September 6th – Nothing That We Need To Do for 2015-2016

Sermon – 15th Pentecost (proper 18)
6 September 2015
by Rev. Max Phillips
@Perry Lutheran Home & Christ Lutheran Church-Bouton, Iowa

Text:  “But someone will say “you have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  [James 2:18]

123 times some pastor or another has stood in front of this very congregation at this very season and ‘kicked-off’ a new program year of ministry for Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.  I myself, have done it now 15 times.  It’s that time of year again when we instinctively feel it.  The weather crispens, the days start to fade, fields ripen and we just know its time to get to work.  And so it is here, too.

Most years, I would likely proclaim and certainly think of many more things we could and should be doing as a congregation, but not this year.  I’ve finally concluded that we have done enough.  We don’t need to do one thing more.

Feel better?  I do!

Believe it or not, my super power of eye contact is fading.  Its difficult work getting folks fired up about participating in this or leading that.  It’s not always fun to challenge people to give more, not so the church can be rich, but so the giver can.  It’s frustrating to need to remind people that being regular in church and in Bible Study is best for them.  It often seems like a brick wall to urge teenagers to lead their lives as young Christians and not chase the crowd.  It’s not always pleasant to reach out to the community, some of whom are quite different than us, or to serve people in the church who are quite different than me.  And so here’s the good news–small “good, we don’t need to do more this year.

In fact, we don’t need to do anything.  In a way, pastors are orchestra conductors.  They stand up front and wave their arms, directing.  And if someone does something-great!  And if no one does anything-great!  As they say, ‘it all pays the same.’

Now, in case some of you are wondering what imposter is up here who looks and sounds like Pastor Max, let me assure you it is me.  Obviously, I’m making a point.  Now the question is, ‘what point is he making?’

When churches begin to focus on what they do and on what more they can do, it becomes a burden.  It becomes Law.  I’ve been there, you probably have too.  No wonder it’s tough to find people to lead, teach, sing, cook, study, work, visit and the like.  And no wonder for those that do these things it can become a joyless exercise of worrying about what they will be giving up or imagining who else should be doing it instead.  When we begin to focus on what we do, what we do becomes guilt work.

So, not this year. No more!

James, the brother of Jesus, was working at conducting, if you will, the orchestra of God’s people in dispersion.  He was writing to the remnants of the earliest Christian church made up of Jewish converts who had been chased out of Jerusalem by persecution.  They had faced much adversity and yet they remained followers of Jesus in the many places they had fled to.  James was concerned about the persecution and its affects on their faith, but more so, he was concerned about the damage the devil could do by separating works and faith.  Looking back in history, we can see time and again this very issue blowing up the church and damaging people.

Faith in Christ Jesus was dividing from a heart faith to a head faith.  Two kinds of head faith really, those who knew Jesus and trusted him for themselves and that was enough.  Or those others with a head faith, who focused on serving their Lord more and more by doing more and more in order to earn his love more and more.  In the one case, losing the fruits of the Spirit, in the other losing the joy of their salvation.

It’s easy to do!

It’s easy to rest in your salvation, which is far different than having the peace that flows from it.  Those wishing to rest in their faith focus on worship as the complete expression of Jesus in their lives.  They don’t worry about reaching out or loving others, they like it the way they are, and they don’t like their faith to interfere with their world.  James was particularly concerned about these.  He knew that they believed in Jesus and he addressed them as “brothers.”  But he also knew that just believing in Jesus doesn’t mean you have a saving faith.  He said to them, “You believe that there is a God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that-and shudder.”   [James 2:19]  Demons, the Devil, a lot of lost people have “head knowledge” about Jesus.

