Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Paul's Prayer Priorities - Enlightenment

SERMON Dennis Evans 11-12-2017

“Paul’s Prayer Priorities – Enlightenment”

Scripture readings: Isaiah 42:1-7; Ephesians 1:15-23

How can any human being miss the fact that we all need some kind of light to come on and shine for us? And we all need something to come on that isn’t like the light in the refrigerator that only comes on when we want it.
Along the Columbia River at Priest Rapids Lake
Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
October 2017
Not a day passes when I don’t want some light to show me what’s going on, and how to respond to it, or to show me where to go next. That sort of light could be compared to an outside light: sorting out the world around me. Not even a porch light: but a flashlight, a street light, a search light, or a light house.
There’s that story of the policeman who finds a drunk crawling around on the sidewalk under a street light, and he asks the drunk what he’s doing. The drunk says: “I’m right here in front of my own house, but I dropped my keys so I can’t get in.” Well the cop decides to help him and he spends a few minutes with the drunk helping him search.
Finally, the policeman asks, “Are you sure this is where you dropped your keys?” And the drunk says: “No, I dropped them way over there. But the light is much better here.”
The drunk knew that he needed an outside light, but he didn’t have enough inside light to show him that he needed much more. He needed more light inside his befuddled brain. We also know that he needed more light in his heart, if he truly wanted to find the key that would open the kind of door that would let him come home to a much better home than he could ever imagine.
Paul had found such a light, and such a key, and such a home. So had his friends: all because of Jesus.
First came the light. This is how God works. The first thing God does is to say, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) But the light came even before that, because “God is light” (1 John 1:5) just as much as “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Jesus, as well, is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and he calls us to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Jesus is the light of God that comes into a dark world that has lost the light of its creation. Jesus is the light of God that comes into a dark human world where humans have chosen to live independent of the light, which means to live outside the light, but there is no life outside the light.
The light of God is no ordinary light. It isn’t the light of the sun, or the light of electricity. The Gospel of John says this about Jesus: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) Jesus is the light for human beings to live by, and to have that life abundantly.
The light of God is actually life itself. By definition you can’t have most forms of organic life without the sun. Spiritually you can’t have the light of personhood, or the light of love, without the life of Jesus who is the light of the image of God. Jesus is the brilliance of God that makes human beings into the children of God. But the first humans tried to live without this light, or to rule this light for themselves. We can’t rule the light of God. The fact that we tried to be in control of the light was the choice that produced our human darkness in the first place.
In their sin of trying to live by nonsense, these first humans handed down to us a banished life, on the very edge of darkness. It’s the part of us that has damaged the image of God, and his light and life in us. But Jesus, the Son, who is the servant of all, came: “To open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” It’s just as the prophet Isaiah said it would be. (Isaiah 42:7)
Who are the blind, the captives, the sitters in darkness? It’s everyone in the world. It’s us, and everyone else.
Jesus died for us on the cross to give us the light and to show us the light. Suffering on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus bridged the darkness to trade our darkness for his light.
Suffering on the cross and rising from the dead Jesus shows us the light, because (in doing that) he shows us what light is, and what the light does. Because Jesus shows us the light, we can not only live in the light, but also know what the light is for, and what to do with it.
The light from Jesus gives light to us, and the light in us shows others what the light is, and what to do with it. That is why Jesus, “the light of the world”, calls us “the light of the world”. So, Jesus shares his name, and his servanthood, and his calling with us.
So many of the prayers of Paul for his friends were about this very thing. It’s about them (and us) seeing the light, knowing the light, having a relationship with the light, having our lives changed and transformed by the light, having a life guided and motivated by the light, having a life rebuilt in the image of light, and with the mission and calling of being the light, showing the light, giving the light, implanting the light, reproducing the light.
Paul prayed for his friends, including us. Part of Paul’s prayer about the light went like this: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened….” (Ephesians 1:18)
When I walk in the dark with the help of a flashlight, I’m very thankful for it. I understand what the light is for. But I would understand light in a much different way if the light was my life: if I was light.
Paul’s friends, just as we, have met the light, and our lives have been changed by the light, because it is something we can hold onto. Holding onto the light helps us to walk in the darkness.
Paul wanted much more than this for all of us. He wanted the light to take over our hearts.
