Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sermon for 7/15/12

Sermon “Chosen, Holy, Blameless”

Holy Lord, grant that we may see our identity in you as we join with the innumerable hosts of saints who have come before us, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I wonder if the name Hrant Dink is known to us? I first heard of him and his life back in 2007. I was introduced to his work by one of my students, at that time, a Latin student who was living in Istanbul. I won’t mention that student’s name or his family’s name. I’ve lost track of the family and don’t wish to endanger them in any way, as they may be living in a sensitive area of the world and my sermons are posted on the Internet. Dink was a Turkish citizen who was a Christian. This is relatively rare, but there are some very bold Christians even in Turkey. Many of them are members of the persecuted Armenian Church, either the Armenian Apostolic Church or the Armenian Evangelical Church. Both groups are persecuted, partially because of their Christian theology in a secular Islamic state, and partially because many of them are bold in their stance that the Turks had persecuted Armenians in the past, something officially denied by the Turkish mainstream As a Christian journalist, Dink spoke out about human rights offenses and societal injustice. He attempted to live out his Christian identity by affirming that people of all backgrounds can dwell together in peace, rejecting historic practices of ethnic cleansing.

On January 19, 2007, during one of my classes, held in the afternoon in my time zone, in the evening in Turkey, one of my students asked that we pray for safety for his family and for other Christians in Istanbul. After lunch, Dink, who was associated with this family in some manner, had returned to his office, confronted by a young man who said he wished to discuss something, and then was shot three times in the back of the head by the man, who fled, shouting boastful statements. He had killed his infidel. Dink was dead. Of course, we prayed for our many families throughout the Middle East and then went on to a gripping lesson about Latin verbs.

Was there reason for this young man to be shaken? Yes, there was. He had been confronted again by the reality of people dying for their Christian faith. Two years previously his family had fled from another country in turmoil. For their safety, they had to leave a place where they had gone to bring the Gospel of Christ, the message of hope and safety for all who believe. And while the machetes, daggers, car bombs, and revolvers of this world can’t kill the Gospel, they can kill Christ’s servants. They can end the open proclamation of the Gospel, at least in particular locations, very quickly.

Do we look at these people, missionaries and martyrs, as special people? They are indeed special. But even as we see they are special, we must realize that in God’s providence those special people, those heroes in this world, aren’t that different. Some of you have participated in military service in your lives. Some of you were recognized as heroes in your military service. Yet you didn’t go out there planning to be a hero. You went to do your duty. You didn’t know what challenges would face you on that particular day. All you did was what was in front of you to do. You see, when we end up being heroes, often we’re the last ones to know about it. We were just living our life, letting our Christian walk play out in God’s providence. We didn’t know we were going to be heroes. We just thought we were going here and there, doing this and that, as was needed.

Amos is very much that way. See how God identifies him as the prophet who will be instrumental in the fall of Jeroboam, the evil king of Israel. Yet Amos has no particular background. He isn’t from one of the families of prophets. He says he is nobody special. He, in fact, is very much like all of us. I know we’d like to think we are superheroes. But those special powers? We don’t really have them, do we. Just because we eat our Wheaties doesn’t mean that we are going to be Olympic athletes. We might just end up as people who had a good breakfast, like the million or so other people who eat the same breakfast that day. Amos is nobody special. Neither are we. But our Lord, now that’s different. God in Christ has blessed us. Let’s look at Ephesians again and see his blessings. This is where you might want to start making some notes, following along in your Bible. Because we’re going to see something about the identity God has given us in Christ his Son.

In Ephesians 1 verse 3 we see a magnificent claim. God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing.” What are these blessings? In verse 4 he chose us, not because of anything we had done. He chose us before he created anything. It is not about what we have done. It wasn’t even for reason of anything we would do. Not at all. He chose us to be holy before him. And that holiness before the Lord is nothing we can do. It’s something only God can create in us. It’s something he does by the washing of regeneration. It’s something he does as he cleanses us and forgives us, giving us life and salvation. Look at that! Imagine that! Look at verse 4 and remind yourself, “God chose me in Christ.” Do you ever wonder whether the Lord loves you? He chose you, and he never goes back on his choice. He chose you even before you were born. That’s part of your identity as a Christian, chosen in Christ. This is great comfort.

What else has God done? We see in Ephesians 1 verse 5 that he predestined us. Now this is a topic that creates conflict. It’s a hot-button issue. Some churches like to deny God’s predestination. We can’t do that. It’s there in the Bible. Some churches like to explain it so that God doesn’t really take charge of our destinies. But the Bible says he does. We’ve got to come to grips with this. The Bible says it. We say we believe the Bible. I guess we have to deal with it. But we sometimes wonder what God destined us for. This is an area that sets Lutherans apart from Calvinists, particularly like Presbyterians. There are a large number of Calvinists who will teach that when God predestined us, he chose some to rescue from sin and chose others to condemn and destroy. This gives God some sort of a secret, evil agenda. But we don’t find it here in Ephesians! What is the predestination here in verse 5? It’s a predestination to adoption. We are chosen to be the sons of God through Jesus. Do you see predestination going another direction? Not here. We can talk about Romans chapters 9-11 in the adult Bible class if we want, where it works for a discussion. But here and now let me point out that God’s predestination, his deciding what would happen to us, is to be adopted by God. When we are adopted by him we take on his nature, his character. We are holy. There’s part of our identity. We are chosen, we are to be adopted by God as his holy people, and then in verse seven he has given us redemption, forgiveness of sins. This is all from God’s grace. We are forgiven. No blame can be attached to us. He has forgiven everything. This is all of God’s good pleasure. It’s all from his good will. See that in verse 9.

It’s odd, isn’t it? We don’t look much like heroes. We don’t look much like people who were chosen beforehand in Christ. We don’t look much like heirs of heaven. We don’t look much like people who should be blameless. We don’t always look too victorious. But who are we to complain? Our Lord has chosen us, and he has chosen us so that he can change us. He is changing us into his image. He is working out salvation, not only for those of us in this room, but for all who believe. He is going to change the world, one person at a time, until he has gathered his people from all over the world. We don’t set out to be heroes. We just tell the truth. We just do what our Lord has put in front of us. We just live out our Christian life in our world.

Is that world hostile? Sometimes it is. Sometimes, thousands of times every year, the testimony of Christ brings someone face to face with death. And sometimes the gun goes off. Sometimes the Christian’s next public appearance is at his own funeral. But in Christ we can have confidence. We can know that we are chosen, we are holy in him, we are blameless, not because of our own good works, but because he has chosen us and proclaimed us holy and blameless. What is going to harm us as we, the heirs of Jesus in this world live and work for him? What is going to separate us from the love of God? There’s nothing at all to fear. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. He has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. Jesus has re-created us in his image, for his glory.

Do you believe that God chose you in Christ? Do you believe that Jesus has given you his own inheritance, an inheritance of holiness? Do you believe that you are blameless because Jesus himself forgives you all your sin? Are you ready to walk in this world, living out Christ’s calling, showing his mercy, asking that he would give his love to the people around you? Maybe you are wondering what else you do, how you are supposed to earn God’s favor. There’s no earning of it. There’s only receiving his favor. All we do is believe.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Remind us of our identity in you, chosen, holy, blameless, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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