Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sermon for 11/25/12

Sermon Merciful Fearful Snatching Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. A few years ago I was driving my family home from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Huntington, West Virginia. We had taken a little bit of a detour to drive through a town with a church in our association, just to see what the territory was like. It was later in the day than I had planned. We had made several unscheduled stops and found ourselves in a high traffic area in rush hour traffic. Normally this isn’t a very serious problem. I’m used to city driving, and not cities like Watseka, cities with four or five lanes going one direction, stopping and starting, lots of lane changes. No, I wasn’t on my cell phone. All of a sudden, after I had looked over my shoulder to make sure a lane change was safe, I saw brake lights. Let off the gas pedal and re-adjust, check the mirrors for other lanes. Then I saw that the cars directly ahead were not just slowing, they had made an emergency stop. I was going some fifty miles an hour faster than they were. Antilock brakes are a wonderful thing. Who’s behind me? Am I going to turn our van into a sandwich? We can’t stop on a dime and we wouldn’t want to. Everyone is buckled in. Still going too fast, not enough room. I sure hope that person in the lane to the right is slowing down enough. We came to a stop spread out across two lanes. White knuckles, Martha is furiously stamping down on her imaginary brake pedal, Hannah has dropped her book and is asking what is going on, nobody was hurt, we didn’t hit anyone, though we were within a few inches of the car in front of us before getting to the right of it. Have you been there? Though it only took about ten seconds from beginning to end it seemed like an eternity. What’s our reaction? There’s a reaction I didn’t do. It’s what I call the “mom” reaction. My mother always did it in a sudden stop. I’ve seen many other women do it. I have nothing against women. It’s a very noble reaction. What do moms do? Can anyone make the gesture? The “mom” reaction is to hold the steering wheel with the left hand and stick the right arm out in front of the passenger. This is a noble thing. Of course, it won’t stop anyone from pitching into the windshield. But that’s beside the point. There’s a reflex that most mothers have. They reach out to protect the ones they love. What do dads do? They actually fight that reaction, grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, and pull back on it, as if that will slow the car down faster. That’s noble too. It’s all an attempt to protect those we love. What does Jude tell us? In verse 21 we keep ourselves in the safe place. We keep our arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. We wait for Jesus’ mercy to rescue us. And we need rescue. We are barreling down the highway right toward those brake lights. And we don’t have any brakes, we don’t have steering, we don’t have seat belts, we don’t have air bags. Without Jesus’ loving protection we are in peril. We have no hope except that he has promised to guard us and rescue us. How does that rescue happen? How do we receive eternal life? It’s a gift of God’s grace. We read in Ephesians chapter two that we are saved by grace through faith. Salvation is not of us. It is a gift of God. Yet how is it that we are safe? We keep our arms and legs safely inside the vehicle at all times. And that vehicle is God’s love and mercy, protected by the most holy faith that has been delivered to us. Do you notice here that I don’t say that we are protected by our faith but by the faith? I’m going to run a risk here, and it’s the risk of being labeled a pointy-headed academic. You all know I have a good dose of that in me, though when I look at the work of real scholars and theologians I don’t think my head is pointy at all. But I want to be sure we understand what Jude is talking about here. Do I dare use two different Latin phrases? I think I will. Unfortunately, the phrases sound almost exactly alike. If you want to see them distinguished, look at the sermon on my blog. But I’ll try to translate them in a way that will be different enough. Theologians talk about two different kinds of faith. One they call fides quā credimus. That literally means “the faith by which we believe.” This is our faith, this is my faith. It is the faith that I place in the saving work of Jesus on my behalf. Much of the time when we refer to faith we are using it this way. And since most of us think three Latin words at a time is altogether too much we generally knock it down to two words, fides quā. The faith by which we believe. When I trust, when I believe, I believe in something. And so do we all. Who is the object of our faith? It better not be ourselves. Don’t trust your heart, it is deceitful. Don’t trust the