January 26-28, 2008
3rd Weekend in Epiphany
Pastor Tim Smith
REMEMBER WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN:
Forgiveness, Faith and Good Works
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)
He was a good worker at the Ol’ Factory, and his name was Opus Goode. Mr. Goode, I’m afraid, didn’t like to use soap. Don’t get me wrong, he took a bath every single day, and he washed his clothes. But he didn’t like to use soap. And people noticed. His boss noticed. His co-workers noticed. And the Ol’ Factory he worked at began giving him Christmas presents of various bath soaps — and then birthday presents, and then “end of the month presents,” and pretty soon, there were just extra soaps lying around his desk all the time. And these things just irritated Opus Good. “I don’t like soap,” he would think to himself. “Why do people keep giving me soap?” It never occurred to him that after years of washing without soap, people might be offended by the way Opus Good smelled. It didn’t matter that he was a good worker at the Ol’ Factory. He stank.
And so one day when his best friend could stand it no longer, he told Opus Goode that he smelled bad, and would he please try to do something about it? Opus Goode tried more deodorant — but it didn’t work. He tried different after-shaves. He tried different colognes. He tried different hair tonic. He even tried switching his toothpaste. But not one of these things kept his friends from gagging and holding their noses. “I don’t get it,” Opus Goode the good worker sighed. “I do all of these things, and I try so hard, but these people tell me I don’t smell good.” And then it came it him. Opus Goode had the answer. He knew what was wrong; and now he felt good about himself again: There must be something wrong with… everybody else.
Now we need to keep in mind just how close we come to being this man in God’s eyes. How often have we slipped into thinking something like, “I’m a Lutheran, so I’m content,” or, “I belong to the WELS. I went through adult instruction or even confirmation when I was 13. I worked long and hard to become a member here — I know that I’m saved.”
We may not even consciously realize it, but we so easily slip ourselves out of God’s lap and scurry off to play. But we come dangerously close to thinking that we don’t need the soap of God’s forgiveness. He gives it to us, he offers it to us, he lays it down before us as a free gift, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
And that’s how God talks about our forgiveness in our text: “It is,” Paul says, “the gift of God.” We are not saved by anything that we do. We are not saved by what God sees in us as potential. We are not saved by what our parents or grandparents did. We are not saved by what we do, or because we went to this or that school, or because we don’t cuss during the week, or because we don’t watch THAT kind of TV show, or because we warn our grandchildren not to listen to THAT kind of music. We’re not saved because we made sacrifices, and even changed our lives and gave up a career for our kids. We’re not saved by anything that we have done.
We are saved because Jesus Christ gave his life for us on the cross. And because Jesus did that, as a result of his love and his grace, we ARE FORGIVEN.
Remember what God has given: He has given Forgiveness.
And he has given us faith, too. We grab onto that cross and that forgiving act of Jesus and we snatch it up in our faith and we trust in him. In him alone. And THAT is what it means that we are saved by grace through faith.
But here’s a delicate point: Our salvation, our eternal life, doesn’t depend on how strong our faith is. Do you see how, if that were the case, we would have slipped out of God’s lap again and we would be running around bragging about our spiritual muscles and our faith-facts, when what we need isn’t inside of us at all? Being saved is all about Jesus Christ, not about Joe Christian.
But don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that faith isn’t part of God’s plan for us. Faith doesn’t stand opposed to the cross – that sounds crazy, doesn’t it – but faith is the servant of the cross. It’s subordinate to God’s grace and what Jesus did for us. Here in town we might think of God’s grace and Jesus’ work as the water tower or water tank up on the hill, and our faith is simply the pipe that brings that water into our hearts.
And even that faith is not up to us; it is a gift from God.
Remember what God has given: He has given Faith.
And in our passage today, God gives yet one more gift. It is a way for us to thank him for his other gifts. God gives us good works to do. Goods works aren’t the soap of God’s forgiveness. From our point of view, good works are nothing but a thank you we give to God for what he has done.
But God had placed them in our path for us to do.
When a man decides to build a house, he has to follow a plan. Once the plan is in place, he knows what materials he will need; he knows that he will need to build some parts of the house before others, and all the while he will have an idea in his head about the way that the finished home will look. And even if he likes pounding nails into 2×4’s, he will still need to pour the foundation of that house before he does anything else. And if he has people working under him, he will need to take their abilities, their strengths and their weaknesses into account when he gives them work to do.
And so God has set up a plan to build his building, the Christian Church, using us as part of his crew. He has already laid the foundation, and now he gives each of us work to do according to our gifts and talents and abilities.
We all have different gifts. Paul told the Corinthians: “ 27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)
So we each have things we can do for the Lord.
But there are times on a job site when everybody needs to stop what he’s doing and help with some of the bigger tasks, or if an emergency comes up. You just help because you need to. And there are times like that in the stewardship and ministry of the church when those things need to happen, as well.
We were just required to take account of our membership by the Synod in order to compile synod statistics, and we noticed that we are about to cross over the halfway point between 2200 and 2300 members. And we have an ever increasing number of our members who are homebound and unable to come to worship. At the moment, our pastoral staff if just about able to keep up with 110 – 120 members, but I can foresee a time when we will need to ask more of our members to volunteer to help us in this ministry.
We also thank God and serve him with our offerings, helping to fulfill obligations and commitments we have as a congregation and helping to keep our ministry serving our people, and yes, even ourselves.
But one of the best ways to help in the ministry of the church is for each one of us, myself included, to remember that we, too, are sheep who need our Saving Shepherd. And out of love for him, if we get ourselves regularly into worship, and regularly into Bible studies or Bible discussion groups or reading or listening to devotions, by keeping ourselves grounded firmly in the foundation of God’s word, we will be healthier, spiritually speaking, and better able to serve our Lord.
Remember what God has given: He has given us forgiveness, he has given us faith, and he has given us good works to do, prepared for us in advance, to say thank you to him, and to serve him.