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New Year’s Worship – Name Jesus

newyear
Listen as Pastor Hessler leads us through our New Years Day Worship Service. We pray, “O God, You are the Ruler over time. As we head into a New Year, remind us that all of our days are under Your control, and that each year is a precious gift from You.”

Third Sunday of Advent

untitled-design-1This is the third Sunday of Advent. Listen as Pastor Hessler leads our Worship Service. The text for today’s Sermon, Matthew 11:2-3

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Joy of Sharing

Experiencing the Joy of Generosity

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7

T In the Name of Jesus T

Experiencing the Joy of Generosity

“The Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings”

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7

“Fruit of the Spirit” is the theme for FAITH’s Activity Year. During September we examined the spiritual fruit of peace, and this month we turn our attention to the spiritual fruit of joy. Last week at our annual Lutheran Women’s Missionary League emphasis we focused on how we can all “Serve the Lord with [joy and] gladness” (Psalm 100:2), and this week FAITH kicks off its yearly Stewardship Emphasis under the theme, “Experiencing the Joy of Generosity.”

This year’s emphasis is divided up into three separate aspects of joy-filled stewardship:

  • This week we will be covering the “Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings”;
  • Next week we will consider the “Joy of Managing God’s Blessings”;
  • And then we will wrap it all up the week of October 25 as we examine the “Joy of Sharing God’s Blessings.” That will also be when we receive our 2016 Commitment cards.

The Joy of Generosity—so then, let’s get to it.

Joy, Joy, Joy. There is going to be a lot of joy coming in the next three weeks. But first we have to make sure that we understand what joy actually is. A lot of people think that joy and happiness are synonyms, that they mean the same thing or are at least very similar in meaning. At the surface this might seem true, but if we actually compare joy and happiness, we see that there are some signifi-cant differences.

  • Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging anywhere from content-ment and satisfaction, on the one hand, to bliss and intense pleasure on the other.
  • Joy is stronger, but not as common, than happiness. Joy is often a feeling which is connected spiritually to God or to people. Personal sacrifice can even trigger joy.
  • Happiness comes from earthly experiences and material objects, like getting a nice birthday present or buying a new car.
  • Joy comes from spiritual experiences, like caring for others or being thankful for some undeserved blessings.
  • Happiness often shows itself outwardly through visible signs of delight, like smiling or laughing or even jumping up and down.
  • Joy often shows itself inside the person through an inner sense of peace and contentment.
  • Happiness, more often than not, is a temporary thing based on outward circumstances which often pass somewhat quickly. Your happiness at getting that shiny, new car can quickly dissipate when someone rear-ends you at a stop light.
  • Joy, on the other hand, can be long-lasting based on inward circumstances. You might not be happy when you get rear-ended, but the joy you have knowing that Jesus has already taken the punishment for your sins never ends.

There is a neat quote from this week’s devotions which are included in your FAITH Lines. The quote comes from Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher from the third century b.c. He said: “If you want to make a man happy, add not to his riches but take away from his desires.” Now I don’t mean to improve on what Epicurus said, but I might clarify it by noting: “If you want to make a man happy for a short time add to his riches, but if you want to make a man joyful, content, and at peace take away from his desires.”

So there are some similarities between happiness and joy, but there are also some significant differences.

  • Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, but happiness is not.
  • Joy can be present even in sorrow, but you can’t be happy when you’re full of sorrow.
  • Joy is having peace and contentment, and you can be at peace and content even in sorrow. Happiness is being elated, and you cannot be elated in sorrow.

Now let’s take a closer look at text: for today from 1 Corinthians:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7

First Corinthians was a letter written by Paul and inspired by the Holy Spirit. In it Paul was addressing practical issues that the church in Corinth was struggling with. They had many issues that were going on—like sexual immorality, lack of unity, issues with marriage, and idolatry to name a few. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Read through First Corinthians and you’d think Paul was writing that letter today, because our society is still dealing with many of the same issues of sin that the congregation in Corinth wrestled with.

