Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sermon for 1/6/13

Sermon “The Mystery Unveiled” Ephesians 3:1-12 Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today, the day of Epiphany, the day of revelation, of realization, of unveiling, this very day is the time when we gather as the chosen people of God. Most if not all of us in this room are Gentiles by our heritage. In the Western world the majority in the Church are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we are not children of Israel. Yet this great mystery has been revealed to us, the mystery of Christ, as we read together a few minutes ago in Ephesians chapter 3. In these last days, unlike in all the generations from Abraham up to Joseph the husband of Mary, the promise of salvation has been revealed to the Gentiles. The promise of salvation has been revealed to us. Here’s how it works. Through the generations the Jews have been told they are God’s chosen people, God’s favored ones. And they have acted on that promise. They have lived out their lives according to God’s calling. God’s blessing has been upon them, at least most of the time. They receive penalties at his hand now and then. Who can forget that captivity in Babylon, after all? But again and again, as the children of Israel turn to God in repentance and faith God turns around and rescues them from their enemies. They have a promise of salvation. As they trust in God, the God who has made a covenant with them, the God who has poured out his promises on them, He continues to show them that He is their God and they are His people. They believe God. He considers it righteousness. All is well. But there’s part of the promise to Abraham missing in this story. In Genesis 12, 18, and 22 God promises that Abraham will be a blessing to the whole world, to all the nations. Where is this going to be fulfilled? Is it only as the nations come and convert to Judaism, being adopted into the chosen people? For a very long time the world acted with that assumption. If we wanted to be right with God we would have to become Jewish. Salvation is of the Jews. Is this the way God blesses the world? It’s a mystery. I like mysteries. Do you? Some do and some don’t. I remember, pretty vaguely because it was a long time ago, some television game shows. There was one, I knew about but never saw, called the “mystery box.” There was another, and I don’t remember the name of it, where you could choose the prize behind a particular door. The contestants didn’t know what was in the box or behind the door. As they went through the game they could compete for prizes that they knew about or they could compete for mystery prizes. You never know what’s behind the door. It could be the chance to have your picture taken with a monkey. It could be a year’s supply of popcorn. Neither of those prizes are really bad. They aren’t worth very much, but they aren’t bad, I suppose. But there might be a large amount of money, a car, or a vacation trip behind one of those doors or in that box. You really don’t know. How is the mystery going to come out? What will happen? You can become a Jew and live your life under God’s covenant. It may look like the only way. But there’s a little bit of a mystery because God has promised to bless the whole world and the world is not flocking to the synagogue asking to convert. What has God provided? How is he revealing himself? The mystery is resolved in Christ. He opens the box. He shows us what is behind the doors. Just like the word “epiphany” would indicate, a sudden realization of God, we see the unveiled mystery of God in Christ. Here’s the mystery of God. It is that Gentiles are brought together with Jews to be heirs of God’s promises, right along with the Jews. The nation of Israel and the Gentiles are both adopted into God’s kingdom, both granted God’s promises. We share that promise of Christ together. There is no distinction, no difference. We’re all rescued from sin the same way. We’re all transferred into God’s kingdom in the same way. We all stand before God’s throne with no righteousness of our own. We all need to look to him for help and safety. This is what Paul calls in verse eight “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This is no opportunity to have your picture taken with a monkey. It is no year’s supply of popcorn. It is no vacation trip. It is riches, all the riches of God. This mystery is our making. It is God’s riches at Christ’s expense, the grace of God poured out upon us. In Christ we have been blessed to approach God. We can come before our Lord’s throne and remind him of his promises to us. We can come to our Lord knowing that we are in trouble and cannot help ourselves. We can come to our Lord bringing our broken lives, knowing that he is the one who can put them together. We can come before our Lord asking for his forgiveness. And when we have no answer, no excuse, when we have to face him and say that we are guilty, that we have no other response to the accusations of God’s perfect law, he looks at us and says our sins have been atoned for, done away with, wiped out in the death of Jesus on our behalf. He has given himself as the perfect sacrifice, the fulfillment of all the bulls, goats, sheep, birds, and every other sacrifice ever offered. He has given himself to complete the sacrifices of all the ages, so their forgiveness can be applied forever to all who believe. Jesus himself becomes our righteousness. He is the one we have been waiting for. He is our shepherd. He is our king. This mystery is great, but it isn’t over yet. Jesus knows that we are frail. He knows that we forget. He knows that if we are given only ideas to trust we will wander from those ideas. So he gave us his physical means of grace. Just like God used the real blood of real bulls and real goats, just like God used washings and anointings in the Old Testament to deliver his grace and forgiveness, in these last days He has given us in the body and blood of Jesus our Savior his very concrete, very real expression of forgiveness. He delivers his death to us as he delivers his life to us. And he does it as we eat and drink together. This mystery, a great mystery, is revealed in Christ. Interestingly enough, at least for me, the Greek word “mystery” is translated into the Latin versions of the Bible as “sacramentum.” It’s come into English in that way, as a “sacrament.” And what is the sacrament? It is a means by which God delivers his holiness. It’s a way he takes something and makes it holy. Just as he takes the Jews and Gentiles and delivers them for one purpose, that of living before him in his grace and righteousness, he takes the simple elements of a sacrament and delivers them to accomplish his purpose. He nurtures our faith. He gives us his forgiveness. He reminds us day by day that he is with us. Remember, as Paul said in verse 12 (NIV) “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” As we gather at the Lord’s table, then, we gather in faith, with freedom, with confidence. Jesus Christ has called us from all nations into one, that he may bless us. I want to observe just a few things about the Lord’s supper as we prepare to celebrate together. As you read in your bulletin, we welcome all who have been baptized and who believe and confess that Jesus is present in his very body and blood, given to eat and drink for forgiveness of sins and to gather us together as one in him. He calls us to repent of our sins and receive his forgiveness as we gather. There are several important things which happen in communion which I’d like to remind us of, just briefly. Communion is celebrated after we have brought our offerings and prayed together. We offer ourselves to our Lord. He offers himself to us. We pray, we proclaim his holiness, and we pray again in thanksgiving. We look to our Lord in faith as we state the words he gave us in Scripture, identifying that the true body and blood of our Lord is here for us to be eaten and drunk, received for forgiveness. We pray as he taught us and then we proclaim Christ as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Once we have received this gift of grace, the true body and blood of our Lord, the rest of the consecrated elements are consumed. Jesus gave us his body and blood to eat and drink, not to have leftovers which are preserved for later or which are disposed of in the earth, though those are other ways the Church has finished the communion. For that reason we try to predict how many communicants we will have. It is good to have it all come out even. Jesus has given himself for us. He is really, physically present, with all his grace, all the grace we need. May this be our epiphany, our time of realizing that Jesus has come to fulfill the promise that in Abraham all nations are blessed, including us. Thanks be to God.

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