2019:Sundays in Pentecost

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Happy Ending! (Rev 7:17)

  • Introduction: Fairy tales seem to always have a happy ending. There is the expression …”and they lived happily ever after.”  Today’s message has a similar ending.  However, like in many stories, there are problems and circumstances to overcome in order to get to the happy ending.
    • You may have once heard of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  We will spend a few moments discussing these four horsemen and what that symbolism means for us as we also keep in mind the saints who have gone before us this All Saints Day.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank you for the promise of eternal life for all who acknowledge Your Son Jesus in their action. Send Your Spirit to encourage us as we live through this sinful Age that delivers toil, pain, and death.  Have us focus on the prize of eternal life with You as we overcome the evils of today.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background:  In order to really understand our text for today in Rev Ch#7, it is worth looking back into the previous two chapters of Revelation to see why the Lord would make a point to interrupt visions of the destruction of this Age with a sweet Gospel-filled message for us.
    • Rev Ch#5 is the view from heaven of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  A key verse in Rev Ch#5 is v5 -  And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  What exactly are these seven seals that was so important? Up to this point, no one was worthy to open the scroll with those seals.
      • Many of the seven seals are symbols of what plagues the people of this Age will experience from the time Jesus ascended into heaven until He returns to earth a second and final time to end it all and bring His people home to the place He prepared for them.
      • What is interesting about these seven seals is that they are not all gloom and doom. God has left Gospel messages within the tribulations plaguing the earth.  Let’s take a moment to go through some of the seals leading up to Ch#7.
    • Rev Ch#6[1] starts out with a seal that is a symbol of tribulation, but not for us.  It is a symbol of tribulation for demons and Satan himself.  We read from the beginning of Ch#6 - Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
      • White is a symbol of holiness.  In ancient times, conquerors and rulers rode on white horses.  Horses were associated with war, conquest, and triumph.
      • We see in Rev Ch#19 another reference to a rider on a white horse who leads the armies of God.  In both Rev Ch#’s 6 & 19 the symbolism indicates the reality of the Word of God roaming throughout the world.  The Word triumphs over everything
      • So where is the terror in this rider on the white horse of Rev Ch#6?  The terror isn’t for us.  As we explored a couple weeks ago, the word is 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:16-17 ESV)  The word converts our soul from the evil which dwells within us to working the good that God would have us do in the world He created.
      • The terror of this first of seven seals is for Satan and the demons who follow him. They know their time is short before their eternal torment comes.  In Luke Ch#4, Jesus 31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. (Luke 4:31-35 ESV) The demons know probably better than us about what the future holds for them.  It is nothing but eternal punishment.  For us who are baptized and in Christ, we have the wonderful expectation of Jesus bringing us to the place He has prepared for us.
    • When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
      • You might say violence has been a fact of life on earth since before the time of Noah. We read from Gen 6:11-13 - 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
        • The earth was filled with violence so bad that God wanted to wipe out mankind about 6,000yrs ago and start over.  It is frequent in the city of Chicago, right here in the United States and not some third world country, there will be dozens of shootings over a weekend.  Gang violence is definitely the norm in areas of Chicago, but last Thursday, Halloween night, is an example of just how far down the path of violence Chicago has gotten. From the New York Times on line[2], the following was reported:
          • A 15-year-old male was charged with two counts of attempted murder on Friday in connection with a shooting on Halloween in Chicago that injured a 7-year-old trick-or-treater and a 31-year-old man, the police said.  The unidentified juvenile was also charged with two counts of aggravated battery/discharge firearm, the Chicago Police Department said in a news release on Saturday.
          • A 7yr old little girl out trick or treating is shot.  You scratch your head and wonder what could have prompted the attempted murder of this little kid?  Violence is increasing as we get closer to the end of the world.  As we abandon God’s word in this nation, we can only expect it to get worse.  As we said with the first seal, the Word of God can and does conquer.  Evil cannot stand in the presence of God.  Please get and keep the word of the Lord in your life. Live God’s word and the peace of the Lord will dwell with you now and forever more.  God’s people have been targeted for violence throughout history, but it is equally true God’s people have been spared violence because of His protection.
