Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Psalm 51:5 (Romans 6:3-4) - “Clinging to the Grace of Baptism”

Lenten Midweek
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Redeemer Lutheran Church window
Let’s start off by settling one of the questions that comes up about baptism: is it holy water? Here’s the pitcher we use to fill up the baptismal font, (leaving sanctuary and going to the sacristy) and when there’s a baptism in a service, we ask one of the ushers to fill up the baptismal font with water. The usher takes the pitcher back to the sink in the Altar Guild room. He or she fills up the pitcher with warm water—warm water from the sink, a regular sink with regular pipes. It’s city water, the same water we have throughout the building, the same water you have at home if you live in Manitowoc, and the same water they’ll have in Green Bay soon.

(re-entering sanctuary, putting water in baptismal font) So while there’s not a baptism tonight, as we start this sermon about baptism, I wanted you to know that the water isn’t special, holy, blessed, from a special place, or anything like that. It’s not the water that makes it a baptism; it’s the Word of God. And the Word of God is what we need to keep in mind when trying to ask other questions about baptism, too.

Before we try to answer any more questions, there’s some passages from Scripture that we need to keep in mind. You’ve got them printed out on the insert in tonight’s bulletin. First of all, Psalm 51 verse 5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” To answer some questions about baptism, it’ll be important to remember that Scripture tells us that we’ve been sinful since before we were born. Jesus is the only human who has been born without sin. All of the rest of us are sinful simply because of being human, of being connected back to Adam and Eve. We have the corruption, infection, disease of sin.

Secondly, Paul writes in Romans chapter 6, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” One of the results or signs of sin is death. The consequence for being conceived in sin is that we all will die. None of us can say that we are immortal on our own.

And then the third passage to keep in mind as we talk about baptism is also from Romans chapter 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism changes our relationship to sin and death. Baptism connects us with Jesus, gives us life after death, conquers our sinfulness.

As we keep those passages in mind tonight as we look at questions about baptism, we also take a look at Article 9 from the Augsburg Confession which is about baptism. There the early Lutherans wrote about what they believed about baptism and what they rejected. It says,

Concerning baptism [Lutherans] teach that it is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized. They are received into the grace of God when they are offered to God through baptism.

Rejected are the Anabaptists (re-baptizers) who disapprove of the baptism of children and assert that children are saved without baptism.

Another way of saying that baptism offers the grace of God is to say that baptism offers the GIFT of God. The gift is salvation through Jesus Christ. This is a gift whether we’re children or adults.

The early Lutherans rejected those who said that anyone who was baptized as an infant needs to be baptized again as an adult. The Anabaptists, or re-baptizers, claimed that a baptism is only valid if the person chooses to be baptized. That discussion between the early Lutherans and the Anabaptists back in 1530 might sound very similar to discussions you’ve had with Christians from other denominations, and that leads us right into the next question you asked about baptism: DO INFANTS NEED TO BE BAPTIZED?

In order to answer that question, let’s ask some other questions, and the passages I’ve asked you to keep in mind will help us sort out God’s answers from our own logical answers.

The first thing to consider is “when did sin corrupt our souls?” Remembering Psalm 51, we learn from God that we’ve been sinful since we were in the womb. There has never been a time when we were innocent. I know that lots of people say to me, “How can you say that this little infant is sinful? That’s so mean. The infant doesn’t know any better.”

Yet, that takes us to the next question, “Who isn’t subject to death?” Here again we’d have to say that ever since we were conceived, there’s been the possibility of our death. Children die while still in the womb: from stillbirths and unexplained reasons, from abortion, from injuries to the mother. Children die immediately after being born. Children die when just a few weeks old. If the wages of sin, if the consequence of sin is death, then the death of children—before or after birth—shows that there’s not a time when we aren’t sinful. If infants weren’t sinful, then they wouldn’t die.

So DO INFANTS NEED TO BAPTIZED? So far we’ve figured out that infants are sinful—shown in the fact that they may die. But then the next question that we have to answer is that some Christians will ask: what about the “age of accountability?” Some churches teach that infants and small children don’t need to be baptized, because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong. I found a definition of the “age of accountability” on one Website which says, “The age of accountability is when one understands, is capable of believing, repenting, confessing Jesus’ deity, and being baptized.” That sounds logical—a child shouldn’t need baptism to be saved from their sins if they don’t know they’re sinful.

However, go to the next question: “Will we ever reach an age of accountability fitting this description?” In other words, will any of us no matter how old we are ever truly understand Jesus, truly believe with all our heart, fully repent of our sins, and completely say with every part of our soul that Jesus is God. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “The natural person [in other words, the human on his or her own] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” On our own without the Holy Spirit, you and I would never come to the age of accountability. We will never be able to understand our sin and confess that Jesus saves us.

That description of the age of accountability, that’s not something you and I will reach on our own, so then the next question is on the back of your insert: “Is this understanding and faith revealed to us by age, training, or the Holy Spirit?” From Ephesians chapter 1, it’s clear that it comes through the Holy Spirit alone: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” God will reveal His wisdom to you. God will give you understanding, will cause us to repent, confess our sins, turn away from our wickedness. God will put faith in your heart.

