Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sermon on John 3:1-16, for Trinity Sunday (1 Yr lectionary), "We can be born again!"

Sermon outline:
·         We just had our school Spring Musical, “Nic’ at Night” about this same story! Beautiful singing and great telling of the story of Nicodemus. “Secret disciple”. That changed when he and Joseph of Arimathea, boldly buried the body of Jesus after His death on Good Friday, and were no doubt among the faithful who saw Him after His resurrection. Refrain from song: John 3:16 means, “we can be born again!”
·         Pharisees—strict laws, Jewish leaders, many on the Sanhedrin, or ruling council of 70. Most would become fierce opponents of Jesus; Sabbath law, forgiving sins and making Himself equal to God, calling God His Father, making Himself equal to God. Saul was a Pharisee, persecuting Christians, before his conversion and becoming the Apostle Paul. This is why the secret visit—going against the group. Made his discipleship open when he buried Jesus.
·         Musical—talked about the temptation to “hide” our discipleship, or be “secret disciples”. Encouraged us to come into the light and let people know who you are. When people mock, laugh, or even insult you for being a Christian—do you hide it, or do you give witness and stand with humble courage? Christians don’t always realize it if we’re in a “bubble”, but for a long time in our society, to be Christian is a mark of “low status.” In other words, if status in this life is important to you, being a Christian won’t advance you very far after those goals. (“status seeking” is of no value before God). But Jesus never paid attention to the “status” of any man or woman—neither Nicodemus, the Pharisees, the outcast Samaritans, tax collectors, etc. He didn’t regard their status, but their hearts in relation to Him. Christ calls us to “acknowledge Him before men” which is what our confirmand Kahoku is doing today. Confess the faith of his baptism by water and the Spirit—new birth, and to say that he has studied and believes this faith in Jesus. By faith in Jesus, we gain the only “status” that should really matter—we’re children of God, loved by our Father, saved by His Son, and filled with His Holy Spirit.
·         V. 3 & 5. Born “again” or “from above”. Born of water and the Spirit. Heavenly or new birth. Baptism, water and Spirit. All have natural birth from our mother—enter the world as flesh, even as Jesus did. But to see or enter the kingdom of God, we must be born again, spiritual rebirth, washing of renewal and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. This second birth can’t happen by any earthly power—not our will or flesh (John 1:12-13), but by God. He gives us the right to become children of God by believing in Jesus. John 3:16 means “We can be born again!”
·         Why is our earthly, natural birth not enough? “What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of the spirit is spirit.” 1 Cor. 2:14 the mind of flesh cannot understand the things of God—foolish to him. Our natural, fleshly mind is incapable of “getting it”. To see God’s Kingdom, understand the Gospel of Jesus. We need the mind of Christ, the gift of the Spirit, to understand. God uses His Word to open our ears and mind, so that we can “get it.”
·         What do we learn about the kingdom of God, which the world can’t understand? Moving of the Spirit is invisible to us, but we recognize its effects like we see the moving of objects by the wind. When God begins to work in someone’s life, they are transformed, and others can even see it. Queen Kaahumanu, the queen of the islands in the 1820s, had a reputation for being proud and arrogant, but after years of study with the missionaries, she converted to Christ, and her change in life to become a humble servant to her people, was so dramatic that she was renamed “Kaahumanu Hou” or “the new Kaahumanu” (Awakening: A Christian Nation. Gospel Hawaii Series 3, Dr. Steve Walton, p. 4). Several years later, when she lay dying a friend described her as “more humble, more lovely, more affectionate than ever. Every breath was prayer or praise to God for what He was doing for her people. She had been permitted to see them turning to the Lord and professing their faith by thousands…”. And shortly before her death, she was presented with the freshly printed copy of the New Testament, in the Hawaiian language for the first time, in a red leather cover with her name printed on it—which she held to her chest as she lay dying. (From Kaahumanu: A Memorial prepared by Mrs. H.A.P. Carter, 1892—p. 28 in Na Himeni Haipule Hawaii).
