Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Rom 8:18-23

                                                                                                            Epiphany 4
                                                                                                            Rom 8:18-23

            In December 1944, the U.S. Navy Task Force 38 had been launching raids against Japanese airfields in the Philippine Islands.  It was a large force that included seven fleet aircraft carriers, six light carriers, eight battleships, fifteen cruisers and nearly fifty destroyers. 
            Although the weather was getting worse, the ships were ordered to stay on station, even when the task force had to stop at sea refueling of the destroyers that were low on fuel.  Finally, when it became clear that a major storm was approaching, Admiral Halsey ordered them to leave the area.
            However, the meteorological information that Halsey received was incorrect. As a result the admiral ordered the Task Force to sail directly into the heart of a typhoon.  There the ships encountered hundred mile an hour winds, torrential rains and extremely high seas.  Ships rolled more than seventy degrees in the huge waves.  Three destroyers were unable to recover, capsized and sunk.  As a result of storm, 790 Americans were killed.
            The damage to the Task Force was severe.  Nine ships suffered damage that forced them to leave the fleet and return to port for repairs.  Over one hundred aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard. By comparison the U.S. victory at the Battle of the Philippine Sea six months earlier – the largest naval battle in the history of the world – had only cost the U.S. 109 dead and about the same number of planes lost.  The violent storm had caused more loss of life than the Japanese could inflict.
            In our epistle lesson this morning the apostle Paul describes how creation groans to be freed from the slavery of corruption to which it has been subjected.  The typhoon that Task Force 38 encountered is an example of what Paul is talking about.  The violent disorder of the storming sea caused the death of sailors.  The storm on the Sea of Galilee in our Gospel lesson this morning is another example.  But Jesus’ action in the Gospel lesson helps us to understand why Paul in Romans can describe the present as the “now time” – the time of God’s saving action in Christ that has changed everything for us.
            Just before our text, Paul has been talking about how the Christian life is one in which the Spirit of God in the believer fights against the flesh – the fallen sinful nature that still remains in us.  Paul writes, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
            Paul tells us that while only the Spirit can make the struggle against sin possible, we have to be lead by the Spirit – we have to follow the Spirit’s leading in taking up that struggle. Or as our Lutheran Confessions say, we must “cooperate” with the Spirit in this struggle to put to death the sin in us.  He adds, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
            Now Paul wants us to know that as baptized Christians there is no doubt about which side we are on.  He says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  The Spirit enables us as sons and daughters of God to call out to the Father in faith.  What’s more, Paul tells us, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
            The good news is that we are now children of God and heirs with Christ.  Jesus’ death and resurrection has given us this status.  The Spirit of Christ has given us this new life now.  But the bad news is that this is not the whole story.  There is also a “not yet” that accompanies this “now.”  This is a time in which we suffer with Christ.
            In our text, Paul seeks to put those suffering into the right perspective.  He says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Paul’s discussion up to this point leads us to understand that the sufferings the apostle refers to are not only those that occur because of the world’s opposition to the Christian faith. They include the suffering of the struggle against sin – the “putting to death the deeds of the body” that he has just mentioned.
            Now this is not really the way we want to think about things. We like it when we talk about forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life.  We like it when we hear that this is by God’s grace – that it is a gift we can’t earn.  That sounds easy. But struggling against sin; putting to death the deeds of the body; accepting suffering and hardship from the world because of faith in Christ – we are not so interested in that.  We want instead that easy version of Christianity that only comforts and doesn’t make any claims on how we now live because of Jesus.
            The apostle Paul doesn’t pull any punches.  He tells is like it is.  He says that to be Christian means to be led by the Spirit in putting to death the sin in us. It means suffering in this world because of Christ.  But he also wants us to know that the sufferings we experience now as those in Christ cannot begin to compare to the glory that will be revealed to us when Christ returns.
            To help us understand how big this final salvation will be – how glorious – the apostle goes on to say, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
            Paul says that creation itself has been subject to futility – to a slavery of corruption.  And we are the cause.  In the Fall, it is man who brought sin into the world.  That sin has warped and twisted creation itself.  In Genesis chapter one God speaks and makes the stuff of creation. But it is disordered – it is “without form and void” – the Hebrew even sounds like it, it is “tohu wubohu.” And then during six days God brings order to what he has he created. This is good, and when God has completely finished his work we are told that it was “very good.”
            Sin brought disorder to creation.  It brought disorder and death.  And so, like the typhoon that took the lives of 790 sailors during World War II, in the Gospel lesson we see that a storm on the Sea of Galilee threatens to take the lives of thirteen men. But in this case, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t because Jesus Christ is in the boat, and in him the kingdom of God – the reign of God - has entered into the world.
            The Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary in order to turn back the forces of Satan, sin and death.  He entered the world he had made in order to take it back.  He lived among the people he had made through his continuing act of creation in order to take them back – to redeem them from Satan’s power.
            And so in our Gospel lesson he rebukes the winds and the sea – the disorder that threatens death - and suddenly there is a great calm. Jesus’ mission of redemption led him to the cross where he defeated sin for us by receiving God’s judgment in our place. And then he defeated death as the Spirit raised him from the dead on the third day.
            Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection that will take place on the Last Day.  In Jesus, the Last Day has already begun!  As Paul says earlier in this letter, Jesus is the second Adam who has fixed all that the first Adam messed up by his sin.
            Earlier in this chapter Paul tells us something very important about the Spirit – something that had been implicit and assumed all through the letter up until chapter eight.  He said, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” 
            It is the Holy Spirit sent forth at Pentecost by the risen and ascended Lord who has given you faith and new life in Christ.  That is why Paul says at the end of our text, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  Because you have received the Spirit – because the Holy Spirit is at work in you – he will redeem your body on the Last Day in the resurrection.  He will transform your weak and mortal body to be like Jesus’ glorious and immortal body. The presence of the Spirit now is the guarantee that all the rest will follow.
            And this is Paul’s point. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Spirit, all of the good things will happen.  We groan now in the “not yet” of a world still plagued by sin.  But with Paul we can know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Through the work of Christ and the Spirit we are already now sons and daughters of God.  We are already now children of God – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. We enjoy now the blessing of salvation and eternal life – something that not even death can take away from us. And because of Christ and the Spirit we can live in the confidence that the best is yet to come. 




