Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sermon for 9/9/12

Sermon “Show the Faith

Lord, open our hearts to hear you and receive your word by faith. Change us from inside out so we are ready to show our world your mercy and your grace, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In today’s readings we saw very clearly that when God comes on the scene he changes everything. Old things pass away. New things spring into being. He takes away fear, blindness, suffering. He conquers affliction of every kind. This is the big message of our passage from Isaiah 35 (4-7). Many times we’re tempted to settle for a glorious message like that, leave it there, and go no farther. Do you doubt me? I’ve heard it in countless children’s sermons. It’s all over the place in the Sunday school curriculum I’ve surveyed and reviewed for nearly thirty years. It’s there in vacation Bible schools. And it’s that way in many sermons you hear in churches. When God comes on the scene he changes everything. He’ll take care of you. Just trust. That’s the end of the story, the end of the sermon, the end of the Sunday school lesson.

Now, everybody, because I think it wasn’t just the children who were listening to the children’s sermon, what was wrong with that? Does God come on the scene? Yes he does. Does he change things? Yes he does. Do we respond in trust? Yes we do. Who or what was missing from those statements? There was nothing false. But there was something missing. What was it? Right. Jesus was missing. And if Jesus isn’t there, it isn’t specifically a Christian sermon. It’s the same as with songs we sing. If we are not specific about the person and work of God in Christ in what we sing, our culture can fill in the blanks and have any old god of their own imagination doing whatever it is they want. Remember from the children’s sermon? Is Jesus mentioned? Is he doing the verbs? What kind of verbs do we find Jesus doing? Well the first little part of the sermon failed. It wasn’t specific enough.

Let’s try again. When God comes on the scene, he changes everything. And he does it through the person of Jesus, as we saw in Mark chapter 7. Jesus came and brought his mercy and grace to a disabled man. He saw the man’s plight. He treated him with dignity by taking him off into private and having a little time with him. He treated the specific problems the man was having, touching his ears and his tongue and healing both. Now, knowing this, we are free to say both, “Good for Jesus, he did what he wanted to do,” and “Good for that man who needed healing and received it.” Did we pass the sermon diagnostic? We did. Excellent. Is the job done yet? Not exactly. Though we have redeemed this and made it a Christian sermon it doesn’t seem to have much connection to you yet.

As I often do, I’m going to come up with two ways we can handle this situation. We’ll see how they work. One way, and I think it’s a good way, to apply this kind of passage to you is by offering to pray for the sick. In James we read that if anyone is sick he should call the elders of the church and they will anoint him with oil and pray for him. And some of you have been in situations where I have come and anointed you with oil and prayed for you. I used to attend a church congregation where they would do a variation on this on Sunday evenings. There would be an extended time of prayer and the elders would be stationed near the front of the nave. People in the congregation could come up and the elders would pray over them specifically. We went to another church for some years where there would be a few prayer meetings in evenings during the year and people would have opportunity to ask for prayer and others would gather around them to pray. Jesus is indeed the God who answers prayer and who comes to heal the sick. You can’t read the Bible and deny that. It’s certainly a good thing to gather together and pray for one another. No doubt about it. Yet we need to realize that even as Jesus healed this one man there were others in the world whom he did not heal. Even when we pray earnestly and fervently for those we love we find that sometimes the Lord doesn’t heal them, or he doesn’t heal them in the way we hoped. There is no denying that several people whom I have anointed with oil and prayed for have later had me officiating at their funerals. They were not healed from their illness in the way we may have prayed, though Jesus did give them ultimate healing.

What’s another way we can handle the situation? We can decide that we will dedicate to praying for one another that Jesus would bring his healing. And we should do that, trusting that he will continue to show his mercy. But another thing we do is to turn to our reading from James chapter 2 and find that we can care for the poor and needy in our midst. This includes people with little or no money and it includes people with other types of difficulties. Some people involve themselves in projects to support medical research, programs to help people with disabilities, programs like the ARC house next door to the parsonage – some of the folks who live and work there have been attending church services here and we want to welcome them with open arms. We care for those people who are in need. We treat them with dignity and respect. Why do we do that? It’s because Jesus cares for them. We love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus loves us as himself. And as we do that we remember that our neighbors need forgiveness above all, just as we do. You see, we who have received forgiveness, healing, and grace from Jesus who gives it freely should also give it freely. We who have been honored and respected by Jesus should honor and respect those he brings into our lives. We whom Jesus preferred above himself should also prefer others above ourselves. This is why as Christians we show our faith through our works. We don’t have any other way to do it. Jesus showed his love through his works. Now we go and show his love through our works. We go to heal the sick, clothe the poor, feed the hungry, visit those in need, and bring the Gospel with us always.

Now we’re getting pretty close to having our sermon in order. We’ve used the words of the Bible. We have spoken specifically about Jesus, telling what he does. We’ve received the command Jesus gives us to go and love our neighbor as ourselves. But there’s still one thing missing, and it is an important element. I’ve mentioned it but only in passing. It’s been kind of obscured, I’m afraid. And I want to be very bold and clear. Just like in our music we sing I don’t want to leave too much to our imagination or intuition. I want to connect the dots for you. If we are going to show the works of Jesus, we don’t want to leave with the idea that Jesus’ work is primarily in healing the sick of their illnesses, helping people overcome their physical limitations, or even feeding or clothing them. Those are good and right actions and we need to be about them. But what is the prime work of Jesus? It is to live a perfect life, to die a perfect death, and to apply his death for your sins and mine to you and to me so we can live a new life, being recreated into the image of God. This brings us full circle. We go back to Isaiah and we see that when our sin and shame are cast out by Jesus’ perfect righteousness which he applies to us we have no need to fear. We have his riches, his forgiveness, his perfect love. And then we are enabled to be his instruments, telling others of his grace. We are then able to bring healing to people. We are able to give to their needs, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit people who are sick and in prison, reminding them all the while that Jesus has suffered and died for them. We are ready to tell and show that it is through God’s mercy in Christ that we are motivated to care for them, to treat them with dignity and respect, to bring them his grace.

Do you believe that Jesus gave himself for you? We don’t just trust in any old thing. We trust in his giving himself on our behalf. We don’t simply make up our own morality and say that we are going to do what we have determined is good. We take on his values and do what he has said is good. We become the instruments of God in Christ as we trust in his name. Trust in the LORD, Jesus Christ, with all your heart. He comes onto the scene and changes everything. And he will change you, as he changes me. He gives us the true faith, faith in him, which we can then show to our world. If you are ready to show this faith, stand with me as we confess our common faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

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