Sermon for November 27, 2016

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent

November 27, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Romans 13:11-14

Sermon Theme:  “Some Straightening Up Before He Comes Back”

(Sources:  Anderson, Cycle A, Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff’s Series A Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas and examples; Concordia Self-Study Bible “Introduction” to Romans; The Life-Application Bible Footnotes; Believer’s Commentary)

Being a Circuit Counselor (now called “Circuit Visitor”) for a group of churches was never easy, and especially not in Paul’s day.  I am so thankful God never called me to serve as Circuit Visitor.  In my previous sermons, I’ve talked about some of the problems in the various churches which Paul addressed in his letters to those churches.  Some congregations had one problem, and other congregations had just the opposite problem; but almost all of them had trouble with relationships, — disagreements and quarrels, often severe.

When congregational issues got really bad, the Circuit Visitor was often called in to help before things got completely out of control.  Since my wife is organist and music director of our church, I just have to share a joke with you, wherein the music director is obviously not the pastor’s wife, and no doubt represented the thinking of the whole congregation.

In a small church in the Midwest, the music director and the pastor had conflicting viewpoints about everything and were openly feuding.  At one worship service, the Pastor announced the theme of his sermon as “Making Progress through Service.”  The music director chose the hymn, “I Shall Not Be Moved.”

The next Sunday, the Pastor preached on the necessity for generous giving.  The hymn that followed the sermon was “Jesus Paid It All.”  When the sermon theme chosen by the Pastor was “The Sin of Gossip,” the hymn that followed was “I Love to Tell the Story.”

Believing that the conflict between him and the music director could not be resolved because the people were on the director’s side, the Pastor announced at the end of the next service he was considering resigning.  The song that followed was “Why Not Tonight.”

The very next worship service, his last, the Pastor formally announced his resignation, explaining that Jesus had called him to a different ministry.  The hymn was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

The quarreling and jealousies within churches look silly to others, and are doubly foolish when compared with salvation in Christ.  Our sermon text for today addresses the issue of how we should live realizing that Christ’s Return could come at any time, — we don’t know the day or hour.

There were quarrels and disagreements both at Thessalonica and in the congregation at Rome, though each congregation had a major problem that was the opposite of the other church’s problem.

Paul wrote the letter to the congregation at Rome while he was in Corinth on his Third Missionary Journey.  The Roman congregation consisted mostly of Gentiles (non-Jews), but there were also a number of Jews who belonged.  Rome was a decadent city, almost a cesspool of immorality, and the Roman government severely persecuted all Christians.  Living in such a city, a Christian who lived openly as a Christian suffered repression and persecution.  There was always the danger, which was spiritually worse than persecution, of becoming more and more like the decadent people around you.  It was just too tempting to join them.

When Paul wrote both letters to the Thessalonians, in 51 A.D., he was addressing a very different problem from that of his Christian brothers and sisters in Rome in 57 A.D.

Several Sundays ago, you remember I preached on Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians, in which he criticized the false teachers in the congregation who were teaching that Christ’s return was coming immediately, the End of Times was now, — so give up your jobs and just wait for the glory.  In his letter to the Romans, he is faced with a different problem.  Unlike those at Thessalonica, the Roman Christians apparently weren’t worried at all about the Lord’s return, — He’s not coming any day soon, and look at all the fun the heathens in Rome are having!

Paul tells them in his letter it’s time to wake up from your sleep, because you don’t know the time, the hour when the Lord returns.  “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” Paul writes.  “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.”   The Thessalonians thought Christ was coming tomorrow, whereas the Romans didn’t seem to worry about when He was coming.

Maybe 21st Century Christians are a little too much like the Romans.  For Advent worship, many contemporary Christians went from Purple to Blue, from an emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ at the End of Times to an emphasis on the First Coming to Bethlehem.  It’s more fun to celebrate the coming of the pure and holy little Baby Jesus than to consider a glorified Christ who comes to judge us.  Advent should consider and celebrate both.

Well, Paul is telling the Romans they need to wake up and straighten up, Christ returns as a thief in the night at a day and time we can’t know, so be prepared.

Apparently the Christian congregants in Rome were getting too worldly, like the pagans in the city.  Paul writes, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”  That’s worse than what some of the Thessalonians had been doing by giving up their jobs and just sitting around waiting for the End.  But neither attitude is good.

In that list of sins which Paul enumerates, orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, and quarreling and jealousy, many folks feel that quarreling and jealousy are not as serious as the other two sins, orgies and drunkenness and sexual immorality and sensuality.  But to God, sin is sin.  Jesus even said that you commit murder when you hate your brother.   Jealousy can lead to stealing or hating or even killing.  And quarreling can lead to hating and killing.  And they are sins in themselves in that they violate the command to love one another as God loves us.

Paul concludes our text by saying, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

This letter, and Paul’s other letters, helped to guide and strengthen all the congregations in the Circuit, — there is good evidence that these letters were passed on from one congregation to the other and read by all.  We have them in published form now.

So what does this section of Paul’s letter to the Romans mean to us, today, in the 21st Century?

According to Jeffery L. Sheler in U.S. News and World Report, Christians are acting more and more like the rest of society.  Non-Christians, instead of being  significantly influenced to be more Christ-like by Christians, or even to be repulsed by Christians, whose values they hate, are, instead, strongly influencing the values and thoughts of Christians.

Christians today are much more tolerant of immoral behavior than most people think, they are more concerned about their families than about politics, they are more concerned about fitting in than about upholding their Christian values, and they worry about the future, their jobs, and the economy as much, or more, as non-Christians.

In the past, Christians have tended to isolate themselves from society by creating their own schools and colleges, music, books, movies, and magazines to maintain their values.  However, because of their commitment to spreading the gospel, they have moved out of that restricted realm and moved into society.

Although many Christians today, according to the U.S. News and World Report, strive to maintain their values (while living within society), only 34 percent of them view “declining morals” as a top priority, and only 72 percent are worried about their children’s values.  Only two-thirds of all Christians say that abortion should be illegal.  Only 2/3’s are concerned about upholding the institution of marriage.  That’s not a whole lot different from the rest of the world.

Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe believes that American culture is such a powerful force that it will eventually change religion.  In referring to some churches whose priority is to attract people and fill the collection plates, he says, “You take the crosses off the church; you put a McDonald’s franchise in the lobby, and you don’t even know you are in a church.  The net result is that the faithful now are remarkably like everyone else.”

I hope he is wrong, but he could be right if we Christians don’t wake up.  God’s Word is very clear in challenging Christians to be different from the world.  We are to make no provision for sin.  We are to be children of the light in a world that is living in darkness.  We’ve got some straightening up to do before Jesus comes back.  Amen.

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