    • When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
      • The symbolism of this third seal is not so clear until it is understood the price for a quart of wheat is an entire day’s wages.  What we draw from this is the end times from Jesus’ ascension into heaven until the last day will be a time when many will live hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck.  People will be in terror of just figuring out how to get enough to eat.
      • A fellow SMP pastor, Ron York of sister LC-MS congregation Peace in the Valley located in Benson, once told me about an experience he witnessed on a mission trip to Honduras.  The mission was to teach and preach the word to kids in particular.  It’s tough for people to learn when they are hungry and so the mission would provide two meals a day on week days for the kids being reached in the mission.  What did the kids do when there weren’t any meals provided?  They concocted a literal mud pie to eat.  The “pie” was made of dirt wetted into mud that would fill the stomach and quell the severe hunger they were experiencing.
      • However, this third seal is the first with a boundary.  In the latter part of v6 the statement is made, “…do not harm the oil and wine.”  This portion of the third seal is hard to interpret.  Oil and wine were used for healing as we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  To recall, in Luke Ch#10, Jesus is quoted telling the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to a question on who is our neighbor.  A person is attacked on the path to Jericho.  A priest and a Levite see this person who was left half dead by robbers, but walk away from the victim.  However, a hated Samaritan sees the victim and we pick up the parable in Luke 10:33-34 - 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
      • What we don’t see in the third seal is God protecting oil and wine from being priced out of the reach of people so much as we see God setting a limit on how bad affordability will be a problem.  This is no different than God setting limits on how far the seas come ashore.  God said to Job - Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?  (Job 38:8-11 ESV)  There is no problem you will encounter in life which the Lord has left unbounded.  He will provide a way out of temptation that becomes too great to withstand.  God has set a limit in your eternal life of 70 or 80yrs if you have the strength, before He, like the saints of old, will call you to eternal rest where He invites you to 1Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isa 55:1 ESV)  Whatever troubles you experience in this Age are a blip on the radar screen of your eternal life, because God has set limits on what His people will have to endure.
    • When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
      • The danger with this fourth seal is to assume that we have a literal fourth of the earth being killed with sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts.  100% of the people born in or before 1890 are dead. 😊 The souls of some of those who died are in heaven with the Lord this very moment.  However, those not in heaven are in the grave.  The OT rendered the word “sheol” to indicate the grave or the pit.  The NT equivalent word in Greek is ᾅδης.  People who had no intention to give glory to the Lord and led their life as far away from God that they could be are in a deep sleep awaiting Judgement Day.  They will be raised from the dead only to then be sentenced to be eternally banished from the presence of the Lord.
      • However, this is not what God wanted nor wants for any of His most prized creation – mankind.  God said in Eze 33:11 - 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?  God has provided the way to salvation from this eternal death and punishment as symbolized in the fourth seal.
      • Jesus said just before He ascended into heaven - 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  The formula is simple: believe and be baptized.  This is the mission of the church and its individuals like you and me.  We need to be faithful in the word, the word provided in the first seal, and we need to proclaim God’s word to those around us.  You don’t have to be a great public speaker to preach and teach the word of God. Sometimes, your actions will speak louder than any words you would speak.  The Word is a conquering force which overcame death and hades on the cross. These cannot prevail against the Word and we read later in Revelation Jesus tosses death and hades into the lake of burning sulfur which is hell.  Your baptism is a deposit of the Holy Spirit who is a guarantee of what is to come if you are faithful to the Lord.  Because we are so spiritually corrupt, God provides His Spirit so that we can believe.  Trust in His great mercy!
  • These four seals each had symbolism of a rider on a horse.  Some throughout history have referred to these riders as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.   Three of the four brought tribulation upon the world. The first of the four however brought tribulation to the forces of evil who work against God and His creation.  God is in control of everything whether we think He is or not.  We will confess after this sermon the Nicene Creed in which we will confess Jesus sitting at the right had of God the Father.  What this means is Jesus is the Father’s “right hand man” so to speak.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, God’s one and only Son who was faithful even to death on a cross.
