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Sermon for 29 May 2016

FIRST READING 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29,41-43

22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; 24you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.”
27“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place.”
41“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42(for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.”


PSALM Psalm 96:1-9

1Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 2Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. 3Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples. 4For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. 5As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but it is the Lord who made the heavens. 6Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary! 7Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; ascribe to the Lord honor and power. 8Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name; bring offerings and come into his courts. 9Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him.


SECOND READING Galatians 1:1-12

1Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — 2and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.


GOSPEL Luke 7:1-10

1After {Jesus} had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.


For the next four weeks we’re going to be looking at the four core values of the NALC, (North American Lutheran Church); Christ centered, Mission Driven, Traditionally Grounded and Congregationally Focused. These four core values are important because they not only say something about us as followers of Christ, but about what we believe. There are too many churches and yes, by extension, people who call themselves Christians, who are unable to clearly express their theological beliefs. This partly has to do with the theologically bankrupt teachings of certain churches, but it also has to do with the commitment of the person. If a person refuses to study and pray, how can they possibly be able to clearly articulate their faith? It’s for this reasons we find society in the shape that it’s in.
Society today has replaced sound Biblical theology with human reasoning, traditional Christian moral values with feelings and more importance is placed on “getting along” and political correctness than on solid traditional teaching. I was listening to an interview the other day and the commentator asked about the rights of those who teach traditional values. The one arguing their case for changing the values of society, insisted that tradition doesn’t matter. All that matters is, what’s best for today. This person obviously had no clue what traditional teaching was other than the fact that it disagreed with the point they were making.
Situational ethics has become the norm and so what has been viewed as sinful and socially unacceptable, in the past, is now being forwarded as the “new” societal norm. It’s no wonder our kids, teenagers and young adults are confused. Mom, dad and the church are telling them one thing, social media, Hollywood and the tabloids are telling them the opposite. And for those who simply question these new ethics, they are immediately ostracized, labeled as “bigots”, “haters” and phobes of everything you can imagine. And the application of these socially stigmatizing labels are effective!
These false and inaccurate alienating labels, in effect, put the questioning person on the defense and end any reasonable conversation about the subject. The result of these actions is that a small number of very vocal people are now dictating values for this country and it’s time we put a stop to it. And the only way to do that is to speak up and clearly articulate the traditional Christian values that are clearly taught in the Bible. But that seems to be easier said than done doesn’t it?
It’s sad, but it’s true, Christians today don’t know the Bible like they should and therefore are unable to answer these unfounded accusations with sound theological facts and reasoning. As Christians, we don’t hate others nor are we afraid of them. We do however, dislike the sin and the effect that these perceived new norms have on society. This is why we need to read and study the Bible, pray for our fellow believers and pray for this country as well. And this is why these four core values of the church are so important. They summarize what we hold as truths and as guiding principles.
The first of these core values, that we’ll be looking at today, is that we are Christ Centered. As members of the NALC we confess the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ according to the Holy Scriptures. We affirm the authority of the Scriptures as the authoritative source and norm, “according to which all doctrines should and must be judged” (Formula of Concord). We accept the ecumenical creeds and the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses to the Word of God. On the surface this sounds simple enough, but what does it actually mean for us as believers and followers of Christ?
To say that we are Christ Centered, we first must acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus. As I mentioned last week in my sermon, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” (Matthew 28:18) therefore, He is the ruler of all that God created, which includes you and me. It means He is the ruler of life, the determiner of destiny. His authority extends over everything in heaven and earth. It isn’t confined to the church, but encompasses the entire universe. And His authority applies to every action and every decision we make. What this means is that with Christ as the center of our lives, we are His disciples not just on Sunday, but every other day of the week as well.
We aren’t Christians only in our private lives but in every facet of our lives. Being Christ Centered informs our thoughts, words and deeds. But we don’t always succeed in this do we? This is why we confess each week that we have fallen short; “we have not loved God with our whole heart, nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have sinned in our thoughts, words and deeds.” We understand and confess that we fall short but we look to Jesus not only for forgiveness, but as an example of how to live a God-pleasing life. The apostle Paul was an example of someone who demonstrated what it means to be Christ Centered.
Starting in 2 Corinthians 2:2 Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” After his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul’s entire life and ministry was squarely focused on Jesus. Every decision he made, every sermon he preached and every letter he wrote, was informed by his belief that our lives, as Christians, was to be obedient to God’s wishes and commands. Paul understood clearly that being Christ Centered is a matter of servitude: Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) And God made it clear in the 10 Commandments where our loyalties should lie.
The very first commandment God gave to Moses was, ‘Thou shalt have no other God’s before Me.” That means no other god: not political correctness, not the idols of this world or ourselves. God left no room for ambiguity; He said “you shall have no other god before me:” no other god, period. And since God chose to reveal Himself in Jesus, our central focus for the whole of our lives is on Jesus Christ. But it’s more than simply serving God alone, it’s also recognizing that God is the source of our strength and He is the one who meets all our needs.
