WHAT IS LIFE LIKE IN THE EASTER VICTORY PARADE?

5.21.17 Easter 6A

Easter Season A

1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

 

The victory parade of Jesus defeating death still continues.  Whatever happened to you this week or last, whatever health trouble, work trouble, relationship trouble, financial trouble, or emotional trouble you have been dealing with does not diminish the truth of the gospel, that good news that says Jesus saves you.  No matter what has been ailing you spiritually, physically, or emotionally, you have a God who loves you to the point where he would let himself be arrested, tortured, and murdered so that you would not have to face the punishment for your sins.  And this God conquered death so that you get to talk about heaven as your very real, very certain, very perfect, very eternal home.  That is God’s love for you.

Let that sink in… God loves me to death, literally to hell, and then back again.  You know, that really works for me. I like that a lot.  Nothing can separate God’s love from me.  With my sin, I put unnecessary and unhelpful distance between God and myself.  I might ignore him at times.  I do things I shouldn’t, but God will still love me and want me to live with him forever.  He will still work through his Word to call me, to shatter my stony heart, to waken me from slumber, to turn my darkness to light.  He will still be the God who died for me and rose again.

Do you know what that’s called?  When someone does not base their love for me on my performance but loves me simply because they want to, that’s called grace.  And with God’s grace there’s no fine print.  There’s no obligations.  There is nothing that can change that kind of love called grace, because it’s not about me and who I am and what I do, it’s about God and who he is and what he does.

Like I said, that works for me.  God has a personal knowledge of me.  He has a personal way of dealing with me.  I’m not just a name on a long list.  I’m not just a number.  As Luther put it, “God has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts.  Sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”   That’s a good thing for me to cherish when I feel weary and burdened.  That’s a good thing for me to hold onto when I feel alone.

But sometimes I’m selfish and I take it too far.  You do, too. I like that God knows me and loves me, but I can put too much attention on me.  I like that God is on my side, and in this self-obsessed, ego-infatuated, me-myself-and-I world, I put the focus on this relationship between God and me, failing to enjoy the fact that God has this kind of relationship with others, too.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s a key word at the end.  Yes, I have a personal relationship with my Savior.  He brought me to faith and I now stand with him and will live with him forever.  But it’s not just me and him.  That pronoun is a first person pronoun, but’s it’s plural.  It’s “us!” That means Jesus loves more than me.

For the selfish heart that stubbornly says, “My faith is between me and God,” the fact is faith in Jesus connects us into a family.  Did you catch that in this letter John wrote.   John says “brothers and sisters” and “dear children.”  God’s grace called us by the gospel of Jesus Christ into his family.  That means there are others.  And these others are not foreign or strange.  They are family.  They were bought with the same blood of Christ.  They were baptized into the name of the same Triune God.  They were called, enlightened, and sanctified by the same Spirit.  They are built on the same solid foundation of God’s truth.  These fellow believers enjoy the same message of law and gospel.  They have the same eternal home waiting for them.  That lasts a lot longer than the family relationships we have on earth.

How does this family operate?  Is it a smile and a nod once in a while at church?  Is that how family works?  Is it nice words?  Some small talk with coffee and doughnuts?  A congratulations at a baptism?  A birthday greeting on facebook?  That just doesn’t sound like the way a family works, does it?

John says, “we should love one another.”  What exactly is the definition of love John is using?  Is it attraction, like a teenager trying to get a date for prom?  Is it a positive feelings for someone, like waving to your neighbors across the street?  Is it familiarity from spending a lot of time together, like a son mimicking his father?  Is that what love is?  That is not even close to the way God is using it here.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s how God loves people.  He shows his love in actions.  He shows love by doing such amazing things for people who do not deserve it.  He sacrifices himself.  That is love.  That is the love that exists in the family of God, as John continues, And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 

Love is being willing to lay aside your preferences, your opinions, your goals, your time, your energy, even your whole being for someone else.  Love is not just saying they matter more, but showing it.  And this section is not addressed to spouses – although it certainly applies – it is addressed to those within the family of God.

But families don’t always get along, do they?  They don’t always have this kind of love.  In fact, in a family it can get downright nasty.  Did you hear that example of Cain and Abel?  Cain didn’t have the right attitude toward God or toward his brother.  Maybe he thought he could keep it hidden from Abel.  But God saw it all clearly.

God still sees it clearly.  He sees when it’s not just a busy schedule that separates his people, but careless selfishness.  He sees when it’s just the lips moving and the heart is ice cold.  What is happening to God’s family, when brothers and sisters cannot love one another with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?  We are just like Cain.  We are self-obsessed.  We are ignorant and arrogant.  We are killing love.

