Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost

GALATIANS 3:23-29

YOU ARE CHILDREN OF 
THE HEAVENLY FATHER.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul is very clear about who you are and what your status is: You are children of the heavenly Father.  There is no greater title you could have, no greater honor anyone could bestow, and no greater blessing which comes from being children of the heavenly Father.  As you know, the children of the house have special rights and privileges that are not given to anyone else.  Children get to enjoy the food prepared by the parents.  They do not need an invitation.  Children are able to run to their parents for a hug and a kiss.  If a stranger did that, he would be pushed away in fear or disgust.  But parents welcome their children and are pleased when they come to them.
     Some people have spoken of all humanity, saying, “We are all God's children.”  That is true, to a point.  God has created all people.  And God is a heavenly Father to all people.  He provides everyone what they need to live.  Food, clothing, and shelter come from the Father's hand.  The Father sends both rain and sun on all people, regardless of who they are, how they behave, or what they believe.  But your status as God's children through faith in Jesus Christ is much more precious and comes with much greater blessings.  Through faith in Jesus, you have God's favor, forgiveness, grace, and salvation.  Since you are children of the heavenly Father, you are heirs of his kingdom.
     This has not always been our status.  We did not enter this world as children of the heavenly Father.  We entered it like everyone else—as sinners.  We lived apart from faith, which meant that we were under the demands of God's law.  St. Paul writes, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:23-24)  The law, or the Ten Commandments, were like a guardian.  That may not be the best English word, but I don't know what a better word would be.  The Greek word refers to a slave whose job it is to watch over a boy for his master.  The slave escorted the child, admonished him when he was disobedient, and encouraged him to behave.  That's what the Ten Commandments do—they reveal and enforce God's will.  If it is true that all humanity are God's children, then it is also true that all humanity is required to live under the house rules.  The Commandments forbid what is evil.  They command us to do what is good and to behave.
     The law tells us to be holy, and it shows us that we are not.  The problem is not that you can't know what God says is good.  He says that clearly.  Therefore, the problems is also not that you don't know what to do.  The problem is that you and I have not done it.  If we want to insist that we are good, then we do what everyone does—we cherry pick the Commandments and credit ourselves for what we have done.  You have given to charity?  Good for you, but you have still told lies.  You oppose same-sex marriage, but you have accepted cohabiting and sex outside of marriage.  You have not engaged in the petty dramas that happen in the workplace, but you have despised those who do and taken pride that you are better than them.  The law makes us aware of our sin so that we will not think we can work our way into heaven.  That is how the law drives us to Jesus.  The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)  
     When the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith, it does not mean that God has changed his mind about his Commandments.  They must be obeyed.  But Jesus has come and has done the works for us.  Jesus' holy, obedient life is often held up as the example to follow.  Granted, it is an example of a holy life.  But that does not mean we can copy it.  Jesus lived not merely as a model, but as a substitute.  Jesus Christ has obeyed all of God's commandments.  Jesus did not flaunt it or take pride in that.  In fact, Jesus gave away his good works and has given you the credit for them.  You are justified by Jesus' works rather than your own.  St. Paul wrote, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  In other words, the very holiness God demands of you, Jesus Christ has supplied to you.  Through baptism, Jesus has wrapped you in his holiness so that when God sees you, he sees Christ.  He sees one who is holy and blameless, and therefore one with whom he is pleased—one whom he is pleased to claim as his very own child.  You are children of the heavenly Father.
     St. Paul wrote, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)  That wording is intentional.  There are other places where the Bible calls you children of God, but here, “sons” is correct.  That is because in St. Paul's day, when a father passed down his inheritance, it was given to his sons.  Daughters got married and benefited from someone else's inheritance.  But you are all sons of God through faith.    And if you are all sons, then you are all heirs of his heavenly kingdom.
     It is also significant that St. Paul refers to you as sons who are clothed in Christ.  Just as Peter confessed, we also confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He is God's beloved Son, perfectly obedient and perfectly pleasing to his heaven Father.  Now, if you are all “sons of God,” then you are truly God's family.  Then you are just as beloved and pleasing to the heavenly Father as Jesus himself is.  Then you also have an inheritance waiting for you in heaven, just as Jesus promised when he said that he has gone to prepare a place for you there.  You are children of the heavenly Father.  You have been adopted into God's family, and you receive all the benefits of it.
     “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)  Lutherans tend to toss around phrase “by faith” pretty often, but it should not be treated lightly.  That you are justified by faith provides for you the greatest security and comfort regarding your salvation and your place in God's kingdom.  As I had mentioned earlier, to be saved by faith means that we trust in Jesus' works on our behalf.  The works of obedience and atonement were completed by Jesus.  By believing in him, we receive the benefits of it.
     Now, if the Lord had left any part of your salvation in your hands, you would never be sure that you are saved.  On your best day, you would still have your doubts that you are good enough or have done enough.  On most days, you are sure you have not.  Again, as children of the heavenly Father, we are to obey the house rules.  We have been set apart for godly living, which we know is good and right for us to do.  And we still struggle to do it.  That is why we continue to flee to Jesus.  God does not put your salvation into your hands.  It is your heavenly Father who took the steps to adopt you.  It is your heavenly Father who sent Jesus to redeem you.  Jesus has done all the work on your behalf, both in his life and by his death.  He clothes you with righteousness.  He forgives your sins.  He has done it all perfectly, willingly, and gladly in order to redeem you.  Since Jesus has done it all perfectly, there is no doubt that your salvation is complete and perfect.
     You are all children of the heavenly Father by faith in Jesus, no matter who you are or what your background is.  St. Paul reminds you, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  Salvation is not determined by nationality or culture, not by economic status or class, and not by one's sex or age.  Since it is by faith, it is not even determined by your performance as children of God.  It all rests in Jesus' hands.  We are all saved the same—by faith in Jesus.  We all have the same identity—children of the heavenly Father.  Your heavenly Father loves you, enough to send Jesus to save you so that you can dwell in his house forever.  And as children of the heavenly Father, you have all the benefits of being his children, as well as a glorious inheritance of a heavenly kingdom.

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

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