Sermon for July 23, 2017: “What’s In An Anniversary?”

July 23, 2017                                                                          Text: Romans 8:19

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

A nation.  A family.  An individual.  Each punctuates its life with anniversaries.  They point to the past and define the present.  When did you last observe an anniversary?  Last year I had two milestones my 25th year in the ministry and our 25th wedding anniversary.  I look back and find it hard to believe that I have been a called and ordained servant of the Lord for that long.  Toni looks back at our anniversary and probably thinks, “How have I lived with this guy for 25 years!”  These are happy moment in our life.

Anniversaries can also be sad.  This past week on Monday my mom would have been 75.  You have your own dates of loved ones birthdays or dates of death that you remember when the dates come and go.

This is an anniversary year in the Lutheran Church.  The Reformation – 500 years ago.  What do such moments mean?  Are these moment’s in the church’s life no different than other anniversaries?  Are they simply the church’s equivalent of 1776 or a 25th wedding anniversary?  St. Paul, speaking as an apostle of Christ, calls us to a very different type of observance.

“WHAT’S IN AN ANNIVERSARY?”

Our text for this morning.  “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  There is a different dimension to the church’s observance of the Reformation.  More than just a remembrance or an observance it is a confession.  A confession of Christ.  Christ’s resurrection has changed everything.  For those who are in Christ, there is a new calendar and a new creation.

This confession began in our baptism.  “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we to may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)  When the church marks its moments, it confesses that every moment is now lived out in the light of Christ’s resurrection.

We still live though with the oppression of death.  Luther knew about it.  We know about it first-hand, up close and personal.  Death touches each of us.  It arches over all the structures of this world.  The years teach us that creation is caught.  Ultimately death devours every emperor and nation and family.  Pride and self-indulgence is no match for its power.  Our culture’s technological glitz and entertainment lifestyle can disguise the reality of death.

One of the most sophisticated of planned communities in Southern California, Irvine, has bicycle paths, golf courses, and swimming pools beautifully placed amidst the homes.  But nowhere, nowhere, in this state of the art, planned city is there a cemetery.  But, you and I know, the disguise doesn’t work.  It too needs a cemetery.

The years, and months, and days envelope every project, even the planned community.  Time can be managed.  It can be spent wisely or foolishly.  But, all too soon, it is gone.

Into this trapped world, however, comes another way to measure time.  “In the year of our Lord.”  A church anniversary is an affirmation that Christ has defeated death.  And, now every year, and month, and day is a confession of His holy name and life.

United to Him in baptism, guided by His living voice in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, and nourished by His very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, we confess His presence as the living Lord.  As Luther wrote in a hymn, “Sin, death, hell are now undone.”  This is why St. Paul can write, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Nations will come and go.  Corporations and tycoons will fade.  But the church, the body of Christ, will live life and “live it to the full” (John 10:10) because “Sin, death, hell are now undone.”

Join this confession.  Join her Pastors who at the font, before the altar, from the pulpit, by the bedside, on the street, in the classroom, beside the casket make this confession with their lips by God’s grace:  “In Christ, sin, death, and hell are now undone.”

“With angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven,” that is our confession.  With creation we wait with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed.  We seek to bring this confession to the world.  As we work and wait for His coming, confess Him in your observance of this Reformation anniversary.  Confess Him in your prayer and your homes and your daily walk with Thee.  Such a confession will not fade.  Such an anniversary will not pass.  Rather, this confession will continue until each child of God beholds the face of Christ.

Lastly, pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who make this confession in fear and silence.  In the end as our Gospel lesson from Matthew 13 reminds us, all will be revealed, and God’s children will receive their reward.

May the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – grant such a life and confession of Christ our Savior.

Amen.

Sermon for July 16, Text Form

Again, we apologize for the camera problem.  Curt got it fixed and all should be well for this Sunday.  Here is the sermon in text form.

