Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation - Rom 3:19-28



                                                                                      Rom 3:19-28



          “On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called ‘the temporal punishment’ of sins.”

          Those words say that every sin – no matter how small – involves a temporal punishment for sin.  This is a separate matter from forgiveness. The sin may be forgiven by God, but that doesn’t change the fact that as a sinner, you have offended God. Therefore each person owes God, and the full experience of eternal life is not possible until this penalty has been paid.

          Now there are two ways that this can be accomplished.  The first is a conversion which proceeds from fervent charity.  If the love in your conversion is genuine and fervent enough then all is well.  Of course, how can one ever know if this is so?  And more to the point, given the sin that is present in our life, do we really want to trust the quality of our action?

          The other way is to participate in the Sacrament of Penance.  Here one confesses sins and receives absolution that forgives the sin.  Then the priest assigns a penance that a person must do.  In this way a person makes satisfaction for sin and removes the penalty.  Your work gives you full fellowship with God.  But what if you die without doing penance for all your sin?  And of course, we aren’t even aware of all the ways we sin, so what about the temporal penalty owed for those?

          Only the most optimistic person would expect to avoid the final purification of Purgatory. And of course, there is no way to know for sure. This matters because the tradition of the Church describes purgatory as a “cleansing fire.”  That doesn’t sound fun, and it’s not.  Of course, there is always the hope that the living will offer the Sacrifice of the Mass for you, or offer prayers, or obtain indulgences, or do works of penance on your behalf.

          The words that I have quoted, and the teaching I have described do not come from the sixteenth century when Martin Luther started the Reformation.  Instead, they are from the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.  In its basic form, the theology has not changed in five hundred years.  Purgatory may not be emphasized as much as it was in Luther’s day, but the theology of penance remains the same.  It says that in order to have eternal life with God you must do something.

          St. Paul begins our text by saying, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”  Paul says that God’s law stops every mouth and holds all people accountable to him.  It does so because of sin.

          He adds, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”  The apostle states that works of the law – doing of the law – cannot bring about justification.  Now justification is based on the fact that all people will appear before the judgment seat of God.  Paul said in the previous chapter, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

          To be justified is to be declared righteous by God.  The holy God doesn’t just hand that declaration out.  Instead, is it only true of those who have done the law in thought, word, and deed.  He declares it of those who have done the law perfectly.

          This is how justification works. Yet Paul tells us that no one will be justified by doing the law.  He has just set forth the reason for this earlier in this chapter.  The apostle said, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”  All people are ruled by sin. And so he goes on to quote Old Testament passages that say, “None is righteous, no, not one; All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

          Rather than bringing justification, the law brings knowledge of sin.  We often describe the law as a mirror. We look at God’s description of what life is supposed to be, and it reveals who we really are.  It shows our failure to trust in God. It shows how we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. It shows all the ways that jealousy and selfishness have been present in our lives.  The law shows us that we are sinners.  Paul says in our text, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

          Martin Luther knew this.  He had a profound sense of his sin.  He knew the holy God who had revealed himself in Scripture.  When he looked at his life, he saw all the ways that sin was present.  Yet the theology of the Church that he had learned constantly turned him back to his own actions for a righteous standing before God.  God’s grace was the thing that equipped man to do in ways that counted before God.

          Luther embraced this theology and lived it all the way as an Augustinian monk.  He found that a life of doing could not bring peace.  Instead, it only revealed his own sin and the ways he failed to live according to God’s will.  Try as he might, the way of doing could never provide a righteous standing before God.

          While Luther was spiritually troubled, he was also clearly a gifted monk.  He was sent to undertake doctoral work in theology, and then to teach on Scripture at the University of Wittenberg.  There Luther worked with Paul’s letter to the Romans and he began to realize that “the righteousness of God” was not something God demanded of sinners.  It was instead the gift God gave.  It was God’s saving action.

