Sermon from 24th Jan 2021

Mark 1:14-20 (EHV)

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15 “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

16 As Jesus was going along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 Going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately Jesus called them. They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may repent and believe in the gospel for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

According to St Mark, today we hear what Jesus preached when he began his ministry. He said:

“The time is fulfilled.

The Kingdom of God has come near.

Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Nice sermon. Short. To the point. I like it. And some of you might think: I wish Pastor’s sermons were this short!

But what does it all mean and how does it apply to us today?

Well, for starters, Jesus begins with time.

The time is right, and the time is now, for Jesus to come and fulfill God’s promises.

But of course, it’s taken a long time.

For example, a promised Saviour was mentioned in the Garden of Eden. That was a long time ago.

Many words were spoken by many prophets who promised a Messiah, a Christ, who will come and save the people. Well, the ink has dried on those prophecies hundreds and even thousands of years beforehand. Many faithful people have come and gone, waiting for the promised Messiah, but time went on without its fulfillment.

What we discover is that God’s timing and our timing doesn’t always match, which means we often have a problem with his timing. But if we question God’s timing, it means we also challenge the love of God or the power of God.

For instance, we might pray that God would do something for us like fix our health, fix our virus or border problems, fix our relationships, or fix our finances. But we also start to place time limits on when we want God to fix things for us. We reckon if God is powerful and loving, he’ll do what we ask, and do it quickly.

You see, we’re not happy to wait. We’re finite beings with time limits placed upon us, so we expect God to act within our time limits as well. We might also reckon we know better than God as to when things should happen.

But God doesn’t get the timing wrong. We’re the ones who get it wrong. We don’t have eternity in mind. We’re often only concerned with the here and now. We don’t want to be patient. We don’t want time to heal things or grow things or learn things. We want instant fixes and an instant God.

But we learn from Scripture that our eternal and timeless God entered into our world where everything has a time limit. He was born at a particular time in our human history in order to be with us as our God, to take on our finite humanity while somehow still remaining fully God with no time limits. He came at the right time to absorb our sin into himself so that he might forgive us and grant us his innocence and holiness. He came at the right time to suffer and die and rise again for you and me.

Well, that time is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus. He came. He saw. He healed. He preached. He suffered. He died. He rose again. He ascended into heaven, but his time isn’t over. He still lives forever and gave his fledgling church his Spirit-filled gifts of grace where he still comes to us in our own time through his Word and Sacraments.

Which means, now is the time when God’s kingdom comes.

But we have funny ideas of what God’s kingdom looks like. So did the disciples. So did everyone else.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St Mark identifies three main reactions to the coming of God’s kingdom in the person of Jesus.

Some followed him, including Simon and Andrew, James and John. Some didn’t have a clue about what Jesus was on about and followed him in curiosity. And some were against him and sought to kill him.

But even those who followed him didn’t really get it. We discover the chosen disciples were slow learners who got it wrong on many occasions. The kingdom they thought they would see was a political and physical kingdom. But God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom which is upside down and muddled up in our eyes.

God’s kingdom makes the last first and the first last. In God’s kingdom the King comes to serve and not be served. In God’s kingdom, the criminals go free and the innocent One is punished. In God’s kingdom, justice is served through forgiveness and mercy for those who believe.

We pray for God’s kingdom to come in the Lord’s Prayer, but do we pray that God’s kingdom comes, or that our idea of what God’s kingdom should look like comes?

It could be that our idea of God’s kingdom might look like a political kingdom where only Christians get to rule and they make sure our own moral and ethical standards are upheld across our society and everyone else gets controlled or punished for disobeying.

Our idea might look like a physical kingdom where churches are grand and full of people, where no sport is played on Sundays, and where the most faithful are also the most blessed.

Our idea of God’s kingdom might demand good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. This of course presupposes we’re the good people. We often struggle to remember that many whom Jesus spoke against also thought they were the good people.

But God’s kingdom isn’t what we expect or even desire.

Our God and King wasn’t born in a palace or even a well-resourced hospital. He was born among the poor. God’s kingdom, in the person of Jesus, came to shepherds, fishermen, tax-collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the ostracized, the neglected, and the abused. God’s kingdom ate and drank with sinners. God’s kingdom spoke against those secure in their own self-righteousness.

What does God’s kingdom really look like?

