Sunday, January 20, 2013

Epiphany 2 - 1 Corinthians 12:1-11


I had a new experience this past week, one that I don’t believe I have had in my 13 years of pastoral ministry.

This week, when preparing for my sermon and in preparing for Bible study it just so happened that the Sermon text and the Bible Study text were one and the same.  In Bible study we have been going through the book of 1 Corinthians, taking it a chapter at a time.  Last week we made it through 1 Corinthians 11 and so that meant that this week we would walk through chapter 12.  Chapter 12 talks about gifts of the Spirit, I was excited to get in to that, it thought it was all pretty cool.  Then, in preparing for the sermon today, I noticed that the Epistle was also 1 Corinthians 12.  This was just too great an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to go for it.  To preach and teach today both in Bible Study and in the sermon from the same text.  This is a great privilege. And this is a great text.  A great opportunity for teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit.

The text is about the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now, those 18-20 of you who attend Sunday Morning Bible Class already know the context here, but the rest of you might not.  The book of 1 Corinthians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to respond to some questions that the church had.  You see, Paul planted that church there in Corinth.  He was there for about a year and a half teaching them and instructing them, evangelizing and sharing the Gospel so that a new church was formed.  After Paul left, it happened that there were some issues, some problems that arose. They had written a letter to Paul with some questions.  Paul wrote back with the answers.  One of the questions was about the work of the Holy Spirit.  In particular, it seems from Paul’s writing, that there were a handful of the members who were behaving as though they had more gifts of the Spirit or better gifts of the Spirit than the others.  This is a problem and Paul sets them straight.

Paul writes:    

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:1-3 ESV)

The work of the Holy Spirit encompasses a lot of different things, and he gives a lot of different gifts.  Paul makes a list of some of those gifts in the latter part of our text, but there is one really, really important thing that the Spirit of God does, one big thing that is more important than any other thing. And the Apostle points it out right from the start.  The work of the Spirit is to change you from an unbeliever who does not know Jesus and who curses Jesus in his heart to a Christian who loves Jesus and follows Jesus and obeys Jesus as his Lord.  “No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  The work of the Holy Spirit, the really big thing that he does and the most important thing that he does is that he calls unbelievers to faith, he turns non Christians into Christians.  And so, if you are every wondering if you have received the Holy Spirit, if you have the gifts of the Spirit, if the Holy Spirit is active in your life and in your church then there is one question and one question alone that you need ask: do I believe? Are there people in my church who believe? If the answer to that question is “yes” then, absolutely! You have the Holy Spirit!  The Holy Spirit is with you and in you and in your church!

The problem is, sometimes we doubt.  Sometimes we wonder.  Sometimes we question: do I have the Spirit of God?  And it is that very question that prompts Paul to write down the words of our text.  For our comfort and for our encouragement.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “I haven’t ever wondered if I do or do not have the Spirit of God.”  That’s not a question that has ever run across my mind.  If not, that’s okay.  This question is often a question that comes up as you grow and mature in your faith.  When you first start out as a believer or when you are younger or less mature in your understanding, then you have the basics of Christianity.  You know God, you know who he is.  You know what he has done for you in Christ.  You have faith.  You have your baptism and things are good.  But then, as you begin to grow in your faith and understanding, as your love for God begins to deepen, you want to dig further into his word and you want to learn more about him.  You begin to ask deeper questions of faith.  You start to wonder how it is that you came to believe.  Or you go to Bible study and you notice that there are some who have great insights and understandings and you want that too.  You might wonder how two people can read the same text and that person comes up with such marvelous insights but you seem to stay very basic.  Or you might notice that there are some in Church who just have such a desire to serve and do so many things and do them so well and you might wonder how it is that she does so much and just loves to do it and you don’t and you wonder what’s wrong with you.  Or you might notice that there is a person who always seems to have the right word of encouragement to say at just the right time and you don’t and you wonder about that.

As you read further into the text the answer becomes apparent.  “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working but it is the same God who inspires them in every one.”

And there you see, we have the answer.  Each of these gifts are from the Spirit of God.  Each of these are gifts that God gives to various members of the Church, of his Body, the Body of Christ in a give location and he gives those gifts for the building up, for the benefit of the congregation.   As you possess those gifts and as you observe them in others, give thanks to God for them, that he is building up his congregation through them and that he is present and active and at work.  But, and this is the issue at Corinth and often it is the issue with Christians today, don’t waste your time comparing, don’t waste your time complaining, and be grateful to God for the gifts that he has given to you.

There are dangerous things that can happen in a Christian congregation.  There are misunderstandings that can arise.  And those misunderstanding occur when Christians misunderstand these gifts.  And I think that the misunderstanding that Christians have is often that they believe the gifts of the Spirit to be things that they acquire, super spiritual powers that they possess because of their prowess and skill at being a Christian.  Along those lines, I think that Christians often think of their Christian life a lot like playing a video game.  Now this illustration might be lost on many of you, but our younger listeners should understand pretty well.  When you play a video game, you start out as a novice.  You don’t have any special abilities or power to play the game and defeat the enemy.  But, as you make your way through the game, at each level you pick up different tools or different strengths or powers and your character increases in his ability to fight and win the game.  Parents, by the way, this is why your kids are so depressed when their console breaks and they lose all their achievements and have to start over.  They have to play without all those cool powers and abilities they had earned throughout their game play.  But that is often how we think of our life as believers – that we go through life picking up different powers and abilities and if we go to the right Bible study or attend the right conference or even the right congregation then we will pick up the right powers and we will have the ability to do all those really cool Jesus things that we see everyone else doing.  

This was the problem at Corinth.  Sometimes this is a problem that we have.  We look around.  We compare.  We see the gifts that other people have and we wish we could have them too.  Or, we look at the gifts we have been given and we become prideful and we think that our gifts are better and that everyone else should have the gifts that we have. 