Which leads us back to the original question: DO INFANTS NEED BAPTISM? Well, clearly, Scripture says we’re sinful from the beginning, so yes, infants need to be forgiven and saved from their sins. And yes, logically, it seems like infants can’t understand anything, so how can we say they can be baptized and believe in Jesus? Except that’s the thing: none of us can believe in Jesus on our own. We need God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts. Baptism works in the Holy Spirit in our hearts, creating faith where there was none. Faith doesn’t come through age or training; it comes through the work of the Holy Spirit—no matter how old we are. It is the gift of God.

Before moving onto another question, let’s just ask one more question in this area: If we teach that children aren’t accountable for their sins,
then they don’t need Jesus. It sounds so logical to say that since children don’t know right from wrong that we can’t hold them accountable for their sins. Except that if children aren’t responsible for their sins, then logically we’d also have to say that children don’t need to be forgiven, and then they don’t need Jesus. I don’t like where that logic leads us, because we know from Scripture that no one can be saved without Jesus.

So this is a reminder when dealing with tough questions about baptism or other theological issues, cling to grace, cling to God’s gift of salvation in Jesus, cling to God’s Word, and don’t cling to logic. Logic, our own minds, will play tricks on us, so we need to cling to what God says.
Clinging to grace is exactly what Pastor Don Matzat talks about in his article about infant baptism from the Issues, Etc. journal. You’ve got a short section from the article on your insert.

[For opponents of infant Baptism,]the issue is, “Is that all they have to do is be baptized?” The focus is always on what the person is doing or not doing and never on what God is doing and able to do.

I knew a young couple who had affiliated with a Lutheran Church but did not embrace the practice of infant Baptism. They were both products of the “Jesus Movement” in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and had been baptized in a river. After seriously studying the issue under the guidance of their pastor and especially reading the infant Baptism defense in The Book of Concord, they changed their minds and had their three children baptized. The father explained his change of mind by saying, “We thought we were saved by faith through grace rather than by grace through faith. According to the Bible, grace precedes faith. Therefore, we brought our children under the grace of God.”

This couple thought they were saved by their action of faith, which logically meant that their children shouldn’t be baptized until the children were able to take that same action of faith. In learning about God’s grace, though, they realized that Jesus saves us through His action, through grace, through a gift of God. If our teaching about baptism doesn’t emphasize grace, then we’ve changed the message of Scripture.

Now, though, we must move onto one of the toughest questions you asked about baptism: WHAT IF AN UNBORN CHILD OR INFANT DIES WITHOUT BAPTISM?

There’s a reason that your insert is blank under that question—God’s Word doesn’t have an answer. Nowhere in Scripture does it directly say what happens in the cases of stillborns, abortions, or children who die before they are baptized.

So besides a blank space on the page, what can we say in the case of children who die without being baptized? All I really say is “I don’t know.” Scripture doesn’t really give us an answer.

However, we cling to God’s grace. I will say to God, “Lord, this wasn’t how you meant for things to be. You meant for us to live with you. I trust in you, God. I trust in your unfailing love and your mercy. I trust in your heart of hearts that you didn’t want to be separated forever from these children.”

That’s what it means to cling to grace. I don’t know the answer, but I know that God is gracious. That’s what it means to cling to grace in many situations. We don’t know what God will do, but we trust that God is gracious and will show His love.

Finally, I suppose the last question to look at tonight falls under the category of the Rules of Baptism, and here, too, we cling to grace. DO I NEED TO BAPTIZED AGAIN if I was baptized in another denomination? Sometimes people ask this saying they were baptized in another religion. Another religion is a belief in a different god, and what I really think you mean is what if you were baptized in another denomination, a division of Christianity, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Baptist? No, you don’t need to be baptized again, as long as you were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We cling to God’s grace in knowing that baptism doesn’t have its power from the name of the church or the pastor who did it. Baptism has its power in the Word of God.

DO I NEED TO BE BAPTIZED AGAIN if I was baptized as an adult thinking it was my action? No, again, you simply need to cling to God’s grace. Many of us at one time or another wrongly think that we’ve done something to save ourselves through baptism, Confirmation, coming to church, etc., but in that case, it is simply a reminder that you need to return to God’s grace, remembering that your baptism is completely God’s action.

Finally, DO I NEED TO BE BAPTIZED AGAIN if I fell away from the church since I was a child? If you were baptized as a child, spent years away from the church and your faith, and now you’re back, no, you don’t need to be baptized again. It’s not your action, and you don’t need to repeat it. It was God’s action, and His action still has power even if you rejected that power for a time in your life. If you get baptized again, it will seem to be about your action. Instead, realize that it is God’s gift, that God is the One who has brought you back to the faith, and celebrate what God has done in your life.

