Sermons, Uncategorized

Teaching His Children to Get Along

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“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This is every kid’s favorite time of the year, isn’t it? Summer! When you can sleep late, hang out with your friends, do as you please. Freedom from all the rules of school and the schedules everybody else makes for you. I hope you guys have been enjoying it! And we won’t talk about the number of days left until…

Of course, it’s a good time of the year to be an adult, too—and largely because it’s such a great time for children. I love watching kids at play, at the pool, tee ball, family vacations, Vacation Bible School, just interacting with each other at home when they’re not tied own with homework. It is interesting to watch children interact, isn’t it? Sometimes they cooperate with one another so well, sometimes not so well; they’re sinful just like everybody else. What makes children get along with one another? We’d like to find the formula, wouldn’t we?

At VBS this week, I had the opportunity to observe this dynamic firsthand. We were playing a game in which teamwork and cooperation are very important. It was interesting to see how some of the teams worked well together and others did not. Some got so frustrated with their teammates that there were some hurtful words and hurt feelings, so we had to deal with that, too.

After the games, we talked about what had happened. I asked the kids what they thought had made it possible for them to win and what had happened when they didn’t win. They agreed that it all came down to teamwork. When they worked together, they succeeded; when they did not, they got frustrated with each other and things just got worse. Cooperation is the key to any group efforts.

As with most things, I suppose, when it comes to raising children to cooperate in wholesome ways, there are the two extreme views. There’s the permissive approach, and there’s the strict, authoritarian approach. Wise parents, though, are looking for something in between or a combination of both.

Our heavenly Father is the wisest parent, and in our text this evening, our loving Father teaches His children how to get along, avoiding either extreme, but drawing from the strengths of both approaches—permissive and authoritarian.

Now before this becomes a “how to” sermon, let me make something clear:  We human parents can draw some very good advice from this Word of God and apply it to our own parenting, but God isn’t really speaking to us as parents here. He’s speaking to all of us as children. That’s foundational for everything God says to us in our text today. Our Father teaches us as His children. St. Paul assures us, “You were sealed for the day of redemption… as beloved children.”

We are children of God! Children of the heavenly Father. All of us, at every age. In fact, we are sealed as His beloved children. God did that in Holy Baptism. Baptism is the visible act by which God put His seal on us. It marks each one of us—both on the forehead and on the heart—as His child. By that act, God also takes responsibility for raising us, for teaching us those things a parent teaches a child. Like how to get along with one another, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, the rest of God’s children.

Just like kids, we sometimes get along well, sometimes not so well. Except that the older we get, the more our squabbles become these: Destroying someone’s reputation through gossip, rather than shouting over who gets to bat first. Fighting for a job the other person wants, rather than for a seat next to the window. Making sure we get our way in the voter’s assembly no matter what it takes, rather than insisting we should be the captain because it’s our ball. Soaking each other with verbal abuse, rather than mere water that actually feels pretty good on a hot day.

That kind of behavior is no more acceptable among adult Christians than it is among kids at Vacation Bible School. As Paul writes: “That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20). God intends in our text to lead us to a better kind of interaction. Every parent’s dream—isn’t it?—is children who are kind and forgiving of one another rather than bitter and angry. How can parents make that happen? How does God make it happen in us?

Our Father has His dos and don’ts for getting along. Remember that extreme permissive approach? The parent lets the child learn on his own how to get along. The idea is that independence lets the child develop his or her creativity to the fullest. Unfortunately, children in such totally permissive homes often develop an egocentric, “me first” view that leads to greed, covetousness, and bullying. What’s more, children in such environments often develop resentment for parents who don’t seem to care enough to provide guidance.

God certainly does not take this kind of laissez-faire, “anything goes” attitude with His children. He cares. In fact, when His children sin, He grieves (4:30a). The Holy Spirit is described as like a parent. He is the one who teaches us God’s will. And He grieves when we ignore it. The Holy Spirit is the one who shows us God’s love. And He grieves when our lives don’t reflect that love.

