Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Epiphany (February 19, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  That is what Jesus told us.  It is fact, and it should provide limitless comfort to every Christian.  It means that you don't need to fear that you have not believed sincerely enough or perfectly enough.  It means that you don't have to worry that you have exceeded some limit by sinning too often to too egregiously.  It means that you have been forgiven of your sins—all of them.  It means that you have been brought into the kingdom of God by God himself.  It means that you have been covered in Jesus' righteous obedience, and that you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It means that God has saved you and has marked you as his for now and eternity.  This is the covenant God has made with you in your baptism.  You are God's temple with Jesus Christ as the solid foundation.
      “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  It is fact.  But it does not mean that whatever you believe or does not matter.  It is true that Jesus saves you, but it is also true that you can do and believe things which will rob you of the salvation and blessings Jesus gives you.  Scripture gives many warnings about giving into sin and about being deceived by false teachers.  We ought to take those warnings seriously.
     St. Paul wrote, “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” (1 Corinthians 3:17)  That includes if we do it to ourselves.  Therefore, St. Paul gives us this instruction: Let each one take care how he builds upon (the foundation).  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:10-13)
     You are the temple of God.  That matters.  How you build on the foundation on which God put you, that matters too—just like many of the habits we learn matter.  Parents spend years making their children eat vegetables.  They ignore the moans of children who would rather each chocolate, jello, or ice cream than their vegetables.  Parents insist, “Eat them.  It's good for you.”  Now, it's true: if all you have to eat is chocolate, jello, and ice cream, these have enough calories to sustain a human life.  But you can't keep eating these and expect to be healthy, or to live as long.  Eventually, a poor diet will take its toll.
     It is the same for our faith.  Couples who cohabit and have children outside of marriage may end up getting married and having a long, happy married life together.  A high-functioning alcoholic can hold on to a job for a while.  The man who cheats other people may be jovial enough to keep his friends from disowning him.  But eventually, such people will suffer.  What's more serious is when God's word exposes their sin and they ignore it.  They go on sinning, and sin takes root.  Faith eventually dies.  It may happen that faith dies off before the person does.  If so, he will find himself outside the kingdom of God.  You would be a fool to take chances with this.  If you welcome sin or false teaching to take a place in your life, you building what is wicked on a foundation which is holy.  God cannot bless this.  It can only result in destruction to oneself.  Repent.
     It is almost certain that you will discover that you have not built as well on your faith as you could have.  For example, you may have believed that the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” is in the Bible.  But when you discover that it is not, you are bothered by it.  Now, having such a misunderstanding about the Bible is not going to send you to hell; but neither is it harmless.  When you discover this, you might be disturbed that you believed the wrong thing or that your memory distorted what God actually said.  Such discovery is a good thing.  It is like discovering the roof on your house is bad and needs to be replaced.  You'd rather that the problem did not exist, but discovering the problem allows you to replace a bad roof with a better one.  Christians continue to grow in the word so that we are not misled by faulty understanding or misguided faith.  And when we discover that we did not quite have it right, we are grateful that we can replace a poor understanding with a solid one.  Let each one take care how he builds upon (the foundation). (1 Corinthians 3:10)  This is why we have Bible classes—so you can build on the foundation, which is Jesus Christ.  The Lord gave us the Bible so that we can spend our lives growing in it and having these discoveries so that the Lord can bless us through them.
     You are the temple of God.  The reason you continue to build on the foundation is because it matters.  It means that you are growing and getting more mature in your Christian faith.  It means that you rest more securely in God's peace, that you strive more zealously for godly living, and that you stand more firmly on God's truth.  By his word and sacraments, God continues to build and strengthen and keep you in the true faith until life everlasting.
     Now, for as much as you strive to grow in the faith, to pursue godly living, and to build on the foundation, your comfort and your hope is not that you have built a faith which is so strong and produced enough works that God saves you by them.  First of all, it is God who grows us; we either take or forfeit the opportunities to grow.  But no one is saved based on how strong his faith is.  You are saved because the Lord has founded you on Jesus Christ.
     You are God's temple.  And your comfort and joy are this: Your Savior does not treat you as people who should have done better or should have known better but didn't.  You have a God who loves you and who unites himself with you.  Jesus united himself with us in order to take up our sins and suffer the fate we deserved.  He who is holy died for us who should have known better, believed better, and done better.  He has assumed our guilt, and he credits us with his holiness.  He became man so that he would consume God's wrath for us and so that God's favor would rest on us.
     This is why you have a rock solid foundation for your faith.  We still have our struggles and weaknesses.  Our knowledge is not perfect.  Our faith still is plagued with doubts.  Our works are imperfect and reluctant.  But Jesus Christ has secured your salvation.  Your sins are fully forgiven.  Your guilt is completely pardoned.  Your death has been undone by Jesus' resurrection. Your place in God's kingdom is confirmed.  Jesus has done it all for you, and so it has been done perfectly.
     Your place in God's kingdom is not something that will happen one day.  You rest on that foundation now.  You are the temple of God.  The temple is where the Lord dwells with his people.  And now, the Lord has taken up his dwelling in you.  For this is what the Lord says: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Through baptism, you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:39), marking you as a child of God now and for eternity.  It is God who works in you to believe his word, and it is God who works in you to produce the works he desires and delights in.  For, your God loves you, dwells in you, and transforms you.
     The day will come when we will put aside these mortal temples and die.  If, on that day, you should suffer loss from the way you built on the foundation, fear not.  Whatever is imperfect in you will be purified and perfected—knowledge, will, attitude, and actions.  But you yourself will not be lost.  You are saved—not by how sincerely you believe or by how perfect your works are.  You are saved by Jesus Christ on whom your have been founded.  You have been founded on Jesus Christ.  You are God's temple.  That is what makes your salvation rock solid.

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

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