That’s a lot of different questions to answer about baptism, but I think the best thing to remember while trying to answer these questions or other tough questions about God is that we cling to grace. The joy and hope of Christianity is that God comes to give us the gift of salvation, a gift we can’t earn, a gift that is free of charge. God has come into your lives through baptism to save you.

If you haven’t been baptized yet, you’re still welcome here, because here God has come to give you His Word. He works His Holy Spirit in your hearts, creating faith in you, and hopefully, one day you will be able to be baptized.

No matter what, though, I want all of you to remember that salvation through Jesus is a gift that is offered to us. We cling to God’s grace, because only by grace will we be saved.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Psalm 19:7-14 - “What If I’d Rather Have High Fructose Corn Syrup Instead of Pure Honey?”

3rd Sunday in Lent (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, March 18, and Sunday, March 19, 2006

(place different kinds of soda on table)

Here’s a whole bunch of different kinds of soda. Everybody likes different kinds, I suppose, and some of my favorites are up here—Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, Wild Cherry Pepsi, and I suppose I could start a fight by saying that Coke is better than Pepsi. But you know, awhile ago a dietician pointed out to me that no matter what flavor they are, all of these sodas are flavored by high fructose corn syrup. Sure, these sodas taste sweet. We talk about craving sugar, but it’s not like SUGAR (place a bag of sugar on table). It’s really made from CORN (place a can of corn on table). Even this lemonade, iced tea, and all natural Snapple juice are just high fructose corn syrup.

Boylan Bottleworks Fitz’s Rootbeer Feeling funny about that, sometimes I check the labels on soda made in small-batches by smaller companies. Take this one, for instance. Boylan Bottleworks Black Cherry. It’s made with pure cane sugar. (open bottle, take a swig) It really changes the taste. My favorite is a great little soda maker in St. Louis called Fitz’s which uses pure cane sugar, and it really is great soda.

But I suppose we could do one better. Even better than cane sugar, the bees are making HONEY (place honey on table). Reed’s Ginger Brews Honey has such a different kind of sweetness that it makes it so much better. So I went and found a soda that is sweetened with honey. This is Reed’s Ginger Ale. (open bottle, take a swig) And that’s really good, because you can tell that honey is so much different from cane sugar and way different that the high fructose corn syrup.

And that’s the image I want you to remember as you read Psalm 19—God’s Word is sweeter than honey, better than pure honey. His Word, His commandments, His way for our lives, His Word of hope and peace and love, everything God has told us about Himself, that is sweeter than honey, that’s like finding the best tasting soda—you don’t want to go back to drinking other stuff, the cheap stuff, the fake stuff . . .or do you?

This soda is good (raise honey-flavored one), but I’m so unused to honey, that even though I know honey might be better, might taste better, might be better for me, still what if I’d rather have high fructose corn syrup?

Even though I know that honey or even pure cane sugar are better sweeteners, more pure, natural, and better tasting, even though I know this, still sometimes I crave the fake stuff, the high fructose corn syrup. And the strange thing is that what I’m craving isn’t sugar. . .it’s the corn. Reports say that this country is overweight due to corn. Not because we’re all eating so much corn on the cob. No, we’re getting fat on corn because we’re drinking it in high fructose corn syrup flavored sodas. The stuff is too sweet which then is also leading to the rising rates of diabetes.

And yet, I’m hooked, I crave it, I really like my Coca-Cola.

Well, in that same way, don’t we often want the fake wisdom instead of the true wisdom of God. Instead of God’s Word which is sweeter than pure honey, don’t we often settle for, even crave the teachings of the world. We’d rather have our own thoughts and ideas about how to live instead of going for the good stuff.

All of the wisdom of this world, all of our own ideas that we make up, all of the stuff that the devil tries to sell us, that’s like high fructose corn syrup. It’s fake, it’s not good for us. When we keep making up our own ideas about how to live, it’s making us spiritually overweight, giving us spiritual diabetes. Whenever we listen to the world, our own sinful thoughts, or Satan, we’re choosing high fructose corn syrup over honey, we’re choosing the fake stuff instead of God’s Word, and it’s making us spiritually sick.

For instance, I’d like to think that I could get myself to heaven, but that’s just a high fructose corn syrup kind of thought. I don’t want to offend someone by saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but that kind of thought is like having corn instead of honey. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll sound fun, but that’s a fake sugar. All of those ideas that we have about the world, the ideas we make up ourselves, our thoughts about morality and God, it’s all just high fructose corn syrup.

Only God’s Word is honey, pure honey, pure sweetness. Psalm 19 says that “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” The wisdom of this world brings death, but God’s law brings life. “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Really the wisdom of the world doesn’t make us any wiser about the real truths; only God can bring us the spiritual truths we need for eternal life. “The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.” It seems like that the wisdom of this world, our own thoughts, or just doing whatever we want, that seems to give us joy, but only God can give us a joy that doesn’t disappear. “The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” The wisdom of this world is like a flashlight with dying batteries: it brings light for just a moment and quickly dies. God’s Word shines on forever. God’s Word brings life, makes us truly wise, brings true joy, and shines with everlasting light. God’s Word is even better than pure honey; God’s Word is the best kind of sweetness we can imagine.