·         The Spirit of God is invisible to us, but the effects on people’s lives are not. In our own lives, we can recognize the working of the Holy Spirit when we are convicted of our sins—we feel the cry of our guilt before God, and feel the yearning to be free of that guilt, as we are when we trust in Him for the forgiveness He freely gives us in His Son Jesus. John 3:16. We “see” the work of the Spirit when we have joy and confidence in His love and protection for us, even in the midst of suffering and crosses in life. We know that our Savior Jesus was not spared suffering, and neither will we—but we know that it’s not for nothing, as Jesus has defeated death for us. By this rebirth from God, of water and the Spirit, we will enter the kingdom of God, by His grace.
·         No one has ascended to heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. We cannot climb up to heaven. The pile of our good works, no matter how high, is an anthill—no flight of stairs or ladder to heaven. Only Jesus has come down from and gone up to heaven. Only He is our ladder, our entrance, the Way and the Door to heaven. Through Him alone we have access to the Father. Not trying to leap up from our works, but being carried up by the death of Jesus for our sin, and His rising to new life again, so that whoever believes in Him has eternal life.
·         In addition to confirmation day, also Trinity Sunday. Here is another mystery—God as three in one. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No way to unravel—but can see the mystery in the way salvation is revealed to us—God the Father loved the World. The Father’s love motivated Him to send His Son Jesus. Jesus came into the world on a salvation rescue mission. He took the lowest status, born in a manger, suffering on a horrible cross, killed alongside criminals—took that lowest status so He could elevate us to eternal life, we might have His riches. And the Holy Spirit is sent by Him to give us the new birth of water and Spirit. To give us faith and renewal, so that we transform from old lives of selfishness and sin, into the new creation we are in Him. The status as God’s children comes to us immediately when we believe in Him. The transformation of our life, our walk of discipleship, takes a lifetime. But when it is complete, in death, and we enter into His eternal kingdom, there will be perfection and live forevermore! Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has set His seal of ownership and love upon us, when we experienced that new birth of water and the Holy Spirit in our baptism. May He always strengthen and renew us in that faith. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. The Pharisees were influential leaders among the Jews, and strict followers of the law (as they saw it). Nicodemus was also on the Sanhedrin, the 70 member ruling council. Why did Nic’ come to Jesus at night? John 3:2; 5:18; 7:30-31; 10:31-33.
  2. Read John 3 vs. 3 & 5 carefully and compare them. Being “born again” or “born from above” is parallel to “born of water and Spirit.” What is this referring to? How do we receive this new birth? Cf. John 1:12-13; Titus 3:5-6.
  3. If someone is not “born from above” (3:3), why can’t they “see” or enter (3:5) the kingdom of God? 1 Corinthians 2:11-16. What then gives them the ability to see and to access it?
  4. How is the movement of the Holy Spirit like the wind? John 3:8 What other movements or forces are invisible to us, but have a very real, recognizable effect on us and the world?
  5. Who is the only one who is our path, our ladder, or our door into heaven? John 3:13; 1:51; 14:6.
  6. How does this passage speak of all three members of the Trinity? John 3:16, 3:5, 8, 13. While we cannot unravel this mystery, how is it shown and revealed in the way that all three Persons of the Trinity work for our salvation?
  7. How wide does God’s love extend? How wide the sacrifice or payment that Jesus makes for sin?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sermon on John 14:23-31, for Pentecost (1 Yr Lectionary), "He Brings Peace to His Home"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Gregory the Great, a theologian of the early church, once said the truth is not known unless it is loved. You could be brilliant and know all about the Bible, but if you don’t also love the Truth of God, you don’t really know it. Knowing Christian truth is not so much a test of your Bible knowledge, or your smarts—but rather loving Jesus and His Word. Loving His truth means you recognize it is good; that you want your life to follow that truth, even as you recognize your sins and mistakes, you love what is good and desire it. On the other hand, a person who does not love or keep God’s Word doesn’t truly know it. A twisted view of God or of life, can lead someone to know the facts, but not love God or His truth. Perhaps we mistakenly fear that God is not love; against the witness of the Bible. Maybe a person is captive to the power of sin in their life, and they resent the truth, because they don’t want God’s freedom, they want their sin instead. If you find that hard to believe, consider what happened after the Israelites were free from slavery in Egypt—as soon as their stomachs were growling in the wilderness, they longed for that no-responsibility-captivity again.
