Friday, January 26, 2018

Our Master's Generosity

Matthew 20:1-16 To understand what Jesus is telling us today and what he wants us to know and believe, the very first words of our text are of critical importance:  The kingdom of heaven is like…  In other words, Jesus is teaching us what our life with God is like.
Jesus is not talking about the economic system of first century Palestine- or equal work for equal pay- or fair labor practices -or really anything about money and work at all-- except as an example. 
Then and now there was an understanding that labor and effort ought to yield reward and payment.  People in every place and time have had a keen sense of justice, that our pay ought to correspond with our work so that the harder and longer we work ought to be reflected in what we are paid.
Jesus knows this and it is a just way for the world to work.  But work and pay is not the way our life with God works. 
Our life with God, from beginning to end, is based upon his grace—not our works.  The blessings of a life with God come to us as a gift—not as a payment we are owed.  And that life begins with his call to us to come and take our place in his kingdom.  Jesus said that:
The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And so it went throughout the day.
            Even though this story is not really about the economy of first century Palestine it is still necessary to know a bit about it.  The vast, vast majority of people lived hand to mouth and so if they and their families were to eat that night it was necessary to labor that day.  And if there was no work—then there was no food.  And so then…
You can imagine what a blessing it was for these men to be called to work in the vineyard.  That call meant “life” for them and for those they loved.  They could not demand a job from the master.  There was no trade union to be their advocate.  There was no labor agreement between the workers and the farmers.  For them to have life—it was necessary for them to be called by the master to come and take their place in his vineyard. 
So it is for us and our place in God’s kingdom.  Since Adam and Eve were barred from Eden, mankind has no natural right to a life with God.  We cannot demand that he take us into his kingdom.  We cannot storm the gates of heaven.  We cannot buy our way in.
But what we cannot do and what we cannot insist upon, God graciously does by calling us to take our place in his kingdom.  Every time and in every place the Good News of Jesus is preached and taught and administered in the sacraments people are being called by God to take their place in his kingdom and receive the gifts of life and salvation and hope for the future. 
Most of us sitting here today heard that call early in our lives.  Others of us have come into the Lord’s kingdom at later stages in our life just like the workers in Jesus’ story.  But whenever we were called, there is a place for us in God’s kingdom. 
And that is the important thing because the time is coming when this day of grace will come to an end.  Jesus said that:   
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’  And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 
            Can you imagine how grateful these workers were!  They never could have expected that the master would pay them for a full day’s work for just a few hours of labor.  How good he was!  How generous!  And you can bet that the workers standing behind them thought the same.  These last-called were their friends and neighbors.  They didn’t begrudge them the denarius.  They knew that the call of the master meant “life” for these men and their families.
            So it is for us.  We’re thrilled when someone comes to faith late in life and takes their place in the kingdom of God!  We know that for those who never hear that call—there is no life or hope.  And so we’re glad when people come to faith no matter how late in life.
But as we picture this scene in our mind’s eye, with the workers all lined up and the last-called receiving the generosity of the master, we know that there’s something else in the mind of the rest of the workers, isn’t there?  “If the master has been so gracious with these last called, surely there must be more for us who were called first”.  Jesus said that:
When those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house
            It’s only natural that those who were called first, who watched as the last called received the denarius, to think that they would be getting more.  “It’s only right!  That is how the world works!  That is what is just and fair!”
But when they were given just exactly what the master promised them, they grumbled.  All their good thoughts about the generosity of the master—all their gladness that their friends were also called into the vineyard—went right out the window.
When they were called that morning how glad they were!  To know the peace of having work to do—to know that your needs and the needs of those you loved would be met—what joy must have filled their hearts as they labored that day.
But here at the end of the day how that had all changed.  There was no more gratitude—but only grumbling.  Their joy at being called-- and the lightness of their labor (knowing that their needs were met)-- all of that was gone. 