Another issue that Paul deals with is regarding the Corinthians practice of Communion. It seems that they had turned this wonderful means of God’s grace into a drunken party with segregation based on a person’s economic status. They didn’t know how to receive simply, humbly and joyfully this gift God was giving them in His Holy Supper. So Paul doesn’t mince his words when he points this out to them. He asks them:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Those were tough words, but they were true—true for the Corinthians them and true for our world today. The world today is great at seeking and receiving happiness, especially when that comes in the form of material riches, but the world is not very good at receiving blessings with joy, especially those blessings that remove desires rather than build wealth.

A lot of people, maybe even some of you, look at worship in a completely opposite way than God would have us look at it. Many people see worship as something we do—us giving something to God, us sharing our time, us sharing our offerings, us sharing our songs. That’s not what worship should really be. Worship isn’t us giving; worship is us receiving. In worship we receive God’s gifts, His blessings, His means of grace. For example:

  • When we confess our sins in worship, we receive God’s forgiveness.
  • When God’s Word is read and proclaimed, we receive that Word as it is applied to our lives.
  • When we come to the Altar for communion, we receive the very body and blood Jesus offered and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. In so doing we are in communion with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”

And the same is true when it comes to our stewardship. There are some pastors who will not speak about money from the pulpit. I’m not one of those pastors. Some members cringe when the annual stewardship emphasis is upon us. They think that now here come those sermons on how we should give of our time our talents and especially our treasures—our money—to God. In fact, they even spell “stewardship” with dollar signs instead of esses.

But that’s not what stewardship is. Stewardship is not us giving to God with a special focus on material things. Stewardship begins and ends with us realizing what God has given to us, and the joy and the peace and the contentment we have that comes from this. Stewardship is the Gospel: “for God so loved the world that he gave!” (John 3:16). Stewardship is that God gave, not that we gave—God gave His one and only Son to die for us. Here’s what one pastor wrote about his own confusion regarding what stewardship is:

After Confirmation I went through high school and college years falling away from the church. I was somewhat involved, but, honestly, it was rather hollow and I was really just going through the motions.

Then in the mid-1990s my. . .brother was diagnosed with cancer and that rocked my world.  One time after visiting him in the hospital I was headed home, but rather than going home I headed to church. I knelt in front of the cross, and I prayed like I had never prayed before.

I tried to make a deal with God and said that, if He would heal my brother, in turn I would get more involved and would start tithing. I thought that stewardship started with me giving rather than me receiving what God was giving me. [Today] my brother is doing great and has been cancer-free for over 10 years.

But, even more important to me than the happiness that I received in the news that my brother was well, was the joy and the peace and the contentment that I truly now have in understanding what I have received from God on the cross. This is the reason that any time I come up to preach, I take the time to walk over to kneel in front of the cross.  It reminds me of what Jesus has given me.

Realizing what God has given us is the source of our joy, but it does not mean that we will always be happy and that is important for us to realize.

  • You may not be happy when you are sorrowful, but you can have joy even in sorrow.
  • FAITH had a couple of weddings lately, and weddings are joy-filled events. But some weeks FAITH has more funerals than weddings. Funeral days usually aren’t happy times, but they can be joyful times. Even in the sorrow of saying good-bye to a loved one, there can be joy, contentment, and peace in knowing what Christ has given them: life everlasting with Him.

A while back the news reported two stories—stories which had both huge similarities (just like happiness and joyfulness) but also stark differences. The two stories were about two young women who both were suffering with inoperable brain tumors. One whose name was Brittany had recently been married when she received her diagnosis, so she and her husband moved to a state where there is a “death with dignity” law, like the one Gov. Brown recently signed in California. So on November 1, 2014, Brittany took some pills that her doctor had prescribed for her—and she died.

The second story was about Lauren. Lauren, a young lady who was just entering college, had also been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  On November 1, the same day that Brittany died, Lauren played in her first and also last college basketball game—a game which she organized to serve as a fund raiser and to build awareness for cancer research. The game was televised on national TV, received a lot of press coverage, and also raised significant funds for cancer research.

