Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Peace Through the Spirit (A sermon based on John 14:25-27)

Does your life seem peaceful? Hardly, right? There are external problems that threaten our health, our finances, our relationships. Then there's the internal guilt and shame. These all come as a result of sin -- of disobedience to God. But the Holy Spirit has come to give us peace. Jesus promised it. On the Day of Pentecost he brought the disciples peace by giving them a right understanding of what Jesus had come to do and a right faith in the forgiveness he won. And he did this through the Word. He does the same for us. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on John 14:25-27 and rejoice in the peace the Holy Spirit gives! 

Peace Through the Spirit

A sermon based on John 14:25-27

Sunday, May 20, 2018 – Pentecost B

 

How much peace do you think the disciples had that night? Jesus was doing some unusual things, washing their feet, changing the Passover, praying alone in the garden. And what he was saying was even more odd: The bread was his body? The wine was his blood? He was going to depart and they couldn't come with him? I'll bet that night left them confused and without much peace.

How much peace do you think the disciples had later that night? Jesus was arrested and he let himself be abused. He could have stopped it. They knew that. But he didn't. He chose to let them hurt him. Maybe he would let them hurt the disciples too. So they ran. Those who had so recently boldly declared they would never leave Jesus' side now ran away like terrified prey into the dark night. I'll bet that night left them scared and without much peace.

How much peace do you think the disciples had later that night? Hiding behind locked doors, they feared that the authorities would come for them next. And I'm sure the shame of deserting Jesus—their teacher, their master, their friend—soon hit hard. I'll bet that night left them feeling quite guilty and without much peace.

And yet, on that night, the night on which he was betrayed, Jesus promised his disciples peace. And it's a peace he promises to us too. It's a peace promised to be delivered by the Holy Spirit, a peace described for us in John 14:25-27…

 

25 "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

 


I. The Holy Spirit Brings Peace by Giving You Faith

 

The disciples were troubled and scared. They were worried and fearful—and understandably so! Their lives were in jeopardy. Their families in danger. Their friend was talking about capture and death. And soon their hopes in Jesus to be the Messiah who would rule the nations would lay in utter ruins. That night, after his arrest, things must have looked pretty hopeless to those disciples. I'm sure there wasn't much peace among them.

We too are often robbed of peace in this sin-filled life, aren't we? Sin brings pain and disease, so we worry about our health. Sin brings disasters and crooks, so we worry about our finances. Sing brings selfishness and war on a big scale and a smaller personal scale so we worry about our jobs and about our kids and about our relationships. At times, it sure seems like there's not much peace in our lives. But then something worse robs us of peace…

The external circumstances were certainly enough to rob the disciples of peace that night. But how much more the internal guilt and shame must have robbed them of peace. We know the remorse of Judas and of Peter who both broke down in shame at what they'd done. And it robbed them both of peace.

And I think we can understand.

In one of the verses right before our text, Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching."

And how well have we obeyed his teaching? Not well enough. Too often we show that we love ourselves more than Jesus. We care more about our comfort than about speaking up for him, more about our fun than service to him, more about our friends than our Savior.

 


And when we realize what we've done, how little we've loved him, then the guilt and shame of our sin can rob us of peace. Nagging, gnawing guilt, the shame and regret, sting our consciences like a piece of Devil's club stuck under the surface of the skin. Our consciences sting… unless, of course, they've become so calloused that we can no longer feel the sting. But even then the quiet night can often bring back the memories of our sin that haunt our souls with guilt and shame and rob us of peace.

But Jesus sent his Spirit to bring us peace. And he does that by giving us a proper understanding and a right faith…

The disciples had no peace because the lacked understanding. They didn't understand what the Messiah was all about. They didn't get why Jesus had come. They thought he had come to bring them peace in this life: peace from the Romans, peace from poverty, peace from suffering and pain.

But that's not the kind of peace that Jesus had come to bring.

In verse 27 Jesus explained that this wasn't the kind of peace the Holy Spirit would bring. He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." He didn't come to just bring physical health and financial security or happy human relationships that fill our hearts. For all of those would ultimately leave us empty in the end. For "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36)

But Jesus brought a better peace. And the Holy Spirit gives us a proper understanding of what God came to do, just like he did for those disciples.

When Jesus said, "While I am still with you," he alluded to his departure from this life. The next day he would die. He would be killed on a cross, tortured to death. Why? To win the battle for them--and for us! A battle that would bring us peace—to bring us peace with God. This is the peace of which Jesus spoke: a peace of heart and mind which comes from knowing our sins are all forgiveness through his perfect life and innocent death for us, a peace that was proved by his resurrection from the dead. It is a peace which passes all understanding. It is a peace which only God can give.

And though the disciples didn't get it that Maundy Thursday, Jesus would send his Holy Spirit to comfort, counsel, help, and enlighten them. On the Day of Pentecost, the light came on for the disciples as the flames appeared above their head. For the first time they really understood what peace Jesus had brought them. He didn't give them a small, temporal, feeble peace that the world gives. He gave a different peace, a better peace, his peace.

