Monday, May 14, 2012

Who Are You Listening To?

Sixth Sunday of Easter                                  May 13th, A+D 2012
Trinity and St John Lutheran Churches           Sidney and Fairview, MT

For the second time I am the parent of a High School graduate, so the annual question is a little more intense for me this year.  How will our graduates do?  Who will our graduates listen to?  As they head out into the next phase of their lives, as they exercise their independence and face new challenges, opportunities and temptations, who will they turn to for advice?  Who will they believe?  Where will they find their truth? 

To tell the truth, this question is always with me.  And not just about Madeline, or about our graduates.  Day by day and week by week, I ask this same question, about you, because I have been called to preach the truth to the members of our churches, and anyone else who happens to listen in.  I pray that God keeps me preaching the truth, and I pray that He will work through His Word.  Above all I rely on the promise that He will build and care for His Church.  But still I worry.  Who are you listening to?  Whose testimony do you consider true?

I worry, because even at our most faithful times, we get just a few hours together every week.  An hour on Sunday, if you make it, maybe another hour of a Bible Study.  Perhaps you use the devotions that come with the readings insert, or Portals of Prayer.  At best, you hear a couple hours of faithful testimony each week.  But whether you make it to services or not, you hear a lot more preaching than that. 

Outside of church, you hear the constant proclamation of a world under the influence of the devil.  You turn on your radios and your T.V.’s, you open your newspaper and your magazines, you head down to the coffee shop, and you hear other preachers, impressive preachers.  Some of them admit they are peddling their religion.  Others are sneakier, pretending to just be giving you the news, or opinion, or entertainment, or advertising their merchandise in hopes you’ll buy, but also proclaiming a message.  Knowingly or not, there are a multitude of preachers trying to get your ear, trying to tell you all about life, how you should live, what you should believe.  And they preach a different message than Jesus.  They proclaim a different way of life than the Holy Spirit.  And so I worry.  Who are you listening to?

What is the most important thing in life, according to what you hear outside these walls?  Being a good person?  Living a good life?  Having a little time and money to indulge your pleasures?  Not having to fear for tomorrow? 
Now it's not that the world is all against religion.  Indeed, the world often happily encourages you to have a little spirituality; everybody’s gotta have faith.  Just don’t go overboard.  Don’t live like God is the most important thing in your life; that’s no fun and you’ll make other people uncomfortable.  And absolutely don’t suggest that there is only one right way to be spiritual, because that would mean other people don’t have it right, and we don’t want to disturb anyone.  That’s not nice.

The world, at the devil’s behest, preaches to us that we should focus our time and energies not on God and His Word, but on living a good life.  We should try to get along with people, and not rock the boat.  Religion is fine, in small doses, but really, don’t you think there will be time for that later?  Besides, who wants to be a fanatic? 
That’s the world’s testimony.  But what is God’s testimony to us?  What does He say life is to be all about?  Jesus says you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  (Luke 10:27)  And furthermore, Jesus says that we are not to relax the law of God, not even a little bit.  (Matthew 5:19)  Love God, totally, with your whole being.  Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.  Period.  There’s nothing in there about enjoying a good life, nothing about getting a good job, or preparing for retirement, nothing in their about indulging your pleasures, not even about being comfortable. 

Now, now, counsels the world.  Take a breath, don’t get so worked up.  Do the best you can, but don’t let all that God talk run away with you.  Be nice to people, that’s enough.  At least, be nice to good people.  And whatever you do, don’t start to wonder about what comes after this life.  After all, who knows?  Lots of scientists think nothing happens, and lots of religions say nice things happen to everybody.  So why should we be so radical about what Jesus says concerning eternal life and eternal suffering?    Just relax, watch another TV show, play another video game, work a little longer on your garden, drink another beer, and forget about what the Bible says.  Nobody seems to agree about that anyway.  It’s just another book, isn’t it?  Besides, says the world, you can’t do it.  You can’t love the Lord with all your heart, you don’t love your neighbor as yourself.  So just forget about it. 

That’s what the world says, on behalf of the devil.  Who are you listening to? 

