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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sermon from July 27

More than Conquerors

Romans 8:37

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

            It would be good if you knew this verse by heart and remembered it the rest of your life. 
Earlier in this reading we hear how God loved us:  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

There is another sermon or two in those couple of verses, I can’t get into it all right now, other than to say that when you hear that God loved us, you’ve got to think in terms of forever. Forever ago in the past -- His love started way back in the beginning when He foreknew us and predestined us, to be conformed to the image of His Son, (to make us like Jesus) -- And forever in the future He justified us and glorified us, that’s true now but we will especially see that in the eternal future when we fully live that justified life and fully feel that glory.

Everything that we have going on that is good is because of that.  Anything worthwhile that we have is only through him who loved us.

Notice that at each step of the way, it’s God who is doing it.  He foreknew us. He predestined us. He conformed us to the image of His Son. He called, justified and glorified us. So it is essential that we keep in mind that our only hope our only life is through him who loved us.

On our own, we’ll have nothing.  On our own we will not be conquerors, but losers. On our own, when troubles come our way, when worries crowd our minds we start to feel overwhelmed, desperate or worse yet we start to feel sorry, we look left we look right we see no solution to our problems on either hand and so we just give up, and wallow in the pit of our own self-pity.

If you learn this verse and keep it in your heart for the rest of your life you’ll be better able to look away from yourself, your problems and your inability to fix your problems and you’ll be able to look to God and His promises.  You will learn what it means to be More than conquerors through him who loved us.

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

This passage is from the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans. Not this summer but last summer, at our Vacation Bible School, I dressed up and tried to pretend to be St. Paul. I helped kids write their name in Greek, the language in which Paul’s letters were written. And during one session I talked to the children about this verse We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  Maybe some of you will be reminded that the Greek word for “more than conquerors” is hypernike. Nike  the root word, means victory. It was chosen as the name of an athletic shoe company because it’s a powerful name, a name for winners. In that Vacation Bible School session I put a swoosh mark on the hands of the students so they’d remember that, for a while, at least until they washed their hands.

Through Him who loved us, who chose us, gave us a new destiny in Jesus, justified us, glorified us. Because of all this we have the victory. We are the conquerors, the winners. But St. Paul added a prefix to that word Nike.  He said that we are hypernike.  Hyper in Greek means over and above, beyond. If someone is hyperactive, they are excessively active, super active. So this compound word then says you are not just Nike, you are not just a conqueror, you are more than a conqueror. We are super conquerors, overwhelming conquerors through him who loved us.

You see, Jesus has conquered sin, death and the devil. But it wasn’t a close one. It wasn’t a nail biter. Maybe it appeared like it, when Jesus was hanging dead on the cross, the tag team opponents of the Jews and the Romans had beaten and humiliated Him. Behind the scenes Satan, had tempted and tricked and seemed to just about have his way and then at the last minute on Easter morning, Jesus pulled it out just at the buzzer. It might have appeared like that, but it wasn’t really.  God has had it all under control. Ever since the foundations of the world, God had planned that His chosen one would crush Satan. God did not want us to die, so He had Jesus be the death of death. God in eternity chose not to leave you in your sin, so He washed the sins off you and poured the judgment for sin on Jesus. Jesus resurrection from the dead is not just a victory. It is a hypervictory. He is more than a Conqueror. And you are being conformed into the image of Christ. You are becoming more and more like Christ. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

I urge you to think this way about your salvation. You are not just a winner, but a super winner. It is not as though it’s a close contest.  Will you perish or will you have everlasting life? Don’t say, “well, maybe. I hope so. We’ll have to wait and see. I hope the good Lord lets me in. I hope I can squeak by.” No! The Gospel message is that the Lord Jesus has won in a landslide, a rout, a smashing victory.  His is more than a victory! And we who have been baptized into Jesus have been conformed into His image and so we can say that His super victory is our super victory. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Lastly, In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In this Epistle reading, St. Paul has listed all the things that could happen to us, things that could
make us feel like we are getting beat. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Notice that our victory is in all these things, not apart from all these things. It is wrong to expect a victorious Christian life that is free of hardship or stress. In tribulation we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. During times of persecution, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. When we lack that which is necessary for life and well being we are more than conquerors. In danger or violence we are united with Christ the Hypernike, the Super Victor who suffered humbly, obediently and fully for us. It’s ironic that often a Christian will expect that when they are suffering and struggling they are the farthest away from God.  No, in hardship, persecution and suffering we are united with him who loved us.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So you feel as though you are bullied, battered, beaten down and bested by sin, death and the devil. You are not. In all these things, everyone one of them, You are more than conquerors.

As we keep hearing God’s promises, keep taking them in and taking them to heart we keep learning about how big His promise is, How complete His salvation is, how all encompassing this victory is.  Our doubts rise up and we say to ourselves, “Oh, no! here’s a problem that is beyond fixing, beyond help, beyond hope!” And the last thing to come to our minds is to pray about it.

