Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sola Gratia

Here is the sermon for mid-week Advent services, now cancelled, on 12/13/2017.

SOLA:  Sola Gratia

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As you already know, Sola is our theme for this year’s mid-week Advent services. Sola, as our bulletin explains, means only or alone. We have learned that the only way to know about God and the things of the Christian faith is Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone. And Sola Fide, by faith alone is how a person is saved.

Today, we will affirm that all this is Sola Gratia, or by grace alone.

What exactly is grace. We could let Webster define grace for us, but we are not talking about “the simple elegance of refined movement.” Instead, let us define grace as God defines it through Paul’s pen, as such, it is simply a gift.

What is a gift? Are your wages a gift? No, you earn them by the sweat and toil of your body and mind. If you are retired, are your social security benefits, your pension, and other things a gift? No! Again, you earned them by your years of employment.

As we approach Christmas, we talk and think quite a bit about gifts. Hopefully you will get that Christmas bonus. But is it a gift? Let’s face, you think you deserve that bonus, and it better be a decent bonus, after all, you have busted your hump all year. They better show their appreciation. See, you are not expecting a bonus as a gift, but because you have worked hard and earned it.

What about the presents that will be tucked under the tree with your name on them. Are they earned? No, you did not earn them. But, you probably receive them because you are part of the family. Everybody gets gifts because they are part of the family. But when you open the gifts you receive, yours better not be worth less than your brother’s. If it is, then you will know that it is true, your parents always favored him over you.

Or maybe you receive a gift because someone drew your name out of a hat, and to be honest, your name was not the name they were hoping to get.

Are these things gifts? How do you try and repay them? How did they come to be yours? While some of the presents might be close to pure gift, something given to you which you in no way, shape, or form deserved; you get them because you are part of the family or for some other reason. Even in a gift exchange, you have to put a gift in the kitty to receive one. I do not ever remember received a gift from a complete stranger.

Even at Christmas there is usually a reason “why” we get the presents that we receive from others.

God’s grace is completely different. In fact, it is so different that many push back against it. Many are those who try to come up with a reason for why God grace chose them, or at least a reason why God’s grace continues to work on them.

 It is our sinful human nature to find the reason for why God does what He does for us in ourselves. We want to believe we have earned it, or that somehow we deserve it. We like to think that it is given to us because we are at least better than our really, really, really bad neighbors.

 God’s grace is the giving of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. What we do not want to admit is the greatest truth. Even while we were enemies of God, rebelling against Him, and doomed for eternal destruction according God’s own rules, He sent His Son to save. And dear friends, we are all enemies of God, we live more according to our sinful human nature which rebels against God, and by rights, earns us only His wrath and punishment.

 God’s gift was given to the shepherds on that Judean hillside, “unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” As the angels proclaimed in song, this gift is peace on earth goodwill from God toward men. It is sola gratia, it is God’s gracious gift of forgiveness, wrapped in swaddling clothes. That gift fully given when Christ’s innocence is unwrapped, beaten, abused, nailed to a cross, and dies.

There is nothing in us that is deserving of this gift of God’s love. In fact, the opposite is true. God’s grace is given because we are lost and condemned without the gift. There is no “why” to be found. When we examine ourselves, there is nothing in us but sin and death. There is nothing in use that is worthy of being saved. If it were, there would be no grace.

So then, why did God do it? Why did He send His Son to die? Why did God raise Him from the dead? Why does His Spirit come in the Word and work faith in those who hear it? Why does the Baptism miraculously forgive sin and work faith? Why does Christ attach His body which was pierced to the bread that we eat? Why does Christ give us His very blood which was shed for our forgiveness to drink, sacramentally untied to the wine.

All this was done Sola Gratia, by grace alone. All these are God’s gifts to us for the purpose of redeeming sinners, finding the lost, bringing life to those who were dead. This is God’s grace which gives to us Jesus. This is the active love of God in the person of Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

 Our Gospel lessons expresses it well. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

 It is sola gratia, solely by grace, as an underserved gift, for God did not have to do anything for us. There was no obligation on his part. And yet, the very Word of God took on human flesh for us, He is full of grace and truth – He is solely the gift of God in human flesh and the truth of God in human flesh.

 In the fullness of time, at the right time, when it was ripe for Him to come into the world so that His perfect life would be put to death, then we receive grace upon grace – we receive gift upon gift. We prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, the Son of God who was born without sin, lived without sin, and for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, to purchase forgiveness of sins.