          Paul says in our text, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  The law and the way of doing can’t give a righteous standing before God.  Instead, now God’s saving action to put all things right has been revealed.  It is not about the law and doing.  It is, however, something to which all the Old Testament bears witness.

          True, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But Paul adds that they “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  Justification does not occur by works.  Instead, it is given as a gift by means of God’s grace – his undeserved loving favor.  There are no works or doing involved because God did everything for us in Christ.

          God has redeemed us.  He has freed us from sin, and he did so by the atoning sacrifice that was offered by the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross. God gave Christ as the sacrifice for our sins.  God condemned sin in Christ as he died on Good Friday.  Jesus died, but then God raised him from the dead as he defeated death.

          Paul says that this righteousness is now received by faith.  For the apostle, faith is the opposite of doing.  In the next chapter Paul comments on Abraham’s faith and says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”  Faith does nothing.  It contributes nothing.  It simply receives what God offers.  It is the open hand that receives God’s gift.

          Paul says in our text that through his action in Christ God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  God will never cease to be the holy God who condemns sin.  He shows himself to be just by judging sin.  That’s exactly what he did as Jesus died on the cross.  God showed himself to be just as he judged our sin by Jesus’ death for us.

          But God was not only just in this action.  He also showed that he was acting to justify us – to give us the verdict of not guilty. Those who have faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord now stand justified before God.  We are righteous in God’s eyes because of what Jesus did for us.

          Paul concludes our text by saying, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  Boasting is excluded from salvation because we can’t do anything.  Our doing is completely excluded.  Instead everything is based on what God has done in Christ.  It is the gift which is received by faith – by trust in God’s gracious work in Christ.

          From Paul, Luther learned that justification is by grace, through faith, and account of Christ.  It is the gift we did not deserve and could never earn.  As sinners, our doing can never contribute to our salvation.  It can’t begin or finish, or have any role whatsoever.  On this the medieval Church, and the Roman Catholic church today, are gravely in error.  Instead, forgiveness and salvation are purely a matter of God’s grace – his undeserved gift.

          This gift is received by faith – faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  For Paul – and Luther – faith is the opposite of doing.  It simply trusts in God’s word that because of Christ we are declared to be righteous.  What God declares is so, and faith receives this blessing.

          Justification occurs on account of Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the means by which God justly judged our sin.  In this way God redeemed us – he freed us from sin. Because of Christ we are forgiven and can be declared righteous by God.

This is the standing that we have now.  You are justified.  It is the standing that you will have on the Last Day when you will appear before the judgment seat of God and he will declare you righteous because of Christ.  We do not live in the uncertainty of doing – wondering if we have done enough or done it well enough.  Instead, by grace through faith and on account of Christ we have justification before God.           















Sunday, October 22, 2023

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - Isa 55:1-9


Trinity 20

                                                                                       Isa 55:1-9



          What would it be like if you could eat out any time you wanted?  What if you could eat out all the time?  It certainly would be easier.  You would never have to worry about going grocery shopping.  You would never have to plan meals.  You would never have to cook or do dishes. Now that sounds great.

          And of course, you could have a wide variety of food.  During my years in Marion I have seen the number of different restaurants continue to increase.  We now have a nice range of places to eat, and they keep adding new ones.

          Eating out all the time would be great.  It would, however, be very expensive.  Food costs more when we eat out.  We would all probably like to eat out more often than we do.  The reason we don’t is that we can’t afford it.  It would cost too much.

          In our Old Testament lesson God invites his people to eat and drink food that costs nothing.  He offers to satisfy them with what they really need.  As we listen to our text, we find that in his compassion our God offers pardon and forgiveness as he draws us to himself. 

          Our text is from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived in the eighth century B.C in the southern kingdom of Judah.  During his lifetime he saw the northern kingdom of Israel conquered by the Assyrians and taken into exile in 721 B.C.  The Assyrians threatened Judah as well, but God rescued the nation.

