St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-22-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-22-2018

Blessed Assurance

Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It’s nothing new; I imagine it’s been around almost as long as life itself has flourished on our earth. Biblically, it comes up in the very beginning of the first book of Genesis right in the third chapter where verses nine and ten read “But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

The man was afraid of being exposed to God. And, I contend, his fear was not in the exposure of his physical nakedness but in his spiritual nakedness; the awareness that God could see his disobedience in the one and only command he had given; to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Since that time, fear has not only ruled the hearts of mankind, it has been used by mankind to rule over others.

It is a sad state of affairs that has plagued humanity ever since; spreading like a vicious virus; consistently destroying the joy of life and growing more powerful throughout the millennia. Today, not only do people use fear to control other people and nations to control other nations; but nations are using fear to control their own people. This has never been more evident in our nation since the attacks of 9-11, 2001.

But, worse than that, in too many cases fear has become the preferred tool of control of the very group that should be working hardest to dispel fear; the Christian Church.

In no way was Instilling fear of any kind a precept of the founding of the Christian faith. It did, unfortunately, become a pretense over the years aimed at gaining control over the masses and individual lives with the purpose of building the numbers of Christianity rather than the truthfulness, and manipulating those numbers into doing the will of those in temporal power rather than the will of the divine.

This is nowhere else more evident than in the teachings that emphasize death against eternal life; hell against heaven; and damnation against salvation.

Just a couple of weeks ago, while having lunch with one of my fellow pastors, she related the story of a pair of evangelical men attending her Church’s community dinner under the guise of sharing a meal. It soon became evident that they were there not there for the lifting up of the community but for the condemnation of her Church and denomination.

During the dinner, as she walked around greeting the guests, one of them physically grabbed hold of her (an act I’m sure he wouldn’t have done had she been a man) pulled her into the submissive position of the seat between him and his partner, and proceeded to grill her on her theology. His first question was “what do you preach”? To which she responded “I preach the Gospel; the good news of the love of God and Christ for all people”!

The assailant’s response was of condemnation, telling her that “if [she] wasn’t preaching repentance from sin, [she] was leading her congregation straight to hell; and [herself] with them”. What was left unspoken, but was obvious to my friend, was their challenge of her belief that God loves “all people” that includes those who are sinners (especially sinners by their definition) and the underlying distain for her as a woman in the position of authorized ministry; also unacceptable by their interpretation of the Scriptures.

It’s a sad story, and it’s the kind that has lead to the so many times, before I became a minister and since, that I have heard people questioning whether or not a loved one who had passed from this life was “good enough” to make it to heaven.

Sadder still is the number of people I have encountered, often in their death-bed, writhing with fear as they asked the question of themselves.

My heart breaks every time this situation presents itself. My heart breaks thinking of the unnecessary anguish the doubter is experiencing; and my heart breaks with the knowledge that their fear is founded in the misguided teachings of misguided brothers and sisters of Christian faith like those that assailed my friend.

Yes, repentance is in the message. Three of the four Gospels begin the story of Christ’s ministry with John the Baptist preaching, in one wording or another, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. (Mark 1:4 NRSV) The fourth, John, also delivers a message of forgiveness quoting the Baptist saying “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NRSV) But sin and repentance isn’t the central focus of any of the Gospels, nor any of the books of the Bible for that matter, God’s gracious love is.

People like the ones who condemned my friend would have us believe that we have to measure-up, reach a certain standard, be “good enough” to avoid hell and reap our heavenly reward. But this is false teaching (Period). Teaching such nonsense rips the grace of God and the salvific power of the crucified and resurrected Christ right out of their hands and places it, as a burden, on the shoulders of us, mere mortals; it takes the freely given love of God and Christ and turns it into a commodity that must be somehow purchased; it turns the fact that God loved us first so we should love him also, completely around to we must love God first, then God will love us; and it overshadows the beauty of our blessed assurance, leaving people fearfully wondering if they were “good enough”.

 

Our salvation and the fulfillment of all the promises of God delivered through Christ are not based on whether we are good enough, it is based on how good God and Christ are; how good they are to us, their beloved!

Yet, if you still have any doubt in your heart, hear again the words from the Epistle of 1st John;

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything”.

“…we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him…” God knows, and so can we.

Rest in the blessed assurance; let no one take that from you! Amen.

 

Acts 4:5-12
4:5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,
4:6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
4:7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
4:9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed,
4:10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
4:11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
4:12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Psalm 23
23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

1 John 3:16-24
3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
3:18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
3:19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
3:20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
3:21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;
3:22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
3:23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
3:24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

John 10:11-18
10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
10:12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
10:13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
10:17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”