Knowing God’s truth means loving the truth. It means experiencing and receiving the incredible love of God in Christ Jesus. John writes it later in his letters: “We love, because He first loved us.” If anyone struggles to love God’s truth—they first need to know and experience God’s love. Jesus begins the reading: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (14:23-24). Loving God and keeping His Word go hand in hand.  It follows from loving His Truth. On the other hand, not loving God goes hand in hand with disobedience.
God is after this relationship with you! God so loved the world for this reason—so that the Father and Son can love you and make their home with you. What kind of home does God desire? A place for God to dwell with us. God is deliberate and intentional about making His home with us. He’s not seeking a temporary home, just to stop by, or test us out, and maybe leave later. Not to be a visitor or guest, but to make His home with us, to covenant with us for life. God desires our hearts. There’s a bedtime prayer: “Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, prepare a bed, soft; undefiled. A quiet chamber set apart, for you to dwell within my heart” (LSB 358:13). The prayer is for Jesus to find a room, a dwelling place, in our heart. A pure and clean home. The Holy Spirit enters our hearts by faith, and Jesus cleanses us by His blood, shed on the cross. It’s God’s house-cleaning, to purify us as His home, His dwelling place. In baptism we’re washed over in our conscience and heart, under the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit begins to set our lives into order, teaching us Jesus’ words so we can learn to walk in His ways.
Jesus says, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Note that the Holy Spirit is a Teacher. Teachers are near and dear to our heart, here at Emmanuel. Teachers help our youth and children to learn, mature, and grow. The Holy Spirit likewise teaches us and guides us in our Christian growth and maturity. Our school teachers have their lesson plans, and they have their knowledge base of many years of teaching and their own learning. The Holy Spirit’s “curriculum” and “lesson plan” is to teach us and remind us of everything that Jesus taught. We re-live the experience of the disciples, walking alongside Jesus and learning all the things He first taught His disciples, with the Holy Spirit as our Teacher. The Father sends the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in a tight unity, a tri-unity, or Trinity, to make His home with us, fill us with His love, and teaching us to keep His Word.
The word “home” is a powerful word. It brings up either strong positive or negative emotions. Positive if we’ve had a loving, safe, and caring home—negative if it was abusive, unloving, or uncaring. All across our country, and right here in our own communities, we know the stories of broken homes, of wounded lives. But don’t you think that especially for those who hear “home” as a painful word—those with troubled homes—that it’s even more precious and desirable to have and to know the loving home that God creates? Built on the solid Rock of Christ’s Word, and assured by God’s unbroken promises and steadfast love.  
What does Christ bring to His Home with us? John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Christ brings peace into His home. His peace is not like the world’s. What’s the difference? In our bulletin quote, author D.A. Carson explains: “Jesus says, I do not give it to you as the world gives. The world is powerless to give peace. There is sufficient hatred, selfishness, bitterness, malice, anxiety and fear that every attempt at peace is rapidly swamped.” Attempts at peace are everywhere. Bumper stickers with “peace” in the slogan are everywhere. Governments and leaders throughout history attempt peace, but it’s almost always a frail, fragile, and temporary thing. How quickly do attempts at peace get swamped and shipwrecked by hatred, selfishness, bitterness, malice, anxiety and fear?
Forget for a moment about peace between nations, which is mostly beyond our individual control, and “world peace”—however fleeting that might be—just think about the personal level. Between family members, between father and son, husband and wife, brother and sister. Between co-workers or fellow church members. Do you recall a time when you were convicted or motivated to make an “attempt for peace”, by your conscience, or the Word of God? How did it go? Did an irritable word or gesture cut it short, and you reversed course? Did your inner resolve crumble? Was it short-circuited by fear, selfishness, worry, or jealousy or anything else? Or did it succeed, and you’re building on that peace now? Did you draw on the strength of Christ’s love to dispel your frustration, worry, or fear? Consider how easily our human attempts at peace are derailed or surrendered, and how badly we need the peace of Jesus, that’s not like the peace that the world gives. If every interaction, conversation, day, and thought began with a reflection on Jesus’ incredible love for us and the peace that He gives, how differently would we act? This is why we continually, week in and week out, set Christ before your eyes.
