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Called On Purpose

8th Sunday after Pentecost (A)      July 30, 2017      Text:  Romans 8:28-30     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, everywhere you go these days you see “help wanted” signs.  Some of them even say, “Immediate Interviews.”  Looking at those signs got me to thinking this week, what if we were asked to come in and interview for a place in God’s Kingdom.  What would that interview be like?

            Imagine sitting across the desk from God as the interview starts.  God says, “I see you are applying for a position – not just in my kingdom – but a place in my family.  You would like to be adopted as a son – a fellow heir with my only begotten Son Jesus Christ.  Why should I choose you?”

            And, if it were anything like the kind of interviews most of us have gone through, we would highlight all of our best characteristics and minimize any problems or weaknesses in our character or job history.

            “Well God, that’s a really good question.  I think that I am uniquely qualified for a position as your child because I’m dedicated.  I work well with other people.  I like to give 100%.  I’m passionate about your family and your kingdom.  I really appreciate your work.  After all, the work you did in creation is just awesome!  And I think I could really add a lot by coming on board as a member of your family.  If you’re interested in growth, I’m really good at sales and I could help “sell” the Christian brand.  I see what kind of sacrifice your Son made to establish this company and I’d be willing to make some sacrifices here and there for the company, if that’s what it took.  I’m basically a kind and loving person at heart and would bring that into my position.  I’m an honest person too.  You can trust me and when I give you my word, that’s my bond.  And because I work well with others, I think I would pretty much get along with everyone else in the company.”

            “Oh, I see,” says God.  “But I see here on your resume that you were raised by pagan parents and embraced their religion until your 20’s.  Since then  you’ve held positions with other religions.  You’ve tried Hinduism, New Age Meditation, worshipped nature, practiced idolatry worshipping money and sexual perversion, embraced atheism for awhile, and then a short stint mormanism. 

            There also seems to be a gap in your resume between the Hinduism and New Age Meditation,”

            “Oh, that is when I kind of took a break from religion and just took advantage of ‘me time.’” 

            It doesn’t look like you’ve been able to be consistent of follow through with your commitments.”

            “Well, I’ve matured a lot, and most of those religions didn’t appreciate my unique situation and talents.  I wasn’t getting fed, so I decided to move on. Besides, I’d rather talk about what I can bring to your company.  I’m a natural leader.  Once I come on board, we will see an increase in productivity.  I know this is a family company.  I’ll be the best dad and husband carrying out the company mission right there in the home in a way you will always be proud of!  And, by the way, I love what you’ve done with that book that you wrote – the Bible.  It is my favorite.  I’ll memorize so much of it!  And I’ll talk about it so much it will become a best seller!  My job performance will set the standard for all the children of God.  And you talk about loving one another.  Love is my middle name.  I won’t let you down!”

            How do you think that interview went?  Would you be able to convince God to choose you?  Our scenario sound ridiculous, doesn’t it?  It is ridiculous because God knows all.  He knows our weaknesses.  He knows that everything we do is tainted by sin.  He even knows that we are going to fail in the future.  We might not want to bring up our sins.  But He knows.  We can’t hide them from Him.  If our position as an heir in His family was based upon our qualifications and goodness, then we would never get chosen.

            But the good news is that it isn’t about us and what we have brought or will bring to the table.  God doesn’t look at our past performance or our future potential when deciding whether to adopt us as sons.  If He did, our past performance would be a pretty bleak indicator of what might be expected out of us in the future.

            But instead, God chose us out of love and because of His faithfulness.  That is precisely what He told the children of Israel when explaining why they should be chosen out of all the peoples of the earth as His old testament covenant people.  It was because of His love that they were chosen.  God had made a promise to Abraham, long before they were even born.  Their position as privileged people of the covenant had nothing to do with their job performance.  God made that choice and promise before they were even born.  And it was based not in the Israelites qualities, after all, they were just a small and insignificant people.  (Abraham himself was an idolater.)  The choice was made purely as an expression of God’s undeserved love.

            And so it is with us.  That is what predestination means.  God chose you before the creation of the world in Christ Jesus.  He chose you not because of what you would bring to the table, but to fulfill His purpose.  And that purpose was that by God’s grace and power, you would be conformed to the image of His Son.  In His mercy, your sins are forgiven.  Paul himself says, “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.”  And God has justified you in Christ Jesus – making you Holy by the washing of rebirth in the Holy Spirit.  It is because Christ died, rose again, and is interceding for you, that you are Holy.

            God’s choice is not about your qualities.  You are simply a sinner, just like me.  You are underserving to be chosen by God and made and heir in His kingdom.  But God has done precisely that.  It is all His Word.  He chose you before you ever took a breath and did anything – good or bad.  He chose you before anything you would ever do could be evaluated as good or bad.  He did not wait to see what kind of person you would be.  He already knew you would bring nothing to the table.

            But He brought it all.  And He continues to bring it all to the table.  There is Christ’s own body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the gift of the heirs of the Kingdom.  In Christ, that is what you are.  And you have been chosen according to His purpose.  And that is as a testimony of the grace and mercy of God.  For you will take your place at the table – you will take your place in the line of God’s sons and daughters, and Christ will be the first – He will be at the head of the line.  Behind Him are all that God has chosen in Grace.  And all God’s sons and daughters are and will be living proof of the loving and merciful nature of God.  And nothing can take us from that purpose in Christ.  For we bear witness to God’s goodness despite any trials and hardships that come away.  They cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  And love is for you, from the beginning of time and for all eternity.  In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Reasonable Use of Reason

7th Sunday after Pentecost (A)     July 23, 2017      Text:  Matthew 13:34-30, 36-43  Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, in the explanation of the 1st article of the Apostles’ Creed, Luther wrote that “God has given me my reason and all my senses.”  Human reason – the ability to think, to evaluate, to weigh matters in our minds and come to conclusions and solve problems is a gift from God.  However, Luther wrote that it is a gift that is to be used in its proper place. 

