Friday, January 25, 2019

The Church: One Body,Many Members

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a Last Sunday we heard about the great value and worth that God places upon every human life.  God says that, from the very beginning of life to the very end of life, he is the one who creates life and bears life in his mighty arms of love and blesses life along the way.  We also heard the Good News that his great saving work in Jesus Christ is for all people. 
The words we heard last week from the prophet Isaiah apply to every person in the world—whether they are Christians or not.
But in God’s Word this week we move from God’s loving purpose for the people of the world in general-- to God’s loving purpose for the people of the church in particular. 
God says that we are all members of the Body of Christ and that we are all needed in the Body of Christ and we are all gifted with the Spirit in the Body of Christ.  The Bible says that:
Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
            Each and every one of us assembled here today is a part of the Church—each of us a member of the Body of Christ.  It does not matter if we are young or old—it does not matter if we are male or female—it doesn’t matter if we are single or married. 
            Every person here today who confesses their faith in the one true, triune God and has Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is a member of the Body of Christ. 
There is one body with many members and we are united to one another in that body where the most important thing is not the bodily differences that distinguish us from one another-- but what unites us together and how we came to be a part of that body of Christ in the first place.  The Bible says that:
In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
            We each took our place in the Church, the Body of Christ, when we were baptized with water in the name of the Triune God. 
The Bible says that in Holy Baptism we died with Christ and were raised with Christ so that we could walk in newness of life and live with him forever.  And so then…
United with Christ in one body, our identity in Christ infinitely more important and meaningful that any earthly distinction that might come between us.
In the culture of Paul’s day the differences between Jews and Gentile, men and women, rich and poor, slave and free were profound to the point of being insurmountable.  You were, and would remain, as you were born.  But in Christ all of those differences fell by the wayside.
Every person in the church stands with open hands beneath the cross as a beggar.  Every person in the church needs Christ’s redemption.  And every person in the church enters the body through the Spirit’s work in our lives through Holy Baptism. 
Now, of course there are differences among us.  We are men and women, young and old, rich and poor.  All of us are different from one another.
But those differences between us that are rooted in creation and culture are NOWHERE nearly so important as the fact that we are part of the Body of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith and empowers our life of faith as we take our particular place- and do our particular part- in the church.  The Bible says that:  The body does not consist of one member but of many.
            Paul used an illustration of our unity in Christ that even a child could understand:  the human body.  Each of us have a body that is made up of many parts.  In other words, there is one body with many members. 
So it was with Christ.  There was just one Jesus but he had arms that embraced the broken-- and feet that went to those in need-- and eyes that looked with compassionate upon the poor and lonely--and hands that came to their aid.  One body with many members.
So it is in the Church, the Body of Christ.  Each of us are members of the Body of Christ and the important thing is not our own particular role or function there but that we are members at all in the first place!  
Nevertheless, having said that, each of us do have a particular place and role and function in the Body of Christ and each of us are needed.  Paul uses a humorous little example to make his point that we belong to the body of Christ and that we are important to the Body of Christ.  The Bible says:
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
This is what happens when we tell ourselves that we are not a part of the body because we have a different place in the body than someone else—as absurd as a foot thinking it was not a part of the body because it was not a hand or an ear thinking it was not a part of the body because it was not an eye.
Each of us have our own place in the body and what matters is that we are connected to Christ in the first place!  Far from doubting our place in the body, we need to understand the absolute importance that each of us have in the Body of Christ.  The Bible says that:
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
            If we were asked which of our senses or which of our members we would prefer to lose, I think that all of us would answer:  none!  We want to see and hear and smell and taste and move.  They are all important to the other senses and they are all diminished when one is missing.
So it is in the Church.  Each of us have our particular place and our own particular role and each of us are important to one another and important to the whole body of Christ and it is God himself who has determined our place in the body.  The Bible says that:
God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
            This alone ought to be sufficient to silence any concerns we might have about our own place in the Body of Christ:  it is God himself who has arranged each part. 
