Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (March 1, 2015)

PHILIPPIANS 3:17 – 4:1

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul reminds us of a hard truth, a truth that brought him to tears: Many … walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:18)  Perhaps it would have been better to translate it many live as enemies of the cross.  The idea is that a person’s whole life and conduct is opposed to Jesus and his cross. 
     It is not hard to find evidence of this.  Atheists put up billboards every Christmas and Easter to mock the Christian faith.  ISIS recently beheaded 21 Coptic Christians because they were Coptic Christians.  About a year ago, Nigerian Muslims from Boco Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their schools either to make them convert into the Muslim religion or to sell them into slavery, or both.  In addition to this, we see people in our own country flaunt their immorality and demand that people respect and support it.  Now, this is not really persecution, but it is a blatant rebellion against what God has established when he instituted marriage.  It is so prevalent that people are leaving the church over it.  People have decided that if God has a problem with these things, then God is the problem.  Sadly, many churches are now also catering to these sentiments and are abandoning God’s word so that their members will not abandon them.
     Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  It is easy to see.  Condemnation rightly stands against those who engage and persist in such evil.  St. Paul noted, Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19)  Those who oppose the cross of Christ have no interest in or use for heavenly things.  It happens when people devote themselves to what they can get here and now.  Their god is their belly.  They want to feed their carnal desires, whether that desire is greed or pride or lust.  There is a great sense of satisfaction that we get when we use other people or make ourselves superior to them.  The sinful flesh always craves that.  Just as many will feed their appetites with unhealthy foods, so many will feed their sinful tastes and call it delicious.  Their glory is in their shame.  Whether you see it in a movie plot or hear it in conversations among friends, people glorify fornication and cheating their fellow man, and they vilify those who stand firm in godly morals.  Their minds are set on earthly things.  Their only desire is what makes them happy now, but their end is destruction.
     In the prayer of the day, we prayed for more than protection from outward persecution.  We prayed, Almighty God, you see that we have no power to defend ourselves.  Guard and keep us both outwardly and inwardly from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul….”  While ISIS is a threat to Christians in various places, they are not in your house.  While the morals are in decline and immorality is praised, you don’t have to celebrate it, much less participate in it.  The enemies of the cross are not only out there.  They are in here.  Your sinful flesh had not left your heart and mind alone.  That’s why  you still crave what is opposed to the word of God.  We are still earthly minded.  Like anyone else, we desire what makes us happy now.  We have sinful tastes that long to be gratified.  So, we commit our distasteful sins, and we, too, call it delicious.  
     Now, you may not consider yourself an enemy of the cross of Christ because you are here.  True enemies of Jesus and his cross don’t come to hear his word and kneel before him.  Nevertheless, we still struggle with our sins.  We still crave what is wicked.  And when you are called to repent of your sins, you don’t like hearing that they are wicked and that you must forsake them. 
     The recovering alcoholic knows that he can never go out for a casual drink.  The addict knows he has to find new friends who will not entice him back to his addiction.  The one who wants to view seedy internet sites knows he has to unplug his computer.  Likewise, you also are called for forsake your sins.  For, the sinful nature cannot be taught to behave.  It must be killed.  That’s what the cross is for.  It is the means by which you put your sin to death through daily contrition and repentance.  Devote yourself to the cross of Christ.
     But the sinful flesh does not want to die.  It hates the cross.  While it is true that you are at the same time sinner and saint, you should not strive for dual citizenship.  The Lord has called you to be his saint.  But you cannot devote yourself to the Lord and still be devoted to your sins.  You cannot honor him who went to the cross while you despise your own.  Devote yourself to the cross of Christ.
     Jesus Christ came so that your destiny is not destruction.  Though we are worthy of such a destiny because of our sins, Jesus deemed us worthy of deliverance from our sins and deliverance from death, destruction, and damnation.  To do this, Jesus devoted himself to the cross.  Jesus did not delight in shameful deeds, nor did he engage in them.  Nevertheless, Jesus made his way to the cross to die a shameful death there.  He bore the shame of our sins and endured the curse for them.  He was stripped of his garments and of all dignity.  He was suspended above and between people for whom he suffered and died.  Most of those people were not content to watch Jesus in anguish on the cross.  They added their insults and invectives.  They claimed that Jesus was a disgrace.  But Jesus did not hang on the cross to be pitied by you.  Jesus went there to be propitiation for you.  In other words, he is the atoning sacrifice, and his blood covers over your shame.  He takes away your sin so that you are not condemned.  He dies in order to deliver you from death.  Therefore, the cross is for your highest good.  It is where your salvation was won.  Devote yourself to the cross of Christ.
     So now, our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)  Just as Jesus has forgiven you all your sins, so he will also deliver you from all your struggles and your enemies.  Your citizenship is heavenly.  You have been set apart, not for a life of sin and shame, but of godliness.  Your destiny is not destruction; it is everlasting glory and peace.  And when he comes to raise you from the grave, you will no longer have any stain of sin in your flesh.  You will be completely devoted to God’s will and joyfully obedient to him.  There will be no more struggles to do what is right, no more enemies who tempt or taunt you, and no more frustration because you fall short.  The Lord Jesus will raise us up with glorious bodies that will be holy and blameless in every way—in appearance, in desire, and in performance.
     But for now, you will do battle with your enemies.  You will probably not have to worry about ISIS or Boco Haram—though it is good to pray for those who do. Since the Lord has set you apart from this sinful world, there will be times you will be standing alone in what is right and be ridiculed by those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  When that happens, pray and entrust yourself to the one who sees and who judges justly.  Stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1); he stands with you. 
     But also recognize that your own sinful flesh still clings to you.  For this reason, Christ has you bear a cross so that you can put your sins to death.  This cross weighs you down so that you recognize you do not have the power to defend yourself.  You must flee to the one who does, Jesus Christ.  Devote yourself to the cross of Christ, and there you will always find strength and hope.  There you will always find mercy and forgiveness.  There Jesus will always remind you that your citizenship is in heaven.
     Devote yourself to the cross of Christ.  For that is where Jesus has devoted himself to you.

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