Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sermon for 10/7/12

“Made Perfect through Suffering” Grace, mercy and peace to you all in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our readings today are full of struggles, full of troubles of various kinds. We have the man God created, naming and classifying all the rest of creation, finding out in his work that he is all alone. We see Jesus talking about the trouble we inherit when we are not faithful to that husband or wife the Lord has blessed us with. We see children brought for blessing and others hindering them, trying to keep them from receiving God’s blessing. But the struggle I want to look at today is the one we see in Hebrews chapter 2. It’s a serious struggle. It’s a deadly contest. It’s a matter of life and death. What is our temptation? Drifting away. The penalty? We are told that we cannot escape if we ignore salvation. This is a very serious matter. Yet I’m concerned that sometimes we don’t realize the true nature of the struggle. We are products of our culture, just like the people who received the letter to the Hebrews were products of their culture. But we are in very different cultures. How we understand drifting away is, I would suggest, quite different from the way the original readers of this letter would understand it. The Jewish audience by and large realized that they were God’s special, chosen people. He had made a covenant with them. But the covenant was dependent, in some way, on their works. If they were obedient they were able to be full partakers of God’s covenant promises. If not, they were subject to his rejection He promised always to keep a remnant of the faithful, but his blessings were seen as depending on how well the people obeyed the law which Moses had laid down. The author of Hebrews points out to these Hebrew Christians that they have been saved by grace through faith in the promised work of Jesus Christ on their behalf. They are not saved by their obedience to the law. They are not saved by anything they do, but rather by the one in whom they believe. Of course, this is exactly the same way we are saved. God has not changed. But what do we modern Western Christians think about maintaining our salvation? The Hebrews, if they drifted from faith would start considering that they were delivered by their works of obedience to the law of Moses. They would be tempted to depend on their sacrifices or their keeping of the dietary laws or maybe their faithful routine of chanting prayers for assurance of their salvation. While we see this sometimes as modern Gentile Christians, with people depending on their years of service as deacons, Sunday school teachers, or their record of giving to their local church, we also see another way of depending on something, something other than the Gospel, which I would say is a more common problem and much more harmful to the Church as a whole. We are warned not to drift from the true faith. May God give us grace to be faithful to him. What is this danger which I think we face in our world, right where we are, right now? It’s the temptation to look to our own perception of our faithfulness for assurance of salvation. Let me describe a true situation to you. I’ll mask the identity of the person involved. I think I am probably the only person alive who would recognize the situation and be able to put it in its context. Here’s how it works. I was called upon to visit someone who was in an institution and not thriving. This person was suffering from a number of physical and emotional difficulties and was not eating. The staff and the family members could not get any nutrition into the person, who was rapidly wasting away and would die of starvation in another few days. As I visited with this individual I found that although there were numerous physical difficulties that root problem was one of unforgiveness. The person enumerated several sins, which were serious, no doubt. When I asked my question, you know my question, “Do you believe Jesus forgives you all your sin?” this dear saint of God said that other people’s sins could be forgiven. But that forgiveness would not extend to my friend. I asked why not. The answer? “I’m just not faithful enough. I don’t think I’m worthy of forgiveness.” I asked if there was some sort of sin that Jesus didn’t suffer for. The person thought for a while and said that Jesus suffered for all sorts of sins but not for that one. The disfavor of God the Father, His righteous wrath against sin was poured out on God the Son for all sin except for this individual’s sin. I asked if it was a faithful act to punish oneself for sin or if Jesus had really accomplished salvation. After a moment’s thought, the answer was that it was a faithful act to kill oneself for failure in one area of life. So Jesus’ forgiveness extends to everyone but you? Yes. I closed my communion kit. “Why did you do that?” “You just said that Jesus’ forgiveness is not great enough for you and that you need to earn your own forgiveness and try to die for your own sin.” “So you aren’t going to give me communion?” “That’s right. You have just told me that Jesus’ death is not sufficient for you, that you can do it better than he can.” I asked if I could continue to pray that this person would receive God’s grace in Christ. That was fine. We prayed together and then the person asked if I would give communion with a promise that today’s supper would be eaten instead of being thrown at the institution’s staff. “Are you going to try to trust that Jesus will forgive you all your sin and that you can’t earn your own salvation?” “Yes, I will.” We prayed, the saint received communion, and has been eating regular meals ever since. When we depend on our perception of our faithfulness to maintain us in our salvation we put ourselves in the driver’s seat. We say that Jesus is useful but not as useful as we are. We deny what Jesus did in dying for all our sin and shame. We reject our Savior who has freely given us forgiveness, life, and salvation. The author of Hebrews warns us about neglecting our salvation. He warns us that we can reject Jesus’ mercy by depending on ourselves in any way. Let it never be! May we rely on him and him alone, the author and finisher of our salvation. Jesus has done all you need, all I need, all anyone in this world needs, for life and salvation. He has promised to give us forgiveness. May we never trust in ourselves, but always trust in the saving grace of Jesus, the one who is able to bear all our sins, all our sorrows, all our suffering, all our grief. Do we have a tremendous load of guilt and shame? Let us cast it upon our Lord and Savior. Do we have physical and emotional suffering? Yes we do. Let us cast it upon our Lord and Savior. We cannot trust in our faith or our faithfulness. We can only trust in Jesus, who bore all our sin, even our own attempts at making salvation for ourselves on our own terms. Cast your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you. Receive this forgiveness, once again, knowing that he has taken all your sin. He promises you, day after day, as long as you need it, until you are perfected in his presence, abundant life and forgiveness. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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