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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Jun 11, 2017  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

The Word of the Lord from Genesis 1:1-2: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."

We begin in the Name of Jesus, AMEN

It’s interesting how the first two verses of Genesis read. God the Father was there, creating everything out of nothing. He wasn’t alone, either: the Spirit was present, too; and we know from John 1 that the Son of God was present, because all things are made through Him. So the account of creation begins with the presence of God— Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It’s worth also noting the first created thing that’s specifically mentioned: the earth was there without form and void, and there was water, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. God went on to create, by speaking. "Let there be light," He said, and there was light.

He would soon call for dry lands and seas, and there they would be: likewise sun and moon, plants and animals, birds and fish. And then He would take extra care in making man and woman, but still He would speak to create them. It was a phenomenal miracle, the way God created.

Because our words, at best, are simply informative: they can give information, but they can’t cause anything to happen. When God speaks, though, His Word is effective or causative: He causes things to happen simply by speaking. He creates things simply by commanding them into existence.

And what He creates is good—and good means "holy" and "perfect." Good is not an average score on a scale of "bad" to "excellent." This isn’t a B+ creation: when God declares something to be good, He means that it couldn’t be better—it is just as He designed it to be.

Before our short Old Testament lesson is ended, He created light and separated it from the darkness, then set day apart from night. He created light on the first day, but did not create the sun until the fourth day. Some would say that this is proof that Genesis 1 isn’t a chronological account of creation, but they would be wrong.

God doesn’t need the sun to give light to the day: God is light and can enlighten whatever, wherever He wants. He could just zap the earth with light from Himself every day. But God normally works through means: rather than acting directly, He provides through something He creates.

And then, God created the heavens and the earth. And this was God at His most popular. You see, if the Bible ended with Genesis 1, then you would find nearly everybody on the same page about God.

What I mean is this. In our world today, there is taking place an outbreak of vocal atheism. So many more people are vocally denying the existence of God and it seems like they are gaining the upper hand. It’s not true. Most people will acknowledge that there is a God, but they insist that He’s out there somewhere.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

That is why I said that in Genesis 1 God at His most popular: if God remains a distant God out there somewhere, that gives you an awful lot of freedom in your creation. Actually, If God remains a distant, cosmic God out there somewhere, this gives you an awful lot of license to believe whatever you want about God.

If God is the distant Creator who keeps His distance from creation, then the theology of universalism makes perfect sense. Universalism says that all religions lead to heaven, because everybody is trying to find this distant God in his own way. Who are you to say that a religion or its surrounding culture is wrong, if God gives no further instructions?

In reality, the religion that underlies this is the religion of deism—the teaching that there’s a God out there somewhere, who observes but doesn’t intervene. You’re born into this creation, you live, you die and the world goes on. This was popular at the time of the birth of our nation, among our "founding fathers." Check out Thomas Jefferson’s rewrite of the Bible sometime: it ends with Jesus, a great teacher, laid in a tomb. There are no miracles, no resurrection and no eternal life.

Studies show today that, while the majority of Americans still identify themselves as Christians, they actually practice a form of deism: in one of the most important studies of the past few years, it’s been labeled "moralistic therapeutic deism."

Moralistic therapeutic deism says that the goal of Christianity is all about being good, being moral. It’s therapeutic because the practice of Christianity is all about doing things to become better. It’s deistic because most Americans believe that God is out there, but He’s out there for a lifeline when things get tough. You don’t need to be bothered with God as long as life is going okay, so you only need to take religion seriously when you’re in big trouble. That’s why it doesn’t seem hypocritical to many when they say, "I’m a Christian, but I don’t need to go to church."

Again, if the Bible ends at Genesis 1, all of this makes perfect sense. If God prefers to keep His distance and be the absent Father, if He has to keep His distance because He can’t fit in the room, then it’s left for you to pretty much do what you want and hope it all turns out okay.

Of course, the Bible goes on for a few more chapters after Genesis 1. And, of course, God didn’t stay far away from His creation. He drew so near as to become flesh. Rather than spend life saying, "God is out there somewhere," God gave the world, He gave you the pleasure of pointing to a manger in Bethlehem and saying, "There is God, born of Mary for us."

God gave the world the joy of pointing to the cross and saying, "We don’t have to wonder if this distant God will save us, because we He died for our salvation. Praise be to this God who makes Himself known in Jesus Christ!" Of course, the world doesn’t sing the praises of God. Instead, it takes great offense that the Lord would draw so near and save in such a specific time, place and way. Those without faith have no love for a God who drew near on a cross.

That is why you can rejoice that God drew near, for you know He drew near with grace and salvation. In chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark, you can point to that cosmic, omnipotent God of Genesis 1 in the Jordan River. The baptism of Jesus has a lot in common with the creation of the world. God was present there: the Son stood in the river, baptized. The Spirit of God hovered above the waters as He descended upon Jesus like a dove.

And then the Father spoke: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The presence of the triune God there was also astounding: creation is no longer good, but corrupted by sin and dying. Rather than kick creation to the curb, though, God tore the heavens open and entered into creation to save it, and each one of you.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

Today God still speaks— He still speak His powerful, effective Word that makes things happen. Think about it. When Jesus healed somebody, He did so merely by speaking. One might say that when Jesus healed, He was creating: creating health where sin corrupted flesh, creating life where death had put people into the grave.

Why does Jesus do these miracles? The most important is so that you may know that He has the power to forgive sins. See, when Jesus says to someone, "I forgive you," that’s His powerful, effective Gospel: by His Word, He takes sins away. He creates faith and makes life. He makes sinners good—not B+ better-than-average good, but perfect, sinless and holy in the eyes of God.

So there’s much reason to praise God, that God would draw so near as to step into the Jordan, have the muck of man’s sin poured on Him, and then haul it to the cross for your salvation. But you have more to rejoice in today, because God draws nearer. He draws near to you.

This is why you rejoice in your baptism, no matter how long ago it took place. Like Jesus’ baptism, your baptism also has a lot in common with Genesis 1.

The triune God—who created the heavens and the earth—was present at your baptism for you. You were baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost;" and the Lord Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

The Lord was there: but rather than just zap you with grace, He worked through means as usual—just like He uses the sun to channel light to you, He used water and His Word to baptize you. The Spirit of God was present at your baptism to wash away your sins, to give you forgiveness and faith and life (Titus 3:5,6).

The Son of God was there, joining you to His death and resurrection, saying, "You don’t have to die for your sin because I’ve already died for your sin" (Romans 6:1-11). The Father was there, too; and for the sake of His Son who went to the cross in your place, He says, "You are My beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased." For the sake of Jesus, you’re now a son of God and an heir of eternal life.

What a difference forgiveness and faith make! Without faith, the world prefers God at a distance—and denies or resents the fact that He becomes flesh, wins salvation and gives out forgiveness through certain means. But the very things that enrage the world are those that give you great comfort.

God is not watching from a distance and leaving you to chance or your own wits. He has redeemed you at the cross and given that redemption to you by name at your baptism. Thanks be to God that He draws so near with grace and salvation, for by His presence and work you are forgiven for all of your sins.

Christ is Risen.

Luther Rose


Christ Is Risen
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