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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Disciplined for Freedom

            Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Recently, for a variety of reasons, Marie and I have made a commitment to live a healthier lifestyle.  We have made goals for ourselves, and we have big challenges to overcome.  We knew that although we ate healthy, we’d have to be more intentional in what we put in our bodies and how much.  Even though I already had a gym membership, I’d have to take my exercising more seriously and be dedicated to a regular routine.  We have set our minds, and our bodies, to this task and have given up a lot of our freedoms in food selections and free time to serve this cause.
            Today is the second to last Sunday in the Epiphany season.  We have slowly been peeling back the layers to see Christ for who He truly is.  First, we’ve seen it with others.  We’ve seen the Magi travel from distant lands to come and honor a newborn king.  We’ve seen John, baptizing in the wilderness and witnessing to the coming Light.  Then, we’ve seen it with Christ Himself.  We’ve seen Jesus come to the Jordan to be baptized while a dove descended upon Him and a voice boomed from heaven, “This is my beloved Son!”  We’ve seen Christ using His divine foreknowledge and calling together His disciples, declaring that they will become fishers of men.  Last week we saw Christ teaching with an authority of His own and casting out demons from among the people.  Today, we see Christ healing many and continuing to cast out demons as He preaches throughout Galilee.
            The deeper we get into the Epiphany season, we see the Light of the world glowing brighter and brighter.  Christ coming to oppose the darkness that has settled upon the earth.  This is the purpose of Epiphany; that we see Christ revealed to the World, but this purpose is twofold.  First, that we see Christ revealed through Scripture, as each event points more and more at His divinity until, finally, as we will see next week, His transfiguration fully reveals to us His divine identity to us.  Yet Epiphany is also about the revelation of Christ in our world today.  In Epiphany we are given the opportunity to stop and ask, how is Christ being revealed?  How is Christ being revealed to our family and friends?  How is Christ being revealed to our neighbors and co-workers?  How is Christ being revealed to the teenage girl down the street who just had an abortion?  How is Christ being revealed to that teenager at school who is struggling with his homosexual feelings?  How is Christ being revealed to that man sleeping under the overpass?  How is Christ being revealed to that woman who is selling herself on the street corner?
            In our Epistle today, Paul boasts that he is able to preach the gospel freely.  Paul boasts that he is able to become all things to all people so that some may be saved for the sake of the gospel.  Paul was zealous in his mission, desiring to share the gospel with anyone and everyone he could.  He tells us that to the Jews he became a Jew, to those who placed themselves under the old covenant he submitted himself to the covenant, and to those apart from the covenant he became like one apart from the covenant.  Paul understood the freedom and blessing that the gospel gave him, and he made full use of his freedom by becoming a servant to all.  He knew that the only Law he was under was the Law of Christ, and being under grace he could meet people where they were, to share with them the love of Christ and all that He has done for us.  So I’ve got to ask you a question: when was the last time you forsook your pride so that you could be all things to all people?  When was the last time you reached out to that teenage girl and told her that in Christ her sins are forgiven, even abortion?  When was the last time you walked beside that teenager at school and told Him He has been given a new identity in Christ and doesn’t have to be defined by his feelings?  When was the last time you asked that man to come with you to lunch and told him about the treasure he has in Christ.  When was the last time you went to that street corner and told her that she has been bought with the blood of Christ?  When was the last time you became a servant of all so that you might win some?
Paul makes it look so easy.  I’m often convicted when I see the lengths to which he went in order to win people over to Christ.  As for me, I always find myself boiling with rage and having to restrain my tongue and not say what I want to in reply to those who insult me and my faith.  I always find myself looking at someone and thinking, “They’ll never trust in Christ,” or “They won’t understand,” or “They’ll only mock and ridicule me.  So why even bother?”  I continually find myself piling excuse upon excuse of why I don’t have to go out there and do that.  I know it’s not only me; I hear it from you as well.  I hear people say that they aren’t equipped and don’t know what to say, or that they don’t know how to bring it up and don’t have an opportunity.  I know your excuses because they are my own as well.  We’re so afraid of being made to look like a fool or of being rejected that we are unwilling to put ourselves on the line, much less put ourselves in submission to others. 
