Luther: Awakening to Faith
First in a series of six
Genesis 1:1-5 // Romans 6:1-11 // Mark 1:4-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve reached the season of Epiphany, which means “Revealing, or “Light.” We lit candles in Advent in order to remember the coming of the Light of the World. We celebrate Christmas Eve in candlelit darkness to remember that on that Silent and Holy Night, “glory streamed from thy Holy Face, in the Dawn of redeeming Grace.” And in this week, as we move from the dawn of Christmas to the season of Epiphany, we remember that Epiphany means light. It means the revealing. It means the dawn -- it means, if we want to extend the metaphor, that we longed for the light in Advent. We saw the dawn of redeeming grace in the Christmas manger, and now in the six weeks of Epiphany, we see the awakening of God’s people.
In these six weeks, we see the God of Israel, the God of the universe and how he awakened His church of all times and all places through his servants in every age. This Epiphany, we trace the awakening of our Father in the Faith, Martin Luther. We dive into the great events that shaped his life as we see the Word of God work on him, and today we see him Awakening to Faith. For the description of Luther’s life and world, We draw from Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson’s biographies of Luther.
Awakening little by little. The Muther household wakes up pretty early these days, and some days are earlier than others. But these days most mornings start with a certain sequence of events. First, at about 5am, Amos will wake up. Then, Laura will wake up and start feeding Amos. Then, I’ll start to wake up because Laura is awake and Amos is awake, and then, Benjamin, I’m convinced, from the next room over senses that everyone is awake – they just seem to pick all kinds of things up, and then, and here’s the point, then before he’s really awake, he opens his door, he shambles his way to the edge of our bed. He gets in, and for the only minutes of the day that Benjamin sits still, we have 10 minutes of quiet snuggles. The point is, there’s a time when he’s awake, but he’s not really awake, when he’s waking up little by little.
That’s the moment we trace in Martin Luther’s life today, his baptism into the Christian faith. When all the assurances of and promises of baptism were his, yet he was not awakened to their full significance.
There is a richness and a busy-ness to the years around Luther’s life. The 15th and 16th centuries were days of innovation and opportunity. Michelangelo, Raphael, Thomas More, Copernicus, Machiavelli are only some of the giants that lived and published in Luther’s lifetime. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The new world was being discovered; whole continents were being found. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and for the first time, copies of books didn’t have to be handwritten, up to that point, if you wanted a copy of the Bible, you had to commission someone to write it for you. The world of Luther’s day was getting to be a lot bigger and a lot smaller.
But it was also a difficult time. In Florence, six out of ten infants did not live past 6 months old. In the city of Strasbourg, 16,000 people died to the Plague in one year. And people were hardened by this hardship and violence. One of Luther’s relatives was struck down in the street by a wandering soldier, for no apparent reason, and he was never brought to justice. Life, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it a century later, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Can you imagine life in that world?
Into this world Martin Luther was born. We don’t know which year Martin Luther was born – he thought 1484, but it could have been 82 or 83, but what we do know is that he was born on November 10th, because he tells that on the next day, just one day old, his father and mother, Hans and Margaretta, wrapped their little baby up, took him to the church and had him baptized and named for the saint of that feast day, St. Martin.
On that November 11th, Martin Luther participated in the sacrament that turned the disposition of his soul to receive the forgiveness of his sins, turned the disposition of his soul to the proclaimed grace and assurance that he would awaken to years after. And he participated in it before he understood what was happening.
That’s the Lutheran distinctive. In a way that no other denomination has done so well, we speak of the physical intermingling with the spiritual in the water and the Word. We speak of Baptism not so much as the declaration of our faith, but as the washing of rebirth and renewal instituted by Jesus, that makes us sons of the Father, with a water full of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians and as Lutherans, we believe that we enter into a story whose main point is Jesus. We find the promises of God center on him, on the man who did everything that was needed to be done. He was baptized, not for any sin that he had done, but to fulfill all that we are to do. He did teach. He resisted temptation. He depended on the Holy Spirit. He talked to his Father in heaven. He was man so that he could die for our sins, and he was God so that his sacrifice could be good for all, and he did all on our behalf.