And Psalm 19 celebrates this, and I want to pause here, because I know many of you are dealing with the shock of Mary Canty’s death in a car accident on Friday. Mary Canty knew the sweetness of God’s Word. I mean, I love God’s Word, but Mary was someone who really taught me to see how rich, beautiful, pure, and sweet God’s Word is. I thank God for the beautiful faith He gave to Mary through the Holy Spirit. I praise God that because of that faith, she gets to celebrate His Word with Him for eternity.

David, who wrote Psalm 19, celebrates the sweetness of God’s Word, and then he comes to the conclusion you can see in those last verses:

How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Keep me from deliberate sins!
Don’t let them control me.
Then I will be free of guilt
and innocent of great sin.

David realized how wonderful and perfect and pure and sweet God’s Word is, and that made him realize how sinful and corrupt and sick and fake his own thoughts were. In fact, David realizes that his spiritual health is worse than he even knows. He prays that God will forgive and remove those hidden faults, those ways he’s drinking that high fructose corn syrup without even realizing it.

One scholar said it this way: “Psalm 19 is the plea of someone who keeps God’s law with joy but knows there will still be hidden errors and sins that God will need to forgive” (Patrick D. Miller, They Cried to the Lord, 102-103). It’s like knowing that you enjoy choosing the soda with honey, you believe in getting rid of the fake stuff, but still there’s times when you stop caring about it and just choose high fructose corn syrup. In that same way, many of us enjoy following God’s ways, we seek to serve God with our lives. We’re not out there deliberately trying to go against God’s will, and yet, as soon as we take a look at God’s Word, we realize that our spiritual diet just isn’t that healthy. Spiritually there’s still hidden sins, hidden faults, ways that our sinfulness gets the best of us, ways that Satan and the world fool us.

We’re breaking our spiritually healthy diet in more ways than we know. If our spiritual lives were like Weight Watchers, we’d be counting our points, sticking with our plan, learning to do portion control, and yet, there’s all of those snacks, pieces of candy, and cans of soda that we sneak, that we don’t count as points. We’re constantly breaking our spiritual diet without even thinking about it.

Yet, in Psalm 19, David sounds very confident that God’s Word has also taught him about God’s forgiveness. . .for all of our sins. Yes, God’s Word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and sure. God’s way of life is the most perfect way. However, this includes God’s forgiveness and love, His Gospel, His Good News in Jesus Christ. God’s forgiveness is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and sure.

While we still crave, while still jones for the bad stuff, God keeps coming to us to offer us the real stuff, the pure stuff. Whenever we realize that the high fructose corn syrup of our sin is making us unhealthy, God comes offering us the pure honey of His Word. While we have all of these hidden faults, God still comes with His Word of forgiveness.

Psalm 19 praises God for His pure, excellent, sweet Word which brings us life, but Psalm 19 also is a prayer for protection from evil. In fact, it’s very much like what we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil.” When David says in Psalm 19, “Keep me from deliberate sins!/Don’t let them control me,” that’s another way of saying “deliver us from evil.” We’re crying out to God for His protection from the evil of this world, the evil of our own sinfulness, the evil of Satan.

That same scholar makes the comparison this way, “The basic petition (request) of all the Old Testament prayers for help, the prayer of God’s saving grace, God’s delivering help in the face of any evil that may befall us—illness, oppression, insolent or evil people, and the like. The Lord’s Prayer thus comes at its end to [sum up] all those cries for help that we have seen at the heart of the prayers of the Psalter and the stories of people and communities in distress” (Miller, 334-335). “Deliver us from evil.” It sums up all of the prayers of the Old Testament; it sums up all of our prayers. We’re asking God to deliver us from high fructose corn syrup; we’re asking God to deliver us from the wisdom of this world that’s fake, false, leading to death.

And God promises to hear our cries. God hears our cries today. He sees how our spirits rejoice in His Word, and yet, He also sees how our souls are plagued with cravings for things that are unhealthy for us, cravings for sin and rebellion. We want to do our own thing. We want to believe our own ideas about God. He sees how we are spiritually sick, eating up the fake sugar of this world. He hears our cries for help and protection, sending His Word to us through the Bible, through the Church, through the words of fellow Christians, through hymns and Bible studies and devotions. God sends His pure, excellent, sweet Word to us to give us what we need for life: salvation through Jesus Christ. God sends His Holy Spirit in our hearts to protect us, to deliver us from evil.

Maybe you’re concerned about how many things of this world are tempting you. Maybe you’ve realized today just how much you fall for the fake sweetness of the world instead of the true sweetness of God’s Word. Maybe today you’re really feeling like you need to be delivered. Well, I promise that God hears you today as you cry out, as your soul cries out for protection, as your soul cries for the perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, and sure Word of God. No matter how many times we try to add other things to the table, God is constantly trying to remove the false wisdom from our lives (take down all soda and others except one with honey), helping us to focus on the soda with honey, the Word of God which sweeter than pure honey.

