Pentecost 12, 2014
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Be genuine. Be true to yourself. Have you heard those terms before. Many believe that if we just acted the right way and said the right things...that the world would accept Christians and Christianity. But that hasn't been happening. I've heard it asked "why do so many people reject God?" Why does it seem that Christianity is dying? Why are so many churches getting smaller and smaller...and many of them closing? What is going on?
May it not be said of us what Wu Ting Fang said of Christians in our country: "I met Christian missionaries in China and became impressed with their religion. When my country sent me as its ambassador to Christian America, I made up my mind to become a Christian and join the first Christian church that asked me. I have been here for three years, and no one has asked me. Now I shall not come."
As part of their CD and single "Jesus Freak," D. C. Talk quotes Brennan Manning who said: "The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."
While this might not be the most theologically sound quote...for it is SIN that is the greatest cause of unbelief...it should nonetheless be noted that we as Christians do a poor job at sharing God's Word and keeping it.
In the past 9 years that I have been a pastor one of the most frequently heard complaints and desire is for a sermon to help people know what they are supposed to do. I said things I shouldn't have to my child...my wife...my best friend...what am I supposed to do? I messed up...my spouse wants a divorce...what am I supposed to do? I made a bad decision...and ruined things...what am I supposed to do?
We know that we are sinners and fail so very often. We know the skeletons that we try to hide in our closets...keeping our faults hidden from the world. We know that God has given us the 10 commandments...but we have broken them all. We know that Christians are supposed to look and act differently from the rest of the world...but we often don't. What are we supposed to do? Where is the guide that we need? Where is the book that tells us step by step what to do? Where is the book Christianity for Dummies?
Listen to our text. "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:9-21)
Wow! That's a great list. Maybe we should try to follow that step by step. Really that wouldn't be a bad idea. But there is a problem...a huge problem! We haven't kept God's Word. We have the 10 Commandments and we break them daily. These words our Lord gives us through Saint Paul are no different. They are wonderful words...but we simply just don't follow them.
The truth is that no matter how hard we try...no matter what we do...we will fail and our actions...our life...our goodness...our deeds...will never save us or anyone else. Our attempts at living up to the 10 Commandments or our Epistle text will not save us or anyone else. The question then remains...what are we supposed to do? Do we give up? Do we throw in the towel? No. We repent. We receive forgiveness. We receive strength. We live by faith.
"The righteous shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4b) Saint Paul himself picks up on these words of the prophet Habakkuk when He writes: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
There is the best advice I can give you. "Live by faith." But...that's not a nice list of step by step instructions. How does that help us? Only God and His Word create faith. Only God and His Word sustain faith. To live by faith...is to live as repentant and forgiven sinners. To live by faith means to strive to do your best as a Christian...repent of sin daily...go to Church, share Christ, and live as a Christian.
To live by faith is to trust in Christ Jesus alone. The greatest witness we have to share to others...isn't in trying to show them we are perfect or better...but in seeking forgiveness and sharing the truth of Scripture that Christ lived and died for sinners. Christians aren't better than anyone else. We aren't more deserving than anyone else. We are forgiven. And that forgiveness was won for ALL sinners.
So by all means, my brothers and sisters in Christ...go out and share the love of Christ with all around you. Do acts of random kindness. Donate to causes that are within our faith and doctrine. Help the needy. Share God's Word. Repent when you sin. Come to this place to receive forgiveness and strength. Live by faith. The faith given you in your baptism. The faith sustained by God's Word. The faith created by the Holy Spirit. The faith you confess this day. For that faith will save you. That faith shares Christ. That faith has and gives genuine love. That faith is a gift from God. That faith believes in the one thing needful: Christ Jesus died for me a wretched sinner and through His death and resurrection salvation was won for me. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.