You see, the Gospel – God’s work among us – began before we knew what was happening, before we even existed; it began at creation. The God who existed before the universe began is the same God who loved you before you opened your eyes, is the same God who came down into human history is the same God who delivered the goods of his grace to Martin Luther is the same God who delivered the goods of his grace to you in your baptism, is the same God who will call you on as your days draw to a close, and even as the universe draws to a close. We enter in by Holy Baptism, as St. Paul says, into the very center of the story, because we are united with Christ in his death so that we can be united with Christ in his resurrection.
C.S. Lewis writes of his conversion from atheism to Christianity as an adult rather than as an infant, but he writes in no less passive terms. In his book, Surprised by Hope Lewis recounts the very moments when he received in faith all the benefits that he had been guaranteed at his baptism: in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s motorbike, which took place on September 22, 1931. And I quote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.”
The story of our humanity began at birth, from a place too deep and too marvelous for words. This is the Lutheran distinctive. The story of our Christianity begins in a place too deep and too marvelous for any word besides the name of our God, in and with the water, the name of YHWH, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
And Paul goes further… You see, he isn’t answering questions about baptism out of a vacuum; he isn’t defining it for its own sake. He’s answering the question, the first question in our text, and he’s answering by reference to the very nature of baptism. He asks, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound?” Since we have the guarantee of God’s grace and favor, can we sin because we know we’ll be forgiven? His answer? “Certainly not! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” And here he comes with the answer we repeat in every funeral liturgy, the promises of our birth from above that follow us past the point of death: “We were therefore buried with him by baptism into death [into CHRIST’S death], in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Or as Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians.”
The point is that the Christian life began in the promises of baptism, continues as we awaken little by little to the implications of that walk of faith in every avenue of our lives, every back alley of our being, every corridor, every nook and cranny of what it means to be a human surrounded by other humans, in a world awaiting Christ’s return.
To ask, in essence, how does this chapter of my life draw my eyes to see my savior? Or, in other words, to remind you of what I preached two weeks ago, that I’m a terrible softball player. I won’t go into the two sad little memories I had in fifth grade softball, but I want you to know: I will never have to seriously ask myself, “How do I play softball to the glory of God?” because my abilities do not lie in that arena of life. I will have to ask other questions: how do I play basketball in a God-pleasing way, how do I run races in a way that gives God glory? Because wherever my abilities lie, there my faith should expanding, looking, and asking questions.
And I tell you that to tell you this: this is the question, for the Christian, which we ask all the time. From the time that we teach our children to walk, we are asking and answering for them “How can you use your legs to the glory of God?” You might not have said it that way, but the answer is the same: We use our legs for walking to mom and dad, not for kicking or for running away. And as our abilities grow, so do our questions grow. These days I wonder more about my vocation as father, how to pass down my faith to my children, as pastor, how to draw others’ eyes from me to look instead at our savior, as neighbor, how to live my faith among all kinds of people. And every new place that we go, every new chapter of life, every new joy and sorrow, they beckon us to ask, “How does this chapter of my life draw my eyes to see my savior?”
For Luther, his baptism was a touchstone for his entire life. After his Gospel moment breakthrough of 1517, he looked back with great comfort on the day of his baptism. “[W]hat a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.”
Baptism is the awakening to faith, and it begins a life of opening little by little, to all that God is preparing for us. It connects us to the center of the story of how God is bringing salvation to all of creation. Baptism is the beginning of a journey to the end of all time.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where brothers and sisters in Christ journey through every chapter of life drawing their eyes to their Savior. The troubles and joys change regularly but their children and their neighbors can sense that the question they ask and the answer they remember never changes. And so, as they continue to see their faith awaken in every chapter of life, they take the greatest delight in seeing that faith awaken from generation to generation.
Amen and Amen.
God With Us
First Sunday after Christmas
December 30 and 31, 2017
In Old Testament days, it was easy to believe that God was with you if your children were healthy, your reputation was solid, your land was paid for, and your nation were free and prosperous.