St. John records the words of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is not only the One we worship and serve, but He’s the one who strengthens us and provides for our daily needs. This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer each week, “give us this day our daily bread.” Being Christ Centered means we understand that God is the supplier of all our needs; physical, mental and spiritual. Additionally, we also recognize that our needs go beyond this life, they extend into eternity as well. Being Christ Centered means we know that we have a need for a Savior if we’re to enter into the blessed rest of God’s eternal kingdom.
Again St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans points out our need for a redeemer. In chapter 3 verse 23 Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And in 6:23 we read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Being Christ Centered means we understand that we cannot, on our own, become righteous before God; we were born in sin. (Romans 5:12) And as sinners we need a Savior. This is why the Father sent the only sinless person who could reconcile us to Himself.
Jesus obediently became the atoning sacrifice by which we receive forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. We are justified by faith alone (Romans 3:28) not by our works. This is why we, as Lutherans proclaim, grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone and Christ alone. It’s only by God’s grace through Jesus that we can escape the eternal punishment of our sin. And the only way we can receive God’s boundless grace is through believing and placing our faith in the fact that Jesus became truly human, was crucified, died and was buried and by the power of God the Father was raised on the third day. We, with Paul, place our faith in Christ crucified, that He took our sins to the cross and that we have the promise of eternal life because of His resurrection. This is the gospel that we preach: grace alone, word alone, faith alone.
As I mentioned a few moments ago, we believe that our salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone. I once heard a theologian say, “Solus Christus, and all the other solas of the Reformation, are but another way of saying this one great truth.” That is to say, the great Reformation pillars of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, with Scripture alone as our guide, to the glory of God alone, are nothing more than ways of reminding us that at center stage in the drama of humanity’s relations with God in all times and places, is the singular Person of Jesus of Nazareth — everything is really about Christ alone.
He alone is the conduit of God’s grace, to Him alone do the Scriptures point, in Him alone must we trust with the fiducia of saving faith, and through Him alone can we, fallen creatures, give God true glory. Why is Jesus so central? It’s the classic Lutheran emphasis on the righteousness of Christ. The Bible doesn’t use the word righteousness lightly. The Greek word dikaios that we translate as “righteous” is applied primarily to God in the New Testament. God’s deeds alone are holy, for they alone are wholly righteous — irreducibly good because God has no mixed motives; “in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
As the primary “action” of God in history through the Incarnation, Jesus is utterly and completely righteous. (1 John 2:1) His whole being is God’s righteous act, for in Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. 5:19) By extension, every one of Jesus’ words and actions is righteous, even those we find perplexing or challenging.
Jesus alone possessed the righteousness to learn the obedience of a true Son of God for “though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Heb. 5:8-9; Phil. 2:6-8)
Nobody else, given of the power to avoid the cross, would have embraced it, not only enduring torture, but becoming a curse, becoming sin, becoming the very opposite of what they were, for the sake of fulfilling God’s plan of salvation. To say “the righteousness of Christ” is to say “the holy goodness of God, which Christ alone possesses in full and undiluted measure.” So how can focusing on this truth bring renewal to the Church?
To put it quite simply, it reminds us that salvation—perhaps best spoken of as restored relationship in our comparatively un-self-critical culture— is not ours to grasp, but rather God’s to bestow through Jesus Christ.
As reformed theologian Michael Horton has noted, “We can’t make the news, but if the news is big enough, it can make us.” That we can have a restored relationship with God and that the restoration of this relationship does not rely upon the fervency of our desire, the discipline of our commitment, or the hopelessness of our surrender, but rather upon the sovereign act of God in Jesus Christ, who chooses us (John 15:16) is truly good news, news that alone is big enough to truly remake us. The question is, have we truly let the depth of this truth penetrate us?
When we come to the full realization of all that God has done for us, then our world view may finally be shaken enough to bring about the change of mind and heart that the New Testament envisions as normative for followers of Jesus Christ. And whether we’re hearing this for the first time or grasping its enormity afresh, the news that the righteousness of Christ is truly sufficient, not only for our salvation, but for our transformation and nurture in a life that can really be described as “spiritual,” is surely the only spiritual data that is different enough from every other bit of spiritual junk out there to garner the name “news.” And only such news can possibly bring about the renewal or revival for which the Church in every age fervently prays. This is the gospel we proclaim, and it’s a gospel that many in our society distort for their own selfish desires and to their own destruction.
Paul addressed this distortion in our epistle reading for today when he said, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Obedience to God and His commands is what we say and believe. Society liking it isn’t at issue here. God placed the Law before us for our own good and to be Christ Centered we must obey them. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) King David understood the importance of obedience to God.
If you were to read the 119th Psalm, much of what David wrote had to do with obedience to the laws and precepts of God. Starting in verses 33-35 David wrote, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” David wanted to serve God and please Him alone. And this is what Paul was addressing in his letter to the Galatians.
Starting in verse 10 Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Being Christ Centered is to be obedient even when that means being counter cultural. Isn’t it interesting that when we read about Israel in the Old Testament, we see a familiar pattern?
When the Hebrew people obeyed God and followed His laws, they prospered and lived in security. But when they turned their backs on God and embraced the norms and behaviors of other nations, they got into trouble. God repeatedly sent judges, prophets and kings to warn His people not to chase after the gods of this world and time after time, they failed to learn from their own history. The question for us is, are we following the same destructive path as did the Israelites? Are we putting our trust in the world around us or are we putting our trust in God?
As Peter testified before the council, [Jesus] is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” To be Christ Centered is to believe this. Despite what other people think or teach, there is no universal salvation. Jesus was clear when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6). This isn’t the gospel the world wants to hear but it is the true gospel we teach and preach. And this is what it means to be Christ Centered.

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