And consider how incredible is the love of Jesus, sent on God’s mission to give us and leave us His peace. Over countless rejections, over hatred,  over fear and selfishness pushed in His face, Jesus did not surrender His mission. He endured the cross, despising its shame, because He had joy in His sights. The joy of redeeming us. The joy of creating that lasting peace between us and God, where before there was sin and enmity. Human peace can be gone in an instant—but Jesus’ peace rests deeply in our hearts, and secured by His forgiveness of our sins by His death on the cross.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. This inner peace of heart and mind, a confidence in the midst of a world of suffering and trouble, is an irreplaceable gift. A couple of chapters later in John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice where the peace is located—in Jesus. Tribulation or suffering is found in the world, but peace comes from Jesus and His victory over the world, on the cross. And here, the “world” means the sinful creation as opposed to God—humanity in rebellion against Him. Our entire disharmony, war, division, personal fights and lack of peace flows out of our sinful rebellion against God. If we don’t love God, we won’t keep His Word.
But if we love Him, His peace is at work in our hearts, in the home He made with us. His peace is flowing from His promised gifts of forgiveness—the Lord’s Supper of His body and blood—done in remembrance of Him, just as the Holy Spirit calls all Jesus’ words to our remembrance. The Word of Absolution also speaks that peace with God. Baptism cleanses you to be His Holy Temple. Believers in Christ are not troubled or afraid in their hearts, because they know that Christ brings His peace to us, all our life long. Whatever suffering or crosses we bear, Christ’s peace is ours here and now. He has promised to transform our lives, conforming us to His Word, shaping us into His children. This peace and wholeness of Christ is for others, not just for ourselves.
This passage ends with Jesus saying His obedience shows His love for the Father. Just like our obedience shows our love. And what about our stumbling, sinful failures? Does God forsake us? If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us—but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The word for “sin” in that familiar verse, means literally to “miss the mark.” We’ve all “missed the mark” of God’s law in countless ways. But God is faithful and just to forgive our sins. God does not give up on us so easily. When we turn away from our sin, we are turning into God’s welcoming arms. His love and peace are never in short supply, for this is what God brings into His home with us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Loving Jesus and keeping His Word go hand in hand. John 14:23-24. How do we “keep” Jesus’ Word? What are we to do when we fail to keep it (miss the mark)? 1 John 1:8-9.
  2. God the Father and Jesus His Son “make their home” with believers that love His Word. What does it mean for God to “make His home” or dwell with us? John 14:23-24; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 3:20. Does the Holy Spirit have anything to do with this as well? 1 Corinthians 6:19; John 14:17, 20.
  3. The Holy Spirit is a Teacher. What does He teach? John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15. If we think of His teaching as shining a spotlight—who is that Holy-Spirit-spotlight focused on?
  4. Read the bulletin quote. What’s the failure of worldly peace? Why is Jesus’ peace different? John 14:27; 16:33; 20:21-23. Why can’t the world take this peace away?
  5. Jesus’ love for the Father, and His keeping of His Word shows His obedience and love for the Truth, just as our lives are to mirror the same to the world. How is this a challenge? Who strengthens us to do it?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sermon on 1 Peter 4:7-11, for the 7th Sunday of Easter 2018 (1 YR lectionary), "Who am I?"

            In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s reading from 1 Peter asks the question of how are we to live our lives, while the end of the world is in view. And by that, I mean that ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, we await His coming return at any time. Our attitude should be “always ready.” Today I want you to reflect on this question as we wait for the coming end: “Who am I?” The answer wraps us up in our identity in Christ, our future in Him, and who we are to be here and now.
            When the apostle Peter declares to us from the pages of Scripture that the “end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded, for the sake of your prayers”—what’s our reaction? Does a 2,000 year old warning seem to lose its urgency? Do we scoff and say: “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4)? Do we take it seriously enough that the end is near? Perhaps you do take it seriously, and live with a readiness of repentance and a confidence born in Christ. Or maybe you realize that you may be blessed to live maybe 70-100 years in this life—but in any case your own individual days are numbered, and we ought to always live ready for the judgment, even if Jesus doesn’t return first.
