Saturday, November 16, 2013

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost; November 17, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston and Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)

(from an sermon by Rev. Rick Marrs)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Our God is a working God. In fact it's what the Bible is all about. God is at work from the beginning, Genesis 1 to Revelation 21. He creates the world and everything in it by the word. Trees, flowers, birds, the stars of the heavens, the fish in the sea, the planets and the asteroids whizzing about space. And people. He created Adam and Eve, our first parents, and breathed into them the breath of life. And he placed them in the paradise of the garden of Eden which he created for them. Human beings are God's work. And after six days he took a Sabbath rest.

But the paradise of Adam and Eve may not be exactly what you're thinking of when you hear the word paradise. For you and me paradise is soaking up the sun in a Hawaiian beach cabana. The waiter walks through the sand bringing us a Blue Hawaii or one of those rum drinks with a little umbrella. In the beach hotel, the employees are scuttering around to take care of our smallest wants. Our vision of paradise is people working for us. But in Genesis the first thing God does is different:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, ESV)

Adam and Eve don't fall into sin until Genesis 3. In Genesis 2 God puts them to work. We think, maybe you've even been told, that work is the result of sin. So the picture in your mind of paradise is a Hawaiian vacation. But our working God has given us work to do, as a gift. He did not create human beings to the idle-ly lazing around, but tending the universe that he created for us. God gave Adam and Eve, and you and me, work to do, and it was good.

But Adam and Eve were not content to live and work in the garden. They wanted the one thing that wasn't theirs to have. They denied their relationship with God by eating the lies of Satan and the fruit that God told them to avoid. They wanted to be their own gods. They broke their perfect relationship with God and fell into rebellion. So, God ejected them from the garden. And he sent them out to work. This work was not the same as before:

“cursed is the ground because of you … thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:17ff)

Now work is difficult and dangerous. The cursed creation doesn't respond to human work the way that it should. The work remains. But work, in and of itself, is still a good gift of God. God uses it to provide for all of our needs. God gives you your daily work to do. It is a good gift from him to provide for you and your family. But not only that, your work is given to you to do good for the people that you serve. Teachers are there to serve their students and parents. Maintenance workers maintain buildings for the sake of those who live and work in them. Garbage collectors haul away the garbage so that people can live and work in clean places. Stay-at-home moms serve their children by taking care of them. Car salesmen and auto mechanics work so people can have transportation so that they can get to work. Pastors teach you God's word so that you can work freed from the guilt of your sin. People in grocery stores work so we can have food. Grown children take care of their elderly parents. Elderly and shut in folks have opportunity to pray for the work of others. These are the things we been given to do. They are our vocation. Not our vacation. Our vocation is the work that God gives us to do to serve one another in the places that he has given us to serve. And I'm not just talking about are paid jobs either. We are given to serve one another as parent, child, friend, neighbor, and good citizen. All of these things have their associated tasks and work. When God calls us to serve our neighbors in these ways we are the "masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.[1]" it's all connected to exactly what St. Paul writes:

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)

We see examples of hard workers in the Bible, too. Noah built the ark to save the living creatures from the flood. Abraham had huge flocks and herds. Moses was a Shepherd before he shepherded God's people out of slavery in Egypt. Paul was a tent maker. In our text here he talks about making his own living that way. And Jesus, our Savior, was a carpenter. Hard work, difficult work, has been around and promoted by God since Adam and Eve fell into sin.

But Jesus didn't come to give us an example of how to work hard. His vocation was so much greater than that. Jesus is the word made flesh, the very same word through which God made the world. He is the very word of God that came to restore human beings and all creation to a right relationship with God. His life, death, and resurrection are the work, the vocation, he came to do. Jesus Christ serves sinners. He serves us sinners by taking the punishment we deserve for being lazy and idle. He us serves sinners by removing the need for us to earn our salvation with our good works. We are saved by the gift of faith in all the Jesus Christ has done for us. We do not have to do good works for ourselves. Jesus has done all the good works we need. Now, we are able to serve our neighbors. We don't do good works focused on God's reaction. We do good works focused on our neighbors needs.

