Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogate - 1 Tim. 2:1-6

                                                                                                            Easter 6
                                                                                                            1 Tim 2:1-6

            In the legal world, mediation is an attempt to settle a lawsuit without going to trial.  It is hoped that the assistance of a mediator will help the two sides resolve their differences and arrive at some kind of compromise.  The mediator is not there to decide the merits of the case.  The mediator is not there to choose sides.  Instead, the mediator attempts to work with both sides so that they can come to some kind of agreement.
            In an article in the Harvard Law School Negotiations Journal, Dr. Steven Goldberg reports on his research with mediators.  He maintains that successful mediators do two things. First, they create rapport and trust with the participants. Key to this is the need for the mediator to convey that there is real care about the parties and their concerns.  And second, the mediator needs to be creative – to be able to “generate previously unconsidered or insufficiently considered settlement ideas.”
            In the epistle lesson for today, St. Paul describes Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and man.  Now Goldberg’s description of successful mediators highlights some important facts about the saving work that was carried out through the mediation of Jesus Christ. But first, we need to consider how the mediation of Jesus was different from the mediation of the legal world that I just described.
            In legal mediation the two sides are equal.  Sure, one side has brought a lawsuit against the other, but nothing has yet been determined. The lawsuit has not yet gone to trial, and the purpose of mediation is to prevent that from happening.  Both sides have concerns and the mediator attempts to convey that he or she has them both in mind.
            However, when we consider the role of Jesus as mediator we find that this was not at all the case.  Jesus Christ served as the mediator between God and man.  The two sides were not equal because God is God, and we are not.  And more importantly, the two sides were not equal because man was in the wrong; man was the offending party; man had no business having anything to do with God.
            This is the ugly reality that people want to avoid.  Instead, we want to put God on trial.  We want God to justify his actions to us. We want him to make known his ways – to explain what he is doing in the midst of the events of our life, and the lives of our loved ones and friends. Because quite often we are not satisfied.  We think God is messing up and that his ways are no good.
            What is true of our life is also true of the life of the Church.  We look around at a world that many of us now hardly recognize.  At the most basic level our culture has turned against modes of thought that are foundational to the biblical faith – things like the existence of truth and error. Things like the natural law of creation that reflects God’s ordering.  Everything seems to be turning against Christ’s Church in the west, and yet God doesn’t seem to doing anything about it.
            Yet to think this way is to ignore the reality of our sin.  Since the sin of Adam and Eve we have been people who are curved in on ourselves. We are people whose thinking has been warped by sin.  God is God, and we are not. And then on top of this our thinking is now flawed because of sin. Trapped in our sinful, selfishness we are simply incapable of understanding the ways of the holy and just God.
            And because this is who we are, we cannot be in fellowship with the holy God. God is holy and just, and sinners evoke his wrath.  It would be like you trying to approach the sun where its exterior corona is 3.5 million degrees Farenheit.  You would be annihilated no matter what you try to do.
            So it is with God and your sin.  Except, the apostle Paul tells us that God is not like the sun. The sun doesn’t care about you – it gives no thought to you. But God does.  Instead Paul describes God as “God our Savior” and then adds that he is the One “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
            God wants you to be saved!  In fact, God wants all people to be saved!  Paul’s statement means that any idea about God electing people to be damned – so called double predestination – is just wrong.  God wants no one to be lost. 
            Now there are lots of things that we want. That doesn’t mean we have the ability to do anything about it.  Many people here want the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series.  Some people here want the Chicago Cubs to repeat as World Champion.  But none of us can do anything to make that happen.
            God is different.  Not only does he want all people to be saved.  He actually did something about it.  Paul says in our text, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
            In the introduction to this sermon I mentioned Steven Goldberg’s research about successful mediators and how he found that they needed to create rapport and trust with the participants by showing that the mediator really cares; and that they need to be creative – to be able to think of answers that are new and outside of what has been considered.
            In the action of the triune God to save us we see both of these.  You want to talk about creating rapport and showing you care?  The Son of God became man in the incarnation.  As Paul says in the next chapter, the Son was “manifested in the flesh.”  He became what we are, without ceasing to be God.  He became one of us.  He lived in our world. 
            But he did this in order to be the mediator between God and man.  He did not come to be a mediator between two equal parties.  Instead he acted to bring the offending and insignificant side to the holy and almighty side. He did this to bring us to back into fellowship with God.
            And here we find that God’s action was a definite case of “thinking outside of the box.”  It was the unexpected answer.  Jesus, true God and true man, gave himself as the ransom for all. Jesus gave himself into death on the cross in order to free us from the wrath and judgment of God that we deserved.  Jesus received it in our place.
            Especially in this season of Easter we remember that our Lord didn’t just die.  In the next chapter Paul says about the incarnation: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”  Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  He defeated death.  He emerged from the tomb with a transformed humanity that can never die again.
            And now, the mediator has taken that transformed humanity into the presence of God. That’s what happened in the ascension. That’s what we will be celebrating on Thursday in the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  How do you know that as part of mankind you will be able to live eternally with God?  It is because Jesus Christ who is true man has already taken your humanity before God.  He’s not just the mediator.  He is your forerunner.  He is the One who has prepared the way for you by his death, resurrection and ascension.
            What Paul describes in our text today is Jesus Christ showing amazing care for you.  It is God acting in the unexpected ways of humility and service in order to reconcile you to himself – in order to save you.  Through baptism Christ joined you to this saving work. Through his Spirit he has given you new life and continues to lead you in living this life.
            And in our text today, we hear about one particular way that we do this – a way that it is easy for us to overlook and ignore.  The apostle Paul says at the beginning of our text, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
            Paul says that we are to offer prayer for all people. Sure, he goes on to mention kings and those in authority.  But first he says that we are to pray for everyone.  As a baptized Christian, part of your calling is prayer on behalf of others.  And notice that this includes people you don’t like.  It includes people you don’t want to have anything to do with.
            On Wednesday nights in Learn by Heart the catechumens and their parents worship using the Service of Prayer and Preaching.  The prayer in that service is in the form of a litany and includes this petition: “For all those in need, for the hungry and homeless, for the widowed and orphaned, and for all those in prison, let us pray to the Lord.” 
            Now I have often been struck by that last group in the petition.  It is not only talking about Christians who are imprisoned because of faith in Jesus Christ.  It speaks of all in prison. And that includes the men just up the road on I57 at Big Muddy.  To be honest, the old Adam in me doesn’t want to do that.  After all, consider what they have done to be there. Why should I pray for them?  Why should I want anything good for them?
            And yet, the same thing could have been said about you and me in God’s eyes.  But instead of abandoning us in the just judgment of our sin, God acted in the incarnation of the Son to save us.  The incarnate Son of God offered himself on the cross as our ransom.  And through our mediator Jesus we now have been restored to fellowship with God.  More than that, in Christ we are sons and daughters of God.
            It is this Gospel action of God that leads us now to act in Gospel ways towards others.  Sometimes it feels like the old Adam is being dragged along, fighting us every step of the way.  But as the new man is nourished and refreshed by the Means of Grace we follow the Spirit’s leading.  We do so because our life is now shaped by the truth we find in our text: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”





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