This is a horrible problem in the Church.  And it can create a confusing mess of the Christian faith.  Churches that call themselves charismatic make this error all the time.  The spend so much time worrying about these gifst that the Spirit gives and they rate them according to their spiritual power and then they assume that if you don’t have them there is something wrong with you.  And so they pretend to have them.  Have you ever seen a charismatic church service where Christian people are speaking in tongues?  And rather than speaking in an intelligible language they utter gibberish?  This is what is going on.  It is a horrible deception and a horrible misunderstanding.  Christian trying to prove their spiritual power by making a show of their spiritual gifts or even pretending that they have gifts that they really do not possess.

Friends, there is a better way.  There is a better understanding.  “I do not want you to be ignorant.” Says Paul.  I do not want you to lose sight of the thing that is truly important. 

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:1-3 ESV)

The first and foremost, the best and brightest and most amazing gift that the Spirit of God comes to bring is faith.  We lose sight of what a wonderful miracle that very simple little thing is.  We take it for granted, don’t we?  “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”  Confessing Jesus to be your Lord.  That is a miracle.  That simple little thing has moved time and space.  That little confession is the main event.

Just think of all the things that had to happen in order for that small little confession to come out of your mouth.  It’s marvelous.  It’s absolutely glorious.  Before anything could happen with you and in you and in your heart and in your mind there had to be Jesus.  There had to be a God who loved you and who saw you and who understood you and where you were at in your relationship to him and who cared enough to do something about it.  It all has to start with him.

And then you, consider where you started.  We so often lose sight of where we begin in this whole process.  Enemies of God.  Hateful and spiteful and suspicious of God.  Suspicious of his plans and intentions.  Assuming he’s evil, assuming he doesn’t care.  Assuming he’s out to get us and hating him because of it.  But the Lord softens our hard hearts, he overcomes our hate and our suspicion and he shows us that he is love.  And he turns our hearts toward him.  And when that has happened, when we have changed our point of view or perhaps more accurately, when he has changed out point of view within us, then we begin to see him for who he is.  We begin to see him and all that he has done for us.  We begin to understand Jesus and his birth, his incarnation and the miracle of God becoming a man.  And then we start to understand more about his death, that God could actually die and that God actually would die and the reason he did it all was to rescue us not even from some horrible end or some horrible thing that would have happened to us; no he came to save us from ourselves, from our own hate and our own opinions of him and each other, he came to save us from that punishment that real and literal hell that we were running to.  That’s so sad when you stop to think about: we were so suspicious of God that we thought hell was a better option than faith.  But God changed all of that.  He changed our hate into love.  He changed our selfishness into service.  He changed our foolish pride into grateful humility.

And then he gave us his spirit.

When I was I middle school we had a science lab, you probably did too, where we made electro magnets.  I always thought it was great fun and would spend lots of time just playing around with the magnets.  We would take a piece of iron, wrap it in wire, connect it to an electrical current and all the electrons would line up and specific way so that the iron became magnetic.  And once that iron was magnetic you could do all kinds of neat things with it.  You could pick things up, move things around, we had little iron filings that we played with and the magnetic field would catch these particles of magnetic dust and make them stand up in all sorts of interesting patterns.  The electricity came and did its work on the iron and when it did, the magnetized iron was useful for all kinds of work. 

You see, the Spirit of God is like that.  The Spirit of God is like a kid with a magnet.  The Spirit of God works through his Word.  He turn on the current, and that is to say he turns the Word of God – the Spirit of God is always and only found in his word – don’t look for him anywhere else, in premonitions or some direct word whispered in your ear.  The Spirit of God is found in the Bible and he is at work in the sacraments.  And he comes to you like a useless and lifeless piece of steel.  And he magnetizes you.  He brings you to life to do all kinds of amazing work for him.  Sometimes it is great insight and knowledge.  Sometimes it is great service.  Sometimes it is profound wisdom.  Sometimes is an infectious joy.  Sometimes it is the restoration of peace.  Sometimes it is discernment and understanding.  Always it is the Spirit and always it is love.  Love for God and love for the neighbor. 

The work of the Spirit begins with faith.  Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  The Spirit of God takes that faith, the wonderful and amazing faith and through it he creates an army of Christians ready and equipped for good works.
Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent 2


Preparation for a Beautiful Construction
One summer, when I was in college, my family took the opportunity to travel through Europe.  One of the places we stopped along the way a castle in Vienne Austria.  The castle is called Schonnbrun, or “beautiful spring”.  The castle gets its name from the natural underground spring that feeds the reflecting pools and ponds on the palace grounds and in the gardens.  The palace is palatial and the d├ęcor in rich.  Gold leaf in the paint on the walls; each room filled with sculptures and words of art.  Every piece of furniture was rich and ornate, each one hand crafted and one of a kind.  The entire palace is a livable (although just barely) work of art.  Walking through the palace, you couldn’t help but be impressed with its beauty. 

 If you turn in the pages of the Old Testament to the book of 2 Chronicles, you will get the description of a structure even more richly appointed and more carefully crafted.  The book records for us Solomon’s construction of a temple, a place for the worship of the true God.  Solomon’s father David began collecting the building materials even before Solomon began his reign and there were stores of gold and precious jewels and fine metals and costly wood all stockpiled for use in this house that would serve as the Lord’s throne room among his people.   It was a palace fit for Heaven’s King where he would come to rule amidst his people.  And there, at his atonement seat he would give out mercy to those who came seeking his forgiveness and favor.

Give the plans for either structure to any modern day contractor and you are sure to have him scratching his head.  The work and the effort to construct either building would be staggering.  And not just because of the materials and skill of the craftsmanship.  The place where each was built is its own obstacle.  The Palace Schonnbrun was built in a marsh – the soggy site had to be filled in with load after load of soil so that the palace could have a firm foundation.  And Solomon’s temple?  Well, that was constructed on the top of a mountain.  Can you imagine the work needed to be done to carve off the top of that mountain to create a level place to begin laying stone? 