Paul wanted the light to enable the power and the motivations of God to change us. Paul wanted the light to guide us through the maze and dungeon of the darkness, in ourselves, and for us to be led to the freedom that comes from the life that is also light. Paul wanted the dungeon torn down and replaced, so that light would be what our lives and our hearts and our minds are made of.
There are other faiths or religions that talk about enlightenment. Because of this, many Christians have become suspicious and afraid of the word enlightenment. It is a Bible word: not a common Bible word, but it is there, and it’s important enough for Paul to care deeply about it. Everything in this particular prayer relates to that enlightenment.
Light helps you to see better, and to know better. Paul prayed for the Father to “give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17) It’s all the same thing. The Holy Spirit plays a part in answering the need of our heart, and the core of our being, to know God better. But the enlightenment means that we need that light to come inside us so that we can become the light.
The Holy Spirit could just tell us things, and give us a lot of accurate information: inspired information, and doctrine, and instructions. But the Holy Spirit also must become the light inside us that makes us light. Information, doctrine, and instructions are not enough, no matter how inspired they are.
The light must come inside and make us into lives that are light.
This is grace. This is what grace is for, if God is going to completely have his way with us. The cross and the resurrection were acts of God, in Jesus, to call us his own; to change our name from sinner to child of God, but even that is not enough.
In Second Corinthians, Paul wrote: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) In the same way, we may say that Jesus became dark on the cross so that you might become light. In the same letter Paul wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 6:17)
We will not understand the prayers of Paul very well unless we remember that these were prayers for others. We know that Paul prayed for himself. We just don’t have many examples of those prayers.
Paul commonly asks for his friends to pray for him, but he never asks them to pray for the gift of things. He doesn’t even ask them to pray for his health; although we think that he tried this without success, if that was what his thorn in the flesh was about. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) The Bible instructs us to pray for people’s health, but our prayer list should include the much greater needs of others.
This prayer surely gives us something to pray for, for ourselves. If Paul prayed it for his friends, then his friends could join Paul in his prayers for them. They were, after all, clearly prayer partners, all of them together. So, let’s pray these prayers for ourselves, never forgetting that every other Christian needs our prayers for their enlightenment, because we are all prayer partners, all of us together. Let’s also remember that those who are not yet being invaded by the light need our prayers as well.
Enlightenment, for us, in the Bible, means seeing reality as God sees it. It means seeing our lives and God’s goals for our lives, as God sees them. It means seeing the whole world and everyone and everything in it as God sees them, and as God wants them to be.
In Paul’s prayer, enlightenment means the beginning and the growth of hope. “in order to know the hope to which God has called you.” The world and everything and everyone in it needs hope and needs this prayer, and so do you. Pray to be made into light, and pray to be made into hope.
Enlightenment means the beginning and the inward growth of power. Now, power, here, is a translation for the Greek word “energeia”. It’s energy. It’s energizing.
We and the world give up. We run out of energy. Or there is a break in the circuit, and the energy isn’t flowing into us. In a way, the same word means “working”.
Sometimes I wish I had power. But I would probably mess everything up with it, if I had my choice.
God’s power isn’t about power, as we think about it; or as politicians, and monarchs, and dictators covet it. It’s the ability and the energy to work.
For us Christians it’s a very special focus of work. It’s the kind of energy or power that only does certain kinds of work. It’s the power that created the universe and our world. It’s also the power that raised Jesus from the dead. God’s power reverses weakness, evil, sin, and death.
So, it’s the kind of work that gives form and substance to something that wasn’t there before. It’s the kind of work that reverses evil, and death, and darkness, and defeat, and weakness, and sickness.
That is the nature of God. It’s the power that we are supposed to see in the world around us when we see God in our world. It’s what the world needs to see through us. It’s the ability we want the world to know and receive for itself. It’s the ability that is needed by everyone we know or hear about: the energy to do something new that wasn’t there before, the energy to bring dead things, weak things, tired things, and even outdated things, to life.
We are right to pray for such a power. We are right to pray this power for others.
When Paul says that God “appointed Christ to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way,” (Ephesians 1:22-23) it means, at very least, that in Christ, in the Church, the energy that raised Jesus from the dead still works and pushes out in God’s plan to fill the world. It’s the very core and center of everything God is about. Enlightenment shows us this.