July 16, 2017                                                                          Text:  Isaiah 55:10-11

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

How much water did you drink this past week?  Because of the heat and humidity I am going to guess you drank more than normal.  Did you find that cool glass of water refreshing?  Did it energize you?  Was your thirst quenched?

Drinking water can initiate all kinds of chemical reactions in our bodies that are a great benefit to us.  The Word of God acts in the same way.  By God’s design and desire, his Word can energize and refresh us.  It can even “cool us off” when the heat is turned up in our lives.  It also provides great benefits to our spiritual health.  We inhabit a planet thirsting for hope and salvation.  God pours out His love on us through the water of His Word.  Come to the living waters and . . .

“DRINK UP!”

Water is vital for life.  Science proves it.  Our bodies know it.  If we don’t get enough a kidney stone or dehydration can put us on our knees on the floor of a local emergency room.  Water is needed for plants and animals and humans.  Almost every living organism needs water to survive.  People can go 20, 30, even up to 40 days without food, but do that with water and you end up a statistic at the local morgue.  Even a camel and cactus need a reasonable amount of H2O.

We need the water of God’s saving Word to survive spiritually.  Without the Gospel of Christ in our lives we die spiritually and eternally.  Water saves and so do the words of our Lord.

God provides life-giving water in abundance for his creation.  In my lifetime I have seen drought in California and the Southeast and the Southwest and here in the Midwest.  But at some time the showers or snows come again.  In the mountains of California they were shoveling snow in early June after years of parched lands.  We junior agriculturists in the middle of prime farmland know that water is needed to grow the food we depend upon.  The effects of this watering are ongoing.

God’s love is shown to us as he gives us our “daily bread” in verse 10, “bread to the eater.”  The watering causes the earth “to bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower.”

God sends out His Word in the same way.  Watering His creation with its life-giving effects.  God’s Word is the saving message of the Gospel.  Jesus is the Word that has come in the flesh.  His death and resurrection are God’s ultimate provision for his children.

At times our days are parched.  We need something, anything to get us out of the malaise of daily tasks, kid trouble, parent watching, job unrest.  The water of Jack Daniels or Miller Lite is not the answer.  We can’t quench our thirst by binging on Netflix or winning a string of computer games.  Our phones can’t energize us for the days ahead.  We are like the plant we bought Toni for Mother’s Day that adorns our front yard.  Without water it droops, loses its color and has no life.  But we can water that plant and in an hour or so it is standing at attention, happy to be at 2707 Essington and ready to beautify our landscaping.

When Christ comes to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, we receive the gift of faith for eternal life.  The very Spirit of Jesus is in our hearts.  The effect of His Word in our lives is ongoing.  We are granted salvation through this Word.  We have abundant life that we can drink up through the fruits of the Spirit, the fellowship of believers, the peace of Christ.

Water as we have all experienced can be powerful.  Last Sunday returning from Ohio, we were near Danville when a downpour hit.  One of those where you can’t run the wipers fast enough.  We found ourselves in the left lane next to a semi-truck.  We could see the sun in the west so we knew we would drive out of it, but when?  Thankfully and with God’s help I knew the road, we kept going forward and within a few miles, Eden was upon us and tragedy averted.

God’s Word has power.  It can bring us from death to life.  It can squash sin and the devil in our lives.  It can bring us through the rainstorm to the safety of God’s loving arms.  It brings comfort and freedom.  It can accomplish the purpose for which the Lord sent it.  It is His doing.  He held that steering wheel last Sunday.  We are never without hope, even in seemingly hopeless situations, because God’s Word assures of our ultimate victory in Christ.

Enjoy that cool refreshing water provided by your Savior.  In His Word He is pouring out His love for you.  Step to His altar and DRINK UP!

Amen.

Sermon for June 18, 2017: “The Issue Is….”