As challenging a construction project as either one of these examples might have been – there is an even greater project; greater in its beauty and appointment, but also greater in its challenge to build and prepare.  It is a temple built by the Lord himself, a place for him to dwell.   But it is not built with brick and mortar, chisel and stone.  Instead this is a temple of human flesh.  A temple of the heart no less, where the Lord himself sends his Spirit to dwell.  And that temple is the heart of the Christian.  It is you!  You are a temple of the Holy Spirit; or so says St. Paul, by virtue of the price paid for you by Jesus himself and by virtue of your baptism that gives to you God’s Spirit.  And if Solomon spared no expense to construct his temple so that it would be worthy for the Lord and appointed richly enough for a Heaven’s King, then certainly this temple is no exception.

Now, our sermon this morning is really a sermon in two parts.  The first part, where we have come so far, the temple of the Spirit – the walking Spiritual mansions that you are; well, in all truth, that is the second part of our message today.  The first part is to talk about the construction of this temple.

You see, as we said, when Solomon built his temple he had to shave how many yards of dirt from the top of Mount Zion?  The thought of it is staggering.  All of it done before the days of our gigantic trucks and tractors that can carry away several tons of dirt at a time.  Likewise, When Schonnbrun was built, its engineers had to import load after load of dirt to create a suitable site  before they could begin construction.  The same can be said for you.  Within each Christian, the Lord builds for himself a temple.  But right off the bat you’re not quite ready for that construction to begin.  Just like Solomon’s temple and the Venetian Palace  needed to have the landscape rearranged  before they were ready for construction to begin, the Lord does that identical thing with us.
Rearranging the Landscape

When any building project is begun the site is prepared through the work of the engineers who find and fill the low spots and to cut down the high spots.  When the Lord purposes to prepare the hearts of people, like you and me, to receive his construction plan, the Lord does this work through the preacher armed with God’s Word of Law. 

We can see this process occur so clearly in our Gospel text.  The Lord himself was on his way to construct his kingdom; heaven’s king had come to earth and he brought with him the reign of heaven; but before construction could begin the Lord sent his engineer to bulldoze – to push and pull down.  To make ready the hearts of the people to receive God’s gift of grace.

This is what the Gospel writer is telling us in our text this morning.  Luke tell us that John, “Went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And then Luke proceeds to quote verses from Old Testament prophets to give us further understanding of the work that John was coming to do.  John was, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:3-6 ESV)

Luke goes on to tell us the content of John’s message, this Word given by God.  It was a word of judgment.  Fiery and pointed.  John’s word condemned each and every sin of each and every sinner.  His message was terrifying. 

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9 ESV)

The message is clear.  The king is coming.  He is coming to you.  He is bringing with him his right and righteous judgment and each person, each man woman and child from the least to the greatest, will be condemned.  Repent.  John came to rearrange the landscape in us so that we would be ready to receive the kingdom.

You see, it is the Lord’s intention to build in you a temple, rich and glorious.  A temple that exceeds even the beauty of the one built by Solomon.  But you and I – in our natural state - we are far from ready for construction to begin.  Our hearts must be prepared. 

·         We are sometimes too high and lofty – prideful and overconfident, convinced we deserve to be the dwelling place of the Lord. 

·         And then there are the other times that we are too low, choosing to “slum it” as we test the boundaries to see just how low and down in the dirt we can get.

·         And then there are the times that where the Lord demands we be straight and true, we choose the crooked and deceptive path. 

·         And finally, where the Lord would have us be smooth – kind and generous and loving, our demeanor can get a bit rough; jostling and jarring those we run across. 

And so the Lord levels us off.  He sends his preachers out in to the world to pull us down from our lofty heights, to pull us out of the mud, straighten us up and level us off.   The Lord sends out his prophets.
Building the Lord's Temple... In You
The Lord’s prophets preach repentance.  Our Gospel text tells us that John came to preach repentance.  The goal wasn’t just come to cut everyone down to size, to condemn and criticize, he did just have in mind to make people feel badly about themselves.  The work of the preacher is to help you to see yourself for who you really are, that is to say, to see yourself the way the Lord sees you.  John preached God’s Word and God’s Word says about us that we are sinners.  But there is a purpose for preaching this message.

In the same way that a bulldozer doesn’t bulldoze just for the fun of pushing around the dirt, the Lord doesn’t send his preachers to preach God’s law into our hearts just for the fun of condemning us.  No, this is only the first stage in the Lord’s construction plan.  The Lord is building out of you a beautiful temple.

The message preached by John was repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  Our small catechism says that repentance has two parts, contrition (or sorrow for sin) and faith.  Contrition is that condemnation part, where we see the truth of who we really are in the preaching of God’s law.  But that is only part, only the first half.  The temple still has not been built.  After contrition comes faith.

You see, Johns work was to prepare hearts to meet Jesus.  And as John was out baptizing in the wilderness, low and behold Jesus came.  Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, stepped down into the water.  In that action the King became a commoner, the clean climbed down into the muck and the mire, and he was anointed with our sin.  At that moment Jesus took on the work of living as one of us in our place so that when this work was done he could be nailed to the cross for us in our place.  The construction of the temple built for you by Jesus himself was built for you by the absolutely perfect and clean and without sin life that Jesus lived for you in your place.  Throughout the life of Jesus, as he was teaching and healing and helping and forgiving and loving and serving he was collecting the building materials, the costly provisions that would go into the construction of you, dear Christian.  And then, when all that was finished, when the final work was complete, the one thing left to be done the final gift to be given that Jesus would prepare for you was the gift of his own life.  Jesus gave his life into death as he died on the cross for you.

The other half of repentance is faith.  The other half of repentance is to look onto the cross of Jesus, see him dying there in his suffering and see on that cross the one who died in your place.  The other half of repentance is simply to say of Jesus as he hangs that He did this for me. 

