Sunday, June 5, 2011

The End in Near

I PETER 4:7-11 (12-14)

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
In the name of Jesus:
Early this year there was a billboard on the corner of Coonpath and Business Route 33, which proclaimed in no uncertain terms that Jesus was coming on May 21, 2011. At the bottom of the proclamation was a website which, when entered into the web browser, would take you to an organization called Family Radio. The owner of the radio station and the web site, Harold Camping, spent thousands of dollars warning the world that the Rapture would take place on May 21, 2011, and then, six months later, on October 21, 2011, the end of the world would take place. How did Harold Camping make just a bold announcement? It was based in large part on his “calculations” which used symbolic passages of the Bible in order to ascertain his date. Many people looked expectantly for Jesus to return on May 21, some even spent their life savings in anticipation. Well, May 21 has come and gone, and there has been no rapture. And who knows if the end of the world will take place on October 21? The fact of the matter is that no one knows, save the Holy Trinity, when the world will end. Sadly, many have mocked God and His Word in due to the false prophet Harold Camping. Now, to be certain, Camping should be branded as what he is, a false prophet. But because of this jokester, many now don’t seriously consider that the world will come to an end. For a person to have a serious discussion on the end times would provoke laughter today because of Camping’s false assertions. And yet, God warns us that the end is coming, it is near, and so we need to be prepared.
The Scripture is clear. “The end of all things is at hand.” The end IS near. In the readings for Ascension Day, that great day when Jesus returned to heaven triumphantly after accomplishing His mission of fulfilling God’s Law on our behalf, offering His life upon the cross, and rising from the grave, the angels proclaim to the onlookers: “why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”(Acts 1:10-11).
Jesus will come back. To the unbeliever it is a warning. To those who believe, it is looked forward to in anticipation. To all it is a matter of fact. The end is coming. What shall we do? How then shall we live?
The Apostle Peter in our text for today answers those questions. Just try to imagine yourself back in the days of Peter. Crucifixions took place frequently throughout the Empire. It was punishment reserved for criminals and the cursed. In those trying days, there were those who claimed to be god. So think of what it must have been like when the Apostles claimed to everyone that Jesus, the One who was crucified, cursed, despised, was true God and offered all people eternal life! Those who heard this message believed it to be so by the power of the Holy Spirit. But most who heard this message shook their heads in bewilderment. Christians were persecuted for their faith because they believed that Jesus alone was the Savior and was God, there was no other way to be saved. Some Christians were mocked, others were ostracized, and still others were put to death. It was not easy to be a Christian at that time. Peter wrote our text to comfort those of faith, to assure them of Jesus’ promise that He was coming back and the end was near.
The names and faces have changed but the times really have remained the same. In the light of Harold Camping’s false prophecies concerning the rapture and the end of the world, many do not take seriously Jesus’ words nor do they take seriously the Word of God! And it is no easier to be a Christian in these days, is it? Some Christians don’t want to talk about their faith because they live in fear of being ridiculed or having their name drug in the mud. How many times have you heard the question: “Who made you judge? Or Am I my brother’s keeper? It isn’t easy to live out your faith in Christ when it seems as if you are the only one and you are swimming upstream.
And yet, you and I are called to be faithful to Christ. His charge to us is to be faithful unto death, so that we might receive the crown of everlasting life. How does this look? I will let Peter explain: Peter writes under the inspiration of the Spirit: “7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Seeing as the end is coming, you are not to live like the rest of the world. To paraphrase Luther, don’t live like the heathen, don’t live like a pig. Don’t covet money, don’t be a glutton, be sexually pure in what you say and do. You have been bought with a price, the price being the holy precious blood of Christ. You belong to Christ, so live as His child. Seeing as God has given to you faith in Christ in your Baptism, then live out your life as a baptized child of God. Daily confess your sinfulness to Christ, receive His forgiveness full and free, and then seek to live out your faith so that Christ is manifested in your life. To be self controlled and sober minded for the sake of your prayers means that God calls us to humbly trust in Him for all things in life. Seek the Lord in His Word; seek to serve the Lord in all you do. Root your life in Christ so that your life will bring forth abundant fruit, that your faith in Christ will be active in a life of good works.
Peter explains what these good works look like: “ 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” First and foremost seeing that you have love for God, show that love to one another. Seek to outdo one another in showing love to one another, not just to the family of faith, but also to those who do not have faith. The Scriptures state: “ If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (I John 4:20). To show love is to thank God for His love for us in Jesus Christ and to keep the commands which God gives us to follow. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love God above all things, and show love to your neighbor.
But Peter gets even more specific in these last days. Listen to what he says: “. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Be hospitable to others. What is hospitality? It is living your life so that you serve others. You treat others kindly despite being wronged. You forgive for the sake of Christ. Instead of seeking to show power or lording something over another, you show power by submitting yourself to help and for the betterment of the other. No greater example in the Scriptures can be found but in the account of the Good Samaritan.
You remember that story, how the Samaritan went out of his way to help a stranger. A Samaritan in those days was considered an outcast, an outsider, someone who was beneath the common Jew. Yet this one who was held in contempt went out of his way to be a friend and neighbor to one in need, even telling the hotel manager that if I can do anything else to help this one, charge it to my account and I will take care of it. He essentially gave the one in need a blank check that he would pay so as to help the one in need.
Dear friend in Christ, don’t be deceived. The end is near. Just as Jesus came down from heaven to save sinners, so too He will come again to be our Judge. You have been judged in Christ as one forgiven. By faith you possess this forgiveness. God now calls you to live out that faith, in love toward God and love toward your neighbor. It should be of no concern to any of us as to the date of Christ’s return. NO one knows that date, not Harold Camping, it is known only to Jesus. Christ will come, just as we confess in our Creed, He will come to judge the living and the dead. There will be no literal 1000-year reign of Christ. No one will be left behind; there will be no second chance. No, today is the day of salvation. God calls all to believe in Christ! So rather than being anxious for that day, God calls us to put our faith into action! Repent of your sins. Trust in Christ as your Savior. And then in thanks to God live out your faith so that your faith is active in love toward others. In this way many more will come to know God’s love in Christ. And this is God’s good and gracious will, that all be saved and come to know the truth in Christ. This is how God is glorified. And this is our mission. Until He comes, so to Him be glory forever and ever.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