What had happened?  What had changed in them from the morning to the evening?  The direction of their gaze moved away from the goodness of the master who called them and provided for them-- to their fellow workers and what they received.  They were embittered and angry at the generosity of the master.  They said to him: 
‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.
            When the first called went into the master’s vineyard that morning they knew just exactly what to expect.  The day would be long.  The labor would be difficult.  They didn’t care.  In fact they welcomed it because they were glad to be called and have their needs met.  So it is for us.
            When the Lord calls us into his kingdom how glad we are even though we know it will not be easy.  Jesus told us right up front that we are to take up our cross and follow him—that blessings in his kingdom come when we are persecuted and misused. 
And yet we are glad to answer that call because we know that it is only within the kingdom that life’s deepest needs for forgiveness and peace and hope can be met.
Our entire lives as workers in the Lord’s vineyard ought to be filled with gratitude for having been called there in the first place!  But how easy it is for our gratitude to be changed to grumbling as we look around us at the lives of our fellow servants!
This person has some blessing that we lack and that person was spared some hardship we had to undergo and often times there is no correspondence that we can see between anything in our life of faith and those of others in how those lives of faith are rewarded.  And we begin to measure and compare and grumble.
Jesus forbids these kinds of thoughts because they change our life with God from an incredible gift he gives to us simply because he is good-- into something that is owed to us for the work we do.  Jesus went on:
[The master] replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go.
            The Lord is just.  He is absolutely just.  No one will ever be short-changed by God.  The master of the vineyard agreed to give these men a denarius and that is exactly what they got.  And so in the same way God will give to us if we demand payment for services rendered.
If we want from God what we deserve—we will get it!  If our life with God is about what we do and what we are owed God, will pay!
We will get the recognition of being counted as a pious person.  We will get the respect that comes from being part of a church.  We will get to surround ourselves with people who are kind and good.  We will get the praise of men for our acts of charity. 
If that is what our life with God is about, if it is a contract for services rendered, God is just and he will pay—but that is all.
Those who were first-called received their pay but they were sent away from the presence of the master.  This was a warning to the Jews who resented sinners coming into the kingdom.  It was a warning to Peter who had just asked Jesus what he and the other disciples were going to get out of their life with Jesus since they had been with him from the beginning. 
It is a warning to all of us to make sure that our gladness at being called into the kingdom does not change over time into grumbling over the contents of a contract we have made for services rendered.  Jesus wants us to understand that our life with God is about his grace and not our works.  The master said:
I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? “Or do you begrudge my generosity”. 
            In the kingdom of heaven—when it comes to our relationship with God—God is the one who calls and God is the one who chooses and God is the one who gives because the gifts of salvation belong to him. 
Jesus Christ has earned salvation for us in his death and resurrection.  The Holy Spirit gives it to us in Word and Sacrament.  And our heavenly Father has planned it from eternity.  Salvation belongs to God who gives it to us as a gift of his grace. 
And so then when Jesus says that “the last will be first, and the first last” it is both a warning and a promise. 
It is a warning that when we stand in judgment of:  who is called into the kingdom and when- or who receives some blessing from God and preserved from some hardship- or how God orders our lives and the lives of others--we are standing in judgment of God himself just like the first-called that day in the vineyard who grumbled about the master’s generosity.

But it is also a promise that when we count ourselves last—when we recognize that what we have actually earned is punishment for our sins-- but what we have received is forgiveness and life---and this by God’s grace alone—when we simply trust in the generosity of God, we will not be disappointed.  Amen.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Glorify God in Your Body

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 In the text for our meditation on God’s Word, there words that apply to every person on earth as a creature of God and there are words that apply specifically to the Christian as a child of God and as we reflect on what the Holy Spirit has to say to us today I will make that distinction clear.  First of all, God says to everyone in this world:  You are not your own.
Can you imagine anything more shocking to modern ears than these words?  The rallying cry of the pro-choice movement is:  “It’s MY body!”  In our culture personal autonomy is valued above all else.  Surely, the world says, if there is anything at all that we can lay claim to and call “mine” it is must be my bodily life!