The world is right on one point, at least.  You can’t do it.  You have not and will not ever in this life love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  But that’s no reason to ignore God’s testimony, for His testimony is still true.  Our failures to live in accordance with God’s truth do not change that truth.  Those who ignore God’s testimony cut themselves off from Him, both now, and for eternity.  You need to listen to God’s testimony, because it is true. 

Even though we fall short, we do well to listen, we need to listen.  Because God has more to say.  His demands for your perfect love are part of His testimony, but they are not His final Word.  This first part of God’s testimony is His Law, how He expects us to live, in relation to Him, and in relation to our neighbors. We must hear the Law.  But thanks be to Jesus, in the end we are a church of the Gospel, we are gathered in this place to hear Good News. 

As we consider our struggle in the world, as we consider the battle for our souls that we find ourselves caught up in, the Gospel is good news indeed.  For instead of leaving us only with instructions for a good life that we can never accomplish, God’s final word is the promise of a good life that He gives to us, freely, as a gift.  It is as John teaches us in our epistle.  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,  and   everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Now this is a different word, a different testimony, a testimony that promises victory over the world. A testimony not about what we are supposed to do, but rather about what God has done, which He calls us to believe.  This is the testimony about Jesus, which calls us to faith in the heavenly One who became one of us, living to die, and rise again, for the sake of giving us good lives, real life. 

Jesus is the One who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.

God’s testimony concerning us, concerning our love toward Him and our neighbor, is not good news for us, for we do not meet His standard.  But the Spirit, the Water and the Blood proclaim a better testimony, about a better Man, the Man Jesus who came by Water and by Blood.  Jesus came, sinless and good, and was baptized in water to enter into a ministry of service and sacrifice.  In His life Jesus loved God, and His neighbor, perfectly, with His whole being.  He did that for you, in your place, in order to be able to share His good works with you.  And, Jesus did not come to only keep the Law.  Jesus also came by blood, that is He came and bled, on the cross.  He was crucified into a death which wins eternal life for you because it pays for all the loving that you have failed to do.  The blood of Jesus covers all your sins. 
You have not kept God’s Law.  But despite your sin, God still wants you, and so Jesus, God’s Son came, into human flesh, into water, into blood, to win the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world.  And today, God continues to love you by testifying to you of Jesus and His love, by the Spirit, the Water and the Blood. 
The Spirit, the Author of the Holy Scriptures, speaks this truth through His Word, written, spoken and sung:  God in Christ has reconciled you, and the whole world, to Himself. 
          The Water of Holy Baptism testifies, publicly, that God has adopted you, through Jesus Christ, washing away your sins and joining you to His life, His death and His resurrection. 
          The blood of the Supper testifies, week after week, that God continues to love you, continues to forgive you, and strengthens you to resist the lies of the world, which deny the grace of God found in the flesh of Christ. 
          This is the testimony we all need to hear, the testimony of God, through the Spirit’s Word, and through Baptism, and through the Supper.  When you receive this testimony, you are abiding in the love of Jesus, poured out for you.  Through this testimony Jesus joins Himself to you and goes with you out into the world. 

And then a funny thing happens.  When you abide in Jesus, you live differently.  Driven not by fear of failure and punishment, but rather moved by joy at your good fortune, receiving the testimony of Christ leads you to love your neighbor, and look at life differently.  You may still watch a TV show, or play a video game, fix up your garden or even drink a beer, but you do so secure in the knowledge that God in Christ has called you to be His own.  You do so knowing that every good gift comes from God, and so you give thanks.  Joined to Jesus, you do and enjoy many things, but you are not fooled into living for things.  Rather you learn to live from Jesus.  Joined to Jesus, you live in the freedom of forgiveness, which also frees you to love your neighbor selflessly, for God in Jesus has met all your needs. 

Madeline, Nichole, and all of you, hear this word of counsel:  Today, and for the rest of your life, listen to the testimony of the Spirit, (found in God’s Word), and the testimony of the Water, (with which you were baptized, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), and the testimony of the Blood, (shed for you to drink, for the forgiveness of sins).   These three testify, these three agree, that God in and through Jesus Christ will always love and care for you.  Listen, rejoice, and live from this testimony, today, tomorrow, and forever and ever, Amen. 

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