In these days, it’s easy to believe that God is with us when we get to tuck our children and grandchildren in their beds at night, warm and safe as they can be. It’s easy to believe that God is with us and is providing for us when our cars start right up on the coldest of morning, when our family holiday meals are festive and pleasant. It’s easy to believe that God is with us and smiling on us when we’re on our way to getting our houses paid for, our benefit plans are in order, and our vacations are planned and paid for in advance.
Our sermon theme today is “God With Us,” and for many of us, including my family, that’s a pretty easy proposition to believe. For many of us, if you were to put blessings on one side of the scale and troubles on the other, it wouldn’t even be close.
But if you’re one of 34 million children worldwide who are suffering from severe and acute malnutrition, you’d have to wonder about this faraway father in heaven who has supposedly redeemed and adopted you as sons and daughters. And if you’re one of over 600,000 homeless on any given night in the United States, you’d have to wonder about that Christmas joy the angels were singing about and that good news the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about.
And just to make it personal, if your name is Maria and you and your ten year old daughter are walking the cold streets of Minneapolis this afternoon, your story includes all kinds of addiction, all kinds of domestic abuse, all kinds of mental illness, you just finished eating a meal provided at a soup kitchen, and you know it will be three hours yet before you can check into a shelter for the night, you have to be wondering if God really is with you, and if he is, is this the best He can do?
To our text we go this morning, where we find that God was in fact with Mary and Joseph, He was with Simeon, and He was with Anna.
God was with Mary and Joseph in the prescribed (rituals). One advantage of belonging to the Jewish faith was that your days, weeks, months, and years were structured. There were the daily major feasts, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread / Passover, the Feast of Weeks / Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths. There were minor feasts, including the Feast of Trumpets, The Date of Atonement, and the Day of Assembly. Jewish believers knew where to go for the forgiveness of their sins, they knew where to take their stained and soiled hearts, they knew what sacrifices needed to be offered, they knew that God was with them in the prescribed rituals of their faith.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, as Jesus first sheds blood on the (eighth day). Keep in mind that everything that happened to Jesus all that that He did was in fulfillment of OT prophecy and for the salvation of the world. Mary and Joseph knew exactly what to do on the 8th day. This ritual would take place in their home, and at the when his blood is first shed he receives the name given by the angel, Jesus. Paul teaches us in Colossians 2 that for New Testament Christians, to be uncircumcised is to be sinful and in rebellion against God. The benefits of Jesus’ circumcision are received by us in Baptism, where our hearts and minds are circumcised or changed. New Testament believers know where to go for the forgiveness of sins and to be incorporated into the family of God – we go to the waters of Baptism.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, As they fulfill the law on the (40th day). Keep in mind that Jewish firstborn sons and animals had been spared and passed over by the angel of death in the Exodus from Egypt. At every Passover meal, the son would ask what was meant by all of these detailed rituals in the Passover, and the father would teach the family the story of the Exodus. For this reason, firstborn sons and animals belonged to God, and needed to be bought back or redeemed with a sacrifice of animal blood. Families who could afford it would sacrifice a lamb, poor families like Mary and Joseph could offer two turtle doves or pigeons. On the 40th day, Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, as they brought the baby Jesus to the temple, rituals were followed as prescribed.
Mary and Joseph knew that God would be with them as Jesus would grow and fulfill his mission in life. Simeon reminded them that this child was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, that he would meet up with all kinds of opposition, and that as Jesus taught and made his way to the cross, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. They knew that God was with them As the sword pierced their hearts (from that day forward). One can only wonder how the Spirit guided them through the ups and the downs of God’s story unfolding in and through them, but we of this we are certain, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.
Application #1 today is to rejoice in the presence of God as often as we meet up with God in those places he has promised to be found, in the preaching and teaching of His Word, in the waters of His baptism, in the bread and the wine of His Supper.
God was with Simeon in the (fullness of time). (Story of roommate in college who would eat a wonderful meal and then would say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” Or he would look out our dorm window with his binoculars and see a beautiful girl walking by and would say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” A bit of exaggeration there, to be sure.