And then its gone.  The sin that ruffles and rumbles your heart and makes you unfit to be the Spirits temple, why, that is gone.  It is carried away in a moment never to be seen again.  The Lord has made you ready and prepared, the Lord has built out of you a beautiful temple, a palace from which he comes to reign and rule, from where he hands out his gifts of love and mercy and service and help and healing, both for you but also through you.  You serve as God’s heart and hands and help in the place where you live because you are his holy temple. 

There are some construction projects that far outshine all others – that are world renown for their beauty and ingenuity and style and costliness.  But you, my friend, my fellow Christian brothers and sisters you far outshine them all, because Christ has built on you a temple that is fit even for him to live. 

In the name of Jesus.

Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Adent 2 2012


“It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  So begins Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.  A statement that seemingly contradicts itself with both the positive and the negative.  Thoughts of hope and simultaneously thoughts of misery.  Best and worst all at the same time.

We might have similar inclinations with our Old Testament text for today.  “Behold” it says. “The days are coming.” It says. “When I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the House of Judah.” 

This is hopeful, is it not?  The Lord fulfilling his promise.  The Lord making good on the Word that he gave to his people Israel and Judah so long ago.

“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Here is where it starts to get a little iffy.  Here is a statement that is at once hopeful and frightening all at the same time.  The Lord will do justice and righteousness in the land.

We can’t stand injustice.  When we see a person getting taken advantage of, when we ourselves are taken advantage of it bothers us.  It hurts your conscience.  That part of you that knows right and wrong, when it sees wrong occur there is a sense that someone has to make it right.  Do you know what I mean? 

Has anyone ever done wrong to you.  I can remember when I was a young boy we went away for the weekend to go camping.  We got back and our garage door was open.  The side window was smashed.  My bicycle, which was my most prized possession at the time, had been taken.  I loved that bike, rode it every day, and to have someone take it, that was hurtful.  But even worse than that was the notion that someone had been in our garage to take our things.  Someone had come in to do evil in our house.  That stung.  It felt strange to walk into our house knowing that an evil person had been there, knowing that the sanctity of our personal space had been violated.  Have you ever felt that way?  It is hurtful, it is unsettling to have someone do evil to you.

To hear this message,  “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David he shall do righteousness and justice in the land.”  Why this means that those people who do unrighteousness and those people who do injustice – they are going to be caught.  They are going to be rounded up and punished.  They will be made to pay for the wickedness they have done.  Their reign of terror will come to an end because there will be a good and righteous king, a righteous branch sitting on the throne of David his father.

Oh, but it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.  Because while this righteous branch is doing righteousness and justice in the land, while he out rounding up the wicked and giving them their due, he is searching out the wrong doers and not one will get away.  Each one will be punished and each one will receive the justice that is coming to them.

It is a sly trick of our sinful nature that we are keenly aware of the wrongs that have been done to us.  I can tell you of an experience I had almost 30 years ago when my family was robbed, when thieves  broke into my house and stole from me.  Can I give the same detail, relay the same experience when I was the perpetrator?  What about when I was the offending party, can I still relay the same story with the same sort of emotion?  Can you?  Not likely. 

Break up a fight between two people and as each one cools his or her temper he will tell you with great detail what the other person did, why he was right in throwing that punch – the other person in the fight, why they had it coming.  He deserved it.  I couldn’t just stand by and take it.

We are very good at explaining away and justifying our sin.  Giving all the reasons why we did what we did, why it was not so bad, why we had a good reason or even a right.  “Situational ethics”, you know.

When the righteous branch comes to ferret out the unjust and the unrighteous, he will eventually get to you.  He will discover your sin and he will find out your unrighteousness.  He will know the truth and nothing will be hidden from his all-seeing and all-knowing eye and everything will be laid bare before him.  He will see through your thinly disguised excuses.  He will see the holes in your feeble attempt at self-defense and self-justification.  He will administer justice and judgment to you for the sins you have committed.

It will be the best of times.  It will be the worst of times.

It will be the worst of times.

It will be the worst of time, yet it will be the best of times.

It will be the best of times because this text is a text of hope.  The Lord gave this word to his prophet Jeremiah when Judah and Jerusalem was under attack from an enemy, a foe that was too great and too powerful for them.  One of the history’s great empires – the Babylonian empire had set its sights on them.  That little corner of the world that was a crossroads of commerce was valuable for controlling trade routes, merchants on their way to Egypt would stop through Palestine.  And King Nebuchadnezzar wanted a piece of that pie.  He sent a great and powerful army to go take it.

Now the Israelits and Judah – they were the Lord’s people.  And the Lord was and is powerful.  He can singlehandedly change the direction of a battle, a war, an empire, an entire era or epoch of history.  And the Lord had chosen this little Israel and Judah to be his own.  And so he fought for them.  He defended them and he protected them and he kept them safe from outside invaders.

The Israelites were proud of this.  It gave them confidence and strength.  They were bold.  Yet not bold in their valor or their righteousness or their nobility.  They became bold in their sin.  The defiled themselves with false gods and evil.  So much that the Lord had grown tired of them.  The Lord was going to punish them and he was going to use Nebuchadnezzar to do his righteousness and justice.  The people were going to receive their just rewards.  We must hear this justice and understand this righteousness and know this character of our God.

But even while the Lord is planning for the destruction of Jerusalem and the slavery of the people he called his own, he was at the same time planning their restoration.  How he would  bring them back, how he would rebuild them, how he would restore them, how he would once again make them powerful and great as a people, and how he would once again establish his King and his Kingdom. 

A righteous branch would come.  This Righteous Branch would save Judah and Jerusalem.  This Righteous Branch would be king who would cause his people to dwell securely.  This Righteous Branch is Jesus.

