Sermon for Epiphany 2, January 14, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.
Romans 12:6-16 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Serve with the grace God gives you.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we heard that even at twelve-years old, Jesus had to be about His Father’s business. Jesus never once slacked off at doing what His Father intended for Him. Now, since we have been made children of the heavenly Father, what are we to do to be about our Father’s business? In our epistle lesson today, St. Paul helps us understand what it means to serve our Lord, and the encouragement is simply that you Serve with the grace God gives you.
In the verses immediately before this text, which we also read last Sunday, we learn that God considers each of us a part of the body of His Son. We are connected to the Almighty through Jesus. And the Son, who never once neglected His Father’s will, is our Leader and King, truly the very Head of this holy body known as the Christian Church.
Now, take a moment to consider your physical body, do you notice a variety of parts? Does each part serve the same function? I would bet that your elbow would do a poor job of detecting the difference between the smell of a ripe peach, a favorite perfume, a dead skunk, or anhydrous ammonia. But, I’ll bet your nose does an excellent job of detecting the difference between those fragrances. Likewise, I am pretty sure that if you were a boxer, your chin would have a terrible time tracking and avoiding an incoming punch if it weren’t for your eyes.
Your body is filled with innumerable parts that each serve unique functions, yet they each work for the benefit of the whole body. Of course, some functions can be handled by more than one part, but typically, we are benefitted when each part is working as it should. The same thing is true concerning the body of Christ, of which you and I are parts.
Considering that, St. Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” I should explain that sentence, a bit. In English, it almost sounds like God gives different levels of grace, but that is not what is meant here. Perhaps, a more understandable translation of the Greek would be something like, “We have different gifts, right in line with the grace of the One giving to us.” I won’t go into the details of the Greek, but as James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17) When God created us, He didn’t shortchange anyone. And when He redeemed us, God didn’t leave us without the means to serve His will. Instead, God tells us that as believers in Jesus, “We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
As Paul wrote about using God’s gifts, he was instructing us concerning our vocations. Furthermore, every vocation, every opportunity to serve, is a gift of God’s grace.
It should be noted that your vocations can be quite varied, and they may change as the Lord moves you through life. For example, each of you here this morning has had the vocation of a child and student. In those vocations, we were to obey our parents, serve them gladly, and learn to the best of our abilities. Then, as we grow, we each mature into any number of other vocations. As parents, we serve as teachers, providers, examples of godly living, as servants, and leaders of our families. Husbands and wives each have their roles in those vocations. You may have a vocation as an employee, or employer, or both at the same time. In all of our vocations, the Spirit’s guidance is both practical, and worthy of our obedience to God’s will and His gifts.
Paul wrote, “If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” Again, the English translation doesn’t do us any favors. Understand this passage this way: Whenever you are put in the position of proclaiming God’s message, make sure to do it right in line with what God actually says. Therefore, when a man is called as a pastor, he dares not put his own spin on God’s message but must teach the Word faithfully. The same is true for you when you teach your children, as you interact with neighbors, and even as you study the Word for yourself.
Paul continued by writing, “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” The point is, we should consider all the things we are given to do as gifts of God’s grace and then apply ourselves with the intention to serve God with our best efforts. To be diligent rather than lazy.
Furthermore, this means that in whatever vocation God is calling us to serve at any particular moment, we should serve the Lord with full commitment. When God asks us to teach, we should be diligent in sharing His Word faithfully, with reverence and full trust in the message. If He puts you in position to give, do so generously and with a willing spirit, for God has blessed you with the means to carry out that vocation. If you are given a position of leadership, whether in the Church, the home, your work, or government, be as faithful to that vocation as the Lord Jesus has been to what God asked of Him. You see, Jesus was perfectly faithful in His mission to save, and when it comes to being merciful, God has outdone anything we could ever imagine. He was merciful to you and me even when we were sinners, unbelievers, and His enemies.
The Holy Spirit’s instruction for using our gifts of vocation continued, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
There is no room in these obligations for us to pick and chose who to love. There is no place for us to fall short of perfection. There is no excuse for us to do anything less than our Head, who is Christ, would do Himself. If you would like me to break this down and give you examples for how we should live in response to each of these instructions, I could certainly do that, but we could be here for hours, days, and even the rest of our lives trying to live up to the holiness God demands of us.
Does that cause you to start worrying? Are you wondering who could ever live up to such obligations? Who among us hasn’t failed multiple times to live such dedicated commitment and love? That is why we live and walk as the body of Christ. You see, Jesus has already lived this for us. All of it was fulfilled by Christ, and God has been merciful to us for Jesus’ sake. Therefore, as we live and serve in faith, God counts us as having done all these things for our fellow sojourners in this world.
Still, being counted as righteous for Jesus’ sake doesn’t allow us to live as our sinful flesh desires. Rather, as members of Christ’s body, God leaves us here on earth to be the living hands of His love for those who don’t know Him, for those who reject Him, for those who have never heard of Him, and yes, especially, for those fellow believers who are part of the same body of Christian faith.
God desires that the Holy Spirit work in us to Serve with the grace God gives you. When God justified you and brought you to faith in His Son, He didn’t abandon you, nor did He revert to judging you based on the law. Yet, as God instilled in you a new heart and a new faith, He changed who you are and your vocations in life. Today, we serve not the devil who would destroy us, but the Savior who gave His life so that we too may live. No one has ever loved you more sincerely than Jesus. No one else ever hated evil and clung to good so completely. Jesus was so faithfully dedicated to loving you as His brother, that He counted your life as more valuable than His own, and He laid down His life at the cross so that you may have eternal life in heaven.
The power of that Good News is what gives us strength to live for Jesus. He died so that we might serve. He served so that we may live, blessed so that we might praise, prayed so that our prayers are heard, loved so that our love could make a difference, and humbled Himself so that we can willingly put others before ourselves. Even more than that, Jesus gives us opportunity to share His mercy and love with our children, with our friends and neighbors, and even with strangers and enemies. Jesus paid for them all, and asks us to love them as He has loved us.
Dear friends, don’t be afraid of the challenge of living God’s love. When God made you His own child, He credited Jesus’ righteousness to you. Furthermore, when God brought you to believe in His Son, He created in you the ability to live for Him, to give and share and love like you never could before. By the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament, God continues to empower you to live and love for Him. Therefore, with Jesus as your ever-living Savior, your all-powerful Head and Friend, Serve with the grace God gives you. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto everlasting life. Amen.