Paul’s friends, as well as we, have been tempted to think that we are stuck on the outside of everything looking in. Enlightenment would begin and grow the understanding that God has: that Christ in us is the center of everything that matters. Christ in us is the center of everything this world needs. It’s at the center of what God want to do in the lives of the people around you.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, called “The Message” puts it this way. “At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world, the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” That’s what God (that’s what Jesus) wants to do through us, together.
Enlightenment enables us to see things the way God sees them, and to see our tasks and callings as God sees them. It is this enlightenment that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
The Lord’s Supper reminds us that the power which raised Jesus from the dead and through which all the gifts and riches of Jesus are ours, is the power that works in us. The crucified Jesus lives in us.
The holy meal says this. Because this Jesus lives in us, we are also promised that the great energy and work that raised him will also raise us (raise us in the end, but also raise us up every day until then). The energy of the resurrection will work through us, for others, and for God.
This enlightenment gives us the knowledge that comes within us through experience. With that intimate knowledge comes light, and sight. With that light comes hope. With that hope comes a power that energizes us for the work of the kingdom to change lives, and to change the whole world.

In this enlightenment, we will truly see, and love, and follow Jesus, and live out his plan for us.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Pastor's Letter, November 2017 - Let's All Be Thanksgiving Babies

PASTOR’S LETTER - November 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I was almost a Thanksgiving Baby. That’s the earliest story of my life. At least it has always been my mother's interpretation of the events of those days, as she told them to me me any number of times, since when I was a child.
Me and My Parents, 1951-1952
The story is that my mom began having labor pains Thanksgiving afternoon, November 22, 1951. My dad took her straight to the hospital. She missed Thanksgiving dinner because of me. Her obstetrician was sent for. He sent instructions that the nurses administer a drug to slow down my mother’s labor. And so, I was born on November 24. It has always been my mom’s interpretation that her doctor gave her (and me) that drug to prevent the interruption of his Thanksgiving vacation. But for that medical malpractice, I should have been a Thanksgiving Baby.
I became one anyway. To have uncles, aunts, grandparent, cousins, to be part of my birthdays, my birthdays were celebrated on Thanksgiving. Turkey dinner became my birthday feast. My mom would bake me a birthday cake, but I conspired with the Day, because I loved pumpkin pie. A lot of my early birthday pictures show me blowing out candles on a pumpkin pie. So, I am a Thanksgiving Baby whether I was born on the Day, or not.
Turkey Looking into a Church Basement, 2010
In a way, perhaps, we should all become Thanksgiving Babies. Our best life comes from the love, and grace, and gifts, and sacrifice of God, in Christ. Our best life comes from the birth of Jesus, his shouldering of our own sins and death, and his defeating of death in the resurrection. We are infinitely loved. Everything has become a gift: every day, every place, every one we love, or know, or meet.
Paul wrote: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) That’s the best life for you and for me. Thanksgiving is the way to life, to joy, to peace, to faith and hope. Thanksgiving is the way to love. Let’s all become Thanksgiving Babies.
Grace and peace,
Dennis Evans

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reformation - Martin Luther's Last Sermon

Sermon used by Dennis Evans on Sunday, October 15, 2017, in preparation for the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, under the title: “Reformation – Martin Luther’s Last Sermon; February 15, 1546”
The Last Sermon, Preached in Eisleben,
Matt. 11:25–30, February 15, 1546
On the Saturday following the preceding sermon Luther set out for Mansfeld to mediate a dispute between Count Albert and Count Gebhard. Most likely his last sermon was preached on Monday, February 15, not on February 14, to a large crowd which gathered from all over the countryside to hear him. On the day afterward, while confined to his bed, he signed the treaty between the brothers, on the eighteenth he died, and on the twenty-second his body was buried in Wittenberg. The last four sermons, preached in Eisleben, were published in Wittenberg, 1546. Who the transcriber was cannot be determined.
Original Text in German; WA 51, 187–194.
(MY NOTE: The additions or changes within the brackets, in this edited version, are mine, except for “Predigtampf”.)
This is a fine Gospel and it has a lot in it. Let us talk about part of it now, covering as much as we can and as God gives us grace.
Walking around Crab Creek, Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
September 2017
The Lord here praises and extols his heavenly Father for having hidden these things from the wise and understanding. That is, he did not make his gospel known to the wise and understanding, but to infants and children who cannot speak and preach and are not knowing and wise.
Thus, he indicates that he is opposed to the wise and understanding. He dearly loves those who are not wise and understanding, but are rather like young children.
