May 8, 2016 – Given not sold!
In one congregation, when a Bible is presented to a third‑grader, the child recites a memory verse. On one occasion, everything was going well until the pastor came to one little boy who couldn’t remember his name, much less a Bible verse. The little boy’s eyes frantically searched for his mother, who was seated near the front. When he finally spotted her, he was greatly relieved when she whispered his verse, “I am the light of the world.” Immediately, with a big smile on his face, he proclaimed, “My mother is the light of the world.”
Well on this mother’s day, we’re talking about the risen and ascended light of the world, Jesus Christ and what He’s freely given to us. The hymn we just sang starts out with ‘on Christ’s ascension I now build’. That ascension, of Jesus Christ to heaven, isn’t an idea we humans came up with and so it isn’t ours to sell or trade. The gospel, the good news of God’s love in Jesus, is confirmed for all the world to see in Christ’s ascension. The ascension tells us that God has accepted the life, death and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ as the one, single foundation for eternal life; that it’s the grace of Jesus Christ alone that grants life with God to anyone who receives Christ’s offer of love.
Like the bible the little boy received, the blessing of Christ has been given to us; not sold to us. We can’t put a price, on the priceless love of God. We can’t purchase what’s already been paid for… for us.
We can’t ‘trade’ the gospel of God like stocks, bonds or commodities. It isn’t a doodad to put ‘on sale’ so people will buy it. When Jesus told His disciples in the gospel lesson today that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations”, He didn’t add – ‘only if you market it right’. He’s given us the gospel, all 100% of it to give it away. We’re not trying to sell the gospel by carefully using ‘slick’ sales methods. No, the gospel is freely given to us and only Christians can freely give it away to others.
Growing the kingdom of God is not like the movie Field of Dreams; it’s not a matter of ‘if you build it they will come’. Of course the world won’t come… the world, because of our sinful flesh, put Jesus on the cross to die, so they won’t beat a path to our door if we just put the gospel out there with the right gimmick. We can’t confuse the message with the medium or method either. In other words the methods we use to share the gospel speak as much about the regard we hold the gospel in as anything. The manner and fashion by which we share the gospel tells others what we truly think of the gospel.
It’s fine to be innovative, creative and inspired. The gospel is all of those things. It’s fine, also, to have traditions and ancient practices that tie us to the history of God’s relationship to His creation since creation. So innovation and tradition have their place.
What doesn’t have a place is using the law to ‘sell’ the gospel. I’ve seen it used so often and there’ve been times I’ve been guilty of that.
I’ve often times seen churches do a bait and switch routine. ‘Come and we’ll help you with fixing your finances’, or ‘come and we’ll mend your marriage’, or ‘come we’ll build up your broken-down children’, ‘and oh by the way you need to join the church to get all these benefits’. And ‘oh by the way your salvation is up to you so make a ‘decision for Christ’ otherwise all these things we promised you are null and void!’
That isn’t what Jesus said the disciples were to do when He ascended in the gospel lesson today. They weren’t to try and con people into taking something they didn’t want; they were to give away what all people need; restoration with God through the blood of Jesus Christ – alone. What He did say the disciples were to do in regard to the repentance and forgiveness being preached to all nations is that they were to be His… witnesses.
46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. That is ‘You are the ones who’ve been given, at the cost of my life, this message to bear witness too’. That and only that is what we, as Christ’s followers, bring to the world of people with failing finances, messed up marriages and crude kids.
Those things that are broken or messed-up in our lives are indeed changed when Christ comes to us through His word and sacraments like in Jaylan’s baptism this morning. But those broken things aren’t what bring the love of God to us. Only the cross of Christ proclaimed openly, freely from friend to friend is that witness of the repentance and forgiveness of sins that individual people need as Jesus told us as He rose up to heaven today.
Now does that mean that we don’t do outreach things or have marriage seminars or youth and preschool programs? Of course it doesn’t mean that, but we do those things to help people grow and mature as stewards of the resources Christ has freely given in the gospel. And we don’t put our hope or our confidence in those things. Those things are not the gospel. And the gospel, freely given by Jesus, is what the world rejects and yet so desperately needs.
It is good to do things that help people be wise with their money and so reflect the wisdom of God given to them by grace. It is good to provide resources for Christians to help their marriages and families grow together in the love of Christ and so grow in repentance and love toward each other. Youth and preschool programs are beneficial for individuals to grow in the experience and knowledge of the love God. But again those programs and things are not what Jesus called His followers to be witnesses to.
In this world we witness to others of the mercy and grace of God given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit alone. Grace alone, Faith alone, Word alone, that is at the bedrock of what we as Lutherans believe, teach and confess. Right, Confess! We confess and in confessing with our mouths of the love of God, we each, individually, bear witness to the forgiveness and repentance that is to be preached in His name as Christ has called us to do.
Now I do ‘preaching’ here in the pulpit and if you bring someone here, I do all I can to give the law and the gospel rightly. I’m not perfect at it. But the Word of God remains perfect and accomplishes what God wants in people’s lives despite however imperfectly I may preach. Communication, imperfect or otherwise is also what God has given you to do.
Perhaps not to preach in a pulpit – unless you believe God wants you to do that. And if so I encourage you to go get training and follow that call. God may be calling you to this work, or to mission work, or to deaconess work, and if so follow where He leads you. If you’d’ve asked me 20 years ago where I’d be today it wouldn’t have been here doing this – so never doubt that if God calls you to this type of witnessing He can and will prepare you for it.
But being His witnesses is something each of us and all of us have been prepared by God’s word to do. Because you have been given forgiveness, you’ve been called to bear fruits in keeping with repentance.That’s for you to do, not the paid staff of any congregation. You are the only witness to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. (x2)
You aren’t called to sell what’s been freely given to you. You can only give it away. And only you can do that. Like Smokey the Bear says ‘only you can prevent forest fires’. And to an even greater extent only you can prevent your friends, co-workers and neighbors from being condemned to the fire of hell. Now don’t take that out of the context of the Bible – of course it’s the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit who calls, sanctifies and makes a person righteous. But Jesus tells us we are all to be His witnesses to that.
We’ve been given freely what Christ purchased with His blood and sacrifice. We can only give that away. Each of us, and all of us, bear His mark, the mark of the cross on us, just as was put on Jaylan today in his baptism. And where ever you go you are a witness for Christ; whether you’re a good witness or not, that’s in your hands alone. You can’t give that responsibility away to anyone else, not to me, or any other pastor, teacher or church worker. You alone have been given God’s grace for your life and only you can testify to that grace to others in your circle of family and friends.
That, by the way is a joy, not a burden. You don’t need a script or power-point presentation or a memorized set of lines in order to ‘get it right’. And unlike the little boy getting the bible, it’s not up to your mother to give you the right words to say.
What you know is that Jesus Christ came into this world, lived the only prefect life and then gave that life up as a sacrifice for our sin, so that by His death, His resurrection and now by His ascension which we celebrate today, we have the guarantee that God has accepted Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. That truth, that love, is what we’re all witnesses to and that is ours… to give away. In Jesus Name, amen.
Sermon #826 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Acts 1:1-11 1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Epistle Reading Ephesians 1:15-23
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Holy Gospel Luke 24:44-53
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.