Thursday, January 26, 2017

Feast of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor

Today is the Feast of  St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor.  Titus was a Gentile who was a trusted co-worker of St. Paul in Greece, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and on the island of Crete.  He assisted Paul in the collections for the Church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:3-6) and was instructed by Paul to organize the church on Crete (Titus 1:4-5).  According to tradition, Titus returned to Crete where he served as bishop until he died at the end of the first century A.D.

Scripture reading:
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:1-9)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, you called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher.  Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  First named Saul, Paul was a Pharisee from Tarsus who came to live in Jerusalem.  He was a rising star in the Judaism of his day and was so zealous for the faith as he understood it that he actively persecuted the Church (Galatians 1:11-24).  As he travelled to Damascus to persecute the Church there, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and as a result of this, Paul became a believer and was baptized (Act 9).  Not one of the original twelve apostles, because he was called directly by the risen Christ, Paul was also designated as an apostle.  He was active in proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles as he went on at least three missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Greece.  Because he had persecuted Christ’s Church, Paul considered his call and conversion to be a dramatic demonstration of God’s grace, love and forgiveness (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

Scripture reading:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:1-22).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world.  Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Feast of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor.  Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother whose mother and grandmother were Christians.  St. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey and Timothy became a trusted co-worker who engaged in mission work in Greece and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  According to tradition, after Paul’s death, Timothy went to Ephesus, where he served as bishop and was martyred when he was beaten to death by a mob of pagans.

Scripture reading:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16) 

Collect of the Day:
Lord Jesus Christ, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds such as Timothy to guide and feed Your flock.  Make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer Your means of grace, and grant Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to life eternal; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.