Imagine the grief a parent feels when a son or daughter hurts someone else’s child, maybe commits violent crime. Imagine the grief a parent feels when a child rejects everything a parent has done for him, storming out of the house at age 18, vowing never to come back. Imagine the grief a parent feels when she sees a child go the wrong way in life, perhaps destroying herself with drugs or alcohol or unchristian relationships. The Holy Spirit is grieved when God’s children hurt one another. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we reject everything God has done in creating, redeeming, and caring for us. The Holy Spirit is grieved whenever we hurt ourselves and others by falling into sin.

God cares about us too much to sit back and see whether we’ll learn how to get along. He doesn’t take a “boys will be boys” or “children will be children” attitude when Christians hurt one another. No, He commands: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32a).

God has His dos and don’ts for getting along. It is completely inconsistent with Christian faith for believers to fight, carry grudges, talk evil about other believers. God does not permit it! God commands His children to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. God commands His children to care about the hurt others are feeling at the death of a loved one. God commands His children to support others who are feeling weak when life seems to be going wrong. God commands His children to bear with others’ sins and failures.

God is no permissive parent. We could never resent Him as a Father who doesn’t care. He longs, He aches, for us to be kind and compassionate to one another. By His commands, He actively teaches us to get along.

Still, you can’t compare Him to a parent of the other extreme approach, a strict authoritarian. Our Father uses a lot of love in getting us to get along. The Gospel is the only motivator that generates true change of heart. Paul writes: “God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32b-5:2).

You know the authoritarian model. Lots of rules. “Do it because I said so.” If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to get it.” This approach gets outward compliance but inner resistance, often resulting in even more resentment than the permissive model. So as soon as the threat is gone, even the outward compliance stops.

God doesn’t want grudging outward action. He wants hearts. So He brings about loving outward action by working inwardly, working in our hearts. He showers us with huge doses of love (5:1). He calls us His children, His dearly beloved. And He proved that that’s exactly what we are to Him when Christ sacrificed Himself for us (5:2). That’s the greatest demonstration of love, isn’t it?—giving up one’s own life. Jesus died on the cross because God loves us.

God wanted us to be His, to be His children, children who would serve Him and one another willingly. That could only be possible if He removed the sin that separated us from Him and from one another. That’s what Jesus did by dying and rising again.

Paul says Jesus gave Himself up as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That recalls the Old Testament sacrifices—the smoke of the burnt offerings being sent up to God as a pleasing aroma. Let your nostrils imagine the pleasure of breathing fine incense. Nothing the Old Testament people or we ourselves could present could please God like that, but Jesus pleased God for us. He was God demonstrating His love for us.

Christ’s pleasing God for us is why we could be “sealed for the day of redemption.” Once Christ had paid for the sins of the world, the Holy Spirit could come to us in Baptism and give us the forgiveness Jesus earned. The seal means we can certain of eternal life when our last day comes. Baptism, eternal life—that’s God demonstrating His love for us.

That love then teaches us to love; we imitate God’s love (5:1). The Greek word for “imitator” gives us our word “mimic.” That’s the way children learn, isn’t it? Children mimic their parents. They walk the way Dad walks. Talk the way Mom talks. Children who live in a loving home see how it’s done. Dad saying sweet things to Mom, spouses helping each other around the house—it rubs off.

God uses that technique on us, teaching us by example how to get along. He wants us to love, so He first loved us richly. He wants us to forgive, so He shows us how by first forgiving us.

Even more important, God’s love and forgiveness motivates us to love and forgive and get along. A child who lives in a house of ill will not only won’t know how to love, but he also won’t want to. The anger he’s received will be anger that has to come out. But a child who grows up in a loving family wants to be nice to other kids, wants to love other people, know how to love other people.