    • We now look at the fifth seal, which is not a plague like the previous three seals.  In fact, the fifth seal has nothing to do with earth, but is in heaven.  When he (Jesus) opened the fifth seal, I (John) saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
      • These souls are those who departed from this Age either in faith of the Messiah who was to come, or faith in that same Messiah who did come.  Last summer, we covered in a sermon what the Apostle Paul saw in heaven that he could not describe.  I repeat from 2Co 12:2-4 - I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. What both John and Paul saw were the saints who have gone before us and are already waiting for us to get there.
  • Conclusion:  On this All Saints Day remembrance, it is these souls of the saints who have gone before us that we remember.  They, like us, endured the plagues of three of the Four Horsemen. Unlike in a fairytale, the pain experienced from the tribulation was real.  It caused tears.  For them, God limited the amount they had to endure as He built character in them through suffering and disciplining them to shape and mold them into the people He had plans for once in heaven.
    • This same God who brought them into a place He prepared specially for them, is the same God who does and will do the same for you and for me.  Jesus said to His disciples on the night He was betrayed - “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
      • We have a glimpse of what that place prepared in advance for each of us looks like from our reading for today in Rev 17:16-17 - 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
      • Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd as recorded in John Ch#10.  We now see in our text for today what Jesus ultimately had in mind.  He is the Good Shepherd for us here on earth, and He continues to be the Good Shepherd for all those souls who died in Christ and now dwell this very moment in heaven.
      • None of those three horsemen will be anywhere near heaven. No more hunger.  No more thirst.  No more desire to commit acts of violence against others.  No more death.  The first horseman, the Word, will be there as your Shepherd.  You will have conquered, because Jesus the Good Shepherd has conquered.  And He, in all gentleness and respect for what you will have endured, will wipe every tear from your eyes.  He did it for the saints you have known who are now with Him, and He will one day do it for you too!   Amen.

[1] Significant portions of the material presented on Rev Ch#6 is condensed from Poellot, Luther, Concordia Classic Commentary Series, Revelation, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 1987

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/us/chicago-shooting-halloween.html

Run With Perseverance (Heb 12:1)

  • Introduction: Running in the Field Day Relay when I was in sixth grade, I was one of the four legs of the relay.  I never got the chance to run.  The guy ahead of me ran into someone standing in the way of the baton pass area, and the runner on our team threw down the baton in frustration instead of working his way through it.  We obviously lost the race, but I would have rather been beaten by a team better than us then to have beaten ourselves.
    • Last week, we looked into how God was a Shielder for Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and some others including King David. In the epistle reading for today, we heard about more OT people who looked to God for deliverance from the troubles of this Age through a promised messiah.  They didn’t get to see this promised messiah as we have seen Him.
    • The writer to the Hebrews in today’s Epistle reading encourages us to run in the arena set before us, with the all of those souls already in heaven cheering us on through their past deeds done in faith, and as we look to the Lord Jesus for the same deliverance.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank You for saints who have gone before us and the deeds they have done which stand as a lasting witness of their faith.  Please send your Spirit to dwell with us to use the acts of faith of the saints as encouragement for us to also commit acts of faith.  Have us put away all that would weigh us down preventing us from completing the path in life you have marked out for us.  Grant us the focus on Your one and only Son, the Lord Jesus, who is the beginning and perfecter of our faith to make it through the race we must run in order to be with You.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Interpretation:  All of the saints who have gone before us are in heaven.  They have run the race marked out for them in their time.  The saints of the OT had the promise of a Messiah, but they never got to see that Messiah.  Did they run in vain?  No! They are in heaven this very moment through that Messiah.  They got their free pass into heaven.
    • The temptation is to think of them seeing us running our life-long race, cheering us on toward the finish line, but they have nothing to do with this Age anymore.  They are done. They get to focus singularly on Jesus, the beginner and perfecter of our faith.
      • This is where the Catholic Church has misinterpreted our text for today.  They encourage prayer to saints who cannot hear us.  Even if those saints could hear us, they couldn’t do anything about what you are asking of them, because they have nothing to do with this Age. They are done, and have entered into their eternal rest.