Sola gratia, by grace alone, Christ is grace upon grace – He is gift upon gift, upon gift, upon gift.
Sola gratia, as a free gift alone, He called you by name, and through water and the Word united you to His death and resurrection that you might have forgiveness and life.
Sola gratia, as a free gift alone, the forgiveness He purchased is spoken into you ears, that you might live in peace and hope.
Sola gratia, as a free gift alone, He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink, the very gift of Himself that He might fill you, that He might make His dwelling within you, and you might be in Him.

Sola gratia, by grace alone, Jesus Christ is gift, upon gift, upon gift, compounded. He is the grace of God who came to redeem, He is the grace of God who comes to strengthen you, and He is the grace of God who will come again to take you home to be with Him forever. Sola Gratia – by grace alone. All thanks be to God for the riches of His grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Restaurants and Worship

Well, it is official, summer is over.  How do I know?  Kids are back in school and the stands are full for High School home football games. I don’t know about you, but the summer was refreshing.  No, I don’t mean anything about the temperatures, for I dislike heat more than just about anything else. 

Why was summer refreshing?  I took a few weeks of vacation, and while on vacation was able to attend worship services in God’s house.  While attending these services, I was a hearer of God’s Word and a receiver at the Table of the Lord.  What a blessed thing it was not to be a servant, but to be one of those served.  This is not to say that when I conduct the service, I am not preaching to myself.  In fact, I write my sermons directed at everybody, myself first and foremost.  I am also the first to receive the Lord’s Supper from my hand.  But there is something about being purely receptive that is so refreshing.

When I go out to a restaurant, it is nice to sit in the seat of honor, and that seat is the seat at which you are waited upon.  Someone brings you your water, your meal, cleans up the dishes.  It is nice to sit there and be fed and nourished without having to prepare the meal, serve it, and (my wife especially likes this) clean the dishes.

It is the same at the worship services in God’s house.  Every Sunday, someone (Christ’s undershepherd, a servant, the pastor) prepares and serves that which is fed to those gathered, that is, the pure spiritual milk of the Word.  And those gathered are fed and nourished in the faith as the Spirit works in Word and Sacrament upon those who hear, eat, and drink.

Amazingly, there are some people who think that to be leading worship in some way is to be more important or more involved in the service.  Really?  Let’s go back to the restaurant.  Would you rather be seated at the table?  Or would you rather be the one serving the table?  Who is more important?

The highest honor in God’s house is to be those who are gathered to receive what Christ comes in Word and Sacrament to serve.  What a blessing it is that God sent His Son to give His life as a ransom to redeem us from sin.  What a blessing it is to gather in God’s house to receive that which He delivers in Word and Sacrament, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  What a blessing that God’s mercy moves Him to deliver such grace to us.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

He Does All Things Well

He Does All Things Well

Mark 7:31-37

(This is my sermon from September 3, 2017. I was asked to post it where people could read it. So, here it is)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

How many of you know someone in Texas who has been affected by hurricane Harvey? I know a few pastors in the area, and we have family that is nearby. Some of those pastors have homes and churches significantly underwater, the extent of the damage is at present, undetermined. Not quite sure about the cousins and how they are faring.

What has again been discussed as the flood waters rise and the tragic pictures continue to scroll across the news and social media, is – where is God in all of this? Why doesn’t God do something? Doesn’t someone have an answer?

When things go bad, we want to have an answer, we want to either receive of bring comfort. We want to have an answer. And, we think that we need to say something like, “God’s still in control!” Or, “when a door closes, God opens a window.” Or maybe, “God has a plan for you.” And even quoting the Bible, “all things work together for good to those who love God.”

Then comes our text and it appears to fall right in line, we find God in Christ Jesus healing a deaf man with a speech impediment. Reading this text after this last week, where at the writing of this sermon it was still raining and the flood waters were still rising, we wonder why does God wait to do something like He did in our text?

It makes us wonder about whether we have our faith placed in truth or fiction. Why does God allow such calamity to happen?

Dear friends in Christ, not everything that is true about God, are things people want to hear about God. There are hidden things of God, and there are revealed things of God. Too often, people want to know the hidden things of God, but they have not all been revealed to us.

Unfortunately, all the questions asked so far in this sermon are all the wrong questions. I know that you may want the answers to those questions, but they are none of your concern.

Trust me, I know the questions – I know them intimately! They were questions I begged God to answer, sometimes as I soaked my pillow with tears, “Why God? Why do I need to take care of my mother? Why do I need to bath her? Why do I have to change her diapers? Why do I have to place food in her mouth? Why can’t you just heal her? Why do you let her suffer with pain when she loves you so much? Are you listening – God? Do you care – God? Are you even there – God?”