You see Jesus is at once the best of times and the worst of times.  He is God’s favor and restoration and hope while simultaneously executing and doing justice and righteousness in the land.  All of God’s right and righteous judgment all of the punishment that each and every sinner deserves for each and every sin, Jesus punishes that sin.  Jesus executes justice and righteousness for that wrong doing.  Jesus makes sure that every sinner has his day in court and his date with the executioner.  But the one punished is not the one who committed the crime.  The guilty party the offending party is set free from his guilt, set free from her guilt.  Instead the innocent is punished as a substitute, as a surrogate, as a stand in.  The guilty is set free, because Jesus himself receive the punishment.

This is unheard of.  The king, the judge, the doer of justice – he gets the punishment.  He calls out the sinner, he calls out the sin, he calls out the punishment and orders the executioner to punish – not you but himself?  Yet this is what the Lord does.  Justice is done, but it is done to the sinless one, the Son of God who permits himself to be hung on a cross, to be a curse so that we can  go free.

The worst of times for Jesus.  The best of times for you.

The Best of times for you because you have been given, you are on the receiving end of the best prize in all of history.  The world was enthralled with the 588 million dollar power ball prize that was awarded this past week to the hard working couple in Missouri and some unknown person in Arizona.  This was reportedly the largest jackpot in the history of the lottery.  Yet this prize is worthless in comparison to the prize of faith and forgiveness given to the believer in Christ. 

Because the Lord, the Righteous One, the King who sits on Heaven’s throne call you with the name that he himself is called.  Yes, that’s right,  the Lord who has defeated his enemies once and for all time and all eternity and who has been given all authority in heaven and one earth call this name of power and honor on you.  This is the Name by which Judah and Jerusalem, by which the people of God will be called – The Lord our Righteousness.  That is powerful.  That is baptismal.  The name of God being called, being assigned, being given to a sinner.  Can there be any greater gift?

Dear friends, the worst of times is reserved for even the smallest of sinners. But the best of times is granted to even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.  That gift is yours.
Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pentecost 21 Mark 10:22-31