It was no exaggeration for Simeon, after he held the baby Jesus in his arms, to say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” Luke makes it clear in our text that Simeon was connected in a strong way with the Spirit of God. One pastor writes it this way, “Simeon didn’t have the Holy Spirit because he was righteous and devout. Simeon was righteous and devout because he had the Holy Spirit.” Three indications we have in our text that God was with Simeon, as He is with us in a perfectly timed kind of a way.
First, God’s Spirit was with Simeon as he received direct (revelation). Like Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, Simeon was a righteous member of Israel. Like all of them, the Spirit of God was leading and speaking to him in a direct fashion.
Second, God’s Spirit was with Simeon As he predicted nation-wide (conflict). Simeon prophecies that the word of revelation brought by Jesus would pass through Israel like a sword. The ministry of Jesus would compel men to reveal their secret thoughts. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus would be received as Savior and Lord. For those who were blind and deaf to what God was trying to give them, Jesus would produce misunderstanding and ignorance. Many would be scandalized and crushed by Jesus, only a few would be lifted up and rescued.
Third, God’s was with Simeon, As he departed in (peace). Once he held the infant Jesus in his own arms, he could die and go to heaven. His bucket list was complete. Check list completed. The peace the angels had promised, the peace the world had no idea of how to give, the peace that Jesus gives was his. All was well with his soul.
If application #1 was to rejoice in the presence of God as often as He meets up with us in Word and Sacrament, application #2 is to rejoice in knowing that God keeps every one of His promises and that He does so with perfect timing.
If part #1 was that God was with Mary and Joseph in prescribed rituals, and if part #2 was that God was with Simeon in the fullness of time, then part #3 is that God was with Anna in all the (chapters of life). Anna had lived through all three vocations a woman can live. Until she was married, she was a virgin and cared for by her parents. For seven years she was married and protected and provided for by her husband. From the time her husband died and until she was 84 she lived as a widow and was cared for by other family and her local church.
Luke records that coming up at that very hour Anna began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. In other words, she was famous for spending her days in the temple worshiping and fasting and praying. She may very well have irritated the highly educated priests and scribes and Pharisees who wanted nothing to do with this old foolish woman. But that didn’t seem to matter to Anna. What mattered is that the Lord God of Israel was her God, what mattered is that He was with her and could be trusted. Two observations come to mind regarding Anna.
Observation #1is that She found what she was (looking for). As often as she went looking for the presence of God in the temple, she found the presence of God. As often as she went looking for the forgiveness of sins in the prescribed rituals of her day, she found the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit of God had worked inside of her a confidence that the Messiah was on his way, and when He came her way, she recognized him. To this very day, dear friends in Christ, the gifts of God are received only by those who are looking for them.
Observation #2 regarding Anna the prophetess is that Like the shepherds, she couldn’t keep good news (to herself) In our text for today, Simeon is like the angels, he is the herald of Good News. Anna is like the shepherds, she responds to the good news by spreading the message of the Nunc Dimittis. Whereas the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about the birth of Jesus, Anna couldn’t stop talking about the death of Jesus and the redemption of souls it would bring.
Application #3 is to recommit ourselves to living every chapter of life to the glory of God and for the spreading of the Good News especially to those who are having a hard time believing that God is with them.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who like Mary and Joseph wake up every morning comforted by the presence of God but at the same time uncomfortable with the reality that so many are waking up without a roof over their heads and even worse, these folks are convinced that if there is a loving God, He is far away. Like Simeon, they rejoice that God’s Spirit is leading them through life, but at the same time they are haunted by the reality that millions are living and dying without the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. And like Anna, they are as grateful as they can be that Christmas joy is ruling in their family, and at the same time they wonder which neighbors most need their help in these days. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Christmas Day, 2017
“God Loves Me Dearly”
Hebrews 1:1-3 - Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
“Let all God's angels worship him.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We begin with three little stories about folks who didn’t quite get Christmas right.
