Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Epiphany (February 5, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

      If you ever want to engage in an interesting conversation, ask a friend what he or she thinks the church should be preaching and teaching.  It doesn't matter if your friend is a Christian or not.  Either way, their answers might intrigue you.
     Some think the church should be talking about the hot topics of the day—immigration, poverty, health care, protesting, human trafficking, and so on.  Some would go so far as to have their pastor turn the New York Times into the sermon text followed by pastoral commentary.  Even if you cite our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 58:5-9a) to prove that God is concerned about social issues, then also understand that God has never given the church the job of fixing the world.  The Lord has commanded you to love your neighbor, but not to save the world.  More likely, people want the church to address specific difficulties in their lives.  Sermons should be about How To have a better marriage.  How To raise well-behaved children.  How To be wise about finances.  How To lose weight.  How To respond to road rage.  How To deal with idiots at work, and so on.
     To be fair, all of these How To's do serve a purpose in this life.  I don't blame anyone for wanting a better marriage, well-behaved children, a healthier lifestyle, or a happier work place.  That's why there are so many How To resources.  I had heard a story recently about a woman and her husband who built their own house themselves using YouTube videos.  How To pour a foundation.  How To shingle the roof.  How To install electrical wiring and so on.  Some of you might consider that fascinating; others won't care.  That is part of the problem with How To sermons: They are so specific that they only apply to a few.  Single people don't want to hear about better marriages.  Children don't care about retirement strategies.  But the main problem is this: There is no forgiveness in any of it.  Atheists can have good marriages.  Muslims can have well-behaved children.  Hindus can teach you how to plan for retirement.  Agnostics can build their own homes.  How To videos can help all of them do it.  There is nothing inherently Christian about any of this.
     That is why, when St. Paul first arrived in Corinth, he did not preach How To sermons.  St. Paul reminded them: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)  That is where you find forgiveness.  That is where salvation is delivered to you.  That is where the Lord creates new life.  Therefore, it is what matters, and it is what the Church is dedicated to.  We preach Christ crucified.
     Sadly, it is a message which many don't care for.  Unbelievers do not believe they need to be saved from anything.  They might want to know How To do things better, but they recognize that they don't need Jesus to read a book to their children or vacuum the carpeting once in a while.  It is far more distressing to hear Christians say they have moved beyond the message of Jesus Christ.  “We know about Jesus.  We know about forgiveness.  So give me something I can use.  Help me live better.”  In other words, we are done with Jesus.  We only care about our lives right now.
     Certainly you realize that your lives are filled with problems because you are sinners.  Perfect people don't have marriage problems.  Sinners do.  Children misbehave because they are sinners.  Parents lose patience with them because the parents are sinners.    Single people envy the companionship of marriage, and married people envy the freedom of single people.  Because of our sinful condition, we are discontent, impatient, selfish, greedy, envious, and still convinced that we are not that bad.  There is not a How To video in the world which will fix that.  What's more, because of your sinful condition, you are going to die someday.  How To videos may make your life comfortable.  Life hacks may be time-savers.  But they will not prevent you from dying; and they will not save you.
     Therefore, St. Paul kept his focus: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)  He said, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom...” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4)  St. Paul did try to dazzle the Corinthians with deep arguments or fancy rhetoric.  St. Paul simply warned sinners that their guilt was real, that their problems resulted from sin, that their death was deserved, and that their only hope to be delivered from this was Jesus.
     St. Paul did not proclaim a Jesus who taught them How To make life better and easier.   He did not present Jesus as a teacher of morals.  The Greeks already had Aristotle, Plato, and Aesop.  Their philosophy, no matter how profound, has never forgiven anyone.  Instead, St. Paul preached a single message in simple words to all mankind: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)  
     We preach Christ crucified.  We do not preach a Jesus who tells you to How To be better, How To be happy, or How To do anything for that matter.  We preach Jesus who was crucified.  That alone saves you.  Jesus' crucifixion is not about How To do anything.  It is about Jesus doing all the work.  Jesus does not tell you how to excuse yourself for your guilt or reason it away; he takes your guilt away from you.  He takes from you the guilt of your discontent, your greed, your selfishness, your envy, and your lack of patience.  He takes from you your sins against your family, friends, and strangers.  He makes your guilt his own.  He makes your curse his own.  He makes your death his own.  Jesus takes it all away from you, and then is crucified for you.  This is what pays for your sin and saves you.
     We preach Christ crucified.  It is his work which saves us.  It is his gifts which deliver salvation to us.  Baptism is not about what you do; it is Jesus cleansing you of all impurity.  Holy Communion is not about what you do; it is Jesus who feeds you the holy food for the forgiveness of your sins.  If anyone says, “We know about Jesus.  We know about forgiveness.  So give me something I can use in my daily life,” he fails to understand that faith is not just for the moment you die.  Faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified is what makes you a child of God now.  While Jesus' work secures your eternal life, his work also works in you now.
     We preach a crucified Jesus who loves us and is merciful to us despite our sins against him and our fellow man.  Jesus does not love us because we are nice back to him.  He loves us and serves us and saves us because he is compassionate and sees we need it.  He teaches us to crucify our own sinful desires and to serve others because they need it.  The love that Christ has for the Church moves husbands to love their wives accordingly.  The way the Church submits to Christ to receive his good things is what motivates wives to submit to their husbands.  Your co-worker probably doesn't deserve your kindness, but you give it all the same because she needs it.  Jesus' loving promises show you that you are right to trust in him rather than your retirement plan or government program for all that is good.  He teaches us to love what is good because he is good.  He teaches us to hate what is evil because sin destroys others and brings death and damnation.  He reminds us that sin is the enemy, not our fellow man.  Jesus' love for poor, miserable sinners is why you also love the poor, the miserable, the depressed, the lonely, and the outcasts.  You do not let your light shine so that you can receive praise.  You let your light shine because that's what light does.  The only way you will be able to let your light shine in the world is if the Light of the World dwells in you and shines through you.
     How To videos may make life a little easier for a while.  They can teach you how to refinish a dresser, improve your golf swing, or even how to build a house, but they will not save you.  Therefore, we preach Christ crucified.  It is the only message which gives relief to the guilty, consolation to the hurting, and life to the dying.

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

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