Lost and Found St. Luke 15:1-10 by William Klock Sometimes it’s hard for Christians to get along and it’s particularly sad and ironic when we can’t get along over the…
Bible Text: Luke 18:31-43 | Preacher: The Rev'd Bill Hedges | Series: The Church Year
Hear the Word of God and Keep It St. Luke 11:14-28 by William Klock One of the things that Lent reminds us is that there’s a battle going on. It’s…
Bible Text: Romans 15:4-13; Luke 21:25-33 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent Romans 15:4-13 & St. Luke 21:25-33 by William Klock As I was walking home from the Church this past Thursday afternoon I was thinking about today’s Epistle. As I walked out the back entrance of the cemetery, a lost puppy ran up to me. It sniffed at me for a minute, ran a couple of circles around me, and then ran off down the path. Have you ever watched a lost puppy? This guy had a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but he didn’t have any direction. He went to whatever new and exciting thing his nose sniffed out—going from fencepost to fencepost, from tree to tree, running off into the tall grass when he heard something move, then going back to sniff at more fenceposts, then chasing some ducks that had left the safety of the pond. Again, he had a lot of enthusiasm, but no direction, no real purpose, no goal; he just went around examining anything and everything that caught his attention. As much as he was no doubt have fun doing all that aimless wandering, it wasn’t going to get him back home and, unless his owners were to find him, he’d be spending a cold night out in the wind and rain. With that image in mind, consider how we saw in the lessons last week that Advent calls us to be prepared. To be prepared requires that we have a clear goal before us and we be focused and intent on it. Jesus has ushered in his kingdom, he’s established it by the power of his Spirit in our hearts, he has made us a new temple, and then he left; he went back to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, to rule his kingdom, but he’s left us here to do his work. He promised he would come back to consummate it—to make the spiritual reality of his kingdom a physical reality—but in the meantime he made it very clear that we have work to do. His Spirit is at work in the world, turning and regenerating hearts and making them ready to receive the Gospel message, but he’s given us the job of living out and preaching that message so that hearts ready to receive it will come to faith. That’s how the kingdom grows. Jesus has left us with everything we need to do the job. He’s empowered us by his Spirit, he’s given us the gifts and talents to do the work, and he’s even given us directions. Our problem is that all too often we forget about the direction. We end up like lost puppies: we’re full of enthusiasm and energy, but we don’t know where we’re headed or what we’re supposed to be doing—maybe we don’t even know where home is—so we flit from thing to thing, to whatever attracts our spiritual attention, we get distracted, we get lost, we forget about the job and the mission Jesus has given us. Because of our being so often ungrounded, instead of hearing Jesus say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” on the final day when he comes back for us, we’re more likely to hear him ask us why we wasted the time, the talent, and the treasure he gave us; we run the risk of ending up in the “outer darkness”, not unlike a lost puppy who didn’t make it home. It’s no wonder that so many Christians flit from church to church or from one spiritual distraction to another, never really making a commitment and never really doing much kingdom work. Whole sections of the Church seem to do the same thing. Instead of committing themselves to the pure and unadulterated Gospel of the Scriptures, instead of holding fast to the faith once delivered to the saints, we wander from this fad to that fad, trying to be “relevant”, conforming to the culture, or looking to the latest ecclesiastical craze, “signs and wonders”, or man-centred teaching to draw people to the kingdom rather than simply preaching and faithfully living the Cross of Christ. Last week Jesus warned us that we need to be prepared—that we need to be living in obedience like the disciples and in trust like the people who welcomed him to Jerusalem, lest we end up like the hypocritical religious leaders in the temple who took God’s grace for granted and corrupted the faith into something they could use to get rich. Today the lessons give us an anchor for our faith; they remind us that it’s not just about being obedient, but that it’s about being obedient to the precepts of God in Scripture, and it’s not just about blind trust, but about trusting in the promises he’s given us in those same Scriptures. The Bible is our anchor. Without it we can never be prepared for Jesus’ Second Advent. Without it we’ll wander like lost puppies. In the Epistle—Romans 15:4-13—St. Paul points us to the Old Testament, saying: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4) Think about the entire Old Testament, from Adam and Eve though the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile, and consider how full these pages are of God’s precepts and promises. It was a book, inspired and given by God, to people who had fallen into sin, who faced eternal spiritual death, and whom God was leading back to himself. God gave the Scriptures to his people so that they could know him—to know about him and to know his character and his ways. Sin had clouded their vision, it had darkened the mirror, and it had cut them off from God. On their own they stumbled around in the dark with no hope, but as the Scriptures instructed the people in the knowledge of God, it brought hope into the darkness. Even more, the Old Testament Scriptures are a source of hope for Christians. They show us God’s love for his people and his plans for them. The Old Testament pointed the people to the fulfilment of God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ—something the Old Testament saints never saw fulfilled. But as Christians we’ve experienced the reality of that fulfilment. And so when we see how Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament promises, it should give us profound and life-changing hope, because we can trust that just as he fulfilled those Old Testament promises, he will also fulfil the New Testament promises he has made to us. And hope changes our lives—but only for the better if our hope is anchored in Scripture. St. Paul was writing this to the Roman Church, because they were have some major disagreements. The Jewish Christians there were insisting that their Gentile brothers and sisters follow Jewish practices and the Gentile believers were looking down on the Jewish Christians for being hung up on things that didn’t matter anymore. Paul steps in and points out that all of them should be finding their future hope in the same Scriptures and that the evidence of that hope, that faith, is unity in Christ—and not just a theoretical unity, but real-world, lived-out unity. Look at verses 5-7: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Paul gives us a picture of what the Church is supposed to look like—of what it means to be prepared for the Second Advent. As we Christians live in God’s grace—as he gives us the strength and endurance to overcome the “old man” and to put on the new—we ought to be living in harmony with each other. Think about the fact that the Church brings together people from every culture and every walk of life. Jews and Romans were being brought together in the Roman Church. Historically the Jews hated the Romans, because the Romans had conquered them, and the Romans thought the Jews were just a bunch of crazy religious zealots and malcontents. Jews and Romans were like oil and water—and we can see that in the problems they had in the Roman Church—but Paul reminds them they were brought together by the Word: by a common life in the Word Incarnate, by a common grounding and hope in the Word Written, and by a common sharing in the Sacramental life of the Word, given at his own Table and in his own Feast. We share that same common life in the Word too. That means that we should be welcoming—loving—our brothers and sisters in Christ not because they’re like us or share common interests, but because all of us have been welcomed by Christ into his body. If we will only do that, we’ll be united not just in our life together, but in our praise of God as we live out our hope and faith before the eyes of the world. Paul goes on in verse 8: For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs… So, yes, the Old Testament Scriptures are Jewish scriptures. Jesus came in fulfilment of all those promises to the Jews. But Paul goes on in verse 9. God’s purpose wasn’t simply to save the Jewish people, but to use them to show his glory to the whole world. …and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. Paul bridges the Old and New Testaments. God’s kingdom was never about a particular people or a particular place. God used a particular people and place so that when the fulfilment of his promises came, the whole world—all nations—would be drawn to the kingdom established by Jesus in his Church. And now, for the benefit of the Jews in his audience, Paul quotes all three of the historic divisions of the Torah to remind them that God’s plan was always there: As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”[2 Samuel 22:50] And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” [Deuteronomy 32:43] And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” [Psalm 117:1] And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” [Isaiah 11:1, 10] Paul’s stressing their unity by reminding them that neither the Jews nor the Gentiles knew Jesus, but that both are now one in him. And as he opens their understanding they can now see what had been there all the time. Jesus is the one who opens the Book, which is what we see in Revelation: “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). And the result of the understanding Jesus gives is that we grab hold of him, trusting in him and in the redemption he offers through the Cross. If we will only do that, Paul prays: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13) God is not only the God of endurance and encouragement, but he’s also the God of hope. Think about those words. If our God is a God of hope, how can we ever despair? If our God is the God of endurance and encouragement, how can we ever fail to endure? The key is to rest on the Word: Incarnate and Written. He is our source of life and hope. And, brothers and sisters, we need that hope. It’s part of our preparation for his return. The Epistle shows us the source of our hope by pointing back to the Old Testament and how the promises there were fulfilled in Christ and in his kingdom. But in the Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us that while his kingdom is real and that is here, it exists alongside the world’s kingdoms for the time being—until his Second Advent when he’ll make it a physical reality. That’s what we’re preparing for. The Gospel is taken from the Olivet Discourse—where Jesus, a few days before his death, told his disciple what to expect in the coming years—that following him meant persecution. He warned them about the persecution that they would experience at the hands of the Jews, most of whom would not only reject him as the Messiah, but would reject, persecute, and brutally murder his disciples. Jesus tells the disciples about the coming judgement on the Jews for their rejection of him and of the end of the Old Testament age, with the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, which took place in a.d. 70—forty years, or a “generation”, later. But Jesus also uses that time of tribulation as an illustration to prepare the rest of us for what life will be like in the kingdom on this side of the Last Day, and he uses that judgement on Jerusalem as an illustration of the judgement that will come on the Last Day, and through that he gives us hope. Jesus warns that in that day the people would be wondering what the world was coming to because of all the tumult. Palestine faced natural disasters and terrible famines. Under the leadership of Titus, the Emperor’s son, Judea was beaten down. And in addition to the difficult times faced by everyone, we know from the records of that time that the Jewish Christians were persecuted horribly by the Jews. The Jewish historian Josephus, himself a Pharisees, wrote that the Jews of his day were amongst the most wicked people who had ever lived. It was not a pleasant time or place for anyone and was even worse for Christians. But Jesus gives hope. He wanted his people to know that he hadn’t forgotten them and so he exhorts them, saying: And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:27-28) At the time when his people were inclined to utter despair, Jesus says instead to lift their heads up high—he was coming, their Saviour would take care of them. Jesus gives a promise like the ones he gave through the Old Testament prophets. When things were at their worst; when the Assyrians or the Babylonians were camped around the cities of Israel and Judah; when the people were starving; after the people had been carried off to exile in a foreign land and their cities had been destroyed; God had promised through the prophets: Lift your heads! I’ve brought my judgment on the wicked, but I will preserve and save my faithful remnant through it all. And as we see in the Old Testament record, God fulfilled those promises, and fulfilled the most important ones in sending Jesus. Now Jesus, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, gives this prophecy of hope to his disciples. Now, consider how absurd it would be for them to despair or to lose faith when the tribulation came. Not only do they have the witness to God’s faithfulness that fills the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures from beginning to end, but they have the One who came as the very fulfilment of those promises now giving them more promises! And so after telling them how bad things are going to get, he exhorts them with a parable: And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-31) They won’t know the time—as Jesus says in St. Matthew’s gospel: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13)—but they will know that the day is getting closer. Just as the changing colours of the leaves on the trees tell us that a change of the seasons is near, their persecution would point to their coming salvation. Jesus’ point is that rather than the signs of the times being something to despair over, they should be signs of hope for the disciples. And he explains why: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 21:32-33) Jesus says that the coming persecution and the coming judgement were a sure thing—they would happen before the generation alive in that day passed away. Were the disciples ready to take his word for it? Would they start doubting once they were in the midst of all that trouble? Jesus reminds them of the trustworthiness of his words: They’re more enduring, more sure even than heaven and earth. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, is the very foundation of Creation itself—it was by his power as the Word, that God spoke everything into existence—and so when Jesus gives his word we can trust what he has to say—we can trust his promises. Brothers and sisters, there’s out hope! And this is why as we wait for his Second Advent and that Final Judgement—as we prepare ourselves—we need to prepare ourselves by the Word. The Word is as much our hope as it was the disciples’. We’ve seen the Old Testament fulfilled in Jesus. We can see these words he spoke to the disciples fulfilled too. History shows us that what Jesus predicted on the Mount of Olives that day came to pass forty years later. His words are true. And so we too can have hope as we live through our own tribulations and as we wait for his final coming in glory to judge the living and the dead. God will always care for his faithful people. Consider the message he gave to the Church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3. He gave them his promise that as they stood under great temptation, that they would stand steadfast—but the reason they would stand steadfast was because of their commitment to the Word: “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8). Those words are profoundly true. We have but little power. We are weak—but he is strong. And God chooses to show his strength through weak people so that the world might see him at work and be drawn to him. So instead of flitting from one thing to another, instead of being carried away by the latest ecclesiastical fad and every wave of doctrine, let us be grounded in the Word that we might be confident and diligent in our mission and focused wholly on preaching and living out the Cross of Christ. Let us faithfully trust in God’s promises and just as faithfully obey his precepts that we might patiently endure, strengthened by him. When the Israelites were surrounded by the Syrian army, Elisha wasn’t afraid. His servant was in a panic and couldn’t understand why Elisha wasn’t, so Elisha prayed that God would open the young man’s eyes. God opened them and the young man saw the innumerable hosts of heaven—horses and chariots of fire—all around them. Josephus reports that at the outset of the Jewish War, when the Romans came as God’s instrument of judgement on Jerusalem, that the armies of heaven appeared in the clouds. And brothers and sisters, we can rest secure on the promises of Jesus—whose Word is sure and will never pass away—that no matter how bad things get for us, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and that the hosts of heaven are camped around us. As the Psalmist wrote, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7). Let us pray: “Blessed Lord, who caused the holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that through patience and the comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Bible Text: Romans 12:1-5; Luke 2:41-52 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany Romans 12:1-5 & St. Luke 2:41-52 by William Klock When we were here together to celebrate Christ’s Epiphany on Thursday evening I preached from that day’s Old Testament lesson—from Isaiah 60—and we heard those words: “Arise, shine!” Why? “For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Epiphany is our annual celebration of and reminder that Jesus Christ has manifested himself to the world. The Light has come into the darkness. We’ve seen him and he has filled us with his light and made us lights ourselves. And now Epiphany calls us to go out into the darkness and shine. We need the reminder, because it’s so easy to shut ourselves up with the light—to live in it and to love it ourselves—but to forget that that’s only half of what the light is for. It gives us life, but we also need to carry that light to the world so that it can bring life to others. Too often we get lazy and we let our light grow dim. Sometime we fear what might happen if we take the light into the darkness—if we try to show it to others, so we hide it—we keep it to ourselves. Jesus knew this and that’s why he told his disciples: Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket. It won’t do anyone any good there. No, take it out for all to see. Hold it high. Be like a city on a hill that shines its light for miles into the night’s darkness. Epiphany reminds us that because Jesus manifested himself to us, we need to manifest his life in us to the world and the lessons that the Church has selected for the season show us the various ways he manifest Christ-in-us to the world, showing us our Christian duties, telling us how to show the world God’s sympathy, mercy, power, and patience. Our Gospel today, Luke 2:41-52, gives us the only information we have of Jesus as he was growing up. The Gospels tell us about his birth and they focus mostly on his ministry thirty years later, but here Luke gives us a look at this one event that happened when Jesus was twelve, and as he tells us about this trip that the Holy Family took to Jerusalem, he gives us a picture of Christian duty. St. Luke tells us that when Jesus was twelve, Joseph and Mary took him with them to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. But Luke doesn’t just say that they went this one time. He’s also very clear to tell us, “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” Here and in other places, the Gospel writers make it clear that Joseph and Mary weren’t the Jewish equivalent of “Christmas and Easter Christians”. They weren’t flaky church-goers. They didn’t lack commitment to God’s family or to his kingdom. The law was full of duties and obligations and Joseph and Mary fulfilled them. And they didn’t fulfil them legalistically. The picture the Gospels present is of a couple who had experienced the goodness of God and desired to serve him in return—doing the things they knew would please him. Joseph and Mary knew their duty. So Luke tells us that they went to Jerusalem for the Passover and then went home, but on the way home they had a problem. They were travelling in a group with their friends and family. When they left Jerusalem, they assumed that Jesus was with them, but when he didn’t turn up for dinner at the end of the day, they went looking for him and he was nowhere to be found. You can imagine how panicked they must have been. Imagine if you were in that situation and your kid turned up missing. So the two of them turned around and went back to Jerusalem and scoured the city all day. We can only speculate about what they thought he might be up to. If I were in their shoes, I’d probably be afraid that he’d been kidnapped and might be dead somewhere. They no doubt searched the market places, talked to the Roman and Herodian soldiers who policed the city, and probably tracked down other kids to ask them if they’d seen Jesus. Finally, Luke says that they went to the temple and there they found Jesus sitting with the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Luke writes: After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. (Luke 2:46-50) Jesus knew what his priorities were. There’s no indication that he was being rebellious in hanging back in Jerusalem. We don’t know his motives for certain. He may have become so consumed with this desire to learn the things of God that he simply lost track of time, but it’s also entirely possible that he intended to teach Mary and Joseph something about his divinity. Whatever the case, God used the situation to teach—both Mary and Joseph and us. At twelve, Jesus knew that he was God’s Son and he knew in some sense that he was here on a divine mission, and so on what was probably his first opportunity to go to Jerusalem and to the temple—his first opportunity to sit at the feet of the teachers and rabbis to learn about his own Father and his own mission as the Messiah—he submitted himself to their wisdom and their teaching. He knew that his first priority in life was his Father. In fact, this is the question he asks his parents. They’d been no doubt panicking all day, searching everywhere, and Jesus doesn’t understand why. He asks them: Why were you looking for me? Doesn’t it make sense that I would be in my Father’s house? Why didn’t you just come here first? These are the first words of Jesus that we have recorded for us: “I must be in my Father’s house.” Compare those to his last words as he died for us on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” From his birth to his death, Jesus was not only devoted to his Father, but manifesting him and pointing the world to him. He knew his duty. After that Luke tells us that “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to his them” (Luke 2:51). Jesus knew his duty to his Father, but he also knew his duty to his earthly parents. His staying back at the temple wasn’t an act of rebellion against his parents in any way, but an act showing his devotion to his heavenly Father. In every way he submitted himself to the duty of obeying Joseph and Mary. We’ve all known some Christians who seem to have forgotten their earthly obligations. We have a phrase to describe them: “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.” That wasn’t Jesus. He came as one of us and he truly lived as one of us. He submitted himself to God’s law, he submitted himself to his parents, and he submitted himself to the general obligations of earthly life. Before he became the Saviour, he became a carpenter. He consecrated his earthly life to God by fulfilling its obligations. Finally, St. Luke tells us in verse 52: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” He spent thirty years in private, just being a regular guy and an average Joe, but he did that to prepare himself for three years of ministry. The Son of God didn’t turn up his nose at living on the wrong side of the tracks or being a child born out of wedlock, or at having to earn a living getting dirty and working with his hands. We can learn a lesson from that. How often do we forget that Jesus consecrated earthly life and work and suffering simply by submitting to it? We somehow get the idea that to do great things for God, we have to give up our earthly work or earthly families and go off to some far away place to be a missionary or we have to be ordained and become a full-time minister. Some people are called to that, but most of us are simply called to submit to the people and work God has called us to—to work for him right where he’s put us. That’s what the Incarnation is all about. Jesus became one of us that we might be one with him. He consecrated earthly things to heavenly use and we need to remember to do the same. And this is where we cross into our Epistle from Romans today. St. Luke shows us how Jesus manifested himself in the ordinary things of life and now St. Paul reminds us that we need to do the same. If you’ve got your Bible, turn to Romans 12. Paul tells us starting in verse 1: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. That’s our Christian duty at its most basic: present our bodies—ourselves—as living sacrifices to God. But it’s not just “duty”. Sometimes “duty” has negative connotations for us. Consider that Paul says that this is our “worship”. We get hung up thinking that coming and singing and hearing the Scriptures read and receiving the Sacraments is worship, but those things are only one small part of worship. The most basic and the most essential act of worship we can offer is to give ourselves over to God. Think about everything we just read in the Gospel about Jesus in that light. He presented himself as a living sacrifice to God. Even before he offered himself on the Cross as the once-for-all and perfect sacrifice for sins, he offered himself to his Father. The worship we offer to God here on Sundays is the fruit of our offering God our whole selves the whole rest of the week as an act of worship and then as we’re refreshed here by the Scriptures, by the Sacrament, and by our fellowship, we go back out into the world to offer ourselves again for another week—to engage ourselves in another week of real-life worship. But we also have to ask ourselves why we offer ourselves in worship to God. In the Gospel we saw Joseph and Mary fulfilling the obligations and duties of the law—worshipping—submitting to the things they knew were pleasing to God and being faithful in doing them—things like travelling to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. The Scriptures lay out for us the things that are pleasing to God—all his rules and regulations, his precepts and commandments. We know these are the things God’s wants us to do. