Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of September 3, 2017

Sermon: “- I O U”

A little boy wanted $100 badly and prayed to God for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100.

When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord, USA, they decided to send it to the White House. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill, as this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.

The little boy was delighted with the $5.00, and sat down to write a thank-you note to the Lord. It said:

Dear Lord,
Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.

This morning we turn our attention to Romans 13 which reminds us to pay our taxes and all that we owe to others.  But while lots of ink has been spilled over these verses, I don’t really think that is the main point that Paul was trying to make. 

Before we jump in, let’s get some perspective.  One of the keys to studying God’s Word is to look at the overall context of the passage and that is of vital importance as we look at our text this morning. 

Earlier in the letter to the Romans, Paul laid out the case that each and every member of the human race is filled with sin.  It is an insidious problem that we cannot solve.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The punishment for sin is death and we are miserable people because of it.

But God didn’t leave us alone to figure it all out.  While we were sinners He sent Jesus to die for us to forgive us and buy us back from sin, death and the devil.  When He rose again, death’s sting was rendered harmless and we have been grafted into the family of God.

When we started this series Pastor Kevin spent time shedding light on the word, therefore’.  He asked, “What is therefore there for?”  When you see that word, you need to follow where Paul is going. 
The “therefore” that is in play as we begin chapter 13 can be found at the beginning of chapter 12.  The New International Version renders the beginning of chapter 12 this way, “Therefore, I urge you…in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” (Romans 12:1)

That was our text last week.  If you missed it you can listen to it on the podcast or through the app.
This is the biggest “therefore” in the letter to the Romans.  Everything that comes after this point comes “in view of God’s mercy,” meaning that what Paul is getting to is to be viewed through the lens of what Christ has already done.

You are forgiven!  Jesus Christ has taken your sin from you, washed you clean and redeemed and restored you to be His child forever.  Period! The End!  But Paul does not end his exhortations to the believers who hear the words of this letter, and that includes us.

The “therefore” is there for you to keep God’s mercy in view as you live each and every day.  So as we look to chapter 13 and beyond we keep our gaze on the cross of Christ, remembering what was accomplished upon it, and to the empty tomb which brings life. 

Paul begins chapter 13 with words of encouragement to obey the government and to pay what you owe.  Many sermons have been written about this section of Scripture and I’m not going to do the same today because I don’t really think this is the point of what Paul is getting to. 

Paul’s focus is a bit more nuanced.

Now, I’m not saying don’t pay your taxes or make sure to pay your taxes, I think Paul is reminding us that we have an IOU that needs to be paid, not just to the government, but to our neighbor.

As the Psalmist reminds us, “Oh Lord if you were to keep a record of Sins, who could stand?”  (Psalm 130:3)

You see, there is a spiritual IOU that is greater than anything in this world, and it’s impossible to pay back. 

The Psalmist continues, “But with you Lord there is forgiveness.” (Psalm 130:4)

Try asking for forgiveness from the IRS.  It was Will Rogers who once said, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.” 

And so has sin.  Sin has put us in a spiritual hole that we cannot escape. 

I think the words of the 19th century hymn by Elvina Hall express it better than I could,
“Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”

Here is the point, we have a debt that we cannot pay back, but that IOU that won’t ever come due. 

Here is how Paul says it in verse 8 of our text, “Pay your debts as they come due.  However, one debt you can never finish paying is the debt of love that you owe each other.  The one who loves another has fulfilled Moses’ teachings.” (Romans 13:8)

At first glance this may seem like another command for the Christian life, but upon further inspection it is filled with Gospel message of what Jesus has done. 

Paul sets the readers of his letter up by talking about paying our debts, and reminding us that we are all indebted to something.  Then he uses a play on words to underscore a reality that is hard to comprehend. 

Now follow me here…By our constant loving, the debt of love is never paid off and yet by our constant loving it is always paid off.

It is theological tension that portrays the truth of how our God works. 

The debt of love was paid by Jesus.  It has been deposited in our hearts free of charge, no strings attached and we have the privilege and honor to pass that love along to others, not as a way to pay off the debt, but simply to show love for our neighbors. 

There was another time that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to trap Him.  They asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ teachings?”  Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all of you heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  (Matthew 22:36, 37-40)

Paul follows this line of thinking up when he quotes the same teaching from Moses and continues it when he writes in verse 10 of Romans 13, “Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10)

This love is never only a feeling or a mere disposition, but is personified, first in the person and work of Jesus, and continues today in the work of His children, in you and in me. 

This is an active love - it is not passive or complacent.

Last summer our youth attending the LCMS National Youth Gathering were stuck in the Southwest Airlines computer glitch.  They were able to get out of New Orleans to Houston with the promise of a flight home later that day.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen and they were stuck in Houston. 

I contacted some of my friends in the Houston area to see if they could help.  I called Chris Singer, the senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Kline, Texas that is just outside of Houston and told him our travel dilemma.  I also called Pastor David Kim the executive director of Glocal Missions in Houston.  Within hours Pastor Singer had coordinated a bus to come pick up a portion of our youth to transport them to the airport and Pastor Kim arrived the next morning with snacks, clothes and gave the adults a needed break and he talked and prayed with the group.

In our moment of distress, both Pastor Singer and Pastor Kim showed us love. 

This week they are both continuing to do so in the midst of the flooding in Houston.  Pastor Singer’s house had five feet of water inside and most of the churches that Pastor Kim works with were underwater yet they continue to share the love of Christ with others.

We have seen this first hand as the stories of love that poured out of Texas this past week.  The action of others without regard for themselves served others.

Stories of people driving hours with their boats, with cars and trucks filled with water and supplies, people cooking meals, and opening their home for the displaced and the hurting, a group of police officers singing happy birthday to a young boy displaced by the storm, and many unreported acts of love and mercy shown to neighbors in need. 

In the middle of the storm, God’s people became the vehicles of love for those in need.

As the storm raged on Saturday night three bakers from El Bolillo bakery in Houston were trapped by the rising waters.  They spent the night sleeping on sacks of flour hoping for a miracle.  Soon they grew restless and realized that help would not come soon.  The waters never made it to the bakery and amazingly, the electricity stayed on, so they did what they do best.  They baked. 

Over the next two days the three bakers used over 4,000 pounds of flour to make over 5,000 loaves of bolillo bread and sheets upon sheets of pan dulce. 

By Monday, when rescuers got to their location they were amazed to see the display cases filled along with just about every counter with bread. 

By Monday afternoon all the bread had been given away to those in nearby shelters and to tired rescue workers which sustained them in their time of need.

This is what love does. 

We too have bread given to us with no strings attached.  It was His body, given that would pay the price for salvation.  It is broken for us here this morning along with His blood, in, with and under the wine that pays what we owe. 

We gather here this morning, in this place, at this table and once again find that our IOU is erased as love does it all for us.  Therefore (there is that word again) we can love our neighbors.

I know that many have the desire to do something for those in Texas.  We can share the love of God with those in Texas today by sending a donation to Bethany and we will send it to Pastor Singer and Pastor Kim in Houston so that they can continue to share the love of Jesus with those in need.  You can give online to Trinity Lutheran at this link www.trinityklein.org and to Glocal Missions at this link www.glocalmission.org. 

If you like you can send a donation to LCMS disaster relief by texting the word LCMSHARVEY to 41444 right now to make a donation. 

Let me leave you with this.  Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, in the sure and certain fact that your IOU for sin has been erased, go bake some bread for those in need, literally or figuratively, and show God’s love for others in all you do.

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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