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Sermon for 29 October 2017

FIRST READING Revelation 14:6-7

6I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”


PSALM Psalm 46

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea; 3Though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble at its tumult. 4The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. 5There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 6God is in the midst of her; she shall not be overthrown; God shall help her at the break of day. 7The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away. 8The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. 9Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, what awesome things he has done on earth. 10It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire. 11“Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” 12The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.


SECOND READING Romans 3:19-28

19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.


GOSPEL John 8:31-36

31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”



In the Rugrats movie, the boys Dil and Tommy are fighting over a teddy bear. Dil, the baby, wants the bear and Tommy keeps taking it from him. Stu, the father, gives the bear to Dil and sits Tommy down for a chat. I know it’s hard, Tommy, the father says. You have a little brother now, and that’s a big change. That’s why big brothers have got to have faith. And one day, you’ll see… he’ll change. After all, you’ve got responsibility now. I know I can trust that you’ll stick by Dil’s side and be a swell big brother. Sponsatility?, Tommy asks.
Today is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Now I realize that there are a number of ways we can approach the topic of the Reformation, but today I’d like to focus on the aspect of Sponsatility, or taking responsibility. It was Luther who stood before the council at the Diet of Worms and said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Luther, as a learned man and an educated professor and scholar, took responsibility for his faith and stood firm even in the face of banishment from the church, of being labeled a heretic and of possibility being sentenced to death. The faithful sharing of God’s word was too important to Luther to shirk his obligation.
Luther had studied the Bible and with God’s help, came to understand that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. No amount of good works, no amount of pilgrimages, no amount of monetary donations to the church could buy God’s grace. God’s grace is a free gift that we receive in faith. The Holy Spirit revealed to Luther that God’s law was given to show us our sin and it’s through the gospel that we receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus, which drives us to seek His mercy. And as Paul tells us in our Romans reading, the law was given so that the whole world may be held accountable to God (3:19b.)
Paul went further to say that even though we are sinners, we’re also justified through His grace as a gift (3:24a.) God did this to show His righteousness so that He is not only just, but is also the One who justifies the believer who has faith (3:26b.) But I’m not teaching you anything new. All this information has been taught to you from your youth. From the time our parents brought us to the waters of Baptism, we have hopefully been instructed by them and “in the community of God’s people”, His Word and of God’s loving purpose for us and all creation.
During the Baptismal service the parents, sponsors and this community promised to “faithfully bring the children to the services of God’s house, and teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Then, as they grow in years, we promised to “place in their hands the Holy Scriptures and provide for their instruction in the Christian faith, that, living in the covenant of their Baptism and in communion with the Church, they may lead godly lives until the day of Jesus Christ.” We, as parents, sponsors and as a congregation, make this promise because the child is unable to fulfill these promises on their own. They must come to faith in God with our help. For me, this obligation can be compared to the young recruit that first enters the Air Force.
When a new recruit enlists in the Air Force they’re assigned an Air Force Specialty Code or AFSC that corresponds to the job that they will perform during their enlistment. When I entered the military my AFSC was 322x2B. This 5-digit number, plus the suffix, awarded to me, after the completion of Basic Military Training, told everybody that I was an Electro-Optical Sensor System specialist. This code also told others something else very important. The 4th digit of the AFSC also indicated my skill level.
As a young Airman, having just completed Basic, I didn’t know anything, nor was I expected to know anything, about the Carrier Field or the job, so I was simply a 1 level. It was understood that those with more experience were going to teach me. Think of it, if you will, of these “1-levels” as our newly Baptized. They haven’t been instructed in what will be expected of them as disciples of Jesus.
After Basic, I was sent to Technical Training School, or Tech School, and it was there that I learned the basic fundamentals of electronics, Advanced electronics and then a basic overview of the systems I would be maintaining. Once I graduated Tech School, I was awarded my 3-Skill Level. I knew basically how electronic components worked in a system and about how the various electro-optical systems functioned; call it a working knowledge. It was commonly said that we knew just enough to get ourselves into trouble. We weren’t allowed to work alone, only under the supervision of the more skilled technicians. Think of this phase as our new Confirmands.
Tyler and Trendon have spent the last two years working their way through both the Old and New Testaments, they have studied the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Baptism and Holy Communion. They now understand the basics of what God teaches and of what God expects of them as Christians. But they’re not ready to go it alone. They still need the guidance of more learn Christians.
As I continued my career, I added to my education by completing a 7-volumn Career Development Course and took a test in order to obtain my 5-level. Once I achieved my 5-level, I may have been able to work on my own, but I still needed a more skilled technician to come and check my work before the repair could be signed off. To obtain a 7-level, I needed to gain years of experience, rank and also complete another Career Development course. I also had to complete a month-long supervisory course. Consider these 5 and 7 skill levels as the stage parents and grandparents are at.
As parents and grandparents, we’re still learning ourselves what God says in His word and of what God expects of us as His followers. It doesn’t mean were experts. It doesn’t me that we have nothing else to learn. It does mean however, that we’re expected to continue studying and learning while at the same time helping the younger folks mature and grow. You see, there’s still one more skill level to obtain as an enlisted member in the Air Force; a 9-skill level. It took me over 22 years and earning 8 enlisted grades to finally earn a 9-skill level.