          However, Judah did not learn its lesson from this experience.  Judah might have been going through the motions of worshipping Yahweh, but their heart was not truly in it.  They worshipped false gods. They did not want to listen to God’s word.  Isaiah began his prophecy by saying, “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”

          Judah would not repent and so God was going to bring judgment upon the nation.  He would take them into exile.  He did this in 587 B.C. when he used the Babylonians to destroy the temple and take the people to Babylon.

          Through Isaiah, God speaks about what is going to happen in the future.  In the second half of Isaiah’s prophecy he speaks a word of hope because God would not abandon his people.  Instead, he would bring the people back from Babylon.  Just as God had rescued his people from Egypt in the exodus, so God would again act to bring the people back to their own land.

          Isaiah begins our text by saying, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”  This is an amazing offer. God begins by promising to satisfy the people.  He offers food and drink without cost.

          Yet as we continue to listen, we realize that God is speaking about more than literal food.  He says through Isaiah, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

          Isaiah warns about focusing on that which cannot satisfy.  He urges us to turn away from our false gods.  We make money and wealth our goal.  We get caught up in the accumulation of things.  We focus on our job and career.  We allow sports to take on a role of central interest and effort.  These and so many other things compete with God for the number one place in our life.

          But these things cannot satisfy.  They are not the food that we need.  We were created in the image of God.  We were created for fellowship with God.  Only in this relationship can be find true peace and meaning for life. As St. Augustine said, “Man remains restless until he finds his rest it in God.”

          In our text God urges the people, “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.”  God offers life. He offers abundant life.  And our text directs us toward where that life is found.  God says through Isaiah, “I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.”

          Our text points us to the Messiah descended from David.  It points us to Jesus Christ.  In the book of Isaiah, God speaks about what the Messiah will do.  He speaks about the child born who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He promises, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”    

        God acted to bring his people back from exile when the Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, and then issued a decree in 538 B.C. that the Judahites could return. Yet this act of rescue was not the end of God’s work.  Instead, it pointed forward to something even greater.  It pointed to what God would do through the descendant of David, Jesus Christ.

In our text God urges, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” 

God calls all to repent.  He urges us to confess our sin and to turn away from it.  He bids us to return to him for he will have compassion on us and pardon our sins.  Like the promise of free food and drink with which our text begins, this sounds too good to be true.  After all, we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed.  We have harmed our neighbor by what we have done and what we have said.  How can God have compassion on us and forgive us?  That’s not the way we act towards others.

Yet that is the exact point that God makes in our text. God is not like us. And thank God this is so!  He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Our thoughts are wicked and unrighteous. God’s thoughts are completely different.  They are gracious and compassionate.  He wants to forgive. He wants to save.  He wants to pardon even those who show no love towards him.  He wants to pardon us.

We have intentions, but often don’t carry through on them.  We intend to lose weight or save more money.  Yet somehow we often fail to do so.  But that is not true of God. He not only has intentions, but he carries through on them. He does it in surprising ways - in ways that we would not expect.

Our text makes it clear that God will pardon.  But how can the just God be true to himself as he pardons our sins?  Doesn’t he have to punish sin? The answer is yes, and two chapters earlier Isaiah explains how he has done this.  There Isaiah speaks about the Servant of the Lord.  He tells us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

God placed our sin on the Servant.  Then God punished the Servant in our place.  We hear: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  God’s ways are not our ways.  We hear about the Servant and there does not appear to be anything glorious about him. Yet the great surprise is that the Servant of the Lord is the Messiah!  He is Jesus Christ. 

God had promised that the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon the descendant of David – the shoot from the stump of Jesse.  This the One who would bring peace to God’s creation.  Yet he also said that he would put his Spirit upon the Servant.  The great surprise is that the Messiah and the Servant of the Lord are one and the same!

Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities as he hung upon the cross.  This was the just God acting to condemn sin.  Our Lord died in the humiliation of the cross and was buried.  It did not look like this One could really be the Christ.  But God’s ways are not our ways.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him as he was seated at God’s right hand.  He vindicated Jesus as the Christ.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  He reigns now, and all will have to acknowledge him as Lord when he returns in glory on the Last Day.