And they boldly proclaimed, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-38) Now they understood. And so do we. We understand that, "since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1)

And we understand this—we believe this—because the Holy Spirit has worked this understanding—and this faith in this understanding—in our hearts. And he's done so and continues to do so through the Word.

 

II. The Holy Spirit Brings Peace by Giving You His Word

 

When Jesus said, "While I am still with you," he alluded to his departure from this life. But perhaps he also alluded to his ascension 43 days later. He would leave them bodily and physically. But he didn't leave them alone. While he was still with them he made them this promise: "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." Jesus left his disciples the Holy Spirit and the promise that he would leave them with the Word.


And Jesus has not left us alone either. He sends us his Holy Spirit who always operates through the Word. Do you want to be close to God? Do you want to know his heart and mind? Do you want to find peace in what he says to you? Then read his Word. It is not just an interesting book with good ideas about God. It's not just a record of the things the disciples could recall from their memories. It is the very Word of God written by him through the apostles he sent. Jesus promised this to his disciples: It is his Word. "The Holy Spirit… will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

You've heard the argument and the illustration before, right? If we play that old game of telephone, where I whisper a message to one person who passes it on to the next and then to the next, the message is very likely to be garbled—sometimes in a ridiculous and humorous way by the time it gets to the last person because human memory doesn't always work that well.

But that's not how the Scriptures work. Let people use their cell phones to record the message before they pass it on and the end result will be quite different. Or better still, let the last person talk to the first—the original message giver—and the end result will be flawless.

The disciples didn't have a recording device. But they didn't need one. They had something better: A promise from Jesus that he would send the original message giver right to them. "The Holy Spirit… will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

So we know that what they wrote of Jesus is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. What comfort that brings when our worries and fears try to rob us peace. We know that it's God himself, not just Matthew, who promises that he is with us always. (cf. Matthew 28:20) What comfort that brings when we face problems and pain that would rob us of peace. We know that it's God himself, not just Paul, who promises that he'll work all things for the good of those who love him. (cf. Romans 8:28) What comfort that brings when we face the thought of our own death that would rob us life and rob us of peace. We know that it's God himself, not just John, who promises that whoever believes in him will never die. (cf. John 11:26)

So when problems or pain or troubles or terrors try to rob you of your peace, then go back to the Word. Read of God's grace to you in Christ. And find peace. Better still, read, mark, learn, and digest that Word of God before problems or pain or troubles or terrors try to rob you of your peace and they won't be able to. Then you will always rejoice that the Spirit has brought you peace by the understanding and the faith that he's given you and that the Spirit has brought you peace by the Word that he's given you. Read the Word. Read of his grace. And be at peace.

And may the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit give you peace at all times and in every way. Amen.

 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Alive No Matter What! (A sermon based on Romans 8:18-25, 31-38)

​What could ever separate you from God's love? Nothing! Even though we often try to separate ourselves as we run away from God like a toddler running from a parent in search independence, nevertheless, God loves us so much he chases after us. And by his grace, we are tethered to his love. Nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on select verses of Romans 8 and rejoice in that amazing truth!  ​

Alive No Matter What!

A sermon based on Romans 8:18-25, 31-38

Sunday, May 13, 2018 – Ascension/Mothers' Day

 

The fun and exciting vacation she hoped for wasn't turning out to be quite what Lex expected. Her grandpa invited her and her brother, Tim, to spend a week on his private island exploring, and adventuring, and especially seeing the dinosaurs grandpa's company had made. But now, the dinosaurs were running wild in Jurassic Park and at the first sign of the T-Rex the lawyer—who was supposed to be their protector—took off running scared only to be eaten. "He left us!" Lex cried in shock and dismay! "He left us!"

I imagine that's how Jesus' disciples must have felt after they saw his feet disappear behind the cloud. With shock and dismay they must have cried, "He left us! He left us!" Now what? Now that their mentor, their protector, their Savior left them, who would take care of them now?

But even though Jesus left this world physically, he didn't abandon his disciples. You remember his parting words before his ascension: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." 

Today, we look at some familiar passages in the great comfort chapter of Romans 8. And we're reminded that though Jesus left earth, he didn't leave us. Though times here will be tough, Jesus is still with us always. And no matter what happens, we will live through him and with him. Nothing will ever be able to separate us from him and his inseparable love. Our text for this morning is select verses of Romans 8, beginning at verse 18…

 

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

 

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

On Friday, Becky and I had quite the scare. Distracted by the garage sale, we suddenly noticed that Joel wasn't in the garage anymore. We searched the house calling his name. Not there. We looked around the property, checked the playground and the soccer field. Not there. I ran over to church. He wasn't in the big room. We started to get frantic. We started to fear the worst: that one of the garage sale shoppers picked up some bargains and a little boy.