But in stark opposition to those individual claims of ownership that would make seven billion gods of us all, the One, true and living God looks at every person in this world and lays claim to us and says:  “mine!”  And so whose claim is true:  God’s or ours?  We ask ourselves:
Did I make myself?  Did I bring myself into being?  Did I provide for myself in my mother’s womb and continue to do so over the many years it took for me to grow up and begin to care for myself so that now I can lay claim to a bodily life that belongs solely to me?
Of course not!  At the very least, leaving God out of it altogether, our lives are anything but autonomous.  We are the fruit of our parent’s love.  We have been provided for and protected by those around us and we will continue to live this way, connected to others, dependent upon others throughout our lives.
And so from a merely human perspective, it is the worst kind of violence to deprive others of what we so vigorously maintain for ourselves—the right to a bodily life—by destroying their lives in utero or later on because they are elderly or sick or handicapped.  It is nothing other than the tyranny of the strong over the weak.
But of course, we do not look at this issue from a merely human perspective as if the value and meaning of our bodily life was found only in its connection to or dependence on others.  We do not ultimately belong to others—but too God.  The Bible says that:
1. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  2. “The breath of the Almighty gives me life.”  3. “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us.”  4. “O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.”  5. “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?”
            I could go on and on and on.  There is no place in the Bible where human life—any of our lives--no matter sex or age or ability or ethnicity-- are considered anything other than the work of God, belonging to him alone.
We know that it is God who created life and continues to create life.  We know that it is God who made us- and God who numbers our days- and God who will call us home when this life is over.  You are not your own.  God has created you.  And there is even more. 
You were bought with a price.  These words too are spoken to every person in this world.  Each of us as a keen sense of what we call “ours”.  One of the first words we learn as a child is “mine” and we are ready to defend that ownership against all takers.
But God strikes at the very heart of that attitude today in the most personal way by saying that at the most fundamental level, even our bodily life is not our own because he created it and because he paid for it with most precious price of his Son’s blood.
In the beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned, at the heart of their rebellion against God was a rejection of their creaturely-ness, a rejection of the limits their Creator placed upon them, a rejection of God’s created order for their own creaturely good.
The devil told them that this was the path to freedom—that this would be the way for them to obtain a new, God-like status.  Those were all lies.  What they received instead of freedom--was slavery to sin.  What they received instead of autonomy-- was the devil for a master.  What they received instead of life --was death. 
That is where we are today in what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death” where the destruction of human life is enshrined as a virtue.
But God was not content for those who created and intended to be his children and live with him forever would instead be slaves subject to the devil and death-- and so he sent his Son into the world to buy them back form the slavery they had chosen for themselves in their blind, selfish autonomy.
The price paid to set us free was paid in the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross and it was a price that HE paid for all people.  The Bible says:
1. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  2. “We are convinced that Jesus died for all, therefore all died.” 3.  “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours, but for the sins of the world”  4. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”
There is One and only One who can look at our lives and the lives of all people and truly say “mine” and that is the God who created us and the God who bought us at the price of his Son’s blood.
And so then, do you understand what an outrageous thing it is, what an open declaration of war it is, to say to the one, true and living God:  this life belongs to me!  Despite your creation of it, despite your redemption of it, this life belongs to me —it belongs to me and is mine to do with as I see fit (even to destroy it) because it is little, because it is weak, because it is broken, because it does not look like me, because it is old?!
Far, far from the destruction of bodily life that the culture says is moral and good, God says to us today:  glorify God with your body.  Glorify God with your body and yes, those words are spoken not only to Christians but to all people.  And so then, how can all people—even unbelievers-- glorify God with their bodies?
First of all by living with integrity in your own particular place in creation.  Despite what we see and hear in the culture, there are still only men and women.  God made man male and female and it is not necessary to believe in God to see what is readily apparent in nature. 
