Sermon for August 28, 2016

Sermon for Rally Day, August 28, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 28, 2016

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Hebrews 13:1-17

Sermon Theme:  “An Unchanging Christ in a Changing World”

(Sources:  Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; The Parables of Peanuts, The Gospel According to Peanuts; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Footnotes, Life Application Study Bible)

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

Rally Day officially launches the new School Year for the Sunday School Department.  It’s a time for celebration by leaders and students, which took place yesterday at the Woolley’s, and a time for preparation by the teachers as they plan to lead, whether they teach adults or they teach children.  Our sermon text says, “Remember your leaders who spoke to you the word of God . . . Obey your leaders, . . . for they are keeping watch over your souls.”

Of course, it is really God who works through these leaders.

As all of us, and especially the children, face future living, we need to have solid, basic guidelines by which to order our lives.  Today, we are living in a time of confusion, startling changes, moral and ethic dilemmas, and recurrent violence.  There is a breakdown in moral standards.  Things we once abhorred are done today as a normal way of life.  We are confused, we do not know whether to resist or go along with the new morality.  We feel empty from this growing loss of spiritual values.  Our text offers some hope.

This changing world was already changing when Charles M. Schulz was drawing his Peanuts comic strip (Schulz died in 2000).  For example, Charlie Brown was surprised when Violet Gray, a girl who had a crush on him, said that her parents used to belong to a church, but now they belong to a coffee house.  Charlie himself represents America’s values the way they used to be, while some of his friends begin to reflect the moral and ethical changes for the worse.

Violet Gray, for example, would hold the football for Charlie to kick, and then let it go, because she was afraid he might kick her hand.  Lucy Van Pelt, on the other hand, would let go of the football right before the kick just for spite or meanness.  Violet had no faith, and Lucy had too few Christ-like character traits in her.  The guidelines of Jesus were much more prevailing in Charlie.

In a Christmas Strip, Lucy meets Charlie on the sidewalk and says exuberantly, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”  Before he can respond, she continues, “At this time of year I think we should put aside all our differences and try to be kind.”

Charlie responds, “Why does it have to be for just this time of year?  Why can’t it be all year round?”

Lucy looks at him in indignation and exclaims, “What are you?  Some kind of fanatic or something?”

I’m sure you’ve noticed as I have noticed that in this changing world (changing for the worse) of ours, the outlook and attitudes we had when we were growing up would not fly today, — for example, the fact that all our social activities centered on the church.  Today we would be ridiculed for that.  So, today, more than ever before, church leaders and teachers are sorely needed.

Their first job is to share the comforting truth that we are saved by grace through faith alone.  Faith in what?  Faith in the actual truth that Jesus loved us so much He died on the cross for our sins, that He arose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, and has restored our broken relationship with God.  That truth must come first.

Of course, our Sunday School teachers (which would include the adult Bible class teacher as well as those who teach children) are just ordinary people like the rest of us.  But they are called by God to teach their students the awesome truth about Jesus, and to teach them to follow His guidelines.  As they prepare to do this each week, they also plan to follow those spiritual guidelines themselves.  Through the Holy Spirit, such spiritual guidelines are presented to the teacher and to his or her students.

That’s also true of your pastor.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, the hours of research which I do produce fruit that helps and nourishes me as much as it does the ones I lead.

We all change according to our age and circumstances.  A person is not the same in the office as he or she is at home.  A person is not the same at the age of 50 as he was at the age of 15.  Over the years, our minds change, our appearances change.

What is even more challenging is that, as I said before, the world changes, things change for the worse and reach a level of almost intolerable chaos and violence.  But Jesus does not change.  Our text says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.”  That means His love for us is constant, His teachings never change, and His position is always the same.

His love for us continues even when we sin, rebel, and make a mess of our lives.  He loves us even while we are sinners.  His love is totally unconditional and absolutely constant.

His teachings never change, because His truth is eternal.  Thus His principles do not change with each generation.  The moral depravity of today’s world does not mean Jesus has changed; it means the world has changed by rejecting Him.

Our sermon text gives us four of those teachings or guidelines, guidelines teachers are to share with their students and preachers are to share with their congregation:  One, Show hospitality to strangers, Two, help the unfortunate, Three, honor your marriage vows, and Four, be content with your possessions, that is, keep life free of the love of money.

The writer to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  In the Old Testament, Abraham, Gideon, and Manoah showed hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Maybe we should invite that lonely person to our home for dinner and fellowship.  Or visit that shut-in even though we don’t know her very well.

Our text specifies who the unfortunate are; it says, “Remember those who are in prison and those mistreated.”  We have a St. Paul member who is in prison.  We can send him a Christmas card, birthday card, Easter card.  You have to be careful when you deal with child abuse and senior citizen abuse.

Not only do we see a high divorce rate in today’s world, but also we see an attitude of little regard for marriage, — almost as if marriage is ridiculously outmoded and meaningless.

“Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have,” the text says.  We must relish what we have rather than resent what we’re missing.  Strive to live with less rather than desiring more.  Give away out of your abundance rather than accumulate more.  Those are the guidelines Jesus sets for us.  It’s not what the world teaches, but what Jesus teaches, and what we teach in Sunday School.

The final point is that His position is always the same.  Jesus is always God’s Son and our Savior.  He is always the incarnate God, willing and eager to save us from ourselves and from the world.

Because our faith journey is not always the same, His constancy is of paramount importance.  Often our faith falters as we face a mountain to climb, a Red Sea to cross, a dark valley filled with the shades of dark night, or the entangled net of worldliness.  In such moments, how refreshing to know that Jesus Christ’s love for us is always the same.  Jesus is there in all our mood swings, our ups and downs, our peaks and valleys, our pettiness and our meannesses, our dangerous encounters with a world gone awry, astray, cockeyed, to lead us into the peaceful harbor of His presence.

I think the reason most Americans still love Charlie Brown so much is that he strives harder than any of the other kids in the Strip to maintain those Christ-like character traits.  “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”  And we would like to be like him.  Lucy’s little brother Linus says that Lucy is “the crab grass in the lawn of life.”  Charlie is so trusting, — again and again he trusts Lucy to hold the football for him, and yet she always yanks it away at the last minute.  During one of the many times she does this to Charlie, she says to him, “Charlie Brown, your faith in human nature is an inspiration to all young people.”  She may be devious, but she has insight; there still may be hope for her.

On this Rally Day Sunday, my prayer is that each one of our Sunday School teachers will be an inspiration to all young people . . . and to old people, too.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.