Just think of that!  God himself, knowing you better than you know yourself, has wisely placed you in the Body of Christ in a role where you can flourish and grow-- and others around you in the body can be served by you in love.
            And these same words—that God has arranged the members in the body—ought to be more than enough to silence any sinful ideas about the importance of others in the Body.  The Bible says that:
The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.
            When it comes to the church, there is one body with many members and each and every one of us have our own place in that body that is distinct from others but important to the well-being of the body—even if our part seems rather humble.
            In my years as a pastor I have walked with people who have had colon cancer and bladder cancer and prostate cancer and I am here to tell you that, while none of us would ever want to lose our eyesight or be paralyzed, when those parts of the body affected by colon, bladder, and prostate cancer fail-- it is pure misery. 
For the health and well-being of the body, all of our parts need to be in good working order—even the most humble.
So it is in the church.  There is no member of the church that is so humble that we can afford to not have it working away for the good of all.  Every one- in every place- is needed and valuable and worthwhile to the whole body.  The Bible says that:
God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
            One of the great blessings of being a member of the Body of Christ is that we care for one another—or at least it should be!  But what is happening more and more is that the busyness of modern life is blinding us to the needs of others and fragmenting our common life together.
            I recently heard from a fellow pastor who was going through an incredibly difficult time in his congregation and he felt like he was all alone.  I don’t think that was because other churches and pastors were uncaring, but they were just so busy with their own issues that they ended up not caring for him in real ways.
The same can happens to us in our life together in the body.  But the Bible is very, very clear that we belong to one another in such a personal way that the joys and sorrows of one of us-- become the joys and sorrows of all of us-- and in this way we demonstrate to the world the blessings of being one with Christ.  The Bible says that:
God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. 
            While every member is important and valuable and needed in the Body of Christ, there are gifts that come first—gifts that form the very heart of the Body of Christ because they are the very heart of God—and that is the ministry of the Gospel ministry in all its forms because that gift brings others into the Body of Christ.
            God has made us members of the church and blessed us with the Spirit so that we can not only serve one another already in the church, but so that we can be about his work of bringing others into the church.  There is always room for more members in the Body of Christ and it is our privilege to use our gifts to bring them to Christ.  God grant us the desire to do so!  Amen.  

Friday, January 18, 2019

From Age to Age the Same

Isaiah 46:3-4 On January 22, 1973, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy was a constitutionally protected right under the due process clause of the 14th amendment. 
Justice harry Blackmun wrote the opinion.  Since that decision was rendered, there have been countless voices heard on the issue. 
Every politician has a position.  Our two main political parties have a platform statement on it.  There are nationwide marches and movements on each side.  Every church has to take a stand, one way or the other.  And our fellow citizens make their voices heard in letters to the editor and on social media and among their family and friends. 
Millions upon millions of voices—all of them clamoring for our attention—all of them contending for our allegiance. 
But we should be very, very clear in our own mind as to the voice that actually matters in this issue; the voice that is to hold sway in our hearts and minds; the voice that is the first and last word when it comes to this issue-- and that is the voice of God.  The Bible says:  “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel…Listen to me!
When it comes to faith and morals—when it comes to what we are to believe and how we are to live—it is the voice of the LORD that has the final word. 
The Bible says that, “The Word of the Lord endures forever”.  Jesus says that, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.”  And our own church says that, "The Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine".
God spoke to the prophets and apostles and they recorded his words in the Holy Scriptures so that when we open our Bibles we can know just exactly what God as to say about our faith and life.  
God says:  Listen to me! And he is talking to each and every one of us.
Listen to me!  All around us there are passionate pleas from women in very difficult circumstances who truly feel they have nowhere else to turn and their stories are heartbreaking.  All around us are pundits and politicians and philosophers who try to move us from one side of the issue to another and their arguments are compelling.  All around us are our friends and family members and fellow citizens who are certain that they are right and attempt to convince of their position.