Do you know what that is called when you kill love with hatred, with jealousy, with slander, with gossip… It’s called murder.  And if there is one thing this world loves, it’s hate.  Hatred toward people who lean politically.  Hatred toward people of different creeds.  Hatred toward different races and ethnicities.  It’s killing us.  It’s killing our world and it works its way among even God’s people.

And so into our world of hate, the love of God pierced the darkness.  It began with a promise to Cain’s parents, that hatred would not cut God off from his people, but God would put the hatred between his people and Satan (enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers).  The love of God shined brightly the night Jesus entered our world.  Angels sang of peace between God and men.  The love of God walked the earth, willing to show kindness and goodness to all, even the enemies who hated him.  The love of God allowed those enemies to kill Jesus, so that we would know what God’s love does for us.  But the love of God did not end in death.  Jesus passed from death to life.  He would not let hate ruin his kingdom.  With love, his death brought forgiveness and peace.  He would not let his people be ruled by evil and sin.  With love, Jesus destroyed sin, death, and hell.

I have a new life in Christ and so do you.  We have this life where there is peace with God and each other, a life where Christ lives in us through faith, a life where hatred does not control us, a life where I look for ways to show the love of God to my brothers and sisters the way God showed his love to me.

There is a world of people just like Cain, who cannot understand this sort of thing.  It’s foreign, nonsense. They don’t know Christ or care about him so how can they have his love in their hearts?  Instead, they serve themselves.  They hate any opposing view that does not fit their own.

Brothers and sisters, that is not us.  We are not ruled by what we hate.  We are ruled by the love of God.  We are so saturated with it, that we cannot possibly keep it in.  God’s love will never just be a me and God thing.  It will always be a God and us thing.  It will always be giving up what I want because God gave himself up for me.  I will put the needs of others first.

This love that flows from God through us will be visible.  It will be visible in this family of believers here.  It will be visible like good fruit is visible on a tree.  People will see your joy that exists not because everything in life is going smoothly, but because sins are forgiven and life in heaven is yours.  People will see your kindness, that isn’t looking for a reward but desires to help others in need.  People will see your faithfulness, that even though we live in fickle times, the risen Lord keeps us steadfast.  These brothers and sisters will see it and rejoice that God’s love can do such things.

That’s gospel ministry.  That’s the life we have in this victory parade.  Love is what defines us, God’s undying love that called us out of the darkness of hate and brought us into the light of life.  As Christ has love you, now you love one another. God grant it.  Amen.

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THE HEART OF THE MATTER

sermon-on-the-mount

Matthew 5

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Last week Jesus preached a portion of his Sermon on the Mount, telling us to be who we are.  He said God has made us to be salt in a rotting world.  That means he uses us in the preservation process until Jesus comes back at the end of time.  We preserve this world not with great acts of ingenuity nor with promoting individualism but by listening to Jesus’ word and following his example. He said God has made us light to shine in the darkness of sin and unbelief.  We shine with the light of the gospel not to bring attention to ourselves but so that God is glorified and others see the eternal light that Jesus has provided for us.

In summary, we could say that Jesus’ sermon last week was an encouragement to Christians.  He said if you are a child of God, then live like it.  Be who you are so that others can see it.  Again, that encouragement is not to show us how to earn a place in heaven.  Instead, Jesus is telling us that when a loving God chooses to bring you into his family that changes how you live.  God gives you the power and purpose to be salt and light in a rotting, dark world.

Jesus finished up that portion of his sermon last week by saying, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”   The disciples and followers that Jesus was preaching to knew all about the Pharisees and their extreme devotion to obeying the Book of the Law.  Pharisees were so religious about all of God’s Old Testament Law that they even made up more rules and regulations just to be safe.  But that kind of righteousness is still missing something isn’t it?  Even with their strict obedience, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were still not completely right to God.

That’s why Jesus continues his sermon with these next few sections recorded in Matthew 5. When someone thinks getting into the kingdom of heaven is about following God’s laws, then Jesus says you’d better know what all of God’s laws are…and there’s still more to it than that!  It’s not enough to simply obey God’s laws.

Jesus gives us a few examples of that.  He starts off with the 5th Commandment, murder.  Obeying the 5th Commandment means that you will not kill anyone ever.  That seems reasonable.  God wants us to value human life. He wants us to treat it like the gift it is.  And I think we all get that.  Murder is not good. So we don’t do it.  That is obeying the 5th Commandment.

But Jesus says it goes beyond that.  If God wants us to value human life, then the 5th Commandment doesn’t just deal with taking a life, but the 5th Commandment also deals with how we talk about and what we think about human life.  If you are mad at someone, if you hold a grudge against someone, if you say something with anger in your heart, if you call people hurtful names, all of this is breaking the 5th Commandment, too.

