A portrait of Our Savior

Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Brownstown, Indiana for the last Sunday of the church year:

God’s Word for us this last Sunday of the church year paints a picture of Jesus.  Each scripture reading adds a different note to the canvas so that we get an overview of our Lord as both the Lord of our lives, Lord of the church and king over all of creation.  Our Epistle lesson from 1Colossians serves as the heart and center of this canvas- celebrating how Jesus is First born over all creation- and helping us to see that in Christ, all things hold together.

As the painting begins to take shape with our reading from Malachi, we get a glimpse of a background picture of God’s people.  The picture is different than we might expect. The reading describes how God’s people are unfaithful in their worship to God.  Some people are cheating God out of proper tithes and offerings. And others are questioning God.

What’s more those who scorn God’s Word even appear to prosper. “Your words have been hard against me says the Lord. “But you say, how have we spoken against you? You have said it is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper, but they put God to the test and they escape.”

Yet Jesus is not far off. The Lord does hear his people.  Verse 17 “They shall be mine , says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” The picture of Jesus is one who is faithful, even if we are unfaithful.

Psalm 46 further defines the painting of Jesus as Lord of all.  God is our refuge and strength a very present help in time of trouble. As the Psalm describes scenes of disaster and calamity, it is not exactly the evidence we expect to know that Jesus is with us.

Yet the Psalm insists that Jesus is our refuge in the midst of the most terrible dangers and threats imaginable.  He is not a God who is too small to deliver us in times of trouble.  Some people want to paint a picture of Jesus as someone who simply isn’t powerful enough to help in all circumstances.

As in when life brings suffering that is hard to accept, then you won’t feel forsaken by God if you believe God is not able to help in the first place.  This is a perspective of a God that suffers along with us because he is imperfect and limited like us. This portrait of Jesus became popular in the aftermath of the holocaust and other tragedies associated with WWII.  People felt they could not believe in a God who is able to prevent such unspeakable injustices and suffering and did not.  SO instead they believe in a Jesus who is small and incapable of helping with the biggest needs of life.

But Psalm 46 makes no such allusions to the smallness of God.  No amount of our own suffering or hard luck on this side of eternity justifies our painting a picture of Jesus that is different than what the scripture teaches.

In our gospel lesson the picture of Jesus is refined in a way that redefines everything else the scripture shows us about Him.  On the cross we see a picture of the suffering servant.  His bloodied wounds declare him as king in an unexpected way.  The cross takes the center prominence over anything else the scripture tells us about God. The essence of the portrait of Jesus is his suffering for our sake.  This suffering brings with it the power to save us.

From this position of emptying himself of everything, Jesus offers to the thief on the cross the promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”   Here the picture of Jesus jumps off the page to be more than just what we look at from a certain distance and appreciate or admire.  With the picture of Jesus on the cross in Luke chapter 23 we can see that we are included in the painting. The suffering of Jesus is about us. It is about what Jesus does for us.

We are invited into dialogue with Jesus just like the thief on the cross, we ask Jesus: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  The other thief on the cross had given up and could not imagine how Jesus could have helped him. We are called in faith to ask for Jesus to deliver us, knowing our redemption is right around the corner.

Finally we have the epistle reading from Colossians that provides a picture of Jesus with broad strokes that portray the Lordship of Jesus over all creation.  This section of scripture is thought to part of a hymn in which the early church recited to refute false teachings that saw Jesus as only a prophet or one of many heavenly beings to worship.

In verse 15 we hear that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  The painting of Jesus we have established this morning is also a painting of God. The glory of our crucified Savior is the very image of the Father.  Jesus is also described as the first born over all creation. Verse 16 clarifies that the Son of God has existed before all of creation, and was the one who created all things.

This confession of faith in Colossians also stresses how Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together.  Jesus is before all things, as in his death on the cross is the meaning and reason for everything in this world since the fall into sin. And all things hold together in Jesus because he alone brings together the scattered nature of the world caused by the Fall.

Jesus holds together those who have lived in the past of countless times and places and us today.  On the last day Jesus will raise all of God’s people from past and present- holding all of time together.

With this image of Jesus holding all things together, our picture of Jesus is complete.  How do we respond to this picture of Jesus as our Savior?  What does it mean for us that Jesus holds our very lives together.

Think about how scattered our lives would feel if we were to lose sight of Jesus as the one who holds our lives together.

We can be pulled in so many different directions in life. Work or school environments bring certain expectations for what type of people we should be, often enticing us to pursue and value wealth and material success above all else.  Without Jesus we could lose sight of who we are in order to fit in.

Friends and even family can pull us to live a certain way. Without Jesus we can lose sight of who God has established us to be.   In Christ we can live our lives with a consistency of purpose and identity that no false idols or empty promises can draw us away.  We only need look to the picture of Jesus God’s Word gives us, and we have a picture of who we should be in our own lives.

This picture of Jesus as our Lord who holds our lives together informs every decision we make- including how we live together as the body of Christ here at St. Peters.  When you give your time and abilities here at St. Peter’s it is not because people expect you to do so, or out of obligation, but in thanksgiving that Jesus holds everything together.

You have experienced a change from one pastor to another, and this change is not a cause for discouragement, because Jesus holds St. Peter together. Regardless of who the pastor is, Jesus is always the chief shepherd of St. Peter’s.  Year after year we find in our church the constant presence of Jesus, holding our lives together.

This stability is something you can build on in confidence. If you question whether you are still willing and able to serve within the church when the next year rolls around, you can rest assured that Jesus will bless your commitment. If you question whether you should give as much for your weekly offering because of less full time staff here than previously, then you are looking at giving to the church in the wrong way.

We don’t give merely to cover minimum operating expenses and to meet budgets. I understand from glimpsing at the bulletin figures that giving is actually even below what was projected to meet the budget. Instead God calls us to give in a manner that reflects our thanksgiving for all of the blessings of life in Christ that we have received.

We should think of our giving in terms of putting our faith into action.  Our weekly tithe is our opportunity to prove to ourselves that Jesus is before all things in our lives and holds all things together in our lives- including our yearly budget.

We want to see our congregation mirror and reflect that portrait of Jesus we have been meditating on this morning.  We will see a reflection of Jesus when we see ourselves not only caring for each other in our congregation, but also investing in how we as the church can be a blessing to the world.

We are at the end of the church year. Thanks be to God for the work of God’s Word in our lives and in our church in this last year. Amen.

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