Second of all, by valuing the unique role of marriage in the culture.  You do not have to be a Christian or believe in God at all to recognize that children are the fruit of the love that exists between men and women and that they have the best chance for a good life when they are raised by the men and women who brought them into the world in the first place.
Third, by respecting and valuing the bodily life of others.  Let’s be very clear, if I have a right to a bodily life, so do those around me.  And when I seek to destroy the bodily life of others (for whatever reason) I am acting in an unjust way that uses my present power and strength to destroy those who are weaker than I am, those whose lives I count as less worthy of existence than my own.
The right to life is the first of all civil rights for all other civil rights depend upon having a life in the first place and every rational person can understand that whether they are a Christian or not.
All rational, just people—whether they are Christians or not—can glorify God the Creator by living in the context of their particular place in nature and allowing others that same right to life and defending what is self-evidently true about human life and how it flourishes.
But for the Christian there is even more.  We are not merely creatures, we are God’s children.  We do not only have our reason to show us the truth, we have the voice of God himself in Holy Scripture.  The Bible says that:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
            These words are spoken to the children of God and especially those seated here today and the answer that God is looking for in that rhetorical question is the strongest affirmation that yes indeed, we know that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that God himself dwells within us!
            From the very beginning of the church, Christians have always lived their lives in sharp distinction from the world around them to such a degree that their lives and their values and their priorities were always commented upon by the unbelievers around them. 
Christians did not destroy their children in utero and they did not expose unwanted children on the garbage heaps of Rome.  Christians did not engage in pagan sexual practices and they did not abandon the wives of their youth.  Christians cared for the old and sick and the poor and hungry even of those who did not share their faith. 
In every way, Christians demonstrated that they understood that they were not merely physical creatures but that they were temples of the Holy Spirt, the dwelling place of God on earth, their entire lives given over to the worship and service of the God who created them and redeemed them with the price of his Son’s blood. 

This is the teaching and witness of the one holy Christian and apostolic church on earth throughout the ages and it is the teaching and practice of our church today. You are not your own.  You were bought with price.  Glorify God in Your body. Amen.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Jesus Manifests His Glory in Cana

John 2:1-11 When Jesus was baptized, he publicly identified himself as the Savior who would take away our sins.  John pointed to him and proclaimed:  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! 
The next day Jesus began to gather disciples and teach them about life in the Kingdom and on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus’ first miracle turned shame into joy-- and lack into plenty. 
Here, in just a few short verses at the beginning of his Gospel, the Apostle John tells the story of our salvation:  that the One who was in the beginning, the One who was God took on flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, became our sin bearer so that our lives in his kingdom would be filled to overflowing with all the blessings of God. 
Throughout the New Testament a wedding feast is the picture of the fulfillment of Jesus’ work-- and rich, abundant wine is the sign of rich, abundant life.  It is not an accident that that Jesus’ first miracle points to the culmination of his saving work in providing us with new life of overflowing blessings in his kingdom.  The Bible says that:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
            Before we talk about what happened with this young couple at Cana in Galilee-- I want to talk about what happened in Eden with another young couple named Adam and Eve so that you can see the difference that Jesus makes. 
When God created man and established marriage, Adam and Eve found delight in one another.  They were not ashamed in one another’s presence.  There was no conflict between them.  This is what God intended every marriage to be.
But we know the rest of the story don’t we—how sin wrecked God’s perfect creation beginning with the life that Adam and Eve shared with one another as husband and wife?  With sin came blame and recrimination-- where before there was love and respect. 
But God stepped in to help.  He promised that he would continue to bless marriage and send a Savior who would re-make and restore everything that sin and evil had destroyed.
Then he did something that had never been done before—he shed the blood of a living creature and clothed Adam and Eve with its skins to hide the shame they felt in one another’s presence—and in this sacrifice he gave a picture of what the Savior would do with the sin that destroyed creation and his good gift of marriage.
