Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ash Wednesday Sermon

II Corinthians 5:20-6:10
“Narrow Way”
2 / 13 / 13
                You walk a narrow and dangerous road every day of your life.  Lutherans especially walk what has been dubbed by some the lonely way, the middle way.  Fall off to one side and we are in trouble.  Fall off to the other side and we are in supernatural peril.  
                Life is dangerous, and I do not simply mean all those things that wish to physically harm you.  There are spiritual, theological pitfalls.  And these things matter just as much, if not more than, bodily danger.
                  Saint Paul gives us a glimpse of the mortal and supernatural peril that he faced as he lived his life under the care and direction of Jesus Christ.  We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
                Paul lives his life as an apostle of Jesus between these two dangers.  They may not seem like dangers on the outset.  One sounds bad and the other good.  The evil way in which Paul is treated and regarded by the world on the one hand is contrasted with the reality that is his in Christ on the other hand.

                You would think that Paul would here begin to focus on the one over the other.  He would begin reveling in the fact that he does indeed possess all things in Jesus Christ.  But earlier in this same passage Paul gives the Corinthians a warning, one that he heeds himself: “Do not receive the grace of God in vain.
                 We face persecution and sinful worldly behavior on one side.  That is the side which is obviously to be avoided.  But we face vanity, pride, and arrogance on the other.
                We have always been taught to avoid sin, to do what is right.  We know that the world around us won’t like this.  They may come at us with persecutions of one type or another.  People will look down on us because we are different, unwilling to roll around in the same filth that they are rolling in.
                But we must be alert, lest we swerve from one ditch only to land in the other.  On the other side is vanity.  It is pride.  I am a Christian, therefore I am special.  I am a Lutheran, therefore I am very special.  These titles make me better than others.  They make me exempt from worrying about being a good person, a faithful witness.
                If we are not careful the Gospel can make us arrogant.  The devil can twist the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ into a message of self-assurance.  If Jesus did this for me then there must be something pretty important about me. 
                I know what you are thinking.  I was thinking the same thing as I was writing this sermon.  “Thank God that is not me!”  “Whew!”  “I am glad I am not arrogant or cocky.  Otherwise I would be in big trouble.”
                You see how easy it is?  You see how effortlessly we slip into thinking good of ourselves when there is nothing good in us?  We receive the grace of God, but in a vain and useless fashion.  Rather than focusing on the goodness and mercy of Jesus Christ, we focus on the goodness and value of me.

                We should strive to avoid both pitfalls.  We should attempt to stay out of the ditch on both sides.  But our attempts will fail.  Our efforts will always be vain.  So God Himself has ordained a way to keep us on the straight and narrow, a way to keep us on that middle path.  It is called the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
                We should avoid sin and evil with every fiber of our being.  When offered the chance to break one of God’s commandments, run the other way.  Have no other gods.  Love and serve the people around you.
                Yet it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of His death and resurrection that makes this a reality for us, which makes this a possible goal for our lives.
                The Gospel recalls to us the fact that our sins are not forgiven without a cost.  There is a price for sin and Jesus has paid it in full.  He paid it with His body, with His blood. 
                When we are faced with the reality of the death of Jesus for our sins God’s Word forgives us, His Word renews us, His Word gives us the motivation we need to live a life free from the filth of sin and evil.

                That same Gospel, that same message, is the roadblock that keeps us from falling off the other side of the road too.  When we become vain, arrogant, or prideful, when we think that the Gospel is all about how special we are we are reminded: “No way!  The Gospel is about Jesus.”
                It is Jesus who has kept God’s Law perfectly.  It is Jesus who has died a death to pay for our sins.  It is Jesus who has conquered death by rising from the grave.  He has done everything for us, not because we are special, not because we are lovely, but because we are not.
                In the confession of our sins we say, “We are sinful and unclean.  We have sinned in thought, word, and deed.”  At other times we refer to ourselves as “poor, miserable sinners.”  We are dead, lifeless, useless beings until the Spirit of God breathes new life into us through the Word of God.
                And if that Word of God and His Spirit were to ever leave us, we would be useless again.  There is nothing special about me, about you, about the Church.  Jesus is the one who is worthy of praise and worship.  He has done all for us pathetic sinners.

                This is why being in Church is such a wonderful thing.  Here, in worship, we are stuck right between the two hands of God.  With the Son on one side and the Spirit on the other we are kept safe from the evils of the world, we are kept safe from vanity and self deception. 
                Here God speaks His Word of condemnation for sin and mercy for sinners.  He Himself keeps us on the straight and narrow path.  He Himself keeps us with Jesus Christ who is The Way, the Truth, and the Life. 
                Jesus Christ was made to be sin that we might become the righteousness of God.  And it is Jesus Himself, by the power of His Spirit, who will keep us from falling.  Amen.          

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