June 18, 2017 Text: Romans 5:6-11

Dear Friends in Christ,

I read an interview from a young couple as to why they left one Missouri Synod congregation for another. Here’s a brief portion:
Q: Why did you leave your old LCMS church? A: We got tired of the clowns in the chancel. Q: What did the clowns do? A: They danced around, led the people in singing and gave morality talks…The hymns were folk songs. Q: What was the Pastor doing while the clowns were leading worship? A: He would sit with the congregation until they finished clowning around. His sermons didn’t have Law and Gospel. They were basically feel good sermons…
Fluff and puff. And I hear the words of Jeremiah: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jer. 23:16)
We are a throw-away society, you know? We’ve compromised so much in a world of “make-me happy.” Today a refresher. Not a refresher on what you think or I think – but based on God’s Word. God Bless our understanding of . . .
“THE ISSUE IS . . .”
Sin. I don’t know if we still have dirty words the way people speak in public, on TV and in the movies but if we do then sin seems to be one. We have completely lost what sin is all about. Dr. Lowell D. Streiker notes, “Somewhere along the way, the word ‘sin’ fell out of favor…it became as unfashionable as the celluloid collar and the whale-bone bustle. We gained something with its passing – relief, release, freedom, enhanced self-image, and self-confidence. But we lost something too.” You bet we have and we live with the consequences daily, dirty words and all.
Chuck Colson wrote an article almost 25 years ago that is still relevant. It was entitled, “Can We Be Good Without God?” He states:
“If we cannot be good without God, how do we sustain public virtue in society? We cannot do it through the instrument of politics. Alasdair MacIntyre, moral philosopher at Notre Dame, says that ‘Politics has become civil war carried on by other means.’ Without moral authority to call upon, our elected leaders are reduced to saying, ‘We can’t say this is right and that’s wrong. We simply prefer that you wouldn’t murder.’”
Sin. That is the issue. It separates us from God. That’s what causes problems in life. Most of us are living with the consequences of our actions. Sometimes for many years. There is a price to pay in this life, and without intervention from God – there is a price to pay in eternity.
Now our text. The issue is God’s means of salvation. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (v. 6-8)
Aren’t those some of the most blessed thoughts? “Christ died for the ungodly – Christ died for us.” Many of you may recognize verse 8 as the theme verse on some of our church material. These are the issues that lift us up to the love of God. These are the issues we want to take with us when we face the unknowns of each day. We don’t need to keep asking, “Why is everything going wrong?” A society that is convinced that sin and God’s wrath are passé is lost in their delusion. We thank God that the love of Christ forgives our wrongs, our sin, and promises us a perfect world to come. All glory be to Jesus!
Now if we know all this and believe all this, the issue is as follows: What are we going to do? Our goal is not to fit into the world, but to prepare for the world to come and as the Holy Spirit blesses to take as many with us as possible.
A woman had become quite wealthy and had gained a certain social prominence. This went to her head and she wanted a book on her genealogy. She hired a well-known author to write and research the book. In the course of his research the author found that this lady’s grandfather was a murderer who was electrocuted in Sing Sing. When he told the woman she wanted him to say it in a way that would hide the truth.
The incident appears in the book as follows: “One of her grandfathers occupied the chair of applied electricity in one of America’s best-known institutions. He was very much attached to his position and literally died in the harness.”
Isn’t that a good illustration on deception? But how many live their lives like that every day? Always putting their hopes and dreams in this decaying and decadent society? Always sure something better is to come from this world. Always thinking that because they’ve been good enough they’re in with God!
Sure, we could be more positive, but that’s not reality. God will judge those who pervert His Word and live in unrepentant sin. The positive issue for the Christian who believes is this: The love of Christ forgives and claims us even though we are still sinful. The love of Christ that says we uniquely and eternally belong to God. Always! You see. . . that’s the issue!
Amen.

Sermon June 11, 2017: “Is Our Trinitarian Christian Faith Convenient?”