(Don't worry. We did find him. He was in the lower grade classroom using his charm and powers of adorable to get the other kids to buy him toys from the teacher store. And as a consequence for running away from home, he had to give them all back.)

Moms, have you ever been there? Ever had that moment of panic when you thought there would be no future Mothers' Day celebration with this particular child because they were gone? They were there at your side holding on to the cart one minute and the next they just vanished?

That's got to be what God feels every time we run away from him. Like the toddler seeking independence, we wander away from our loving Father at great risk to ourselves. We try to separate ourselves from him by running away so we can do our own thing, live life on our terms, by our rules without him telling us what to do. We can never cry, "He left us! He left us!" because if we ever feel distant from God, we can be sure that it wasn't God who moved away, it was us.

And it should be no surprise that such independence never ends well. It was Adam's independence from God that brought about sin and its harmful effect from the beginning. That's why there's suffering. That's why there are problems. That's why there's pain. "For the creation was subjected to frustration…" It's in, "bondage to decay…" and "has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."

And sin doesn't just make a mess of the earth, it causes problems and pain for its inhabitants too: "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…" And what's worse, our trying to separate ourselves from God to do our own thing doesn't just make a mess of this life. For running away from God, we deserve a fate far worse than being hit by a car, or getting kidnapped, or even getting eaten by a dinosaur. We deserve death. And we deserve death to be the final separation that removes us from God and his love for eternity. We justly deserve God's condemnation.

But… God loves us too much to let us go. Even when we run away from him, he runs after us. Like a mother leaving the cart full of groceries (or a garage sale with a bag of cash sitting on the table) to go frantically searching for her wandering toddler before he gets abducted or hit by a car, so great is God's love for us that he chases after us before we become separated from him forever in hell.

And consider again what great lengths God's love led him to go to in order to rescue us! "He… did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all!"

 Friends, listen; if the "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…" ever cause you to start doubting God's love for you, you only need to look at the cross again. He already rescued you from the most terrible trouble; from the hardship of hell! And he did so at the expense of his own Son! What love! How can you ever doubt his love for you!

Now you have the confidence that your every sin is forgiven! Every time you've wandered away from God or deliberately ran from him is erased. "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies." God has declared you not guilty! Who's going to argue with him? "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." The judge of your soul is the very one who died to pay for your sin, who rose from the dead to guarantee it, who ascended into heaven to plead your case before the Father based on his work and merits. Who's going to argue with him against your case? Never doubt his love for you! It will never cease. It will never fail. It will never waver!

Mom was tired of losing her toddler every time she went out. So one day, she went online and bought a "child safety harness" (because "child safety harness" sounds much more dignified than "toddler leash"). And the next time she went shopping, she made sure her little one was safely tethered to her. She wouldn't lose her child this time.

And that, in a sense, is what God does for us, friends. His love for you is an even greater love than the most devoted mother could ever give her child. It's never selfish, it never needs a break and a glass of wine, it always does what's in your best interest, and it tethers you to God with an inseparable love.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

You see, the reason nothing can ever separate you from the love of Christ, is that it in no way depends on you. God doesn't love you because of how good you are, because of what you do, because you're so good looking, or charming, or adorable, or talented. He doesn't love you because you're loveable in any way. He loves you because that's who he is. He loves you for the sake of Jesus who lived for you, and died for you, and took your sin away, who lives for you still, interceding for you before his Father's throne.

So as you endure "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…" (and you will; that is to be assumed), even if you should, "face death all day long; [and be] considered as sheep to be slaughtered," remember that you are "more than conquerors through him who loved us." Nothing will ever, "be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Rejoice in that truth. Even though Jesus left us physically when he ascended into heaven, though he isn't visible to our eyes, he is still with us, just as he promised. And though life may be hard, his love will never leave us. It will never cease. It will never fail. It will never waver!

God will always love us with an inseparable love until that day when we are untethered from this world and live with him in paradise. And he will continue love us for eternity there.

So wait patiently and hopefully, "for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Stay tethered to him. Stop running away looking for your independence. And live for him in thanks. For nothing will ever separate us from God's inseparable love. We are alive in Christ, no matter what. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Alive Together for the Lord! (A sermon based on Romans 14:1-9)

Would you ever drink a glass of wine in church? Would you ever smoke a marijuana joint?! Would such actions be wrong? They may not be wise, but would it be sinful? In today's sermon we consider the topic of adiaphora -- those things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden. But how should we treat such matters? Should we just do what we think is best? Thank God that he sent Jesus to do not what was best for him, but what was best for us. And his forgiving love for us moves us to live for him and to do whatever is in the best interest of our brother or sister in Christ. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Romans 14:1-9 and rejoice in God's grace to us in Christ! 


