Monday, April 29, 2019

Called to Be Gentle and Respectful...and Never Squeamish (AUDIO)

HERE is the audio of yesterday's message from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Called to Be Gentle, Respectful...and Never Squeamish

[This was shared today during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

John 20:19-31
This Good Friday, after we had confessed our sins to God in Jesus’ name, I did something that always makes me feel a bit squeamish. I turned to the congregation and declared, “I forgive you.”

A voice inside of me asks who am I, a sinner who daily violates God’s will as I mindlessly follow the lead of my corrupt human nature, to tell you (or anyone else), “I forgive you”?

And what about the Church as a whole? “What right does the Church have to tell me what’s right and wrong?” more than one person has asked through the centuries.

We all have known self-righteous legalists who, in the name of Jesus, make telling others how bad they are their hobby. They’ll tell people that if they dance or play cards or drink beer, they’re going to hell. 

Some so-called Christians say that if you’re even tempted by sin, you’re going to hell. (They say this even though Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was tempted by sin.) 

These legalists say that even an orientation to sin, whether your sin orientation is to gluttony, taking God’s name in vain, covetousness, idolatry,  engaging in sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage, bearing false witness against others (a favorite sin among church members, by the way), or whatever violation of God’s moral law might most appeal to us, if we are tempted by these or any other sin, these self-righteous Christians tell us, it means we are damned by God.

So, it’s probably good for us to be just a little bit squeamish about telling people, “In Jesus' name, I forgive you” or, “In Jesus' name, I don’t forgive you.” 

But listen: Just because some Christians are self-righteous legalists--and others are equally unfaithful to God by being “anything goes libertarians” when it comes to sin--just because there are those kinds of people calling themselves Christians, doesn’t mean that we should avoid fulfilling the responsibility Christ has given to us as the Church, to pronounce forgiveness to the repentant and condemnation to the unrepentant

As the Church, the body of Christ in the world, we have both the right and the responsibility to do just that.

This all comes into focus in today’s gospel lesson, John 20:19-31. It begins on the first day of the new creation, Easter Sunday, when Israel’s calling to be God’s light to the world was fulfilled in the risen Jesus and when believers in Jesus, filled with Him and His love, were given this same call. 

To see what this means, we’re going to look at just the first five verses of the lesson, verses 19 to 23.

Verse 19: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

The disciples’ Easter morning skepticism about Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead is blown away when Jesus, alive and breathing, shows up in the midst of the locked room in which they’d been quaking in fear. Jesus met their fear with His peace. We have that same peace as we trust in Jesus.

Verse 21: “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Genesis 2 tells us that “...the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being…” (Genesis 2:7). 

On the first Easter, Jesus, the risen Son of God, creates again, a new humanity, one that shares in Jesus’ death, daily submitting to the crucifixion of their sins and daily rising to newness in Him by daily repenting and daily receiving forgiveness through Jesus. He does this by breathing the Holy Spirit into the first disciples. 

When you and I are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit, the breath of the new life that Jesus died and rose to give to all who belong to Him. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As stewards of this old creation, human beings were charged by God back in the garden of Eden, to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:7) Human beings were to reproduce children of God and to rule over this creation while trusting in God. God wanted to human beings to join Him in multiplying the blessings of His love with an ever-growing human family.

Of course, you know what happened. Humanity fell into sin, ushering death, darkness, and futility into God’s good creation. But even as God banished Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, He put the serpent on notice that He was going to bring a new creation into being through a Savior. He told the serpent that a Son would be born to the human race Who “will crush your head.” (Genesis 3:15) Jesus is that Son, God in human flesh, Who can breathe new life into dead bones.

That’s what He did the first Easter in that locked room. “...he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” 

But Jesus doesn’t give new life or make us part of His new creation just so we can sit back and be pleased with ourselves. Whenever the God we know in Jesus gives new life, gives us a mission

The apostle Paul says that just as Adam was entrusted with the stewardship of the old creation, you and I are to be “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1, ESV). 

The apostle Peter says, “But you are the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people, chosen [What? To sit around and think how wonderful we are or to tell others how bad they are? No!] to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) 

Jesus says that we are to reproduce ourselves by sharing His gospel and His truth with others: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

If we’ve been saved by Christ, we have a purpose, exactly as Jesus said on the first Easter evening: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Quite simply, our call is to be God’s new creation, people pulsing with the new life God gives to those who trust in the risen Jesus. 

And we’re to use every part of the lives God gives to us--our brains, our brawn, our lives, our money--to help others know and see Jesus. 

That means getting out of Jesus’ way, letting Him be he burning center of our lives so that the whole world can know not just what’s a sin and what’s not, but so that they can, through us and the ministries of which we are a part, meet the One Who has conquered our sin, Who can keep conquering our sin as we live in daily repentance and renewal.

In honesty, I can say that I am a sinner and that I daily, often many times a day, feel the need to confess my sins to God and seek forgiveness through Christ. 

But in Christian love and filled with the Holy Spirit as a child of God’s new creation, I can also declare God’s forgiveness to the repentant and His condemnation to the unrepentant. 

Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15).

I believe that if you and I speak God’s truth--His sometimes hard truth--in love, with gentleness and respect, that even when people reject the Savior we represent, they won’t have a legitimate reason to think that we’ve been unloving toward them. 

“I’m gay,” a man who loved the Lord told me one Sunday after worship in a previous parish. He was afraid this meant that God wouldn’t have anything to do with him. “Being gay isn’t the question between you and God,” I told him. “I have sins that tempt me too. The question is what we do with our temptations.” And then I told him honestly, “God loves you and I love you too.”

Listen: The responsibility of proclaiming forgiveness or condemnation for sin, what Jesus elsewhere calls “the keys to the kingdom,” is neither a license to kill with condemnation nor a permit to paper sin over with cheap grace. It’s our responsibility and our joy to speak the truth about Jesus so that, coming face to face with Jesus through us, He will make new disciples and growing that, new generations will be able to say as Thomas did one week after the first Easter when he came face to face with Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) 

May we never be too squeamish to share Jesus, the truth of God, so that, just like us, others can repent and believe in Him and be saved by grace through faith in the crucified and risen Savior of the world. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]