…To the world this is very foolish and offensive, that God should be opposed to the wise and condemn them, when, after all, we have the idea that God could not reign if he did not have wise and understanding people to help him. But the meaning of the saying is this: the wise and understanding in the world so contrive things that God cannot be favorable and good to them.
 [They think they know better,] for they are always exerting themselves. They do things in the Christian church the way they want to, themselves. Everything that God does they must improve, so that there is no poorer, more insignificant and despised disciple on earth than God. God must be everybody’s pupil, everybody wants to be his teacher and preceptor.
…They cannot let things be as they were ordained to be. They think they have to do something too, in order that they may be a bit better than other people and be able to boast: “[Here] is what I have done; what God has done is too poor and insignificant, even childish and foolish; I must add something to it.”
This is the nature of the shameful wisdom of the world, especially in the Christian church. One bishop and one pastor hacks and snaps at another, and one obstructs and shoves the other. We have seen this at all times in the government of the church to its great detriment.
These are the real wiseacres, of whom Christ is speaking here, who put the cart before the horse and will not stay on the road which God himself has shown us, but always have to have and do something special in order that the people may say: “Ah, our pastor or preacher is nothing. There’s the real man, he’ll get things done!”
But is this behavior not a disgusting thing, and should not God grow impatient with it? Should he be so greatly pleased with these fellows who are all too smart and wise for him, and are always wanting to send him back to school? As it says [in the parallel in Luke]: “Wisdom must be justified by her own children” (Luke 7:35
Things are in a fine state, indeed, when the egg wants to be wiser than the hen. A fine governance it must be when the children want to rule their father and mother, and the fools and simpletons [rule] the wise people. You see, this is the reason why the wise and understanding are condemned everywhere in the Scriptures.
The pope has also done the same thing. For example, when Christ established and instituted the ministry [Predigtamt] and the sacrament of his body and blood in order that Christians should use it to strengthen and fortify their faith, the pope cried: “No, that’s not the way it should be; it must be wisely handled!” For the pope’s decree says that, when the priest reads the mass for the living or the dead it must be a sacrifice [that purchases a product].
For example, when a merchant is about to go on a journey, he should first have a mass read for him, and then it will turn out fortunately for him.
…So it is, with our Lord God in the world; whatever he institutes and ordains must always be not only perverted but also reviled and discredited by the devil and his followers. And then the world even thinks that God should be pleased and look with approval upon the fact that every fool wants to master and rule him.
In worldly affairs and government, the same thing happens, as Aristotle too has written. A few people are often endowed with great wisdom and understanding, unlike ordinary people. Often God gives us a fine, noble, intelligent man, who could serve principalities and people with wisdom and counsel. But such persons flee from the business of government, and it is hard to bring them to govern.
On the other hand, however, there are others who want to be and to do it, but they have no ability. [And yet, they do it anyway.] In worldly government, these are [the] jackanapes and wiseacres. These fellows [get it all wrong] and we are quite rightly hostile to them. Everybody mourns the fact that we can never be safe from these fools. They are good for nothing and they do nothing but put flies in the ointment.
That’s why the people say of them: The devil has slobbered us with fools.1 And Aristotle,2 who observed in governments that few people are properly qualified to govern, makes a distinction between the truly wise and understanding and others whom he calls… the wise who only think they are wise and understanding; just as we say in German: “Conceit keeps the dance going.”
They imagine that because they are in the government and are higher-ups they must surely be wise. And one such fool in counsel hinders the others from getting on with anything at all; for he wants to be wise by force, in the devil’s name, and still he is a fool.
Now, if in worldly affairs one is quite rightly opposed to these people who want to be wise and are not. [It’s much worse with those], whom both God and men rightly dislike, who want to be wise in the holy Christian church and are not. For these people hinder the ministry, so that the people cannot come to God….
…So, the pope, too, wants to be a very wise man, indeed, the wisest of the wise, simply because he has a high position and claims to be the head of the church; whereupon the devil so puffs him up that he imagines that whatever he says and does is pure divine wisdom and everybody must accept and obey it, and nobody should ask whether it is God’s Word or not. In his big fool’s book,4 he presumes quite shamelessly to say that it is not likely that such an eminence, meaning himself, could err. So, too, the emperor, kings, and cardinals; because they sit in such high places, they too think they cannot err or be wrong….