True Religion

JAMES 1:22-27

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
In the name of Jesus:
In my frequent travels I run across bumper stickers on the back of cars. Some are humorous, but most convey a message. One such bumper sticker that I have seen around town, in fact it is prevalent throughout the country is the sticker “Coexist” The sticker has the term coexist spelled out with the religious symbols: the crescent and star for Islam; the pentagram for Wicca; the relativity formula for science; the star of David for Judaism; the Karma Wheel dotting the i for Buddhism; the Tao symbol for Taoism; and the cross for Christianity. The message is one of religious tolerance and a proclamation that all religions are the same, so wouldn’t it be nice if we all just got along?
I am all for getting along, but there is something to be said about truth and error. You see, the Scriptures do not speak of religious tolerance. God in His Holy Word does not tell us that all religions lead to heaven. NO! The Bible clearly says that there is only one name under heaven whereby man may be saved, and that name is JESUS! Jesus Himself says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life, NO ONE comes to the Father except by Me.”
It is with this understanding that James writes his epistle, and from which we read in our text the marks of true religion. Francis Pieper, one of the early presidents of the LCMS, once wrote in his book entitled Christian Dogmatics that there are only two religions in the world, one by which a person is saved by what he does, works, or one by which the person is saved by grace. Christianity is the only religion, the one true religion, whereby sinners are saved by grace, through faith in Christ, not of works, so that no one may boast. So then, what are we to think of this passage of which James writes? To be not just hearers of the word but doers as well?
James here is warning Christians against hypocrisy, of saying one thing and doing another. True religion for James, for that matter the entire Scriptures, is a matter of the heart. James warns about sitting in church and not listening to the Word. He warns of a kind of hearing that, as my moms used to accuse me of, letting things go in one ear and out the other. James is warning about the kind of hearing that deceives itself, a kind of hearing that promptly forgets after the person has heard. Being only a hearer means to hear without real faith. This is what was happening among the Christians whom James is writing to. The sinful flesh had gained control of the people. They were more concerned about their fleshly needs and living to fulfill their sinful appetites rather than living according to God’s Word. So James is calling them out, in fact, he calls out all of us who hear the Word today. James’ message is one of repentance.
Don’t fall into Satan’s trap by thinking that sitting in church merits any favor from God. Don’t think that just going through the motions in matters of your relationship with God is pleasing to God. James calls us to repentance, for this is what it means to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. Do what the Word of God requires. And what does it require? God calls you to repentance, to faith, and newness of life.
Martin Luther in the first of his 95 Theses wrote: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, repent, He will the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”” God calls you to examine your life in light of the Ten Commandments. You know, the accusations of the world are right. When the world says that the church is filled with hypocrites, they are right. We are hypocrites. We have said one thing and done another. With our lips we say we love God and our fellow human beings, but in reality, we have fallen far short of God’s demands in the Law. God says to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. And yet, what do our lives show? In our Confirmation vows we stated that we would live according to the Word of God throughout our lives. Have we? Have you really shown love to God when you have lived your life as if God did not matter when you have stubbornly sought your own way and not God’s way? Have you shown love to God when you have lived as if you mattered the most? How does it show love for God when you half-heartedly sing praise to God, or attend worship when it pleases you and fits your schedule? Have you shown true love for others or have selfishly lived so that others have not been helped by your apathy or indifference? Have you been so wrapped up in your life that you have not seen or neglected the needs of others?
