The Lutheran Hour: August 18, 2013

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Sermon Text for August 11, 2013

 "Remain and Reign" #80-50
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 18, 2013
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
(Mary, Martha - Can A Good Thing Still Be 'Bad'?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Hebrews 12:1-3

Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. And all who believe in Him live eternally, persevering lives, now and forever! Amen!

Anyone who has run a marathon knows it's a very long race. I know because a few friends and I ran one together several years ago. Twenty-six miles, it was quite an experience, not only the day of the race, but all the training it took to get us there. Here's what we learned, sometimes the hard way! To run such a race well, it takes a lot of endurance. To have that endurance, it requires a very disciplined approach to training. To train well, there needs to be a proper balance of exercise, nutrition, and rest. All of that goes into an athlete's training to move forward for 26 miles. And, if you want to do that at peak performance, well, I don't even want to tell you the training, discipline, and perseverance needed for that!

But, at its most basic level, a run is about keeping moving, about pushing forward. In our marathon, I remember that feeling at mile 21 or 22 that I shouldn't stop because if I did, I didn't think my legs would ever start up again! At that point, the most important thing to remember was to persevere, to keep moving to the end. To get from point 'A' to point 'B', to get from start to finish, you need to move, to push forward. Racing sounds a lot like life, doesn't it? Life is really like a journey - a long race. And, like with a race, life can be wearisome and full of elation all at the same time. But one thing that is required through it all, endurance, perseverance.

I think that's why the author of Hebrews encourages us to run with endurance the most important race of all, the race that is set before us by God, to live our life in Christ and with gusto each and every day! We're challenged to remain, to reign, and:
To run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

To run effectively, successfully the race of life the Bible encourages us to endure, to persevere. But, the root of that word for endurance and perseverance literally means to remain or be under something. Remain? That sounds rather static, it sounds like you're standing still. Who runs a race like that, who runs with that attitude?

I used to be the pastor of Church For All Nations in New York City as well as the director of Life's Journey Ministries there. We used to host people from all around the country who came into the city to serve with us, to share Christ with New York, and yes have a little New York City fun, too. One of our most important rules for all activities, especially when stepping out on the town, was remain with the group! That's right, if you really wanted to experience New York and have the best memories of your visit, you had to stay put with us. Now, that wasn't static at all. We did all kinds of things. We went to Broadway shows, we went to Ellis Island, we went to Yankee games, as well as serving the poor in the Bowery, helping kids in Harlem, and sharing the Gospel in Central Park, all remaining within the group. When the writer of Hebrews says, "Remain," he's telling us to "Remain in our place of grace" by fixing our eyes on the face of grace - Jesus Christ even as we run our race of grace with gusto.

But, that's not always easy, is it? There are challenges to remaining in that grace, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. There are things that weigh us down and knock us off course. Think about when you first started running to get in shape. How did that extra weight feel? Well, I can tell you what that feeling is like because I'm training right now to run a half-marathon with people right here in St. Louis, on October 6, 2013. I remember those first few weeks of training...they were tough. If you're a little overweight, or out of shape, or even just getting a little older, it just makes running more difficult, right? When I started, it felt like I was dragging a bowling ball around with me.

There are weights in running that weigh you down, but even worse, there are weights in life which can take us down! The burden of guilt can weigh heavily upon us. Perhaps there is something in your past which is weighing you down right now. Perhaps you're struggling with some things right now that are overwhelming you, sapping you of your spiritual strength and energy. They feel like a huge weight on your chest, an enormous heaviness in your heart.

Well, hear God's Word to you and to me today! Guilt is the antithesis of grace. God is not ultimately in the business of making us feel guilty; He's in the business of, literally, overcoming the real guilt of our sin so that we can live! The weights of sin and guilt, we've got to let them go, to set them aside. But, our text reminds us, that because of Jesus Christ, incredibly we get to let them go and we can set them aside! Why, because Christ's life, death, and resurrection, that's God's eternal weight reduction plan, guaranteed to take the weight of guilt and sin off and keep it off.

But even here, even here we're often tempted to just add another weight that we can't carry. Another challenge to remaining is the natural inclination to run on our own - to try to get right with God by our best efforts, to run our race on our terms with our strength alone. Well, not only is guilt and sin too heavy a weight to carry, but just running, let alone finishing the race demanded by God's holiness and righteousness on His perfect terms; that's a weight no sinful human being can carry. That's why the Hebrew writer tells us "fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder, the author, the pioneer, and the perfecter of our faith."

When it comes to our spiritual lives, our relationship with God, no human salvation plan or religious diet can give us the life that we so desperately need. We needed a Savior, we need One who could smash through the walls that separated us from the God who created and redeemed us, and One who could remove the eternal weight of sin and death that prevents us from even leaving the starting blocks of the most important race of our lives.