            Self-control and sober-mindedness should mark us. Not idleness—there’s work to be done. Relate the end of the world to this example. A ship loaded with passengers, is beginning to sink in the deep waters, far from land. The ship being the world, and the passengers symbolizing all humanity. As the great ship begins to list and sink beneath the perilous waters, the cry goes out: “Abandon ship! Every man for himself!” Freeze that moment; how would you respond?
A real life account of this was when the British warship HMS Birkenhead struck a rock off the coast of Africa in 1852, and began to sink. As the crew that survived the crash and efforts to save the ship assembled on deck, the ship was clearly lost, and the lifeboats were already full. Twenty women and children were aboard, in addition to the soldiers. When the captain knew the ship was lost, he cried out that every man who could swim must save himself and swim for the lifeboats. And why not? At a time like this, “you gotta do what you gotta do” to save yourself. Right? However, chaos did not ensue with each one pushing past another to make it to the lifeboats. Instead the commanding officer of the British soldiers aboard the ship refused to heed the sentiment, “Every man for himself!” They knew that if they rushed the life boats the women and children would be swamped. With valiant self-control the soldiers stood their ground and sank with the ship—those who could swim then clinging to wreckage, for the sake of letting the precious cargo of the lifeboats get to safety. Only 193 of the 634 people on board survived. My point isn’t to point out the virtues of chivalry, as they may be—but rather that in the moment of peril, they considered the lives of others more important than their own.
            So if the end was near and our ship was sinking, which of the two would we be? Would we look out only for ourselves and leave the others to their own fate? Or would we recognize that we owe something to those around us? If the world is a sinking ship, and we don’t know how much longer it will last—what will we do to warn our fellow passengers? The natural thing would be to look out for ourselves. Paul describes the Christian attitude of “Who am I?” in these words: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). This is who we ought to be—how we ought to love one another. Christian love is not first self-interested, but also sees what we can do for others, and what they need.  
We’re wired in the opposite way, however. Even Christian faith gets individualized, as our “tech society” makes it easier and easier to withdraw into our personalized worlds of videos, entertainment, games, news, etc. If we don’t make a major effort to get “out of our bubble”, its very easy to ignore those around us. Even those very near to us. Many people today even struggle to explain what we need church for. It’s become so commonplace to talk about “my personal relationship with Jesus,” and thinking about having our “felt needs” met. So is the church something more than just a place for individuals who have a private relationship with God to gather?
Peter called on them to “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins”. He added “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Hospitality involves community, welcoming, and attentiveness to the needs of others. Without grumbling implies that our service does not depend on the awards or praise we receive, but that it comes from a generous spirit that is willing to serve freely, for the good of others. And he calls all of us to use the gifts that God has given us in service to one another. We’re meant for life together; community—not individualism and disconnectedness. God has given us varied gifts, not to keep for ourselves, but to bless other.
No self-interest directed Jesus as He went to win our redemption at the cross. Sinful humans had sabotaged our own “ship,” the world, causing it to sink. We even mutinied against God, our captain, and rejected His Son, sent to rescue us. He could’ve left us to ourselves, to sink in the sea of our own destruction, but he didn’t seek to save His own life. Rather He sacrificed His life so that our sins wouldn’t be held against us. His love covers a multitude of sins. He did not flee from community with sinful humans, but He sought and created community with us!
The one we crucified with our sins, pleads to God for our pardon. He died so that we might be buoyed up to life and safety by the hope of His resurrection. Baptized into His church we’ve boarded lifeboats and are being rescued. And there’s more than enough room aboard the lifeboats for everyone! But having been rescued—the end is not yet here…the ship has not yet sunk. So are we simply to drift aimlessly in the lifeboats until Jesus returns to take us into the good harbor of heaven? Are Christians to float safely in our churches while ignoring those who are sinking in the sea around us? No, rather the church is created to be a caring community that extends love and hospitality not only among ourselves, but to others.
Even on the cross, as He gave up His life for us, Jesus knew that we would need each other. He had taught His disciples to depend on one another and He urged them to go out and make disciples, to spread the good news of forgiveness and hope, and to build the church to be a refuge for the community of believers. On the cross, when Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother,” He gave us a purpose for caring for one another.