How do you know if you have been blessed by God? 
Consider your life, for a moment, stop and think about the gifts the Lord has given to you and ask yourself, has the Lord blessed you? 
When asked like this, I think most of us would say that the Lord has blessed us.  Typically we will stop to consider things like our families and those we love, and those who love us.  We will remember those material gifts, our house or home our car our job.  If we are particularly pious we will remember those who are less fortunate than we – the sick, the impoverished, those who live in the 3rd world and then, when compare ourselves to these we are doubly blessed.  And so when asked if we are blessed by God, these are things that we count as blessings and so we would answer the question affirmatively. 
Has the Lord blessed you?  Has He blessed me?  Yes, we will say, the Lord is good.  We are definitely blessed by God.
But are we still confident of the Lord’s blessing?  When asked in a rhetorical sort of a way, when we have time to stop and think, and I suppose when we know what the answer to the question is supposed to be, we can usually come up with the right answer.  Are we blessed by God? We know God gives us all we have.  We know that we should remember what he has given – but does it ever happen that you just aren’t sure?  I mean, do you ever wonder if God has truly blessed you? Do you ever think maybe he isn’t blessing you?  That he has forgotten to bless you? Or that your blessings have run out for a while?  Do you ever wonder if God has blessed somebody else more?  With greater blessings than what he has given to you?
Sometimes I can’t log on to Facebook without getting a little jealous of the blessings God has given to other people.  I get to see the finishing times of all my friends who are running races that I haven’t been able to run lately, my friend who just got a new Ford Mustang – he like to post pictures of it.  Those of you who follow my on Facebook might have seen my post this past week - I got a major break on an insurance bill, and my car repair was significantly less than what was first expected.  Did you see that?  It was great.  All that kind of makes us a bit jealous doesn’t it?  My brother in law responded that his car also needed a repair and his went the other way – wound up being way more than he expected.  Are you tempted to measure your blessings from God this way?
I have a friend who put it this way.  The 9th and 10th Commandments warn us of the sin of coveting.  Coveting, she has a daughter.  Her name is complain.  And coveting also has a mother – her name?  Compare.  When we compare our blessings to those that others have received we begin to covet.  When we covet, when we think about those things we do not have, it is then that we complain.  Don’t want to complain? Then don’t covet.  Don’t want to covet? Then don’t compare.
The trouble is, that comparing, that is how we measure God’s favor; that is how we measure God’s blessing.  We are sure of God’s presence and action and opinion of us according to how easy our lives are or how comfortable or how well appointed or luxurious they are.  The more things go our way, we assume the greater the blessing.
Isn’t that error of the disciples?  Last week in our Gospel text there was a rich man.  He came to Jesus and said to him, “What must I do to be saved.”  You see, the man thought that if he kept all the commandments and got a perfect score the Lord would let him into heaven.”  The man was sure of his own righteousness and the goodness of his own heart, and his confidence was in his riches.  But then Jesus pulled that confidence out from under him.  The Lord told him, “Go sell everything you have, give the money to the poor and then come and follow me.”  The man went away disheartened.
In our text today, after having watched the man go, Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “How difficult it is for the rich to enter in to the kingdom of heaven.”
The disciples heard this word of Jesus and they were shocked.  You see the disciples were a lot like us.  They spent their time measuring and comparing…  and then coveting and complaining.  And this rich man… well, he was rich.  It was obvious that he had found God’s favor…  Right?  Kind of like “He’s a pastor. No wonder he gets a break on his health insurance.”  Same thing, isn’t it?  And so Jesus instructs us.  Worldly wealth doesn’t make it easier for us, it doesn’t mean we have more blessing or even greater blessing.  Worldly wealth, having lots of stuff, having all your needs met with no lack for anything, rather than making our salvation more sure, it can be the opposite!
Now, don’t misunderstand.  It’s not that worldly wealth is sinful or that it is wrong to be rich.  It isn’t.  God made this world and it is a good world. And to have and enjoy things in this world is to have and enjoy things that God has made and that God has given.  The problem is not with the stuff.  The problem is with the people who own it.  The problem is with you. 
Let’s face it, you love your stuff.  You and your wardrobe, you and your machines – your tractors and trucks.  You and your gadgets and  gizmos, your toys and treasures.  You love those things.  You treasure those things.  Its like Jesus said, where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is.  We take our heart away from the Lord and we give it to our stuff.
The problem with being rich doesn’t have anything to do with being rich.  The problems with being rich has to do with the fact that we are sinners.  We place our confidence in God’s promises or God’s favor in being rich.  Either that or we place our lack of confidence in God’s favor in being poor.  We are confident when things go our way, we are nervous when things don’t go our way.
 “Oh you of little faith.” Says Jesus.  ”Why do you doubt.  Why do you stress and strain and worry and fret.  Consider the lilies.  They never toil or spin.  Yet not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.  And consider the birds of the air.  The don’t plant or harvest or gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them.  If this is how your heavenly Father feeds the birds or dressed the weeds in the field, won’t he so much more take care of you?”  And we know the answer.  The answer is yes.  The Lord will take care of us.  He will provide for us.
“Give me neither poverty or riches.  Feed me with the food I need.  Or I might get full and deny you and say who is the Lord. Or I might get poor and steal and profane the name of my Lord.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)
The one big strike that the rich have against them is that they are full.  They have everything they need.  All their material needs are met.  Their bills are paid.  Their expenses are accounted for.  They are not afraid of taxes or tuition or sudden repairs.  Unexpected expenses aren’t a worry – just write a check and you’re done with it.  Wouldn’t that be nice, we say?  Wouldn’t that be a great problem to have? We think to ourselves.  Perhaps.  But there is blessing in our stress.  You see stress and worry, while they can lead us to sin, they can also be gifts that lead us to pray.  This bill, this expense, this car repair, this low yield, it is all too big for me to handle.  Lord, I need your help.  I need your intervention.  Lord, save me.  And while it is too big for you, it is not too big for the Lord.  He can help.  He can intervene.  He can save.  And he does.  He provides.  He who clothes the grass and feeds the birds will also feed you, he will also clothe you.  He will provide for you.  Sometimes when we are full, when all our material needs are accounted for so that we don’t worry, sometimes we assume we do not need the Lord.  Sometimes, in fact, we believe, like the disciples believed, that wealth and riches are a particular honor given by God to those who are especially righteous.
Remember their question?  Remember their surprise?  Jesus said, It is easier for a camel to fit through a pin hole then for a rich man to get into heaven.   “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” Jesus says, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  So often poverty on earth is accompanied by humility.  Humility lends itself well to repentance.  But pride, self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, being self-fulfilled – those things work against our faith.  Those things can squelch and squeeze our faith.  We put less confidence in Jesus because we are so sure of our wealth. 
So are you rich?  Good.  That is God’s blessing to you.  God has given that blessing to you.  But it is not yours.  Don’t get too comfortable with it.  Don’t put too much of your confidence in it.  Use it.  Manage it.  Serve your Lord and your neighbor with it but don’t let it own you.  And be aware, your wealth will cause you to sin so  be prepared to repent.  But receive the Lord’s forgiveness.
Are you poor?  Good.  This too is God’s blessing to you.  When you worry or fret, when you have bills to pay that you aren’t able to account for, be confident that the Lord will provide for you.  Trust him.  Cast all your worry on him because he takes care of you.”  And the Lord who clothes the weeds and feeds the birds will put a shirt on your back and food on your plate.  But also be aware, your lack will also lead you to sin – to worry, to covet, perhaps even to steal.  So repent and receive the Lord’s forgiveness.
Because you are forgiven.  The Lord has told you, the rich are not able to enter into heaven.  The poor are not able to enter into heaven – even the middle class, who our politicians are so intent on saving these days – with all the help they are promised to receive from either candidate, it still won’t be enough.  On our own, or even with a little help from the president, we can’t make it into heaven any more than a camel can make it through the eye of a needle.  But God can.  God can do anything.  There is nothing that is too hard for him.  No bill that is too big for him to pay, no creditor he is not able to fend off. 
We have all seen those movies where someone has borrowed money from the wrong person and owes a debt that they cannot pay.  And Johnny or Vinnie or whoever sends his big goon to bang down the door and squeeze the money in whatever way he can get it out of you.  That is the devil’s work.  You owe a debt of sin.  Pay up or die. 
But the debt has been paid.  The bill has been settled.  There is no more debt to be satisfied.  Because Jesus has paid it.  Jesus has put down the full amount with his very life.  He sacrificed himself, he gave his blood to settle accounts with the Father so that the Devil has no work to do.  No accusations can stick, because all the debts have been paid.
We are so often tempted to misplace our confidence in the Lord’s promises.  But that confidence and that assurance is found squarely in Jesus.  It is found in the one who gave up every thing even and especially his life so that you could receive forgiveness and salvation.  Our confidence stands securely on the cross of Jesus Christ.
And that confidence was made yours at your baptism.  Your baptism is the place where God said to you, ‘you are my child.” And where you have received the guarantee, not just of a discount off a car repair, not just a gold watch or a diamond ring.  The Lord has given to you all the riches of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven is yours.  For sure.  Guaranteed.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pentecost 19