So listen once more to the words of our text:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

Can you see something different in Lauren? Can you see in Lauren someone who realizes the gift of life that she has received and is a joyful steward of that gift.

One of my pet peeves is what I call “lettuce” sermons. “Lettuce” sermons are sermons that end something like this:

  • Since God loved us so much, “let us” love one another. Or:
  • Since Jesus lived His life serving us, “let us” follow His example and serve one another. Or, in keeping with our stewardship emphasis:
  • Since God has given so much to us, “let us” give generously to God in return.

Stewardship isn’t us giving to God. No. Stewardship is us receiving and using what God has given to us. Stewardship isn’t a “lettuce” topic. When we acknowledge all the gifts God so generously rains down upon us, we receive those blessings with joy. So “let us” experience the “Joy of Generosity” (Just teasing! Just wanted to see if you were still listening!) Amen.

T To God Alone Be Glory T

 

Cross-Wise Peace

crosspeaceCross-Wise Peace

“The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  James 3:17-18
Our Fruit of the Spirit this month is “peace.” So what is it when peace spelled vertically — P-E-A-C-E — meets up with peace spelled horizontally — P-E-A-C-E? I’m going to call that “Cross-Wise Peace” — because the two words put together like that make a cross. And the cross of Jesus is the basis of a two-fold peace: 1) a vertical peace—that would be peace between sinful human beings and God; and 2) a horizontal peace—which would be peace between people. Jesus is what makes both types of peace possible.

Click the link below to listen to Pastor Hessler’s Sermon, “Cross-wise Peace”.  You can also follow along with the manuscript below.

T In the Name of Jesus T

 

                                                          Cross-Wise Peace

 

                             [T]he wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving.

                                     Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:17-18

 

Introduction

What do you call it when north-south running streets meet up with east-west bound streets? That’s an intersection. When we lived in Berrien Springs, North Main Street, the road we lived on, actually intersected with South George Street, the road that the church was on. I‘m still at a loss as to how that could’ve happened.

What is it when the up-and-down lines in a gun’s sight meet up with the side-to-side lines? That would be the cross hairs. When you’re in someone’s cross hairs, you’d better watch out because you’ve got a great, big target painted on you.

And what is it when the vertical arm of a cross meets up with the horizontal bar? That’s the cross beams.

So imagine this: our Fruit of the Spirit this month is “peace.” So what is it when peace spelled vertically — P-E-A-C-E — meets up with peace spelled horizontally — P-E-A-C-E? I’m going to call that “Cross-Wise Peace” — because the two words put together like that make a cross. And the cross of Jesus is the basis of a two-fold peace: 1) a vertical peace—that would be peace between sinful human beings and God; and 2) a horizontal peace—which would be peace between people. Jesus is what makes both types of peace possible.

 

I

Now last week I examined the vertical peace: the peace Jesus gives that is between our heavenly Father—a just and righteous God who demands absolute perfection and us—sinful human beings who deserve nothing but God’s “wrath and eternal punishment.”

I used the example of people who get near the end of their lives and start paying more and more attention to their life’s gas tank, so to speak. They realize that they haven’t been the people God called them to be:

  • In their younger years, they hadn’t honored their fathers and their mothers the way God wanted them to.
  • As husbands, they hadn’t loved their wives as Christ loved the church; and as wives they hadn’t submitted to their husbands the way the church does to Christ.
  • As parents, they hadn’t been faithful in bringing their children up in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
  • As adults they focused more and more of their attention on their careers or their families than they did on worshiping Jesus and acknowledging him in their lives.

When they realize that their life is drawing to a close, they start paying more and more atten-tion to their gas gauge, so to speak. They wonder how much time is left for them to make up for all the bad things they’ve done in their lives. They keep peeking at their gas gauge over and over again worrying whether or not they’ll have enough gas to enable them to cancel out all the bad things they’ve done in their life. Their scared to death of dying, wondering, “What side of Jesus am I going to end up on in the final judgment—his right side or his left? Will I find my-self among the cursed goats or the blessed sheep? Will I spend eternity in heaven or in hell?”