So in answer to the question we began with, “Who am I?” we find the answer that God has called us to be a caring community in Christ. We’re brought together by God to use His gifts in love and service to one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about how service to one another can often be inconvenient. He said that no one was too good for the meanest and lowest service. “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps—reading the Bible. When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised [across] our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done.” As followers of Christ, following the banner of His cross, be prepared to have our plans interrupted for the need of serving someone else. We exist as this caring community, because we are to bring help and hope to those who are in danger or despair—so lend your arms and voices, and bring them to rescue and safety! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
            Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Wonder -- (a church newsletter article based on the movie)

This past weekend I saw an excellent, family-friendly movie, that I highly recommend, called “Wonder.” It’s a fictional movie about a young boy who is born with numerous facial deformities, including cleft palate, and the enormous challenges he and his family face upon his integration to mainstream schools in the 5th (or 6th?) grade, after years of homeschooling and protection. He had undergone numerous surgeries, and so his face was significantly scarred—such that children stared at him or bullied him. Despite the weighty topic, it manages to be a very humorous movie, as little by little the boy, “Auggie” overcomes his fears, learns how to cope with the cards life dealt him, and to make friends. It’s a very uplifting movie, but there’s another aspect about it that made me want to write this newsletter article.

In the movie, you naturally sympathize with the boy and his family’s struggles. But through the storytelling technique of the film, and how it rotates through the perspectives and mini-stories of each of the main character, you get to see a much more complete picture of the situation. You see the character development of individuals, and how at first, you might have judged them for being selfish, hurtful, or mean—each had their own unique struggle. But the kind of sympathy that you develop is not approval for the selfish, hurtful, or mean things that they did, but rather an appreciation for how the combination of vulnerability, self-deprecating humor, and strength of Auggie helps them respond in various transformative ways (or not). You cheer for the growth of the characters, even while you disapprove of their bad choices.

In seminary, we learned about a similar idea, related to preaching God’s law. I believe they referred to it as the “mirror of existence.” The idea is similar to how Jesus taught His parables. There is a story in which you can identify with one, or even many of the characters, and you see your own sin and failings mirrored in them. It’s a startlingly effective way to discover things about ourselves, and sins and attitudes that we should repent of, that has been used to great effect in many profound novels and stories.

Real life is not scripted like a movie plot or novel, with everyone making the kind of mistakes that we find understandable, and then learning from them. Sometimes there are acts of pure cruelty, and we are left with no way to fathom why, and there is legitimately no excuse for them. But when we are able to stand before a “mirror of existence”—whether in a well-told story, or in a parable or passage of Scripture—we are often able to see our insecurities and ways of thinking and acting, and how they affect others. But how often do we strenuously avoid looking at ourselves in the mirror, and instead try pointing the mirror at other people’s faults? St. Maximos the Confessor wrote: “He who busies himself with the sins of others or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins.”

St. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote: (1:22–25)  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Jesus said: Luke 6:37–38 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

While real life doesn’t offer us the opportunity to get inside the heads of every “character” in the midst of a difficult solution, so we have a semi “omniscience” to understand why people act a certain way--real life does offer us a different solution, proposed by God: “Let every person be swift to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). The more we listen, the more we can understand others, and hopefully work toward reconciliation and friendship, rather than isolation and resentment and enmity. The more we slow our speech and slow our anger, the lesser risk that we will damage good or fragile relations, or end them altogether.

