Category Archives: Repentance

Christ the Cornerstone – Sermon on Acts 4:5-12 Easter 4B

April 22, 2018

Here’s where we are in our Easter season readings from the book of Acts. It’s the day after Peter and John healed a man who had been crippled since birth. This man, who had never walked a day in his life, has danced and leaped around Solomon’s Porch, praising God. People came running to see what was happening, and Peter – filled with the Holy Spirit – has preached his second sermon.

The first was at Pentecost, where 3000 people believed and were baptized in the Name of Jesus. This time, even more are moved to repentance and they join the believers. This church is growing and it hasn’t even started calling itself a church yet! But it is making the priests and temple rulers nervous. Continue reading

Called to Receive Mercy – Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:12-17

September 11, 2016

The books of First and Second Timothy, and Titus are called “pastoral letters.” They were written to encourage young pastors of new churches in the first century. Each letter includes some teaching about doctrine, because there was a lot of controversy early on concerning what Christians should believe, and how they should live.

It was hard to make up rules for living, without falling into the trap of becoming all about the rules, and not about faith. That had been the problem in Jewish religious practice, and the early church wanted to avoid it.

They wanted to keep the main thing the main thing: faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified, risen, and ascended into glory. Living out that faith in Jewish society was difficult enough, but living out that faith in a pagan society, like Ephesus, was even more challenging.

Over the next four weeks, we will explore discipleship through the letters to Timothy. As pastor of the church at Ephesus, Timothy and his congregation faced the same questions we do today. How do I follow Jesus in a culture that does not honor him? How do I stay faithful to God and his call on my life, when others around me ignore God? How can I live out my faith within the Body of Christ, and grow deeper in faith with my brothers and sisters?

  • This week, we take a look at Paul’s experience of being called into Christ’s service. We will see how discipleship is a call to gratitude for God’s mercy.
  • Next week, we will consider how prayer develops our faith and makes us strong in the Lord.
  • On the 25th, we will skip ahead to 2nd Timothy, to see how discipleship requires aligning ourselves with sound teaching,
  • and on World Communion Sunday, as we begin our Fall pledge campaign, we will consider how stewardship is an important part of discipleship.
  • But it’s all about how to follow Jesus, once we’ve received him as our Savior. And who better than a first century apostle, writing to the early church, to help us learn how to follow Jesus?

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.
But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.  (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

To fully understand this passage, we need to remember the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Saul came from Tarsus in Asia Minor (Acts 21:39), and studied under one of the leading rabbis of the day in Jerusalem, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Saul joined the Pharisees, and was vigorous in his defense of Jewish traditions.

In his zeal, Saul persecuted the early church (Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:6). On his way to Damascus, determined to arrest any who “belonged to the Way,” as the early church movement was called, he had a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ that changed his life, and Christ called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 9:1).[1]

Paul’s story gives us a dramatic example of what repentance looks like – turning away from sin, and going in a new direction as a follower of Jesus. We need to remember that Paul wasn’t turning away from one religion to follow a new one. In fact, Judaism and Christianity were not yet separate religions. Paul’s conversion was within his understanding of what it meant to be a faithful Jew. He repented of being a Pharisee, and began to live out his Jewish faith in God in a new way, as a disciple of Jesus.

Before this experience, Saul was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” (1 Timothy 1:13) who had even assisted in, and approved of, the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:57-8:1). Afterward, Paul became someone who rejected violence, and also the impressive rhetoric prized by the culture of the day.

Instead, Paul sought Christ to empower his speaking and strengthen his ministry (1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Corinthians 10:1-6; 12:8-10). Paul repented from persecuting Christians and turned toward leading them; from promoting violence, to peace.

Paul saw clearly that what had happened to him was not his own doing. It was by the grace of God that Jesus had appeared to him on the road, and called him to become someone new. The only right response, in the face of such undeserved mercy, is gratitude. And Paul pours out his thanks to God for this amazing gift of love, mercy, and faith.

Paul recognizes that he doesn’t deserve this gift. After all, he had been operating against God’s purposes when he persecuted the church. Paul says he “acted ignorantly in unbelief.” He knew who Jesus was, certainly. But he didn’t know Jesus personally. His ignorant unbelief was grounded in the assumption that he was acting in God’s will, when in fact, he was acting in opposition to God’s purpose. Yes, he thought he was serving God and taking a stand for what he believed to be right. But he was wrong.

How often we do this! We think we have a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong, and we stand up to what we think is evil, when we are really opposing God – because we are acting out of our own assumptions instead of God’s mercy! Yet God’s grace overflowed in faith and love for Paul, and God’s grace overflows in faith and love for us, too.

If you analyze these few verses, you will find that there are really only two sentence subjects: Paul, and Jesus. It’s personal, and it’s relational, this mercy and grace that Paul has experienced. For Paul, experience is more important than doctrine. The reality of knowing Jesus is more important than anything you might believe about Jesus.

There’s a phrase that identifies the core teaching of this passage: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.” It occurs throughout the pastoral letters, and it may have even been part of the developing liturgy of the early church. It identifies key elements of belief, things we can all agree are the important tenets of our faith. “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” Paul tells Timothy. This is the main thing that needs to always be the main thing.