As a 9-level, I was given the obligation to sign off aircraft as ready for flight. A 9-level is expected to be able to determine if a system failure was critical or if it was okay to fly the aircraft with the exception. It’s the 9-level who is the one who had the final say on whether a test station or a piece of equipment was ready to meet all the demands of the mission. It was the 9-levels who the Group Commander depended upon to determine if we could complete our mission in peace time or war. Obtaining and maintain these skill levels wasn’t easy and it took many years and lots of work. The reason I explained all this to you is to highlight two things.
First, it takes a lot of effort and lots of time to become proficient in anything important we do. Just because we get a little book knowledge, doesn’t mean we know all that we can about what it means to be a faithful member of God’s kingdom. Like the 3-level and our Confirmands, they have received the basic instruction and are now ready to begin their work as members of God’s people. We can expect more from them, but they’re not ready to work alone. They still need years of instruction and experience. The problem is, this is where most Christians stop their Christian education.
As basically instructed Christians, we don’t know enough to make the hard decisions, nor do we know enough to instruct others in the Christian life. Yet this is where most Christians quit their learning. You could say they know just enough to be dangerous. We need those with more years of wisdom to instruct us in our Christian walk. We must continue in God’s word and study so that we can “show ourselves approved” (2 Tim. 2:15.) It’s about accepting responsibility.
Accepting the responsibility for the promise we made in our child’s baptism to teach them God’s word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and about the Sacraments. We, as parents and grandparents, must continue our study and our work in God’s kingdom, so we can obtain the higher skill levels needed, so we can better prepare our younger people to take our place. Yes, it’s hard work and it takes years, a life-time as a matter of fact; but it’s absolutely important for the growth and development of our young people. The second reason I explained the Air Force’s skill level approach was to highlight the fact that you never stop learning as a Christian.
After having completed numerous training classes and schools, two Career development courses, three advanced supervisory courses and spent more than 22 years in military service, I was awarded a 9-skill level. I was considered an expert in Tactical and Strategic Aircraft Avionic Sensor Systems. I was looked to for advice on current systems as well as future development. I would sit in on meetings concerning sustainment as well as implementing wing war plans. I was expected to have the people assigned to me ready to deploy, at a moment’s notice, to anywhere in the world that we were needed. Obtaining and maintain a 9-skill level came with a tremendous amount of responsibility. This is the point I’m trying to make this morning.
We never quit learning. We never quit gaining experience. We never quit mentoring and teaching the younger Christians what it means to be a child of God or of what’s expected of us in His kingdom. As we continue our learning and growing we gain more and more responsibility. However, unlike my military career, we don’t get to retire after 28 years. The obligation we have as disciples doesn’t have a completion date. Our job as a Christian, continues until we go to receive our eternal reward.
Today our Confirmands are receiving their 3-skill level and are now expected to begin to use the knowledge they’re gained for the work God is calling us to do for Him and His kingdom. But they still need our help. As higher skilled members in the church, we’re expected to continue teaching and demonstrating for them what God expects of us as His disciples. They need us, and we need to take our responsibilities seriously. Just because they’ve completed Catechism classes, they’re not done. They haven’t arrived. As a matter of fact, they’ve just begun. They have a life-time of learning, growing and teaching ahead them and they need our help and personal involvement.
In Baptism God begin His work in all our lives. God then partners with us and entrusts the teaching and nurturing of the newly Baptized into our care. This trust from God comes with a responsibility. A responsibility we agreed to in the Baptismal promises we made. It’s a promise that we must never take lightly.
Our mentoring and teaching of younger Christians never stops as long as God keeps us here on this earth. No matter if we’re 17 or 97; God expects us to share all that we have learned with those of lesser experience. We don’t get to retire or ever stop being a faithful worker in the kingdom. Yes, our jobs and expectations will change. However, with those changes and expectations comes higher and higher responsibility. And never forget, we will be held accountable in the end. St. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10.)
The challenge before us today is huge. But let me ask you this. What’s the result of shirking our responsibilities? We complain that our young ones drift away after confirmation and when they leave for college. But what are we doing about it? Do we make the effort to provide Sunday school classes? Do we make an effort to provide activities? Or, do we make excuses? We must be willing to do what’s needed to continue their growth in Christ and continue their education.
In closing I’d like for you to consider two additional passages in the Bible. In the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44), the disciples want to send the people away, but Jesus puts the responsibility back on them. Jesus said, “you feed them.” Then in Romans St. Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (10:17.) If faith comes by hearing, who is it that will teach them but us, their parents, grandparents and fellow believers? They must hear and see the gospel lived out in us. This is what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others. God established this congregation over 227 years ago, nearly half the years ago as the start of the Reformation. And as far as I’m concerned, God isn’t finished with us yet. Our call today is to continue the work that God entrusted to our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great great-grandparents. We must be ready and willing to accept the responsibility God has laid before us.
So, the challenge before us today is to take seriously our responsibility of helping these young disciples, and each other, in their Christian walk and work in God’s kingdom. Yes, it’s a lot of work, and a tremendous responsibility. No, we never get to retire or stop doing what’s expected of us. But, it’s a wonderfully heavy responsibility and as we all know, the reward for our dedication and work is worth it. Not only do we get to see our children and the members of our church grow in Christ, but the eternal reward for our faithfulness and diligent work is life in God’s presence forever, for all of us.

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