God has given us what satisfies – his love and forgiveness.  In his compassion he has restored us to himself.  We have seen that he did this in the unexpected means of the cross.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways.

This is true not only of how God has worked our salvation.  We find this to be true when God allows times of suffering and hardship to enter our life.  We don’t want these things.  Yet the death and resurrection of Jesus is the reason that we can trust in God in the midst of them.  Jesus Christ is the assurance that God continues to love and care for us no matter what things may look like.

God has had compassion on us and has abundantly pardoned our sins. Through baptism we have been born again of water and the Spirit, and had all our sins washed away.  Because this is so we begin to think and act differently.  We begin think with God’s thoughts and act with his ways.

God has had compassion on us and pardoned our sins in Christ. By the work of the Spirit we now have compassion on others and pardon their sins.  When wronged, do not hold onto the offense as a kind of weapon that you can continue to use against the other person.  Instead, forgive as God has forgiven you.  Pardon others with the forgiveness by which God has pardoned you. 

God helped you when you were in need.  Now as the baptized child of God, help others around you.  Support those in difficult circumstances with your presence and care.  Bear up the burdens of others as you help them in whatever way you can.  Look for opportunities to be Christ to your neighbor.

In our text, God invites us to receive what truly satisfies.  He calls us to himself because he is compassionate and pardons.  He has acted in the Messiah who is also the Suffering Servant.  He has won forgiveness for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Baptized into Christ we have received this forgiveness.  We now live as God’s people who forgive others and act in compassion toward those in our life.          




Sunday, October 15, 2023

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity - Eph 4:22-28


Trinity 19

                                                                                      Eph 4:22-28



          Living as a Christian is an ongoing struggle.  It is because of what God has done for us in Christ, and because of what we continue to be.  Our salvation is certain and sure because of Christ.  The Spirit has given us new life through baptism, and we now live as those who are in Christ.  Yet the remnants of sin are still there – the old Adam is still present.  And so, our life as Christians is one of an ongoing struggle against sin. 

          Because this is the case, we continue in the need to hear the call to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  We need the exhortation of God’s Word that urges us to live as what God has made us to be.  Until we die, this is a word that we will always need.

          St Paul does this all the time in his letters.  Often, the latter portion of his letters has a concentration of this kind of language.  The apostle continually exhorts and encourages his readers to live in ways that are produced by Christ.  He warns them about the sin that is present in their lives.  He believes Jesus makes a difference not only in the salvation he provides, but also in the life that he causes. 

          Our text this morning is a classic example of this.  In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle deals with the obvious fact that they are Gentiles.  The vast majority of them were not Jewish.  They did not descend from Abraham. Instead, the Ephesians were Gentiles who were not part of God’s people.

          As Paul talks about their situation before Christ, the first thing he comments on is the sinful condition in which the Ephesians existed.  He says in chapter two, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.”  They were spiritually dead.  Yet this deadness did not mean they did nothing. Quite the opposite!  Because they were spiritually dead, they were walking in sin. They were living in ways that violated God’s will.

          This was bad enough. But then there was more bad news.  Because they were Gentiles, they did not have access to God.  This could only be found in Israel.  It was only true for those who descended from Abraham and had been included in the covenant.  Paul says, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands--

remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

          Walking in the way of sin the Ephesians had no hope and were without God.  The same thing can be said of you.  Paul says that the life of walking in sin was true of all of us.  He says that “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” and so “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

          The sin of Adam infected us all.  We were by nature those who deserved God’s wrath. Sin was in us from the moment of conception.  Your parents never had to teach you to be angry or jealous. It was just there - inside you – ready to come out. 

          And then, you are also Gentiles.  You don’t descend from Abraham. You forefathers were never part of Israel.  Instead, you descend from the hordes that were continually coming out of the steppes of Eurasia as they moved west.  Wave after wave inundated Europe as they settled in those lands – each one displacing the one before.

