Have you heard the message?…What you going to do about it?

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The Bible un-apologetically holds that God is Sovereign and that we are responsible. Paul hits that wall over and over in Romans 9 and 10. Romans 9 concludes that it is all in God’s election. Romans 10 says we better get busy spreading the word. I’d be lying if I thought there was really a solution to that. It is the same way that Bible holds that God is unchangeable, and yet he answers prayer.

Romans 10 talks about believing with our heart and confessing with our mouth. Christians actively do that, yet both of those are passively worked in us through the word that has drawn near. Hearts of stone turned into flesh. Halting words made to sing. And its the full person. Not a dry confession without the heart. Not the heart without some content. God takes heart and mind and makes them new.

What you can say is that the Christian can put God against God. The terrible unknowable eternal decrees can be place against the promises and the demonstration of love in Christ. God, you said he did it for all. That includes me. I’ll take that.

How did it come to this?…..

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The three texts for this week worked together almost seamlessly in my mind. There are always things that bother us – give us what I call the whys. And God is just not as interested in the whys as we are. Those whys are the crux of faith. Do we feel the need to create our own stories to explain them. And then we busily patch those stories as we inevitably get them wrong. Patch them until all we’ve got are patches. Or do we trust, do we have faith, in the one who does hold the whys. That is what the life of Jesus demonstrates to us – that the God who says he is love, proved it. Do we let him hold the whys, or collapse back into ourselves and our collection of patches?

Do we trust his providence that in the face of disaster we can say with Paul – blessed is the Christ who is God over all? And most shockingly that invitation is free and open. Come, everyone who thirsts…Come, incline your ear…buy food without money or price.

Futility and Hope

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…Because Jesus entered into this groaning and futile mess. It easily could all be meaningless. But He said no. I’m going to claim it. I’m going to redeem it. Jesus felt and experienced the full futility. Disciples who didn’t get it. Kinsmen who rejected him. Fellow Jews who put him on trial. Cowardly justice that executed him. A peasant, on a cross, outside the walls of Jerusalem. My God, why have you forsaken me…for hope.
In the darkest places…a light shines.
The Spirit raised him from the dead, and elevated him to the right had of the Father. When he was gone, at his weakest, the Spirit acted with power…

You can reason your way to futility and meaninglessness. In fact, along with Ecclesiastes, I’d say that is the end point of most reason. But it is never satisfying. It feels like a lie. Not a lie you are telling yourself as the militant atheists would say. It feels like a lie against the universe, a blaspheming of the Spirit. Because there are these things that reason can’t explain that stand out like beacons against the general futility of life. The whole, “but this is the causal chain that led to those things”, doesn’t really have explanatory power to explain the birth of a child. And so I reckon that the present sufferings are not worth comparing the the glory that will be revealed to and in us.

Witness of the Spirit

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The core metaphor of the gospel in the text for the day (Rom 8:12-17) was adoption. We have been adopted and made heirs of God. And that is important. We sang Children of the Heavenly Father as the opening and the hymns carried that message throughout the service. But, that doesn’t seem to me to be Paul’s main point in the text. In Romans 7, which we looked at the last two weeks, especially last week, Paul is meditating on the role of the law in the Christian’s life. And he ends on a depressing note. I serve the law in my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. In and through the law itself I have no ability to keep it. The law is weak. What then is the answer to the law?

The answer is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God has placed his Spirit in us which wars against the sin in our body. The power of the Spirit gives us the ability to strive after the law. It is not to our credit. We are debtors to the Spirit. But, all who are led by the Spirit are children of God and put to death the deeds of the body, and they will live. But even though we are debtors, we are debtors as a child is a debtor to a Father. It is written off the moment of the expenditure.

Using real old words, we mortify the flesh. We do that through the Spirit. And if you are wondering about that Spirit, Paul points at four ways we can observe it. Read the sermon to find out…

The law in my members…

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I’ve done two things in this sermon that I don’t usually like doing. I’m not sure either of them really worked, but I had reasons for them. Also, the Thursday Bible study got a preview of this sermon subject. I’m pretty sure it played better there. I’m also pretty sure the reason is just time.

