Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sermon -- Chapel at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (October 16, 2019)

This sermon was preached at Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw.  I was also privileged to have the chapel reader for the day by my son, Philip.  That was cool.

You can see a podcast here, but you may have to scroll or do a search to find it in the archives (depending on how far you are removed from today's date).

Thanks to Prof. Karl Schmugge for taking this photo.


In the name + of Jesus.

     The apostle Paul wrote these words while he was imprisoned.  Although he was reasonably sure that he would be released, he also recognized that his trial could go badly and that he could be martyred.  He was torn between the two options.  If he was spared and released, he could resume his work as an apostle.  This would be particularly beneficial for the Christians in Philippi, allowing Paul to return there, to strengthen them, and to encourage them with God's word.  But what if he were martyred?  What if the authorities deemed it best to silence Paul's preaching of the Gospel by putting him to death?  If that happened, Paul's life in this world would be over, but his life in the kingdom of God would not.  He would be with Jesus where he would live in peace and glory forevermore.  Even if the enemies of Christ destroyed Paul's body, Jesus would raise it up at the resurrection of the dead—to live perfected and purified and permanently with Jesus.  So, if Paul should be freed, he would serve the Church on earth, which is good.  If Paul should be executed, he would rest with the saints in heaven, which is also good.  That is why Paul declared, “Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.” (Philippians 1:22-23)  
     Paul is not the only person to long for the better future and the everlasting glories of heaven.  Our Lord has told us with many images what the heavenly kingdom will be—a refuge from enemies and struggles, a wedding banquet where we feast with our Lord, the end of labors, still waters, green pastures, unending peace, and so on.  Who wouldn't want to receive these things?  We long for them.  We pray for them.  And we are confident that the glory which will be revealed in us will far surpass our pains and struggles here.  No wonder Paul declared: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  ...To die is gain.” (Philippians 1:23,21)
    Unfortunately, Satan twists even these wonderful promises to deceive God's people into a destructive course.  “To live is Christ and to die is gain” does not mean “My life stinks and I'm better off dead.”  Satan tries to convince you that your life is useless, meaningless, and hopeless.  Maybe it is because your grades are not where you think they should be, or because you are not dating someone, or because your friends don't really seem like friends, or because you don't have your life figured out yet.  Or perhaps you carry around some secret shame that plagues you.  Satan uses these dark and bitter thoughts to lead you to an even darker place.  Satan would have you consider, “What does it matter?  Would anyone notice if I am gone?  Why not end it all?  After all, the Bible says, 'To depart and be with Christ is far better!'”  If you've ever gone down that path, you are not unique.
     Dear Christians, beware.  The devil is a liar.  He hates you and wants to harm you and will even warp God's word to do it.  It is true that to be with Christ is better than to dwell in a sinful world.  But God does not give any of us the liberty to put an end to our own lives.  And he certainly does not call suicide a good and noble thing.  It is sinful, causes great harm to family and friends, and destroys what God gives you as good.  It surely is not God who tells you that your life is worthless.  How could he?  He gave you your life as a gift, and it is good!
     St. Paul was not torn between living versus killing himself.  Paul knew that if someone else put an end to his life, he would be with Jesus—which is good.  But if the Lord was pleased to have Paul live for more years, then this is good too.  Paul would be able to go forth and preach the Gospel.  As he confessed, “For me to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21)
     Now, it is true, life does have its share of hardships.  And maybe you don't have it all figured out yet.  That's okay; you're not supposed to have it all figured out by the time you are 18.  And your worth is not determined by a grade point average, a girlfriend, or whether you had a good practice or not.  Your worth has been determined by our Lord Jesus Christ.
     First of all, our Lord deemed it worthy to give you your body, soul, and all your members, your mind, and all your abilities.  If you are here, it is because God wants you here, and he calls it good.  But more than that!  God has given your life immensely more value by taking upon himself your very nature and uniting himself to you.  He took into himself all of your sin.  He bore all of your shame.  In exchange he has marked you with his name and covered you in his innocence.  He surrendered his body to God's wrath to gain you God's favor.  He submitted his body into death in order to win eternal life for you.  The holy, precious blood of Jesus was shed so that the Lord would have you as his own now and forever.  Do you see what you are worth?  The body which the Lord gave into death is risen and lives forever.  And since you are now Christ's, so will yours.  Our Lord deems it worthy to have you in his heavenly kingdom forever.  Eternal life is yours through Christ.
     But you and I are not in this heavenly glory yet.  Sure, “To depart and be with Christ … is far better” (Philippians 1:23), but that does not mean your life here and now is useless, meaningless, or hopeless.  As St. Paul said, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” (Philippians 1:22)  And so it is with you.  Christ has given you your life to honor him and to serve your neighbor.  For St. Paul that meant preaching the Gospel to the Philippians and to others.  And our Lord can also use you to preach the Gospel.  If it does not happen from a pulpit or a classroom, it certainly can happen when you encourage your classmates, comfort your relatives, or teach your children to pray.
     To live is Christ—but it is not limited to preaching the Gospel.  It is also for using your talents, studying algebra, cleaning your room, listening to a friend, showing kindness, taking a nap, or reading a book.  To live is Christ, and that does not mean you need to change the world in order to matter.  It means you get to serve God in joy and in the knowledge that he is delighted in you.  You matter to the Lord who declares your life of tremendous value.  He has give up everything to redeem you, and he is eager to bring you into his glory.  To live is Christ—whether you live here on earth or Jesus takes you to live in heavenly glory.  Either way, it is good.  To live is Christ—for you are Christ's, and he is yours.

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

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