We Christians are all growing up in the most loving family. In spite of all our sins, we’re loved. In spite of our unworthiness, we’re blessed every day. In spite of our “bitterness and wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” “slander,” and “malice,” all who believe have eternal life. That kind of love moves us to get along nicely, even if we’ve long outgrown summers off and the backseat of the family car.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved [you] and gave Himself up for [you], a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This sermon is based upon a sermon outline by Rev. Carl C. Fichenscher II, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 22, Part 3, pg 43-45.

 

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

Cleansed by the Thrice Holy God and Sent to Serve

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“Isaiah under Divine Inspiration” by Marc Chagall

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:1-6).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It sounds like a scene that could only come from a feverish dream or the computer-generated imagery (CGI) of the latest Marvel superhero motion picture. The King sits on a throne, high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple. Above Him are strange, supernatural creatures, each having six wings, two covering his face, two his feet, and with two flying. As they cry out, the foundations shake down to the bedrock, and the whole house is filled with smoke.

But it’s not a feverish dream, or CGI special effects, it is an historical event. It is the year 740 BC, the year that King Uzziah died. The prophet Isaiah has a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne in the inner sanctum of the temple. But it’s hard to tell if the prophet is seeing the throne room of heaven or the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem.

But there’s a good reason for this confusion: The Holy of Holies is the Lord’s home on earth. When the temple was first completed and dedicated, the Lord appeared in a cloud of glory and descended into the Holy of Holies to dwell with His people. In a very real way, in Isaiah’s time, the Holy of Holies is where heaven and earth come together, for the one true God is enthroned in both places.

The six-winged creatures flying above the throne are seraphim, attendants to the Lord Most High. Little is known about them. This is the only place where these spiritual beings are mentioned by name in Scripture. They seem to be nobles among the angels of God and superior in rank. But what is more important than speculation about their special position among the angels, is the action of these heavenly beings. With their wings, they hide their faces and cover their feet. They are not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord, and their actions reveal their great reverence for Him and their great humility in His presence.

Imagine that! These powerful and holy creatures consider themselves unworthy to stand with uncovered feet and faces in the presence of God—so great is His holiness! Isaiah sees them flying, hovering about the throne and calling out to one another in praise of the Lord. The chief occupation of these heavenly beings is praise. Here, they offer an antiphonal hymn as they call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” The truest worship of God is pure and simple praise and confession. The sound of this angelic hymn shakes the doorposts and thresholds of the heavenly temple.

The One seated on the throne is the Thrice Holy: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He alone is worthy to be praised. He is set apart, perfect in every respect, and exalted above all things—including the angels of heaven. But God’s holiness also means that He is separate and opposite from all sin. He hates sin and must destroy sin like an antiseptic must attack bacteria. He would cease to be holy if He did not oppose sin and all its consequences.

Realizing he stands in the presence of the Thrice Holy, Isaiah is terror stricken. “Woe is me!” he cries out, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” As he looks upon the Lord in His holiness and glory, Isaiah’s own sin become clearer. The brighter the light, the more apparent are blemishes, stains, and scars; the nearer to God’s glory, the more evident is man’s wretchedness and sinfulness. The contrast is unmistakable, and Isaiah knows there is nothing he can do to make it any different. He is a dead man, a damned man.

But the Thrice Holy Lord can do something. He sends a seraph, who takes a burning coal from the altar. The seraph touches the coal to Isaiah’s lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” The Lord makes Isaiah holy through the hand and voice of His ministering spirit. Now, Isaiah can be in the presence of God and live. Now, Isaiah can speak God’s holy Word: for the Lord has opened his lips, and Isaiah’s mouth will show forth His praise. All because the holiness of God exposed the sinfulness of Isaiah, leading him to repent, and to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

One of the problems that the Church encounters today is simply this: people have far too high opinion of themselves. As long as this is true, they will see little need for Jesus and His perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Some of this is natural—at least according to the sinful nature. Blinded by sin, people cannot know how terribly unholy and apart from God they are. Furthermore, tempted by the devil to believe that they can be like God, people will find a way to justify the sins they commit.