In a way, it seems like Jesus even agrees with keeping only a head faith in our gospel lesson for today.  He heals a deaf mute man and then tells the crowd not to tell anyone.  [Mark 7:36]  That command would have been good for the head faith crowd.  Jesus certainly had the power to heal sick people and dead sinners, like me.  Good enough!  We too, can come to church and confirm again and again that Jesus can do what he has promised…for me.  And then we can have a blessed rest from our religion secure in our head faith and do exactly what the Lord commanded those that saw that miraculous healing and not tell anyone.

Sounds attractive, but you and I know that context isn’t quite right.  Those people were commanded not to tell anyone what Jesus had done as a matter of timing.  Christ was on his way to the cross and there was much he had to do and teach before Calvary.

But the people couldn’t hold back.  The Holy Spirit was putting head and heart fully back together in faith.  They knew Jesus’ promises were real , they saw it with their own eyes and they couldn’t help but tell loved ones and neighbors and strangers and those different than them.  The Holy Spirit was working and James makes the point in his epistle that telling about Jesus and serving people is not a work, it is a joy.

Churches that get head and heart together, no longer work for the Lord.  They work because of the Lord and from the Lord and with the Lord and they do it in joy.  This is exactly what Jesus intends for his body–the church, our church and for you.

Back to that orchestra analogy…

Everyone of you have been gifted by God to play an instrument in the Christ Lutheran Church Kingdom orchestra of disciples.  When we do that by teaching, cooking, studying, helping, leading out of a focus on our faith which clings to Jesus’ cross alone we make a beautiful sound that the Holy Spirit uses as a melody of love to move others to see themselves as people who have failed God and who desperately need his forgiveness and help.  And you and I know the joy that follows confession in absolution, when we hear and know that he has given himself for our atonement from sin and despite our failures and shortcomings he has chosen us to be his children…forever.

When that message sinks in, our head and heart reunite in a faith that runs to the cross daily to see again for ourselves the redemption for me and all sinners that Jesus has done.  And like Mary who saw and talked to the resurrected Jesus on that first Easter, we run to tell others everything that He had told us.

Friends, those people who saw Jesus heal the deaf and mute man by “looking up to heaven and with a deep sigh saying to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”  [Mark 7:34] couldn’t stop talking about Jesus.  That’s my prayer for us as well.

Here’s the point.  Why just listen to the orchestra when we’ve been prepared, equipped and invited to play our instrument in it?  Pastor Steve, Audrey and I can wave our hands, the church council and elders can write the music, you all can polish up your individual instruments, but it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring it all together as something incredibly special for the good of the kingdom, for the good of us and certainly for the good of you.  And that’s exactly what the Spirit is bringing again this year.  He is bringing that faith together that you have in your hearts and heads.  He giving you another year full of the instruments of time, treasures and talents to play in the churches orchestra, so play that music by living out your grace, not because you need to, but because at the cross, we can’t keep still.  I have no doubt, that the Holy Spirit will use whatever we do when we do it in joy.

Just remember, that things we do from the Law, serving Jesus because we should, they will never be joyful and we’ll have a hard time getting people to do it even with the best most powerful eye contact.  Those things done from the cross, out of the joy that I, a poor miserable sinner, have received pardon and peace and God’s presence, those things will play beautifully in our work inside and outside our church.  For our hope is not only to know Christ, but to live him and to love others with such a fervent joy through our telling and serving.

So, here we are for the 123rd year in a row and like those witnesses at the healing of the deaf-mute, we can’t keep quiet about Jesus either.

We can begin this new ministry year with head knowledge and create burdensome work for ourselves with more program stuff.  Or, we can begin with heart knowledge of Jesus, our Redeemer and Lord who has rescued us from death and damnation.  Then we will see what fruits the Holy Spirit will grow out of our gospel music of salvation joy we make together.

It’s not that we need to do more, it’s that by the grace of God and the faith he has planted in us, we get to play.

In, from and with Jesus, may we the family of Jesus people gathered in this congregation, get to work and start showing the world the joy we have in our salvation, by how we love each other and the world because of Jesus.

In Jesus Name,

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