Going Deeper 1-6-20

Selected words from our second reading will serve as the basis for not only my message, but I hope also for a more profound spiritual renewal of our lives as we move into a new year… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. … In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance… so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In this new year, my hope and prayer is that each of us and all of us might be blessed with 2020 vision… with a clearer understanding of what it means to be called “children of God”, and how we are to live as children of God within this part of the Body of Christ that goes by the name of Zion Lutheran Church.  This day I am encouraging us all to make a New Year’s resolution.
And we just heard the most important possible resolution we might seek for this new year: to more fully and profoundly “live for the praise of his glory.”  However, before agreeing to make this resolution with me, I assume you may have a few questions.
Such as… what does that even mean, to “live for the praise of his glory”?  Answer: to “live for the praise of his glory” means to be filled with a deep and sincere level of gratitude for grace, and with a love which continually transforms us.  And as I’ve preached over and over again, the more we understand how much we have to be forgiven of, the greater will be our gratitude for the grace we have received, and the greater will be our love for the Giver of grace.  The one who has been forgiven little loves little, the one who has been forgiven much loves much.
So, what if we honestly are not filled with such gratitude or love?  Or what if we have never really given this much thought, or at least haven’t in a long time… so long that maybe we take it all for granted?  What if we honestly don’t care that all that much… don’t care enough to see this as being a big deal?  What if we’re satisfied with where we are and really would prefer having this religious stuff stay on the fringes of our existence because we really don’t want to get carried away it?
Well, if that’s how you feel, I’d first say you are practicing your God-given right to decide that a minimal response to God’s grace is all you want or even need.  You have that Creator-given right to do things your own way.  But at the same time, I would warn you to reconsider, and point to how the letter of James teaches that a faith which does not create in us a desire to do good works is a dying—or perhaps already dead—faith.  And that is a dangerous place to dwell.
In other words, if this describes you, I urge you to repent!  Only God can perceive when a faith has died, and only God is the judge of such things.  What I have been led to understand (and my understanding is admittedly limited), is that when Jesus returns He will gather those who have inherited their status as children of God through grace and have been led and empowered to respond by taking care of “the least of these” (see Matthew 25) and bring them into His eternal kingdom, while those whom He does not know are cast away into the fire.
I imagine that you are a little bit shocked to hear me preach such a fire and brimstone message.  What I just said might actually seem like I am using fear to try and change you.  No, I am not.  Fear is just the beginning of wisdom.  Fear can serve as a necessary wake-up call for those whose faith is somewhere between sleeping and comatose, but fear does not change people.
Experiencing things like fear, guilt, shame, and remorse is simply a process of breaking the soil in order for the seed of truth to take root in our lives and produce the fruit of good works.  And the seed of the truth is this: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. … In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance… so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
The truth is that we are all—because of our broken nature—sinful and unclean.  As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death.”  The Law of God shows us that this is true of each and all of us.  The Law of God produces fear and guilt and shame and remorse.  The Law of God does the painfully necessary work of diagnosing how deep and deadly and large our sin truly is.
But the Law does not have the last word.  When the Law is the last word, we have fallen into the trap of legalism, which can become another faith-killer.  The Law prepares us to receive the good news of the Gospel.  The Law shows us that while “the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23)
You see, this is the message which comes with the power to transform us.  While the first step of transformation is repentance, we dare not stop there.  We dare not conclude that we are trash, that our faith is dead and beyond resuscitation.  We dare not come to believe that God’s grace is limited or insufficient to redeem us.  God’s grace is infinitely greater than our sin.
So, the rhetorical question of the day is this: Upon hearing and comprehending this incredible news of salvation by grace through faith, how can we not be led to experience a deep and very sincere gratitude, and led to experience a profound, life-changing love for the one who gives us life by sacrificing His own?!  As we talked about last Sunday, this is why we must never forget to remember what God has done, is doing, and promises to continue to do for us and in us and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit.  God will continue to love us and to transform our lives according to His good and gracious will.  “May the One who has begun this good work in us bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In this new year, I urge you to do those things which will help you cultivate a deeper-than-ever level of understanding and experiencing of the transforming grace and love of God.  Let us commit ourselves to gathering regularly around word and sacrament for worship, to engaging in both private and group Bible study, to going deeper in prayer and contemplation, to growing our fellowship within this family in Christ, and to serving together in ways which change our world, starting right here, and extending to our community, region, nation and beyond.  
This is how we learn to more and more fully “live for the praise of his glory.”  This is how we learn to live the abundant life that Jesus desires to give us, lives of peace and joy and fun and meaning, lives which reflect the light of God’s grace and love, and lives which draw others into the light of God.
Right here and right now this morning, and tomorrow morning and every morning, resolve to do those things which inspire and empower you to “live for the praise of his glory.”  Amen.