Well, our Lord allowed himself to be falsely accused. Our Lord didn’t fight the charges. Our Lord was falsely tried and condemned by his own people. Our Lord was spit on, beaten and whipped and he said nothing. Our Lord was nailed to a cruel cross. Our Lord felt abandoned by his heavenly Father. Our Lord prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And those words still echo throughout time as he prays the same for you and me. Our Lord died. Our Lord rose again to defeat death, the devil and our sin. Our Lord ascended to rule eternally.

And our Lord, whose kingdom comes near to his people at the right time, proclaims for us to repent and believe in the gospel.

Well, that’s ok, but many of us reckon we don’t have anything to repent of in the first place.

Most of us know we’re sinners because the Bible tells us this, but we struggle to realise what are those things that we think and say and do that we need to repent of. And if we ever do figure out what we need to repent of, we defend our selfish actions and struggle to actually turn from thinking or saying and doing those things in any meaningful way!

You see, most of us are blind to what we do and how it affects those around us, especially God. We’re not very good at assessing our own sins or how they hurt others. We’re also not very good at seeing how we damage our relationship with God by our unrepentance.

So, how can we repent if we can’t see our sin?

Well, one way to assess our own sin is to consider our vocations.

For example, I might consider whether I have been disobedient or lazy in my responsibilities as parent, spouse, worker, or child. Have I given those in authority over me the respect due to them as God’s representatives to me? Have I been hot-tempered, rude or argumentative? Have I stolen, been negligent, or been wasteful? Have I been discontent with whom and what God has given me? Have I unfairly judged someone and think poorly of them?

Another way to assess our own sin is to consider our relationships.

For instance, have I noticed whether someone relates to me differently than they used to? Have they become more distant, less patient, or angry toward me? Have they ended their relationship with me? On the other hand, have I limited or ended my relationship with them? If so, is there anything I’ve done or said which upset them? If I don’t know, how might I find out? Is there anything they’ve done to me which I need to talk about with them?

In other words, what signs do I see within my relationships that may indicate I have something to repent of? In this case, am I willing to obey Christ’s call to repentance, or will I remain disobedient and rebellious in my self-justification?

But Jesus doesn’t leave us in the depths of despair as we consider our sinfulness. He gives us one more instruction as our gracious King who comes at the right time. He tells us to believe in the gospel.

Now, in one sense, the gospel was still in its early stages as he preached this message. At this point of Jesus’ ministry he hadn’t suffered and died for the forgiveness of our sins yet. He hadn’t risen again to give us the good news death has been defeated yet. But since the time was right for the Kingdom of God to come in the person of Jesus Christ, now is when the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our sake is happening so that we may believe.

But is it so easy to believe?

We can be a suspicious lot because we don’t always know what to believe. Unfortunately, we often believe what people tell us through their speculating gossips (and fail to check their authenticity), but we struggle to believe the truth of what Jesus tells us. In other words, we find it easier to believe something bad about someone than believe something good that God does for us!

But God doesn’t lie. What God says, happens. So, instead of believing what people say about us (or about anyone else for that matter), we should believe the truth of what Jesus says.

So, if Jesus says you’re forgiven, then forgiven you are. Let God have the last say instead of your troubled conscience.

If Jesus says this is his body and blood, then that’s what it is, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. He can’t lie or deceive you.

If Jesus tells you that you’re children of God who have inherited eternal life because you’ve been washed and made holy by his blood, then that’s who you are.

If Jesus tells you to follow him, then follow him in faithful trust knowing his gracious Kingdom has now come at the right time for those who repent and believe. Salvation is yours through faith, through trusting God’s Word, through believing what he says and does for you. Therefore, with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus tells you: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel…”

…so that the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from Sunday 17th Jan 2021

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (EHV)

12 “All things are permitted for me”—but not all things are beneficial. “All things are permitted for me”—but I will not allow anything to control me. 13 “Foods are for the belly, and the belly is for foods, but God will do away with both of them.” However, the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 God raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then remove the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Certainly not! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For it says, “The two will become one flesh.” Gen 2:24 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

18 Flee from sexual immorality! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may glorify you with our bodies because we are joined to the body of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“It’s my body – I can do whatever I like with it!”

This statement, or variations of it, seems to be a catchcry of our times.

So, if a man wants to eat something, even if it means he eats so much of it that it affects his health, what’s it to you? Isn’t he allowed to do whatever he wants with his own body?