First the time issue. Most of my sermons are 10 – 12 minutes or roughly 1400 words. This one was a little longer at almost 1700 words. It is really hard to talk about the theology of the cross and the reality of the law in the Christian’s life in 12 minutes. On Thursday, we explored it for about 90 minutes in two way communication with a 1200 word itself supporting story we read. We really only stopped because we were just exhausted, or at least I was exhausted and they were exhausted of hearing my voice. It it that kind off topic. Another reason why every christian should be engaged in some regular group study. This could be a really bad analogy, but worship is the cardio workout. It is the base of any healthy regimen. Those group studies are the weights. That is where growth in spiritual muscle happens.

The two different things.

1) While I do use political examples from time to time, I try to be balanced. Those examples today were not. I think this goes to a fundamental and dangerous direction in our American political body. A small c conservative – of which there are very few in politics at any level – understands Romans 7. The human creature is fundamentally flawed. In Paul’s words, in my flesh I serve the law of sin. And, that sin in my own members is very strong and devious. The older American political order understood this and was reticent to pass any sweeping law or sweep away traditional ways of doing things. Laws, because of the human creature, invite corruption. Sweeping laws invite sweeping corruption. We are that corrupt and we are not that smart to see it all beforehand. When the law is kept small and local, the stakes are not as big. But that is the not the society that we have structured today where everything is big. And where the law gets big, corruption proliferates. According to Paul that is the very function of the law – to show how sinful we are.

2) The second thing was that I ended the sermon on what was probably a cliffhanger. Romans 7 naturally leads to Romans 8. Romans 7 is a true description of the role of the law, but it is not the complete picture. There is something else that supplies power and fights the law of sin in my members. And it doesn’t come from me. In myself, I can’t win. But I am not alone. That is the Romans 8 story continuation. I chose to stay textual and have a two part sermon. Those who were present on July 3rd probably will be present the next week. Preaching through Romans is more like watching Lost or any story drama. Missing an episode might leave you scratching your head. The gospels seem to be more episodic, or more like Law & Order. I think that is because Romans is essentially a long argument and not a collection of stories telling one larger happening.

I fought the law and the law won…

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What does the law of Moses mean to a Christian? I think that is what Paul is trying to answer in Romans 7. And the text for today talked about the ditch to the right side of the road and the ditch to the left side of the road. On the right, you fall into legalism. You fall into the error that the law still has some role in your justification. Paul takes an analogy from marriage, but compared to Galatians, Paul is subdued in this response. He just reminds us that in Christ we are freed from the law, contrary to legalists everywhere. On the left side the ditch is antinominanism or the thought that the law itself has been banished. It is against this that Paul gets really tough. Boiled down he says – you need the law, you need it to show you just how lost and condemned you are.

Another way I thought about it this week is the right side is religious without being spiritual – the problem in the 16th century. The left is spiritual without being religious – the bigger problem today. Paul takes each in turn and says go back.

Next Sunday’s text looks at Paul’s via media on the law. But to stay out of the ditches both that law we can’t keep and the Spirit in us point toward Christ. Its His way that we walk.

Reformation Day Sermons

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Two choices with any Special Day sermons, preach the day or preach the text. Preaching the day is by far the more popular. People expect it. It is actually easier (maybe why it is more popular) – no translations to do, find some simple stories preferably cute about the people involved. But I think that puts the cart before the horse with most things Christian. The text or the Word drives the Christian story…drives the Christian. Preaching the day drains it of its vitality. The day becomes just another museum piece. One more birthday, anniversary or commemoration to remember. Preach the text and the living Word might show up.

Russell Saltzman here has heard or given one to many sermons on the Day. He gives some great examples of the species. It is also a great example of loss of hope. When the day has lost its vitality, it can’t inspire hope. The Word that inspires is absent.

Red flag of the parsons own views here – we made/make too much of the politics and the piety that came out of the reformation, and not enough of the original insight. For centuries the camps of Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed have gloried in their people and places and documents. And those things are important, but they don’t capture the complexity of the people – their tragic incompleteness. The original reformation insight allows for that incompleteness, and lets God complete things. And that insight came from the Word.

For no one is justified by works of the law…but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the the Law – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:19-22).

If you read Saltzman’s last paragraph – he put his hope in the wrong place. Even the church, which will be protected until the end, is an imperfect and incomplete vessel – waiting to be made complete…waiting for the saints to be revealed…waiting for the righteousness of God through faith.