But God speaks into the midst of that Babel clamor and cacophony and says:  Listen to me!  I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and I will save. 
If you have any concerns or questions as to why it is God who gets to have the final say on questions of faith and morals, here is your answer:  God is God and you are not!  He is the creator and you are his creature.  He is your father and you are his child.  He is the savior and you are the saved.
God is the one who made you.  He is the one who gave you life.  You are his creation.  God is the one who cares for you every moment of life.  And God is the one who chose you from eternity, sent his Son to die for you, and has called you to faith.
Your entire existence, physical and spiritual, earthly and eternal rests in God and he has a perfect right- and legitimate expectation- that we will allow ourselves to be instructed by him, to let our thinking be informed by him, and acknowledge the authority of his Word over every part of our lives.  To those who reject this authority, he says:
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
            And to those who are confused about his claim upon every aspect of their lives, he says:  You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  Honor God with your body. 
The voice of God is absolutely authoritative over every part of our life (including our thinking on this issue of the sanctity of life) because he is the one who made us and he is the one who sustains us and he is the one who saved us.
This is who God is—not just one voice among many—not just another authority with a truth claim he wants to convince us of, but our Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier.  And so what does he have to say about us?  God says:
You have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. 
            We know who God is:  he is the one who made us; he is the one who sustains us; he is the one who saves us.  He is the one who speaks with authority into every part of our life.  And so then, who are we and where do we discover our identity?  God says:
We are the ones that he has known before our birth.  We are the ones who have been carried by him throughout our lives.  We are the ones who listen to him while he speaks.  We are the ones who will be cared for him even to old age and gray hair. 
That’s who we are:  an individual persons whom he has known and loved and cared for and saved, every moment of our life from the womb to the tomb.
And- so –is- every –other- person- in –the- world! 
The issue that lies at the very heart of this world-wide debate about the sanctity of life is the identity of the human person-- and so let’s clear that up once and for all.
Look around the sanctuary at your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Would you pierce the back of their skull with sharp scissors and remove their brain because they are younger than you?  Would you poison them because they are weaker than you?  Would you deprive them of food and water because they are older than you?  Would you cause their death because they enjoy less earthly and material blessings than you?
Of course the answer is “no!” to all those questions!  It is a hateful, horrible thing to even consider.  These people and their lives are precious and valuable and we would never do such terrible things that would destroy their lives.
And yet, these things are being done to people throughout the world and to people in our own country.  And these acts of violence are allowed—and even approved of and admired-- because the full personhood and humanity of the unborn and the ill and the disabled- and the elderly is denied-- in a war that is being waged against the weak by the strong. 
God speaks in the midst of this bloodlust and lays claim to EVERY human person and says that:  you were you in your mother’s womb; and you were you when you needed my help; and you were you when you are old. 
God is very clear about who he is:  our Maker and Redeemer and Sanctifier- and he is very clear about the identity of the human person:  that each of us, at every stage of life are fully human and belong to him. 
And so then, the dignity and value and worth of the human person is not found in their utility or ability; it is not found in their independence and autonomy; it is not found in their age or gender or race or socio-economic place in society. 
It is found in God:  the God who made us, whose Son died for us, and the Spirit who is earnestly calling us to believe what he says about life. 
God is also very, very clear that each one of us—at every stage of life—not only belong to him, but depend on him.  The Bible says:
You have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. 
            I mentioned earlier that what we are seeing in this whole issue of the sanctity of life is a war of the strong against weak.  I can assure you that if you wanted to stick a needle in the back of my skull or make me eat poison and deprive me of food and water, I would fight back and so would you.
Of course the unborn and the disabled and the ill and the elderly whose lives are being destroyed cannot defend themselves.  Maybe we are tempted to think to ourselves, “Well, too bad for them.”  What God wants us to understand is that any notions we might have of our own authority or autonomy or ability or agency is simply an illusion. 