Alive Together for the Lord!
A sermon based on Romans 14:1-9
Sunday, May 6th, 2018 – Easter

[Pull out a box of wine, pour a little into a glass, swirl it, sniff it, take a sip, smile.]
"What in the world is Pastor Guenther doing?!" Is that what you thought just now? I mean, I know it's 5 o'clock somewhere. But a glass of wine in the pulpit?! That's over the top!
I agree. And I admit, I did this for shock value this morning to grab your attention at the start of the sermon in a way I hope you'll remember past today. But… can you say that drinking a glass of wine (even in the pulpit!) is sinful? We might agree that drinking alcohol in church (apart from the Lord's Supper, of course) is terribly unwise, but can we say it is sinful? No. Not really.
That's our topic for discussion today: disputable matters, or what theologians call adiaphora. Literally that word means things not cut. Adiaphora are those things where God's word cuts no clean line between right and wrong. Adiaphora are things neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible. Is it sinful to drink alcohol? Well, drunkenness is obviously sinful. God's Word is clear enough on that. Substance abuse clearly is wrong. But substance use, not necessarily. Now that it's legal, what about marijuana? We once had a lively discussion here on that topic for a midweek Bible Class. How about gambling for entertainment? Perhaps it could be done without sinning, even though greed and malcontent are certainly wrong.
Or what about worship styles? Guitars and drums in church? New hymnals or varied liturgies? What if the pastor wears a clerical collar? Or what if he wears no vestments, but preaches in a suit and tie? What if he were to preach in jeans and a T-shirt? We could discuss wise or unwise, but the Bible neither forbids nor commands such things. They are adiaphora.
For Paul's Roman audience it was about meat. In the Old Testament pork was forbidden. No bacon! No pork chops! So were shrimp and lobster forbidden. These were things the Gentiles ate, but a God-fearing Jew never would. But now that Christ had come to fulfill his mission, the ritual and ceremonial laws that kept his people separate from the nations around them until he came… well, they were now obsolete. But not everyone agreed with how best to proceed.
So Paul set pen to paper to straighten a few things out in regard to adiaphora. And as part of the solution to the Romans' problems he pointed to the resurrection. Christ died and returned to life to become our Lord. And as a result we longer live to please ourselves, but we live together for the Lord. Our text for today is found in Romans 14:1-9…

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

I. We Live to Ourselves

When the pastors of our circuit encounter a question of adiaphora we ask two important questions: First, we discuss whether a particular action or practice is sinful. We ask "Sin or no sin?" But if we determine that it's no sin, we don't end the discussion there. Then we need to ask a second question, "Wise or unwise?" "How will this particular practice impact those around me? What impressions will I give? Might I cause problems for a brother or sister in the faith?" And if a particular action or practice fails either question, we encourage one another not to do it.  
It would seem that the Romans weren't asking those questions though. They were doing their own thing—whatever suited each person best—then looking down on the other side, condemning those that did things differently from them. The weak in faith were those Jewish believers not comfortable eating pork or worshipping on any day but Saturday, those who followed the rites and rituals the way they'd always done. The strong were those Gentiles who knew that what went into someone's mouth didn't matter as much as what was in their heart, that the rest the Sabbath Day pointed to was the rest they had in Christ, and that there was freedom worship with new forms.
But don't misunderstand. It's not just that the weak were the "bad guys" and the strong were the "good guys." No… the weak were those with sensitive consciences. But on the flip side, the strong were acting insensitive, caring little what their eating was doing to the faith of others.
Paul really scolds both sides when he says, "The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him."
The weak look down on the strong: "I can't believe he'd eat that! I can't believe he'd smoke that! I can't believe he'd watch a show like that!" and in doing so, they sin, judging others uncharitably in condescension and sinful pride. And the strong look down on the weak: "I can't believe he won't enjoy a drink, or smoke, or watch the shows I do. You'd think he'd know better; that in Christian freedom we can enjoy these things that God has not called sinful." And in doing so, they sin, judging others uncharitably in condescension and sinful pride.
Friends, whether you consider yourself weak or sensitive in the faith or strong in the faith, does it really matter? Haven't we all been selfish? Haven't we all looked down on others because they didn't do things the way we thought they ought? Haven't we all been less than charitable in judging in things that God has neither commanded nor forbidden? If the answer to "Sin or no sin?" is "no sin," can we condemn those that we deem unwise in doing things differently that we would? And haven't we all lived to ourselves; that is, lived selfishly knowing that we were right and therefore caring nothing for the other person, their view, their faith?
"Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" Paul says. "To his own master he stands or falls." In other words, don't worry about what the other person is doing. Focus on how well you are doing. Are you living entirely for God? Or do you sometimes—often?—live for yourself? Do you always seek what's in the best interest of others? Or do you do what's in your own best interest? Looking down on others as "not as good as me," or simply apathetic to the countless others we pass each day, so caught up in our own worlds, our own problems and pains, oblivious to the hurts and needs of others, shows how selfish and self-centered we all are.
And so, living to ourselves and not to others, living to ourselves and not to God, we deserve to have God pass judgment on us, looking down on us, condemning us. We deserve to fall. And we deserve to die apart from the Lord, spending an eternity of self-righteous indignation full of ever-increasing self-absorption in the torment of hell.
But… God loved us too much to let us get what we deserve…