If a woman wants to wear certain clothes, even if they’re revealing and alluring to others, what’s it to you? Isn’t she allowed to do whatever she wants with her own body?

If a young boy feels he was born in the wrong body and reckons he’s a girl, no matter what science says, what’s it to you? Isn’t he allowed to identify his own body differently if he chooses to?

If an unmarried couple decide to have sexual relations with each other, what’s it to you? They’re not hurting anyone are they? Can’t they do what they want with their own bodies?

If a woman becomes pregnant with an unwanted child and chooses to abort the child’s life, what’s it to you? Isn’t she allowed to do whatever she wants with her own body? Although I wonder if anyone ever asked the child what he or she wanted to do with his or her own body.

And I could go on.

One of the greatest freedoms we fight for is the freedom to do whatever we want with our own bodies, after all, it’s my body, and since it’s my body, can’t I do with it whatever I want, especially if I’m not hurting anyone else?

Well, that depends on whether your body is truly yours to do with as you like in the first place.

St Paul argues our bodies are not our own so that we can do with them whatever we like. He argues our bodies have been bought by someone else. At great cost, Jesus paid to reclaim us – body and soul – through his sacrificial blood on the cross. If he bought us, then we are not our own. We’re accountable to our new Lord for what we do with our bodies.

After all, did Jesus suffer and die to just save your mind or your heart? Did he endure crucifixion and death just so he could save your spirit? Or did he pay such a costly price to save your body as well? If this isn’t the case, then why would we confess that we believe in the ‘resurrection of the body’?

Similarly, haven’t you been joined to the body of Jesus Christ in your baptism? Isn’t his holy body and blood received into your own physical bodies? Hasn’t he purified your body by his holy and innocent blood?

Since Jesus Christ has purchased us as his own precious belongings – body, mind, heart and soul – and joined our bodies to his own holy body, then we can’t do whatever we like with our bodies without affecting the body of Christ, especially among those who are also fellow members of the body of Christ.

This means if we make a fellow Christian feel unworthy or unwelcome because of what we speak with our physical lips and tongues, this affects the body of Christ.

If we fail to care for the well-being of a fellow Christian because we decided to keep our physical hands in our pockets and walk on by, this affects the body of Christ.

If we use our physical eyes to look at images or videos which lead us Christians into temptation or lead us to be discontent with the bodies of those God has joined us to, this affects the body of Christ.

If any Christian joins his or her own body to another person who is not their spouse for the sake of their own physical pleasure, this also affects the body of Christ.

So, while we may be tempted to go along with the world’s deceptions thinking it doesn’t matter what we do with our bodies just as long as we don’t hurt anyone else, the spiritual and physical reality is that it does indeed matter because, as members of Jesus’ holy body, we would be unwittingly joining the body of our Lord Jesus Christ to sinful and unhelpful thoughts, words and actions.

Now, you may wish to point out that our God is gracious and merciful who delights in forgiving our sins, including those we do with our body.

And I would agree! Our Lord is indeed gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Our Lord does indeed forgive us for all our sins. But this fact never gives us permission to sin. We should never consider sinning against God or anyone else with the assumption God is going to forgive us anyway. Jesus saves us from sin and its harmful effects, but this doesn’t make us free to sin.

Unfortunately, the weakness of our human flesh makes it hard to resist the temptation to satisfy or give pleasure to our bodies. We’re often tempted to do or say things simply because they feel good or because we get some form of gratification. When we give in to these temptations we become slaves to our own fleshly desires.

Once we become slaves to our own physical desires for pleasure, this new master will either control us by encouraging us to want it so much we can never be truly satisfied, or we’ll be so burdened with guilt or shame that we despair of our worthiness. Both of these responses will affect our relationships with those around us, including our relationship with God.

But Jesus didn’t suffer and die so that we would become slaves once more. Knowing our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, he gave us his own prayer, which includes the petition “Lead us not into temptation”.

As Luther explained, this means ‘God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted, we may still win the final victory.’ (Small Catechism, 6th Petition).

The good news is that even when you’ve given in to temptation and sinned against those around you and sinned against the body of Christ with your own bodies, you can eagerly repent of your sin knowing God is gracious and merciful, and for Christ’s sake you’re forgiven for all your sins, including those you do with your body.