“Marriage is an outdated institution.”  “Marriage is a lingering vestige from a patriarchal society used by men who wanted to possess women.”  “Marriage should be open to all people regardless of your orientation.”  “Marriage is what happens when two people love each other very much and just want to be together all the time.”
Friends, don’t you think it’s time we reclaim the institution of marriage from the world?  Marriage is none of those things.  Rather marriage is a good gifts of God that he has given for our good, for our protection, but also for our joy, for the procreation of children, for the institution of societies most basic of structures – the family.  Don’t you think its time we reclaim the institution of marriage.
Our Gospel text is about marriage.  Mark tells us that the Pharisees came to Jesus with a question, but not like you and I come to Jesus with questions.  We carry our questions to Jesus all the time – we do it in prayer.  We pray when there is something we do not understand or when we need help with something.  We go to Jesus in faith knowing that He knows what to do or that he knows the answer and we know that Jesus can help us.  The Pharisees went to Jesus in unbelief.  Wanting to test Jesus, wanting to prove him wrong.  The Pharisees intended to compare what Jesus taught to the teachings of the experts.  The experts that the Pharisees had in mind were the Rabbis.
We have our own experts these days, don’t we?  People we trust to be always right.  People who have the authority to evaluation the teachings of the Bible.  These days we call them “scholars” or “scientists” or “psychologists”.  These are our modern-day rabbis.  The Pharisees wanted to debunk the teachings of Jesus by comparing his word to that of the experts.  We do the same thing today.
But with Jesus the last word goes to him who gave the first Word, and that is the author of THE Word.  The Lord himself has the last word on things like marriage, what it is or is not.  What it should or should not be.  What are the appropriate uses of it. 
The Pharisees asked about divorce, a topic still timely for us today.  In addition, we deal with the topic of gay marriage or living together without marriage or pre-marital sex.  The world has its word on all of these things.  The World is consummately and continuously wrong.  Jesus goes back to the beginning.  He goes back to the Lord’s Word given in the Garden of Eden, when there was one man and one woman – Adam and Eve, and the Lord made them, one for the other;  first Adam and the Eve from Adam’s rib.  The Lord brought the woman to the man and he commanded them to be fruitful and multiply.  And then the Lord gives this word: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:24-25 ESV)
This is the Lord’s Word about marriage.  A man leaves his father’s house and he joins himself to his wife so that they who were two have now become one. 
You see, the Lord does math differently then what we do.  One and one in our minds makes two.  A couple.  Individuals.  And because we think of a couple still as two, two is a number easily divided.  Yet in the Lord’s math, one and one makes one.  And one is a number that is fundamental.  To divide it is to break it.  To divide a marriage is to do violence against the union that the Lord has created.  The Lord sees divorce as violence.  In Malachi, the Lord says, “The man who does not love his wife but divorces her covers his garment in violence.” (Malachi 2:16)  We should not be so quick to destroy what God has made to be one.
The Lord has a better way.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  (Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)
The way of the Lord begins with a word that for us today is offensive.  In these days of liberation and personal autonomy the word “submit”? Why that’s a dirty word.  You could fill a speech with all kinds of profanity and no one would think twice about it, but tell a woman to submit to her husband and people will get angry.  We hate that word, “Submit”.  We hate it because we assume that the Lord uses it the way that we use it. For you to submit to me, means that I am master over you.  It means that I control you and dominate you and bend your will to mine.  It means you are my servant and I can make you do whatever I want you to do.  This is how the Old Adam understands this word.
The Lord uses it differently.  Rather than a hierarchy or pecking order, it is just order.  It is just being who God made you to be in the role that God made you to fill.  God made men to be men and as men to occupy a specific role in the family.  God made women to be women and to occupy that role in the family.  Wives, do you ever look at your husband and think to yourselves, “He is a lousy husband.  He doesn’t know the first thing about what I need or how to take care of me or of our kids.”  Wives keep in mind that the Lord has given to you a husband, and that the Lord has given that husband to be head in your family and that the Lord works through him to protect your family and that he is worthy of honor and respect.  That requires humility and meekness.  That requires that you set aside your pride, your personal demands.  That requires that you die to yourself.  Take up your cross and follow where the Lord would lead you.
One reason that this text about submission is so offensive is because people read up to the word “submit” and it offends them so they close the book and don’t read any more.  If they would, they would realize that in the husband and wife equation, the wife has the lighter load to carry.  Wives must submit and that is difficult. Husband, the Lord call you to be head of your wife, but to do that in the way Christ is head of the Church.  And remember what Christ did for the church?  He sacrificed his very life for her to protect her and to preserve her.
You see, men, you are tempted by the World to be masters of your domain.  To be lord in your house so that your word is the last word and so that your will is the dominant will.  To be head of the house is to be the chief servant.  It is your job to give the most, to bend the furthest, to sacrifice the greatest.  Your job is to be to your wife as Jesus is to you.  Sure, it is her job to submit, but it is your job to die.  And so die you must.  Every day.  Die to yourself; to your plans, to your impulses, to your desires, to your expectations, to your needs.  Lay them all aside.  Lay them down.  When there is work to be done, get up and do it.  When there are children to instruct or to care for, go do it.  The world has determined that the women are the more spiritual or that spirituality is more feminine.  As a result it often happens that taking the kids to church or family prayer and devotions is viewed as the responsibility of the wife.  The Word of God gives this task to you, men.  You should do it and make sure it gets done.
The Pharisees test Jesus, asking him if it is lawful to divorce your wife.  Jesus reminds the Pharisees of their hardness of heart.  Jesus reminds us of ours. The Lord has given marriage as a wonderful institution that is for our good and each of us, husbands and wives have sinned against the Lord and against one another.
But rest assured.  The Lord is husband to the church.  He has loved the church and he has given himself up for us, to cleanse us and wash us and purify us from our sin.  He has washed away those sins we have committed against him, he has washed away the sins we commit against each other.  And now he presents us as his spotless bride, dressed in a righteousness not our own.  But purchased and won for us by his sacrifice on the cross. Christ has already done for us what he has asked us to do for each other.
In the name of Jesus.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pentecost 18