Many thousands of year later, Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan, identified with our sin, was proclaimed as the sin-bearing Lamb of God and attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee where a son of Adam and a daughter of Eve faced a problem that would begin their marriage in shame and blame.
They ran out of wine.  They ran out of win.  Now maybe we say to ourselves—big whoop—serve the sherbet punch and life will go on. 
But that’s not how it worked in that culture.  Wine was not just suggested at a wedding—it was expected—and to run out of wine was to begin your marriage with a scandal that would define your relationship from that time on.
You can imagine what would have come next can’t you?  The blame:  “I told you to get more wine”!  “I thought you were handling that”!  “Your mother never plans for enough”.  “Don’t bring my family into this this—it’s all your extra relatives that made us run out”!  And in the blame and recrimination they would be just like every other married couple.
Except that God had promised a Savior who would restore and re-make what sin had destroyed—a Savior who began his saving work at the exact place that sin had begun its destructive path—with a marriage. The Bible says that:
Jesus said to her [that is, his mother], “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
            For almost as many translators as there are, there are that many translations of this passage from the Greek.  What is there in the Greek is this:  Woman, what to me and thee.  Sadly our text follows many other English translations by having Jesus ask:  What does this have to do with me?  But that is just the opposite of what Jesus is saying!
Beck gets it right.  Jesus says:  Will you leave that to me!  In other words, Jesus says to his mother:   this situation is not going to be fixed by me and thee—but by me!
That is why Jesus addresses his mother as:  woman.  He is not being disrespectful- but he is reminding her not only who he is-- but he is reminding her WHO SHE IS as the WOMAN of Genesis 3.  God promised Adam and Eve the one who would undo Satan’s evil work and restore and re-make creation was the Offspring of THE WOMAN. 
Here’s the point:  to know who John the Baptist was as the forerunner of the Messiah is to know who Jesus is as the Savior.  To know who Mary is as the woman of Genesis 3 is to know who her Son is as the destroyer of Satan’s work and the re-newer of God’s good gifts. 
Jesus was the One who would accomplish his mission and no one else (not even his mother) and he would not be carried along at the mercy of forces beyond his control but his mission would go forward at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way to accomplish the salvation of the world. 
Mary needed to understand that-- and she did.  St. John the Apostle writes:   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 
There are no suggestions from her as to what Jesus ought to do—no helpful hints as how to make this embarrassing situation right.  Mary was content to take him the problem and leave it at his feet and trust him with the results.  And not only does she offer Jesus the obedience of faith—she calls upon all of his servants to do the same.  She is an example to us all!
Do whatever he tells you.  Mary’s words are still spoken to the servants seated here today in these pews.  Do whatever he tells you.  No “yes, buts”.  No trying to have our own way.  No trying to find a reason why in this instance the words of Jesus can be ignored. 
Is this easy?  No!  But Jesus asks his servants to trust him just like Mary and his other servants did that day.  The Bible says that:
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And Jesus said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.
            When Jesus commanded the servants to fill those water jars they must have thought to themselves—this guy has lost his mind!  This is just going to make things worse!  Was he really going to serve water to all these guests and bring shame upon this couple? 
But the words of the Blessed Mother of our Lord must have been ringing in their ears:  do whatever he says.  They ring in our ears too! 
Does Jesus really expect me to forgive and keep on forgiving?  Is he really asking me to stop worrying and start trusting him when I’ve got all these things on my mind?  Should I really give no thought to my material needs and trust him to provide?  At the heart of all of these questions is this:  can Jesus be trusted?  The answer from Cana is yes!  The Bible says that:
When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
            There are really two different parts of this miracle:  what the servants knew in terms of hundreds of gallons of water being turned into wine—and what the master of the feast knew in the unexpected goodness of the wine—together, a miracle of both quantity and quality.