II. He Lived for Us

"For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living."
Jesus lived a perfect life, never seeking what was in his own best interest. He always sought what was in the best interest of others. He always took the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way. He always loved, he always forgave. He never looked down on others (when he alone had every right to do so!). He never condemned others on the basis of adiaphora, personal preference, or prejudice. And "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)
And giving his perfect record of righteousness to you and to me, he took our sinful judging, condescension and condemnation, our bitter bickering about disputable matters, all on himself and took them to the cross. He never sought what was in his own best interest, but was so concerned for what was in our best interest, that he willingly endured hell on that cross to pay for ours sin. He died for us and then he returned to life for us that he might be our Lord. "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living."
And so, "If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." We belong to the Lord. We are his. When we die, we will die to the Lord and be with him forever in the paradise of heaven. And for that glorious truth, we want to thank him! That means that right now we will live to the Lord, eager to do whatever pleases him…

II. We Live to the Lord and to Each Other

The players on the varsity basketball team would do anything to make their coach happy. If he asked them to run the lines, they'd start sprinting right away. If he called a play, they'd get in formation. He had led them to several victories and they knew they had a real chance at the championship if they'd do what he told them. But one game, Coach was livid. He was running up and down the sidelines screaming, "Same team! Same team!"
You see, in their zeal to win the game, his players were boxing out—shoving others out of the way in order to be the first to get a rebound after a missed shot. But… they weren't paying attention to whom they were boxing out and some of the players were boxing out their own teammates. That's what prompted Coach to shout, "Same team! Same team!"
In our text for today that's what Coach Paul was shouting to the Romans. "You've all been bought by the blood of Christ. You've all been forgiven by his passion. You've all got peace with God and the paradise of heaven that awaits you. You're all same team! So start acting like it! Don't let these petty squabbles or who eats what or what day you worship on—things that God has neither commanded nor forbidden in his Word—separate you, divide you, and cause you to treat each other like the enemy. You all belong to the Lord! You're all 'Same team'!"
"For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord."
Stop critiquing each other. Stop bickering with each other. Stop living selfishly to get your own way. Instead, live to the Lord. Focus on the relationship between you and Jesus, not you and other or others and Jesus. If you find one day to be more special to your faith, celebrate it with thanks to God! If you want to eat or abstain from certain foods, do so with thanks to God! Focus on Jesus, your Savior, and not on others. Live to serve him and please him. Isn't that why you come here in the first place? To be with Jesus? And as you focus on him and others do to, there's room to disagree on wise or unwise.
In a sense, we are a university. Literally that word means "unity in diversity." Even as we have different tastes, different hobbies, different ideas on how to best run the church, on to best use our finances, on what style of worship and music is best, on who we should call to be the next pastor… still, we have "one Lord, one faith, one God of us all…" We are, "One in love, as family, Living with each other. Gladly we share each other's pain." And we, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:3-6)
In other words, we're "Same team!" We're all doing all we can to live for our Coach, our brother, our Savior, Jesus! We're all doing all we can to gain a few more wins for him. So we set aside our squabbles over disputable matters: over food or drink, what we wear or what we smoke, what songs we like to sing in worship or what movies we like to watch at home. We don't worry as much about how the church is run or the money is spent as we do about how each of us individually may better serve our Savior and serve his Kingdom and his cause. And as we do we will find a unity that will make our Savior smile and that will more and more victories for the Kingdom as we work together "Same team." May Jesus help us to do this always, in thanks to him, and to his glory. In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611
pastorguenther@gmail.com
(907) 690-1660

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Alive and Free! (A sermon based on Romans 6:19b-23)

​What a blessing to have the freedoms that we enjoy in our nation! But sadly, we sometimes use our freedom to act like we're free from God. Our sinful nature enjoys a freedom from righteousness. But that "freedom" leads to real slavery and ultimately to death and hell. Thank God that he set us free -- truly free! -- from sin and satan, from death and hell. And he gives us a real life of freedom as we live to serve him! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Romans 6:19b-23 and rejoice that in Christ we are alive and free!​

Alive and Free!

A sermon based on Romans 6:19b-23

Sunday, April 22, 2018 – Easter 4B

 

Crack! The whip snapped and hit hard across his back. It felt like a dagger stabbed between his shoulder blades. In fact, he did have a deep cut where the whip struck. He could feel the blood start to flow down his back, mixed with the sweat. The master screamed, "Pick up that shovel, boy! You get back to work!" And so, he picked up the shovel and got back to work, feeling a blister on his hand pop, he knew that that pain was less than another crack of the whip.

At the end of a long, hard day, he was shoved into a cage with chain and lock preventing his escape. He was given a small blanket and a dish of some food that was hard to identify and a container of dirty water. Nearly starved he devoured the gruel in seconds and gulped the water to chase it down. This was a tough life—the life of a slave.