Do you see what’s going on here?  Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter.  He wants us to understand that the law is about a lot more than our actions.  That is all the Pharisees cared about.  They wanted to be seen as the moral, upright citizens who were so good at living according to God’s laws.  But they forgot one thing about God, he sees the heart.  And from these religious leaders who were so conscientious about their actions, Jesus saw hearts that were full of the wrong kind of righteousness: self-righteousness.  That means they did not receive righteousness from God as a gift of his grace, but they were trying to get it from themselves, which is really no righteousness at all.

Let me say that another way.  They thought being seen as moral and upright religious people was going to earn themselves a place in God’s kingdom.  So they neglected and ignored God’s promises and paid all their attention to his laws.  The problem with that is it ignores the heart of the matter.

You obey the 5th Commandment by not killing another person.  But you break the 5th Commandment by trying to hurt someone, by saying hateful things to another person or about another person, or by being angry with another person.  The heart matters just as much as the words that come from your lips and the work that comes from your hands.

And the same thing is true for the 6th Commandment, adultery.  You can try to say that you have never had sex with someone other than your spouse.  You can try to plead your case, saying, “I never had sex before I was married.”  But what have your eyes seen?  What has your heart felt?  If you have used the internet for impure purposes, then Jesus has a title for you: adulterer.  If you have thought of someone in an impure way, adulterer.  If someone treats marriage like it’s not a full-time loving commitment between a man and a woman for life, if someone ends a marriage because they just don’t have the passion anymore or they are giving up on their spouse, then Jesus says that leads to adultery.

Finally, in this section, Jesus brings up the way you talk.  He says during your conversations, do not say things like, “I swear by heaven that it’s true.”  And really his point is don’t color your conversations with any improper language.  “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ No.”  And if you struggle with that, Jesus says it’s like the devil is inside you speaking for you.

Now, to a lot of people this doesn’t make any sense.  It’s even offensive to our human nature to think that if I harbor anger in my heart it’s the same as murder.  No one who is angry will get sentenced to life in prison.  It’s so contrary to popular opinion to say that looking at porn is the same as sleeping around.  In the eyes of the world, just because someone is vulgar doesn’t mean they are from the devil.

But for the God of all creation, he sees the heart of the matter.  He sees sin and it doesn’t matter to him if the sin is an action, a word, a thought, or an attitude.  Sin is sin and it’s unacceptable.  Sin is sin and it’s damnable. Living like the Pharisees, with a really good outward appearance, cannot get you to heaven. A good outward façade cannot change the condition of your heart.

But I know someone who can.  I know someone who can change the heart of the matter.  I know someone who can obey the 5th Commandment.  He didn’t murder.  He didn’t hate or hurt.  He didn’t call people names.  He didn’t hold grudges.  I know someone who obeyed the 6th Commandment perfectly.  He lived a pure life.  His eyes never wandered.  His heart never lusted. He never gave in to passion or pleasure.  I know someone who kept his conversations pure and decent.  He didn’t think the colorful language was necessary.  And he did all of that for you.

Jesus came here not just to preach a good message, but to live it, too.  He had to because God knew that we could never earn righteousness for ourselves; it would have to be a gift of his grace.  God knew that our hearts would never be made pure by ourselves so he would do it for us. And so Jesus came to be the perfect Savior and substitute for us.  His perfect life gets to the heart of the matter.  His perfect life gives us the kind of righteousness we need.  And on the cross, he willingly handed it over.  He gave his perfect life as the sacrifice for our sins.  The perfect and innocent Son of God gave up his life for sinful and guilty people like us.  Jesus removed the broken pieces of the 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, and all of God’s laws, and replaced them with the pure and perfect life that God expects from his children.

By faith in Jesus we have been purified.  And do you know what pure people do?  They don’t sin.  They don’t do sinful actions.  They don’t say sinful words. They don’t think sinful thoughts.  They don’t have sinful attitudes.

It’s hard to think that way, I know.  It’s hard to look at my life that is tainted by sin as pure and holy. But, brothers and sisters, if the perfect Savior has removed sins against the 5th Commandment, 6th Commandment, and all of God’s laws, if he has made us pure with his righteousness, then that’s the way God sees us.  He sees his own children who have been washed clean in baptism.  He sees a soul where the Holy Spirit has taken up residence and continues to keep us in faith.    That’s the heart of the matter.

With that kind of heart, do you know what kind of thoughts, words, and actions are going to follow? Good ones, holy ones, and God-pleasing ones.  The Pharisees had it backwards.  They thought their top-notch obedience would work its way to righteousness in God’s eyes.  But they didn’t see the heart of the matter.  Only a heart that has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, only a heart that clings to the cross of Jesus, and only a heart that listens to Jesus can live for God.

So that’s what you will do.  You will live a holy life because God has made you holy.  It’s his power, it’s his grace, and it’s his holiness.  That is the heart of the matter.

Amen.