June 11, 2017 – Trinity Sunday Text: Matthew 28:16-20

Dear Friends in Christ,

There was a man fishing in a tub of water in his back yard. His neighbor saw him and said, “There are no fish in that tub. Why are you wasting your time like that?” “Yeah,” came the reply, “I know there are no fish in here, but it’s just so convenient.”
We’ve been trying to make life like that for generations: convenient. That is also what we do with our Christian faith. Make it convenient and acceptable and easy on the mind. We’ve reduced Christianity to a text message, a twitter, a tweet, and a toot. For an ever-increasing number of humans Christianity is nothing at all.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It’s what we believe as Christians. So we ask . . .
“IS OUR TRINITARIAN CHRISTIAN FAITH CONVENIENT?”
One thing becomes clear about our Trinitarian faith – Jesus is God’s Son and only Savior from sin. “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (v. 16-18)
Even after the resurrection and Jesus appearing to so many, there were still doubts. We have a belief in God – that’s convenient. But to believe in His Son as someone who died for me?
Man has always had these problems. Look at our Old Testament lesson where Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Doesn’t that rattle our convenient thoughts that man is basically good? Moses adds, “And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen. 6:6) You would think he was writing about 2017!
But then look at this. After the Flood we are told, “The Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8:21) Man was in trouble. Man is still in trouble. Man in his arrogance hates God, rejects God, or else re-creates God to make man feel good – a convenient God.
Jesus said that, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He is either God or a sandwich short of a picnic.
Jesus did not come here to be our heavenly therapist. Wouldn’t that be convenient? He came to die an inconvenient death in our place. Man could not save himself, so the 2nd person of the Trinity obediently fulfilled the Father’s plan.
In our Epistle Peter declares, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:32-33)
Some years ago, a Pastor by the name of Timothy Smith wrote of a life experience that happened to a man by the name of Kenneth Gibble. He wrote:
“Kenneth Gibble spent his after school hours as a child in the feed mill where his dad worked. He loved playing games of pretend with the feed bags becoming in his imagination hills and valleys, boulders and dark caves to hide inside.
“Sometimes one of the workers would come into the warehouse where Kenneth was playing. He could spy on the worker without being seen. He was the sheriff waiting to spring out and arrest the outlaw.
“As Kenneth got older he began to realize that his pretend game of hiding in the feed mill represented his understanding of God. God is the one who stays hidden, spying on little children, watching them from a distance. ‘You had to be at least a little afraid of this God,’ Kenneth says, ‘because you could never get away from such a One. God could look inside your head and read every thought.’”
Pastor Smith then made this wise observation: “Many parents through the years have used similar tactics on their children. ‘God is watching you. He sees when you do something wrong.’”
Of course, we know differently. The only “distance” God put in our lives was that regarding hell. He removed it through Christ’s suffering and death at Calvary. He is not just watching us, He is interacting with us. He reveals His love and guidance through Scripture. He comes in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to embrace us as His own. This is the Trinitarian Direction: Not an aloof God who is conveniently in our life at times and at other times is not. But – the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ever present and leading us to our eternal home.
That comes through in these words of assurance, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (v. 20) And He is as we seek to fulfill the Great
Commission. And it won’t always be convenient in a world of self-worship and the questioning of moral absolutes. But the Lord is there, just like He was for Noah and his family after the flood. The Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit love you and lead you to make a difference for the Lord’s Kingdom. Amen.

Sermon for May 28, 2017: “Christian Suffering.”

 

 

May 28, 2017                                                                                     Text:  1 Peter 4:16-17

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Is there anyone here who doesn’t ask the question why there is suffering in our world?  Why does the Christian suffer?  When we see problem after problem pile on our Christian friends and loved ones or even upon us we begin to wonder what God is thinking.  What is the plan?

We can tell our kids all the reasons in the world why they need a shot but it doesn’t make the pain in their face any easier.  But who do they look to for comfort?  Dad and mom.  Comfort comes not in knowing the reason why.  Comfort comes in knowing the comforter.

We have that Comforter when we suffer.  He helps us to glorify His name even as we deal with the rough patches in front of us.  This morning we examine . .

“CHRISTIAN SUFFERING”

The text begins, “If anyone suffers as a Christian…” (v. 16a)  We make this distinction.  All people suffer in this fallen, sinful world.  This is suffering because of our Christ connection.  Our text focuses on this type.