But in Romans 5:1, the apostle Paul reminds us of the vertical peace that sinful human beings have with a holy, righteous God:

[S]ince we have been justified through FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As sinful human beings, we don’t have to worry about making up for all our sins and short-comings; Jesus did that for us when he lived the perfect life of obedience in our place. We don’t have to worry about paying the awful penalty God exacts on account of our many sins, because Jesus paid the penalty for us when he offered his perfect life up on the cross in our place. We don’t have to worry about defeating the devil and all his evil forces, Jesus already did that when he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, victorious over sin, Satan and death. And Jesus now lives to share his victory with all who put their FAITH and trust in him. The cross of Jesus is the means that establishes a vertical peace between us sinful human beings and the just and righteous heavenly Father.

Therefore, since we have been justified through FAITH, we have peace (that vertical peace) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

II

And not just a vertical peace, but the cross of Jesus also establishes a horizontal peace down here on earth—peace between sinful human beings.

Sometimes that horizontal peace is a peace between nations. Ever since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, there’s been turmoil between nations. There hasn’t been a time when the world in which we live in has been at peace.

  • The earth has seen two devastating wars—World War I and World War II—and today is fighting another kind of war, a world-wide war against terrorism.
  • Our own country has fought through a Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, a bitter Civil War that pitted brother against brother and nearly divided our nation, the Korean Con-flict, the Viet Nam War, Desert Storm, the War with Iraq, not to mention a host of other skirmishes along the way and the current fight against terrorism.
  • Day after day we hear of persecution of Christians and planned pogroms against ethnic minorities and religious sects.
  • The Middle East is a powder keg waiting to be ignited, and Israel fears for its very exis-tence should its enemies gain access to nuclear weapons.

What can be done? Oswald C. J. Hoffmann, former speaker of the Lutheran Hour, once said that there will never be peace in the Middle East until they acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” I’d be so bold as to expand that by saying there will never be peace in the world until people acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s because only the cross of Jesus can bring that horizontal peace between nations. It’s like Paul says in Galatians 3:26-27:

You are all sons of God through FAITH in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes that horizontal peace is between members of a family. One day I got a phone call from a couple who had what I’d say was a somewhat marginal connection with the church. The husband had been confirmed in the congregation, but the wife had little or no church back-ground. So I sat down with the couple and listened as they shared with me the struggles they were going through in their marriage. The wife admitted that she had had an on-going affair. Amid her sobs and her tears she confessed how sorry she was to have hurt her husband and their kids so much. The husband, on the other hand, was struggling to come to grips – not just with his wife’s unfaithfulness, but also with reestablishing that trust level between them once again. And both of them admitted freely that they had been unfaithful to the Lord, and to Jesus who had blessed their marriage in the first place and who had promised to be with them until “death us do part.” We talked and we prayed, and the couple recommitted themselves to each other and to the Lord. Both of them pledged to work hard on rebuilding their damaged marriage and on reestablishing their relationship with Jesus Christ.

After a few months went by, a neighboring pastor contacted me and inquired about the couple who had started attending his congregation and had both enrolled in his Adult Information Class. Without going into detail, I shared how I had sat down with them and counseled them, to which he said something like, “Well, I don’t know what you said to them, but you sure lit a fire under them!” People, it wasn’t me; it was Jesus. The cross of Jesus was the means that brought peace to that struggling couple and their family. So Paul writes in Ephesians 5:21:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Peace between nations, peace within families; the cross of Christ can even bring peace among church members—yes, even among FAITH’s members. So allow me to get personal here and speak to you as pastor to people. There are a lot of things that I love about being a pastor.