The Word who called the world into being at the beginning—the Word through whom all things were made—once again touched his sin-ruined creation with gifts and blessings that were abundant and rich and overflowing and good-- so that as creation was in the beginning, it was restored and renewed that day at Cana by its Creator.
 In the presence of the One who gave Adam and Eve to one another as husband and wife, this young couple would never know the shame of their poverty.  Their names would never become a watchword in the community for failure.  Their lives with one another would begin as God intended:  with delight in one another and gladness in God’s provision.
On the third day at Cana in Galilee Jesus showed what he would do on the third day at an empty hillside grave:  giving us the gift of life—life that is good—life in his presence—just like it was in the beginning.  A life he wants us to share with others.
The wine that Jesus created by his almighty word was much more than the wedding guests would consume—it was a gift of plenty that could be shared with others in their community so that they too could hear of their Savior and receive his gifts.  That Bible says that:
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

            It wasn’t an accident that this was his first miracle- or that it was done at a wedding in Cana of Galilee- or that it was accomplished on the third day.  Jesus did it this way so that his disciples could see his glory and believe in him and share him with others.  May God grant the same to us this day!  Amen.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"In View of God's Mercy: Sacrifice and Service"

Romans 12:1-18 Our life with God is only by his mercy.  That is what is taught in the chapters and verses leading up to our text—that it is only by God’s mercy that we can call ourselves God’s children and claim a place in God’s family—only by his mercy. 
By nature, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  All of us by nature are under God’s judgment which is “guilty” and his punishment which is death.
And yet in God’s mercy, Jesus was given into death in our place and raised him from the dead so that we can be right in his sight—so that we can justly be declared “not guilty” in God’s court of justice.
So that we can believe this Good News and claim it for ourselves, the Holy Spirit has worked in Baptism and preaching to give us faith and because we now belong to God, we can be confident that God is working all things for our good and nothing will separate us from his love.
That is the message of Romans up to our text in Romans 12 and there is nothing else for us to say or believe but that our life with God is by his mercy alone. 
It is that same foundation of God’ merciful love for us in Christ that now shapes how we live out our lives as Christians through service and sacrifice.  Paul wrote:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   
By the exact same mercies of God that saved us and brought us to faith keep us in faith, we are called to live out that faith in sacrifice and service.
In these verses, and those that follow, there are no legal demands made of us; there is no talk of a debt that has to be paid or an obligation that must be fulfilled.  Instead, Paul simply says:  I want you to fill your eyes of faith with the mercies of God that he has shown to you in Jesus Christ and then you will understand how you yourselves are to live. 
And so then, dear friends in Christ, before we say another word about how we are live as God’s people, can you see, by faith, the mercy of God that made you his people? 
Can you see your great need for salvation?  Can you see your terrible inability to save yourself?  Can you see the great gift that God has given you in Jesus and the burden he bore for you and the death he died for you?  Can you see the hope and peace and comfort from knowing that you are now, by God’s grace, his child?  If so, hear again the words of the Spirit:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice
 As God’s child you are called to a life of sacrifice and service because that is the life that God’s only-begotten Son gave for you-- and when our hearts and minds and spirits are filled with those scenes of mercy that are found in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we will want to live our lives in the same way, wholly devoted to others.  In fact…
Paul says that this life is truly what it means to worship God—to offer our lives as living sacrifices out of love for the one who sacrificed himself into death on the cross. 
I am glad that all of you are here today for public worship.  We need to hear God’s Word and receive the gift of Holy Communion and be strengthened in our faith.
But this hour of worship was never intended to be the highest expression of what it means to be a Christian-- but rather a strengthening moment for an entire life of worship where we gladly offer our lives as living sacrifices in service to others-- just like Jesus did, devoting his life to doing his Father’s will.  The Bible says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
            The world says that we are to put ourselves first, and follow our dreams, and climb our way to the top, and look out for number one.  Power and money are the highest goods the world has to offer-- and many seek them to their eternal peril.