I’m leaving this soda out here, the one with honey, as a visual for you to remember that we choose God’s Word, we choose the pure word of God that is sweeter than honey. God’s Word is that much better than any other wisdom you’ll find in this world. It is the only truth, and that truth in God’s Word brings the sweetness of forgiveness into our lives, forgiveness for our bad spiritual diets. Remember this soda today, so that you’ll remember how God’s Word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure and sweet.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

John 6:40 - "What-When-Why Worship"

Lenten Midweek
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

We gave you some of the topics covered in the Augsburg Confession and asked you to choose from those topics for our midweek services. Your questions about the topic of worship can be summed up in the phrase: What-When-Why Worship. What is worship, when should we worship, and just why are we worshipping anyway?

Well, you’ve got an insert in your bulletins that will help us walk through these 3 W’s of worship. As I said, our Lenten sermon topics come from the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg was written in 1530 as way to pull together everything the early Lutherans were teaching, trying to explain it to the Roman Catholics who were against them. The Augsburg Confession is still one of the documents that this congregation agrees to uphold, because the Augsburg correctly explains what Scripture teaches. That’s why we’re going to go back to this document to see what it has to say about What-When-Why Worship.

First of all, then, WHAT IS WORSHIP? As you can see on your insert, an explanation of worship comes from Article V of the Augsburg where it says:

To obtain [the Christian] faith, God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these,…He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith…[and] teaches that we have a gracious God.

In other words, God set up the Church so that there would be preaching and teaching of His Word. Through His Word, He creates faith in our hearts. What is worship, then? Worship is hearing God’s Word preached and taught; it is the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And through what we do when we come together, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God is gracious, that He offers His love and forgiveness to us free of charge.

This explanation isn’t any different than what Jesus said in the Gospel of John, you’ve got the quote on the insert there, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” When we come together to worship and look at the Son through His Word, God’s goal for us is that we believe in Jesus. He wants us to believe so that we will have eternal life.

That then is the answer to WHAT IS WORSHIP? It’s really as simple as that—the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus for salvation. If you were hoping that I’d tell you what worship has to look like, what it has to sound like, what instruments and music it can and can’t include, well, that’s a whole different discussion about style and preferences. Those questions of style are going to change over time, are different for every person, and something a congregation has to figure out together. However, what we learn here from the Augsburg Confession based on Scripture is that worship must always build us up in our faith in Jesus. That’s the bottom line.

So if worship is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word with the goal of creating and strengthening faith, then what about the next question? When do we worship? Or like on the insert: IS IT A SIN NOT TO BE IN WORSHIP?

Again, we go to the Augsburg Confession, this time in Article 15:

We teach that those rites should be observed that can be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church.

However, people are reminded not to burden consciences, as if such worship were necessary for salvation. They are also reminded that human traditions are instituted to win God’s favor, merit, grace, and make satisfaction for sins are opposed to the gospel and the teaching of faith. [These traditions] are useless and contrary to the gospel.

I thought that the easiest way to look at how this paragraph answers the question was to put it into a flowchart.

The second side of the flowchart, if you’re trying to get out of worship, trying to come up with a good excuse but still feel like you’re covered with God, that’s where something like the words of Jesus in John chapter 4 come to help us to understand what worship is really about:

[Jesus said,] “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

If we’re just trying to fulfill that minimum requirement, that’s not worship in spirit and truth, that’s not relationship with God, that’s simply going through the motions—and that’s a sin.

But now if you’re not here on Sunday because your family is out of town, or you have trouble getting here regularly because of your work schedule, it doesn’t mean that God’s going to punish you. Just like the Augsburg Confession says, worship services aren’t supposed to burden your consciences, make you feel guilty every time you miss one, because when it comes right down to it, we don’t earn salvation by our worship. Salvation, forgiveness, and life after death only come from faith in Jesus, which brings us back again to what worship is: the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus.

Flip your insert over, because now it’s important to take a look at the other question you asked: HOW CAN I GET MORE OF WORSHIP? We go to a quote from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession for an answer to this question. The Apology isn’t when the Lutherans said they were sorry for writing the Augsburg Confession. In this situation, “apology” means a further explanation. The Apology to the Augsburg Confession is where the Lutherans tried to explain in more detail what they were teaching.

In Article 24, the Apology says:

All ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.

And in Article 15, the Apology says:

For although the [early Church] Fathers themselves had rites and traditions, they still did not maintain that these things were useful or necessary for justification. Instead, they taught that we are justified by faith on account of Christ and not on account of these human acts of worship. Moreover, they observed these human rites on account of their usefulness for the body, so that people may know at what time they should assemble, so that they may have an example of how all things in the churches might be done decently and in order, and finally, so that the common people may receive some instruction.