Thank God that slavery is now outlawed in our nation and that the idea of one man owning another as if he were only a possession and less than human now seems barbaric. Of course, that wasn't always the case, in this nation or in other countries. In fact, slavery is still alive and well in some parts of the world. Sex slaves are sold and trafficked in an underground market that leaves people feeling trapped and helpless in the abuse they daily endure.

And it is this picture of slavery—one perhaps more familiar to the Romans of his day than it is to us in the land of the free—that the apostle uses to describe the new life we have in Christ. Though we were once slaves to sin, we've been set free! And now, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, we gladly offer ourselves to be slaves again!—not to sin, but to God. Our text for consideration this morning is found in Romans 6:19-23…

 

1Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

If a slave were able to escape, to run away from the abuse and the pain, the humility and shame, if he could take his family with him and flee to the north on the Underground Railroad… well, as long as there was a reasonable chance of success, who wouldn't want to be free?

But sadly, many view God as an abusive master, chaining us to boredom and cruelly punishing us whenever we disobey his arbitrary will. And so they try to run away from him. But the "freedom" they gain is no freedom at all. It's more like the teen who runs away from home to get the freedom she so longs for – the freedom from the rules that mom and dad so strictly impose. But once she's made it a few miles from home, she sees how great that freedom really is. No shelter, no warmth, no food, friends.

That's how it is with each of us and God, isn't it? We act like spoiled brats! "God, don't tell me what to do! Don't impose your strict laws and commands on me! Who are you to tell me what I can and can't do?!" And so, we run away from home. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…" (Isaiah 53:6) We choose our own morals, our own lifestyle, our own way. And we end up alone… and worse…

Imagine that that teen that ran away from home was then picked up by a gang of so-called friends, eager to help her out. But in reality they were eager to imprison her, to sell her body, to gain from her pain. What a terrible fate—to trade the benevolent "captivity" of mom and dad, for the malevolent captivity of such evil men.

In such a way the supposed freedom from God always ends in genuine slavery. "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness." But that freedom didn't end well. It ended in slavery to sin, death, hell. The whip of the law cracks! It cuts us open! "Do this! Do it perfectly! Work harder! Become better! Be more kind! Be more loving! And if you don't… well… there's hell to pay!" Freedom from righteousness means slavery to sin. And, as Paul so bluntly put it, "Those things result in death!"

What we deserve for running away from God is death—that is to be separated from him forever for separating ourselves from him in rebellion. We, who run away from God, deserve to be enslaved to satan and hell for all of eternity for offering ourselves, "as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness…" That's what we earn. That's what we deserve. That's what our compensation should be. "For the wages of sin is death…"

 

One night, after a long hard day of work, the slave shivered curled up under the thin blanket of his cell. But hearing a noise at the door of his cage he bolted upright. "Who's there?" he demanded. The stranger replied, "Shhhh! We don't want to get caught!" And with a crack as loud as the whip that struck his back, the lock broke in two. The stranger opened the door of the cage and helped the slave to his feet. "Come on! Follow me! We're getting you out of here! You're going to be a free man!"

When we were enslaved to sin and satan, to death and hell, God sent his Son on a rescue mission. He took our place as he lived chained to the law for us. And try as it might, the whip of the law couldn't reach Jesus as he kept every one of its demands perfectly. But then, he who was totally free from sin and death, took our sin on himself and submitted to death. The Master of all, humbly became a slave. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

And by his death, he broke chains of sin that held us captive. By his resurrection, he shattered the doors of death! "Now… you have been set free from sin… and the result is eternal life." And we did nothing to aid in our emancipation! God did it all and gave it to us as gift! Though we earn hell as the wages of our sin, eternal life is free gift from God! "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Romans 6:23 is a verse well worth memorizing because it so succinctly captures the message of the entire Bible! We earn death—separation not just of the soul from the body, but separation from God—for all the times we've wanted to be free from him. But we don't get the death we've earned. Instead we get eternal life!

Romans 6:23 is a verse well worth memorizing because of the sweet comfort it offers. Salvation, emancipation, freedom, and ultimately eternal life is given to us as a gift from God. Now, if I tell you that I will give you a gift if you help me clean my garage first… well, that's no gift anymore, is it? If you have to do something (anything!) to get a gift it's a wage, not a gift. A gift has no strings attached. Ponder that for a moment and take joy in this truth: Eternal life is a gift. You don't have to clean up your act. You don't have work yourself up to the proper level of repentance. You don't have to have a "strong enough" faith. You don't have to do anything! It's all been done by Jesus. And eternal life is given to you as a gift, free of charge, no strings attached.

But, because we are recipients of such an awesome gift, we want to clean up our act, practice daily repentance, and strengthen our faith. Because we are recipients of such an awesome everlasting gift, because we've been forgiven, because we've been set free, we willingly make ourselves slaves to God. And we will be blessed as we do.