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing them—of submitting ourselves to God—for the wrong reasons. Christians have always struggled with legalism. And let me be clear what that is, because Christians throw that term around a lot without really knowing what it means. Legalism is simply the belief that we are saved by keeping the law—that we’re saved by “doing” “things”. We live in an age where many Christians have abandoned the law for the most part and look on any attempt by the Church to exercise discipline or to hold her members accountable as “legalistic”. Friends, that’s not legalism. Whether it’s a preacher telling us what we should or shouldn’t do or brothers and sisters exhorting us to do good or offering correction when we fall into sin, that’s not legalism. Legalism is falling into the belief that our salvation depends on the things we do. The Church’s discipline and teaching and exhortation is not to tell us how to earn our salvation; it’s to give us a clear picture of what it looks like to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God—to worship him by doing the things that Scripture tells us are pleasing to him and avoiding the things Scripture tells us are displeasing to him. Walking in God’s way, living in a way that is pleasing to him, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, living righteously and avoiding sin—all that is the evidence of a true and saving faith, because the one who has experienced the loving grace of God will always have an overwhelming desire love God in return—to give him our worship. This is what St. James is getting at when he says that we ought to show our faith through our works. Works will never save, but saving faith will always show itself in works, because saving faith desires to please the God who has saved us. The Church and Scriptures are here in part to teach us what those works should be and the corrective discipline of the Church is meant to give us a kick in the pants when by our works we’re demonstrating a love for the world or for ourselves instead of a love of God—when our works seem to suggest that we don’t have saving faith. It’s not meant to punish, but to correct—to ensure the Church has a pure witness while at the same time forcing us to ask: Am I truly saved or have I deceived myself? In contrast to legalism, St. Paul tells us here that the real motive for offering ourselves to God is a sense of “the mercies of God.” Melville Scott put it this way: “We are to act from the motive of love; not our love which is so weak, but from the realisation of God’s great love towards us. Duty is not the price to purchase love, but a thank-offering for love received; not a thing of dreary necessity, but of gladness, its only sorrow being its own imperfection.” When you think of being a living sacrifice, think of Jesus. He humbled himself and he submitted himself to the will of his Father and he did that out of love for his Father and out of love for his people. We ought to humbly submit ourselves to the will of the Father out of love and gratitude for what he’s done for us in Christ and as we follow the example of Jesus, that means we also humbly submit ourselves to the service of our brothers and sisters out of love too. But as we’re called to be living sacrifices, how do we know what that looks like. We’ve already touched on that a bit. In verse 2 Paul says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Being worldly is not being a living sacrifice to God—in fact, being worldly is the opposite of what we’re called to be. Paul calls us to actively renew our minds. The indwelling Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, turning our desires away from the things of the world and focusing them on the things of God, but that’s only half of what happens to us when we become Christians. That’s the “justification” part. We’re also to be sanctified—that ongoing work of the Spirit that makes us holy and like Christ. The Spirit inclines our hearts toward holiness, but we need to actively renew our minds. Our minds have been fed on the things of the world. As Christians we now need to feed our minds on the things of God. We need to take worldly minds and give them a Christian formation and we do that first and foremost as we feed on the Spirit-inspired Word—that’s where we find the will of God and the better we know the Word the better we will be able to submit ourselves to God’s will—the better we will be able to put ourselves on his altar as living sacrifices. It should go without saying that if we’re offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices out of gratitude for his loving mercy, that we should do so in all humility. And yet just as we’re prone to falling into legalism and submitting ourselves to God in order to earn his mercy, we’re also prone to twisting our submission into something in which to take pride: “Look at me! I’m such a good living sacrifice!” or “My offering to God is better than yours!” And so Paul goes on in verses 3 to 5: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. The Christian life is a life of humility. There’s no “Look at me!” in the body of Christ. There’s no “I’m better than you!” or “I’m holier than you!” in the Church. And in the Church we never do anything self-serving. Think of Jesus’ example. He gave up everything. He humbled himself to become one of us. And as if God becoming man wasn’t humbling enough, he who knew no sin took our sins upon himself and died the death we deserve. And so Paul reminds us that living sacrifices offer themselves to God and to their brothers and sisters in Christ. A living sacrifice knows that he’s only holy based on the merit of Jesus and by the grace of God, and so he never lords what he has in Christ over what another has. We offer ourselves in humility. The Roman Church had some of the same problems that the Corinthian Church had. They saw diversity in the body and some took that to mean that they were better than others or that their gifts were more important. Paul reminds us that God gifts us all differently and that those different gifts are meant to compliment each other. Just as Jesus was faithful in doing the work that was set before him, whether that was sawing lumber in a carpenter’s shop or being nailed to a cross, no one of us is above the work that God has given us and no one is to look down on the sanctified work of his brother or sister. All the work of the Church is God’s work, all of it is to build up the body and all of it is to build the kingdom. Think about these things as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning. What we do here, as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we do in obedience to his commandment: “Do this in remembrance of me, your Saviour and Redeemer. This is a reminder not to forget that you belong to me. I have bought you with a price. You belong not to yourself. You were bought with my blood and you belong to me.” Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” He reminds us that his work on earth in his name is as much ours as the work that he did for his Father. And that means that he expects the same devotion to our work that he gave to his own work—the same kind of devotion and passion we see throughout his life in the gospels. Think of how fully he gave himself to the work he was sent to do. He told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” His whole life was to do the work that his Father gave him: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” At the end of his life he could say to his Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” We need to be reminded that our Lord expects his followers—you and me—to have the kind of devotion to the Fathers work that he did. As he gave his life, so we must dedicate your lives to God and to his kingdom. We’re prone to forgetting God’s purpose for us. We start thinking that earning a living is our life’s purpose, when it’s really a means to the end of serving the Lord. Don’t waste what God had given you. Follow Jesus’ example and sanctify your work—offer it to God—whether it’s raising children or building houses or excavating or teaching in our schools. Do it for God and make it an opportunity to “arise and shine”. To show Christ-in-you to the world. As you come to the Table today, remember that here we confess that Jesus has bought us with his body and blood and that he calls us to a life of service. Ask yourself what you’re doing for him and what you can do for him. Paul tells us, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In our Epistle today he said, “As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We are one in the body of Christ, and we are Christ’s body. Any body that has inactive, useless, dead members is crippled and deformed. Brothers and sisters, God had placed every one of us here for a reason. He’s give us all the parts we need to do his work and when and as he calls us to other work, he’ll give us the gifts and the people to do that work too. Let us not waste the gifts he’s given. Let us not miss out on the work he’s called us to do. As you come to the Table this morning—as you eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus who gave us his own body and blood, remember not to forget his love and devotion to God’s cause. Let him strengthen you for the work of his kingdom as he fills you with his grace. And so we pray: “Merciful Lord, receive the prayers of your people who call upon you and grant that we may know those things we ought to do and also have the grace and power faithfully to perform them, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bible Text: Luke 2:8-14 | Preacher: The Rev'd Wolter Smit
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 18:31-34 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 & St. Luke 18:31-43 by William Klock There’s a common perception that the point of Lent is to be sombre and dour—that we’re supposed to spend these coming forty days depriving ourselves of the things that make us happy and give us joy. Every year I hear people groan over the fact that Lent is just around the corner. But friends, the lessons today on this last Sunday before Lent, point us in a very differentdirection. Yes, the lessons for Septuagesima reminded us that the Christian life is hard work—like a race, like a fight, and like labouring in the fields in the heat of the day. Last week’s lessons, on Sexagesima, reminded us that even though we may work hard as Christians, there’s nothing about our good works that we can trust in; the lessons reminded us of our unworthiness as sinners and called us to humility, because it’s only by the grace of God that we can run the Christian race, fight the Christian fight, and labour on in God’s vineyard. Hard work. Humility. Those sound like the typical Lenten themes that lead to groaning about Lent being around the corner. But we aren’t left there. We just heard today’s lessons read and they turn it all around; they tell us about love. Brothers and sisters, Lent isn’t primarily about sin and death and hard work that we can’t take credit for—before all those other things it’s about the one thing that puts all those things in perspective—it’s about love. It’s about the love of the Father, who loves us so much that he wants to restore us to his fellowship despite our sins and despite our being his enemies; it’s about the love of the Son—of Jesus Christ—who loves us so much that he, God, became man to suffer the death we deserve, that we might be restored to fellowship with the Father; and it’s about the Holy Spirit who, as we trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sins, unites us to him so that the love he embodies flows into us, fills us, and transforms us. And it’s that love of God that then spills out into from us into the world. So if you tend to think of Lent as a “downer” time of the Church year, let today’s lessons serve as a reminder that the real focus of Lent is on love. I like the way Melville Scott put it: “We are apt to think of Lent as chill, cold, and unattractive, to enter upon it without any