From these two quotes, the first thing we see is that in order to get more out of worship, we need to ENSURE that the Gospel is being taught. Article 24 reminds us that the purpose of everything we do together in worship is so that people are taught what they need to know about Jesus Christ saving us from our sins. Article 15 makes it clear that the ceremonies themselves do not save us; it is the Word of God, the action of Jesus on the cross and rising from the grave, that’s what brings us salvation.

As preachers, Pastor Miller and I must ENSURE that our worship services teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And you must ENSURE that you are hearing Gospel in worship. If you don’t think that our worship services are talking about forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus, you also have a responsibility to point this out to us and the leaders of the congregation.

Our responsibility to ENSURE that the Gospel is heard in our worship is related to what is said in Hebrews chapter 10,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We can’t waver from our teaching about Jesus. We need to come together, urge each other forward in their faith, and make sure that everyone is hearing the Gospel in worship.

To get more out of worship the first thing we must all do is to ENSURE that there’s Gospel in the worship services for us to get. The very process of looking to see how the hymns, Scripture readings, prayers, sermon, and anthems are holding up Jesus as our Savior, even that process will help you to get more out of worship.

And if you’re focused on looking at what we’re doing in worship and checking it against our goal of teaching about Christ, then you’re onto the second way of getting more out of worship: ENGAGE.

There’s obviously an emotional component of worship—the way music can lift us up, the way our silence can help us to be sorry for our sins—but you’ve got to ENGAGE your mind as well. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.”

Again, it goes back to what worship is: the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus. There’s joy, happiness, a healthy fear, sorrow, comfort, and peace, all of these emotions related to believing in Jesus, but the preaching and teaching in worship also engages the mind.

Why worry about the mind? Because it is vitally important to know why you have emotional reactions to God and worship. We can’t trust our emotions all of the time, and so God needs to train our minds, so that we can know that Jesus died in our place, that we will not die forever, that we will be forgiven and taken to live with God after death. We’re not just singing in worship because it makes us happy; we’re singing because we learned this incredible message from God about how He will save us.

So in order to get more out of worship, you’ve got to ENSURE that the Gospel in here in everything we do, and as you look for the Gospel, you will ENGAGE your mind, which helps you to keep learning and seeing what God’s message is teaching you.

Once you ENGAGE your mind, though, you’re bound to start thinking of questions, which brings us to the third part of getting more out worship: ENQUIRE. “Enquiring minds what to know,” right? Well, unlike the National Enquirer tabloid, in this case, that’s true in a good way. The more you ENGAGE your mind looking to see what you can learn from every part of a worship service, the more you will want to ENQUIRE, study, research, ask questions, learn more about what things mean.

For instance, open your hymnals and go back to the sermon hymn, #451, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” When you sang that first stanza, if you were engaged with your mind, you were not only trying to sing, enjoying the beauty of the melody, you were also trying to take in what the words are teaching you. However, maybe you sang that first stanza and wondered where those words came from. That’s an ENQUIRY. That’s a great question, one that you might not be able to answer during worship, but a question that you could write down. Then when you get home, you could do research. Or after worship, you could ask Pastor Miller or me. Or a lot of times in Bible studies or Sunday School, I see that people have gotten to the ENQUIRING stage during worship, coming back with great questions about what we’re learning in worship.

Well, in the case of hymn #451, I did the ENQUIRY and found that this hymn is based on Paul’s words in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy. The quote is on your insert,

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

By asking the question, “Where did these words of the hymn come from,” I had to study and get back into Scripture. I learned that Paul praises God with these words because God chose to use him in ministry even though Paul knew that he was a terrible sinner. It’s a beautiful outburst of praise from Paul.

Maybe this all seems too academic, too intellectual, too bookish, for you. Maybe you’d rather just experience worship. But this is experiencing worship. I’m telling you, the emotional reaction we get from worship is pretty weak if we don’t understand what we’re saying. Now that we know that hymn #451 is based on Paul’s words of great joy, now that we know that this hymn has us singing words that connect us back 2000 years to Paul, now that we know that Paul’s words just as joyous for us—terrible sinners who are still part of God’s mission to the world—now that we have ENSURED the hymn teaches Gospel, now that we have ENGAGED our minds to listen, now that we have ENQUIRED to understand more, now we’re able to get more out of worship.

Of course, the “more” that we’ll get out of worship is really just more of the same, we’re going to get more of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word so that we may believe in Jesus. That’s still the bottom line. Getting more out of worship means seeing more and more how everything we do in worship points us to Jesus Christ.

As a way of bringing all of this What-When-Why Worship stuff together, let’s sing stanza 1 of hymn #451 again. As we sing, let your joy shine through your singing, because the words of this hymn are reminding you that God is tremendous for the way He will use sinners like us. Let’s stand and sing.