            The proper place for human reason to be exercised is in worldly matters.  Doctors use human reason to consider symptoms and diagnose and treat patients.  Engineers use it to solve complex problems in building and design.  Parents use it to decide what kind of discipline will be most effective for each of their children.  Individuals use it to decide what kind of career or job they should pursue.  In worldly things, reason is given by God and we should use it – or even say use it to master the things of this life.

            But when it comes to things above, reason can never be the master.  When it comes to spiritual things, things of God and divine revelation, reason must always be the servant, never the master. 

            We must do this because if we let our human reason be the highest authority and judge in spiritual matters, we will do great harm – for God’s ways are much higher than our ways as the Scriptures say (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

            So, for example, when it comes to the problem of creation vs. evolution.  Many scientists allow their human reason to dictate their thoughts and research.  Their reason rejects the possibility of a divine being and miraculous creation, and so they set their minds on explaining the origins of life in such a way that would exclude God or anything miraculous.  This can only lead them to theories of evolution.  When such a person reads the book of Genesis, they are compelled by human reason to reject what it says about creation.  This is the sovereign use of reason, above all and to the exclusion of all else.

            But there are a group of dedicated Christian scientists who use their extensive wisdom and knowledge to serve God’s revelation and Scripture.  Their work is fascinating, credible and I think even more plausible because they have not rejected the existence of God and their thought process is used in service to God’s revealed Word and will. 

            Our text for today shows us that it is both the gift of human reason and human emotion that must be used in its proper sphere and in service of God’s revealed Word and will.     

            Specifically, the text deals with the problem of evil in this world and why God allows evil people to spread their roots in and among God’s people in this world.  When we see that going on, the question we want to ask is “Why?”  Luther would say that Adam and Eve’s apple is still sticking in our throats.  “Why does the devil rage?  Why do tyrants have such luck?  Why do the Turks (Muslim invaders) live so long?” 

            When the servants see the weeds that have grown up among the wheat, they ask, “Did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?”  It is human reason that would have them question God and the effectiveness or goodness of His seed.  Maybe God is not powerful enough, or good enough, or careful enough, or attentive enough, or even caring about the fact that bad gets mixed in with the good. 

            The apple sticks in our throats too.  Why do the corrupt and dishonest get richer?  Why do evil people live such long lives while the good experience tragedy and die young?  Why do faithful Christians struggle to make ends meet or lose their jobs even though they have been good workers?

            Perhaps, we reason, we should take matters into our own hands and come up with our own solutions for the problem of evil.  “Master, do you want us to go out into the field and tear out the weeds?”  This is the temptation to think that we can help God out, or that our way would be better.  Really, it is an indication of doubt that God could really be at work.

            Or, when we see the weeds alongside the wheat growing side by side in the field, we may assume that if the master permits that, or tolerates it, the weeds might not really be so bad after all.  Why make a big deal out of it if the master pretty much ignores it?

            But Jesus’ explanation of the parable heads off either incorrect use of reason.  The reason that the weeds are in the field is because the enemy has been at work.  The existence of evil, of those who oppose God’s kingdom, of those who attack Christian values, of those who are slow or refuse to come to faith says nothing about the goodness of God, or the effectiveness of God, or the attentiveness of God.  Rather, Jesus explains it is the work of the enemy.

            And sometimes, rather than trying to put a spin on evil, we should simply acknowledge that there is evil in this world and bad things happen.   Not that God is at fault for causing it, or being too weak to prevent it, or too inattentive, or too preoccupied, or whatever.  We can simply say, “This is the work of the enemy.” 

            And we can avoid the trap of assuming that perhaps evil isn’t that big a deal after all.  If God tolerates it, it must not be that serious, right?  But we Jesus says that at the close of the age, the reapers will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

            All of this is to say that this parable of Jesus would cause us to put our human reason in check, and our emotion in check and simply trust God’s plan. 

            Instead of trying to delve into the hidden things of God – instead of seeking the answers to the “whys” we can set our minds and emotions on the things that God does reveal to us.  In the parable, it is the existence of the wheat that God has sown and the coming day when the righteous will be gathered together to shine like the sun.

            We can use our reason and focus on the righteousness that is ours in Christ Jesus.  As Luther would say:

            If you wish to act in the right way, you can do no better than to be interested in God’s Word and works.  In these He has revealed Himself and lets Himself be heard and apprehended as He introduces His crucified Son to you.  This is the work of your redemption, in which you apprehend God with certainty and perceive that if you believe, He does not want to condemn you because of your sins, but want to give you eternal life, as Christ tells you: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” 9John 3:16)

            In this Christ, says St. Paul, “are hid all the reassures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).  This will give you more than enough to learn, study, and ponder; and you will marvel at his sublime revelation of God, will learn to delight in God and love Him. It is a work that can never be exhausted by study in this life.  (Luther in a sermon on Romans 11 I; 33-36).

     Here it is good to let Jesus be the master - let God be the master and let our reason serve Him and us by using it to dwell on our Holy Lord and Savior who is revealed to us in Holy Scripture.