The Gospel text for today follows directly on the heels of our Gospel from a week ago.  It is a continuation of the same conversation between Jesus and his disciples.  If you recall last week’s Gospel, Jesus set some time aside with his disciples because he was teaching them some very important and foundational things that had to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, namely that the Kingdom would be realized and initiated and founded upon the sacrifice that he had come to offer through his death on the cross.  Jesus instructed his disciples that he, the Son of Man, would be given into the hands of people who would kill him.  But after he had been killed he would be raised.
Now, for Jesus, this event was everything.  This set the stage for everything he had come to accomplish.  This was the sum and substance of his Ministry.  It was the entire purpose for why he had come.  Everything that he had to teach them was built off of this one single event.  Everything he had in mind for them to do after he was gone was built around the cross.  It was the foundation, the lynchpin.  With it everything makes sense and holds together, without it the whole thing falls apart. 
So when Jesus instructed his disciples about his upcoming crucifixion, he hoped the disciples would understand, that they would see the pattern he established.  The Kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom of glory for this world, it’s a kingdom of forgiveness and life for the next.  It’s not a foundation of earthly power, it is for power over Sin and Satan and hell.  It is not a means to personal glory.  It is a means to personal sacrifice in the interest of mercy and love and service and forgiveness all for the sake of salvation Jesus would win on the cross.  This is what Jesus hoped the disciples would take away from his teaching.
They didn’t. 
In fact they missed that message completely.  Because the very first thing they did was begin and argument among themselves as to which one of them would have the greatest personal fame and glory when Jesus finally ascended to his throne in his kingdom.  They couldn’t have been more off base.  If the target was to the north, they were aiming south.  The missed by a mile. Jesus told them so.  They still did not understand.
In our Gospel for today, Jesus just got done telling them that whoever wanted to be first must be last of all and servant of all and that they should consider themselves to be servants even of the lowest of the low.  But then one of the disciples, and Mark tells us who it was, it was John, he comes to Jesus bragging that he shut somebody down who had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  Apparently there had been some unapproved or unsanctioned demon casting and John thought it was necessary to put a stop to it. 
Now, it’s apparent from the text that Jesus was not so much in favor of John’s actions.  But if you think about it, maybe John had a point.  Maybe there was a good reason that he did what he did.  I mean, you can’t just have people going around casting out demons.  Didn’t this guy realize there were procedures to follow?  There was a Casting Out Demons Committee that was a subcommittee of the Powers of Darkness Board that sat on the Discipleship Council.  Not one of them had been consulted.  He should have submitted his request in writing and then at the next subcommittee meeting they could have all sat down, discussed it, decided who had the authority for the action, planned the menu for the pot luck dinner afterward and made sure everything happened according to the constitution! But this?  Just taking unapproved action?  What did he think he was doing?  You can’t just go around willy nilly casting out demons.  Who did this guy think he was?
Turns out John and the disciples were a lot like us.  We get so bent out of shape when it comes to the policies and procedures that we put together.  We get so worked up over who has the right to do something or not to do something that we lose sight of the mission.  We lose sight of the Gospel.  We lose sight of the fact that this whole thing, this whole entire operation that we call Church is all about God’s mechanism for forgiving the sinner and healing the wounded and restoring the broken.
Luther famously said, “The Cross Alone is our Theology.”  That fits right in with what the Apostle Paul said.  We have been studying 1 Corinthians in Bible class – if you haven’t been coming you should– he said “We have resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.”  The cross, salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus for sinners to set them free from Satan, this message at all costs, throw it all to the wind let it all come to nothing if only we can share that message with but one sinner, if only we can set one captive free, if only we can heal one more wounded, if only we could bring one more to repentance and faith.  The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.  We come together to seek and save what? Ourselves? Our agendas? Our carved out section of St Paul Chuckery power?  That’s our Old Adam talking.  
You see Jesus calls us together into His body.  We are one.  One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.  The Body of Christ.  The New Testament calls it koinonia, fellowship, or if you are familiar with our Missouri Synod emphasis and focus of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”, it is the Life Together.  We are all bound to one another. 
In response to John’s rebuke of a fellow disciple, Jesus offers this.
“If anyone causes the least of these to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
We are called to be responsible for each other.  Caring for each other.  Focused on the benefit and well being of one another.  John had been concerned for the outward structure.  John did what the world does, what our Old Adam does – who’s in, who’s out.  Who’s included, excluded.  Jesus said, “No, don’t divide.  Don’t drive a wedge.  And don’t cause each other to sin.  Because if you do, if by your concern for yourself, for your power, your prestige you destroy another person, you will be judged and it will be better for you to have been drown with a millstone around your neck.  So don’t do it.  Jesus underscores this point.
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It’s better to enter heaven with one hand than to go into hell with two.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It’s better to enter heaven with one foot than to enter hell with two.  If you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out and throw it away.  It’s better to enter heaven with one eye than to keep the eye and enter into hell with two.”
This of course is what we call hyperbole.  Over stating your case to make a point.  We use this device in our everyday speaking all the time.  “I’m so hungry I could eat or horse.” “Traffic was so bad, the entire state of Ohio must have been out on the road.” Things like that.  But the point is there. We make our own issues, our own thoughts our own ideas, our own agendas so important that we allow them to lead us to sin.  And then in our sin we lead other to sin.
We do it in our life together.  We sin against each other and in the hurt and the offense that we cause them, we lead them to sin.  We injure them so that they are filled, not with the joy of the Gospel but they are filled with grief and bitterness.  And in the wounds that we have caused Satan comes to rub salt in them.  He comes to cause them to sting and he keeps those wounds open and bleeding so that they continue to cause pain.  So that he can stir up thoughts of bitterness and revenge.
Don’t you see how your actions can lead others to sin?  Jesus says don’t do it.  If your sin, if you are so tempted to sins of pride or selfishness or anger, if you have an agenda that you just can’t let go, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away.  If you are holding on to some bitterness, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away.  You are better off to enter heaven without it than to enter hell with it.  It just is not worth it.  Let it go.
You see, Jesus ties us together as Christians.  He knits us together into one communion and into one community.  WE are organized together around the Gospel.  Around Jesus.  Around forgiveness and mercy and love and honor and respect and self-sacrifice and service. 
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give himself up as a ransom for many.  This is what Jesus has done for you.  And this is what Jesus call you to do for others.
In the name of Jesus.
Amen.