…It sounds almost as if, when Christ spoke these words: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven,” etc. (Matt. 11:25), they were spoken with ill will. And yet there was no ill will or hatred in his heart; for, since he gave himself, body and life, for us, how could there be any ill will there?
…His annoyance and displeasure comes from the fact that these miserable, foolish people presume to become masters of the divine Majesty. This he cannot and should not tolerate, and all devout hearts thank him for it, for otherwise there would be no end to this affected wisdom and mastery.…
…Here we ought to say: “Dear heavenly Father, speak thou, I am willing to be a fool and a child and be silent; for if I were to rule with my own understanding, wisdom, and reason, the cart would long since have been stuck in the mire and the ship would long since have been wrecked. Therefore, dear God, do thou rule and guide it thyself; I will gladly put out my eyes, and my reason besides, and let thee alone rule through thy Word.”
…Likewise, the hearers also should say: “I do not believe in my pastor, but he tells me of another Lord, whose name is Christ; him he shows to me; I will listen to him, in so far as he leads me to the true Teacher and Master, God’s Son.”
Then things would be right in the church and it would be well governed, and there would be harmony all around. Otherwise there will be the same displeasure as there is in secular government….
…Therefore, this is what we say: “I grant that emperor, pope, cardinals, princes, and nobles are wise and understanding, but I shall believe in Christ; he is my Lord, he is the one God bids me to listen to, from him he bids me to learn what real, divine wisdom and understanding is.”
…The Lord says: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father” (Matt. 11:25)….
…The Lord, who is the only one we ought to hear in these matters, says: “No one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). [That means] to the childlike and simple, who consider themselves neither wise nor understanding, but rather hear and accept his Word. So, if it is his Word you hold up to me and command, I shall gladly accept it, even though it be spoken by a little child, or even the ass [or donkey] that spoke to Balaam (Num. 22:21–30)….
…Our wisdom and understanding in divine things is the eye which the devil opened for us in paradise, when Adam and Eve, too, wanted to be wise in the devil’s name. God himself taught them and gave them his Word, which they were to adhere to, if they wanted to be really wise. Then came the devil and made improvements; he closed the eyes with which they had previously seen God and not seen the devil. This is the plague which still continues to cling to us—that we want to be wise and understanding in the devil’s name.
But to combat this we must learn what this means: “All things have been delivered to me.” In other words: [Jesus] must rule, teach, counsel, give orders, and command in [his] church. And when he said that, Christ openly confessed that he is true God; for no angel nor any other creature can say that all things have been delivered to him.
It is true that the devil once tried to seat himself on the throne and be like God; but he was soon flung out of heaven for it. Therefore, Christ says, “All things have been delivered to me,” that is, “to me, to me, you must be obedient. If you have my Word, then stick to it, and pay no attention to anybody who teaches and commands you differently. I will rule, protect, and save you well.”
…God has set his Son at his right hand and said in Psalm 2:7, “You are my son”; I have made the whole world and all nations your possession; hear him, you kings and lords, if you would be wise; do homage to [Jesus] as your Lord; and know that what he says to you I am saying to you.
This we Christians should learn and acknowledge, even though the world does not want to do it. We should be grateful to God that he has so richly blessed us and granted that we ourselves are able to hear him, just as Christ himself here gives joyful thanks to his heavenly Father.
In times past, we would have run to the ends of the world if we had known of a place where we could have heard God speak. But now…. Father and mother and children sing and speak of [Him]. The preacher speaks of [him] in the parish church—you ought to lift up your hands and rejoice that we have been given the honor of hearing God speaking to us through his Word.
“Oh”, people say, “what is that? After all, there is preaching every day, often many times every day, so that we soon grow weary of it. What do we get out of it?”
All right, go ahead, dear brother, if you don’t want God to speak to you every day at home in your house, and in your parish church, then be wise and look [somewhere] else. [Go on pilgrimages to look at the relics.] In Trier is our Lord God’s coat, in Aachen are Joseph’s pants and our blessed Lady’s chemise.
Go there and squander your money. Buy indulgences and the pope’s secondhand junk. These are valuable things! You have to go far for these things and spend a lot of money….
…[No, instead] we should listen to God’s Word, which tells us that he is our schoolmaster, and have nothing to do with Joseph’s pants….
This is the first point in this Gospel—that Christ and God the Father, himself, are opposed to the wise and understanding….
