, political affiliation, social status, etc, to help each other in Texas. Loving the neighbor doesn’t examine who they are—it examines who we are. What kind of person am I? A neighbor to the person in need, or a pious priest or Levite who ignores the suffering? When we reexamine our obedience to the command “Love your neighbor as yourself” in this light, it becomes clear just how earnestly we need to pray: “give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what You have promised, make us love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ”. God, we need that increase! God wants this. He wants hearts humbled and hungry for His mercy, open to being vessels of His love to our neighbors.
Reflect on how you are called to be a neighbor to someone in need. It may cause you cost, delay, inconvenience, discomfort, messiness, etc. But that is God’s calling, to love our neighbors. But remember that Christ has freed you from the law, so you are free for God’s love to flow through you to them! Shape of service will look different, but generous, compassionate, love—same.
Examine the Good Samaritan—no law could adequately describe what he did—not to prescribe how much help to give, or what form it should take. Not a minimal effort. But he goes above and beyond, bandaging wounds, incurring expenses, inconvenience and delay—not to mention he would have been eyed suspiciously since Jews hated Samaritans. Wine, oil, time, physical exertion, extra expense, promise to pay overages on return. Not extravagant, but his kindness is not restricted or measured, rationed or withheld—it is generous.
Reminds me of Galatians 5:22 “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” And 5:18 “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”  The fruit of the Spirit is a love that goes above and beyond the law. Generous, without rationing or restriction.
Whose love can this better describe, than that of Jesus? We of course, were dead in our trespasses and sins. The curse of the law is inevitable doom for us, who stand under its judgment. But Christ comes, to perform a costly act of self-sacrifice and service that goes far beyond what the just law of God demands. Even greater than the acts of the Good Samaritan, Jesus perfected love, by incurring the greatest cost imaginable—surrendering His own life to death on the cross for us. And not just a human life offered in sacrifice—which is great in itself—but the very precious blood of God Himself, as Paul says in Acts 20:28, commanding pastors to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with His own blood.” The precious blood of God’s Son, no costlier gift can be given to mankind. He came into “enemy territory”, facing the hatred and scorn of those who wanted to crucify Him—but He was not deterred from helping the wounded, the left for dead. Jesus came to earth and saw that we were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, and He did not pass by on the other side; He did not stay away to keep Himself from getting defiled by meeting us in our injury and death, but He had compassion on us, and came to help.
Jesus binds up our wounds (traumata)—brings us healing. “Surely by His stripes we are healed”. Jesus is the master healer of both body and soul, as His numerous miracles prove. It is His hands, His balm, and His healing Words that must but applied to the traumas of our bodies, hearts, and souls. For our dying bodies, He proclaims His resurrection from the grave, and ours to follow Him. For our sin-sick hearts, He gives a new heart and a new spirit within us, turning our  hearts up to Him. For our lost souls, He buys us redemption and healing by God’s precious blood.
He brings us to the inn of the church, as our hymn says: “Unto his church my steps he led, The house prepared for sinners lost; Gave charge I should be clothed and fed; And took upon him all the cost.” (John Newton, The Good Samaritan). Here we are a hospital for sinners—so you should not expect to see the healthy, but the sick, who are in need of mercy. Mercy given, mercy needed, mercy received—these things you should see.
And Jesus promises to return again, and all our restoration, all the expense of our recovery, is on His tab. He is good for it. Because the law was not given for our righteousness, or to give us life—but Jesus Christ is given for our righteousness. That is the Gospel, the Good News! There is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life! We can only be given it, by faith in Jesus. He gifts eternal life—we don’t earn it. This freedom from trying to justify ourselves, gives us the liberty to love our neighbor as ourselves, not for personal gain or spiritual advancement, but from a new definition of who we are—a neighbor to show mercy to whomever needs it. Grant us an increase of faith, hope and charity, oh Lord! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. The parable of the Good Samaritan begins with a teacher of the law asking Jesus a couple of questions: 1) What shall I do to inherit eternal life? and 2) who is my neighbor? Jesus answers the first question with a ______ and the second question He answers by telling a ______. (Luke 10:25-30).
2. In Luke 10:29, we see that the motive of the teacher was to justify himself, when he asked “who is my neighbor?” Why is our “justification” not a motive (purpose) of God’s law? Galatians 3:21. If the law can’t justify us, how are we justified? Galatians 3:22-24.
3. If we examine ourselves, do we find that we have kept the law, by loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves? How have we fallen short? Roman 3:23. If we have not perfectly kept the law, how does it leave us? Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:6-7 (cf. Luke 10:30). If we are dead, and cannot help ourselves, where does God’s Word turn us for rescue? Ephesians 2:5.
4. What is so discouraging about what the priest and the Levite did in the story? Why did they avoid helping? Why was it so surprising that a Samaritan would stop to help? Cf. John 4:9-10.
5. How did the Samaritan go “above and beyond” the call of ordinary kindness? Luke 10:34-35.
6. When Jesus answers the question with this parable, He changes it from a question of “who is my neighbor” to “who am I to be a neighbor for?” What is the answer to this question?
7. How is Jesus the ultimate “Good Samaritan?” How did He come as the unexpected helper? How was He despised by those He came to save? Acts 4:11. How did Jesus go “above and beyond” to show His love for us, and rescue us from every evil? 1 Peter 1:18-19. How is the church like the “inn” where we are nursed back to health? 1 Corinthians 12:25-27