Do we suffer because of our Christ connection?  Yes, in some ways it is getting worse each day.  But no, when I think of the martyrs around the world.  We still have our freedom to worship and come together to hear God’s Word.  We are not meeting in secret.  But maybe just maybe in our school or workplace we have to downplay our Christianity.  Dan Harman wrote it correctly, “So long as Jesus was misunderstood He was followed by the crowd.  When they came to really understand Him, they crucified Him.”  After all, why did He die on the cross?  It wasn’t bad timing or a bunch of nuts with a vendetta.  He died for our awful, God-hating sin.

Without the knowledge of sin there is no understanding of Jesus.  Without the constant reminder we grow complacent and self-righteous.  The Christian claims the Christ of Calvary, the empty tomb, and all that means.

So Peter speaks specifically to the Christians.  “Let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (v. 16b)  The Lord said in Matthew we are blessed when people insult and persecute and speak falsely against us because of our Christian faith.

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “The world hates Christian people, that is, if it sees Christ in them.  The measure in which the world agrees with us and says we are really a fine type of Christian…is the measure in which we are unlike Christ.”  Doesn’t that disturb you?  The Lord isn’t asking us to be offensive or to go out and harass people – He simply calls us to take a stand and make a commitment.

Peter tells us not to be ashamed but glorify God that we have that name.  The love of the world is great and overpowering – the desire to maintain intimate friendships with the pagan so alluring – that the willingness to take the heat for Jesus causes shame.  If that’s the case, then prepare yourselves for the next thought from the Apostle.

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (v. 17)

Judgment begins with the family of God?  You bet.  Right now…here, on earth.  The church’s suffering is not blind chance – suffering as a Christian pulls us ever upward and upward focuses our attention on the things above.  As the Proverb says, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and sinner!” (Prov. 11:31)

We are going to have trials and tribulations.  But our Lord is not going to leave us alone.  He comforts our valleys with his eternal Word.  In our despair, our baptism reminds us we are children of God.  In our weakness when we want to chuck it all away because we think we can’t handle anymore, he comes in bread and wine, body and blood and provides strength for the days ahead.  This is why we gather on a weekly basis.  We need these means of grace because they let us face a world that is at each other’s throats.  A populace that wants to do everything politically correct except stand with the Christian soul.  One of the beautiful things the Lord provides is life experience.  Any amount of time on earth and you been through the valley, taken on the coaster ride or been in the depths.  But you have come out on the other side because of your faith in a Savior that loves you and will never, ever leave you.

Recently when Andy Benjamin was in the hospital in Peoria I made my way there on I-74 westbound.  As I approached East Peoria a truck in the eastbound lanes was on fire.  Traffic was starting to back up.  I went and saw Andy and left about two hours later thinking the lanes had been cleared.  As I approached the accident, the police were directing cars off of the interstate into East Peoria.

Now at this point I could have been completely lost.  But over the years our boys had ballgames in East Peoria and Morton.  I knew I could get on highway 150 to Morton and safely back on the interstate.  This is what I did and I was back in Bloomington in a reasonable amount of time.  This was the Lord’s doing.  He gave me a previous life experience, which allowed me to get through the challenge.

Our lives are like that.  We meet our Christian suffering because we know there is a God-ordained route that will lead us home.  An eternal home where there will be no more suffering or pain.  We experience a splash of suffering across our all too often colorful, worldly lives because it draws us back to the Cross of Jesus.  Reminds us that that we are Heaven’s people.  God’s own even in suffering.

Amen.

 

Sermon for May 21, 2017: “Where Is Your Unknown God Hiding?”