…When, therefore, the great lords, the emperor, pope, cardinals, and bishops are hostile and wrathful toward us because of all this, excommunicate us, and would gladly burn and murder us all, we must suffer it and say: “We did not start this on account of the pope, the bishops, and the princes, nor shall we stop it on account of them.” Christ says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden” [Matt. 11:28],
…It is as though he were saying: “Just stick to me, hold on to my Word and let everything else go. If you are burned and beheaded for it, then have patience, I will make it so sweet for you that you easily would be able to bear it.”
It has… been written of St. Agnes5 that when she was led to prison to be killed, it was to her as if she were going to a dance. Where did she get this? Ah, only from this Christ, from believing this saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” That is to say: “If things go badly, I will give you the courage even to laugh about it; and if even though you walk on fiery coals, the torment shall nevertheless not be so severe and the devil shall nevertheless not be so bad, and you will rather feel that you are walking on roses.6 I will give you the heart to laugh even though Turk, pope, emperor, and everybody else be filled with horrible wrath and rage. Only come to me; and if you are facing oppression, death, or torture, because the pope, the Turk, and emperor are attacking you, do not be afraid; it will not be heavy for you, but light and easy to bear, for I give you the Spirit, so that the burden, which for the world would be unbearable, becomes for you a light burden. For when you suffer for my sake, it is my yoke and my burden, which I lay upon you in grace, that you may know that this your suffering is well pleasing to God and to me and that I myself am helping you to carry it and giving you power and strength to do so.”
So also say Psalm 31 (:24) and Psalm 27 (:14): “Let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord,” i.e., all you who suffer for his sake.
Let misfortune, sin, death, and whatever the devil and the world loads upon you assail and assault you, if only you remain confident and undismayed, waiting upon the Lord in faith, you have already won, you have already escaped death and far surpassed the devil and the world.
Lo, this means that the wise of this world are rejected, that we may learn not to think ourselves wise and to put away from our eyes all great personages, indeed, to shut our eyes altogether, and cling only to Christ’s Word and come to him, as he so lovingly invites us to do, and say: “Thou alone art my beloved Lord and Master, I am thy disciple.”
This and much more might be said concerning this Gospel, but I am too weak and we shall let it go at that.[1]

WA D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar, 1883– ).
1 Hat uns der Teufel mit Narren beschiessen.
2 Luther may have had in mind Aristotle’s reference to epistēmē and doxa in Nichomachean Ethics, VI, 10; cf. WA 51, Nachträge und Berichtigungen.
4 I.e., the papal decretals, part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici.
5 St. Agnes who died ca. 304 is commemorated in the Roman church on January 21 and 28.
6 The allusion is to St. Vincentius, early Christian martyr who was laid on fiery coals, etc.
[1]Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 51 : Sermons I. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1959 (Luther's Works 51), S. 51:383 (Edited 2017 by Dennis Evans for use in his pulpit to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reformation - Faith Alone from God Alone

Preached on Sunday, October 8, 2017

Scripture reading: Rom. 3:21-26; Luke 18:9-14

A man was on his way home from work, and he stopped at a florist’s shop. He went to the roses, and picked up a dozen of them, and he took them to the clerk at the cash register. She asked him, “Are these for your wife, Sir?”  “Yes, they are!” “For her birthday?”  “Nope.” “For your anniversary?” “Nope!” And as he headed for the door, she called after him, “I hope she forgives you!” (Reader’s Digest, Jan. 96, p. 59)
Walks around home and Crab Creek
Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
August-September 2017
The word forgiveness is not in the verses we have read. But there is the issue of how we can stand before God when we have gone wrong: and we have all gone wrong.
Perhaps most people in our society would just smile, if we bring this up, and say that we shouldn’t worry our little heads about this. They have learned some famous words from the New Testament, and they will say that, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), and they know that, since God is love, that God will smooth over any and all difficulties, and they don’t have to do anything.
We can answer back and say, “Yes, you are right. God has done something to give us peace and confidence in the way we share our life with God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (set right) freely, by his grace, (his beautiful, undeserved love) through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:23-24)
And they might say, “Whoa now! Don’t bring up this sin stuff. I’m not a sinner. And why would Jesus have to die for me, I’m not that bad. I haven’t killed anybody.” (You know, some people have really given me the fact that they haven’t killed anybody as proof that they’re not sinners.) They probably mean: “What I have done doesn’t matter that much to God.” 
