Growing In Faith: The Divine Service
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Delivered By
Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Delivered On
January 10, 2016

Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Baptism of Our Lord, January 10, 2016
Ephesians 4:15-16, Luke 3:21-22
Series: Growing up in Every Way

Growing in Faith: The Divine Service

            Last week we began a new spiritual focus that we are calling “Growing up in Every Way.”  The phrase is taken from Ephesians 4:15-16 which says, “Speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

            So as a church, as the local gathering of God’s people, as the Body of Christ, we want to remain strong in the truth, and be bound together in love, and GROW.  Over the next three years, as you may have heard, we will be focusing specifically on how together we can Grow in Faith, Grow in Service, and Grow in Generosity, according to our Lord’s bidding with a growth that comes from God.

            Last week Pastor Chris gave us an excellent overview not just of this particular spiritual focus, but also of the metaphor of growing in general.  One thing he challenged us with is to consider the question, “Why not grow?”  Whether you are talking about a tree or a person, growing is good!  But, especially if you are talking about a person, growing can be difficult.  With growth comes responsibility, duty, sacrifice.  And many of us adults reminisce about our care-free childhood days when we didn’t have bills, or quite the level of stress, or back-bending work.

            But God’s Will is that we are built up together in the very love of Christ, into a full maturity (if you will), the full strength and stature of the Body of Christ.  – That’s Paul’s metaphor in Ephesians 4.

            Today we start looking especially at how we can Grow in Faith.  If you look at the title that I put at the top of the bulletin, I called today “Growing in Faith: Word and Sacrament.”  I should have called it “Growing in Faith: the Divine Service” because we are going to be talking specifically today about the Divine Service, that is, our corporate worship service.  But Actually Word and Sacrament is not bad title, just a bit broad.  But it is through Word and Sacrament that God has promised to be at work!  Look, how can you know if you are in a right standing before God?  How can you know if you are growing?  How can you know if God is really pleased with you or not?  How can you know if you are living life as you ought?

            You could try to invent all sorts of ways to please God, or appease his wrath, or assuage your guilt, or make amends with the universe.  But in the end, you don’t know how God feels about you…unless God Himself tells you!  And he does in his Word.  His good and true Law shows you the terrible nature of your sin, and the punishment you justly deserve.  But his Gospel releases you of your guilt and damnation because of the cross of Christ, and enlivens you to live a new life.  Then you return to the Law of God to see what his will is for your life, and you follow his commandments.  And you fall short and return to the Gospel for the forgiveness you need and the strength to live a renewed life, and on and on the Christian life goes until our perfection is complete in the glory of heaven.

            Word, and the Word made visible in sacramental form—this is how God promises to be at work in your life.  And really, throughout the rest of January you will hear from us very practical applications that will touch on matters of corporate (group) Bible study, individual devotional time, a prayer life, and so on.

            But today, we are learning to grow in faith by participating in the Divine Service.  This is the Divine Service, what we are doing here at church right now.  Sometimes we call it “going to church” or “going to worship.”  (I’ve even heard someone once say they were going to “get their worship on”…and I think I know what that means!)  But what we are doing here is best labeled the Divine Service.  It comes from the German word Gottesdienst, which is literally “God’s service.”  When we come to worship, we may think we are coming to sing or to pray or to give offerings or to better ourselves, and all those things happen.  But they are secondary.  The primary action in the Divine Service is that God is delivering his mercy, his grace, his love upon us.  Then secondarily, we respond.

            Let me ask you…Have you seen what Salvador Perez would do after a big win?  You saw what he did, right?  What would jolly ol’ Salvi do?  Yeah, that’s right!  He would take a big cooler of Gatorade or water or whatever and he would WHOOSH!—dump it right on top of the star of the game, most likely interrupting the TV interview.

            When you are here in the Divine Service—with the many reminders that you are baptized child of God “In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit”, the many proclamations that God is faithful and just to forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, the many reminders that our incarnate Christ has come to usher in peace on earth and glory in the highest and bring God’s favor to men, the many renewals of God’s promises to be with you and help you and strengthen you, the delivering even of Holy Communion to you that you might be nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ, who was offered up on the cross and raised again so that he can NOT die again—when you are here in the Divine Service, God is running up to you with an overflowing bucket of mercy for your need, grace for your sin, strength for your weakness, and life to overcome your death, and WHOOSH!!

            Simply put, if you want to Grow, then go to church.  If you want to grow in faith, then be in the Divine Service.  I don’t care if the preacher is boring or long winded, or if the music is bad or the Sanctuary is too cold, or there’s a kid crying in the back of the church or you are distracted by the person in front of you picking at their ears.  None of that reduces what God is doing in the divine service.  And if we leave feeling like we got nothing out of church, that’s not God’s problem, that’s our problem.  Because here there has been God’s life-giving word, God’s faith-renewing sacraments, and the very presence of God, for Jesus Christ, the Valiant one who trampled down the evil hordes of the Devil, has promised that he is present here, right here, even if there are only 2 or 3 gathered, right here in Lee’s Summit, right here in this little church on this big globe, right here in the midst of us.