Force. There’s a dark side to that. Don’t trust people too much. There’s too much sin and selfish desire in all of us. Trust in Jesus, the one who has given his life so you could live it in his place. There’s the fides quā, the faith by which we believe. But Jude here is talking about something else. We might mistake it just looking at verse 20. But in verse 21 we see that when we build ourselves up in our faith we keep ourselves in God’s love. We wait for his mercy in Jesus. This isn’t something about our faith. Rather, this is the other kind of faith the theologians talk about. It’s fides quae creditur. I’ll try to translate that, but I’ll give you the shorthand also, fides quae. Can you see how people who don’t actually understand the Latin would have trouble distinguishing between the two? They are just one letter different. But there are words like that in English also. One little letter makes the difference between “trough” and “through.” This fides quae is “the faith which is believed.” That’s what Jude is talking about. This is the faith known as the Gospel. It is the Christian faith. it is the body of belief that Christians confess about God’s love. It is the faith we confess. It’s what we believe. This faith which is believed is much greater protection for us than our individual faith. It’s what keeps us safe. It’s what keeps us in God’s love. By my personal faith I fasten my seatbelt. I reach out across to the passenger seat and try to hold someone who weighs a lot more than a brick in place despite a sudden stop or a collision. By my personal faith I find myself like Martha found herself that day in Ohio, stamping down on a brake pedal that isn’t actually there. By my personal faith I find myself not knowing who I should trust. By the fides quae, the faith which is believed, I find myself safely inside this vehicle with a perfectly functioning seat belt, air bags, anti-lock brakes, Jesus’ hand on the steering wheel, and the ability to avoid any collisions. By the faith which is believed, I find myself in an ark of safety which will never be destroyed and in which no lasting harm can come to me. By the faith which is believed, even at the end of the year, as we consider the end of the world, I see that there is no trouble that can come against me which will throw me into the fire of God’s wrath. There is no danger. I’m perfectly safe. Why? Because this faith is not mediated by me. It is governed by Jesus, my merciful savior. How do we who are called by Jesus respond in these times of trouble? We are merciful to those who doubt. We see someone mashing down on the brake pedal that isn’t there. We remind them they are in an ark of safety. We snatch some from the fire, pulling their arms and legs into the vehicle, God’s ark of safety, the Church. We show mercy mixed with fear to some. Consider this day of God’s wrath, the day of destruction by fire. It’s a fearful thing. We smother the flames that threaten to engulf them. They are inside God’s ark of safety, by God’s Word we extinguish the flames. So who are you today? Where are you sitting in that van? Are you aware of the danger of the end but unable to do anything about it? Maybe you’re tramping on that brake pedal that isn’t there. maybe you are fearful for the future, maybe you are entirely out of control. Trust in the Lord, who has given you the Church to keep you in safety. Maybe you’re the person who is living dangerously, hanging your head out of the window. When we call to you, when the Lord calls to you, come to him, look to him for your protection, pull your head in, let us who are safely inside help you, let the soothing, healing, cooling water of the Holy Spirit extinguish the flames, heal the burns, cleanse you. Or maybe you are one of the people who wasn’t paying attention but suddenly something seems to be happening. The Word of God warns you about God’s wrath to come, his righteous judgment on all evil. Does he condemn you as evil? He does that to everyone, as we have all sinned and fallen short of his righteousness. Devote yourself to this faith, this most holy faith, which is able to guard you. How do we do that? We do it in response to the grace of God, as His Word is spoken, as we hear it, and as we respond in faith. We receive from his riches, the riches of his mercy and grace, as he warns us of his wrath. We receive from his riches as we realize that Jesus, by his perfect life, death, and resurrection on our behalf is the one who has plunged into destruction so we would be perfectly safe. Trust in the Lord! Build yourself up in this most holy Christian faith which has been delivered to you over the centuries through the Church, the place where Christ is present to grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word and Sacraments. 24 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

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