Quotations are from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, editors, © 2000, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortess.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mark 1:12-15 - "Dead by Thirty-Three"

Rev. Benjamin C. Squires, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Manitowoc, WI
Mark 1:12-15
“Dead By Thirty-Three”
First Sunday in Lent (B)
Saturday, March 4, and Sunday, March 5, 2006

David Wilcox
This past Monday was my birthday. I turned 33. For about six years I’ve been thinking about this sermon, the sermon around my 33rd birthday, because around six years ago is when I first heard the song “Glory” by David Wilcox. Wilcox is a singer/songwriter, a folk singer who also happens to be a Christian. His song “Glory” contemplates what it means to wake up on your 33rd birthday knowing that this is the age that Jesus Christ was when He was crucified and rose again. I want you to hear the first verse and chorus of the song.

Well, I'd be dead by thirty-three
That was my best guess
But hey, here I am this morning
singing "happy birthday to me"
as I clean up all this mess
because I'm still left alive
without warning

In the big boring middle
of my long book of life
after the twist has been told
If you don't die in glory
at the age of Christ
then your story is just getting old

Wilcox is saying that he felt like he was going to be dead by thirty-three, dead at the age of Christ. However, he wakes up on his 33rd birthday, and he’s still there. Yet, he feels like his life is boring, like it’s all down hill from here. He always figured if he didn’t die in glory at the age of Christ, if he didn’t go out in a blaze of glory changing the world by the time he was 33, well, I guess, Wilcox figured his life was just going to get old.

Six years ago when I heard this song, I thought it was an honest thought—if I don’t accomplish something incredible by the time I’m thirty-three, then I suppose life will just be about growing old instead about trying to change the world. You look at everything Christ accomplished with His time on Earth, and you think, “If I haven’t done anything like that by the time I’m 33, then maybe I’ll never accomplish anything.”
In fact, you look at the ministry of Christ, and it only lasted a little over three years. We know from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus began preaching when He was around 30 years old. Today’s Gospel reading is how Mark tells about the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ He said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”

Three years later, Jesus has preached this message all over Israel, He has created a huge following, has healed people, cast out demons, raised the dead, and forgiven sins. Three years later, Jesus has a group of dedicated disciples who will carry on His ministry, who become the leaders of the Church which is still here today. Three years later, Jesus accomplishes the will of the Father: He dies on the cross to take the punishment for the sins of the whole world and then rises again to conquer death on behalf of everyone. Jesus was 33 years old, spent 3 years in public ministry, and just look at what He accomplished. WWJD, what would Jesus do? A lot in a short time in a short life on earth. Now that I’m 33, I’m asking myself, “What would Jesus do? A lot more than I’ve done with my time on earth.”

If you’re 33 or older, you probably know what I’m talking about, you’ve probably asked yourself those questions. You’ve wondered if you’ve really accomplished very much with your life. You’ve wondered if you’ve done very much for God, and if you’ve had thoughts like that, you’ve more than likely gotten a little down about your age. Here we are spending more time on Earth than Jesus did, and we can’t seem to do very much with our lives.

If you’re not 33 yet, maybe it just seems like such a long way off that you’re confident that you’ll do more with your life before you get to be as old as that Pastor Squires guy.

By the way, it’s nice that many of you refer to me as the young pastor, but the youth know the truth: I’m old. Just this last week in the 8th Grade Confirmation Class, I referred to being confirmed in 1988. The students looked at me with big, shocked eyes. 1988??? (You see, that’s four years before they were born).

So those of you who aren’t 33 yet, maybe you’re thinking you’ll be able to accomplish a lot more than the rest of us by the time you’re 33. And I hope that God will do great things through you, great things for proclaiming the good news of Jesus. But just in case you don’t, I want you to listen as I try to find peace and comfort for me and for the rest of the old people around here. Because there’s many of us in here who are 33 or older, and if we listen to those words of David Wilcox’s song, maybe we’re feeling like he’s right: If we didn’t “die in glory at the age of Christ, then [our] story is just getting old.”

So maybe you’re thinking that we shouldn’t listen to David Wilcox’s song because it’s depressing. You remember that I said Wilcox is a Christian, but his lyrics kind of make it should like he’s going to just leave us feeling guilty for not doing enough with our lives. We’ve asked ourselves “what would Jesus do,” and we’ve seen how we don’t measure up.

And I would agree with you that Wilcox’s song wouldn’t be very helpful if that’s where the song ended. We won’t take the time to listen to the whole song, but Wilcox often has a twist in his songs. He starts with that very honest question: should I have done more with my life now that I’m 33? He starts with the question, and then points us back to the truth—the hope of Christ.

This song about “being dead by thirty-three” ends with a little twist on the chorus. Wilcox changes the words and sings:

If you don't die in glory
at the age of Christ
then your story is still coming true

He brings us to this conclusion after walking with us through our questions and fears. We may feel like our lives are all down hill from 33. We may feel like we haven’t accomplished enough in our first 33 years, so what could God do with us now? We may feel like this, but then Wilcox brings us to the truth: “If you don’t die in glory at the age of Christ, then your story is still coming true.” Your life story isn’t over, and it’s not getting old. God will still use you.