special object, and to mark it only by increased formalities. Our Church teaches that it should rather be a season into which love should be the entrance, of which love should be the spirit, and in which the increase of love should be our great object.” If we pay attention to what we learn from the lessons today, Lent should be a joyful time. Our acts of self-denial, through love, will be willing offerings. Our increased devotion will bring us greater joy. The spiritual activities that we throw ourselves into for Lent should become permanent in our lives as we grow in Christ and become more useful to him. The object of Lent is the object of the Christian life: to grow into the character of Christ and to conform to his image. Christ’s ultimate characteristic is love and the more we become like our Saviour, the more we will posses and be possessed by a godly love. In the Epistle, the first thing that St. Paul emphasizes about love is that it’s critical. It is so necessary in the Christian life that without it even the greatest of spiritual gifts is worthless. Look at verses 1-3: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Being eloquent is nothing without love—you can speak like an angel, but if you aren’t loving, all the eloquent talk in the world is just obnoxious noise. Knowledge is pointless without love, because without love it just makes its possessor prideful. It takes love to make knowledge a blessing to others. And even the greatest faith is worthless if there’s no love involved. Our faith in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a selfish faith if it’s just fire insurance for ourselves—it should go beyond that. Love takes our faith and directs it outward. Knowing that Christ can save us by his grace should also assure us that if we turn that love outward it will also bless others around us. Giving of ourselves is something we’re called to do in love. God doesn’t call us to give legalistically—he calls us to give in love and not to resent what he’s called us to give. God loves a cheerful giver. Why? Because a cheerful giver is giving of himself, knowing that what he’s giving will be a blessing. A cheerful giver is showing the character of Christ. In the Old Testament lesson, Deuteronomy 10:19, God reminded the Israelites to be charitable to others saying, “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” The point of the Isrealite’s rescue from slavery wasn't just that they could be a free people, but that they could share the saving power of God with others—to be a light to the gentiles. That principle carries over into the life of the Church. We aren't called to withdraw from the world—to hunker down in the Church or to circle the wagons in fear of the world. No, we're called to take the love that has brought our redemption and share it with others—to take it out into the world—that they might find the same redemption we have. St. Paul takes this spirit of loving giving all the way to martyrdom and points to Jesus. Even in death, Christ was full of love. That covers the necessity of love, but what is love? How do we know it when we see it? What does it look like for us to be loving? St. Paul goes on; look at verses 4-7: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Those verses are an indictment against all of us. How often have we all been impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude. How often have we each insisted on our own way, been irritable, or resentful? How often have we found our joy in sin and in lies? St. Paul indicts us allwith this description, because we all have the same problem. We’re all sinners, but ultimately we’re sinners because our hearts are corrupt and lacking in love. We don’t love God the way we should and we don’t love our neighbours as we should either. When I got here on Wednesday this week I found some flyers left behind by the choir that practices in our building. They’re taking part in a benefit concert aimed at creating awareness of “hate crimes”. This idea of “hate crimes” has been around for a while now. The flyer specifically listed things like racism, cultural stereotyping, homophobia, transphobia, disability-related hate, and religious hate. But, brothers and sisters, every crime—every offence against the person or property of another person is a hate crime and simply shows up a lack of love in the perpetrator. If I break into your house and steal from you, it shows my lack of love for you just as plainly as if I were to throw derogatory comments at you because of your race or age, your sexual orientation or your religious beliefs. The two tables of the Ten Commandments sum up every form of sin and show us that every sin results from either contempt for God or contempt for man. Every sin the result of a lack of love. Every sin is a hate crime and every one of us is guilty. Lent reminds us that we’re sinners, but Lent also reminds us of the good news of the Gospel: that through Jesus Christ, God draws us back to himself. Lent remind us that God pours out his love on us and changes our hearts—makes us more loving. And yet this side of eternity, we’ll never be perfected in love. So as long as we live in this world we can only experience and show love imperfectly. But that doesn’t mean that we should give up. God gives us his Holy Spirit to aid us in growing more and more like him. That means growing in love. God knows that our faults have a root cause and he gives us what we need to attack that root. We can gain all the other godly virtues by gaining just this one. As St. Paul shows us, through love we get all these other virtues: the power to bear and still be kind and just as full of good will as before we were hurt; to be slow to anger; to be unsuspicious, not assuming bad intentions when we see others, but instead being glad at hearing good news and being sorry when we hear that another has fallen. I want to pause for a minute to reflect on St. Paul’s words that love “does not rejoice at wrong.” The German's have a word: Schadenfreude. There's no English equivalent, but it describes a malicious joy that we feel when someone else stumbles or when something bad happens to them. There’s no Schadenfreude in the Christian life. Love is about the opposite attitude when we see others fall or others injured. Love bears or endures all things and it does not rejoice at wrong. The man or woman who loves like Christ, bears the sins of others. Some translations describe love here as a covering for the sins of others. Love allows us to overlook another person’s sins. Not to say they’re okay, but to let us see through the ugliness that sin creates and love that person anyway. When the sin is against us we endure or bear through that sin. We continue to love the person who has offended us because we know that we are sinners too. We’ve all sinned against God and against each other at one point in time. Love reminds us where each of us stands before God, knowing that it is only through his love that we can stand before him at all. As the Israelites were called to love the sojourner because they themselves had once been sojourners, the Christian is called to love the sinner just as God has shown love to us all as sinners. Verses 8-10 remind us that this godly gift of love is eternal: Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. For there to be an end to love would be to say that there is an end to God. God is love and all love comes from him. All these other spiritual gifts will pass away. Prophecy, tongues, knowledge, and all the other gifts of the Spirit have been given to build up Christ’s Body. Right now his body is made up of people like you and me—people who are still imperfect sinners. God has to reach down and hold our hands as we toddle along in an attempt to follow him, but this imperfection will someday pass away when Christ returns. Then our redemption will be made complete. We will be remade as God originally intended us to be. But for now we continue to toddle along with Our Lord as he reaches down his hand to help us along. Look at verses 11-13: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. All these gifts that God has given us will be superseded and lost in something higher in eternity. St. Paul compares it to the way in which an adult outgrows childish reasoning and thinking. Right now the spiritual life we have, when compared to what God intends for us to have in eternity, is like a shadowy reflection in a mirror, but one day the mirror will be gone and we’ll experience that spiritual reality first hand. Again, I like the way Scott puts it: “Gifts pass, graces remain. Of graces there are three—one for each relation of life. Towards God there is faith; towards self, hope; towards others, love. Of these graces, love is the greatest; for while faith and hope appropriate, love diffuses; and the grace which gives is more blessed than those which receive. We are prepared for heaven in the same degree in which we are perfect in love, and are advanced Christians only so far as we are advanced in kindness and tenderness of heart.” Lent asks us: How well are you prepared for heaven? The only way to get there is through faith in Jesus Christ and his death for our sins, but the more we allow God to perfect love in us, the better prepared we’ll be to experience the life that is waiting there for us. The Gospel lesson today gives us a tangible, real-life illustration of what it looks like to love the way Paul describes in the Epistle. First, we see Jesus announcing to his disciples that it’s time to go to Jerusalem. He knew that it was time to die—to offer himself as a sacrifice for sins. St. Luke writes: And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” This was a journey of love. Jerusalem was the city of the cross for him and he knew it. It was the journey that opened for us the gates of the New Jerusalem. Jesus led his disciples, going on in front of them in just the same way that he leads his faithful people today. He was faithful to make that journey to the cross and he will be faithful to lead us on our journey to salvation. He will lead us safely and ultimately to the New Jerusalem. His sacrifice was a sacrifice of love. He knew in advance what he was getting into when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover. He knew that all the sin and shame of the world would be placed on him as he died there. But he went to the cross anyway, determined to die for those he loves, not counting the cost of his own suffering, but instead looking forward to the joy that he would see on that first Easter morning when the gates of heaven were opened. Jesus is our example. But how often do we wimp out when it comes to doing what we know is right—because we’re afraid of what might happen to us. Sometime we just don’t want to deny ourselves. The natural, selfish urges and our weak wills override the courage that we should have as Christians. Christ’s example should renew our courage to do what is right and to do what is loving. But notice also in the Gospel how Jesus doesn’t just pass by the beggar on the road up to Jericho. It was love that drove Christ toward the cross, but it was also love that made him stop along the way. He was intent and set on getting to Jerusalem, but he didn’t forget the poor beggar at the roadside. How often do we get distracted from the “lesser” callings of the Christian life because we’re so focused on a larger goal? How many pastors or evangelists have been so intent on the loving goal of doing the work of the Church and of leading men and women to Christ, that they have forgetted the duty of love they need to show to their wives and children? How many of us are so intent on the lofty goal of service in the Church, that we ignore the lost and needy people on the street we pass on the way here? How often are we so intent on being examples of good Christian character where we work, that we forget to actually share the Gospel with our co-workers, friends, or family or ignore them when they’re in need? The blind man in the Gospel is a symbol of all of fallen humanity. Gregory the Great wrote about him, “We know not historically who this blind man was, but we do know of what he was mystically the figure. Man verily is blind, driven out from Eden...knowing not the light of heaven, and suffering the darkness of condemnation.” The blind man shows us our own need and how we can satisfy it. He was blind and poor—poor because he was blind. Spiritual blindness is spiritual poverty. If we could only have our eyes opened! Spiritual sight is spiritual wealth. And spiritual life is ours in proportion as we see it—the blind man shows us how to meet our need. Again, Gregory writes, “Through the coming of his Redeemer, he is enlightened, so that now he already seeth by hope the gladness of inward light, and walketh by good works in the path of life.” He received faith by prayer. He heard that Jesus, the Messiah was coming by, and he knew this was his one chance. He cried out to him for help. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Luke says that people crowding around the blind man rebuked him and told him to shut up, but he knew it was now or never. He was desperate so he cried out again and louder to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” In his faith he persevered in spite of all the people trying to shove him to the back—and Jesus came and healed him. Brothers and sisters, in the Lord’s Supper we are blind beggars sitting by the side of the road as Love is passing by. We cry out, “Have mercy on me.” But what do we want Jesus to do for us? We cry out: “Let me receive my sight.” But are we prepared to follow him to Jerusalem in the weeks ahead, to go with him all the way to the cross, and to rise with him to new life at Easter? Remember that to follow him as he bears his cross requires love for him. To follow him means more than just sympathy for him in his suffering and a passive acceptance of the blessings that come from his death. Jesus declared, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24). He also said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). To follow him means to share his cross, to be crucified with him. We have to carry our own cross after him. This is the cross of self-denial. To follow him through Lent means to practice self-denial, to work to be better at self-denial, so that at Easter we can rise with Christ to a renewed life. In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul tells us: “And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). To follow Christ in Lent is to run a course that will train us to be better at cross-bearing. But a life of self-denial doesn’t end at Easter. The discipline we learn in Lent is something that should become a permanent part of our lives. This means that we have to follow Christ with seeing eyes. We’re beggars by the road as we enter Lent. We cry out, “Let me receive my sight. Let me see your great love. Help me to see the great love that compelled you to go to the cross. Teach me to love you more and more, so that I will be able to willingly bear my cross after you, O Lord.” Brothers and sisters, let us follow him to Jerusalem with seeing eyes, glorifying God by a life of self-denial and love, living not for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised and that we may draw all those around us to gather at the cross, that they might experience the love of Christ and have their eyes opened too. And so again we pray: “Lord, you have taught us that whatever we do without love is worth nothing: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and all virtues; for without love whoever lives is reckoned dead by you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Ephesians 5:1-14; Luke 11:14-28 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent Ephesians 5:1-14 & St. Luke 11:14-28 by William Klock Over the past few weeks, the lessons we’ve heard read have been pointing us to what it looks like to live out our new life in Christ. They’ve especially been focusing our attention on love—and more specifically, the love that the Father showed in sending his Son and the love that Jesus showed us at the cross when he gave his own life as a sacrifice for our sins. But the point of focusing our attention on the love of God in Christ is very practical. The more we understand and appreciate God’s love for us, the more that love will show itself in our lives. Think of it this way: the kingdom of God is a kingdom of love—it’s a kingdom founded on the love of God and it’s a kingdom in which God’s people live in that love. Someone asked me this week: How do we grow the Church? We grow it by living in God’s love and by manifesting that love in our lives—as we live in holy obedience to our loving Creator and Redeemer and as we truly live in love as the united body of Christ—loving each other as God loves each of us. That’s the light that Jesus talks about in this morning’s Gospel, and if we will be that light, shining brightly in the darkness, we will draw others to the light. This morning’s lessons are focused on this “kingdom” theme. They remind us that Jesus is the King—when he came, he established his kingdom—and that leaves us with a very important question. Each of us needs to ask: Where does my allegiance lie? Who is my king? And if we can answer that Jesus is our king, we need to look at our lives and ask if our priorites in life and the way we’re living give evidence that we’re living in Christ’s kingdom. There are two kingdoms in the world: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. When it comes to declaring our allegiance to God, you and I have it relatively easy. When we turn to Jesus as our Lord, some people may give us some funny looks. Some people may start avoiding us, but chances are becoming a Christians isn’t going to put our lives or livelihood in danger. But consider that in the Early Church, a commitment to Jesus often did mean real trouble. These were men whose proclamation of faith meant persecution. These were women whose devotion to the Messiah meant they might be divorced by their unbelieving husbands and thrown into the street with no livelihood. This was a decision that meant likely separation from their families and persecution by their friends and their government. In those days, Lent was the time when new converts were prepared for baptism at Easter and the Third Sunday in Lent was given the name the “Sunday of Renunciation”. Everyone knew that to follow Jesus was going to cost them something and this was the Sunday when the Church made it clear that they could have no divided loyalties and no uncertain allegiances. This was the day of decision, of final commitment—were they in or were they out? Were they willing to count the cost or not? Each of us had to make that decision at one point in time: who will rule over you? Are you a member of Christ’s Kingdom or are you a subject of the prince of this world? Think of how we lived before, especially those of you who became Christians as adults: We lived to gratify the flesh. We were immoral. We were impure. We were covetous. We lived in darkness. But Christ shone his light on us and called us to a new life in a new kingdom. He has transformed us and called us out of darkness into the light and now we have an obligation to walk as children of that light. Today’s Epistle has that same theme. It emphasises our baptismal separation. We have been buried with Christ and now walk in a new life with him. We’ve been incorporated into his body and are separated from the world. In the preceding chapter, St. Paul had urged the Ephesians to put off their old selves—their former selves—and to be renewed in their minds, that they might put on their new, holy, and righteous selves. He continues 5:1-2, now saying: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Why are we to be conformed to God’s character? First, because we have been made his beloved children. In Christ we have been restored to the Father and made his children; we are really loved, really forgiven, and really accepted. God sees us through the sacrifice of his Son and because of that he sees us as his adopted sons and daughters. As Jesus lovingly gave himself for us that we might be saved from God’s wrath and from our bondage to sin, doesn’t it make sense that we should love him in return? In our baptism he’s washed us clean and given us a new start, but at the same time he poured his Holy Spirit into us so that we can walk in holiness—so that we can avoid the very sins that got us into trouble in the first place. Practically speaking, Paul points us to Jesus. How do I walk in holiness? Paul says, walk in love just like Jesus did. Be willing to give yourself up not only to God, but be willing to give yourself up—your rights, your preference, your expectations, your “things”—be willing to give those things up for the sake of others around you. Live the Gospel. It’s easy to tell the Gospel story of Jesus and his love—how he loves us and how he gave up his own life for us. But that story doesn’t mean very much to the people around us if they don’t see us living it out in our own lives. We should be living by Jesus’ example and interacting with people in ways that are consistent with how Jesus loves them. He’s the prototype. His life of love is the blueprint for our own lives of love. The world around us is filled with hate and selfishness, but we have a higher calling. The Body of Christ should be a place of love. St. John wrote: We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love abides in death…By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:14, 16) What are some practical ways we show love for God and for the people around us? St. Paul shows us in verses 3-7: But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them. St. Paul lists all these things that aren’t compatible with a life of holy love. The first thing he mentions is sexual impurity. This is one of those areas of life that is at our core and because of that, if we become impure here it impacts our relationships with our friends and it breaks down the family as the basic unit of God’s covenantal system. Satan so often tries to hit us here because he knows the damage that he can cause through it. We sin sexually and our marriages break up and our children become vulnerable to the enemy. Second, St. Paul mentions sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander, and “foolish talk.” These are the things that drive us apart instead of bringing us together. Gossip and slander aren’t loving. If you catch yourself doing one of these things, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Usually it’s because you’re trying to knock someone person down a peg or give yourself a boost in reputation. That’s not Christlike love. And foolish talk: the Greek word used is morologia. It’s the same word from which we get “moron.” Foolish talk has no constructive purpose. As Christians we need to be engaged in uplifting activities—talk that encourages and that helps us grow spiritually and become more mature. Third, St. Paul mentions covetousness. Covetousness is an outright sin for the Christian. We’re God’s children. He’s promised to take care of us and to meet our needs and we have no reason to doubt his faithfulness to that promise. When we covet, what we’re doing is denying God’s promise to us. If we’re covetous, it shows that we’d rather have earthly wealth than heavenly wealth. Covetousness is the root of idolatry. So ask yourself: Where are my priorities? Are they on earth or are they in heaven? So, if these are the negative things we should avoid, what are the positives that should be a part of the Christian life? Look at verses 8 to 14: For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” The condition of man without Christ is darkness: “once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” It’s not just that without Christ we lived in the dark, but that without him we really were darkness because the darkness wasn’t just around us, it was inside us too. When Christ called us he brought us out of the darkness and into the light, but he’s washed us inside and out and filled us with light—now we are light too. Our new duty is to walk as children of the light. We’re to be light in an otherwise dark world. Our light shines in how we act and think, in how we present ourselves, and in how we show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Are you kind? Are you loving? Are you truthful? Does your life demonstrate integrity? We might not think that people really notice these things in us, but I guarantee, people will notice if you call yourself a Christian, but don’t show these traits. St. Paul also reminds us not to be a part of the darkness. Our allegiance is to Christ and to the light. We live surrounded by darkness, but we need to be separated from it: be in the world, but not of the world. Don’t let the darkness seep in! A tree doesn’t bear good fruit if it’s sucking up poison from the ground and a Christian will have difficulty bearing good fruit if we plant our roots in the darkness that surrounds us. We need to root ourselves in the good, as St. Paul says in verse 9: “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” If we practice and attach ourselves to what is good and right and true we’ll be bright shining patches of light in the midst of the darkness of the world—we can’t help but be witnesses of the light of Christ to others. The light attracts people stumbling around in the dark and our duty is to be that light—to draw men and women to Christ. We can’t do that if our light is being dimmed by ungodliness. St. Luke gives us a practical illustration of this principle of separation from the world in our Gospel lesson. In our lesson today, we’re told how Jesus cast out a demon. The Jews didn’t believe it was possible. Remember, before Jesus came to establish his kingdom, Satan—the strong man—was the one in charge and there was no one stronger, no one to overcome him. When the people saw the demon cast out, their first reaction was to accuse Jesus of being in cahoots with the devil. Jesus responded: Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (11:17b-20) Their argument was just plain foolish. Why would Satan work against his own forces? No, the fact is that Jesus has brought his kingdom. Satan had been the strong man of the world, but Jesus is the stronger man. He came and kicked down Satan’s fortresses and has taken back what rightly belongs to God. And Jesus stresses the point that there’s a real battle taking place between two very different, very opposite kingdoms and everyone’s on one side or