Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon Sept 15-16, 2012



Title: God uses for good what we use for evil to build His kingdom!

Text: James 3:5-8


So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.


On a warm summer day in April of 1988 a young man of 40, standing in the office of his studio in the Hollywood Hills, noticed from the window of that office, two teenage boys running after a German shepherd dog. Not wanting the dog to enter the office through the door that had been left partially opened to allow a breeze to come in, Larry moved to close the door. As he reached the door, he looked up coming face to face with a young man of about 15 years old who rather than speak pulled from behind his back a 357 magnum handgun and proceeded in one motion to point it at Larry shooting him in the neck from about 12 feet away.


The young man fled on foot leaving to bleed on the floor Larry Carlton, famous jazz guitarist and musician with at the time 10 solo albums as well as numerous other recordings to his credit. Miraculously he didn't die or even lose consciousness and even though he temporarily lost all use of his left hand and couldn't play guitar at all, through the Lord’s great blessing, his faith in God, wonderful doctors, tremendous physical therapy and the care of a loving wife, he recovered well enough to perform again only 10 months after, as he called it, the incident.

I was there in 1989 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre to see his much anticipated return to the concert stage. After walking out to thunderous applause an eerie hush fell over the crowd. You could almost hear a pin drop. Larry walked to the mike and with a voice still raspy and recovering from the gunshot wound – and working with his only one remaining vocal cord – he asked a simple question.  “Are there any guitarists in the audience?” A sea of hands went up … to which Larry, looking at and scanning the audience replied … “Ah, it’s nice to be judged.”

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

James makes this statement in our epistle today reminding us that:

God uses for good what we use for evil to build His kingdom!

This pastoral letter was written to calm the habit of some of the mostly Jewish congregations who were permitting almost any man to speak during worship, pointing to the greater judgment that will fall upon those who are called to preach and rightly divide God’s word to his people. A humbling task to say the least!

Within these congregations there had been some who were obviously very self-righteous, that James calls - a perfect man - having complete self control in all he says and does even comparing this control to the bridle in the mouth of a horse or the steering of a large ship with a tiny rudder.

For the pastor, preaching and teaching correct doctrine is essential and to not do so would be to tamper with God’s divine Word itself, making a mockery of it and rendering it of little or no value!

James calls the tongue a fire and if you’re like me you’ve been burned by it and probably caused others harm with it. At least if you’re honest or you’ve been in an Elder’s or Voter’s Meeting you know what I mean.

James continues:
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
James is pretty clear: In our sinful nature we will follow the ways of the world, the flesh and the Devil. Boasting of ourselves and even belittling those who we perceive and judge to be less pure in doctrine, confession and practice and at times judging motives we can’t really know by actions we think we understand.

And it’s not just pastors who will be judged and are controlled by the fire of the tongue. But, all members of the body of Christ who worship the true God use the tongue to bless our Lord and Father, and with it we also curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing (and James tells us) my brothers, these things ought not to be so.

1988, was not a good year for me or so I thought. Just 5 days prior to the shooting of Larry Carlton, my mother died of cancer. The wellspring of emotions could have caused a great fire of curses to flow from my tongue, drawn from the pit of hell to curse my mother’s passing. But that which the Devil intended to cause despair in me God intended for good. So in the quiet of my basement, I prayed the only prayer I knew, the Lord’s Prayer and I asked the Lord to comfort me at this time of grief and to draw me closer to Him and His word.

Maybe you have a transformation stories too? Where God took you in your brokenness and through suffering and set you up giving you the strength to endure, in Him. He brought me through this convoluted path that led from the Roman Catholic Church, through a small non denominational church to St. John in Rochester with Pastor Ronald Moritz and finally here to Peace. I even made a seminary visit 10 years ago hoping to see the Lord’s confirmation on my hope to serve him in pastoral ministry but because of my lack of a college degree, I was not eligible for acceptance at that time and resigned myself with joy to continue  to serve the Lord however He would choose to use me.  I remember the words of my wife said to me for the purpose of comfort after our seminary visit:

“Russ, If the Lord wants you to be a pastor, He’ll figure a way for you to do it … and maybe even keep us in our church!”

… Fat chance of that happening, I thought … “That’s not how it works Honey.” I said.

But, the Lord has his own plans and while in my sinfulness and stubbornness, I still think I would have rather done it my way going to the seminary 10 years ago. God had his own plan. You see He took a person Hell bent on worshiping the wood of an idol shaped in the form of a guitar and He pointed me to the wood of the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Pastor Merrell and I sat at dinner one Wednesday evening here at church three years ago, he asked me, “Russ, could you see me after class?” He had been teaching confirmation and I was leading an adult bible study through 1st Corinthians.

Just after class ended the chairman of the Board of Elders said to me, “Did Pastor tell you he wants to see you after class?” I’m starting feel a bit uneasy and just then Officer P.J. Osika, one of the members of our church, walks in and says, “Pastor around, he wanted to see me?” Now I’m thinking, “He’s got the Elders and the Cops after me! Have I been teaching false doctrine?”

No … just circumstance. Pastor brought the notion of the SMP program to me and asked if I would prayerfully consider entering it and serving here at Peace. As I thought about it I keep thinking … that’s not how it works …

27 But Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
(Luke 18:27) So, I prayed and accepted the opportunity.

Now three years since that meeting and in anticipation of my Theological Interview in a few weeks when Pastor and I return to Fort Wayne, I’m reminded of who God calls to proclaim His truth. Certainly all of His children need to tell the Good News where and when they can but specifically His called and ordained servants of the word, His pastors, do so publicly and are a diverse and unique lot called from many backgrounds and skill sets.

I called my friend Paul shortly after meeting with Pastor Merrell to get his wisdom and council. “We’ve been friends since 1st grade. I said Paul, can you see me as a Pastor in God’s church?” To which he replied … “Well, if God can use uneducated fisherman, a man who persecuted the church and boastful arrogant “Sons of Thunder” I guess He can use you!” Comfort from a friend.

God in His wisdom has called each one of us to the truth of His gospel. By faith He causes us to believe and confess this truth by our mouth drawing from the sweetness of the well of forgiveness instead of from the pit of the well of despair.

Martin Luther made this clear in his writings and theology, that we remain both a Saint by faith and a sinner by nature. This truth is reflected in the tongue that we and other Christians use in both Christ like and carnal ways.

But our Lord and savior Jesus came to calm the hearts of his children. Taking the weight of sin upon Himself bringing forth faith in His finished work by the power of the Holy Spirit and through that same Spirit conforming the tongue of fire and spite from our mouth into a tongue of Hope and blessing for His kingdom.

God uses for good what we use for evil to build His kingdom!

Just like me your past has shaped you into who you are … but God has shaped you and called you into who you are in Christ. Despite the failings and brokenness of life whether by the fire of the tongue or as in Larry Carlton’s case by the fire of a bullet from a gun, God has given you the blessed Good News that in Christ you have the forgiveness of sins – the favor of God on account of Christ - and in Him God is well pleased and in you the favored one of God dwells bringing forth the tongue of blessing and comfort for the children of light.

May the blessed robes of His righteousness, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with each one you now and forever!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit! 
Amen

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