If you didn’t die when you were 33, which would include everyone in here who is 33 or older, then it means that God is continuing to use you.

As much as we might ask ourselves “what would Jesus do,” we’ve got to remember that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the perfect, holy, righteous One, true man and true God. To accomplish what he did—by age 33 or 103—is impossible for us.

Secondly, even if you died when you were 33, there’s not some 33 club that you get to join, a club of God’s favorite Christians. In fact, while there’s been a lot of famous people who died when they were 33, the ones I found weren’t all that great when it came to serving Jesus. Alexander the Great conquered the world and then died at 33. Sam Cooke sang his heart out but then died due to his addictions. Chris Farley the comedian and actor died of a drug overdose at age 33—at the same age and in the same way as his hero, John Belushi. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was 33 when he was executed. Just because you die when you’re 33 doesn’t mean you’re a great servant of God.

And really what we learn from today’s Gospel reading is more about the succession of God’s leaders. In fact, Mark doesn’t mention the age of Jesus—or of John the Baptist who would’ve been the same age. Mark doesn’t talk about age, but instead, we see that John the Baptist prepared the way. Then when John was arrested, Jesus begins to preach. There’s the succession, the way the ministry is handed down, the way God continues the ministry.

If we jump ahead to the end of the ministry of Jesus on Earth, we see that it isn’t age that matters. No, Jesus is focused on sending out His disciples to preach the Word of God. The disciples were all different ages—John the disciple was very young when he started, but lived to be the oldest, probably dying when he was around 100 years old. Certainly we wouldn’t say that John the disciple died without honor because he lived longer than Jesus.

No matter how old someone is when they die, the point is that God continues His ministry through us. Just like we saw in last week’s Old Testament reading that Pastor Miller talked about in his sermon: Elijah the prophet was going to be taken away by God, and so God made sure that Elisha would continue the ministry. It’s about succession, someone to come after you and continue what you’ve done to share the Gospel with the world.

In that case, then, thinking about David Wilcox’s song should catch everyone’s attention. There’s not a magic age when you can start being a servant of God; He can use you whether you’re 3 or 13 or 33 or 63 or 93. There’s also not a magic age when you stop being a servant of God; He will use you when you’re 3 and 13 and 33 and 63 and 93.

However, since none of us know when we will die, we also look for ways to develop others to take our place. Just like John the Baptist knew that his ministry would end and Jesus would continue it, just like Jesus was constantly telling His disciples that they would have to carry on without Him, so too, we must build up and encourage the people in our lives, helping them to see that they may have to carry on the ministry without us.

We do that in our congregation—bringing younger people into leadership roles, learning from the older ones. Older adults—you’re ministry is not over, then, you see, because you’ve got to make sure that the succession is in place, that there will be people to continue what you’ve started.

We do that by giving our people chances to learn how to teach Sunday School, how to make decisions in the congregation, how to play a part in bringing people to Church and telling them about Jesus. Young people, you can’t just think that someday you’ll be in charge, but for now, you can just ignore what’s going on. God will use you right now.

That’s a whole other way to look at what David Wilcox says at the end of his song: your story is still coming true. You see, maybe that’s not just about what happens in your lifetime. God is using you now to share His Word, but that story, the story of how God shared His Good News with others through you, that will continue even after you die.

God’s Word came to you through others—maybe some of those people have died—but their impact continues because you’re still here sharing God’s Word. So when you die, people who heard about Jesus from you will continue to share the Word. As we look back at the generations in the Church, the generations of faithful Christians, we see that Wilcox is helping us to see what God really can do with our lives—“your story is still coming true.”

So really, I guess I’m OK that I didn’t die on my 33rd birthday. It doesn’t mean that I have to sit around now thinking that I’ll just start getting old, gathering dust, and not contributing much to God’s mission. Instead, being alive today means that God still has more to do through me. You being alive today means that God still has more to do through you. Our stories are still coming true.

So really it’s not important at all whether we’re dead at the age of Christ. The only thing that matters is that Christ was dead at the age of Christ—and even then, it doesn’t matter what age He was. Whether Jesus was 33 or 53 or 73, what matters is that He died. He died on that cross in our place. He allowed Himself to die when really He is eternal. He died on that cross to take our punishment. He was dead by thirty-three, but the age doesn’t matter. It only matters that He was dead.

And His story didn’t get old after that, His story didn’t stop getting told. Instead, His story is still coming true. He died in our place, and then rose again on Easter morning—the day that we’ll celebrate at the end of this season of Lent. Christ rose again so that we too can live again after the grave. It doesn’t matter how old Jesus was when He rose again; it only matters that He rose again and will raise us from the dead.

What Jesus accomplished when He was 33 is still coming true, because He continues to offer forgiveness, life, and salvation to all who believe. His story is still coming true, and it is coming true through you.

"Glory" by David Wilcox
© 1997 Gizz Da Baboo (SESAC) and Michelle Ma Soeur (SESAC), a division of Soroka Music Ltd.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
From the CD, TURNING POINT, by David Wilcox.