Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 John 5:9-13
Life in the Son
Seventh Sunday of Easter B, 24 May 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Life in the Sun. Comfort. Warmth. Rest. Fellowship with friends and family. Music. And food—you can’t forget the food. Life in the s. u. n. is like that. Americans love summer. And there’s nothing like the last day of school. We tend to think of summer as freedom—even as grownups when we still have to work. We love life in the s. u. n., but do we really have freedom and real life apart from the s. o. n.?
9If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.
Your father in heaven knows best. St. John told us about God’s divine testimony in the epistle lesson last week, in the three verses just before today’s epistle: 6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
Jesus still comes by Water and by Blood. He washes you, His children, in Holy Baptism. He feeds His children in His Holy Supper. And the Spirit is active in the Church of all ages, even today, as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. Jesus won forgiveness by water and by blood. Today, His Spirit delivers that forgiveness by water and by blood.
Faith holds on to Jesus. Sometimes it is with all the strength we can muster—both hands. Other days, it seems like we’re hanging on by the nail of our left pinky. Even so, faith holds on to Jesus. It would be of the law to measure faith. Instead, the Church asks, “Do you have a Savior?” and faith responds, “Yes. His name is Jesus.” Weak or strong in the eyes of the world or even our own eyes, faith holds on to Jesus for dear life and eternal life. Faith believes.
10Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
Unfaith calls God a liar. Unfaith thinks it knows better, so it makes up what it wants to believe about God, salvation, and life. Faith believes God. It asks questions about the Word of God and seeks answers in the Word of God, but faith does not doubt. Faith does not reject the gifts of God. Faith does not resist the work of the Holy Spirit.
An evangelist (Dwight Moody) told of a time he visited a man who had neglected attending church and Bible class. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. I read my Bible. I’m fine on my own.” [The] Pastor (Moody) remained silent as the two of them sat by the fire. He picked up a pair of tongs and reached into the fire to pick out a hot, flaming coal. He set the coal off on its own to the side on the stone floor. The man and Pastor (Moody) conversed about other things for many minutes before pastor brought the conversation back to spiritual things. Pastor (Moody) picked up the cold coal with his bare hand. “Mr. Smith, Why don’t you pick up one of those coals in the fire barehanded?” “Are you kidding,” he said, “They’re hot when they’re all together. That one all by its lonesome cooled off.”
I want to encourage you, in as clear a way as possible, that God’s Gifts are why we go to church. Receiving those heavenly treasures while still in this world is and should be the most important thing in your life.
Your first vocation is that of baptized Christian, in the Word, and while living in the world, not of the world. This is in accordance with the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. If a person puts their faith and trust in something other than the One True God, as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, that person has a false god, a mere idol. Your first vocation is that of baptized Christian, regularly and eagerly receiving the Lord’s gifts.
Your second vocation is family. You were born into one. You may have been adopted into another. You honor your father and mother when you care for them in their later years as they cared for you in your early years. The Lord may bless you with a spouse. The man leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife. This relationship needs to be nurtured, protected. The marriage relationship even takes priority over the children, in one respect. If the marriage is preserved, the children have a more stable relationship with father, mother, and one another.
Family is important, yet God still comes first. If parents, spouse, or children come before God in priority, they could be idols, false objects of worship. If a non-Christian spouse keeps a believing spouse away from the Lord’s house, the Christian spouse must obey God rather than men.
One’s job or career is in third place, heavenly speaking. The Lord has given his people honest and honorable work as the means of providing you daily bread. Your good health is also a means toward that end. People work hard with body and mind to provide for their families and return offerings to the Lord. Remember those purposes: to provide for family and the Lord’s priorities. Keeping a clear focus on why we work will help you prioritize God and family over work. When you have an opportunity to avoid working on Sunday morning in order to receive the Lord’s Gifts at church, God will bless that. He will also bless those who stop being workaholics in order to nurture their relationships with family members.
Fourth. This is where all of our other priorities go. Fourth priority includes hobbies, sports, volunteering, and helping out at church. Some items here will be more important than others. Some will have eternal significance, while others will fade away in time. Church is more important than football, either American football, or soccer, what the rest of the world calls “football.” Sometimes a ball can become a Baal, an idol.
At times, people are surprised that our service to God in a local congregation is listed fourth. Don’t be. As Lutheran Christians, we know that what God does for us is far more important that what we do for God. We know how salvation works. The same thing applies here. You are not saved by what you do. You are not saved by being a Lutheran. You are saved by Jesus. People may grow weary in their service to the Lord and His people. That most often happens when people feed others more than they are fed by the Word. Receiving is a higher priority than serving. A husband who manages his own family well will be a better church officer than one who does not. One who is a good and faithful worker at work will also serve the Lord well at Church.
When you are faced with a decision in life, big or small, consider your priorities. Do they match up with the Lord’s? Will you be able to be nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament?
The Lord gathers His faithful to Himself around His Word and His Gifts, the Sacraments. Christians need to gather together to be strengthened and encouraged and forgiven. They cool off all alone. Wherever two or three are gathered, there the Church is and Jesus promises to be. One cannot be the church by himself. It is important to gather together as the body of Christ.
“But pastor, I can read the Bible at home, all by myself.” Sure, you could. Dr. Luther ran into the same excuse. His example from his personal writings help pastors today with such pastoral care situations. Sure, you could, but people just don’t read the Bible at home, all by themselves, apart from the life and worship life of a congregation. Bibles of people who habitually stay away from Church usually sit there and collect more dust than a vacuum cleaner.
I understand that summers are busy. So are the seasons of fall, winter, and spring. If it isn’t hunting season, it’s a favorite sport. Let’s be honest about the reason we’re all so busy—we have set it up that way. We don’t want to say, “No.” And many just don’t have the same priorities that God does. The devil works hard to deceive all human beings, but he works overtime on Christians. Unfed faith can die. Neither one of us wants that to happen.
People show their priorities by where they spend their time. Our busy lives are like a big jar filled with rice. Our schedules are jam-packed full, just like the grains of rice in the jar. If someone came along and gave you a big project—say a ping pong ball—how easy would it be to fit it into the jar? You couldn’t do it! What if you had more than one ping pong ball to fit in? Impossible! It is, possible, after all, to make time for Sunday worship, for family devotions, and the other things on your busy schedule. Let’s think outside of the box—or the jar in this case. Empty the jar. Refocus on heavenly priorities. Pour the rice in another container temporarily. Put the ping pong balls in the jar first—set your priorities—and then pour in the rice. Everything fits!
11And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Eternal life is a gift. It is a gift because of Jesus. No Jesus, No eternal life. But if you know Jesus (k. n. o. w. ) by faith, then you k. n. o. w. you have eternal life.
John concludes: 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
Life in the s. u. n. is great. But nothing compares to life in the S. o. n! The unmatched comfort of the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins. The warmth of other caring Christians. Rest for the weary given by the Good Shepherd Himself. Fellowship in holy things and coffee & potluck fellowship with friends and family. Music from the whole history of the Old Testament and New Testament Church—not to mention singing along with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. And food—you can’t forget the foretaste of the heavenly feast to come in the Holy Supper of the Son. Life in the S. o. n. is like that—year-round! The Lord has good gifts for you in Christ at Immanuel Lutheran Church—Life in the Son! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.