In humbleness you submit once more to the rule of our Lord Jesus Christ so that you may glorify God in your bodies. And, to help you glorify God with your bodies and help protect you in your daily struggles with temptation, you ask him to refresh you with his Holy Spirit so that you may lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy.

As you receive the promised Holy Spirit, together with all the other members of Christ’s body, you become the temple of the Holy Spirit.

But when Paul tells you that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, you need to note the ‘you’ here is plural. This means he’s not talking to each of us as individuals, but as a community. You and I aren’t the temple of the Holy Spirit by ourselves as if we aren’t connected to each other and don’t have to be. But together, as people joined to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

While some are tempted to stay away from the physical body of Christ which gathers in worship, we’re encouraged to gather as physical beings in physical worship. We worship and glorify God with our bodies. We come to speak and sing with physical lips. We sit or stand or kneel as a physical response to what Christ is doing among us. We remind each other our physical bodies were baptised. We receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ into our own physical bodies.

You see, even when you’ve succumbed to temptation, Jesus forgives you and makes you holy and pure once more through his innocent blood which touches your own body through the waters of baptism and through receiving his holy body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. His Word and Sacraments wash you clean from the impurity of sin. In this way, through faith, even your guilty or ashamed consciences have been purified through the blood of Jesus.

Jesus Christ has paid the full price for you – for your body, mind, heart and soul. Because he loves you, he still speaks to you and constantly calls you to follow him again and again, because he knows you’ll stray and succumb to temptation.

When he calls you to follow him, you follow him, but not only with your minds and hearts. You also follow him with your strength as you honour him with your bodies.

Like all of God’s good gifts, they can be misused and abused, but God also teaches us how we can bless each other with our bodies as we live chaste and holy lives in repentance and faith. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can honour God and each other with our bodies.

So, while God has created us and given us our bodies and souls, our minds and senses, and all our abilities, they’re not ours to do with as we please as if we’re not accountable to anyone else. Because Jesus has redeemed us, body and soul, and has purified us with his holy blood, he calls us to use all these things to glorify him with all our heart and mind, soul and strength.

So, as you follow the One who set you free to love and serve him faithfully, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds and bodies in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from Sunday 10th Jan 2021

Mark 1:4-11 (EHV)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He preached, “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals! I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may trust you love us when we’re baptised in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“God loves you just the way you are!”

Have you heard this comment before? Have you said it before? Do you believe God loves you just the way you are?

Well, I believe there’s reason to doubt this.

I don’t believe God loves me just the way I am, because this would suggest there’s no reason for me as a sinful person to change from who I am.

You see, if Jesus loves me just the way I am in my sinful condition, then there’s no reason for Jesus to come to earth in human flesh, no reason for Jesus to be baptised, no reason for Jesus to suffer and die, no reason for his resurrection, no reason for me to repent, no reason for me to follow Jesus, and no reason for me to be baptised, receive Holy Communion, or even go to worship.

In other words, if God loves us just the way we are, then we don’t need Jesus!

For this reason, I reckon this commonly quoted statement by well-meaning Christians is one of the best anti-mission statements we can spread as a church.

If we tell everyone God loves them just the way they are, then they don’t need Jesus and his sacrificial love, don’t need to repent, don’t need to be baptised, don’t need to hear of God’s forgiveness, and therefore don’t need the church because they reckon they’re already right with God because he loves them just the way they are.

This isn’t the message of the Bible.

I mean, when John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, what was the message he spoke? Did he tell people “God loves you just the way you are”?

Or did he tell them to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins, which means he believes they were sinners who weren’t right with God and needed to be washed of their sins?

Perhaps another way to put God’s love could be: “God loves you just the way you are, but not enough to let you stay that way.”

Now I suppose this is a little closer to the truth, but it’s still not the full truth. You see, if this was the truth, then all he’d want us to do is change from our sinful ways.

In this case, John would have only needed to tell people to repent; you know, “Change your ways and live perfect lives as God expects!”

But if he only did this, then he’d only be preaching the Law. He’d be telling us we all have the power to save ourselves through our own obedience. He’d be saying we all have the potential to be better people and can actually make God happy, so all we need to do is try harder.

But if we could actually change ourselves or somehow meet God’s perfect expectations, then we still don’t need Jesus, or baptism, or the church.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Does God love you? Absolutely! God loves you so dearly he needed to take drastic action to save you. But God doesn’t love you so much he wants you to stay as you are. God also doesn’t just want you to be a better person. God wants you to repent and be baptised. And once you’re baptised, he wants you to repent and believe the gospel.