      • Having said that about the saints who have gone before us, their witness of encouragement to us is the deeds they did in faith.  OT saints were believing in a Messiah who was to come and redeem them from their sin. We see how the saints of old cheer us on through their acts of faith in reading Heb 11:4 - By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
        • Abel is in heaven as we contemplate his sacrifice of faith that got him killed by his own brother because of jealousy.  Abel showed us what a true returning of gifts looks like by bringing to God what Abel gathered to be his best fruits and laying them before the Lord.  His sacrifice was not like his brother Cain’s sacrifice (if we could call it that) where it appears Cain tossed something together and said, “here Lord; this is what you get from me.”  Abel is cheering us on to this day, though his body is long dead.  He is cheering us on to run the path marked out for us in this Age.
    • I was raised by my paternal grandmother.  You heard about my maternal grandmother a couple weeks ago when we discussed the differences between Martha who slaved in the kitchen and Mary, who sat spell-bound at Jesus’ feet listing to every word He spoke.  Grandma Zick was my parternal grandmother and often encouraged me to become a pastor.  She raised me in the scriptures.  For example, she made sure I had my memory work committed to memory in time for Saturday catechism class.  Her witness lives on to this day as I prepare for the ministry.  She would be no doubt cheering me on to continue in the very rough life right now to become a pastor if she could see into this Age.  She is in that cloud of witnesses in my life, despite no longer in this Age.
      • Who will someday consider you part of the “cloud of witnesses” in their spiritual life?  Think for a moment of those in your life who you are encouraging in the faith.  You encourage by with what you say and what you do.  Moses and the prophets are definitely in the cloud of witnesses.  Their good deeds, not done to save themselves, but done in response to God’s love and calling, are yelling encouragement to us from the sidelines in our race in life to keep the faith.
  • So, how is it then that they are witnesses to us? We’ve established the saints are in heaven and living there with the Lord as we speak.  But remember, they cannot interact with us in any way.  The parable Jesus told of the Rich Man and Lazarus confirms this.  To understand the witness of the saints in the bible, we are going to have to get into the Word of the Lord and go back to what they said and did.  We will then be able to see how they handled situations in life according to the same faith given to them by the same Holy Spirit who gives you faith and continues to work in your soul ever since you were baptized. They are witnesses to us whenever we read God’s word.  We cannot “hear” their testimony through the ear of faith if we are not regularly in the word.  Their testimony will certainly help you run with perseverance the good times and bad in your life, if you will listen to them.
  • As always, I encourage you to start a daily bible reading if you haven’t already.  This is how you can listen to the witness of the saints of old.  You shouldn’t be surprised there is good, bad, and ugly about all of the saints. They were made of the same tainted flesh & blood you & I are made of.  We all descended from the same parents, Adam & Eve.
    • When you read the bible, you will find for instance that Moses had two boys with his wife Zipporah, but we don’t hear much about any of them.  When the Lord was working through Moses and his brother Aaron to communicate the clear message to the Pharaoh of Egypt, “let my people go!”, at some point, Moses sent his wife and kids off to Zipporah’s dad who lived a couple hundred miles away. For some couples, that is probably a comfortable distance to keep the peace. ☹ It wasn’t until Moses brought the Israelites into Midian that Zipporah’s dad, Jethro, brought Moses’ family to him.  Additionally, you will find Moses murdered an Egyptian task master.  He would be a great candidate for president these days!
    • Our text in verse 12:1 has the exhortation - …let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…  I think it is safe to say Moses was not the ideal family man.  He was totally absorbed in his work.  The last judge of Israel before King Saul was Samuel and he too must have had troubles with raising his kids.  They were messing around with the sacrifices to God, accepting payoffs, and the usual sinful behavior that has no place in the church.
    • Despite this sinfulness, Moses was one of the two who met with Jesus on the occasion of the Transfiguration.  Samuel anointed the first two kings of united Israel. However, each had burdens of their sinfulness to overcome in fulfilling their callings in life.
      • Like them, you have sins that get in the way of fulfilling God’s calling in your life.  Martin Luther referred to one’s calling as their “vocation”.  Vocation is not to be confused with a career.  Luther meant our vocation is our station in life. For instance, I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, an employee, a student, legal guardian and legal custodian for my mother and step-father, and your pastor.  Whew; lots of vocations there!  I have a lot marked out in my race in this Age.  I can tell you it is hard to run with perseverance! I am certain that everyone here has more than one vocation of their own.  It takes a lot of perseverance and discipline to run a life-long race in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.  We need encouragement all the time.