May 21, 2017 Text: Acts 17:16-31

Dear Friends in Christ,

In 4th and 5th century B.C. the Greek city of Athens was considered to be the greatest city in the world. When Paul arrived it wasn’t as prosperous but was still known for its culture and education. Today people still visit the city to see its ruins, which stand as a testimony to its greatness.
“While Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (v. 16) Paul sees through the blurriness of culture and education and gets a clearer picture of what is happening in this city. They had statues, and temples and shrines and altars throughout the public places to various gods. They had heathen festivals and all their temples to the false gods had priests.
Do we see today in our society what Paul saw then? How many gods are worshipped in and around us? More importantly and to get more personal, how many gods are getting in front of the one, true God for us? Let’s take a peek into your life by asking the question . . .
“WHERE IS YOUR UNKNOWN GOD HIDING?”
The example of Paul raises some questions. How do we look at society? Is our eyesight blurred by our technology and our abundance and our wealth? These are gifts from God but they should never take away from the reality of our sin and the need for salvation. The Athenians were prosperous and they relished in the latest ideas – as long as the latest ideas conformed to their wishes. They connected these two – prosperity and the latest ideas – to their false gods.
What did Paul do? “He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” (v. 17) He didn’t ignore the issues. He was compelled to speak of their sin and to tell them the good news of Jesus and His resurrection.
What do we do with the false gods of our day? Be passive. After all, doesn’t everyone have a right to believe what they want? We walk along with head in cloud and then notice one day, “hey, our world seems to have changed.” Really? Where have you been? To be a Christian we must confront the lie with the truth. The truth flows from our lips, strengthened through the means of grace and the Holy Spirit.
What about you and I? Where are our unknown gods hiding? The god of money. The god of fame. The god of technology. The god of sports. The god of family. The god of work. The god of confrontation. The god of passivity. The god of time. The god of good times – “ain’t we lucky we got ‘em – good times!” Maybe, just maybe our unknown gods aren’t hiding at all. When I read that list did they jump out of the closet or were they comfortably a part of your mindset?
To the Athenians they knew nothing about their unknown god – no name, power, or work. This altar was only one among hundreds and did not draw worshippers away from other gods and altars. The pagans had to build temples and altars to their gods to “live in.” The God of creation transcends earth and any structure on it.
Do the gods we struggle with just live in our mind or are they working to overtake our heart? Can faith falter when we worship at an altar of our own making? Sure, it can. Here we have a whole city struggling. Don’t you think the devil can work on you?
Paul tells the citizens of Athens and us. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (v. 30) Like Paul in our text, God works through His Word to help us see our need to let go of our gods. All of the gods that I listed above – money, fame, technology, sports, family, work, confrontation, passivity, time and even good times have a timeframe where they must end. The God of life and the father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no time restrictions. He is Alpha and Omega. Beginning and End. He is eternal and so will we be as we put our trust in our Savior from sin. He obliterates our gods with His cross. He promises a permanent temple of glory with His resurrection. Stop hiding and believe!
John F. MacArthur Jr. rightly comments, “Note the tact with which Paul confronts them. Having noticed the altar to an unknown god, Paul used that to make the very powerful point that their religion was unable to give them certain knowledge of any god, much less the true God. He gently implied that the existence of such an altar was plain admission that they did not know the truth about god at all. He clearly regarded the inscription on the altar as their own testimony of spiritual ignorance.”
This is how we go about our business today. Gently and with tact, but with truth on our side. They may call us “babblers” like they did Paul, but don’t let the personal attacks get in the way of the argument. Scripture is powerful. A Christian with the Holy Spirit on their side can win against the philosophers of our day. You can speak in the marketplace. You know the struggle but you have overcome. Share that. Share the love and forgiveness of this known God. We have the assurance because Christ has been raised from the dead.
Hello? You are hiding no more. Thanks be to the one true God!
Amen.

Sermon for May 14, 2017: “A Change of Heart.”

May 14, 2017                                                             Text:  Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Richard Wurmbrand was a Lutheran Pastor in Romania when the Communists came to power.  The Romanian communist government organized a Congress of Cults.  It was a platform for religious leaders to affirm their loyalty to communism and the new government.

