Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2015)

ACTS 13:44-52

Pastor:     Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:       He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Paul and Barnabas always made their first stop in the synagogue whenever they came to a new town.  That’s where Moses and the Prophets were read every Sabbath.  The people there were familiar with the promises of God.  Paul and Barnabas went there to declare that the Law and the Prophets and all the promises of God were fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  God’s salvation had come through Jesus Christ.  He is the glory of Israel and a light to lighten the Gentiles.  The word gives light to the world.
     The problems arose when the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.  But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. (Acts 13:44-45)  For whatever reason, the people from the synagogue believed that God’s salvation was just for them.  They were God’s chose people, suggesting that God had neither room nor love for others.  While it is true that the Jews were God’s chosen people, they were chosen so that the salvation of the world would come through them, not so that salvation came exclusively to them.  St. Paul reminded them of God’s clear word on this: For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47)  For God so loved the world, not a few.  Jesus always came to be the Savior of the nations, not the Savior of one nation.  The word gives light to the world.
     Like the Jews in that synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, we may also tend to think that we have a greater right to salvation than others do.  When we consider the behavior of others, we commend ourselves for being better—assuming that our actions have won for us special favor in God’s sight.  But here is the scandal of Jesus Christ—salvation is by grace.  That means it is all God’s doing from beginning to end.
     You are no more worthy of God’s favor than an ISIS militant, whose zeal for his religion—though misguided—is undeniable.  You are no better than an addict or an agnostic.  For, this is what the Lord says: “There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22,23)  Now, you may object, saying, “I am better than ISIS; I don’t kill people.  I am better than an addict; I don’t rob people for my next fix.  I am better than agnostic; I am in church.”  Your sins may not be as personally destructive as the sins if ISIS militants or crack addicts, but you still have sins, and they are all damnable. 
     In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that the mark that should distinguish us as being different from the rest of the world is that we love one another.  But we demonstrate that we do not love as we ought.  We do not have mercy on other sinners, but would prefer that we remain “we” and they remain “they”.  We are like the people of the synagogue who looked at the Gentiles and wondered, “What are they doing here?!”  To insist that we are better is to insist that we deserve better and that we have done more to earn our place in God’s kingdom.  We do not want God to be gracious; we want him to reward us for being who we are.  That is precisely what Paul and Barnabas witnessed in the synagogue—people who believed that salvation was limited to “us” and that God should not save “them.”  Repent.
     Jesus declared: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  
     But the word “love” has been badly misused, therefore, we need to define it.  First, to say what love is not: Love is not simply giving people want they want to make them happy.  That kind of love encourages husbands and wives to abandon their marriages for someone better.  It tells us to have no real commitment to anyone, because as soon as someone makes you unhappy or hurts your feeling, you have to move on. 
     To know what love is, we look to God; for God is love.  God’s love has been made most vivid by Jesus.  Jesus’ love was not reserved for those considered worthy.  Jesus knew that there would be many who would despise him and reject him.  Jesus also knew that many would use his amazing love to defend their sins and their refusal to repent of them.  It did not matter.  Jesus came to do what love demands—to seek the eternal well-being of all people.  For God so loved the world, not a few.
     Jesus’ sacrificial love sought the well-being of sinners, not because any deserve it, but because God is love and seeks your good.  He seeks the good of all.  Your sins are evil and they are damnable.  Therefore, Jesus suffered for you.  He suffered torment and wrath and pain and death and hell.  He endured this for you, because this is what love demanded in order for you to be forgiven and saved.  This is how God has shown his love to you—by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ on behalf of all sinners.  The word brings light to the world.
     Your salvation is yours by grace.  Jesus did all the work from beginning to end, so you have no reason to boast that you are better than anyone.  And your salvation remains yours as God works in you and sustains you in the true faith through the word and sacraments.  In this way, he preserves you from going back to your sins and fills you with a love for what is good and for doing what is beneficial for your neighbor.  Your salvation is all God’s doing from beginning to end.  You did nothing to deserve it; but Jesus Christ did everything to secure it for you.  This is the light that God has shone on you, and it is the word that we preach to the world.
     And now we love because he first loved us.  This love first honors God and his word.  That is where we learn what is good and what is evil.  Love, then, always seeks the good of someone else.  Love will never encourage or condone sin.  We must call it what it is because it is damnable and brings death.  It is not love to willingly let people suffer these.  Love proclaims the truth and will even suffer for what is good rather than abandon it.  We are to love one another, knowing that our love may be abused, rejected, or scorned.  For loving God’s word and standing firm in it, we may even be told that we are evil and hateful.  But we will love anyway so that God’s love is seen in both our words and our deeds.  We want the word to give light to the world.  Those who love their sins or who love themselves may never repent.  But as many as are appointed to eternal life, God will gather into his kingdom.
     The word brings light to the world.  This salvation is not intended for a few, but for all.  Paul and Barnabas were eventually driven out of town for preaching such a lavish grace and such a generous salvation.  They were slandered and finally exiled.  Nevertheless, the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)  Though the mighty and influential made their power known by driving out Paul and Barnabas, God’s love made its power known by gathering his elect to his Church.  Not even persecution or threats could diminish the joy of Christ’s salvation. 
     It is no different for you.  Your joy is not based on popular opinions; your joy comes from knowing that Jesus Christ has given you a place in his kingdom.  Your salvation does not come by how much or how well you love others; it comes by God’s grace through Jesus Christ who loved you perfectly.  Therefore, your salvation is sure.  Nevertheless, we will speak and act in love to all.  The light of Christ shines on us, and the light of Christ shall shine through us to beckon others to Christ’s salvation.  This is how it must be; for nothing can suppress our joy.

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