Fix your eyes on Jesus. Why, because He's that Savior, because only He could endure the cross, despising its shame, and take His seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Just think about that for a minute, really, really think about it. Do you really understand what Jesus, the Christ, has done for you and me? Think about what He was willing to do, willing to suffer so that you and I might live. Just think about Him for a minute. He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life for you and me. Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water for us. He was weary, yet He is our rest. He paid tribute to the king, yet He is the King. He was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons. He wept, yet He wipes away our tears. Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world with His precious blood. Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is our Good Shepherd. Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.

Christ died on the cross on Good Friday. There He not only took the weight of our sins, but He became the weight of our sins. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God."

So fix your eyes on Him. When He is the One who starts your life of faith, when He is the One in whom you trust above all things, He'll finish it. Fix your eyes on Him. Trust in Him. That's how we get in the race and remain in the race by God's grace. When we run as His sons and daughters with the weight of sin and guilt removed because of Jesus, when we run in His grace, remaining in Him, following Him as His disciples; now we can endure. Now we can persevere!

But your attitude about the race is really important too. I've heard it said that a person's performance has to do with training and preparation, that's true. But a person's performance also has a lot to do with their confidence, confidence that you can make it, confidence that you can face the obstacles that might come your way on any given day. Confidence is a huge component of running a good race.

And that's why reigning in that grace as well as remaining in that grace is so vital as well. When Jesus "endured the Cross, scorned it's shame and sat down at the throne of God," the Hebrew writer is saying that what He has done, the victory He has accomplished, means that Christ's reign is your reign by faith; the eternal certainty of His offer of life by grace through faith will live and reign to all eternity in the lives of those who put their trust in Him.

The race, your race, my race, is finished with victory assured.

So, we get to run now with that reigning attitude of victory, of obstacles overcome, of strength to finish what God Himself has started in us! How incredibly freeing this is; running a race that has already been run for us. Winning a race that has already been won for us. So, reign, remain, and run your race of grace. How? By faith.

What an incredible gift that God gives to us right now. Right now, wherever you are in your race of grace, your life of faith; you have the promise, the assurance of real victory because of Christ. It's not to make you or me arrogant but to give us confidence, that no matter what obstacles we face today, no matter the struggles, the One who has won the victory for us says those things they are temporary, they are already overcome. Run as one who reigns!

Run, trusting in the One who authors your life of grace and will bring your life of faith in Him to a glorious completion; listen to the promises He makes to you as you run. James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." The crown of life. That sounds like victory! Remain and reign and "Run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus."

So, my friend, do you want to remain and reign and live in the power of your destiny now? Then dig into God's Word.

God even gives us the tools to remain, to endure to the finish of the race of grace. When you're running in a race, some of the most important parts of that run are the water stations. Those are the places where you take the water, the drink, even the liquid food that will help you finish strong. Forget those water stations and even the finest runners won't run well or might not even finish at all. Well, that's what the church is about. It's God's water station of grace; a place where His life-giving Word can be heard, where His means of grace can be received, where we actually get connected to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. You don't have to go looking for Him. He is already here waiting for you through His Word.

Do you want to remain and reign, to run your race of grace with gusto? Then read, really ponder in your heart, meditate on God's Word. It will take you right to the cross. It will constantly take you right to the place where your race was done and won.

And remember another water station of God's grace for your run, your baptism. There you were placed in the race of grace, washed clean in the Name of God, and clothed with Christ's righteousness. There you received the promise of the victor's crown as well as the gift of the power of Christ's resurrection to live life now.

And don't ever forget that God is gathering His victorious runners together, even now, so that they might encourage one another, pray for each other. Don't forget that water station of grace for your race. Come, be a part of God's people, His church, gathered and strengthened by His grace and mercy, hearing and sharing His Word, receiving His meal of grace, the Lord's Supper, given by Jesus Himself for your forgiveness and strength. I can't think of a better training meal. For there, at His table, we receive the finished race of the cross time after time after time. Remain and reign, and run with gusto the race of grace that God has prepared for you.

When I ran my marathon, I must admit that I chose it because I knew that it didn't have too many obstacles. It was at Long Beach, California and much of the race was run by the ocean. Now when you run by the ocean, not only is that vista beautiful and inspiring, but the course is pretty flat. We didn't have any hills really until the end. But, you and I know that not all races are like that. Some races are like Clarence Jordan's.

Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture, the other in Greek and Hebrew. He was so gifted that he could have chosen to do anything he wanted; but he chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, the idea did not go over very well in the Deep South of the 1940s. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried boycotting him and slashing the workers' tires when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen years, they tried to stop him. That's a tough race to run.

Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him once for all. They came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on the Koinonia Farm but Clarence's home, which they riddled with bullets. They chased off all the families but one black family refused to leave. Clarence recognized the voices of the Klansmen, some were church people. One Klansman was a local newspaper reporter. The next day, that reporter came to see what remained of the farm. The rubble was smoldering, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.

"I heard the awful news," he called to Clarence, "and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing." Clarence just kept hoeing and planting. The reporter kept poking trying to get the quietly determined man to get angry. Instead of packing it in Clarence was planting. Finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, "Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you've got fourteen years into this farm and there's nothing left of it all. Just how successful do you think you've been?"

