Sermon Notes – October 22, 2017

Chosen Ones – 1 Thessalonians 1:4

For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you…

   Ad fontes!  “Back to the sources!”  That was the rallying cry of the 16th century humanists and educators who would have a forceful impact on the Reformation.  Among the many “sources” they wanted to go back to were the Scriptures (and preferably in their original languages of Hebrew and Greek).  This effort was a true blessing as Luther and other reformers emphasized Scripture Alone! and went back to the sources in order to translate the Bible into the common languages of the people.  Returning to those sources they rediscovered the truth about Grace Alone! and Faith Alone!  As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we would do well to go back to the sources ourselves and reaffirm our commitment to and proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Font and Source of all wisdom. 

   In 2008, the government of Norway opened the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.  425 feet deep inside a frozen mountain, this vast underground storeroom has been collecting seed samples (their goal is 4.5 million distinct types).  Why?  In case something catastrophic, manmade or not, should happen that would threaten our food supply there would be backup seeds to begin anew.  This mission has been nicknamed “The Doomsday Vault.”

   The holy Christian Church (a.k.a. the communion of saints) is also a doomsday vault.  Paul reminds us that part of the Church’s responsibilities is to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you, by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” (2 Timothy 1:14)  The Christians in Thessalonica were doing just that—living out the truth of the Gospel.  That is why Paul commended before God their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (verse 3)  They had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” on the Day of Judgment, a.k.a. doomsday.

   You know that idols still exist.  You know that there are all sorts of things that compete with God for our attention and devotion and fear/love/trust.  You know that the Christian churches in the United States are rapidly devolving in the secular form of Christianity that has weakened European and Scandinavian Christian churches.  Sure, they still exist.  Sure, they support their congregations with their taxes.  Sure, their governments maintain some of the most impressive houses of worship.  Yet, they are not guarding the truth that has been entrusted to them.  Yet, where is the Gospel “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction?” (verse 5)  Yet, very few of them come to worship in those impressive houses of worship.  Would anyone be able to see that God had chosen them? 

   It would hardly be the first time in the history of God’s chosen people (Old and New Testaments) that the majority of the “chosen people” did not fear, love and trust in God above all things.  The Scriptures tell the sad story of our rejection of God over and over and over.  The Scriptures, however, also tell the good news of God the Father’s unfailing love for this fallen world, revealed by His Holy Spirit and expressed in the conception, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They record and they promise that God will always keep for Himself a chosen people, a remnant, a doomsday vault preserving the Gospel and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins.  “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

   St. John’s members and friends: do we want it to be evident that we are loved by God and that He has chosen us?  Of course, we do!  Then return to the sources!  Return, today and every day, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” as we “wait for His Son from heaven…Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  We need reformation today and every day, reinforcing our purpose as a congregation committed to Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Jesus Christ alone!  We, here, right now, are God’s remnant, His chosen people, His doomsday vault.   (See Colossians 3:12-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 15:1-5, 16-17)

   1 Peter 2:9, 10 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”



February 28, 2016 - Sermon Notes


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.

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