          Paul provides a hopeless description.  And it would be hopeless if the answer depended on us.  However, the apostle goes on to say, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

          God was rich in mercy and he showed great love toward us.  He acted in grace – his undeserved loving favor.  He sent his Son into the world as the sacrifice for sin.  What we were unable to do, God did for us through Jesus.  God condemned our sin in Christ.  Then he raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  He defeated death and began the resurrection life that will be ours when Christ returns on the Last Day.

          God has given us forgiveness in Christ.  And the surprise is that this includes those of us who are Gentiles as well.  Paul says in this letter, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  In Christ God has united Jew and Gentile to be one people – the people of God. Paul tells about Christ: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

          This is what God has done for all people who have been called to faith.  Baptized into Christ we share in this blessing together.  But God’s salvation means that there is now a change in the way we live.  Just before our text Paul says, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

          Those words describe our world.  The world is alienated from the life of God.  It says that true happiness is to be found in things. And so it engages in the never ending quest to have more and to have better stuff.   

The world has become callous and has given itself up to sensuality.  Sex is used in every setting outside of where it is supposed to be – in marriage.  Couples live together and break the Sixth Commandment without giving it a thought.  They do so because fornication is normal for the world.  And it’s not just unbelievers who do this.  People who call themselves Christians live together outside marriage as they choose to live in a state of unrepentant sin.

This is how the world around us lives.  We constantly face the pressure to fit in.  We regularly have this other way of living presented as a temptation before us.  Yet Paul introduces our text by saying, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!--assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.” 

This way of living is not how we have learned Christ.  Instead, Paul says in our text: “Put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.”  We put off the old man by confessing our sin and repenting.  We admit that we have sinned and return to our baptism in faith, because there we find forgiveness.

          Yet forgiveness is not meant to leave us in the same place. Paul says that we need, “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  As we return to our baptism in faith we put on the new man.  Paul told the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

          The Spirit has given us new life in baptism.  We draw upon this source of life through faith – through trust in what God has done through water and the Word.  In this way we put on the new man who has been created in true righteousness and holiness.  The Spirit provides the ability to walk in God’s ways.  He renews the spirit of our minds so that we can live as the new man in the world.

          What does this look like?  Paul provides us with several examples in our text.  He says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”  We do not lie, but instead we speak the truth.  We do this with all people, but especially with our fellow Christians because we are members of one another. We share in one Lord, one faith and one baptism.  Through baptism we have been joined together as the body of Christ.  We have been united in Christ and so we do not lie to one another.

          Paul adds, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  The old man wants to hang onto anger.  In a way, we almost like being wronged because it gives us justification to be angry.

          But the anger of man never works the righteousness of God.  Our anger is only a source of sin.  Instead of being angry, the new man forgives.  He forgives because God has forgiven us in Christ. Paul says at the end of this chapter, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

          Paul says that we are not to let the sun go down on our anger. This means that we do not let anger fester.  We forgive, we ask for forgiveness, and are reconciled. The apostle warns that to do otherwise is to give opportunity to the devil.  He wants you to remain angry because then sin is at work in your life.  But as we put on the new man, instead we forgive with forgiveness God has given to us in Christ.

          Finally, Paul says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”  The new man does not steal.  He does not take what belongs to others.  Rather than taking the focus of our life shifts to how we can help others.  We become Christ to our neighbor as we share what God has given to us.

          Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has given you forgiveness and salvation.  At the same time, the old man is still present.  He wants you to continue in sin.  For this reason we need to hear God’s Word that directs how we are to live. 

This is a word that returns us to the forgiveness that we have received in baptism. The water of baptism does more than just provide forgiveness. It is also the source of the Spirit’s continuing work in our life.  In repentance we put off the old man.  Through the Spirit received in baptism we put on the new man as we speak the truth, forgive, and help our neighbor.