            I’ve heard people say, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”  And I suppose theoretically on some level, that’s true.  But why would you want to do that?  Why not grow?!

            Let me tie in our reading from Luke 3 a bit so you can better appreciate your baptism, a gift that is renewed in the Divine Service.  In Luke 3, the sinless Son of God, the Holy Messiah, steps onto the bank of the Jordan River.  He has no need to repent.  He needs no forgiveness.  As the eternal Son of God he has always existed in perfect love with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  There is no reason for him to get his feet dirty on the muddy bank or his clothes wet with the murky water of the Jordan.  No reason for himself, but in love he has a reason to do it for us.  He stands there to take the place of sinful Israel, God’s people who fell from glory.  He stands there also for all the Gentiles lost in unbelief and sin, but who would soon also belong to him. He stands there for us all, and he humbles himself to receive a sinner’s baptism so that he could take on our sin, and bear our curse, and carry it all the way to the cross.

            In the waters of his own Baptism, Jesus instituted all water to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.  So, when people are baptized, the Word of God joined with the water unites us with Jesus Christ.  We die to sin.  We are raised to walk in newness of life.  We are in Christ.  Your baptismal waters (which you can recall everyday with the sign of the cross and prayer of thanks) joined you to Jesus Christ in his baptism, so when the Father speaks “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” you can know and be sure without a doubt that the Father is speaking about you.  Earlier I asked, how can you know how God regards you?  Here’s how you know: here is his promise!  You are my beloved.  With you I am well pleased!  The promise is renewed here in the Divine Service!  It is recalled in your daily life. 

            And we can know that he doesn’t just say this about you, but he says it about us!  You see, if we are going to grow in faith as God desires, grow together as the Body of Christ, we must remember that this isn’t just about “me and God.”  This is about “us and God.”  In other words, when you go home today, it is only the first half of the response to say, “Yes, yes, I want to keep my new year’s resolution and keep going to church!”  The other half is to remember that God desires it not just of you, but of us.

            Hebrews 10(:24-25) “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  If we want to grow together, we go to church together.

            So, who isn’t here?  And why?  The Third Commandment and Luther’s explanation: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  How are you doing?  As individuals, as a family, how are you doing?  And secondly, you should also be concerned about how others are doing.  So, who isn’t here; who isn’t coming?  And why?

            Certainly there are people who are unchurched.  They don’t go!  We try to reach them with our Church ministries, and each of us also with our Christian lives.  We invite.  We encourage.  We demonstrate with our lives of love and good works that there is value in it.  We want to reach them.

            And certainly there are people who are members here who don’t come.  (That happens at every Church).  Why don’t they come?

Who needs a loving correction because they have wrong priorities?  Who needs an encouraging invitation because they just got out of the habit?  Who is grieving and doesn’t come because they can’t make it through church without weeping?  Who is not well and needs a visit?  Who needs a reminder that we have a Saturday service because they work on Sundays?  Who isn’t here and why?  There are many different reasons.  If we love them, we will notice, and we will give the appropriate response (whatever each situation demands), because we want them to grow, and we want to grow together.

            So here’s a question: Whose responsibility is it to reach them?  Certainly it’s mine!  And Pastor Chris’, and DCE Korey’s, and the Board of Elders.  But there are many, many members here, and frankly, it’s hard to contact all of them.  Even in this age of a million forms of communication, it’s hard to give the face-to-face love and concern it will take to bring people back.  Whose responsibility is it to reach them?  It’s not just church workers and elders.  It’s all of our responsibility.  Maybe you’ll notice someone missing that we don’t.  Maybe you know how to contact them when we don’t.  Maybe your connection, your bond is stronger than ours and you have the best opportunity to get those people to church.

            So here’s a two-fold challenge as we desire to Grow in Faith together.  1) Take that responsibility for your brother, for your sister, to invite them, to encourage them, to correct them humbly if necessary, to sit with them if necessary, pick them up if necessary, to do what it takes as an act of love for this person that God want to forgive and strengthen and grow.  So, 1) Take that responsibility for yourself.  Own it. Follow through.  And 2) (and this one needs to happen first, but I wanted to emphasize it at the end)—Get to know those in the Divine Service with you.  With you they are the Body of Christ.  They are growing with you.  And how can you notice if they’re absent if you don’t know their names or who they are or what they are going through?  I know this is an uncomfortable step for some of you.  I was there with you.  Many of you probably remember my first few socially awkward years here.  It was a skill I had to learn.  Get to know them and genuinely love them.  And I know that God will be at work in you as you get to know one another, love one another and do as Scripture says: encourage one another and continue meeting together in the Divine Service.

            So, why not grow together?  Why not receive grace from God in the Divine Service together?  Why not be drenched in with God’s big bucket of mercy—WHOOSH!—that causes us to “Grow in Faith!”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.