And we know that our prize does not hang on the line; in the Gospel we are free.  It does not matter one bit to our salvation if we go out into the world spreading the word of Christ or stay at home, comfortable in our recliner.  We know that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, so why would we walk out into a world that is eager to swallow us up?  We know that the doing of God’s Will and the coming of Christ’s kingdom does not depend on us.  We are free to do whatever we want to do, and we’re even free to do nothing.  So why in the world would we go out there, why would we go outside of our comfort zone and get our hands dirty?
Thankfully, Christ did not feel the same way.  We owe our freedom to Him.  God could have rightfully looked at us and said, “Well, they brought it upon themselves.  Let them lay in the bed they made.”  He not willing to be content with that, however.  The Father’s love compelled Him to send His Son, and the Son’s love compelled Him to come down and get His hands dirty.  Christ, the Word of God, God Himself, wrapped Himself in human flesh.  He submitted Himself to the Law like those who were under the Law.  He fulfilled the law perfectly in our place, and He, who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.  Not only did Christ come down to earth to be among sinners, but He Himself became sin so that He could stand in our place and receive our punishment.  He loves us so much that He was willing to go through the pain, the agony, being forsaken by God and literally experiencing Hell on that cross, so that we could be reconciled to the Father.  It was that love that compelled Him, and it’s that same love that compelled Paul, and that same love that compels us.  So, why should we get our hands dirty?
Paul gives us his answer in our Epistle: “I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessing.”  Paul is free to do whatever he wants to do, but in his freedom Paul has chosen to run the race as if there was only one prize, so that he can share with them in its blessing.  He has chosen to discipline his body and exercise self-control so that he himself is not disqualified, so that he can share with them in its blessing.  Paul knows that no matter what He is going to get the prize, his salvation is not on the line, but he also wants to reap the benefits of that blessing here and now.
Marie and I made the decision to live healthier so we could live a higher quality life, so we have sacrificed our freedom in what we put in our bodies and our time so that we can work towards our goals, one of which is to have the energy to keep up and share life with Levi.  When we aren’t disciplined, we lose sight of the goal, of those benefits that we can have now.  In January I saw gym attendance explode to the point where I had to wait in line for a treadmill.  Here, only a month later, over half the people have already disappeared.  They know they are free, but if they do not put in the work and the effort they will not partake in the benefits here and now.  As some of you know, Marie started a new business venture last month, and she is free to run that business however she would like.  If she does nothing there is no penalty, but if she disciplines herself, if she puts in the hard work and makes those phone calls and follow ups she will reap the benefits here and now.  But she disciplines herself because she wants to share with others her love of books and joy in reading.
This is very similar to our lives as Christians.  If we do not discipline ourselves, we will lose out on the benefits here and now, and all we will be reduced to desperately waiting for Christ to return so we can finally live in a state of blessedness.  But we don’t have to wait, for Christ has given His Kingdom to us now.  Today, we experience the eternal blessings by living in Christian fellowship here and now, and the more that are added to our numbers, the more we experience the sweetness of the Gospel in this life.  Paul disciplined himself to receive the benefits of the Gospel by living in Christian love and fellowship here and now.  Remember, when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come” and “Thy Will be done,” we of course know that God’s kingdom and will are established even without us, but we pray that it too might be done in, though, and among us so that we can experience the eternal blessings of God here and now with each other.
In just a few moments, we will experience of those blessings, so now, let us now prepare ourselves to gather around Christ’s table, a foretaste of the feast to come.  Let it strengthen our faith as we cling to that promise.  Let it motivate us and give us the strength and the confidence to go out into the world and proclaim His love to others.  And let it give us the peace and assurance in the Gospel of our own salvation.

And now may that same pace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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