Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 15, 2017)



1 CORINTHIANS 1:1-9

YOU ARE SET APART 
BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     If you meet a person who hates the Christian Church or hates Jesus, it will be for this reason: He hates God’s grace.
     Most people hate God’s grace because they don’t believe they need it.  A lot of people think of God like a neighbor you don’t really get along with.  You can learn to tolerate each other, mainly by having as little to do with each other as possible.  “If he stays in his yard and minds his own business, I will stay in my yard and mind my own business.  I can go through life and take care of myself.  If he leaves me alone, we will both be fine.”  People assume that they are naturally acceptable to God.  Or they think they can be neutral toward God and if so, that should mean they are in good standing with God.
     If it were true that if we left God alone and he left us alone and everyone would be fine, then the Church does the world no favors by preaching.  And St. Paul would have wasted a great deal of time and expense in going to Corinth to preach and establish a church there.  Of course, the world believes that preaching and the Church are a waste of time and expense.  That is because people hate God’s grace, and preaching about it makes them angry.
     People are not naturally acceptable to God.  They are not even neutral.  All are sinners, and the sinful mind is hostile to God.  We don't like what God has to say.  And God is not some nosy neighbor whom you can shut out if you just build a fence high enough.  God is not your peer.  Nor is God someone who will politely stay out of your business.  That’s because you are God’s business.
     The reason you are in this world is because, first God created the world, and then God put you in it.  God not only brought you into the world, he has also supplied you with all that you need to live here.  Year after year, the Lord provides you with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, and all that you need for body and life.  Your annoying neighbor does not do that for you.  Not even nice neighbors do that.  In response to his love and generosity, God wants you to love him and to do the good works he desires.  He does not only look for it, he holds you accountable for it.  Your life is God’s business because you are God’s creation.
     But it is not just unbelievers who despise God's grace; we do too.  While we are recipients of God’s grace, it bothers us that God would waste his grace on other people.  For, we believe that grace is something that we have earned by going to church or that we deserve because we are more honest and generous than others.  And if that is true, we don’t believe we need God’s grace either.  Beware that you do not despise God’s saving grace.  If you don't believe you need it, God will not force you to have it.  If you are a Christian it is for this reason: You have been set apart by God’s grace.
     St. Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that they were not saved because they were better than their fellow citizens, because they had done works that others had not, or because they had figured out what others did not.  St. Paul repeatedly declares that they were set apart by God’s grace.  St. Paul notes how they were “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)  They were “called to be saints.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)  They were given grace. (1 Corinthians 1:2)  They “were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 1:5)  And “the testimony about Christ was confirmed” (1 Corinthians 1:6) among them.  The Corinthians had done none of these things for themselves.  They were all done for them and granted to them.  And it is the same with you—You have been set apart by God’s grace.
     When St. Paul tells us that Christians are sanctified, that means we are set apart for God’s purposes.  You cannot deliver yourself from death.  You cannot erase your sins.  God must do this for you.  And he does.  It is God’s business to save sinners, and you are, therefore, God’s business.  God has set you apart from your sins and from the condemnation that comes from them.  As John the Baptist highlighted, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29)  All of your sin has been laid upon Jesus who, then, suffers your condemnation in your place.  He is condemned so that you will be pardoned.  He is slain so that you will live.  But the Lamb which was slain is slain no longer.  Jesus is risen from the grave.  And in rising from the dead, Jesus sets you apart from death too.  Though the grave may hold your mortal body for a while, the grave must give you up when Jesus comes on the Last Day.  He will raise you up to be immortal and to live in glory—forever set free and set apart from death.  You have been set apart by God’s grace.
     When St. Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Corinth, he rejoiced that God was so gracious to call these people out of a sinful, depraved society into God's blessed kingdom.  And though they were called to be saints and sanctified in Christ Jesus, that is not to say that they were perfect.  In fact, St. Paul wrote this letter because the church in Corinth was pretty messed up.  There were divisions in the congregation as each group sided with their favorite pastor.  Some of the richer members excluded the poorer ones.  Some of the more gifted members flaunted their gifts and made other Christians feel less-than-Christians.  Some wanted to profess to be Christians but to still live like pagans.  Others decided, “If Jesus forgives everything, then I am free to do anything!”  Yes, the church in Corinth was messed up.
     Sadly, the problems in Corinth were not unique to Corinth.  Every Christian ought to recognize that we don't live up to what God has called us to be.  We have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2) and “called to be saints.” (1 Corinthians 1:2), but we prove daily that we are not holy.  Our lives are not as pure, our love is not as constant, our speech is not as beneficial, and our compassion for fellow sinners is not as free as it should be.  We are reluctant to be gracious because we fear it will be wasted on the ungrateful.  We still struggle with cliques, with petty competition, and with pride.  Perhaps you feel that your life is as messed up as it ever was.
     And to you, this is what St. Paul says: Our Lord Jesus Christ … will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)  You are set apart by God's grace, and he is faithful to you.  Jesus does not dismiss you or renounce you because you are weak or because you have not been as faithful as you should be.  Even though you and I have been set apart for God's purposes, we have not been as faithful to God as we ought.  And yet God remains faithful to us.  We don't deserve his love, and he still pours it out upon us.  Jesus does not get disgusted by us.  He is not angry.  And he does not regret suffering and dying to set us free from sin, guilt, death and hell.  Jesus pours out his grace upon the pious, the ungrateful, and even on the unfaithful.  That is the very essence of grace.
     You remain set apart by God's grace.  You are sustained by God's grace.  And his grace and forgiveness still account you guiltless before the Lord.  Therefore, you do not need to be ashamed because of your sins; you are forgiven.  You do not need to fear death; you have been set apart and marked for the resurrection to life everlasting.  You do not need to fear God's wrath or judgment; you are delivered into God's kingdom and have been given God's favor.  It is God's business to save sinners, and you are his business.  Jesus is not merely concerned about you, he is devoted to you.  He is faithful to you.  He sustains you by his grace so that you will always benefit from it and remain set apart for salvation.  He gives you blessings you neither earned nor deserved, for he is most gracious to you.  And that is what sets you apart from the world.

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

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