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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Dec 9, 2018  SERMON TEXT

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

That’s how sermons usually begin around here, with the first verse of our epistle for the day. It’s not just a greeting, some sort of holy "How ya all doin’ today?" It’s not just a signal for you to settle in and the usher to turn down the lights.

It’s not just a statement about the goal of this sermon, even though this had better be the goal of the sermon. It’s not just a wish. And it’s not just information.

It’s a blessing. It’s a proclamation of God’s Word—God’s holy and powerful Word. When God speaks, things happen; and it is no different here. To speak grace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is to say to you, "Christ has died for your sins on the cross, and now has grace—forgiveness—for you. By His Word, He delivers this grace."

To speak peace from God to you is to say this: "Once you were enemies of God, because your sinfulness enslaved you to fight against Him and His Word; and because God is holy and must punish sin, He had no choice but to condemn you. But Christ has destroyed the sin that made you His enemy; and if that sin is gone, there is nothing left in you for God to be angry at. Therefore, because you are forgiven, you are at peace with God. By His Word, He delivers this peace to you." It’s a blessing—God’s powerful Word delivering what it says.

Think about the time when Jesus said to the dead Lazarus, "Lazarus, come forth." By that Word, Jesus was saying, "Life to you, Lazarus;" and because that Word delivers life, Lazarus came out of the grave.

Think of the time when Jesus said to the blind man, "Recover your sight." The Lord wasn’t saying, "go find healing somewhere," or "I hope you feel like you can see;" rather, He was saying, "Sight to you," and the man was healed.

Finally, think of when the risen Lord said to the disciples in that locked room upper room, "Peace to you." He was not saying, "Calm down." He was saying, "I died for your sins so that you might be at peace with God. Peace to you." And by that Word, by that blessing, He delivered peace to them.

So I speak His Word and blessing to you: Grace to you, and Peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not by any special power that pastors have: it’s the Word of God at work. By this blessing, here is grace and here is peace to you, for you. The blessing is followed by the word "Amen"—"let it be so to me." You hear God give you grace and peace: let it be so.

In fact, the amen is not just for pastors to say. Silently, whispered or out loud, you say "amen," too. And your amen says, "For the sake of Jesus, God has just given me grace and peace. I am His and confident of His help and protection, because He says so. By faith, I do not reject these precious gifts that God has given. Amen! Let it be so!"

And dear friends, it’s that grace and peace, won by Christ and given freely to us, that binds us together.

St. Paul begins his epistle to the Philippians by speaking this grace and peace to them. Then he rejoices in this: he and the Christians of Philippi are partners in the Gospel. This wasn’t obvious to the eye. Paul was, after all, an apostle, while the Philippians were laymen, still just learning the ropes of Christian doctrine.

So they had different callings and different levels of knowledge, but they were partners in grace: both the apostle and the Philippians were saved because Christ died for them. They might have different tasks and talents and outcomes in their lives; but together, they were the family of God. They were members of the body of Christ because they were all forgiven with the same grace; and by that grace, they were at peace with God and one another.

This partnership was not apparent for another reason: Paul wasn’t with them. He had written this letter from afar—he was forced to write this letter from afar because he was in prison, perhaps in Rome and he was already facing death for proclaiming the Gospel.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

But the difference in locations and situations were not enough to divide them: Paul wrote that they "were all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel."

You see, where even only two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He was there in the midst of them. He was present with the Christians in Philippi. He was present with Paul in that prison cell.

In Christ, as partakers of His grace and partners in His Gospel, Paul and the Philippians were together. And from afar, Paul spoke grace and peace to them that they might remain together in Christ, partners in the Gospel and partakers of grace.

This grace and peace defines us, too: for by the grace Jesus died to win for us, He has brought us out of the dark and into His light. He has transformed us, you and me, from enemies of God to citizens of His kingdom, from slaves of sin to children of God and heirs of heaven. Because His grace has so saved and changed us, we are at peace with God; and by His grace, we strive to be at peace with one another.

By this grace and peace, we are partners in the Gospel—brought together by the forgiveness Jesus has won. In other words, we are together partakers of grace. That is what makes us the body of Christ, the family of God, the priesthood of believers.

Like Paul and the Philippians, we all have different callings and responsibilities, different gifts and talents, different social and financial status, different trials and strengths, different levels of success and failure as measured by the world. But we are all together partakers of grace.

You can see this in the Gospel lesson, as John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It was a diverse group of people who came to hear him—chief priests and everyday joes, tax collectors and soldiers. It was not a group very likely to get along and get together for coffee and conversation.

But no matter who they were, the message was the same: repent and be forgiven. The means was the same: the Word of God and the baptism of John. That is what united them, what bound them together; afterwards, they would all go back to their various callings and responsibilities.

In fact, note John’s answers to the questions from the crowd. Tax collectors with their unpopular calling asked, "What then shall we do [now that we’re repentant and baptized]?" Did John tell them to get a new job or send them on some sort of worthy pilgrimage? No, he said, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do."