Pastor Wurmbrand’s wife, Sabina, said to him, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.”  Wurmbrand warned, “If I do this, you’ll lose your husband.”  “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband,” she replied.  In a speech broadcast to the whole country and in front of 4,000 others, Wurmbrand confessed that the Christian is to worship Christ alone.

Wurmbrand’s example reminds us that it is against Jesus as God and His authority that His enemies rail against.  We are comforted by remembering that it is our Lord whom they hate as God.

This is the story of Stephen in our text.  He gave a passionate, Bible-based plea for Christ and the faith.  We know it made a difference in at least one life that day.  Let’s see the day enfold and how it brought about . . .

“A CHANGE OF HEART”

Here is the background that Stephen has been placed in.  He is a Christian believer and a member of the Jerusalem church.  “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.  And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” (v. 7-8)

Well this was causing trouble.  Stephen was doing miracles in Christ’s name, something only the called disciples had been doing up to this time.  Certainly the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.  Things were in motion for a change of heart.

Are people ever bothered that you tell them the Lord has healed you?  What about the protection you receive from the Lord’s angels?  Is that ever scoffed at?  We all know someone who could use a change of heart.  Someone questioning the faith or downright antagonistic toward it.  Someone in our inner circle or on the fringes of our personal contacts.  Oh, we want them to have what we have so badly.  Why can’t they see it?

Why the Word melts some hearts while others deliberately and permanently harden themselves against it, no man knows.  The former is due wholly to God’s grace; the latter is due wholly to man’s guilt.  You and I cannot change hearts so don’t get worked up or frustrated.  The Holy Spirit working through the means of grace is the ultimate heart-changer.

This is what Stephen understood.  When he gave his speech in Acts 7, which is not in our text, but which I encourage you to read, he was conducting a Bible Class.  What he said was all true and part of Israel’s history.  His accusers also know the validity of his pronouncement but they can’t turn toward the truth because they are “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart and ears.”  Stephen is like a surgeon cutting deep into their unbelief.  The corruption needs to come out.  The heart cannot be saved if the cancer has ravaged the other organs.

They were enraged.  Grinding of teeth is heard.  But Stephen preaches on.  He sees Jesus at the right hand of God just as the Savior had promised when He ascended into heaven.  Now he has gone too far.  Jesus is dead.  He has to be dead.  Our ears can’t take anymore, you have offended us.  He is seized, taken outside of the city where stones are readily available and the arms of those men sling hatred and death his way.  But before the onslaught takes him to eternity the Lord allows these five last words that will change hearts.  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Stephen countered hatred for Jesus with love and truth.  Like our text and from those around us, we get most upset when we are told the truth.  That seems to set us off because we have no defense.  From childhood on we can rant and rave when our conscience and brain battle our heart.  This is the way of Satan.  Who has always yelled the loudest on planet earth?  Those who know the truth told is about them.  Today it is reaching epidemic proportions.  We need to pray for a change of heart.  We need to pray for others to have a change of heart.  Like Stephen, the gift of the Holy Spirit is ours.  He gives words.  He gives actions.  His power can work the miracle that we can’t see.

Who had a change of heart in our text?  “The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (v. 58b)  Stephen’s prayer had a notable fulfillment.  Being a young man like Stephen, Saul soon stepped into Stephen’s vacant place, took up the martyr’s work, and carried it forward with great power.  The apostle Paul had a change of heart that could not have been imagined that day.

Don’t give up on the Saul’s in your life.  The Lord might just have a Paul waiting to happen.  Love them.  Pray for them.  Share the Word with them.  Live the faith that changed your heart.

I have now read a couple of books about Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand.  This is what they did.  Richard wrote in Tortured For Christ, “A flower, if you bruise it under your feet, rewards you by giving you its perfume.  Likewise, Christians tortured by the Communists, rewarded their torturers by love.  Many of our jailers were brought to Christ.  And we are dominated by one desire: to give Communists who have made us suffer the best we have, the salvation that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The murdered Jesus, now resurrected seeks in love to change hearts and draw the entire world unto Himself.  May it be so for His sake.

Amen.