We too are tempted by the values of the world because they appeal to our flesh.  But when compare them to the example of Jesus Christ, we see how far apart that kind of life-- and the life of a child of God-- really is. 
And so then, to live a life of sacrifice and service as God’s child it is necessary that we have a change of heart and mind and will.  That change in us—what Paul calls the renewal of our mind—happens as we keep God’s mercy firmly in view.  We ask ourselves… 
Where in the life of Christ do we see anything that resembles the thinking of the world?  Nowhere!  And so we must not conform ourselves to that pattern or adopt those values.
Instead, we are to shape and pattern our lives after the example of our Lord’s life of service and sacrifice—to test and measure and evaluate our thoughts and actions and words and motivations against the pure standard of our Lord Jesus Christ-- and in this way learn the truth about ourselves and the truth about the greatness of his mercy—but also how to live as his people in service and sacrifice.  Paul wrote:
By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
            On the night when Jesus was betrayed, he gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples for the Passover Meal.  Common courtesy dictated that the feet of the guests would be washed. 
But all of the disciples stood around, looking at one another, waiting to see who would give in and take the lowest place; who would become the servant of all; each of them refusing to consider that maybe, just maybe he could do it.  Not one of them was willing to sacrifice what he thought was his place and his prestige.  Not one of them was willing to serve the others. 
And so Jesus took the towel in hand and the wash basin and he knelt at the disciple’s feet—the one, true and living God of the universe sacrificing his divine dignity and honor, serving them all in the lowliest way.  And he said:  I am leaving you an example
And so then, hear again the Spirit-inspired words of the Apostle Paul:  I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought.  In your marriages and in your families and in your workplaces and schools, do not think too highly of yourself.  And so then…
How should we think about ourselves as the people of God?  Is the servant above the master?  Of course not!  Are we the ones standing around, waiting to see who will bend the knee and serve?  As God’s sons and daughters we should think about ourselves like God’s only-begotten Son and serve one another as fellow members of the body of Christ.  Paul wrote:
As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
            We are the body of Christ in this place—members of the church that stretches out across the world, spanning space and time.  We are member of Christ and we are members of one another.  We belong to Christ and we belong to one another.  We are men and women, boys and girls.  We are young and old.  We have different places and roles in society.
But what binds us together into the one body of Christ is infinitely greater than these differences.  We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  We share this meal of his body and blood.  We confess one faith and have one hope.  We have one heavenly Father and we follow one Lord and Master. 
That said, this unity we have together in Christ, this recognition that we belong to one another for the good of all, does not mean that we are all the same.  We are not!  And that is a good thing!  We have different experiences and perspectives, and especially we have different gifts and abilities so that we can serve one another in the body of Christ.  The Bible say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
            This list illustrates, but does not exhaust, the various gifts that the Spirit gives to Christians.  Everyone who is a member of the body of Christ is gifted by the Spirit in some way so that we can all serve one another and serve the cause of Christ in the world.  Everyone is needed.  Everyone is valuable.  Everyone is necessary.  Everyone is gifted for service. 
And so then, for your reflection, I want to ask you:  what do you do to serve one another in the body of Christ in this place?  Beyond worshiping and giving an offering, what is your function in the body of Crist in this place?  How are you using your gifts to serve one another and God?  What are the concrete ways you are demonstrating that you are a member here?
Over the last several years we faced a significant challenge in terms of our facility.  It was far greater than any one of us could fix on our own.  And so we came together and worked together and we each did our part and the Lord blessed our efforts.
In a much more significant way than a roof that needs to be fixed, we face a spiritual challenge here that needs to be addressed. 
If we are to move forward with the mission the Lord has set before as the body of Christ in this place, if we are to become, for ourselves and our community everything God wants us to be, each and every one of you needs to understand that by the mercies of God, the Spirit has not only given you faith in Jesus, he has gifted you for service in this place and you have a function in this place that no one else can fill. 
The Bible says:  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them!  Let us use them!  Amen!