Our God is a working God who is blessed us with work to do. In response to God's saving work for us in Jesus Christ, we are privileged to work in the world for the sake of our neighbors. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 14: Selected Psalms III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 14, p. 114). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

1 John 3:1-3; The Festival of All Saints; November 3, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1–3, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What kind of love is this?

Country-western singer Lyle Lovett sings a song about his family called "Family Reserve". It's far from a glowing review of the perfect family. It's a dark yet realistic view of who they are, framed by how they died. People who die because they made foolish decisions. People who drink themselves to death. A boy who dies choking because his mother doesn't know what to do. And even one who dies ironically owning his own funeral home. It's a picture of an imperfect family, yet one loved by the singer.

In a way this is our family of faith, also. Imperfect, plagued by sin, self-interest, wrongheadedness, and yet loved by God. This is the kind of love the Father has for us. It is an amazing contradiction that the perfect God would choose to call you and I, sinful human beings, his children. It's clear that no human being (save one) deserves to be called God's child. And yet St. John calls us to look and see the love of God for those he calls to be his children.

All Saints Day is, in a way, a look back at the family album. We remember especially those who have died in the faith this year. It is a temptation to say only glowing things about them, just like we did at their funerals. And yet, now with the Lord, they were sinners all. All of them, to the last one, were sinners deserving not what they received as God's children, but instead eternal punishment. In fact, not a single one of them even deserved to be a child of God. And yet on this day we call them saints. Saints not in terms of the way the world would think, that we somehow held them as being perfect examples and perfect people. But instead saints saved by God. Saints loved by God in such a way that he saved them in spite of their sinfulness.

As we began our service today we did a remembrance of God's adoption of us in our Holy Baptism. It is the fullness of God's love for us that he calls us his children through this wonderful gift. Listen again to the words we read:

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16)

Notice there is not a "deserving" word in the whole remembrance. But benefits and promises given in God's Word. This is the kind of love St. John calls us to see. Boundless undeserved love from God given to us no account sinners.

What kind of love is this?

Well, in order to understand this love, we need to have a clear understanding of sin. I don't want you to get the impression that the sins of our relatives, or your sins, or mine, are to be taken lightly. They are not lovable minor personality quirks. Sin is far more serious than that. In fact, we have All Saints Day where we remember those who have died, because of sin. We have funerals because of sin. We live every day in the shadow of our own death because of sin. Death is the fundamental human problem. Death is the fundamental consequence of sin. No one gets out of life alive. And every year, the first Sunday in November, when we remember those who have died, we also remember the fact that we will all die from our sin.

But there is a fundamental difference for those who are called children of God, the family of faith. In Holy Baptism we are rescued from death even though death will come. We are rescued from eternal separation from God in hell. Where death for sinners would normally be the gateway to eternal punishment, those clinging in faith to the cross of Christ receive forgiveness of sins. And this forgiveness is not because we Saints are such good people. We know that's true simply by recounting the lives of those who we remembered today. We have forgiveness because God forgives in Jesus Christ. What kind of love does the father have for us? St. John gives answer:

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.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)

On the cross, Jesus Christ offered up himself as the punishment for sin. The only one truly worthy to be called God's child, hung on the cross and suffered God's righteous anger over your sin, and my sin, and the sins of all those on the Role of Saints. Through the wonderful gift of faith, based in God's grace and God's love alone, we receive forgiveness instead of punishment.

St. John also says it in the well-known words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17, ESV)

but the words "for God so loved the world" don't mean God loved the world so much. The word "so" could also be translated, "in this way". And then when we read what comes before including that translation we see what kind of love God has for us.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God [loved the world in this way], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:14–17, ESV)

God's love for the world extends to us through the outstretched arms of Jesus Christ offering you and me forgiveness of our sin. It's not a sweeping of sin under the rug, but a sweeping away of sin under the cross. It's not making light of sin, but rather taking the full seriousness of sin to account. God's love is such a love, that he can do no other.

See what kind of love the Father has given to [you], that [you, sinner that you are] should be called [child] of God; and so [you] are a sinner forgiven by Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.