Story #1 is about little Annie who summarized it this way, “A lady named Mary and a man named Joseph went to Bethlehem. They couldn’t get a place to stay so they went to a stable that had cows and horses and mary had a baby in a manger, so far so good. The baby was crying and nobody could get any sleep and so his mom rocked him till he got quiet. But then the shepherds from the field came in and woke him up. When the lady got the baby quiet again, some wise men rode up on camels and gave the baby Jesus his Christmas presents, and in summery it was a busy night.”
Story #2 is about a woman who fell victim to the overwhelming pressure to go to every party, to taste every bit of the holiday food, to get the perfect gift for every single person on her shopping list, to make sure that her house was perfectly clean, and after a long day of shopping with two crabby children, as she pushed her way into a crowded elevator, she could be heard mumbling, whosever started this whole thing should be found, strung up, and shot. To which someone replied, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him!”
Story #3 is a favorite of mine, “It’s about an11 year old girl who gave her annoying little 8 year old brother a nice gift and a nice card, and on the inside she wrote, “Dear Johnny, merry Christmas. I hope you have a nice Christmas. I’m glad God gave you to be my brother. Love, Sally. P.S. Don’t read this note out loud or I will twist your head off!”
We miss the main point of Christmas when we imagine that it’s primarily about making the best possible memories or giving the best gifts possible. Christmas assignment #1, our text for today suggests, is to hear what God is trying to say to us, that God loves us dearly. In Old Testament days, He spoke that message through the prophets, in New Testament days, He speaks that message through His Son Jesus Christ.
Andrew Greely speaks about God loving us dearly in this way, “Our God is not patiently standing by and waiting for us to offer love but He is actively and vigorously perusing us. In the Old Testament we see this God of grace wheeling and dealing in the desert seeking men.
In these New Testament days, we see in Jesus all prophecies fulfilled. We see Jesus born in a manger, living to perfection, and offering up Himself as a bloody sacrifice to end all required sacrifices. The writer to the Hebrews gives us seven statements pointing out Christ as superior, directing our attention to Christ as the perfect revelation of God, teaching us again and again the simple truth of Christmas that Jesus loves me, this we know, Jesus loves us, this our grandparents and parents wanted us to know, Jesus loves, this is what we want our children and grandchildren to know with all of their hearts and souls and minds.
Seven statements of who Christ is and the offices that He holds and all that He has done, and then three takeaways, three lessons, three thoughts on what it means to receive into our hearts that God loves us dearly.
In closing on this Christmas Day three takeaways, three lessons, three thoughts on what it means to receive into our hearts that God loves us dearly. 1) God’s love is personal. 2) God’s love give us value. 3) God’s love compels us to love one another.
God’s love is personal. The kingdom of God is like a little boy who was separated from his mother in the mall. He was looking around for his mommy, he was getting scared. He began to cry because everyone was a stranger. Everything looked confusing. Every store was packed, nobody could tell him it was ok. Until his mother found him, she picked him up, his eyes began to dry. He was safe in his mother’s arms. When you have someone who loves holding you, it doesn’t matter anymore what everyone else does or what the circumstances are or what the future holds. God’s love is personal.
God’s love gives us value. Just a couple of days ago, I was dusting the top of the shelf that hadn’t been dusted for a time. There I found something I had forgotten we even possessed. It was my dad’s old baseball glove, my hunch is he played with it as a young man, in the early 40’s. I have no idea how much it cost, but it’s value to me has nothing to do with how much it would be worth on ebay. It’s value has to do with the memories it brings to my heart. Memories of my dad loving dearly loving me not so much with words but with actions. Dad loving us by providing, by protecting, and by sacrificing. Even more than that, dad loving me by making sure I was baptized, dad and mom making sure I was sitting still in church and making sure I was sitting still in Sunday School and making sure I was sitting still in Confirmation Class learning the Christmas story, learning the Good Friday story, learning the Easter story, learning even the Pentecost story.
Which brings us to our final takeaway, our final thought, our final lesson learned, that God’s love compels us to spend our days loving one another.
A Vietnam veteran and Air Force Colonel John Mansur tells a story of an 8 year old orphan girl wounded by a mortar attack. It was determined she would die if a blood transfusion did not take place. It was further determined that no Americans present had the correct blood type, but several of the uninjured orphans did. The doctor spoke a little bit of Vietnamese, a nurse spoke a smattering of high school French, and together they explained that unless someone gave blood, this little girl would die.
