Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 27, 2017)

ROMANS 9:1-8


In the name + of Jesus.

     Paul of Tarsus was an Israelite, a Jew.  He could trace his lineage to the tribe of Benjamin.  He had been chosen by God to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and was chosen to be an apostle to the Gentiles for Jesus Christ.  Yet, he was grieved that his fellow Jews, by and large, were not disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul was bothered that anyone would perish outside of Christ, but he is understandably bothered all the more that his fellow countrymen would perish because they rejected Jesus.  There is no other Savior.  There is no other source of forgiveness.  No one else delivers from death or opens the gates of heaven.  So, if anyone does not believe in Jesus alone, he dies in his sin and his lost.
     The Israelites boasted that they were the chosen people.  The Jews today still boast that.  But if anyone should boast that they are chosen, you should ask the question: chosen for what?
     Prior to Abraham, God extended a promise to the world: A Savior would come.  The promise did not tell anyone where the Savior would come from, when he would come, or how we could know him.  But then God chose Abraham.  God pinpointed the promise to one man and his offspring.  The Savior would come through Abraham.  That promise was repeated to Isaac, and then to Jacob whose name God changed to Israel.  That is why the Old Testament devotes most of its attention to the nation of Israel.  They were chosen by God from all the nations on the earth to be his own.  They were chosen by means of a gracious promise.
     St. Paul declares what Israel was chosen for.  They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. (Romans 9:4-5)  They were chosen to be the people through whom the Savior would come into the world.  For that reason, the Lord gave specific decrees to Israel.  The law of Moses gave Israel a culture and customs which were distinct from all other nations to keep them separate so that God's promise would be preserved.  The Lord instructed the Israelites how to worship him so that they would always know that salvation comes from innocent blood being shed on behalf of the guilty.  God chose Israel by means of a gracious promise so that the salvation of the world would come through them and so that they themselves would benefit from God's gracious promise.
     When someone is chosen, there is a tendecy to boast about it.  If you are chosen first for the baseball team, you assume it is because you are better than all the others.  This is now how God's choosing works.  Israel was not chosen because of anything they did.  God did not chose Israel because they were bigger or stronger, because they were better, or because they deserved it.  They were chosen by means of a gracious promise.
     The fact is, the Israelites proved repeatedly that they were sinners.  When the Lord gave his Law at Mt. Sinai, God thundered from the dark cloud on the mountain, “You shall have no other gods.” (Exodus 20:3)  The Israelites responded, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)  And yet, just over a month later, the Israelites made a golden calf to worship right under God's nose.  The story repeats throughout the Old Testament.  Israel was a sinful, stubborn, and rebellious people.  Nevertheless, God was faithful to his gracious promise—not because they deserved it, but because God is gracious and desires the salvation of mankind.  God sent the Savior he had promised.
     That Savior is the Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth.  God's Son became a child of Abraham, an Israelite.  Jesus himself came by a word of promise.  The angel Gabriel spoke to Mary that she would conceive, and by that word, she did.  You are not saved by mere flesh and blood, but by God in the flesh who spilled out his holy blood for you.  Just as the Lord had directed Israel's worship, so it is with Jesus—his innocent blood was shed on behalf of the guilty.  And God attaches a promise to the bloodly sacrifice of Jesus: Whoever believes and his baptized shall be saved. (Mark 16:16)  Though God sent his Son through the nation of Israel, God sent his Son to be the Savor of all nations.  You have been saved by a gracious promise.
     Now, you have a great deal in common with the Old Testament Israelites.  For you are now a chosen people.  And again, we will consider the questions: chosen for what?
     You have been chosen by God to receive his good gifts and to be saved.  As it was with Israel, so it is with you.  God did not choose you because you are smarter, richer, or better than anyone else.  Like Old Testament Israel, we, too, prove that we are sinners.  We have been contolled by our greed, our lusts, and our pride.  We lie to others about ourselves and we lie about others to make ourselves look good.  We know what God has declared in his word, and we don't care.  We prefer our sins to holy obedience.  Like Old Testament Israel, we are a sinful, stubborn, and rebellious people.  We have no reason to boast.  We have not earned God's favor, but his curse.
     And yet, God chose you.  God chose you because he is good and gracious.  God chose you because he is a Redeemer and Savior, and it has pleased him to redeem you and save you.  He gave up his life as the price for you.  He has purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.  Through Jesus, yours is the adoption.  You are children of God.  Through Jesus, yours is the glory.  You are heirs of heaven.  Through Jesus, yours is the worship.  Jesus comes to you through word and sacrament to bless, to comfort, and to save.  Through Jesus, yours is the new covenant in his blood by which he feeds you and sustains your faith.  Through Jesus, yours is the gracious promise which releases you of all guilt and gives you the resurrection to life everlasting.  God has chosen to proclaim his proimse to you to bestow his blessings upon you and to save you.  You are chosen by means of his gracious promise to be his people now and forever.
     God chose to do all the work to save you.  Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose for you.  God sent people to proclaim his promises to you—whether from a pulpit, at your family's dinner table, or at a Lutheran school.  Through that preaching, the Holy Spirit planted faith in your heart to receive and to believe God's promises.  Through that preaching, God continues to sustain you in the true faith.  He does not do this because you were born in the right country, belong to the right family, or go to a WELS church.  He does this not because you are better—or even good.  He does this but because he is good and gracious.  You are chosen by means of God's gracious promise.
     Sadly, not all who have heard this message believe it or benefit from it.  St. Paul was grieved that his fellow Jews had forsaken the precious gifts once given to them.  “But,” St. Paul writes, “it is not as though the word of God has failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.'”  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:6-8)  Since God has not withheld his promise, he has not denied his grace.  Sadly, many reject God's gifts because they do not hear or believe his word.  They are sinners who insist on remaining in their sin and call God a liar.  Be warned.  There is no room for boasting in ourselves.  Your place in God's kingdom is God's gracious work, not your birthright.
     God has revealed these good and gracious promises to you.  God has chosen you to be his own, and he longs to be your Savior forevermore.  Once again—not because you are better or have the right heritage.  You are chosen by God because he is good and gracious.  You have been chosen to display God's glory and declare his praise.  God's choosing of you is not a reason to boast, but it is certainly a reason to give thanks and to continue to hear God's promise.  By means of this promise, God reveals his grace.  By means of this promise alone, you are chosen for salvation.

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

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