      • It is even more difficult to run with endurance when hauling a lot of baggage.  We all bring baggage into relationships.  For example, if someone dealt treacherously with you, you may be less trusting of people in the future.  However, the baggage the writer to the Hebrews was referring to was past sins you’ve committed.  Those sins will get in the way of running your race in life, much like it is a lot harder to get through an airport with several heavy suitcases.  We heard in the OT reading for today what the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah - 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.  From this statement, it is clear you & I will not be able to hide even one teeny weenie sin from Him.
      • Without getting profane, please understand that at the time the letter to the Hebrews was written, men ran naked in foot races in order to have the lightest load possible.  I’m not encouraging everyone here today to become Chief Running Bare in their race.  What I am advocating here is take to heart the words, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely”, by giving our pet sins over to the Lord Jesus.
      • You will have the opportunity to commune at Jesus’ table in a little while.  If you are really struggling with something, be it hot-headedness that gets in the way of people seeing God’s love in your actions, a potty mouth that would make a sailor blush, or robbing from your employer by not working a full shift each day for which you are getting paid; whatever – bring this to the Lord and ask, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
      • If you are having a trust issue because you are not taking the First Commandment seriously (You shall have no other gods), come before the Lord and say, “Lord I believe; help me in my unbelief.”  We need to unload the burden of sin that could keep us from the finish line of life. That finish line is the gate into heaven.  Sin will keep you from forever entering that gate.  God is merciful and He will hear your humble pleas with Him for forgiveness and faith, and He will bless according to His grace.  What is He going to say to sinners like you and me except, “be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven!”?  That is a cheer we all want to hear coming from the sidelines as we run our race, don’t we?
  • Runners and athletes in general usually have a role model for inspiration.  They imagine themselves like a champion they hold in high esteem. They use that paradigm as motivation.  The writer to the Hebrews is exhorting us to hold Jesus as the role model to follow.  We read from v2 of Heb 12 - looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
    • Jesus endured far more than anything any of us here today will endure.  Can you imagine never sinning?  You or I probably couldn’t go 1hr without sinning, and here Jesus lived 33yrs in the flesh and never sinned.  Talk about a tough race!  He was the winner over sin, death, and the power of the devil, and is now the example for us all.  He ran the race and won!  He is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  Some religions wait for Jesus to return to earth a second time for a 1000yr reign before the final battle of good against evil is waged, but that just isn’t true.  Jesus reigns now and is going to make sure you get across the finish line of heaven’s gate just as He did.  The Holy Spirit is a deposit in your soul as a guarantee of how the race turns out for all those who put their trust in Jesus.  As a baptized child of God, this is most certainly true!
    • There are people missing from here today who do not have this confidence.  In fact, they may perceive they are in a race in life, but to what end? Is it a race such that he who dies with the most toys, wins?  Faith always has an object in which to believe.  In that philosophy which I saw on a bumper sticker a few decades ago, the god of hedonism reigns in that person’s soul instead of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reigning.  Let me tell you, there aren’t enough toys in the world to satisfy people who find their worth in “stuff” instead of being a child of God through baptism.
  • What race are we running here at Christus Rex?  We touched on what race each of us as individuals is running, but what about us as a congregation?  I plead with you, please do not call me as your pastor so that I can close the doors here for good.  We need to run the race so we too can encourage each other in the faith, and one day cheer on the saints of tomorrow.  We have elections after this service and we need people to serve in special capacities so that the business of God’s kingdom can continue here at Christus Rex.
    • Jesus is the head of His church as a groom is to His bride.  He loves us and gave His life for us so that we may live eternally in full wedded bliss with Him.  There is no greater love.  He now asks us to follow His example of making disciples.  Let’s make that commitment to make disciples in this church.
  • Conclusion: Harold Moyer was a volunteer at the International Friendship House in Phoenix.  This was an outreach to the international students attending Arizona State.  He was a worker bee in the church.  The year he died, he had plans not only for IFH, but plans for his bible class ministry he was conducting at Holy Cross Lutheran also in the Phoenix area.  However, the Lord had other plans.  Harold had health issues and passed away within the first year Karla & I were married.