What should one do, who has stood before such a mirror of existence, and discovered the ugliness of their own sin? 1 John 1:8–9  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. What should one do, who has taken the time to listen to another person, and begins to relate with or sympathize with their struggles? We can love our neighbor as ourselves—showing the compassion and friendship that Christ has given and shown to us. Enmity is the province of the devil—stirring up division. But peace and reconciliation are the province of Christ. And Christ has granted us His peace, by forgiving our sins and reconciling us to God and to one another. May God grant that we are a part of that spreading work of reconciliation! After all, He has made us “ambassadors of Christ” and given us this ministry of reconciliation! (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Sermon on 1 Timothy 2:1-6, for the 6th Sunday of Easter (1 Yr lectionary), "How Wide is the Love of Christ"

Ephesians 3:18–19 By faith, “may [you] have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” Amen. Every Sunday, in almost any Lutheran Church Missouri Synod church (I can’t speak for others), prayers are offered for “the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs.”  Those include prayers for the spread of the Gospel, and those who do it—pastors, teachers, missionaries, etc. Prayers for those suffering from famine, war, violence, or natural disasters, as our brothers and sisters in Puna on the Big Island, or the North Shore of Kauai. Prayers for the sick and the suffering, in our congregation or others—including friends, family, neighbors, and others. Prayers to bless those who do good and restrain those who do evil. And almost always prayers for our governmental leaders—our president, governor, legislators, public safety workers, judges, etc. Those prayers rise, regardless of which political party is in office, which state or local community you’re in, and regardless of the individuals in office or the policies in sway by the current government. God’s call to prayer, and His reason for it, is bigger than our politics. And the reason why the whole church of Christ offers these prayers intentionally, week in, and week out—is found right in our reading today. The command is “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Broadly our prayers are for everyoneall people. This is how wide God’s love is; how wide His concern is, that He commands us to pray for all people. Jesus even commanded that we pray for our enemies. Therefore, to purposefully “narrow” the focus of our prayers to exclude those we don’t like or care about, is a direct offense against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The scope of God’s desire, and Jesus’ love, is so broad it includes all people. God desires their salvation. Our prayers, and our concern for others, should be shaped by the wideness of His love.
Why specifically mention kings and other leaders for prayers? Because they especially need our prayers for wisdom and justice in governing. Governing a country, state, or county is a difficult task. Thousands of competing concerns and interests, challenges, and needs. Since partisanship is not a Biblical goal or consideration, but justice and wisdom are, Christians need to pray for all our leaders to be given wisdom and to practice justice. Leaders all err in greater or lesser ways—and being in authority does not exempt them from the law—either God’s or man’s—but we pray that God would guide our leaders to preserve peace and justice, so we can “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Consider this—the Gospel moves more freely in peaceful and stable societies. Good government, therefore, serves God’s higher purpose to give the Gospel free course. Yet even in bad governments, like those that persecuted Peter and Paul—even persecution can’t ultimately stop the spread of the Gospel. Sometimes even in the face of intense opposition, the Gospel multiplied. From the book of Acts till today, the Gospel still rolls on. Bad government also serves to humble us in repentance and even to redouble our passion in prayer, good works, and speaking the truth against evil.
God’s clear and unambiguous desire is that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. This is His revealed will—God’s given us this window into His heart. There are also things that can be described as God’s hidden will. We do not know, for example, why tragedies take place, beyond the generic truth that this is a fallen, sinful world, and that evil people are bound to do evil things. Many mysteries are hidden in God’s will and ways. But this, thank God, is not one of them. No guessing about it—God desires all people to be saved. No one can say God only wants certain people, however we might try to divide them into groups—that God only wants certain people to be saved. He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Therefore, when we look out at the world, we should see every person as a person for whom Jesus Christ died, and gave His life for. A person whom Christ loves.
This can do so much for our world to remove the glasses of hatred, disgust, or dislike that filter so much of what we see. This takes off those glasses, and helps us see the world instead with Christ’s eyes; His love. So we don’t only love and pray for and welcome those who we like, who look or think like us, who are of the same social status or who have the same interests as us. It’s so easy to narrow our love, to narrow our prayers, to ignore others. But how wide is the love of Christ, that deepens and opens our hearts up to others—that moves our hearts and mouths to prayer, and our eyes and hands to concern and help.
It’s not as though this leaves us with no common bonds to unite us, however. Rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes those bonds from identity that is rooted only in family, culture, citizenship, social status, age, interests, male or female, etc, into bonds of identity that are centered in Christ Jesus and everything that He has taught. Galatians 3:27–28 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In baptism, you are given an identity that re-centers in Christ Jesus, and old ties and definitions fade away in importance; or for positive bonds, we find new value and appreciation for the variety and uniqueness that God has bestowed on humanity. We are one people in Christ Jesus when we are made disciples, baptized in His name, and taught everything that He commanded us. Jesus calls us to continue in welcoming new disciples into that new family, unified around Him.