God is the one who watched over us in our mother’s womb.  God is the one who carries us along in life.  God is the one who daily preserves our life.  And God is the one who will say when our life is over. 
And so it is—and must be—for every other person in the world.  Our life and every other life belongs to God.  This is what he says:
Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.             

            These are the words that God speaks to us today through the prophet Isaiah and these are the words that he would have us speak to the world around us so that his voice is heard in the midst of Babel’s clamor and cacophony on the sanctity of life.
            We are to bear witness to the world around us that there is one true and living God who is not silent, but who speaks to the world so that they may know him as their creator and trust in him as their Savior and live with him forever.
            We are to speak forth the Good News that every person is loved by God and every life is precious in his sight and we must stand up for the sanctity of life at every stage from the womb to the tomb.     
            That is why we support the Pregnancy Help Center and Embrace Grace and Lutherans for Life—so that all people would preserve and protect God’s good gift of life.  Amen.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:15-22 From the very beginning, God’s people had a hope-filled expectation that God would raise up and send someone to make things right, where sin and Satan had ruined them. 
Adam and Eve were looking for the Seed of the Woman.  Moses was looking for the Greater Prophet.  Isaiah was looking for the Virgin-born Son and the Suffering Servant. 
God’s people came to call this person the “Messiah”—translated in Greek as the “Christ”—the deliverer who would make things right.  Every generation of believers expected that theirs would be the one who would welcome his arrival.  The Bible says that:
…the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,
            For the nearly four hundred and fifty years that preceded the person and work of John the Baptist, there was prophetic silence. 
When Malachi stopped preaching, there was no further revelation from God—only silence.  Among God’s people, there were political aspirations, there were military alliances, there were various factions—but God himself was silent for all those years.
And so you can imagine how it must have been when John the Baptist began his preaching ministry along the Jordan River.  Here was the kind of man and the kind of preaching that they recognized from their own history.  He looked like the prophets from of old and his unflinching message repentance sounded like the prophets of old. 
When you saw John, when you heard John—you knew that God was no longer silent in the world.  And so it was only natural for people to wonder—after all those years of silence—if he might be God’s promised Messiah.  To the questions of their hearts, the Bible says that
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.
            John made it perfectly clear that he was not the Messiah promised in the Bible but nevertheless, his person and his presence and his purpose was prophesied. 
In some of the very last words of God spoken before the 450 years of silence, Malachi promised that the Messiah would have a messenger who would go before him and prepare the people to receive their Savior. 
That is what he was doing by the Jordan River and that is what his words still do today.  He was calling people to repent of their sins. He was reminding them that real repentance showed up in real amendment of life.  He was setting an example of single-minded commitment to God and whole-hearted rejection of the world’s values. 
Most importantly, he was pointing people to Jesus and proclaiming him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 
And even though John has long since gone to his heavenly home, his words and example still accomplish the same in every generation who encounter him on the pages of Holy Scripture including us here today—calling us to repentance and preparing us to receive our Savior.
That is who John the Baptist was.  That is how important his work is.  And yet, and as important as he was, his life and his work stilled paled in comparison to the Messiah whose messenger he was.  He said about the Messiah that:
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
            Brothers and sisters in Christ, right here is just exactly what’s at stake when you encounter Jesus Christ.  You can either be baptized by him with the fire of the Holy Spirit -- or be burned by him in the unquenchable fires of hell. 
Please understand, it is no mere man, not even the greatest of prophets who can do that—who can give you the gift of God himself or consign you to the unquenchable fire of hell—only God can do that.  That’s who Jesus is.  He is the might one whose sandals John was not worthy to untie because he was the very Son of God. 
And when Malachi was prophesying of John the Baptist before those long silent centuries, that is exactly what he promised about the Messiah:  that God himself would come to his temple—that the arrogant and evildoers would be stubble in the fire of God’s judgment but for those who feared the Lord, the sun of righteousness would rise upon them with healing.
