Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Epiphany (February 12, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     Something I have toyed with but haven't done, and probably never will, is to send out an announcement in our congregation's weekly update which states: “This Sunday, there will be a significant announcement made in church.  Make sure you are present to hear it.”  If I did that, we would probably have a pretty good turn with people buzzing about what this major announcement might be.  Then, as promised, the significant announcement would be made: “God our heavenly Father has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore, as a called servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”
     One reason I would not send out an e-mail to tease you about a significant announcement is because it is not right to manipulate people into coming to church.  Christians know why they are coming to church.  The sheep love to hear their Shepherd's voice.  They should not need to be tricked into doing so.  Another reason I would not send out an e-mail like that is because I fear the reaction I might get.  “THAT'S the significant announcement?  What's so great about that?!  We hear that every week!”  Even if it were not said out loud, I suspect that some would be thinking it.
     If you have been raised in the Christian Church and have known the gospel from infancy, one of the temptations you face is to think that the forgiveness of sins is no big deal.  After all, it IS proclaimed week after week.  You know it is true, and you have known it your whole life.  Nevertheless, there is no greater announcement that you will ever hear than that God loves and forgives and saves sinners.  And God is so gracious that he will have that announcement repeated to sinners next week, and the next, and even at the Day of Judgment!  Be sure that you do not confuse something that is given so generously with something that has no value.  God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom.
     If we think of God's forgiveness lightly, it is because we no longer take our sins that seriously.  Now, some sins we still find repulsive and wicked.  Those are the ones that usually make the news.  They are violent, criminal, or particularly cruel deeds.  But for the most part, the sins we are guilty of are pretty common.  Since we all do the same things, we want to think that they are not so bad.  Some even conclude that God takes our sins way too seriously and should just learn to get over them.
     When you were growing up, would you have dared to defy your parents' rules and then tell them, “Oh, just get over it”?  If you did, you probably saw levels of anger you never knew your parents were capable of showing.  Now, even if our sins are common, could we dare turn to God and say, “Yeah, we have broken your Commandments.  Everyone does this.  Get over it!”?  We would rightly expect God's righteous anger to come down on us heavy.  Whoever tells someone to get over sins is certainly not the one who has been sinned against.  If the one who slanders your daughter on Facebook told you, “Oh, just get over it!” would you?  If the crook who stole your identity said, “Get over it,” would you?  To think lightly of our sins is to tell God, “Oh, get over it,” or it is to believe that God would not actually carry out the threats he has made.  If either one of those is true, then your place in the kingdom of God is in grave danger.  Repent.
     You might not think it is gracious of God to reveal how totally corrupt we are in our sins.  But if God did not reveal it, we would never believe it.  Most people believe they are good people, even when they do wicked things.  But God reveals our sins so that we long to be saved from them.  Our conscience tells us that we are not worthy to be saved, and that is true.  The guilty deserve punishment.  But God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom to you: God loves, forgiveness, and saves sinners.
     As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined...”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)  Worldly wisdom teaches you to dismiss your guilt, but God graciously delivers you from the psychological and emotional gymnastics you would have to resort to to deny your guilt.  Instead, God's Spirit graciously reveals the Savior who delivers you from all guilt and punishment.
     Jesus of Nazareth came to remove your guilt from you.  He comes to reveal God's love, God's mercy, and God's salvation to sinners.  The experts and scholars of his day did not see it.  They would not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord of glory.  But God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom to you—that the Lord himself came to be your Savior.  The Son of God came to suffer and die for the children of men.  As God, he bears the guilt of the whole world.  He delivers you from your sin and death.  The wisdom of this world tells you that you must do something, sacrifice something, or win something to appease God.  What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined is that God himself acts to save you.  Jesus suffers and dies for you.  He finds you in your miserable guilt.  He cleanses you from all impurity.  He directs the wrath of God to himself, suffers a cursed death in your place, and removes the terror of the grave for you.  This salvation is not common knowledge; it is divine revelation.  God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom.
     Once again, do not confuse something that is given so generously with something that has no value.  Many of you have known this all your life—to the point where you might actually be bored with the news that God loves, forgives, and saves sinners.  But please understand the blessings you have also lived under your whole life.  You have always known peace and joy your whole life long.  Even when the bitterness of death has invaded your life, it has not shattered your peace.  You do not have to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope, because your expectation remains.  God's peace has not been broken—even by death—because Jesus still lives and reigns and makes you a victor over death.  If you have had doubts about your place in God's kingdom because your life has been marked with flaws and failures, God's promises have never let you drop to despair.  While he calls you to serve him and your neighbor, he also reminds you that your place in his kingdom is not confirmed by how much good you do and it is not wiped out by your regrets.  Your place in his kingdom is confirmed by Jesus Christ.  He has done all the work to save you, and so you can be sure that you are, indeed, saved.
     What's more, his mercies are new every morning.  While we can grow weary of doing good, the Lord never wearies of showing mercy and upholding his promises and consoling and encouraging his people.  We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)  God's peace and joy are evident to you.  This has greater value than the world can offer.  While it is evident to you, it is not obvious to the world.  It is God's gracious wisdom, revealed to you by God's gracious Spirit.
     God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom.  This wisdom is revealed in the Scriptures.  It shows you God's faithful love to you, and it encourages your faithful love to him.  It bestows upon you peace, joy, and comfort in all situations.  The world and its wisdom are doomed to pass away.  And all that you own is going to pass away too.  When that happens, when all things are gone, the only thing you will have left is God's word which will never pass away.  And it is all you need.  It is your comfort through life and your hope for the life to come.  God loves, forgives, and saves sinners.  And that means that God loves, forgives, and saves you.

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