  • I love leading corporate worship services, administering Baptism and Holy Communion, preaching God’s Word and applying it to your lives. Part of my daily prayer for God’s people here at FAITH is that the Holy Spirit would enable me to proclaim God’s Word in its truth and purity, and that the Spirit would open your ears to hear that Word, would prepare your hearts to receive that Word, and then would empower you in your day-to-day lives to bear the fruit of that Word.
  • I love teaching a Confirmation Class or an Adult Bible Class. It’s an absolute joy for me to see the look on a confirmand’s face when a Biblical concept clicks in their mind, or to see that look in someone’s eyes when a particular truth of God’s Word hits home.
  • I love being involved in people’s lives, especially at some of what I call those critical times—being invited to family functions, celebrating the birth and baptism of a child, rejoicing at the joining of a man and a woman in holy marriage, even comforting families at the death of a loved one. I consider it a privilege that you permit me and Janis to be a part of your lives, and I cannot tell you how much that means to me.
  • I love being the face of FAITH Lutheran Church in our community and among our local Lutheran churches. Do you know that I am the longest tenured pastor in both the Saginaw and Frankenmuth Circuits here in our area of Michigan—almost 27 years now, and counting. I love representing FAITH church and bragging about you guys.

I love being a pastor: my grandfather was a pastor, my dad was a pastor, my son-in-law is a pastor, but there’s absolutely no pressure on any of my grandsons to be a pastor!

But to be completely honest with you, I must admit that there are some things about being a pastor that I do not like.

  • I don’t particularly like the meetings, especially when we get down to the end of the business at hand and the question is asked, “Does anyone have anything else?” I don’t appreciate the potshots that people take when given an opportunity.
  • I do not like it when someone questions my pastoral judgment, especially when it’s in front of other members or when together with other people. I would hope that after 27 years you would value my opinion instead of questioning my motives or thinking that I don’t understand or that I simply don’t care.
  • And I do not like it when members bicker and fight and quarrel and argue with one another. I do not like it when members do not explain each other’s actions in the kindest possible way, or—to quote Martin Luther—when they do not “put the best construction on things.” And I absolutely detest it when I sit in meetings and listen to people criticize or berate or question someone else’s thoughts or opinions or actions.

There are times when I think James was writing these words from today’s Epistle Reading to the members of FAITH Lutheran Church, Bridgeport:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill (maybe not literally but mentally or emotionally) and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

Now granted, people often fight worst with the people they love the most. People in a fit of anger will say things to their spouses that they wouldn’t dream of saying to total strangers. Siblings can say the meanest things to each other. And members of FAITH church can quarrel with one another, fight with each other, and be downright mean to one another. Why? Because spouses and siblings and fellow church members love each other enough to know that their love for each other will not be taken away.

And where do that love and that trust come from? That’s right: Jesus. The cross of Jesus is the means that causes the love of family and church to endure. So James can write:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18).

Every time we come together as a family of FAITH, we can confess our sins before God and one another, and implore God for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ to have mercy on us, to forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in God’s will and walk in His ways to the glory of Christ’s holy name.

 

Conclusion

Eddie Fox was the general secretary of World Methodist Evangelism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist governments of Eastern Europe, Fox observed a sign placed in the churchyard of a little Methodist church in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The sign went up the very first day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It read: “The Lamb Wins!” Then Fox noted: “Not the bear, not the lion, not the tiger, but the Lamb—the Lamb wins!”[1]

Whether it’s the vertical war between a just God in heaven and a sinful people down here on earth, or the horizontal conflict between people in nations, families or churches, what is it that brings peace? It’s the cross, the cross where the Lamb of God sacrificed himself for the world and for you. It’s the Lamb that wins the war and brings peace. So, has the Lamb won in your life? Amen.

 

T To God Alone Be Glory T

[1] As quoted by Dr. Hal Brady, Dallas, 21 May 1995.

Divine Conundrums

So if your salvation is a gift from God and your good works play no part in it, then what do you make of James’ words in today’s Epistle Reading?

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

Listen to Pastor Hessler’s Sermon.