With the arrival of the Messiah, John proclaimed that every person in the world stood on one side of that divide or the other-- just as we all do today. 
Many, many people heard John’s preaching, repented of their sins, and looked in faith to the one he pointed to.  Others did not.  The Bible says that:
Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. 
            Herod had every opportunity to do what so many in Judea did.  He was very familiar with John and his teaching.  He could have taken John’s message to heart.  Repented of his immoral marriage.  Allowed himself to be baptized.  Amended his life and turned to Jesus in faith and lived as a true son of the true King.
            That was what was needed in his life just as it is in ours and heaven and hell stood in the balance. 
But Herod was a proud man and he would not stand by and be criticized by some preacher.  He would not humble himself with other sinners and walk into those baptismal waters.  And like his kinsman kings before him, he certainly would not recognize Jesus as King.
And so he imprisoned John and then had him put to death.  But that could not silence John for he was merely the mouthpiece of God and the message of John was the message of Jesus-- and the message of Jesus was the message of the apostles --and the messages of the apostles is the message of every true preacher in every place and time:  repent of your sins and receive your Savior!  The Bible says that:
…when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying
            The message of John was repent of your sins.  The message of John was receive your Savior.  The message of John was amend your ways.  The message of John was produce the fruits of repentance.  And countless number of people did just that and were baptized.
And along with them…Jesus was baptized.  Jesus was baptized.  There’s a shocker!  Jesus didn’t have sins to be forgiven.  Jesus was the Savior.  And Jesus needed no amendment of life.  Why on earth would be baptized?!
That’s not just our question—that was John’s question too!  He said to Jesus, “You come to me to be baptized?!  I need to be baptized by you!”  And Jesus said “no, it is fitting for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.
Every person who came to the waters of the River Jordan, just like every person who enters baptismal waters today, lacks the one thing necessary to have a life with God and that is a righteousness that will avail in God’s sight for salvation—a righteousness that is as full and complete as that of God himself.
Every person save one—and that was Jesus.  Jesus brought his holiness into those waters to fulfill the righteous requirements of God to overflowing abundance for the sake of our salvation.
And he did even more.  He identified himself with our sin, he numbered himself with the transgressors and he came out of those baptismal waters bearing the sin of every person who would ever enter them.  That is what John pointed to Jesus Christ and said, “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” 
A great exchange took place there that day.  The sins of the world were given to Jesus Christ and his righteousness was given to us.  Sinners became saints.  Enemies of God became children of God.  The Lord of Life was marked for death. And all of it happened in those baptismal waters and still does. 
That is why the Bible says that in Holy Baptism we die with Christ and are raised Christ and walk with him in newness of life that death cannot destroy.  It is because Jesus identified himself with in all our sin and brokenness so that his life can become our own. 
This was the promise of God from the beginning fulfilled:  that he would send someone—a deliverer, a Savior, a Messiah, a Christ—who would make things right again between us and God and restore what sin and Satan has destroyed—fulfilled in a way too wonderful for words:  by god’s own Son.  The Bible says that
the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove;
            Every prophet who spoke God’s Word, every priest who offered sacrifices for sin, every king who ruled God’s people was anointed with oil and set apart for his work.  
And so Jesus the Christ, our prophet, priest, and king was anointed that day, not with oil but with the Holy Spirit for he not only spoke God’s Word but was God’s Word; anointed with the Holy Spirit for he offered not another animal for our sins but his own holy life on the cross; anointed with the Holy Spirit for he did not rule an earthly kingdom but an eternal kingdom as the risen, ascended, glorified King of kings and Lord of lords.  The Bible says that:  a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Good News for us on this day of our Lord’s baptism is that through faith in him and his saving work on our behalf as the Messiah, God says exactly the same about us.  Amen.