Each of us stands condemned before God. We have sinned against God and deserve no good thing from Him. But God is good and gracious, even though we are sinners God loves the sinner with and everlasting love. God has shown His love in the Person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ, who came down from heaven to be God’s sin offering for sinners. His perfect life and innocent suffering and death are the price that Jesus has paid for the forgiveness of your sins. His shed blood cleanses you from sin. Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God in your Baptism has changed your life so that you might lead a life of repentance every day of your life.
Repentance begins today, here and now in worship, where you hear the Word and apply it to your life. James uses an illustration, saying that if one listens to the Word in church and does not do what it says, namely, does not show the new life that he or she has in Christ, that person is like one who looks at one’s image in the mirror. Taking a good look at oneself, that person forgets what it seen and goes on living as if it doesn’t matter. Dear friend, if you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and see your hair disheveled, you will comb your hair, and you will make a change in what you have seen so that there is a difference that is noticeable. So it is with the Christian life. Hearing God’s Word, you make it a point to change your life by the power of the Spirit. God has given to you His Spirit in your Baptism. Confessing your sin, and trusting in Christ God has changed your heart so that you will now go forth living a changed life, in accordance with God’s will. God has recreated you in Jesus Christ to abound in good works, not to save yourself, for you have been saved in Christ. Your life is to abound in good works toward others so that they will see the light of Christ in your life. You see, God in Jesus Christ has blessed you; now God wants you to go forth in your life to be a blessing and share God’s blessings with others. This is done as you abound in good works before God, sharing God’s blessings in Christ with others.
How is this done? Not by letting the Word go in one ear and out the others. Not by appearing to be religious. For in doing this, you deceive yourself and others. God says that you can’t say you love God and then show hatred toward your neighbor. True religion begins in the heart, whereby you see your life in the light of God’s law, repent of your sins, trust in Christ as your Savior, and then in joyful thanksgiving seek to share and reflect God’s love to all in Jesus.
Last week we watched in horror as a F5 tornado ripped through the heart of Joplin Missouri. Our former church members and friends, Steve and Talitha Elsea, live in Joplin. They were unaffected by the tornado, but their community looked like a nuclear weapon was dropped upon it. What does God call us to do as Christians and as a Church? Do we sit in our comfortable homes in Lancaster and say hypocritically, “I am glad that it wasn’t Lancaster?” Heaven forbid! No, the love of Christ compels us to see our neighbors in their suffering and respond to them in their need. In consultation with our congregational president, we decided to send a check to our sister congregation, Immanuel Lutheran in Joplin, to assist in their relief efforts. School teachers and other members of Immanuel have lost their homes. Many have had friends and family members who have lost their lives. The love of Christ compels us to do what we can to show the love and compassion of Christ to those in need.
But it doesn’t begin in Joplin. It begins here, at home. For we have opportunities before us to show our faith to our neighbors in need here in Lancaster and in Fairfield County, to assist those who are affected by unemployment, homelessness, and hunger. That is why we link with LSSCO (Lutheran Social Services), the Food Panty, community shelters and the like. It is why we support the work of COMA and its efforts with the Somali people to bring them the Gospel of Christ. It is why we work with other congregations in an organization like DORCAS, to bring Christ’s compassion to the people of Central and southeastern Ohio. It is why will host a servant week on the third week of June, to help a family in need in our community. We do this not to bring glory to this congregation or ourselves. We do it all to bring glory to God. We do this so that our faith might be active in love. This is what we are called to do, for God’s word is clear: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
There is only one true religion, and that truth is revealed in this: that sinners are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. And this faith is revealed in how we treat those around us. God has touched you with His grace in Christ, so that in living lives of repentance, you might be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only, thereby giving glory to God by showing and sharing the love of Christ with others. May God grant each of us such repentance and faith, in Jesus’ name!