Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Bethany Bullet - Week of June 12, 2016

Cemented to Christ

When I was younger I used to spend a lot of time around church.  Yes I went worship every week but I was there just about every day. With my dad being the pastor, and living next door in the parsonage, I would come over and visit with the secretary, see what the custodian was doing, poke around in the fridge, and just explore.
One summer day, I was bored and came over to church where I saw some of the trustees doing some work.  I was curious and started asking questions. They were getting ready to pour some new cement near the water fountain. The ground was prepped and the small portable cement mixer was just about ready to be fed. 

I really didn’t know what went in to making cement.  I watched as they added bags of grey, dusty powder, a few shovels of rock and broken stones and then added some water from the hose.  With some mixing and testing, soon the concoction was ready to be poured.

I watched in amazement as the grey glob was spread evenly in the proper place.  The men took their tools and formed it and shaped it into the mold and soon it started looking like a new sidewalk.  From what looked like dust and broken pieces came something strong and useful.

Later that afternoon I went to check on the new cement and I was handed a small screwdriver and was told that I could write my name in the wet cement.  For years as I would go get a drink of water I was reminded that my name was written in the cement for all to see. 

Why do I tell you this story?  I’ll tell you in a few minutes.

Right now I want you to open your Bible’s to Galatians chapter 2.  The reading you heard this morning begins in verse 15, but I want to go back just a bit to get some perspective. 

At the end of chapter 1 Paul tells his story, how he was a persecutor of the church, and how his life was completely changed as he came face to face with Jesus, how he was appointed and called by God in his grace and mercy and understood and believed in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of chapter 2 Paul describes the issue that is at the heart of his letter to the Galatians.  Look at verse 4, “False Christians were brought in.  They slipped in as spies to learn about the freedom Christ Jesus gives us.  They hoped to find a way to control us.” (Galatians 2:4)

Two weeks ago Pastor Kevin talked about the freedom that we have in Christ.  Not freedom to do whatever we want, but freedom from what binds us…sin.

The Galatians church was being influenced by some who were adding a requirement of the law in order to follow Christ.  In fact, Paul openly opposed Peter in this matter.

But my friends, the true Gospel message carries no extra requirements on the part of sinful humanity.  There is nothing you can do to earn your salvation.  There is nothing you can do that will make God favorably disposed toward you.

Paul says it this way from our reading this morning in verse 16, “…we know that people don’t receive God’s approval because of their own efforts to live according to a set of standards, but only by believing in Jesus Christ.  So we also believed in Jesus Christ in order to receive God’s approval of faith in Christ and not because of our own efforts.  People won’t receive God’s approval because of their own efforts to live according to a set of standards.”  (Galatians 2:16)

We are all broken people; our lives are filled with sin and sadness.  I know that your life has had its share of pain and problems, and try as you might, you cannot solve them on your own. 

And skipping ahead a few more verses Paul writes, “If we receive God’s approval by obeying the laws in the Scriptures, Christ’s death was pointless.” (Galatians 2:21)

I am reminded of the law constantly as I feel the weight of my own sin pushing me down.  There have been plenty of times I have tried to figure things out on my own because I was too embarrassed to admit that I too am mired in sin.  When I try to live up to what I know is right, according to God’s standard, I fail.  The curse of sin is always with me.  I am a broken man, covered with the dust and dirt of sin.

Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 2 verse 19, “When I tried to obey the law’s standards, those laws killed me.” (Galatians 2:19)

And if we skip down to chapter 3 verse 10, “Certainly, there is a curse on all who rely on their own efforts to live according to a set of standards because Scripture says, ‘Whoever doesn’t obey everything written in Moses’ teachings is cursed.’  No one receives God’s approval by obeying the law’s standards since, ‘The person who has God’s approval will live because of faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11)

It might seem like Paul is telling us to just believe or have more faith.  As if action on our part is necessary, or even possible. Kind of like the Nike mantra of “Just do it!” 

But the word translated as believe is this amazing little word in the original language.  The word we translate as “believe” is also the same word that is translated as “have faith”.   Different forms of this word are found over 300 times in the New Testament. 

Here is a great definition I found, “Faith is the attitude whereby one abandons all reliance in his or her own efforts to obtain salvation, be they deeds of piety, of ethical goodness or anything else. It is the attitude of complete and total trust in Christ, of reliance on him alone for all that salvation means.”

This idea is outside of us and is only possible because it has been given to us by Christ himself.  It is not found in what we do, or who we are on our own.  It comes on account of Christ.

It comes as we hear the Word proclaimed, as we gather at the rail, as we confess and are granted forgiveness and grace and as simple water and word come over us at the fount. 

Paul continues in verse 20 of chapter 2, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live I live by believing [having faith] in God’s Son who loved me and took the punishment for my sins.”  (Galatians 2:20)
So, let’s get back to cement.  Cement is a binder, a substance that sets and hardens and binds other materials together.  Little did I know that my little summer project with the church trustees would be sermon illustration.

Luther wrote this about Galatians 2:20, “By faith, you are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person.” (AE 26:168)

What Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says to us today is that in Christ all of the dusty, dirty, broken, sin filled pieces of your life are cemented together with Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection. The water of life has come over you in baptism and the life of Jesus is now inextricably intertwined with yours, in faith and you live because Christ lives!  Like the cement I saw poured so many years ago. 

While it’s true that sometimes we feel all mixed up in life, God has a plan. 

As you encountered water and word you were transformed from something weak and broken on your own and formed into something strong and useful.  And in baptism he wrote his name upon your heart and bestowed upon you faith.  He forms and shapes you even today, using the tools of worship, study, and the means of grace.

You are so cemented to Christ that He and you are as one person.  His life, is your life, his death paid the price for your sins.

Paul says it this way, “Christ paid the price to free us from the curse that God’s laws bring by becoming cursed instead of us.  Christ paid the price so that the blessing promised to Abraham would come to all the people of the world through Jesus Christ and we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14) 

Christ has forgiven you, Christ has freed you from sin, the Holy Spirit is yours and you are cemented with Jesus and his life is yours. 

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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