In the Name of Jesus

Divine Conundrums

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:17

Introduction

A Lutheran minister and a Catholic priest ended up sitting next to each other on an airplane flight. It was obvious that the Catholic man was a priest because he was wearing his collar; but not so with the Lutheran minister who was wearing a tie and sport coat. Eventually during the course of their conversation, the topic got around to work.

“And what do you do for a living?” the priest asked.

“Actually, I’m in the same business that you are,” came the reply. “ I’m a Lutheran minister.”

“Really!” came the priest’s somewhat surprising response. And then he added, “You know, I’ve always envied you Lutherans.”

“Why?”

“Because you Lutherans don’t have to do anything to be saved.”

You see, the Catholic church has always had an emphasis on good works. In fact, their insistence on good works was one of the factors that lead to the Protestant Reformation back in the 16th century. Martin Luther took a stand against good works, insisting that good works have nothing to do with one’s salvation. One doesn’t earn salvation by what one does; salvation is a gift one simply receives from God. It’s like the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through FAITH—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So if your salvation is a gift from God and your good works play no part in it, then what do you make of James’ words in today’s Epistle Reading?

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

It’s a conundrum; and Webster defines a conundrum as “any puzzling question or problem.” Typical examples of conundrums would be:

  • What came first: the chicken or the egg?
  • If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?
  • If all the nations in the world are in debt, where did all the money go?

Even the Bible contains some conundrums:

  • How can the first be last and the last first?
  • How can one save one’s life by losing it?

And of course, today’s divine conundrum:

  • If one is saved by grace through FAITH and not by works, then why is faith without works dead?

I guess the simplest answer to that conundrum would involve a two-fold explanation:

  • First: one’s salvation was earned by Jesus who lived the perfect life God demanded of fallen human beings, who took human sin on himself and paid the penalty sinners de-serve when he suffered and died on the cross, and who defeated sin, Satan and death when he rose in victory on Easter Sunday.
  • And second: when one comes to saving FAITH in Jesus Christ, the works one does do not earn their salvation but are a living proof of their salvation.

That’s it: the works a Christian does do not earn one’s salvation; the works are a proof, a visible example or demonstration, of that salvation. In other words, when one comes to saving FAITH in Jesus Christ, one can’t help but do good works. Good works are a natural by-product, a fruit, if you will, of that FAITH. Or, to use the words of James: “I will show you my FAITH by what I do” (James 2:18).

Martin Luther catalogued the good works a Christian does into three basic categories:

Domestic good works – Everyone is born into a family, and there are some basic responsibilities members of the family have toward each other:

  • Husbands and wives are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21); and they are to do so by looking to each other’s needs and by satisfying and fulfilling each other’s physical and emotional needs and desires.
  • Parents are to bring their children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). My daily prayer for the parents of FAITH congregation is that they see to their children’s 1) physical needs—providing them with food to eat, clothes to wear, and a loving and safe environment in which to grow and develop; their 2) emotional needs—teaching them that they are not the center of the universe but members of a family, a church, a school, a community, even members of a global world; their kid’s 3) mental needs—encouraging them to develop their talents and abilities to prepare them to use those gifts in a life of service to others; and finally their 4) spiritual needs—teaching them who Jesus is and what he has done for them.
  • Children fulfill their domestic responsibilities by following the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother” (Eph. 6:2). I pray that the children of FAITH imitate the example of the 12-year-old Jesus who “went down to Nazareth with [his parents] and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).

So Christians give evidence of their FAITH by recognizing their place in their family and by faithfully carrying out their various domestic duties.

In addition to domestic good works, there are civic good works – In addition to being members of a family unit, everyone is also a citizen of an earthly country. Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that the civic “authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).

God established government in order to keep peace and order in a sinful world. So we, as members of the United States of America, are to recognize our civic leaders as representatives of God, as his authorities placed over us. That means we fulfill our civic responsibilities by obeying the laws of the land, by paying the taxes that we owe, by praying for and supporting our elected officials at every level—township, state and nation, and, in short, by being model citizens. Now to be sure, if the government tries to force us to do something contrary to God’s will, then we have to follow the example of the apostles and  “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), but even then we must do so in peaceful, diplomatic ways rather than using undue force and violence.