Now, believe it or not, this is a highly unpopular message.

No-one likes to be told to repent because no-one wants to hear they’re not ok, that they’re not doing the right thing, that they’re not good enough, or that God may not love them just the way they are.

I mean, do you think you need to repent? And, if you’re aware of your need to repent, are you willing to do so? Or do you think you’re better than everyone else around you and think they need to repent before you do?

You see, most people have self-inflated egos and we often think much higher of ourselves than the way God thinks of us – after all, God sees the truth of our sinful condition and we don’t. We’re often blind to our own sins, which is why we struggle to repent.

We fool ourselves into thinking we’re ok but everyone else isn’t. This is why many of us like to point out everyone else’s faults, failures and flaws, but hate it when confronted with our own. When this happens, we’re likely to attempt all types of self-justifications, excuses, and other defensive behaviours.

But if you think about it, as long as we make out everyone else is the one with all the faults, failures and flaws, then we also give the message that we don’t love people the way they are.

I mean, if we did love people the way they are, then why do we have so many relationship issues, fights, arguments, divisions, separations, and divorces?

But it doesn’t stop there, because we also give the message we’re not going to love or forgive them until they repent, change their ways, and attempt to make up for their wrongs against us. But even if they did, we may still be tempted to refuse to forgive them because we’re still being controlled by our own hurt, resentment, anger, or the delusion that we’re still better than they are.

Yet, to make things worse, many of us refuse to accept our own part in our relationship breakdowns. Since we’re always blaming everyone else and pointing out their failures, we give the impression we haven’t sinned. Or at least we give the impression our sins aren’t as bad as everyone else’s!

But the Bible tells us we all sin, and God doesn’t love our sin. Sin is part of our corrupted fallen nature. Making excuses or trying to hide our sin doesn’t change the fact we’re all sinners who have inherited the sickness of sin from Adam and Eve.

God doesn’t love us being in this corrupted sinful state, because that’s not the way he wants us to be. It’s like we’re all sick with the genetic sickness of sin and need a cure. In this case, we don’t need a vaccine to protect us from inheriting this disease of sin in the first place, but we need an antidote for our sinful nature. We need to be purified, which brings us back to the message of John the Baptist.

You see, God does love you! But because God doesn’t love you the way you are in your sinful state, God needed to act. God acted so that you might be restored to him, be his holy child, be washed of your sin, and be with him in eternity. This is why God sent Jesus to be baptised for your benefit.

Now, even though some may consider baptism to be the way to join the ‘Jesus club’, or that it’s some kind of ‘hell insurance’, or it’s a way to ‘get people done’, or even that it’s our ‘ticket into heaven’, but it’s much more than all this. Baptism involves a lifetime of living with the Holy Spirit who constantly leads you to repent and believe the good news of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus’ name.

Although the baptisms which John the Baptist performed were more of a baptism of repentance, it’s when Jesus was baptised that this earthly baptism received heavenly power and authority to do much more than just forgive sins.

Sure, it washes away your sin like water washes away dirt and grime, but through baptism you’re also claimed, or rather; reclaimed as God’s own possession and therefore baptism rescues you from death and the devil, and it gives eternal salvation to all who trust the words and promises of God.

Baptism also acts a little like an antidote; where the holy medication and heavenly cure of Jesus’s life, suffering, death and resurrection, are given and imputed into you in order to effect the forgiveness of sins, and freely grant you life and salvation.

This doesn’t mean you have to be baptised every time you sin again, but every time you return to, and remember, the promises made to you in baptism, which is how you keep practicing a life of repentance and faith, you receive a top-up of that injection of forgiveness and holiness again.

Not only this, but Baptism also joins you to Jesus like a branch being grafted onto a vine. Therefore, since you’re joined to Jesus, this means when God looks at you, he doesn’t see a disobedient and unholy child anymore, but he sees his only Son. And, since he’s pleased with and loves his Son so dearly, this means he’s also pleased with you. He’s pleased when you live in the daily repentance and faith given to you in the waters and promises of baptism.

You can trust the water and words of baptism has effected forgiveness for all your sin, has regenerated and renewed you into holy people, has adopted you as children of God, and has given you eternal life through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Through trusting the promises of baptism, you can trust God loves you and you’re now right with God.

