Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (September 9, 2014)

A chapel devotion delivered at Huron Valley Lutheran High School (HVL).
ROMANS 11:13-15,28-32

             What makes you so special?
            Rarely is that question asked by someone who actually wants an answer.  It is usually an accusation, suggesting that there is nothing special about you.  So, what makes you so special?  If you are honest, nothing.  You are not unique.  You are sinners, and you need God’s mercy.  There is no difference.
            St. Paul wrote his epistle to  the Romans, a congregation made up of Jews and Gentiles. Each might have assumed that they were special, but they were not.  But Paul’s words to the Romans can be confusing.  It might seem that our Lord desired the Jews to reject him, or that he desired to reject them.  But we must reject this outright, because God our Savior … desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)  So, if there are some who are perishing, it is neither God’s desire nor God’s fault.  After all, God so loved the world (John 3:16), and Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  God is not stingy with his love, his mercy, or his salvation.
            Nevertheless, St. Paul notes that the Jews were rejected.  This is because they had rejected their Messiah.  Yes, the people of Israel were chosen by God for a special purpose.  They were set apart from the rest of the world by God’s commandments in order to be the people through whom the Savior would come into the world.  They were a chosen possession for just that purpose.  Jesus’ heritage is Israelite.  But when Jesus came preaching and teaching and healing their diseases, they despised and rejected him.  They even demanded his death.  The Jews were disappointed with the kind of Messiah that Jesus was.  He did not raise Israel to world prominence.  He did not pour out endless glory and riches on them.  He did not reward the Jews for simply being Jewish.  They had hoped for something greater, and so they rejected Jesus.
            When Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into the world, he told them, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)     Even then, the apostles were to begin their preaching among the Jews.  God had not rejected them, but these Jews rejected and persecuted Christ’s apostles.  Therefore, they went into the world to preach to the Gentiles.  Remember: God so loved the world (John 3:16), and Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  God is not stingy with his love, his mercy, or his salvation.  So, the good news was preached to anyone and everyone; for that is who God loves.
            So, what makes you so special?  You are God’s chosen people.  You have been called to be God’s people through the Gospel.  The blood of Jesus has marked you through your baptism.  You bear Jesus’ name and have received his salvation.  God so loves you.  The Lamb of God has taken away your sins.  Most of you have lived your whole life like this, so you might think that you have become worthy of this and that this is your divine right.  If so, you have lost sight of grace and mercy; for, as we confess each week, we are sinners who deserve God’s punishment both now and in eternity.  If you don’t believe that, you will not care about Jesus either.
            You are no different than the Jews who rejected Jesus.  You are not better behaved, nor do you have a better heart.  You are sinners.  You still reject God’s word with every sin you commit.  You also are victim of the temptation of thinking that your upbringing has made you bulletproof in God’s kingdom.  It is very easy to despise God’s word because you are so familiar with it.  You can recite verses.  You know the stories backwards and forwards.  It does not take much for you to think that you have mastered all of these things and that you do not need to devote yourself to them any longer.
            Beware.  The Israelites fell into a similar temptation.  They no longer feared their sins because they could recite Commandments.  They felt no need for mercy because they knew their Bible history.  They had no use for church because they were convinced they were special and that was enough.  And while daily chapel is a blessing for you, it can lead you to despise the Divine service on Sunday mornings.  Once you get yourself into the pattern of skipping Sunday mornings, that pattern will continue in college.  You will tell yourself that you are too busy to read your Bible, to pray, to hear the word of the Lord, and to receive your sacrament.  You will be tempted to think, “Well, I had so much religion at HVL.  I still remember the stories, and I know more than my fellow college students, so I’m fine.”  This is how faith is neglected and finally dies.
            The Lord Jesus Christ has given you a tremendous gift and a firm foundation.  You are not saved through your own reflections of God.  Your comfort is found in Jesus Christ, and he delivers his gifts when the word is preached and the sacraments are administered.  Through these means of grace, Jesus Christ pours out his mercy upon you—not because you are better, but because you are sinners.  You need his mercy, and God is pleased to give it.
            What makes you so special?  Jesus does, and he serves you with his word and sacraments.  Flee to Jesus Christ for your comfort and hope.  Flee to Jesus to be assured that your sins are covered, that your faith is being fed, and that God remains your merciful Savior.  When you hear the words of absolution, God continues to mark you as his chosen and beloved children.  At the Lord’s Supper you find assurance of your place in God’s kingdom, because there Jesus Christ himself gives you the body and blood that were offered up for your forgiveness and salvation.  In the sermon, you hear God continue to declare his love and compassion upon you. 
            Jesus Christ comforts you and assures you that, for his sake, you are special.  You have been called by his gospel, enlightened with his gifts, and sanctified and kept in the true faith by him.  That call continues to go throughout the whole world to bring others into God’s kingdom.  And you get to be the mouths who confess God’s love and mercy so that others can hear God’s call and be brought into his kingdom.  God does not care where they come from, for, Jesus came for them all.  Remember: God so loved the world. (John 3:16)  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  God is not stingy with his love, his mercy, or his salvation.  He has been merciful to you.  He keeps you in the true faith and consoles you with his mercies.  That is what makes you special in God’s eyes.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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