    • He had the opportunity to choose a memorial verse for his funeral.  We read from 2Ti 4:7 - I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (τὸν καλὸν ἀγῶνα ἠγώνισμαι τὸν δρόμον τετέλεκα τὴν πίστιν τετήρηκα).  His choice of verses in the bible has left an indelible impression on me and relates well to today’s message.  He is now in that cloud of witnesses encouraging us, cheering us on with these words of the Apostle Paul.  As you run your race, what legacy of faith will you be leaving as you enter the cloud of witnesses for the benefit of the saints of tomorrow?  If you are not certain of the answer to that question, please look to Jesus who is the beginner and perfecter of our faith.  Amen.

Useless -> Useful (Phil 1:11)

  • Introduction: It is not typical for something to go from being useless to useful.  Usually, it’s the other way around.  For example, our previous stove decided, at Thanksgiving time no less, to not get up to 350°.  We let it take an hour to preheat, but eventually had to settle for whatever it would give us.  The next time we used the oven, it never got close to the set temperature.  The oven became useless for cooking food!  It was long in the tooth and since it came with the house when I bought it in 2009, who knows how old it was?
    • Our message for today bucks the reality that something grows from useless to useful, at least without some restoration effort. The “something” in our message for today is actually a “someone” named Onesimus.  He was a runaway slave of a slaveowner named Philemon.  A useful slave becomes useless once the slave is gone.  The owner may go after the slave to get him back, but not just because the owner lost out on the work the slave was doing.  If the slave stole something in the process of fleeing, there is added motivation to get the slave back.
    • There are tremendous parallels between the scenario of this shortest book of the NT, Philemon, and our relationship with God our Father before Jesus came and fixed our broken relationship. 
  • Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus, we thank You for the perfect example of love You gave us.  In full submission to the authority of Your Father, You won us the victory over sin, death, and the devil we could not win for ourselves.  Please send your Spirit to inspire us to gladly hear and learn of Your love and salvation in this scenario of Onesimus and Philemon, so that we are also moved to commit acts of faith.  Bless us in being useful in Your kingdom.  We pray this through You Lord Jesus, who reigns with Your Father who is our Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: The NT book named for the recipient of an epistle from the Apostle Paul is only 335 words long in the original Greek.
    • BTW, when we use the word “epistle”, this word is taken from the original Greek and means “letter” in English. 335 words is definitely a short letter, much less a book!
      • The letter seems to be a personal letter from one writer to another, but the spiritual implications are not something to be kept between a few people in the 1st century. The early church fathers in the 4th century when the books comprising the Bible were finalized, realized there is a major theme of God’s salvation being played out in the relationship between Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus.
      • There is also the minor theme of faith without good works is a dead faith.  The Book of James, written by Jesus half-brother, has this concept written very clearly - 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (Jam 2:17 ESV)  After giving some examples of OT heroes in the faith, James doubles down on this concept of faith without good works is dead when he wrote at the end of Jam Ch#2 - 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
    • Philemon was written about the same time as the letter to the church at Colossae.  We’ve spent most of the summer exploring God’s word in the epistles of the NT, and we discussed a couple times the Book of Colossians before looking into Hebrews.
      • Many theologians believe as do I these letters were written around 60-61 AD when Paul was under house arrest in Rome.
      • Paul was beheaded in Rome around 67AD and though Rome is quite a distance from Colossae were Onesimus lived (and thereby his slave owner, Philemon), it still would have been only about 5wks to travel from Rome to Colossae, not as big a deal in those times as it would seem.
        • Colossae was near Laodicea, both of which were in the southwestern part of what we know as the country of Turkey. Much of the journey from Rome to Colossae could be done by ship over the Mediterranean Sea.
        • This is important to understand, because Paul does mention he will be visiting with Philemon.  We read from v22 - 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
        • Paul had at least 5yrs to make a trip to Colossae so this scenario is totally plausible.
  • The Epistle to Philemon has a similar structure to what you would expect a letter to have (if we still wrote letters to each other).  There are four parts to the letter.