Not only this, but living in the promises of baptism can also affect your earthly relationships. You see, the pattern of repentance and baptism can have real power to reconcile your relationships with each other. The same pattern of confession and forgiveness can be lived out in such a way it reconciles strained relationships in order to restore love, joy, and peace.

So, let’s face it: God loves you. That’s why he sent Jesus. That’s why he calls us to repent and believe. That’s why he gave us the gift of baptism.

God loves people who are willing to submit and trust in his promises, including those promises effected in the waters of baptism. God loves people who seek to live in the pattern established through baptism where our daily repentance and forgiveness helps us to live in, with, and under the love and grace of God.

God dearly loves his Son and is well pleased with him. God also loves you and is pleased when he sees his Son live in you through the power of the Holy Spirit so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 3rd Jan 2021

Ephesians 1:3-14 (EHV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

He did this when he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. He did this in accordance with the good purpose of his will, and for the praise of his glorious grace, which he has graciously given us in the one he loves.

In him we also have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in keeping with the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. He made known to us the mystery of his will in keeping with his good purpose, which he planned in Christ. 10 This was to be carried out when the time had fully come, in order to bring all things together in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have also obtained an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in keeping with the purpose of his will. 12 He did this so that his glory would be praised as a result of us, who were the first to hope in Christ.

13 In him, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and in him, when you also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession, so that his glory would be praised.

Dear Heavenly Father, lavish us again with your grace through your Holy Spirit so that we may rejoice in the fact you chose us and redeemed us for your own through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever had to choose a team before?

Perhaps you were at school and you were assigned as the captain. You then had to choose from your classmates so you could assemble the best team possible. If you did this, what would be the criteria which would help you choose your team?

Perhaps you chose your friends first, followed by a few others who would add strength or versatility to your team. Sometimes your friends would advise you who to choose and who not to choose. Then came the more difficult task of choosing between the unwanted people who you had to pick, even though you didn’t want to have them on your team.

As you played, you may have worked well with your friends and the gifted ones, but you may have avoided some of the others who were just there to make up numbers. Sure, you may have tried to be polite and involve them for a little while so they might feel important for a moment, but otherwise you may have chosen to use them as little as possible. Of course, it may not have been a very positive experience if you were ever one of the last chosen!

In a sense, we do this every day.

While we don’t always get to choose our family members, who we get to work with, or who’s part of our congregation, we often choose who we’re going to favour over others.

Think about the members of your family, or your neighbours, or the people in this congregation. Who do you talk to the most? Who do you look forward to talking with? Who do you seek to avoid?

Of course, some people are easier to get on with than others. Some people are more pleasant company and have common interests. Some people are good at telling us what we want to hear, while others aren’t. Some people hurt us or break our trust. We don’t want to give these people the opportunity to hurt us again. We may even attempt to get back at those who hurt us.

So, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we all do it. We choose to be good and generous and gracious and forgiving toward those we prefer, and we can be apathetic, cold, nasty, and unforgiving toward those we don’t like or trust. We judge each other based on whether we want them to be one of ‘us’ who we choose to be nice to, or whether they’re one of ‘them’ who we feel justified to treat them with contempt, indifference or payback.

When St Paul wrote to the congregation in Ephesus, one of the issues he was tackling was the ‘us and them’ way of thinking and living which had crept into the congregation. It was Jewish Christians versus the Gentile Christians. The unity of this early Christian congregation was being tested.

But what’s interesting is the way Paul tackles the problem.

We might expect him to call a big meeting so they could air all their grievances to ‘get it out in the open.’ We might also expect him to knock their heads together or plead for love and unity and peace and forgiveness and harmony. We might think he’d put some issues to a democratic vote, hoping the weight of popular opinion will force people to agree with each other. Perhaps he’d let the division increase and let everyone go their own way, and good riddance of anyone who decided to do this.

But Paul doesn’t use any of these tactics.

His starting point wasn’t pointing to them or their differences or their arguments or majority rules or even the problem at all. His starting point was to praise God!

He pointed to who God is and what God does – not just for me and my favourites, but for all of us, after all, God doesn’t play favourites.

God chose you and me and all those we struggle to get along with. He didn’t choose any of us because we deserved it, but because it was his choice to love and adopt all of us as his children through faith in Christ. He didn’t wait to see if any of us would deserve his choosing, but chose us anyway before the foundation of the world. He chose us despite the fact we often play favourites. He chose us knowing we can be quite nasty to those around us. He chose us knowing we’ll often think we know better and will rebel against his ways. He even chose those we struggle with because he loves them too.