Clarence stopped hoeing and he turned to the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and he said quietly but firmly, "About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don't think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We're staying. Good day."

That's running the race of grace in action for others. Remaining in Christ, reigning in Christ, running with victory already in mind, able to face the world's obstacles and overcome them. Some races are full of hills and rugged terrain. Some have lots of fans rooting you on, others do not. I'm not sure what race you've been given to run, but the same Lord promises to be your strength and supply right to the finish line and beyond!

With a cloud of witnesses testifying to us of God's faithfulness in all things God Himself invites you and me today, to remain in Him, to reign with Him, and to run with gusto the race of grace that we've been given to run. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith and trusting in Him in all that He is and has done for you. Begin living in the power of your destiny by faith in Christ, right now. Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 18, 2013
Topic: Mary, Martha - Can A Good Thing Still Be 'Bad'?

ANNOUNCER: We are back with Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, story of Mary and Martha, a question comes up all the time. What was so wrong about what Martha did? She prepared dinner for Jesus and His disciples. Wasn't that a good thing?

SELTZ: Yeah, that's a great question, Mark. It can be confusing. Really, there wasn't anything wrong with what Martha did. Showing hospitality is a good thing. However, it seems she became over-occupied with the tasks at hand that she became disconnected from the object of her kindness - namely Jesus. That's the beginning of her problems.

ANNOUNCER: And then, why did Jesus say Mary chose what was better - the good portion?

SELTZ: Well, because she didn't let anything deter her from humbly sitting at the feet of Christ, observing and absorbing the Good News of His teaching. You, see, the presence and preaching of Jesus precedes and causes truly good works. He is the source. So, being connected to Christ by faith is paramount to all God-pleasing behavior.

ANNOUNCER: Does that mean people who don't know Jesus can't do good works?

SELTZ: Now, we've got to be clear here. It depends on how you're looking at what a good work is. Certainly people can act in such ways that benefit others and themselves. Even as sinners, we have some capacity to grasp and act upon what the Ten Commandments say is good, even if a person doesn't know Jesus. But remember, God doesn't just judge the action; He sees and judges the heart, even our motivations!

ANNOUNCER: Good works, then, are ultimately judged by the One who is ultimately good, namely God Himself. I suppose that's why faith in Jesus is so vital when it comes to performing good works.

SELTZ: Exactly, it's the heart of the matter. Good works, from God's perspective, can only be done by One who is already good and perfect. And Jesus is the only Person who is righteous, perfect in every way. He is the only Person who has done all things well. But, He's not merely our Example, He's our Savior. And that's the Good News of the Bible; that His life was lived as a gift for the whole world, a world that was incapable of good words. Anything, even works that look good from the outside, that cause us to be disconnected from Jesus; well, that's not a good work at all.

ANNOUNCER: Faith in Jesus, then, is receiving His righteousness, His goodness as a gift of God's grace.

SELTZ: Right, and because of His holy life in our place and sacrificial death for our sins, we all, the whole world, has been declared righteous with His righteousness. And His Goodness, if you will, covers our sins as well as our imperfect good works. Faith connects us to Christ's work on the cross. His work becomes the source, then, and motivation for truly good works from God's point of view.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Mary just sat there. How can that be good?

SELTZ: Well, I don't think she just sat there forever! Remember, this story is not a comparison between inactive listening and hospitality. Works, without faith in Jesus are dead; but, faith in Jesus without works is dead too. With faith there is always good works. One theologian said that faith and good works are like two blades of a scissors - to which I add, "One blade just won't cut it!"

ANNOUNCER: That's a good picture. Are there benefits to doing good works?

SELTZ: Well, there are some benefits for doing them, like a good conscience or the favor of others. But even such blessings are not the motivation for good works. The presence and the promise of Jesus, that's what motivates and moves believers.

ANNOUNCER: What if you're unsure that you're doing good with the right attitude?

SELTZ: I would just suggest modeling Mary. Assume the position. Sit at the feet of Jesus, listen to Him say again and again that you are a dearly loved child of God by His grace. If you are struggling with an attitude of gratitude, perhaps like Martha, just approach the presence and promise of Christ in prayer, in worship, and in candid conversations with other Christians. Or, maybe find a person like Mary, someone who is filled with such gratitude. It can be contagious.

ANNOUNCER: How would you sum this up?

SELTZ: Especially in all these things focus on Jesus, what He has done for you. In fact, Jesus invites us to cast our burdens, our anxieties on Him. In Him, we are now free, not obligated, but really free to do good things for other people.

ANNOUNCER: Very good. So first we sit at the feet of Jesus and receive His Word and His teaching, then we get up and get to work with joy and thanksgiving for others.

SELTZ: That's right.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Come, Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus" by Kenneth Kosche. From Triumphant Lamb by the Kammerchor (© 1966 Concordia University-Wisconsin) Concordia Publishing House

"Fight the Good Fight" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)


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