In other words, "Remain tax collectors: whether or not people appreciate it, it’s a godly vocation that supports rulers whom God has placed in authority. So be tax collectors, but be tax collectors set free from sin who live in grace and peace with God."

Soldiers asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" Did John tell them to find a more peace-loving profession, hang up the sword for good? No. He said, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages."

In other words, "Remain soldiers, because God gives rulers the right to field armies and defend people. So be soldiers, but soldiers set free from sin and the temptation to use force for personal gain—soldiers who now live in grace and peace with God, who act justly as their actions reflect their Savior."

See? Those who were baptized left the Jordan River as diverse a lot and as motley a crew as when they first arrived. But they were bound together by grace and peace. They were partners in the Gospel and partakers of grace.

They might never see each other again, and they might still not ever get together for coffee or pinochle. But they were together, united in Christ. That is what the grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ does.

The implications for you today are many and important. It helps define our worship. Worship is not targeted to a segment of the people of God, but to the body of Christ. Youth and senior citizens, grace and peace to you. Country music lovers, opera fans and pop enthusiasts, grace and peace to you. Men, women, children and infants, grace and peace to you.

Our worship is not a service that’s designed for a certain sub-culture of Christians: it is the service for partners in the Gospel and partakers of grace, and it is an invitation to all others who hear to hear and to be brought in.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

We are all partakers of grace together. Beware the devil’s temptations as he seeks to rob you of that joy. Your old sinful flesh may tempt you to get grumpy and say, "This worship style just isn’t for me."

That is true: it just isn’t for you—it is for all of us together. It’s not designed to target personal likes to sell you something, but to proclaim that together we are partners in the Gospel; and you can be sure that, as we are together, the Lord is giving forgiveness to all—and specifically to you.

This must also defines our view of each other in the service. The baby who is crying can be distracting, sure; but by Holy Baptism, that baby is your fellow partaker in grace. That adult who needs to shuffle out for health reasons is your partner in the Gospel, even if this breaks your concentration. The person who falls asleep during my sermon is my fellow partaker of grace. That sound technician who forgot to turn on the microphones is your partner in the Gospel.

Now with these examples, I’m not advocating or justifying distractions, or sleeping through the sermon. But when you are distracted, your initial reaction may be annoyance, maybe anger. This is too easily the devil’s tool to stop listening to grace and peace. All Christians are partners in the Gospel by the grace of God, and harmony is only possible when love overlooks many things. Grace and peace to you.

The implications of our partnership in the Gospel certainly affects the relationship between pastors and congregations. The inplication of our partnership in the Gospel extends beyond our local congregation, for we are not all that there is to the body of Christ. We are fellow partakers in grace with all Christians, united in Christ with them.

That is why we pray for Christians around the world and especially those who are persecuted for the same faith we proclaim so freely. The Christian man who is literally crucified in the Sudan for confessing Christ, and the Christian woman who is forcibly defiled and sold into slavery in Egypt—these are your brother and sister in Christ, partakers of grace with you.

In all of these matters, it is not an easy feat to stay focused on the grace and peace that Christ gives, or to maintain that partnership in the Gospel. Remember, sin isolates and divides; and the devil hates no gathering worse than the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. He will do all he can to destroy this partnership and unity in Christ at the level of friends, congregations, synods and the Church throughout the world. To preserve this partnership is beyond our abilities—it is truly only by the grace of God. And He maintains the body of Christ by those gifts of grace and peace.

He does so continually, for you are in need of this grace continually. The Lord made you His own by His grace, brought you into His body: and at the moment He gave you salvation, heaven was yours. It was not a lifelong process. It was not a gradual grace or a partial peace.

At your Baptism, He didn’t say, "I forgive a little now; and if you keep working at it, you should be completely ready for heaven eventually." No, at your Baptism He said, "I forgive all your sins. If you die or I return today, you’ve got all that you need. Heaven is yours."

But because you’re daily tempted to sin, the Lord keeps giving you that grace and peace—all that you need again and again. Heaven is yours now; and on the Last Day, it will be yours, realized, because you will be there.

That is Paul’s other great encouragement from our text: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." The good work that God began in you was salvation, not just a good start to salvation. This work will be completed on the Last Day: not that you have incomplete forgiveness now, but that on that day you will be in heaven—and sin and the temptation to abandon the faith will be no more.

The Day of Jesus Christ is coming: that’s the tie-in of this text to our Advent theme. Yes Jesus Christ has already come, and He won grace and peace by His death on the cross.

But Jesus Christ will come again to fulfill all things, to fully complete your salvation. In the meantime, He is not far away—He is as near as His Word, preserving you by grace as partners of the Gospel and partakers of grace until His return. This is what He does by His grace and peace.

Therefore, dearly beloved fellow-partakers in the grace of God, I speak this blessing to you today: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Christ is risen.

Luther Rose
Christ Is Risen
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