Think of it this way: Who here has a pet at home? A dog? A cat? Where's the best place for that pet to be? Free? In the wild, scrounging for food, trying to keep warm in the winter, avoiding predators, and struggling to survive? Or in the confinement of your home where that pet is well-fed, warm, and loved? At the end of a leash that keeps it from running into traffic or going after the bear? Real freedom for a dog or cat is found in being a pet, enslaved, if you will, by a loving master who cares for it, feeds it, loves it, and yes, even puts it on a leash to protect it from getting lost or hit by a car.

And real freedom for a human is found in being God's slave, cared for by him, fed by him, loved by him, and yes, even curbed by his law to protect us from losing our faith and falling away. So we gladly submit to God and to his law. And if we don't understand a law it's not because the law is arbitrary, the fault is in our understanding, not God's commanding. So trusting the one who set us free from slavery to sin and satan, to death and hell, we gladly submit to him and to his loving will. "Now that [we] have been set free from sin," we willingly and gladly, "become slaves of God." And, "the benefit [we] reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life."

And God needs no whip to compel us, no chains to keep us in line, because the Gospel compels us, we gladly get in line to live for him who set us free. So, rejoice, dear friends, that you have been set free—from sin that controls, from satan who would forever lock us up, from death and its final effects, from the hell that we've earned as our wages of sin. Thank God that you are alive and free, that eternal life is your gift from God with no strings attached. And now, in thanks to him, become his slave, strive to be more holy until that awesome day that you fully realize the perfect life of freedom that is ours in heaven. In the name of Jesus, our Master, amen.


In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Alive through Baptism! (A sermon based on Romans 6:1-4)

"It's just a little water. How can it possibly do anything?!" But it isn't just water. It's water connected to God's Word. And that Word makes all the difference! Because of God's promise connected to the water, it connects you and me to Jesus and his work for us. Through our baptisms we are dead to sin. We are alive in Christ, ready to weed our pet sins from our lives and to live for him in thanks! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Romans 6:1-4 and rejoice that we are alive through baptism! 

Alive through Baptism!

A sermon based on Romans 6:1-4

Sunday, April 15th, 2018 – Easter 3

 

Can it really work, something so simple? If you think about it, it's nothing but vibrations in the air caused by air passing over my throat, tongue, and lips and caught by your eardrum. Can something so simple as spoken words change lives! Of course the power of words, the thoughts and ideas they carry, changes lives! You know they can and have! But can they really save souls? The Word and the message its words contain can and do.

It seems so simple. Such a small little wafer. And only an ounce of wine. It's not enough to satisfy any physical hunger or quench physical thirst. Nevertheless, something so simple, connected to God's Word, actually gives Christ's very body and blood for us to eat and to drink. And it gives forgiveness of sins.

It seems so simple. It only takes a few seconds and a few drops of water. There are only a few, simple lines spoken. How could it be so powerful? But today we see how baptism, as simple as it is, connects us to Christ and his work in much the same way the Word and the Lord's Supper do.

It doesn't have to be elaborate or difficult. It doesn't have to be expensive or impressive. That's what Naaman thought. "Just water? That's it?" "Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" (2 Kings 5:12). But it doesn't have to be fancy. All has to be is connected to God's promise. And that's what we have in baptism. Here's God's promise about baptism recorded for us in Romans 6:1-4…

 

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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 too may live a new life.

 

I.        Rat Poison

 

Imagine that you went to your fridge to get a snack, and when you open the door, much to your horror, you find an open bottle of rat poison. How would you respond? Would casually say, "Boy, that doesn't belong there! I'll have to remember to take that out sometime. Now… where are the pickles?"

More likely, you would take it seriously and forget about the snack for a more pressing matter at hand: get rid of the rat poison. You would likely not only take it out of the fridge, but would toss it in the garbage, you might even take the garbage out of the kitchen to the bin, or maybe even immediately drive it to the landfill. You would wisely want the deadly poison out of your house before it accidentally caused harm to you or your family.

That's the way Paul was encouraging the Romans to view sin. Last week we heard in the last verses of Romans 5, "where sin increased, grace increased all the more." (Romans 5:20) But Paul was worried that some might hear that and say, "Great! So sin is no big deal! The more I sin, the more God will forgive. So I might as well sin all I want." "By no means!" Paul cries. Or literally, "May that never be!" "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

What a terrible abuse of God's grace to keep sinning since, "God will forgive me for this anyway."! Such an attitude really reveals a lack of genuine faith that trusts in the forgiveness Jesus won and wants to live for him in thanks.

But do you have rat poison in your fridge? Do you have pet sins that you know are harmful to your faith, but you keep them around anyway, because… well… you like 'em? "I'm a believer, but I don't really need to go to church that often. I need my sleep." "I'm a believer, but I don't really need to give offerings. Others are already supporting the church I love just fine." "I'm a believer, but the grudge I'm holding on to… well, God will forgive me for refusing to forgive, right?"