    • The first is an opening greeting. As Paul does with the beginning of his letters, he offers grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
      • We could adapt from Paul our greetings to people with whom we interact, couldn’t we?  We can be deliverers of God’s grace, mercy, and peace, whether we say that to anyone, or just show it.
    • The second part of the letter to Philemon is thanksgiving for Philemon’s faith and love.  Philemon must have been a convert of Paul’s from Paul’s earlier mission trips.  Philemon grew in the faith such that good works were evidently flowing from faith to the point it was evident to people interacting with him.  Word of his conduct apparently got back to Paul and so Paul was encouraging Philemon to continue growing in the faith and producing good works.
      • Isn’t it interesting how you can guess if someone is a practicing Christian despite not knowing anything about them?  This has happened time & time again in my experience with meeting people throughout the world.  I became friends with one of my clients when I was working in Taiwan, and apparently there was something in my conduct which led this client to open up about his faith. This was very interesting because Taiwan is only 4% Christian.  It was evident in his life and the lives of his wife and two boys their household was one of grace, mercy, and peace.
    • The third part of the letter is an appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus.  There was a lot in play with this appeal, so I will only briefly touch on some salient points:
      • Philemon was an early convert to Christianity by the work of the Holy Spirit through Paul.  It isn’t said, but I am certain Philemon was baptized, given the importance Paul speaks of baptism in several of his letters to churches. Once baptized, the Holy Spirit continues to work in us daily to drown out our sins, and bring forth a new person who lives under the Gospel with a circumcised heart.
      • Paul was appealing to Philemon to live under the Gospel by showing the same grace, mercy, and peace Jesus showed to him and to others.  One of the “others” in Philemon’s life was Onesimus, a runaway slave who by rights under the law should be put to death.  Paul is reminding Philemon that by rights, Philemon too should be put to eternal death for his sinfulness in the presence of God.  None of us is clean in the presence of the Lord apart from Jesus being our cleansing agent working on our behalf.  It is through Jesus we were cleansed, and it is through the Holy Spirit we are kept on a path of sanctification that motivates us to do good works in the sight of our Lord.
      • In this sense, we go from being useless to being something useful in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is calling upon Philemon to be useful in the Lord’s kingdom by granting mercy to Philemon’s former slave, Onesimus – out of love for God and for others – and not under compulsion. Paul as pastor and overseer of the faith could by his office order Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but rather than compel under the Law, Paul appeals to Philemon by calling him to action under the Gospel.
    • The fourth aspect of Paul’s letter to Philemon concludes with plans to visit, and greetings from others with Paul at the time of writing the letter.  There are some key verses at the end of the letter which are an exhortation by Paul for Philemon to become useful in the Kingdom of our Lord - 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart (σπλάγχνα) in Christ.  21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say
      • Paul is providing a surety that he will repay any costs to Philemon he suffered as a result of Onesimus’ theft and subsequent escape.  This surety is seen in the emphasis by Paul he is writing with his own hand.
        • Jesus gave us the sacrifice of the shedding of His own innocent blood.  This was necessary, because we had no way to pay the debt of our sin; both the original sin we inherited and the sins we continue to commit.
        • Because while we are in this sinful Age, at our baptism, we received the deposit of the Holy Spirit in our soul to continue to work in us as a guarantee of what is to come.  There is a day in your life when you will walk through the gate into Heaven where God the Father is eagerly awaiting your arrival. You will gain admission into His home because of the free pass Jesus won for you.  The Holy Spirit is that surety in your soul to guarantee this will happen. You can screw it up by turning from the faith, but let the Holy Spirit reign in you and stay in the Word.  Jesus was quoted in the Gospel of Mark as saying, “16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
        • Perhaps you can now see how the story of the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus, and an intermediary in Paul, is a microcosm of mankind’s relationship with our Lord.  Can you see how we transform from being useless to being useful in the Kingdom of our Lord, when we bear fruit in leading a life of good works as a result of faith working in us?