In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Remember that when you pray. When you pray, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” that name is the name of a Victor, a super victor. That name of him who loved us was placed on you when you were baptized. Daily remember that.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sermon from July 6, 2014

The Burden Lifted

& Romans 7:14-25a

Jesus said, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)
Our bodies need rest to recuperate and reinvigorate. We need to rest to get ready to go back at it.
God who made us, body and soul, placed us in a world where there is night and day, times for rest and work. Since creation God has ordered things so that there is a day of rest, a day for us to pause from labor and meditate on Him and His promises.
As our bodies need such rest, so also our souls need rest and rejuvenation.
The Epistle reading for today describes the struggle, the fight within, from which we need rest. Like a boxer who gets a breather between rounds, so a Christian needs rest from the contest going on in his or her soul.  Romans 7 is about that contest, that fight, that struggle.
St. Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).
All of us Christians can relate to this internal tension he describes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
So we struggle. We do the things we hate. We act out of anger or frustration with our coworker, family member, or neighbor, instead of out of love.
We get to the end of a day and realize how little we’ve got done because we were lazy or distracted and didn’t do the work we should have.
We speak without thinking and out comes hurtful gossip or immoral words. Or we don’t speak up quick enough to defend our neighbor’s reputation or defend the truth. Only later do we think, “I should have said something.”
And so when we do, or think or say these things we hate, our conscience aches.
Your conscience is a good thing. It’s one way God gets his point across to you. It is a good thing when the conscience of a sinner gets burdened, because it leads you to repentance.
I say conscience is good, in principle. But like everything else about us, it is imperfect. Sometimes it is just plain wrong. It gives out false signals. Sometimes our struggle is over false guilt and false shame.
For example, you can get to feeling guilty for not being what others expect you to be. The people around you may expect you to be a certain type of parent or a certain type of student or a certain type of citizen. If you let them down, you may feel bad and guilty about it.
But really, such expectations do not necessarily need to be your problem. It’s more likely the case that they need to learn who you are, and not assume who you are. It’s rude of them to expect you to change to fit their assumptions. We need to learn that it is God’s Word that determines what is right and what is wrong, not the opinions of those around us.
But each of us knows of times when our conscience was bothered and it was right. It was doing its God-given purpose of showing us our sins. It was making God’s Law real and pertinent in our lives.
Sin makes Guilt. And guilt is no fun, it takes away peace. It can drive a sinner crazy. Guilt prevents you from enjoying life, from functioning properly. It keeps you from being a good neighbor and serving the Lord whole-heartedly.
So what to do with guilt? I want to list some options:
1).        Fret. You can just keep stewing over it. You can keep going over and over in your mind what you did wrong and how shameful it was.
As I say that, you can probably imagine how wrong that sounds, especially since there is such an easy solution to that in the forgiveness of Jesus who died for your sins. Yet many, many people, many Christians, go years, decades even, fretting over their guilt. They go around feeling inadequate, unworthy, despicable. We pray that they would hear the Gospel and believe it.
2.)        Give up. You could just abandon the fight. Avoid the struggle. Just stop caring. Do whatever it takes to push the conscience aside so it doesn’t bother anymore. Drink more. Indulge more. Sin more. When you bend the conscience enough it breaks and once broken it’s not so sharp, not so burdensome. Then you will feel free from the struggle. You can go on with life. It’s as easy as falling off a log. No worries.
But even as I say that, you can see that conscience is a good and blessed thing. Because when it is broken or gone, it’s terrible. All that is left is lawlessness and godlessness.
3.)        Work to fix it. You can work to overcome your shortfalls. You can focus on fixing your guilt and shame, and in so doing you can prove yourself to be better than your past sins and guilt. Prove yourself to whom? Mostly, prove yourself to yourself.
But then you will have to work constantly. There will be no rest – no stopping . . . until you crash. No peace; No joy in life.
Let’s turn back to the Epistle reading of the day:  St Paul describes this struggle going on within himself. He painfully describes his ongoing battle, wanting to do good, but doing instead the things he hates to do. He concludes: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24.
And then He answers His own question with this powerful response: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
“Thanks be to God!” Those are the words that resound in the Christian life.
If you are one who frets, turn your gaze away from yourself and from all the worries and see the victory over sin and death that God has given you through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Let your thanks to God fill your life with joy and peace.
If you are one who has given up on the struggle with sin, Thanks be to God! He hasn’t given up on you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our Lord continues to invite sinners, “Come to me!”
If you are one who works ceaselessly, addictively, and restlessly, Thanks be to God that He has rest for your soul through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hear that Gospel Jesus preaches:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He lifts your burden. In your struggle remember His promises. Remember the promise He made at your baptism. He forgives you, so He can accept you. Remember the promise He makes you at His table. “My body was given, so you’d be forgiven. My blood was shed so you’d have life – holy and eternal.
In this way, let Christ teach you what life is all about. Our view of life is warped by selfish desires. Our work ethic has been lost along the way. Work has come to be viewed as bad, as something to avoid as much as you can. Recreation is valued as that which life is all about. You work so can get to the weekend, you put in your time, you put in your years with the only purpose in mind is the day when you can stop and retire.
There is a time for work. That’s how we serve each other and society.
There is a time for rest. That’s to restore strength so we are ready for what comes next.
So likewise there is a time for the conscience to struggle.  This is necessary for us lest we become lazy in our sins.
There is a time for peace in Jesus, hearing His gospel of forgiveness and taking our rest in Him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sermon from June 29