the other. He says: He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. (Luke 11:23-26) In this battle there are no fence-sitters. Either you’re with Jesus or you’re not. There are a lot of people in this world who think they’re neutral: “I’ll just let God and Satan duke it out. It’s not my fight.” These people can be more dangerous than those who are deliberately sided with evil. These are the people who don’t recognize the evil of evil or the good of good. There are people like this even in the Church who are indifferent because they’re afraid of showing any zeal or enthusiasm. If we’re like that, we’re playing into Satan’s hands and becoming enemies of God’s kingdom. Lukewarm Christians have no place in the kingdom. Remember God’s words to the church at Laodicea in Revelation: I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. (Rev. 3:15-19) The Laodiceans had lost their fire. The same can be said for far too many Christians today. We need to renew our commitment to the Gospel. We need to be reminded that we’re on the winning side of the fight—Jesus defeated Satan and his kingdom at the cross. The problem is that Satan has duped us into complacency. We think it’s enough to simply have faith that Jesus saves. We make him our Saviour, but then we stop at that point. But friends, it’s not enough, as Jesus said, to sweep the house clean and put it in order. It’s not enough to just have the absence of evil. The house has to be filled to full with good. Jesus talks about seven demons coming back to take over the house that he’s swept clean. Brothers and sisters, if Jesus is your Saviour, you also need to make him your Lord. Live the life that his Spirit makes possible. St. Paul tells us that there are seven fruits of the spirit. Let the fruit of the Spirit fill your life and leave no room for those seven demons to come back and take over the clean house! You see, we have a tendency to think that looking respectable is enough. It’s not. We need to be filled with godliness. Our tendency is to rend our garments—we do the externals—but we don’t rend our hearts. Empty externals don’t cut it. We need to have a deep and growing relationship with God and we can only have that when we commit to standing firm on his side and letting him direct us and fill us. I wonder how many of you have read Dante’s Inferno. Dante assigned certain souls to the vestibule of hell. These were the souls who never chose between God and the devil, between good and evil, but who just let things float along without making a decision. Their punishment was to chase a flag around aimlessly through a dust storm while being attacked by wasps and hornets. They weren’t allowed to enter the light of heaven or the depths of hell. Heaven wouldn’t have them and hell wouldn’t take them because if they were in hell, the other damned would have the pleasure of looking down on something even lower than themselves. Dante’s story is fiction, but he’s right in pointing out to us just how important it is that we make our decision clear. As we do each Sunday morning, we come to the Lord’s Table. As we receive the bread and wine today, we’re reminded that we belong to Jesus. He is our only Lord. We have been separated from the rule and power of Satan. But as we’re reminded of our position in the battle, are we really on the Lord’s side? A lot of us are on God’s side only nominally. We declare our submission to Christ to others, we declare it when we come to his Table, but when it comes to the actual fighting of the battle, we sit on the sidelines and let other fight. Or worse, we sabotage the battle: We declare that Jesus is our Lord, and yet we continue to live in the dark more than we do in the light. We say we love God, but we walk in selective obedience, continuing unrepentantly in sin; we continue to put our trust in the things of the world instead of in the promises of God. We say we love God, and then cut ourselves off from his body—from the Church—or we fail to love our brothers and sisters the way that God loves them. We say that we cherish the Gospel, but we rarely share that Good News with others, if at all. Brothers and sisters, we have the sign of the cross on our foreheads from baptism, but how far have we driven it into our daily lives, into our family relationships, into our work relationships, into our friendships, into our church fellowship? As we come to the Lord’s Table reminded of our renewed relationship with God let us each stand ready and find the courage to say, “Lord Jesus, I have decided to follow you to my life’s end. Make me a better soldier, a better servant, and a better follower. Make me understand the depth of your love, that I might truly live out your love in my own life.” Please pray with me: Lord, we come before you as your humble servants—men and women whom you have taken out of darkness to live in your light. Give us the courage to stand firmly on your side, give us your grace that our lights may shine brightly for you, and give us the resolve to follow you into battle, strong in faith and strong in your love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: 1 John 4:7-21; Luke 16:19-31 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity 1 St. John 4:7-21 & St. Luke 16:19-31 by William Klock As I said last week, the lessons that we hear read during Trinitytide—during the second half of the Church Year—are meant to show us what it looks like to live in God’s kingdom. In the first half of the Church Year the lessons show us Jesus and show us how he made our salvation possible. Last Sunday we had that word of warning that Jesus gave to Nicodemus, the Pharisee: You cannot enter my kingdom unless you’ve been born again of water and the Spirit. Today we start this series of lessons that show us what it looks like to be born again—what our new character should be like—and, practically speaking, how to apply in our own lives the grace Jesus offers us at the cross. Brothers and sisters, the lessons don’t start us out with the easy parts of the Christian life. They throw us into the deep water and call us to swim. Our Epistle this morning is 1 St. John 4:7-21. Here’s how John begins: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. “Let us love one another.” Why? Because “love is from God.” A Christian should want what God offers and John tells us “love is from God.” As I talk with Christians, though, I often wonder how high love is on our list of things we want more of from God. We want this gift or that gift, we want power, we want more of the Spirit, we want to know the Bible better, we want the ability to evangelise the lost…but it’s very seldom I ever hear someone say: “I want to love God more” or “I want to learn how to love others more”. And yet, friends, John makes this the first priority, and not only a first priority, but one of, if not the chiefest, evidences that we are truly in Christ. “Let us love one another, for love is from God” and if that’s true it then logically follows: “whoever loves has been born of God”—and not only born of, but “knowsGod.” None of us can truly love with a godly love until we’ve been born again. And it also logically follows, as John says in verse 8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Those are powerful words—words I would encourage you to meditate on this week. St. Augustine said, “If nothing else were said of love in this Epistle, and nothing else in all the Scriptures, yet, if the Spirit told us this only, that God is Love, we ought to require nothing more.” That may be a bit overly-simplistic, but there’s a lot of truth in what Augustine says, because if we know that God embodies perfect love, then we also know that every time we fail to show love, whether in thought, word, or deed no matter how big or how small—whatever we’ve done against love—is also a sin against God. As Isaac Williams put it, “Whatever is against love is against God.” I know these verses might sound sort of warm and fuzzy at first glance, but can you start to see just how deep the water is here? Even though our culture’s understanding of love is cheap and debased, I think we should all be feeling some conviction of sin when we think about this, because even if we don’t fully understand love, we all know that there have been many times when we’ve been unloving. But John keeps going. If we thought we were in deep water, he makes the water even clearer and we can see that it’s even deeper than we thought. He’s not going to let us get away with thinking about love the way we’ve been trained to think about it by our culture. He said that love is from God, so he shows us what God’s love looks like. Look at verses 9 and 10: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. John contrasts “human” love with God’s divine love. First, it wasn’t love in word; it was love that truly manifested itself in action. It’s easy to say “I love you”; it’s harder and requires real commitment to actually do something loving. And God didn’t show his love in a small way. No, he sent his own Son to give us back the life we had lost through sin. And that raises the second point of contrast between human love and divine love. As men and women, we love when it benefits us. We love when we feel like it. We love those who are lovely. We aren’t inclined to love the unlovable. And our current divorce rate shows that it doesn’t take much for human love to evaporate in the face of offense or adversity. God, on the other hand, loved us when we were totally unlovable by human standards. He loved us when we were his enemies. As St. Paul says in Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). St. John stresses the point: God doesn’t love us because we fist loved him. We first hated and despised him. But despite being his enemies, he first loved us. That’s why I say that the water is deep. John tells us that as Christians we should love one another. We think, “That’s not so hard.” And then he shows us the love of Jesus. He’s not talking about shallow, fickle, human love. He’s talking about God’s love—love ready to die even for its enemy. He’s talking about the “deep, deep love of Jesus.” And then he challenges us again in verses 11 and 12: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [Why?] No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Think of it this way: If we claim to love God, we ought to love the things that he loves. That’s why as Christians we should have a love for holiness and a real desire to be holy and to grow in our own personal holiness. But the same principle applies to how and to whom we love. Think about how much God loves you. You were a sinner—his enemy—and yet he sent his Son to die for you. God loves you more than you can ever grasp. Now look at the person sitting next to you. God did exactly the same thing for him or for her! God loves the person sitting next to you just as much as he loves you. And the same can be said for the person sitting across the room that maybe you’re not so fond of as the person you chose to sit next to this morning. In fact, consider that Jesus died because “God so loved the world”. There is not a person in this world whom God doesn’t love just as much as he loves you—and that includes every person you truly dislike or, dare I say, even hate. It even applies to the people who have sinned against you and done you wrong. Let that sink in, brothers and sisters. And then consider again John’s words: “No one has seen God,” but “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” We can sing our love and praises to God. We can tell him in our prayers that we love him, but God wants to see our love for him in action—and our love for God in action happens when we love the people around us, and especially when we show love to those who are very unlovely. Are we about evangelism? About sharing Christ with others? About being lights in the darkness and showing God to the world? John says that no one has seen God, but they do see God in us when we love the way he loves. This is why Jesus said: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40) But let me take it a level deeper. Jesus talks about the hungry beggar, the stranger, the sick person, or the prisoner. It’s hard enough not to pass by the panhandler on the street or to chalk up the prisoner as some dirtbag getting his just desserts, and yet chances are none of these people has offended us personally. We don’t hate them—we just ignore them. That doesn’t really express how God has approached us. We weren’t just beggars on the spiritual sidewalk asking him for help. We weren’t prisoners who had committed a crime against someone else. We were his enemies. Showing love to the unlovely (the poor, the sick, the prisoners) is part of showing our love for God, but so is showing our love to the unlovable: to the person who has said hurtful and offensive things to us; to a bad neighbour; to an ungrateful child; to a bad mother or father; or to a abusive husband or wife. Remember, God is perfectly holy, and because of that there is no sin anyone can commit against you that is as great as even your smallest sin against God. “For God so love the world that he sent his only-begotten Son.” There is no person on the face of this earth who is not deserving of your love. If God is willing to love and forgive them their sins—if he loved them enough to send his Son to die for them—then you and I must love that person too. And St. John makes it clear that this isn’t optional. He goes on in verse 13: By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. In Galatians 5, St. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. What’s the first one, the most important one? That’s right, it’s love. Paul reminds us there that if the Spirit is in us—if we’ve been redeemed by God through Jesus Christ—then we will show him in our lives by conforming to his character, and the first and most important character trait of God is love. If we are able to love the unlovable, it’s one of the evidences that we are in Christ—which is also means that it’s one of the most important ways that we manifest Jesus and the life-changing power of the Gospel to the people around us. This is how we hold our Easter light high and shine it brightly. This is how we reach a world lost in spiritual darkness. So now John sums it all up again in verses 14 to 18: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. Our bearing the fruit of the Spirit—and especially love—is evidence of our new birth in Christ and that should be a source of assurance for us. We know we are in Christ because we love. And John—knowing, I think, that he’s thrown us into the deep water and that he’s challenging us—John exhorts us: The more you love, the less you have to fear. Fear is rooted in sin, but the more we love, the more we experience the love and forgiveness of God in our own lives. Again, he says, “We love because he first loved us.” If there’s true and godly love in us, it’s because God is making his transforming and redeeming work of grace in our lives. But that also means that if we lack love in our lives, if we refuse to show love to others, there’s a problem. He says in verses 20: If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. Those are scary words, because I know people whom I don’t love and I’m sure that’s true of all of us. We all have people in our lives who have wronged us, who have offended us, who have been abusive to us—the people who by every human standard it’s impossible to love, let alone to forgive. But John says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.” And that leads us into today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us a story about two men: a rich man and a poor man. The poor man, Lazarus, Jesus says, was sick and full of sores and it sounds like he was probably lame to boot. He camped out at the doorstep of the rich man. The rich man went about his life. He dressed well, he ate well, he lived large with his wealthy friends, while all the time poor Lazarus begged outside his door. He didn’t want much—the crumbs from the rich man’s table would have been fine—but he got nothing. The most comfort he got was when the neighbourhood dogs came and licked his oozing sores. Then, Jesus says, they both died. The angels took Lazarus to “Abraham’s bosom”—to that pleasant place where the faithful Old Testament saints went to await the atoning work of Jesus at the cross that would open the gates of heaven. The rich man, however, we’re told went to hades, where he was tormented with the unfaithful, the unredeemed. Jesus tells how, seeing Lazarus with Abraham in paradise cried out to Abraham to let Lazarus bring him a drop of water on his finger to provide even some tiny, tiny relief from his misery. Abraham told him that it simply wasn’t possible. There was an impassable gulf between the two. Jesus’ main point in telling the story was to stress to those who heard him that they needed to make a choice to follow him—that once they died it was too late, as the rich man found out. But in telling the details of the story, Jesus also drives home the same point that St. John makes in our Epistle about love. Notice that Jesus never tells us that Lazarus was a pious man, that he prayed a lot or anything like that. And he never says that the rich man was a terrible sinner or that he was irreligious. In fact, Jesus never implies either that Lazarus was saved because he was poor or that the rich man was damned because he was rich. Chances are, to all outward appearances, the rich man was a religious man. He was shocked to find himself in hades and had his friends and family known about it, they probably would have been shocked too. Jesus’ point is that the rich man was keeping up all the right religious appearances, but that the evidence of his lack of saving faith lay in his lack of love for his brother. And brothers and sisters, we can do a pretty good job too of keeping up religious appearances too. We come to church, we tithe, we pray, we read our Bibles, we’re reasonably faithful in doing the things we’re “supposed” to do, and we’re reasonably faithful in avoided the things on the list of “Thou shalt nots”. But are we, like the rich man, simply being faithful in superficial ways and to outward appearances? Where is the love of God in our lives and in our relationships with others? In our Epistle, John, and in our Gospel, Jesus, both tell us that if we have truly experienced the love of God—if we are in Christ and if his Holy Spirit is in us—we will love others the same way that God has loved us. They’re telling us that we will love not just the people who are easy to love, not just the people it benefits us to love, and not even that we’ll just love the unlovely. They’re telling us that the first and greatest evidence of the Spirit in our lives is that we will love the unlovable—just as God has loved us, who were by all human accounting utterly unlovable to God. We can go through all the outward motions, we can do all the “Thou shalts” and avoid all the “Thou shalt nots”, but if we don’t love, it’s evidence that we have never truly experienced the love of God in Christ. John says, “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14) and “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). And in our Epistle his point is to say that no man or woman can claim to have experienced the love of God, to have been forgiven their sins and been filled with the Holy Spirit and with the love of God, and yet refuse to let that love pour out to those all those around them. The Epistle closes with a command in verse 21: And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. It’s not optional, brothers and sisters. Jesus tells us that if we love him, we will keep his commandments. But frankly, this shouldn’t be a chore, it should more and more become a joy in our lives. We sinners have experienced the amazing love of God in our lives! That’s why we come and sing our praises here on Sunday morning—because we’re full of joy! This is simply God telling us, “Don’t just tell me you love me, show me that you love me by loving and forgiving others. Do for them what I have done for you.” If we’re not willing to do that, John’s telling us that it throws into doubt whether or not we’ve actually experienced God’s love and forgiveness, because God’s love is so great, so amazing, so awesome, and so joy-inspiring, that if we really have experienced it, there’s no way we could hold back from sharing it with everyone else—even the people we wouldn’t ordinarily want to share it with. Now, that said, it’s not that loving some people isn’t a challenge, even for the most divinely love-filled Christian. There are people who have done terrible things to us. Some of you have experienced horrible, horrible wrongs at the hands of others. And as much as we should be wanting to show them the love of God, we’re all still packing around our “old man”—our old sin nature. The deeper the hurt, the harder it’s going to be to let go. Sometimes the feeling simply isn’t there. But the fact is that love isn’t just a feeling—it’s even more so an action. Jesus knew this and it’s why he tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). If we act in love, the feelings of love will follow. But the bottom line is that if we are in Christ, we have experienced his love, and we will show that love to others. Not like the rich man in the parable, who loved the lovable people in his life, but like our heavenly Father who loved his enemies so much that he sent his own Son to die that they might be redeemed, so that they could be restored to his fellowship. Even when it’s hard, we’ll do our best to try. If we can’t walk in love with someone else, we’ll crawl—we’ll put one foot in front of the other until Jesus teaches us to walk. Whatever it takes, we will do it if the Holy Spirit is truly in us. Let us pray: “Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bible Text: 1 John 3:13-24; Luke 14:16-24 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity 1 St. John 3:13-24 & St. Luke 14:16-24 by William Klock Our lessons today dovetail off last Sunday’s lessons about love—about God’s love amazing love for us and the fact that those who have experienced his love will always show it by sharing it with others—especially with the unlovely and the unlovable. It’s a powerful love, and we see its power as it not only saves us, but as it also inevitably transforms us. In last Sunday’s Epistle, St. John stressed that the love of God is so powerful that when we experience it, we can’t help but show it to others and that if we fail to share it with others, that’s simply proof that, despite what we may think about the state of our souls, despite however much we may come to church and sing songs about how much we love God, despite all our good works, we haven’t actually experienced God’s love ourselves. In today’s Epistle John continues with this love theme, stressing that God’s love is so amazing that in it we can find assurance of our being in his grace. He says in 1 John 3:19: By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him… Do you ever wonder if you’re really “saved”? Doubt is a real problem, especially I think after we’ve stumbled and fallen into sin. We wonder if a real Christian would do what we’ve just done. We question where we stand before God. But John exhorts us: …for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; [he graciously and powerfully reassures us] and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:20-22) The grace and mercy and love of God so transform the heart of the Christian that the transformation of the heart itself is one of the sources of our assurance. Before we knew Jesus our hearts were filled with impurity, idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, and envy—filled with sin and every sinful and selfish desire—but when the Holy Spirit came into our hearts he radically transformed us and now we bear what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We’re now polar opposites of what we once were. That’s why Paul warned the Corinthians: They wanted to know if people were filled with the Holy Spirit and they looked for the manifestation of certain gifts as proof, just as some people today insist that you have to speak in tongues if you’ve got the Spirit. But Paul told them, “No. If you want to know if someone’s got the Holy Spirit, you’ll know it if they’ve made Jesus their Lord. No one can do that unless the Holy Spirit has come into them and changed their heart.” We’re all naturally enemies of God. Our hearts are fixed on sin. But the amazing love of God that is manifested in his sending his Son to die for us on the cross, to take our sin and our sentence of eternal damnation on himself, will always radically transform the man or the woman who has faith in Jesus’ ability to save them from sin and death, who truly puts his or her trust in Jesus, admitting that they cannot save themselves. That transformation, that making Jesus our Lord, that switch from sinner to saint, and especially as John stresses here, the new ability and desire to love the unlovely and the unlovable, is the sure evidence of God’s saving grace in our lives. Isaac Williams called it the “chain which reaches to the throne of God, and connects with it every action of our daily life.” John says: And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:23-24) St. Paul says much the same thing in Romans 8:16: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. What’s amazing is that even though through Jesus, God offers us his love, his peace, and assurance of pardon from sin, there are people who turn him down. We read these words about the love of God to us and our love in return and it’s utterly amazing—and then we go out into the world and see that reality is that most people refuse that amazing love. And that’s what Jesus gets at in our Gospel today. He compares the kingdom of God to a great banquet. I think we can grasp part of the imagery there—part of the reason why Jesus chooses a banquet as a point of comparison—but I don’t really think it impacts us like it would have the people who originally heard him. In our culture we don’t have banquets like they did. These were big affairs and our closest comparison would be something like a big wedding reception, but even that doesn’t quite express how big a deal a banquet was in those days. We also miss out on the meaning because our culture is very rapidly forgetting the concept of “hospitality”. People don’t entertain or invite others to share meals with them the way they used to—even when I was young, which wasn’t very long ago. There’s something about