Dear friends those were all the wrong question. And the answers that some people tried to give me, were of not help! They offered fine feelings, but they only gave unstable hope.

God wants us only to know this about Him – are you ready? Listening? – here it is… God wants us only to know this about Him, Jesus!

In our text, Jesus demands the people to say nothing. After healing the man, He charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. What do they say? “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Wow! God does all things well? He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak? Great!

But mom still lies in bed.

My brother still has to work from a wheelchair.

Heloise is still dying of cancer.

The rain still falls in Texas.

People kill one another without any regard for life.

The only thing we know about God is Jesus, and the only thing we know about Jesus is what is revealed to us. And all that we know about Jesus is that He is the crucified One. It is why Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:2).

Those folks in the region of the Decapolis did not understand that. They wanted something other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. All they saw was that the mute deaf now talked and heard. Wow! Amazing! Incredible! That’s the God we want, the God Who will make this life easy.

Dear friends, God has an incredible plan for your life, but it is not what you think. His plan is to crucify you with Christ – bury you with Christ – raise you to new life in Christ. It is your daily life of baptism. In baptism, you are united to the only God we know, the crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected Christ. In Christ, God reveals who He is.

Was the sole purpose for the Word of God becoming flesh to make the deaf hear and the mute speak? This is not to say that God does not sometimes bring healing, but is that the SOLE purpose for Christ? The Lord promises something that appears like healing in our Old Testament lesson, but what does He mean? “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” The promise is not about physical healing now. It is the promise of a Savior, it is the promise of eternal blessings that will come to pass, at the end of life in this mortal coil.

Jesus heals to show His power over illness, and that which causes illness, sinfulness. His healing shows the power of Lord of Life over death. Spit, that is water, cleanses the man of His illness – baptism cleanses him of his sin.

Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not glamorous. The things of eternal import are not glorious. We are like the crowds that day, we want the physical things, the earthly miraculous. We are enamored with this life.

Jesus is the God who allowed Himself to be arrested by liars. He gave His cheeks to be slapped. He turned His back to be whipped. He bowed His head to accept a crown of thorns. He gave His wrists and feet to be nailed to the cross. He gave His ears to those who mocked Him, and gave His voice to proclaim their forgiveness. He willingly gave His flesh to those who crucified Him. In doing so, He purchased their forgiveness for the vile acts they committed. He purchased forgiveness for the despicable sins that you and I have in both our heads and hearts – and have acted out with our lips, hands, and bodies.

Jesus may not give us all the answers we want, but He gives to you the forgiveness and life eternal which He purchased with His innocent suffering and death. In Christ, your ears are opened to hear a word of forgiveness, and your mouth is loosed to proclaim His praise.

In healing this deaf mute from the plainly obvious effects of sin in his life, Jesus is declaring to you His power and authority over sin and death. This is not an assurance that He will grant us physical healing of our every infirmity – at least not in this life. Nor is this an assurance that He will remove all pain from our lives, nor that He will grant us our heart’s every desire. None of those things, for that has not been promised to us. But Jesus did instruct us to take up our cross and follow Him.

This miracle in our text gives us confidence that He will grant us healing from our sin in His Gospel. By healing this man from the obvious effects of sin, we are shown Christ’s power and authority over sin itself. Christ brought healing to this man through a Word from His mouth.  With but a word from Jesus, sins are forgiven and the effects of sin in the man’s body are gone.

Until that is understood, tell no one.

Until you are determined to know nothing else except Christ, and Him crucified, tell no one.

Until you can boldly proclaim that you are a redeemed sinner, tell no one.

Until you can rejoice that you are in Christ Jesus, that your identity is in Him alone, tell no one.

Nothing has changed since the events in our text. Christ still brings healing and life through His Word. In a Word of forgiveness, He heals us from our sinful doubts. With a Word He forgives our complaints, our apathy, and our sinful thinking that if there are no great miracles, then God must not with us. And in that Word of forgiveness, He strengthens your faith to live each day of your lives trusting in Him.

With but a Word, He speaks and sins are forgiven. Where sins are forgiven there is the greatest of healing, for therein is given eternal life and salvation.

But Jesus does not leave us with just a word in our ears. He knows our weakness, and so He comes to us with visible signs which make His work for us more personal, as it were. Just as He took the man aside from the crowd and touched Him, so He touches us.

That is why He uses water with His Word in the miracle of baptism. He singles us out, one by one, and calls us by name. His Word of promise offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins in that water, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Boldly proclaim it, “I am baptized! I am in Christ a new creature!”