Christ came to save sinners. The missio Dei – or mission of God – has always been clear: To seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10), as we heard earlier in the gospel parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10).

Last week, I mentioned that we can get stuck here, so eager to see sinners saved that we focus all our attention on conversion. But that’s God’s job. Our mission is also clear.

In the Great Commission Jesus says: “Go make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) It doesn’t say, “Go convince people to believe in me, and then leave them on their own to figure out how to follow me.”

Jesus came to save sinners, to redeem us for the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to save sinners, and that salvation transforms us into something new, something that continues to grow deeper in faith as we follow Jesus by his grace and mercy. Jesus came to save sinners, who then become disciples, following him day by day, moment by moment, growing ever closer to him, becoming more and more like him.

Paul adds his own personal testimony to this statement of faith:
“—of whom I am the foremost.”
This is the gospel: Jesus came to save sinners – and I’m the worst one.

And that brings us right back to Mercy and Grace. It’s because I am the worst sinner on earth that I can experience this amazing grace, this abundant mercy and forgiveness. Verse 16 says, “But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.

This is why God shows me mercy: so that I can be an example to anyone else who wants to come to Jesus, but thinks they aren’t worthy, or don’t qualify for such grace. None of us qualify. So all of us who have received God’s mercy can show others, “no matter how bad you think you are, if Jesus could forgive me, Jesus can forgive you.”

Just as Jesus called Paul to turn on the road to Damascus and begin a new life in Christ, he calls us to turn on our road to wherever we think we’re going, and follow him. This act of repentance has to happen over and over again, not because Jesus changes the path we are to follow, but because we keep wandering away from it. Just like Saul, we think we are doing the right thing, and in our stubbornness we fail to see that we are opposing God’s good purpose for us.

That’s why we have each other, to encourage one another along the road, to hold one another accountable for staying true to the way of Christ. Following Jesus is a relational endeavor.

God wants us to be in loving relationship with him, because that is how he created us. We are his; we belong to God. Jesus came to restore us to God, to bring us home to the one who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. When we stray, lose our way, or even run from God, he will persistently look for us, and he is always ready to welcome us back home with joy, because he loves us. To answer the call to receive mercy, you have to turn toward God, and away from everything else.

Last week, Jesus challenged us to give up everything that matters to us most, in order to put him first and be his true disciple. Receiving mercy requires admitting that we belong to God, and being willing to live our lives in a way that shows others we belong to God. And what can we say to such amazing grace, to such profound mercy?

Paul has an answer for this question. The only thing we can do is praise God for his goodness, and thank him for his mighty love. Our lives praise God. Our prayers and songs give God glory. And as we lift our voices and show our gratitude by the way we live, encouraging one another and helping each other stay true to the gospel, we become examples to those who would come to believe in Christ Jesus for eternal life.”

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

[1] Christian Eberhart, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1768

Extravagant Hospitality – Sermon on Luke 7:36-8:3

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost C
June 12, 2016

For five long years, my mom was a single parent. As I look back to that period of our family’s history, it seems that those five years were my entire childhood. I was eight years old when my father went to prison. He urged my mom to divorce him and “find those girls a decent father.” I was thirteen when my mother re-married. A lot can happen between the ages of eight and thirteen. Five years can be an eternity.

During those five years, my mom worked her fingers to the bone to keep us fed and clothed and sheltered. She often worked two jobs to try to make ends meet. Mom’s work required her to be on her feet all day, and when she got home from her day shift, we four girls had a routine. Mom would collapse on the living room couch. One of us would bring her a fresh cup of coffee. One of us would brush her hair. And two of us would sit at her feet, remove her shoes, and give her a foot massage. We’d run a warm washcloth over each tired foot, then rub lotion into it, slowly massaging away the aches and pains of the workday. During this daily routine, we’d talk about our experiences of the day and listen to mom’s stories about the factory where she worked.

My mom was faithful to make sure we got to church, that we read our Bibles every day, that we prayed at bedtime and before every meal. But I think it was this holy moment we spent together every workday afternoon that really held our family and our faith together. Rubbing mom’s feet, brushing her hair, bringing her coffee – these were ways we could thank her for the sacrifices she was making for us. But the time it took to do these things was the real gift. This was time spent staying connected to her and to each other. As I pondered today’s gospel lesson about a woman who anoints the feet of Jesus, I couldn’t help thinking about rubbing lotion into my Mom’s tired feet, and what an important lesson of love I learned from that simple act.

This woman we read about today has something in common with the centurion and the woman whose son had died, that we met earlier in the seventh chapter of Luke. She is yet another person whose name we will never know. Some have claimed she was a prostitute, but the Bible never says that about her. Luke uses a different word to talk about prostitution (15:30). Here he only calls her a sinner, and it’s the same word Luke uses to describe Peter (5:8), a tax collector (18:13), and others (Luke 5:30-32; 19:7). We don’t know what her sin is, but it is one known to the rest of the community. She has a reputation. Maybe she eats pork, or has been caught lying or cheating or charging interest on loans. We don’t know. But she knows. And Jesus knows. And Simon the Pharisee does, too.