sharing a meal with someone. Think about your circle of friends and acquaintances. There are lots of people we might socialise with in a casual way. We know them, but we don’t really know them. There are people we might work with on a daily basis or friends we get together with at church or other social events, but we don’t usually invite people into our homes unless we know them well and feel comfortable and assured with them—and if we invite them home to sit at our table and we don’t know them, it’s because we want to get to know them better. There’s just something about sharing a meal that builds a relationship and expresses a depth of fellowship that’s hard to express in any other way. There’s probably nothing in the Old Testament that makes this point better than the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. David had defeated Saul and his supporters, he’d defeated the Philistines, and after years of struggle, he’d finally got himself firmly established on the throne of Israel. One of his first orders of business after all those years of fighting and turmoil was to seek out whether or not there was anyone left alive from the house of Saul. In that day and age it was typical that when there was a hostile take-over of the throne, the new king would not only kill his rival, but would also kill off his close supporters, his family, and especially his sons and grandsons—the point was to eliminate your rivals. But that’s not why David was looking for members of Saul’s family. David looked up a man named Ziba who had been one of Saul’s servants and asked him, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” You see, David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, had been best friends. Jonathan had died in the battle between David and Saul and David now, instead of wanting to make sure he had no rivals, wanted for the sake of his friend to show kindness to one of his relatives. Saul had made David’s life miserable, had even tried to murder him several times, but David wanted to show forgiveness to Saul’s family and kindness to his friend’s son. Ziba tells David that, in fact, one of Jonathan’s sons was still alive—a man named Mephibosheth. We read a few chapters earlier that when Saul and Jonathan had been killed, news was taken back to Jonathan’s home. Mephibosheth’s nurse, fearing that David would soon come for the little boy, ran with him and that they had lived in hiding for all these years. Ziba told David about Mephibosheth, whom he noted was also lame in both his feet. It’s a sad and pathetic picture that he paints of this young man, the grandson of the deposed king, living in hiding for years, and crippled to boot. Mephibosheth’s story was a sad one. And so David sends his men to get him. The poor guy had to be afraid. Here he’d been lame and living in hiding for most of his life and now the king has his men come and pick him up to take him to the palace. And when he gets there, Mephibosheth throws himself down on his face before David, no doubt in fear, begging for mercy, “Behold! I am your servant,” he says to David. And that’s when David does what poor Mephibosheth never expected. Instead of killing him or throwing him into the dungeon, David tells him, “Mephibosheth! Don’t be afraid. Your father, Jonathan was my best friend. I loved him dearly and for his sake I brought you here to show you my kindness. I’m restoring to you everything that belonged to your grandfather, Saul, and I want you to live in my house and eat bread at my table.” Wow! But that’s exactly what happened. The author of Samuel tells us, “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons….So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.” Mephibosheth was the son of David’s best friend. David wanted fellowship with him, he wanted to show him the greatest honour he could, he wanted to be close to him, so he seated him at his own table. Brothers and sisters, Mephibosheth is a type of you and me. As Mephibosheth was born the son of David’s rival to the throne, so we are by birth the sons of the prince of this world—sons and daughters of the devil. We are by birth, every one of us, rivals to God. He’s our sovereign, but we’ve turned our backs on him and thrown him out of our lives. We were his enemies. Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and you and I are just as lame spiritually as he was physically. We’re spiritual good-for-nothings. And yet God loves us still. He sent Jesus to die for us that we might be reconciled to him, and now as the brothers and sisters of Christ and as God’s own children by adoption, he invites us to sit at his table—to share bread with him as sons and daughters of the King. David didn’t care that Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul and by that his hereditary enemy. He didn’t care that Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and good for nothing. He loved him for the sake of his friend Jonathan. Similarly, God doesn’t look at our sins anymore, he doesn’t look at our spiritual lameness or the fact that we were once his enemies, instead he looks at us and he loves us for the sake of his own Son, Jesus. Think about that when you come to his Table each Sunday. Think of Mephibosheth and consider that there’s nothing arbitrary about the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. God wants to show us kindness for the sake of his Son, so he invites us to sit and eat bread at his Table as his own sons and daughters. Can you see why Jesus would compare the kingdom of God to a great banquet? Jesus was himself at a banquet and had just been saying, “When you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your family or your rich neighbours. That’s no credit to you, because they’ll just invite you to their own banquet. No, if you want to truly do good, invite the poor and blind and lame—people like Mephibosheth—people who can’t pay you back. That shows real love—the same kind of love that God has shown you.” The Holy Trinity had its own divine fellowship party going on for all eternity, but that wasn’t enough. Just as it wasn’t enough for David to have his friends and supporters at his table, but instead wanted to bring in the grandson of his enemy, to show kindness and grace to him, so God seeks us out—his enemies—and brings us into his fellowship. Jesus says that we should do the same. And the Pharisee sitting next to him, completely missing the point, toasts Jesus and says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” I can imagine Jesus shaking his head and then telling this story: A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ (John 14:16-17) That’s exactly what God has done. Jesus took on himself the form of a servant, he came to his own, and lovingly calls us into his kingdom with the Good News of the Gospel. He calls us to wash ourselves in his grace, to set aside all the things of this world. He even offers to dress us in his own royal robes of salvation. And yet, Jesus goes on in his story: But they all alike began to make excuses. (Luke 14:18) They didn’t refuse him outright, but every one of them came up with some excuse why he or she couldn’t come. God in his goodness spread a table, in his graciousness he invites us—even his enemies—and we start making excuses and turning down the invitation. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:18-20) If this hits close to home, that’s because it should. Jesus picks three perfect examples that pretty well cover every part of life that might distract us from him and from being conformed to that love of God and neighbour that St. John writes about in today’s Epistle. Notice, these people aren’t guilty of doing anything that’s outright wrong. “Sorry, no, I can’t make it to dinner tonight because I’ve got a prior obligation to rob a bank.” “Sorry, I’d really rather stay home and surf porn on the Internet.” “Thanks for the invite, but I was planning to spend this evening on the phone spreading all the latest church gossip.” No, the reasons these men give for not coming are all very reasonable. The man really does need to look after his new field. The other needs to take care of his oxen. And we’d all agree that the third man shouldn’t be ignoring his new wife. But the thing is that the man’s invitation to his banquet doesn’t require any of these men to abandon their worldly obligations. The man isn’t asking them to give up their fields, or their livestock, or their wives. Had they wanted to, they could have come to the banquet. The problem wasn’t in their obligations; it was in their hearts. They didn’t want to go to the banquet because at the moment they each had something new and shiny that was more important to them. How often do we do the same thing? When I’m working on a project—and I’ve been working on quite a few lately—I tend to get consumed by them. I’ve been publishing resources for preachers on the Internet and I’ve been re-typesetting and publishing some long out-of-print books and commentaries on preaching. It’s easy to get up in the morning and skip Morning Prayer. And it would certainly be easy to justify. “Hey, I’m working on something good and edifying—it even involves a lot of Scripture!” It’s easy to let “things” consume us and in the end we become so focused on them that we lose our focus on God. Our projects, our work, our hobbies and sports, our household chores, even our families, can all distract us from the love of God. That’s a dangerous thing to have happen. St. John writes: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16) So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Luke 14:21) If the scribes and Pharisees won’t come, Jesus calls all the louder and opens the doors even wider. If the self-righteous aren’t moved by his loving-kindness, there are people who are poor and sick who are ready to take hold of the hem of his garment. There are those who know their need—who know that they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—and who know that Jesus will meet their needs. And yet the master is angry with men because they love death. He offers them life and they refuse his invitation. We can be thankful, though, that “his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5). The wonderful thing about God’s banquet is that there’s always room for more. The servant said to the master: ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:22-24) If we won’t accept the invitation, the Master’s call goes out to other sheep. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus taught with parables, but in this case the line between the parable and the real world is hard to define, because through Jesus our heavenly Father really has prepared a feast for the faithful. The sacrament he offers at the Table here today, in the bread and in the wine, is the sign and the seal of the life he offers us and it’s the earnest of the heavenly banquet that awaits us on the other side of eternity—that feast of true and unending and perfect fellowship with God. The meal to which we’re invited today is the sign and seal of divine love. As we gather here at the Table, we’re all made to be One Bread and One Body. The bread from the “grain of wheat” which died that it might “bring forth much fruit;” and formed of that One Body that was freely given in death for us, that now lives, and that as he lives gives us life. The Table reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This morning we eat the bread that came down from heaven, the bread that gives life to the world. As we do that, meditate on Jesus’ offering of himself for us. Think of Mephibosheth—the king’s rival, his hereditary enemy, but also the man whom the king forgave, the man to whom he showed kindness, all for the sake of another. That’s what God does for us when he invites us to his Supper. Think on that. Think on the amazing love of God for us, because brothers and sisters, there’s nothing else that will drive out the lust of the flesh and the love of the world; there’s nothing else that will humble our pride and drive us to share the Good News with others, than to think of the shame and sorrow we have laid on him and that he willingly bore for our sakes. As we read in the Epistle, we’re called to love those around us—even to lay down our lives for them just as Jesus laid down his life for us. If we truly understand what our Lord has done for us, if we truly understand what he offers at his Table, and if we truly understand that to which he invites us in heaven, we should be able to do nothing else but share his love with all those around us. Let us not forsake the Lord’s invitation to the feast, but as we go there, as we anticipate the goodness of our God, let us carry his call in our words and deeds of love to all those in the streets and lanes, and in the highways and hedges, that they might sit at the Table with us. Let us pray: Lord God we acknowledged in the Collect that you have brought us up in your steadfast love. Let us never take your love for granted. Let us never be so consumed by the things of the world that we forsake your invitation to eat bread at your Table. And, Father, let your love never become so common-place in our hearts and minds that we are not moved to share it with others. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our loving Saviour and Lord. Amen.