Our Savior also wants us to know the truth. It’s fashionable today to say “truth” is relative, or each person has “their own truth.” This is nothing new—Pontius Pilate asked Jesus 2,000 years ago, “What is truth?” People will say it’s snobbish or backwards to believe there is such a thing as THE truth, and especially this truth in verse 5-6: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” People today are likely to respond with: “many paths lead to God”, “God has many names” or “many roads lead to heaven” and similar ideas. But Jesus was quite clear when He said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6), or Peter when he said, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The thing to notice though, is that the Gospel of Jesus is at the same time an exclusive and inclusive statement. Exclusive because there’s only one Way—Jesus—no other mediator between God and man. God has set this One avenue for reconciliation—and God directs all nations to Jesus.
But the Gospel is also a deeply inclusive message, because God wants all people to be saved, and Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all, and for God so loved the world, and so on! The Gospel  is inclusive—because all sinners can receive the free gift of salvation. The Gospel is not for the elite who reached a certain standard of righteousness, and have never sinned X. Nor for elite races or social status. Rather, Acts 17:26 says God made all people from one man (Adam), which means we are really one human race. God breaks down our artificial dividers of status, importance, class, righteousness, etc, and points us to one unified truth—we’re all sinners desperately in need of rescue and reconciliation with God—and it’s already completely done and prepared for us in the ransom of Christ Jesus.
Ransom, if you haven’t stopped to think about it before, is an important Biblical idea. Maybe it makes you think of kidnapping or holding hostages until a ransom is paid. But in the Bible, a ransom was to set free captives or slaves. More about slavery or prisoners of war. Without Christ we are slaves to sin and death—captives imprisoned in darkness and misunderstanding. But Jesus’s ransom, His death on our behalf, liberates us by the forgiveness of our sins. Death’s chains are broken by Jesus’ resurrection life. Believe in Him, and you’re unshackled from death’s chains—He is the Resurrection and the Life.
Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. This is a message that needs to go out. A witness for others. There is no restraint on you telling any person you meet that God loves them and desires for them to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. We know it, because God has sent His Son Jesus to die and rise for us, and because it’s plain as day in His Word. I know that His forgiveness, life, and salvation, are meant for you too.
Obviously, it’s always troubling about who is not saved; those who don’t believe in Jesus, or want no part of it. And Jesus did say that many will reject Him, for many are called, but few are chosen. But this is no reason to be discouraged or give up. He tells us to make disciples of all nations. There’s no fear or discouragement in Jesus’ words. He sends His disciples to speak the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth, like rippling waves from a stone cast in the water. The Gospel of Jesus never stops at rejection, but continues to go out, finding willing ears and willing hearts to embrace the knowledge of the Truth. The Holy Spirit uses that Word to create faith in our hearts that God loves all of us. Your life, my life, the life of every human, is precious to God, is ransomed by His Son, and all our sin-broken relations with God are repaired through this One Mediator, Jesus Christ. By faith “may [you] have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18–19) Amen.

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  1. 1 Timothy 2:1-6. Why does this passage remind us how wide the aim of our prayers should be? See also Matthew 5:44. What are some reasons that our natural human tendency is to narrow our prayers to smaller or select groups of people? Why does God want us praying for everyone?
  2. Why do kings and leaders especially need our prayers? Why is it irrelevant who they are, when it comes to needing our prayers? 1 Timothy 2:2; cf. Ezra 6:10; 7:27-28; 9:6-9. How do we profit from good governance, regardless of the form of government, or who is in power? Romans 13:1-7.
  3. What does 1 Tim. 2:3-4 tell us about God’s revealed will? Cf. 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23; John 3:16. What things could be described as belonging to God’s hidden will?
  4. How does it change the way we look at every other human person, to know that God wills for their eternal salvation and their knowledge of the truth? How does Jesus reorient our “bonds of identity” from those things we as humans favor, to something better? Galatians 3:27-28; Colossians 3:9-10; Acts 15:22-32; Acts 17:26.
  5. How exclusive and inclusive is the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Mark 10:45. Are there any limitations on who we should share the gospel with, or to whom it applies? Matthew 28:18-20; 1 John 2:2; John 3:16. Why is this great comfort for all of us?
  6. Salvation is universally given by Jesus to and for all mankind, but it is not universally received. Why is it incorrect to lay the blame for that at God’s feet—and correct to place it at our own? Why does God not force salvation upon us? How does Matthew 23:37-39 capture God’s heart towards those who are unwilling?