"I'm a believer. So the coarse jokes, the lewd sites, the overindulgence, the disrespectful talk, the impatience with the kids, the laziness…" insert your own pet sin here, "Isn't really that big of a deal. God will forgive me later. So I might as well keep doing it."

May that never be, friends! Get rid of the rat poison in your soul! Never use God's grace as an excuse to sin! Never justify your sinful behavior with "Grace will increase the more I sin, so I might as well sin." No! "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

And for the pet sins we feed and nourish instead of starve and remove and take to the dump, we deserve to be disposed of by God. We deserve to be starved and removed and sent to the dump of hell.

Thank God, then for his gift of baptism…

 

II.      Water

 

Water saves. That's no surprise to you. That's true in so many ways.

The draught was long and the famer thought he would go under if he had no crop this year. He owed too much. And with nothing to sell, he would be bankrupt soon. But then came the rains. And a bumper crop followed. Water saved him.

The forest fire was blazing and growing ever closer to the cabin. If it reached them, all they had would be lost. They prayed for a miracle. Then the rain came. It fell in torrents and put out the fire. Water saved them.

The man was severely dehydrated. Lost in the desert for days, he'd had very little to drink. When he finally staggered onto a highway, some kind soul picked him up, gave him a drink, and took him to the hospital, where he got the hydration he needed. Water saved him.

Noah and his family were surrounded by a corrupt people. The ridicule and persecution intensified year after year. He didn't know how much longer he could take it. Then the rains fell. And they picked up Noah and his family above the evil that was scrubbed clean below. Water saved them.

And water saves you. Well, not just water. But water connected to the Word, connects you to Jesus.

It seems so simple. It only takes a few seconds and a few drops of water. There are only a few, simple lines spoken. So how could something as simple as Baptism be so powerful? How could it accomplish such great things? Because, by the power of the Word, it connects you to Jesus' work: his perfect life, his innocent death, his glorious resurrection. Paul says, "All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… 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 too may live a new life."

Naamam thought, "What a waste of time! I traveled all this way to find some miraculous cure for my leprosy and I'm just told to go wash in water? That's it?! Just water from the Jordan River?!" But it wasn't just water, was it? It was water connected to the promise God had made. And that water connected to the Word of God had the power to cleanse his skin, to heal his disease, to make him healthy and whole again.

Likewise, in Baptism, "It is certainly not the water that does such things, but God's Word which is in and with the water and faith which trusts this Word used with the water. For without God's Word the water is just plain water and not Baptism.  But with this Word it is Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit."

It connects us to Jesus work: his life, his death, his resurrection. Our sin is buried with him. The rat poison is at the bottom of the landfill. We are forgiven. We are sinless. We are pure. We are holy. It seems so simple: a little water and a few recited lines. But it's such a powerful thing because our gracious God promises it. Baptism forgives sin, washing us clean. It makes us children of God. It makes us alive in Christ…

 

III.    Seeds

 

Yesterday the thermometer read 51. The sun was out. The snow was melting. Jude and Joel reckoned it was warm enough for shorts even as they spent most of the day outside. Spring is in the air. Break up is here. Even if we get more snow, it won't last long now. And that means it's time to start planting seeds in the green house. Of course, you know that seeds need to get buried before they sprout.

Well, that's true with us too. "We were… buried with [Jesus] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Buried with Jesus, a new life springs up! A life of faith that grows and produces fruit. A life that looks for ways to live for Jesus. A life that full of as much energy and zeal and growth that Spring brings to the soil!

So take a personal inventory, friends, look deep into the "fridge" of your souls for the rat poison of sin that still lingers there. And weed it out that the new life of faith might grow stronger and healthier than ever before. Evaluate your time and look for ways to work Jesus into the schedule more and more. Evaluate your budget and look for ways to express your thanks to him with your generous gifts. Evaluate your relationships and your interactions and look for ways to show love and kindness to those around you in little ways and in big. In short, live the new life that is yours through the baptism that connects you to Jesus' life, death, and resurrection!

And of course, you know that you aren't done with the seeds that you plant in the greenhouse this Spring after you put them in the dirt. They need to be regularly watered. Likewise, your baptism isn't just some historic event that happened to you once upon a time, long, long ago. But as you daily remember your baptism and drown the sinful nature with daily sorrow and repentance, you'll be watering your faith that you might "daily arise to live a before God in righteousness and purity forever."

It seems so simple. It only takes a few seconds and a few drops of water. There are only a few, simple lines spoken. And yet, it is so powerful! Your baptism connects you Christ and his work for you: his perfect life, his innocent death, and his glorious resurrection! It makes you dead to sin, but alive to Christ! Now go live your new life for him! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.



In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

Listen to sermons online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Podcast
Watch services online: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Webcast

Have you been blessed by our ministry at Grace? Consider supporting us with your generous gifts. Give securely online with a check or credit or debit card here: www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/Give