Later, I’m going to tell you a little bit more about the meaning of the word sin. For now, in Paul’s common Greek (hamartia), it was a word from the sport of archery. Sin is a kind of missing the mark, missing the bull’s eye. It’s overshooting, undershooting, missing off to the left, missing off to the right.
I have known only two people in my life who were not sinners.
One was a guy who lived in the town where I served my first church. I can see his face, but I can’t remember his name. Let’s call him Bob. I knew Bob for five years through the Lions Club. I had gone over to him and his wife’s house for a visit, and I must have been talking about why Christ came and died.
When they know you’re a pastor, people talk about themselves and God. They bring this up even when they don’t believe in anything at all. I guess they think they’re supposed to.
Anyway, all of a sudden, Bob said, “I’m not a sinner!” And I said, “Well, we’re all sinners. We all go wrong!” And Bob said, “You might be a sinner, but I’m not.” 
I never called him a sinner, in the first place, but he got really steamed about it. Now it so happens that, even if Bob wasn’t a sinner, he was still a stubborn, egotistical, hard-nosed, hard-drinking, loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed, belligerent man, and, if you disagreed with him, he would tell you that you were just plain stupid. Aside from that, I really liked the guy. He was a lot of fun, but I was glad I never had to spend more than an hour or two at a time with him.
The other person who wasn’t a sinner, was a woman named Orleana. She never told me this about herself, because she clearly believed that she was a sinner. But, once, I was visiting her husband Ken when she wasn’t around, and he was the one who told me that she wasn’t a sinner. 
We were talking about Jesus on the cross, and about Jesus rising from the dead, and we were talking about heaven, because Ken was dying of cancer, and Orleana had told me that Ken had never really committed his life to Christ. She was concerned about this.
I told Ken, “Orleana believes this.”  And Ken said, “My wife is not a sinner. She’s a wonderful woman. She couldn’t be any better, and I wouldn’t want her to be any different. I don’t know why she has to go and believe that she’s a sinner.”
Ken believed that Orleana’s faith had burdened her with an attitude of unworthiness, or a guilt, that she didn’t deserve. What could such a sweet woman ever do to feel that she needed to be forgiven?
I had to admit that even her faults were endearing. This was simply true. Ken was right about that. I wasn’t sure what to say about his idea that she would be better off, emotionally, if she didn’t accept what the Bible teaches about sin and human nature. 
I can’t remember how that conversation ended, except I told Ken that Orleana’s faith was the very thing that had made her the woman he loved. I never saw an unhealthy guilt in Orleana. I only saw a woman with great love, patience, gentleness, generosity, and strength, and faith.
Orleana had a tender conscience because she had a sense of the Lord’s glory. She had a powerful sense of the Lord’s holiness and perfection. Glory, holiness, and perfection can seem frightening or, at least, off-putting. Well, when certain people seem to be full of their own glory, holiness, and perfection they are definitely off-putting.
If we meet God, as he truly is, we find that his glory, holiness, and perfection all work hand in hand with his love. Perhaps the power of God’s love takes God’s glory, and holiness, and perfection by the hand and makes them beautiful, and desirable, and powerful in their ability to humble us and (surprisingly) to make humility absolutely beautiful and desirable to us. It’s love that has the most power to make us truly like Jesus, and not be off-putting.
Paul says something like this in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes, “And we all with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18)
It is true that we don’t feel very glorious. But what if the beautiful things we see in Jesus, the plain humble things we see in Jesus, in the gospels, are exactly the glory he wants to give us? Imagine for a moment that being lovingly truthful is glorious. Imagine that forgiveness is glorious. Imagine that a strong sense of justice and fairness is glorious. Imagine that using your life to serve others in any way is glorious. Imagine that compassion is glorious.
We see how glorious all of these things are in Jesus. Seeing him, we also can see how far we miss the mark. This makes our consciences tender. We know what we are not giving. We know what we are not doing. We know how what we say, and what we do, often accomplishes exactly the opposite of what Jesus is working for.
But why set ourselves up for this frustration and this sense of failure, by setting our sights so high? And, why should God care if we are not like Jesus?
When we meet God, in Christ, we begin to care, because we know how great this goal is. We know that this is what God created us for. We know how much is lost in a world like ours, where all the billions of missed targets add up to such great pains, and sorrows, and evils. The glory of God, the beauty of the Lord’s goodness, is what helps us understand sin.