 

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”  Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.”  “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 

 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 

Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. – Luke 7:36 – 8:3

How would you feel if a woman you didn’t know came up to you, took off your shoes, and started weeping over your feet? The tears would roll down between your toes, as she wiped them with her hair. And then she would suddenly pull out a beautiful jar of salve, and start rubbing the fragrant ointment into your feet, as she continued to weep. Would you be surprised? Uncomfortable? Would you push her away and ask what on earth she thought she was doing?

It’s one thing to rub your mom’s feet in the privacy of your own living room, but what if this happened in someone else’s home, at a dinner party they were giving in your honor? Would you be embarrassed for your host? For yourself? Would you be embarrassed for the woman?

I’m sure that Simon the Pharisee and all his other guests were appalled when this party crasher let down her hair and started kissing Jesus’ feet. Her behavior was scandalous. It was shameful. And I have to wonder what prompted her to behave the way she did. Had she known Jesus before? Had he already shown her mercy that others did not show? Had she already met Jesus, talked with him, expressed a desire to be cleansed of her sin, and been forgiven?

I wonder if she had, because later in this story, when Jesus speaks directly to her, he says “Your sins have been forgiven.” The Greek verb here uses the perfect tense, and that means the action has already been completed in the past, with effects that carry forward into the future. So, what had already happened to her that brought her to this room, carrying a jar of ointment? It must have been something amazing, to have prompted this very public and scandalous display of devotion.

But Jesus doesn’t flinch. Instead of condemning this woman for interrupting a meal to which she had not been invited, Jesus asks the host for permission to speak. “Speak, Teacher,” the Pharisee says. And Jesus launches into a parable.

At first, this story about two debtors seems innocent enough. Which one will have more love for the person who forgives a debt, the one who owed fifty, or the one who owed five hundred? “I suppose the one who owed more,” Simon shrugs. “Right,” Jesus answers. And then he asks the real question:

“Simon, do you see this woman?”

Keep in mind that this woman has entered Simon’s house without permission and has behaved in a scandalous manner from the moment she came into the room. Simon would have to be blind not to see her.

Keep in mind that this woman is a known sinner – whatever her sin, it is public knowledge, and Simon has already judged her, just as he has already judged Jesus for not recognizing her obvious sinfulness. Simon has been thinking, “If this guy were a real prophet, he would know who is touching him, making him unclean right here in my own house!”

Keep in mind that this woman, any woman in that time and culture, would have normally gone politely unnoticed, completely invisible to the men reclining around this table. Yet, Jesus asks:

“Simon, do you see this woman?”

“You did not offer me any of the normal signs of hospitality, but she has gone above and beyond normal. She has shown extravagant hospitality, even anointing my feet. At best, you might have put oil on my head after greeting me with a kiss and giving me water to wash my own feet. But this woman, because her many sins have been forgiven, shows greater love than you do.”

It’s easy for us to look back at Simon and smirk a little bit. “Gotcha!” we might be thinking. We see how Simon the Pharisee thinks he is better than others, how he judges another’s worth only in relation to the value he gives himself. We snicker and think, “Obviously he wasn’t paying attention back in chapter 6, when Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Plain and spoke these words: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

But then it hits me. When I judge Simon for judging others, I am no better than Simon. When I look down my nose at someone else’s sin, I am just as guilty as they are, no matter what sin they carry. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul writes (Romans 3:23). My sin isn’t any nicer or less offensive to God than the sin of someone who steals, or murders, or commits sexual sin. When I judge others for their sins, I am sinning, too. When you judge others for their sins, you are sinning, too. We are all guilty.

But here is the good news: Guilt does not equal shame. Our guilt may make us feel ashamed for our sins, but Jesus does not shame us, and he asks us not to shame each other. Jesus did not shame this woman, who was behaving in an extremely shameful manner. Instead, Jesus offers forgiveness when we repent, and he asks us to forgive much, and to love much.

Jesus reminds this woman that she has already been forgiven, and that her forgiveness extends through all time. Jesus tells her, “Your faith has made you whole; you are no longer broken. So go in peace.”

And then Jesus leaves. But he doesn’t go alone. Just as he called a dozen men to follow him, he also calls women to be his disciples. This is no less scandalous than the woman kissing his feet and wiping them with her hair. Jesus invites women to travel with him, to be with him. They are women from all walks of life. Some have been cured of diseases, some have been released from demons, some are married to influential men, some have come from the lowest rungs of society. All are like this woman, who has just been sent away in peace after Jesus has made her whole by forgiving all her sins.

Jesus offers you the same forgiveness. No matter what you have done or thought about doing, Jesus is ready to forgive you. No matter how you have judged others or thought yourself better than someone else, Jesus is waiting for you to let him speak into your heart in love, to make what is wrong in you right. No matter what guilt you carry, Jesus is ready to take away your shame, and invite you into his presence. You need no longer live in your brokenness. Christ offers you forgiveness that takes away all the sins of the past, and gives you a new future, a future of wholeness and peace in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.