With but a Word, He speaks and bread and wine are His precious body and blood.  As you eat His flesh and drink of His blood with your own mouths, His words proclaim to you what you receive, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Christ Himself comes to you, makes His dwelling within you, and you are blessed with life.

Christ is the very Word of God who spoke all things into existence at the beginning. It is this same Word of God who spoke and the deaf man heard and his tongue was loosed. The sinfulness which had bound him was removed and he was able to hear and to speak. No less a miracle takes place in your hearing, for Christ’s Word comes to you and proclaims your sins forgiven – how wonderful it is to hear.  And your mouth is opened that you might speak the glories of God. Shout it from the mountain tops. 

He has done all things well - with a Word, sins are forgiven.

He has done all things well - with a Word, He gives salvation.

He has done all things well - with a Word, He bestows eternal life.

He has done all things well - with a Word, He strengthens your faith that you may believe these are all God’s gracious gifts which keep you now and for eternity.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sin? What Is That?

I don’t know how often you read the Old Testament reading, but I’d like to take a moment to consider words inspired of God, through the pen of the prophet Micah. Micah is speaking to God and therefore revealing God's will for His people, words we could do well to read and heed today.  Here is what Micah wrote:
Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.  (Micah 7:18-20 - NKJV)
Does Micah have anything to say to us today? Well, it all depends on whether you believe the Old Testament to be God's Word to His people of every age. We should so believe that to be exactly the case. As such, then this short passage has volumes to say to people today.
First of all, why does He pardon iniquity? Why does He not retain His anger? Why does He subdue iniquities? Why does He cast all our sins into the depths of the sea? These are important questions for us who live in this 21st Century. Today, there are many who claim the banner of Jesus Christ and purport to teach in His name who would deny there is a need for God to forgive sin. They claim that God is a God only of love, there can be no anger in love. Why? Because what was called sin a few short years ago is no longer called sin today. It seems as if sin has gone out of style, or at least calling sin what it really is, has gone out of style. My friends, this is not true as our text proves. Anything that teaches contrary is just the self-delusion of our day. It is all part of man's continuing effort to re-create God in their own image.
Our text makes the claim that God is angry. What does He have to be angry about? Simply put, He is angry about the disobedience of His children. Immorality is running rampant in our society, and those who support it claim that God's most important law is to love one another. With such belief, they claim that Bible believing Christians are pushing their own morality on them and not following God's most important law. In the meantime, they have thrown out the verses that Jesus speaks about there being a hell. They throw out the verses where God's Word makes certain claims about right and wrong. Yes, Scripture claims to be the clear testimony of objective truth. So, God in His justice will call these people to be accountable on the last day for their disobedience to His Word. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and those who desire to rewrite God's will for people.
Today, instead of looking to God's grace and mercy for forgiveness from sins, people would rather say that they are not sinners. People do not like the idea of a just God who calls His people to repentance and promises eternal damnation upon those who do not believe as He has commanded. So, many people claim that there is no sin, simply different choices, and God loves us all as we are and will lovingly take us to heaven. Do not believe it!!!

There is another alternative. In fact, it is a God-pleasing alternative. Again, I ask you. Why does He pardon iniquity? Why does He not retain His anger? Why does He subdue iniquities? Why does He cast all our sins into the depths of the sea? First of all, our disobedience to all of His holy will is sin, and as a holy and just God, He is angry at our disobedience. In His justice, as He has declared that the wages of sin is death, there must be a death to atone for your sins. It can either be your death, or the death of someone who is sinless. There is the alternative. Instead of stating that God has no wrath against sin, and therefore do away with the notion that anything is sinful, He invites us to see that He is justifiably angry with sin. Sin is a stench that rises to His nostrils and thoroughly nauseates Him. In His love and mercy though, He Himself paid the price demanded of His just nature against sin by sacrificing the perfect life of His only-begotten Son. 

Iniquity is pardoned in Christ's death. God's anger is satiated in the blood which was shed by Christ. He subdues iniquities by nailing them to the Cross of Calvary. He casts our sins into the depths of Christ's grave and buries them there. 

So, why is heaven ours? Not because God doesn't care about our sins, but because He cares so much that He gave His own Son to die and pay for them.

It is those who trust and cling to this truth which God gives eternal life. And those who trust in their own works, those will be cast into eternal flame. Isn't it nice to know that salvation isn't reliant upon your works? Isn't it comforting to know that God has purchased you from sin and death and give you the gift of eternal salvation? This is the truth that was revealed to Jacob and the mercy which was given to Abraham. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Christians gather together to hear this truth of the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation. Let us receive God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation again and again in the precious Word of the Gospel and in the Sacrament of the Altar. What a privilege we have to be recipients of God’s grace.