Orleana loved the Lord. She knew how great the Lord is. She knew she needed him, but she also trusted the Lord’s great love for her.
I know what Ken was afraid of. I once saw what he was afraid of. I saw it in a little girl.
Once I was at a church picnic, and I was talking to this girl. She was about ten years old. She was being raised by her grandparents. I can’t remember why that was.
She was a serious and religious child: really much too serious. She had been reading some good stuff in the Bible, about the creation, in the first two chapters of Genesis. She asked me, “Do you know what God made us out of?”  And I said, “Yes, God made us out of dust.  And that means we are made of the same things everything else is made of.” And she said, “No, it means we’re dirt.” And I said, “But, do you know what the dirt is made of?” And she said, “It’s made of mud and worms.”
And I said, “Don’t you know what the mud and the worms are made of? They’re made of rocks, and roots, and trees, and grass, and lots of other living things. And everything they are made of comes from up in the sky, where you can look up and see the stars at night. You are made of the same stuff the stars are made of.” And she said, “No, we’re dirt.” I looked into her eyes and saw that, somehow, this little girl had taken to heart a great and sad distortion of herself, in the guise of the Christian faith.
Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace...” (Romans 3:23-24) To be justified, or set right, by God is to become a sinner living in the presence of glory. There, in a single sentence written by Paul, Sin and Glory come together when God has bridged the gap. 
I have told you about three people. Each one had a different way of thinking about sin and glory.  Bob had no use for either one. The little girl, sadly (really sadly), had no sense of beauty and glory. Orleana showed an awareness of both sin and glory: her own sin and God’s great glory. Because of this, she knew that part of God’s glory was his way of loving her just as she was, and making his glory a part of her.
I believe that the good news of Jesus tells us that every bit of human goodness is a gift. It is not a human achievement, but a gift from God. It is, in some way, a partnership with God, but, most of all, goodness is simply a gift from God. Just as life, itself, is a gift from God.
I don’t think that many people want goodness or righteousness to be given to them from the outside. They don’t want the goodness in them to come, not from themselves, but to come from someone else. Maybe they have a hard time believing it’s possible (or even fair) to be given someone else’s goodness. They don’t want to be dependent or in debt to another, not even to God.
In Jesus’ parable of the two men praying in the Temple (the Pharisee and the tax collector) something in our heart really wants to be the Pharisee. But the true goodness comes to us only when we pray: “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)
The Lord gives us goodness through the cross, and so we are, “justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:24-25)
The sacrifice of atonement means that God makes peace with us: and even makes himself one with us. Knowing Jesus means knowing God as our friend. Redemption means being bought and being set free from slavery, Jesus Christ is God breaking the power of sin over us, and in us.
God justifies us. This means that God, our judge, acquits us. He doesn’t make excuses for us, but God pardons the guilty, he treats us just as if we had never gone wrong.
We don’t work for his love, as Christians. We begin with his love. Martin Luther rediscovered the ancient truth of the Bible. Only a few months after Luther nailed the Ninety Five Theses (or the points of argument about the selling of indulgences), back in the year, 1517, he wrote, a few months later, another set of points for debate to be argued in the city of Heidelberg. One of his points was this: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it…. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore, sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.” (Thesis #28 of the “Heidelberg Disputation”; “Luther’s Works”, 31:57) Our life, in which we are born again as a child of God, begins with God’s love alone.
And we keep beginning with his love every day of our lives. Jesus died on the cross to give us this love, this freedom, this friendship, as a gift: a pure gift. And faith means receiving this gift from the Lord, like a little child who receives everything from his or her parents. We receive this gift of God just as a child receives life from his or her parents.
Martin Luther put it this way: “This is wonderful news, to believe that salvation lies outside ourselves.  I am justified and acceptable to God, although there are in me sin, unrighteousness, and horror of death.  Yet I must look elsewhere and see no sin.  This is wonderful, not to see what I see, not to feel what I feel.  Before my eyes I see a [coin], or a sword, or a fire, and I must say, “there is no [coin], no sword, no fire.” The forgiveness of sins is like this.” (Martin Luther, quoted in “Here I Stand”, by Roland Bainton, Chapter 13, p. 178)

This is the kind of grace and faith that will reform any church and its people. This kind of grace and faith will reach out to others, and change the world, and point to the coming kingdom of God.