Matthew 10:34-38

Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said,     "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38) This is our text.
A few of us can remember the Waltons. On that old TV show there was the perfect family. They sat, all together, around the table for every meal. They all said good night to each other, pleasantly. It was an ideal home and family life. When there were problems, they were solved in the course of the week’s episode. The Dad was strong. The Mother was caring. The Grandparents were wise. The Children were respectful. That’s what families should be like.
But then Jesus makes this surprising statement: “A person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:36).
Jesus expected that we, His disciples, His people, would have issues, and in particular, issues in our families. We are often ashamed to admit how far from the ideal our family life is, how less than perfect our family situation is. When something is out of place we are embarrassed; we try to hide it; we do what we can to make it look like all is in order, nice and tidy.
That’s why a Christian may balk at what Jesus says. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
“No!” one might say, “It’s not supposed to be like that!”
Things should be neat and tidy. It seems like family life for a Christian should be easy. If they are not easy and comfortable, something must be wrong.
But Jesus expected that sin would upset your life and make problems in your family.
By sin, I mean, (1) your sin: your anger- when it rises up within you and you speak harsh words,  they hurt relationships and cause conflicts. Your selfishness – when you think and care only about yourself, you ignore the needs and desires of loved ones and when they are left out and lose out, relationships suffer. So repent of your sin -- your part in the problems of your family and seek forgiveness from the Lord and from family and friends.
By sin, I also mean, (2) other’s sins against you. It’s not easy in this life. It’s not possible to have a home as perfect as the Waltons when you live with sinners. Learn grace from our Lord. Learn from Him how to forgive.
These two cases of sin in our families and closest relationships are handled by repentance and forgiveness.
Repentance and forgiveness is the Thing. The message of Jesus boiled down is just that: repentance and forgiveness.
Repentance:  Acknowledge and admit your guilt and sin.
Forgiveness: Jesus died the guilty one’s deserved death to take your sin away.
Repentance and forgiveness are summed up and symbolized by the cross.
The cross is glorious.
The cross is controversial and scandalous.
The message of the cross is this: admit your sinfulness; sorrow over your sins; stop your sinful ways; take the forgiveness Jesus gives.
People don’t like to hear that message. It rubs the sinner the wrong way.
Many would rather hear the world’s message: “Don’t worry about sin.” “Find an excuse for sin, like, you were born that way.” “Ignore it; deny its problems; shrug it off.
Some churches are geared more toward entertaining the audience, putting on a good show. When you see their video screens and their colorful images you might not see the cross. They might have nice pictures, pretty plants, nice carpeting, but no cross anywhere in their church. Why? Because the cross is controversial, disturbing, upsetting. So they abandon the cross and its message, and in so doing forget what they are to do, namely call people to repentance and forgiveness.
There are two completely different ways of life: In Christ and Outside of Christ, on in other words, under the cross or avoiding the cross.
Under the cross, there is bound to be stress and conflict and division. Jesus said, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).
Sin causes problems. It disrupts our relationships. The fix is to be found at the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus diagnoses sin and so it magnifies sin and identifies divisions.
We want things easy. Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” If things were easy, you wouldn’t need the Lord or His cross.
He wants you to learn, to grow, to be shaped to think in terms of the cross and its message of repentance and forgiveness.
Today, June 29, in Church tradition is the remembrance of Sts. Peter and Paul. These two great apostles share one Saints’ day.  And its interesting that these two did not always get along well.
Once at a church dinner Peter was visiting with some gentile Christians when some Jewish Christians came in, the respected, old guard. Peter got up from the novice gentile bunch and went over to the more prestigious group and began talking with them.
Paul was there at the same time and saw all this happen. Now Paul was the newer apostle, he didn’t have the political capital that Peter did. But Paul had to speak up about Peter’s actions, because Peter made the impression that some Christians were better or more important than others.
Paul made a scene. He confronted Peter to his face, in front of everyone, to make it clear that Peter’s favoritism was wrong.
Theirs is a great example of how the message of the cross does not bring peace, but a sword. The temptation when you are in a situation like Paul’s is to do nothing, keep your peace, let everything be easy and comfortable. Christians are doing that too much.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”