Domestic good works, civic good works, finally Luther identifies vocational good works – Vocational good works is a fitting topic for this Labor Day weekend. Labor Day should be more than the last fling of summer—a time for cookouts, barbecues, picnics, and one last trip up north before the start of school. Labor Day is a civic holiday dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers and the contributions those workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. It’s been celebrated every year since 1894, when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Martin Luther emphasized one’s domestic good works by stressing the “priesthood of all believers.” On the one hand, Luther insists that grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ sets people free from everything that holds them in bondage — sin, death and the devil; but on the other hand, he also asserts that through Jesus Christ, every Christian is also set free for some-thing very specific: the priesthood of all believers. Christians do not perform good works to satisfy the demands of a holy God; rather, as a response to the gift of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ, Christians offer good works in gratitude to God by serving their neigh-bors. And that has some practical implications today: each and every one of us uses the talents and abilities God has given us to praise him as we serve our neighbor:

  • I happen to use my gifts and abilities to praise God as I serve you as your pastor. And from God’s perspective, I’m not any better than any of you just because I’m a pastor; that’s just how I use my gifts.
  • You, in turn, use your gifts and abilities to praise God as you serve one another. Whether you’re a school teacher or a student, a stay-at-home parent or a member of the labor force, a doctor or a nurse, an employer or an employee, a retiree or working your very first job—you all praise God by using your unique gifts in service to one another.

And it’s not like we have to make a concerted effort to do so. Our good works, being done through our work and our specific place in life – whether it be domestic good works as members of our respective families, civic good works as citizens of our community, or vocational good works as laborers in the work force – our good works are the natural result of our FAITH in Jesus Christ. It’s like the fruit of an apple tree: just as an apple tree bears apples because it is an apple tree, so Christians do good works because they are Christians. So even though we’re saved by God’s grace through FAITH in Christ, we can’t help but do good works: it’s natural.

So what do you suppose Jesus’ vocation was? Actually, Jesus himself fulfilled all three of the vocations Luther emphasized:

Jesus fulfilled his domestic good works by being a member of his earthly family. He was an obedient son to Mary and his earthly father Joseph. As the oldest son in the family Jesus also took means to provide for his mother after he was gone. While hanging on the cross, Jesus committed Mary to the care of the beloved disciple, and “from that time on,” we are told, “this disciple took [Mary] into his home.

Jesus fulfilled his civic good works by being a model citizen. When questioned about paying the two-drachma temple tax, Jesus provided Peter with a four-drachma coin and said, “Take it and give it to [the authorities] for my tax and yours” (Matt. 17:24). When challenged about withholding taxes, Jesus advised, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Even on trial, when examined by the High Priest and then Pontius Pilate, Jesus was respectful and answered their questions.

And Jesus fulfilled his vocational good works by submitting to his heavenly Father’s will and offering his life for the salvation of the human race. The writer to the Hebrews states:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said. . .

“Here I am. . .I have come to do you will, O God.”

And what was God’s will? It was for Jesus to live the perfect life that we are unable to live, to offer that perfect life on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to rise in victory over sin, Satan and death on Easter Sunday, and to offer life and salvation to all who put their FAITH and trust in him. Perhaps Jesus summarized it best in his evening talk with Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17).

Conclusion

Divine conundrums. How can the last be first and the first last? How can one save one’s life by losing it? And if we’re saved by God’s grace through FAITH in Christ, and not by works, then how can FAITH by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, be dead? But perhaps the greatest divine conundrum of all is how can we have eternal life through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ? We may not be able to understand that conundrum, but thanks be to God that God gives us new life through the death and resurrection of his Son. And to quote Martin Luther: “This is most certainly true!” Amen.

To God Alone Be Glory