He chose us all to be holy and blameless. Not because we’re holy or blameless, but because that’s what he makes us. We want to think we’re holy when we’re not. We want to blame others for our unholy actions and reactions to those around us. Yet through the blood of Jesus, you and I are made holy and innocent once more through his forgiveness and cleansing.

He chose to adopt us as his children. This wasn’t our choice. It’s God’s choice. And his choice isn’t based on what we bring to the family or whether he likes us more than anyone else. God’s choice is based on his grace and love to choose us anyway. It’s also his choice to adopt those we look down on or criticise or argue with or gossip about. This means we don’t get to choose who we treat with respect and love and compassion as our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s God’s choice, not ours. If we have any choice at all, we can only choose to go along with God’s choice to love and serve everyone he chooses, or we can choose to rebel against his choices.

He chose to redeem us. This means he had to buy us back from someone else. This redemption didn’t cost silver or gold, but cost him the blood of his beloved Son, Jesus. Like the Israelites in the past, he needed to buy us out of slavery. We’ve been enslaved to serve our own desires, our own fears, our own prejudices, and our own pride. We’ve been captured and enslaved by the world’s and the devil’s deceitful lies. But the blood of Jesus paid for our freedom so that we might serve within God’s kingdom of grace and peace and love and forgiveness and hope. We no longer need to serve the other masters of fear and pride and anger and favouritism any longer.

He chose to lavish his undeserving grace on all of us. Unlike us who are often stingy and miserly and frugal in our giving and loving and forgiving and serving, God is prodigal, wasteful and extravagant in his grace. He chose to be gracious to you and me, then he chose to be gracious again, and again, and again.

He’s so generous with his love and grace and mercy, that it keeps overflowing. It’s like he can never be too abundant with his grace. He lavishes us with his grace upon grace because we need it. You see, we often abound in selfishness and rebellion. His abundant and overflowing grace is needed as the heavenly cure to overcome the disease of our self-centred sinfulness. He did all of this (and much more) so that all things would be united in him.

This means God’s eternal answer to our problem of disunity and division is blessing us through his choosing to adopt us, redeem us, forgive us, and be gracious to us.

Therefore, unlike the world’s answers to our human problems, which always seeks to control or separate or punish, God’s ways are much more gracious and loving and merciful.

Through faith in our loving and gracious God, who would rather punish his own beloved Son instead of punishing us, we’ve all inherited his promises of forgiveness, life and salvation. We’ve been adopted as his own children so that we may love and serve him and each other without the need for prejudice or favouritism. We’ve all heard the word of truth and believe the gospel of our salvation. We’ve all been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance through faith.

Trusting in God’s grace, and believing in our heavenly inheritance, we no longer look at each other as the world looks at us. Seeing each other through the redeeming cross of Christ, we consider each other as equally loved, equally saved, and equally recipients of the lavishness of God’s grace. Who are you or I to treat each other any differently?

After all, to show favouritism or judgment toward our brothers or sisters in Christ would be to place ourselves above God. By attempting to choose who’s in and who’s out of our good books would be to think we know better than God about who’s worthy of our love and attention. When we attempt to become our own little god who chooses our own selfish ways instead of God’s ways of grace and love, we end up rejecting God’s kingdom of grace and mercy. God forbid we would want to do that!

Thankfully, for all those times we’ve favoured and judged and threatened and punished those around us, we believe God still chooses to lavish us with grace upon grace. Because we know God is gracious and forgiving, we eagerly repent of our selfish pride and look to be lavished again with his grace and mercy. Through faith in Jesus Christ we’re forgiven and become holy and blameless once again. Through repentance and faith we trust in God’s promises of grace and blessing.

Together we’ve been chosen to live under God’s kingdom of righteousness, holiness, unity and grace. We’ve all been marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit in our baptism into the one Triune name.

The promises of Christ don’t distinguish between us and them. Our worthiness to stand before God without fear depends on Christ himself, and not any distinctions of favouritism or separation. In fact, God’s plan for his royal household of redeemed children depends on Christ breaking down any walls of hostility which separate or divide us.

Therefore, praise be to our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places so that he may choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In Christ alone we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in keeping with the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.

Which is why the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.