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Our Sufficiency is Christ"

Note: for the full audio of the sermon, check out my podcast. This is a limited outline.
Corinthian letters—1st to an immature, conflicted, error-filled church; yet still called “saints”. 2nd, to a more mature congregation, rejoicing over the reconciliations and growth that had happened in their midst, and reflecting on his own ministry to them.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. What is this confidence? Vs. 1-3 “do we need letters of recommendation (referral letters) among you? You  are our letter, written on human hearts by Christ! We’re the messengers, you are sent out to the world! (way of talking about how Christian’s are to be living representatives, salt and light of Christ to the world). World experiences Christ’s love through you (or doesn’t experience…aren’t reading God’s Word, reading you).
Is this Paul taking credit for them? 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. If God is working through us, or in us—we don’t have any room to take credit for that. All credit to God! Sufficiency= ability, competence, comes from God. Not my degrees, not your strength, not cleverness, good speech, all kinds of pastors and ministers—not the person that matters, not their personality, skillset, etc, but God’s Word working through them. You also—the Gospel of Jesus works through you, but not because we add something to it or “help it out”. Not “the ball’s in your court now, and I’m measuring your performance for salvation”—then we’d need to be sufficient in ourselves, but our sufficiency is in Christ.
New covenant—old covenant. Not a simple contrast of OT to NT, but Law to Gospel. “letter kills”= Law, “Spirit gives life”= Gospel. Two different ministries, both with glory and God’s approval, but the later one, the latter one—the Gospel, is superior in every way.
Letter kills, ministry of death, condemnation, (sounds negative, but is the law a negative?) 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. … I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me… 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Law is good, holy, righteous, but it can only shine the light on the evil we have done. It has no power to save. Without the law, we would pursue evil unhindered, to our own harm. Continually exposes our sin, until we cry for God’s mercy. With only the light of the glory of the law shining on us, we only see how we have fallen short of God’s glory. But in the light of the Gospel our eyes are turned to Jesus, the Savior, we see Him with unveiled face.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? Moses on Sinai, fading glory, brilliant glory. Outshone by the new covenant, of the Spirit, of Christ.
Ruled under a ministry of the law, of death, of condemnation, we would be miserable. Guilty consciences, terror before God, no peace; perhaps anger, resentment, excuse making, denial—but no true love or obedience. True obedience doesn’t come through fear, but love.
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Ministry of righteousness, permanent, surpassing glory—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ministry of righteousness—God bestowing, Christ granting—only righteousness that is worth anything is that which rises to God’s own level of perfection. Anything short of it is not sufficient. Sufficient also means that something is enough, that it’s completed, and doesn’t need additions. So it is with our salvation. Full deal.
Difference between a salvation by faith in Jesus + _____  This means Jesus’ work is not sufficient. We have to add anything. But add anything to Jesus, and really you have subtracted something from His total perfection. Faith in Jesus + nothing! It is all by His grace, all sufficient for us. Luther’s great rediscovery of the gospel—the righteous will live by faith—ministry of righteousness, is bringing Jesus’ righteousness into the lives of all who will hear. Corinthians, Americans, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Japanese whoever will hear and believe, have been served, ministered to, with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You become written letters. I can boast of nothing in myself, but only that my sufficiency for this ministry is not in me. I can not claim anything has come from me. But you are living letters, proof of God’s work in your lives—proof that Jesus’ spirit makes you alive, and redeems you from sin-dead ways to new life in the Spirit. Your lives, as they meet with others, all through families and communities, are a message written on human hearts, of God’s love in Christ Jesus, for you.
Nothing to boast of in yourself, only to rejoice that He’s alive in you, and that Our Sufficiency—our whole power to live and continue to serve—rests 100% in Him. He will equip and supply everything we need, all glory goes to Him, and this glory will never fade. Rejoice, you are His! You are righteous in the Son!

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Read 2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2:16-17; 3:1-3. How is Paul describing the challenges and emotions that he and those who ministered alongside him were facing? What kind of searching questions was it pushing them to ask? What did they realize about the ability to carry on and carry out the ministry, and where their sufficiency came from?
2. 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul says that the Corinthians themselves are a “letter from Christ”. Who is the “mail man” who delivered the letter? What was this letter written on, and what was it written “with” (instead of ink)? What bigger point is Paul making about them through this analogy? How are we to be a “written letter” in the same way, toward the world?
3. What is meant by the “ministry of death carved in letters on stone”, and the glory of Moses’ face? Exodus 34:29-35. How did this ministry have glory? Since it is called the “ministry of death”, does that mean it was evil or harmful? Romans 7:7-20. What is the necessary purpose of the Law?
4. What is the “ministry” that far exceeds this ministry in glory? How does this “new ministry” bring life? 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Galatians 3:2-6, 14, 24-29.
5. Why is the Gospel so much superior to the Law, even though they are both God’s Word? What does it mean to say that Jesus’ sacrifice is fully sufficient for our salvation? What does it do when we treat salvation as though the sufficiency was in ourselves, and not Him alone? What damage does it do to our ego? To our salvation? 2 Corinthians 12:5-10; Galatians 6:14; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:27. Where is our salvation and our boasting best founded and best grounded?