Eventually a small hand slowly went up, dropped back down, and then went up again. His name was Heng, and he agreed to give blood. They swabbed his arm with alcohol, they inserted a needle into his vein, he was silent for a time and then began to sob. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, his fist he put in his mouth to stifle his crying.
They stopped the procedure long enough to explore what was wrong. The nurse finally figured out what was happening. Heng though he was going to die. He thought he was required to give all of his blood so that a little girl could live. They asked him why he would be willing to do that. To which he answered, simply, “She’s my friend.”
No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who don’t really look any different than other people, but they are. They are set apart simply by knowing they are dearly loved by God. They spend their days receiving God’s kindness and patience, and then they go looking for folks who need a listening ear and a kind word. They spend their days first of all holding onto what they have learned from their mother’s knees, and then they make sure the next generations know and will never forget that God’s love is personal, God’s love gives them value, God’s love compels them to love one another. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Loving Way of the Lord.
Dear friends in Christ,
Our sermon series in preparation for Christmas has been called “The Way of the Lord.” In the last few weeks, we’ve explored the Faithful way, the Mighty way, the Peaceful way, and this morning, the Revealed Way of the Lord. Tonight, our theme is the Loving way of the Lord.
Our text begins, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
What is love? That’s the question that we’re asking tonight. But before we ask that question, there is a broader question that we need to ask. What is the way that we know what love is? How do we even know what we know? What basis do we have for answering the question, “What is love?
Tim Keller tells the story of a young man from a healthy family that grew up with a loving mother and a loving father who ended up marrying a loving wife that grew up in a healthy family with a loving mother and a loving father. But when it came time for them to divide up the work of life together, they had deep-seated conflict. He said, he was working on a sermon and noticed a dirty diaper. He called out “I think so and so needs to be changed.” She looked up from washing the dishes, “Why don’t you do something about it?” He felt something deep inside of him angry and he didn’t know why.
How does that happen? How can two fine and healthy people from fine and healthy families have conflict?
You see, he had been raised in a family where his mother’s outpouring of love for his father was to do everything that needed to be done at home. That was his definition of love. She had been raised in a house where her mother had a debilitating disease and her father’s outpouring of love was to do everything that needed to be done for her mother. Each is extraordinary, but if you have one picture and not the other, your understanding of love is still shallow.
And I tell you that to tell you this: love, and our expression of love, is normed by our culture and experiences. It seems natural. We base our opinions on what we know, on what we’ve seen, on what we’ve experienced.
But the point of our meditation tonight is that for the Christian, our definition of love is not defined by our experiences. It is not defined by our culture. It is instead defined by the Scriptures. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that for the Christian, we believe that life is bigger than our senses can experience, and if we are going to have a deep understanding of love, we need to look outside of ourselves, we need to go to the Scriptures.
Three particular ways that we would describe love, three peculiar ways based on our reading of 1 John 4 tonight. Let’s go to our text.
“In this.” Those are the first two words of verse nine, and they form the refrain we find through the rest of our text. In this, for the Christian, is the totality of our love. That there is no other place in heaven or on earth where God has made his love more manifest. In fact, the opposite is true: in this the entirety of God’s love is ours. The next phrase, in this the love of God was made manifest. It was revealed. It was shone to be what it is, that God sent his son. Usually when we think about sending, we think about God sending his son off, on a mission to someplace else, on a journey far away, but here’s the point of John’s opening statement, here’s the surprising fact, that God sent his Son, and he sent his Son to be with us. Love is first presence.
If you’ve done premarital counseling or marital counseling here at Trinity, or if you’ve talked to a pastor here about the subject of love for more than five minutes, you might be familiar with the Five Love Languages, a book about the ways that we give and receive affection. It states that there are ten ways (jk, it’s five) ways that we love: Words of affirmation, acts of service, the giving of gifts, physical touch, and quality time. But if we are talking not-so-much about the surface ways that we express our affection, it seems that each of these has a corner, a piece of the deeper need filled by love, and behind all of these, I would submit that the deep need we see is the need for presence.
