Sermon Notes – 27 August 2017

TRANSFORMERS – Romans 12:1

   Ravi Zacharias (well known defender of the Christian faith) tells of chatting with a Muslim man who had converted to Christianity.  Zacharias writes, “He drew two circles and put a small dot in each of them.  Pointing to the first, he said, ‘As a Muslim, I believed the circle to be my faith and the little dot to be my life.’  Then, pointing to the next circle, he said, ‘Now, as a follower of Jesus, I have seen the difference in the cultural tension. To many Westerners, the circle is his life and the dot is his faith.’”

   What the convert says is the terrible truth about the 21st century western Church.  Christianity is becoming more and more a diminished accessory rather than the foundation for living in Europe, Great Britain and the United States.  Some people, who act as though they know everything (including some in our own church body), keep trying to redefine the Church.  They claim that they make changes, “so we can reach the post-modern world.”  They are unwittingly undermining the faith.  They are part of the problem.  Any way you slice it they try to reach the post-modern world by conforming to the world—and the Apostle said, “Do not be conformed to his world.” 

   Paul didn’t reach the pre-modern world (which was in every way as messed up as our post-modern world) by accommodating and conforming to their worldliness.  Paul reached them by proclaiming the “mercies of God,” that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls.  Paul then appealed to them to merge life and faith: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1)

   It would be by transformation through the renewal of their minds that pre-modern, first century people would become living, breathing Christians.  That transformation only occurred through the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament.  The only way that you have been transformed or can be transformed by the renewal of your minds is through the same Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That Gospel in Word and Sacrament is what creates believers, creates the Church, creates people who are empowered to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.  [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]

   “Be reconciled to God” is another way of saying “be transformed” by the power of God through the Good News of your salvation in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, [DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD!]…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5)  BE TRANSFORMED! 

   Perhaps you have seen the transformer toys?  The basic premise, as I recall, is that you have something that looks like a car, but flip this, turn that, move this bit around there and voilà, it becomes a robot.  God takes each one of us, dead in our trespasses and sins, and voilà, through Christ’s death and resurrection, He makes us alive with Christ.  He took you, a fallen human being, and transformed you into a redeemed child of God.  

   The world, the worldly, those who conform to the world will always bring about a different type of transformation.  The Greek word for transformation is one that is very familiar to us: metamorphosis.  Do you remember Franz Kafka’s disturbing novella by that title?  In that story Gregor Samsa, a salesman, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect, a repulsive vermin.  The German word that Kafka used was “das Ungeziefer,” which in its most formal sense means “an unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice.”  As long as we are conformed to this world we can never present our bodies as a living sacrifice—because we are das Ungeziefer, we are spiritually unclean.

   In the first century of the Church’s life there were those who sought to redefine Church, to alter it from what God had achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Christ.  Even the best of these know it alls (well intentioned or not) was condemned by the Apostle Paul.  [Galatians 1:6-9] 

   The metamorphosis, the transformation that is needed to be changed from unclean to clean, from condemned sinner to forgiven sinner, from death itself to life itself takes place through God’s message to you and all the fallen world: Christ, the Lamb without spot or blemish takes away your sin and covers you with His righteousness.  Then He appeals to you, by His mercies, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him, to fulfill your spiritual worship, to merge life and faith together.   

 

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February 28, 2016 - Sermon Notes

THE WAY OF ESCAPE

1 Corinthians 10:13

 

   Our text is frequently misused to tell us that God will never give us more burdens than we can handle.  With God’s help it is certainly amazing what we are sometimes able to handle, given all of the difficulties life in a fallen world throws our ways.  If we are talking sheer physical endurance, however, there will be that one final burden, that one final assault, that one final breath signaling our mortality. 

   I don’t want to spend too much time on what this text is not about, but you remember in last month’s news the story of Anne Swaney, a local ABC news executive producer who was found murdered in Belize?  When ABC7 asked her father about his strength through this most recent family tragedy (Anne’s older brother died of a heart attack at age 39 two years ago) he answered honestly, “I don’t have it.  I’m not strong.  I’m a mess.”  The poor man died of a broken heart last Tuesday.  He had met his final burden in extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

   What Paul is talking about in our text, however, is something that is “common to man.”  Paul is talking about temptation to sin, and, as one commentator puts it, “It is the kind of temptation that humanity is commonly called on to endure.” (Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary – First Corinthians, ©2000, page 331)  Paul provides examples from Old Testament events, letting us know the Israelites had received the same grace from God that we have received, “but if [we] succumb to the same sins, [we] will be punished just as Israel was punished.” (Ibid)

   Example # 1 – Simple idolatry (“desire evil”) when some people spurned the manna God had miraculously provided and coveted the meat and vegetables of Egypt (leading to the “Graves of Craving” in Numbers 11); and gross idolatry with the golden calf before which “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32)

   Example # 2 – Sexual immorality as Moabite women invited Israelite men to participate in their fertility rites in honor of the false god Baal of Peor.  God struck more than 23,000 of those sinners down in a single day (Numbers 25). 

   Example # 3 – Some of the people put God to the test with their unceasing complaining and grumbling, occasionally leading to acts of divine judgment: the poisonous serpents (Numbers 21), the faithlessness of the ten spies (Numbers 14), and the rebellion of Korah and company (Number 16)

   God was always faithful (as Paul announces to us in our text), but some of the people were unfaithful.  They probably said, as people say today, “I couldn’t help myself;” “the devil made me do it;” “if God wanted me to resist the temptations He should have made me stronger.” The temptations then and the temptations now are not irresistible as the Apostle testifies that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

   Sally Hogshead is a brand consultant who helps companies increase appeal for their products or services.  In 2010 she wrote a book called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.  In the book she asserts there are seven universal triggers, the first of which is “lust.”  She writes, “Lust conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking, and start feeling.” (page 73)  This is, in my opinion, a very true statement.  It is also among the top reasons this world of ours is sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of selfish sinfulness.  [NID mission director] 

   The original fascinating triggers are the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth).  Today, far from trying to escape the temptations they bring, we just use more and more tools to enhance their availability and their acceptance.  We had better start looking for the way of escape before we end up “overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5)  Paul wrote in our Epistle, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)  Jesus warned in our Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), “Do you think [those who died tragically] were worse offenders than all others…?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  God taught through the prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (33:7-20), “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.’”  The way of the Lord is the way of escape! 

   The way of escape is to stand firm on the overwhelming faithfulness of God, to stand firm on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to stand firm on the endless work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us through the Gospel.  God does not lead us into temptation; He is in the delivering from evil business.  Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are led to the way of escape.  That way may not be sexy but it is quite effective. 

   What, however, about the times that we fail and the fascinating seven deadly sins take momentary control of our lives?  There is still the way of escape.  As John wrote in his First Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1)  “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  With that sinless life He rescues us—He is the way of escape.

© 2017 St Johns Evangelical Elgin
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