You see it in society. Our culture has made a god out of self-esteem: it teaches that the key to success is feeling good about yourself. This is a problem in education, where a prevalent philosophy seems to be that it is better to pass a child who doesn’t know math, because we don’t want him to feel bad about himself.

It is a huge problem in matters of morality, where many seem to buy into the idea that, “I’m basically a good person; so whatever I do must be basically good, too. If you object to something I do, it’s not that I’m wrong or immoral. The problem is that you’re intolerant.”

This presents a great danger in therapy, too: for rather than help a troubled person overcome a sinful behavior, a therapist might instead help the person feel good about the sin.

But enough of the obvious examples in the world. If all we do is point out the troubles of other people, guess what will happen—we’ll end up feeling like we’re better than them and good about ourselves!

The harsh reality is that you have too high opinion of yourself. So do I. It’s that old sinful nature at work, tempting us to believe that we’re not that bad, that we’re actually decent people. Now, by the grace of God, you and I are willing to confess with Scripture that we’re poor miserable sinners; but are we willing to confess how truly sinful we are? Do we realize how sinful we are? We’re not just less than we should be; left to ourselves, we’re utterly sinful and unholy, completely undeserving of God’s grace and mercy. Unfit to come into God’s holy presence for even a moment.

Please don’t misunderstand: the point of this sermon is not that you should run away from God. Rather, it is that you and I are in constant need of repentance for failing to acknowledge how sinful we are, how undeserving of grace and mercy we are. See, if we think we’re reasonably good people, we’ll also believe that we’re only partially sinful. If we think we’re somewhat righteous on our own, we won’t look to the Lord to credit us with all His righteousness.

The truth from God’s Law, sounds brutal to protesting sinful ears. We don’t deserve God’s presence and mercy. We’re far too sinful, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it. But the Thrice Holy Lord can do something about it, and He has.

The Father sent His Holy One, Jesus, to live a perfect, sinless, and holy life for you. God’s sinless Son, became the sacrifice to pay the price for your sins and gain your salvation. Now when God sees you, He sees you clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You are now holy in His sight (Colossians 1:22).

Jesus became the sinner who was forsaken on the cross and cast from the Father’s presence so that you might dwell with Him forever. Before the Thrice Holy made the world, He chose you in Christ Jesus to be His child (Ephesians 1:4). Just as Isaiah was cleansed when the coal from the altar touched his lips, so the Father has cleansed you in the waters of your Baptism, uniting you to Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-14). In Christ, He made you new creations who love Him, trust in Him, and have His power to live holy lives. You are now His saints, His “holy ones.”

As you strive to live as the saints God created you to be, you are not alone. The Thrice Holy—God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is with you always. The Holy Spirit given to you in Baptism works to conform you to the image of Christ. Through daily contrition and repentance, you put to death the old Adam that your new man would arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever. At the altar, the place where heaven and earth meet, Christ feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

The Lord no longer holds your sins against you. Instead, He forgives you. He makes you righteous. He welcomes you into His presence, now and forevermore. Then, He sends you out into the world to share this Good News with your family, friends, and neighbors.

There is no greater hope or comfort than this—but only for repentant sinners. Those who think too highly of themselves will find little comfort in the news of forgiveness now; and they will find no comfort in themselves on Judgment Day. But this is not for you: by the grace of God, you confess your sinfulness. You know it doesn’t damage you to tell the truth about your sin, but instead frees you from the slavery that would have you try to make yourself righteous. And as you grow in faith, you’re not surprised that you feel more sinful—for as you grow in faith, your recognition of sin will grow, too; but so will the joy and comfort of the forgiveness that the Lord gives you.

Dear friends, the Lord has better for you than you feeling good about yourself for a while. Confess your sins and your sinfulness beyond what you can comprehend; and rejoice to hear the words of the Thrice Holy Lord:

“Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.