That when I use kind words, I am showing that you are in my thoughts, and I am hoping that these words convey my presence to you, even when I’m not there. That acts of service are demonstrating that I am taking care to do what you need. Gifts convey the amount of time and energy it takes to find them. All of these convey a desire that we would be present with the one we love, and they would be present with us, even when we’re not around.
That’s what Isaiah writes when he prophesies Jesus as the Immanuel – as God-With-Us. The first truth that we see is that in the Christmas story, we see our God fully present with us. Which is hard to do.
But then our text goes on to make our second point. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Point number two for tonight is that love is, for the Christian, propitiation. In this the love of God is made manifest. In the – and get this word right – propitiation of our sins. Can you imagine that? Someone comes up to you on the street and asks, What is love to you, and you say, “Propitiation.” They ask what is that? You say, “I don’t know! My preacher told me to say that.”
So at this point, you might be saying, “Hold on a second preacher man” – because I’m sure you have an inner dialog about the sermon and in your inner dialog you always call me preacher man – “Hold on a second, what does that have to do with love?”
Propitiation is a word that means atoning sacrifice. That is to say, for the Christian, our understanding of what love is is rooted in our understanding of how God has been interacting in the world. From ancient times, from the Levitical laws, from the time that God set up his people as a people on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel had been once per year sacrificing an unblemished lamb for their sins and sprinkling its blood on the assembly, atoning for them in the sacrifice of that animal. In the New Testament we find that those sacrifices were effective because they pointed toward what Christ would do once for all on the cross.
As Christians, if we want to rely not so much toward our own experiences or on the whims of our culture but instead on the wide swath of what the Bible has recorded of God’s action from the beginning of time, we would remember that love is first presence, it is the presence of God in our lives and second, propitiation, the sacrifice that our God has given to atone for our sin.
The Love is Jesus Christ. The point is, for the Christian, Jesus Christ is love incarnate. Paul said it like this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” John says it like this, “In this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us. In this is love, In this, that when we love each other, it is not we who love but God who loves others through us. God is love and love is this: Christ has died; Christ is raised; Christ will come again. It is in Christ we find love, and it is Christ who is in you.
Now, let’s know that truth. Let’s own it. Let’s chew on it. It’s an interesting exercise to read through the Gospel with this thought in that back of your mind, that Jesus Christ is love incarnate. That mean, the time that he calms the winds and the waves and calls his disciples “O you of little faith” it is love incarnate doing it. The time that he tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” those are the words of Love itself. The time that he says, “let the dead bury the dead” to his family and the time that he says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
What does that do to your definition of love? His is the loving response in every one of his situations, his is a love for friends, a love for enemies, a love for disciples who love him, a love for the crowds who don’t care about him, a love for the heroic, a love for the cowardly, a love for the sinner, a love for the repentant. He is love. In every situation. In every word. What does that do for your love?
We read verse 17… By this, love is perfected with us – the word there is the same one that Jesus spoke on the cross, Τετελεσται, It is finished. It is completed, it is made perfect and made whole, it is love, fully orbed and fully known. It’s in your baptism that his love sets up shop. It’s in the words of absolution that we stir embers of his love. It’s in the Lord’s Supper that you taste love incarnate, which is Christ in you.
Lesson number three, and this is the lesson for all the marbles, for tonight is that love is Jesus Christ. And if you are a Christian, and if you want to know what love is, if you see love fully orbed, outside of yourself, sent to the world to bear your sins and be your savior, then you would spend your days following around love incarnate. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God… Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… (and from beyond our text) By this is love perfected with us.”
If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage, your friendships with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of others.
Amen and Amen.
The Revealed Way of the Lord
Fourth in a series of five
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 // Romans 16:25-27 // Luke 1:26-38
Dear friends in Christ,
The way of the Lord. For the last three weeks, we’ve been preparing for Christmas with our Sermon Series called the “Way of the Lord.” We started with the Faithful way, the Mighty way, last week was the peaceful way. Today is the Revealed way.
