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Sermon for Pentecost 17, Sept 11

 “The Power of the Gospel to Save”


Heavenly Host, 2016                                             Series: The Power of the Gospel

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

I’m starting something today that I’ve never done before in ministry, a message series.  I know that in other churches pastors use message series or teaching series as a way of connecting one message to another and trying to tackle some of the teachings of the faith that really are too big to be covered in 14 minutes on a single Sunday.  Today television programs do this throughout a season with longer story arcs resolved over the course of the season as well as a smaller story being told and resolved in a single episode.  So, I thought, why not try to do a message series?  And it occurred to me because I was looking ahead at the Epistle readings for today and the next three Sundays and I realized that because they all came from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, they had a central theme that I thought I might use to link these four Sundays together.  I’ve never done that before and it might be fun and it might connect with you a little differently too.  The theme then for these next for Sundays as drawn from First Timothy is the Power of the Gospel.  Today our theme is “the Power of the Gospel to Save,” next week I’ll be speaking to the theme of the Power of the Gospel to Order our Lives, you get the idea.  So, it’s all about the power of the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul, in this first letter to pastor Timothy in Ephesus is really addressing two major ideas.  The first is that the Gospel should transform the whole life of the Christian.  That is, the outward signs of faith express a living reality that comes from the deepest part of one’s person.  If a message can transform a person in this way, it has to be a singularly powerful message.  And the second major idea in this letter is that, having been transformed inside and out by the power of the Gospel, each Christian, and especially each teacher of the church, should know how to build up the community of faith in mutual love and support rather than, with the wrong sort of teaching and behavior, tear it apart.  So the message of the Gospel is not just a transforming power for individuals but for groups of people, not just those people who believe the Gospel, but the Gospel even has the power to transform and build up groups of people who don’t believe.  God is so gracious that even unbelievers benefit from their Christian neighbors living out of the power of the Gospel.  How about that?

So, the Gospel sounds pretty amazing.  It has the power to change individuals inside and out and even communities, even communities with unbelievers mixed in.  So let’s make sure that we know precisely what this powerful message of transformation is.  Let’s start with a few mentions of what the Gospel message is not.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is not the Gospel.  It’s a great moral teaching, and probably the most universal, but it’s not the Gospel.  “God helps them that help themselves.”  “God is watching us, from a distance.”  “Visualize World Peace.”  “Racial equality.”  “End poverty.”  “Homosexuality is wrong.”  “Coexist”  “You just gotta believe.”  Even, “Love one another.”  All of those messages are not the Gospel.  There may be a healthy measure of truth in them but they are not the Gospel message Jesus came into the world to proclaim.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  That’s the Gospel.  And the clear message of the Scriptures, certainly the message Paul is communicating to young pastor Timothy is that that Gospel message has the power to change the very worst of us and if the Gospel can change the very worst of us, then it can transform the very worst in us too.

The Gospel is a singular truth.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  It is a way of life, a source of genuine love, a good conscience, and sincere faith.  And Paul the apostle uses his own life as a test case for the power of the Gospel to transform even the worst of the worst.  Most Christians know that before Paul was converted to the truth of the Gospel, he was a extremist for the nation of Israel.  Zealous for the God he thought he knew, he actively persecuted followers of Jesus of Nazareth seeking to arrest them and bring them to trials before courts of the Jewish religious leaders.  Paul is seen in Acts, chapter 7 presiding over the execution of Stephen.  And we see Paul, then known as Saul, on his way to Damascus to arrest more followers of the way when the Lord Jesus speaks to him from heaven and acts to convert and save him and later to appoint him to service in the kingdom of God.  Saul, the worst of the worst, a sworn enemy of God’s people, a sworn enemy of the Lord Jesus, a sworn enemy of God even if in ignorance, God chose and poured into him the grace of our Lord to overflowing for him with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but this gives me great comfort.  Now I wouldn’t consider myself foremost of the persecutors of the people of God like Paul did, but I’m aware that the things I’ve done are enough to separate me from the love of God and separate me from the kind of life together with others that God means for me to have.  I’m aware that even when I am at my best, I am a mixture of faith and doubts, good deeds and misdemeanors, and mixed motivations.  And that’s at my best.  The good news being that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  That’s the Good News.  The Gospel message works in us these outward signs of faith, like genuine love, a good conscience, and sincere faith.  These express the living reality that comes from the deepest parts of our selves where Christ dwells in us.  That’s the message of the Gospel for each of us, for all of us.  And that message, that the Gospel is for all of us is a message that not just we need to hear for ourselves or for the sake of our children, but the whole world needs to hear this message about Jesus coming into the world to save sinners.

It’s hard for me to believe, but today is the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC.  All week on the radio, I listened to people tell their stories of where they were and how they were affected by the events of that day.  I would venture not a single one of us isn’t at least indirectly affected by those events, to say nothing of those whose lives were permanently marked by the events that day.  The loss and the abrupt changes in our society caused by 9/11 may well last for decades more if not centuries into the future.  This is a nation that still needs to hear the message of the Gospel of Jesus.

And globally, we are at a crossroads.  In the contest of ideas and faiths Christians will have to know and rest securely in the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ against the competing truth claims of Islam and the claims of no existence of truth from the secularists.  It’s a challenging time to be a Christian, nothing but our very best will do.  This is the nature of living out of the Good News God has given to the world in Jesus Christ.  There is a source for a good conscience in this world.  There is a source of sincere faith that works itself out in love for others, not hatred and killing.  Does the Gospel have the power to convert even our greatest enemies today?  I believe it does.  If the power of the message of the sacrifice of the Son of One True God could convert the heart of a murderous terrorist like Saul, it has the power to save all those who align themselves against God today, the radical terrorist, the blasphemers, the rude secular antagonists of Christianity, and the rest of the sinners of the world, like me.

That’s the power of the Gospel.  Next week, we’ll look at how this Gospel message dynamically shapes and brings order to our lives, for our own sakes and for the sake of others.  But that’s next week.  Today, let’s just rejoice that Christ Jesus came into the word to save sinners.  That’s the power of the Gospel.  That’s Good News for us all.  Amen.

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