        • Paul made the statement I emphasized a moment ago and will repeat now - 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart(-felt love) in Christ.  Paul is exhorting Philemon to bear fruits of faith by showing mercy to his slave, Onesimus.  However, it doesn’t stop there.  Paul is exhorting us to do the same in showing mercy to one another. Paul referred to himself in Rom Ch#1 as a slave for Christ and it would be good to picture ourselves as slaves in the true meaning of that word in 1st century terms – a bond servant. We are bonded to God by love, not by compulsion.  The Holy Spirit working in us makes us formerly useless and worthless people into someone very useful in proclaiming the grace, mercy, and peace that God has shown us, and wants to show those around us His love through our words and actions.
  • Interpretation:  When you think of something useless, what comes to mind? 
    • There was a good contrast of useful with useless in our Psalmody for today - 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.  4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (Psm 1:3-4 ESV)  I don’t think wheat chaff is even good for consumable fiber.
    • Jesus said -  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
      • I think we can agree a withered branch isn’t useful for anything.  Some creative people might make something artistic out of a withered branch, but you can’t make anything out of the branch that would be useful. 
    • Jesus said in our Gospel reading for today (Luke 14:34-35) - 34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
      • Some people have to watch how much sodium they consume.  Anything that isn’t an acid or a base is salt.  This makes it easy to produce a table salt substitute for sodium chloride.  There have been many salt substitutes on the market and I would imagine some are more useful than others for improving the saltiness of food.  But what good are any of these substitutes if they don’t make your food taste better?
  • Onesimus crossed over from death to life when he became a believer in Jesus Christ.  He experienced similarly to what we experienced at our baptism.
    • Baptism levels the playing field so to speak as all of us fall short of the glory of God.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1Co 12:13) - 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.) 
    • This emphasis on baptism by Paul is also seen in what he wrote to the Colossians (Col 2:11-14) - 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 
    • Back at the end of June, we looked into the Greek word, παιδαγωγὸς.  We looked into Gal 3:23-28 which was instructive on the conversion which takes place in our baptism - 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
      • Paul was making this latter point with Philemon that he and Onesimus are now brothers in Christ and will remain that way forever.  They are no better or worse in the Lord’s eyes, because they were each redeemed in the same way.  Paul made this point in his letter to Philemon when he wrote in vv15-16 - 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  Onesimus apparently converted to Christianity and was baptized when with Paul.
  • With this conversion came a new way of thinking and acting in the Spirit and not in the flesh.  This is why it does *not* seem strange for a personal letter to become a book of Bible.  There is a lesson for us here in Onesimus’ conduct.
    • Onesimus, in returning to his slave owner, took to heart the message in our Gospel today regarding costs of discipleship.  He was convicted of his sin of fleeing his owner and in true repentance, turned his actions around in life to be more in alignment with the Lord’s word.
    • He faced death if caught as a runaway slave.  Paul was not out of the woods on this situation either.   Paul had a duty of citizenship to return this runaway, despite Onesimus becoming very useful to his ministry.  He no doubt convinced Onesimus to do what was right even to Paul’s and possibly Onesimus’ detriment.  This is what integrity looks like in the presence of the Lord.
    • Without knowing, Onesimus faced cruelty, possibly to the point of death, by returning to Philemon and being obedient to him.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit was testifying in Onesimus’ soul Jesus’ words from the Luke reading for today? Luke 14:27 - 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
  • Conclusion: God can make good out of anything bad.  We know this because of the bad situation our parents Adam & Eve put us in. However, we do a mighty fine job of messing things up on our own.  This is exactly why God sent His one and only Son who would faithfully live a perfect life so He could shed innocent blood on the cross that would be the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in our place so we could get a free pass into heaven.
    • We sang about this very commissioning in our opening hymn on today in stanza five I repeat here – God said to His beloved Son; It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of My crown, and bring to all salvation.  From sin and sorrow set them free; slay bitter death for them that they may live with You forever!
    • Onesimus turned from his sinful fleeing from God’s word and went back to Philemon.  Paul as his advocate advised him in the correct interpretation of God’s word and encouraged both of them to be reconciled with each other and in doing so, worshipping the Lord in actions.  When we follow such an example, we too are being very useful in accomplishing the Lord’s purposes in this Age.  There could not be a more satisfying endeavor in life than to do what is right and pleasing in the sight of our Lord.  May His Spirit work in you to do all to His glory!  Amen.

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