I’ll tell you this: I am a terrible baseball player. I can’t even say that. I am a terrible softball player – not that baseball is any less challenging than softball, but my softball career started and ended in fifth grade, of which I have two memories: first, I remember getting hit in the face with a flyball. Second, I remember that the only hit I ever had in a game was a little blooper to center field. I took my base and – this was a no-stealing league – I waited until the next guy got walked (or so I thought), went to take my base, and they ended up calling me out.
So, fast-forward to seminary school when I was once again attracted to softball, but this time because I had heard they grilled brats after the games and had adult beverages. So, I thought I’d shake the dust off of my softball swing and I wnet to Tower Tee, with a softball batting cage, and I started hitting some balls, and hitting, until one of my friends saw the baseball cage. He had played baseball in high school and started hitting at 70 or 80 mph. I decide to try. I get in the cage. I know what to do. I know where the ball is coming. I know how to swing. And still…. Miss.
The point is, The path of the ball was revealed. The actions I needed to take were clear. The prophecy of what would happen was simple. And still, there was a difference between knowing what was needed and living in it.
We go to our texts. Here we have a snapshot of the prophecies fulfilled, from 2 Samuel 7, and our first point is that the promises of God have been known for a long time.
The eternal God from long ages past unto ages and ages has made known all the things that he has done. The prophecy in the Garden of Eden is compounded by the blessing of Abraham, is compounded by the blessing of Judah, is made clear in the prophecy of Nathan, is amplified by the prophet Isaiah, is spoken again and again and again by the Pentateuch, by the prophets, by the Psalms, by the writings.
How unremarkable Jesus is. Jesus is the only normal person in this whole story, if you want to say it that way. He is the little baby born in the normal way, doing normal baby things. As a character in the story, he’s in the background, just growing and eating and sleeping. His actual birth in Luke 2 only takes half a verse.
Most of the story is everyone else that’s dealing with angels, that’s fleeing the country, that’s following stars, that’s believing dreams. How unremarkable it is, particularly for this reason, because it is such a mundane miracle that our God would come down to earth to be exactly who he is, to bear our sins and to be our savior. From this side of history, it is earth-shatteringly mundane that God would love, and that he would love so much that he would, while we were still enemies declare us right with him, that he would pour out the power of his Godhead so that we could be freed from sin.
It is the M.O. of our God that he works the most remarkable of miracles in the most unremarkable ways. It is in washing and words that the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. It is in the declaration of forgiveness that your chains are gone and you’ve been set free. It is in the eating and the drinking of bread and wine that the Body and Blood of your Savior are yours, so that you can receive unearthly peace and godly strength for the length of your days and beyond.
A way of open hands. I think of my Grandpa Utech. He’s lived more than half a decade since the death of my Grandma. He has, in my mind, aged as gracefully as a body could possibly age. He willingly sold his house. He willingly gave up his license. He has passed close to the valley of the shadow of death several times now, but I’ll tell you this. The most amazing thing that he’ll say, I had skipped over for years now.
The most amazing display of his Christian faith is when he talks about grandma. He says, “It still hurts. I still think about her everyday, and I just want to be with her. But I’ll be here as long as the Lord allows.”
Do you see the strength of his words? He holds his pain and his joy, and he holds them in open hands. He can be happy and sad at the same time. He can hold the good even as he suffers the bad. He says, as our vice-chair said this past Leadership Council meeting, “It is what it is.” Or better, as Paul writes, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Or perhaps best of all, God’s own words in Revelation chapter 21, when he says, “Behold, it is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” What remarkable strength there is in the ordinary life of a Christian underneath the cross, to know the One who is the beginning and the end, to know that all that is needful has been accomplished even as you make the journey!
Dear Christian friends, the living water that Christ holds out to us allows us to hold both our sorrow over this world’s sin and our joy in the work that Christ has already done. Our taste of the living water allows us to hurt with the pain of our suffering here, knowing that hope will not in the end disappoint. Our taste of the living water helps us to know that however much we have need and hunger and thirst in this body and in this life, we have the promise that in his time, our God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that in the cross, he has won every battle that needed to be won, that our hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther