Ministries Sunday: Stand in Awe of God’s Wonderful Works, Stand Uncomfortably, and Stand with Christ
Pastor Russell Scoggins
Sermon Date: 7/14/2019
Bible Reference:Ephesians 3:2-12
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
It hardly seems like it, but 2 days from now, will be 6 months. July 8th was the date that St. Lukes, OYC, and New Hope had a new pastor installed. And I don’t know about for you, but for my wife and me, it has been a good 6 months.
By my estimation, it is time to start asking the tough questions. The tough questions are going to make us a bit uncomfortable. And in case you’re not with me—in case you don’t believe it’s time to start asking the tough questions—let me just share a little something with you. I looked up the statistics for the 7 WELS churches here in the Racine/Kenosha area—2 of those 7 being St. Luke’s and New Hope. All 7 of them are in decline. All 7. I don’t mention that to discourage us. I don’t mention that because I want us to start fixating on numbers. I mention it so that we might recognize how important it is that we start asking the tough questions...so that we might recognize how important it is that we start doing some heart and soul searching and evaluation. Rather than looking at the state of our churches in Racine and Kenosha and becoming discouraged by it, we’re going to see the opportunity. We have in front of us an opportunity to reimagine how we do ministry. We have in front of us an opportunity to reimagine what things look like 5 years from now as we figure out how we are going to bring this message of salvation to the communities around us.
Our tough question for today is this: Which kingdom are we focused on first and foremost? The big kingdom—God’s kingdom? Or the kingdom of St. Luke’s—the kingdom of New Hope?
We’ll start today with some questions intended to poke at us a little and make us seriously think about that question: which kingdom are we most invested in? Before I ask these pointed questions… hear me out. Our goal here is not lay out the things that pastor thinks needs to change. Our goal here today is to get all of us to start the conversation. Our goal here today is to get all of us to start thinking about that question: Are we more focused on our little kingdom? Or are we more focused on God’s kingdom?
First question: How attached are we to the name on our building—St. Luke’s….New Hope? If it was for the good of the big kingdom—God’s kingdom, would we be ready to give that name up?
Next question: How attached are we to our church building? If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be willing to give this building up?
How attached are we to our location? (New Hope - 5970 Douglas Ave, Racine, WI / St. Luke’s - 6700 30th Ave, Kenosha, WI) If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be ready to give this location up?
How attached are we to our memories? It’s okay to cherish memories—but fixating on them can be harmful. If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be eager to loosen our grip on the memories of the way that things once were?
How attached are we to our programs and outreach strategies? If it served to advance the big kingdom, would we be willing to give up one of our current outreach efforts? Would we be willing to add a new one?
How attached are we to our preferences? Could we willingly give our preferences up if it serves the good of the big kingdom?
How attached are we to our church culture? Could we willingly change it if it served the good of the big kingdom?
How attached are we to the status quo? If it was for the good of the big kingdom, would we be happy to rethink the norm—rethink the status quo?
Paul was all in—he was all about the big kingdom, God’s kingdom. And we see that in our verses for today. I’m not going to re-read our verses today, I’ll just comment on them. If you’ve got those verses in front of you, you’ll see words and phrases like, administration of God’s grace, mystery, and revelation…. Verses 2-5 are almost a little confusing—It’s almost like, come on Paul, spit it out, what are you talking about? Well in verse 6 he finally says it. This mystery, this revelation he is talking about is this: in Christ, the Gentiles are on the same level as the Jews. In Christ, Salvation had come—and it wasn’t just for the Jews, it was also for the gentiles (all other races who were not of Jewish descent). In verse 8 Paul says that he was chosen for this task of bringing this message of salvation to all nations—not just the Jews. Paul says in these verses that this message—this mystery—of salvation for all nations was previously hidden. And Paul is right. When you look through the Old Testament, this message that God will provide salvation for all nations is somewhat hidden. In the Old Testament, it is very clear—it’s very obvious—that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. It’s very obvious that the Lord would send a savior to rescue his people—the nation of Israel. But the message that this Savior would be for all nations is not quite so clear. However…. It is there. We do find it.
Genesis 22, God promises Abraham that through his offspring all nations on earth would be blessed. Even from early on, God gave his people clues that the coming Savior would be the Savior of all—not just the Savior of Israel. We had another example in our first reading for today. There we had a picture of people from nations all over the world—people who had previously lived in the darkness of sin—coming to praise the Lord and worship him. There’s dozens of other instances in the Old Testament that speak about the day when people from every nation will worship the Lord.
However, as Paul says, this message was indeed hidden. By the time Jesus comes onto the scene, the idea that the Messiah would be for all people was not something that made it into the mainstream way of thinking. It was not something that was readily promoted by the Jewish religious leaders. By the time Jesus comes, what IS promoted? Separation from everyone and everything that wasn’t Jewish. The idea that the nation of Israel is God’s chosen people and everyone else is not, and therefore, we keep them at arm's length.
But God made sure that Paul understood this truth….the truth that salvation is for ALL people, not just the Jews. Do you think that this message that Paul took into the world was a popular message? It wasn’t. Every time Paul would enter a city, where would he go and preach first? He would go to the synagogue—the place where the Jews would go to worship and listen to God’s Word. And more often than not, what would happen? He would get run out of the synagogue. There were a lot of things about Paul’s preaching that was offensive to many Jewish listeners and especially to the Jewish religious leaders. We’ve already mentioned one idea that was offensive… the fact that the Messiah who came was the Savior of the whole world—not just the nation of Israel. That certainly offended some people. In addition, Paul would often lay out how it was God’s people themselves that had actually killed the Messiah when they crucified him on the cross. That was definitely an offensive message.
A lot of times, these “offensive” teachings from Paul got him into trouble. Multiple times he got in trouble with the Jewish leadership. Multiple times they abused him. Multiple times they tried to kill him. So why did he keep preaching? Even after being beaten and almost killed, why would Paul keep preaching this message of salvation for all nations? It’s because Paul’s focus was on getting this message of salvation out into the world. Paul’s focus was on the big kingdom—not the little kingdom.
Paul received opposition on this matter from the religious leaders, and from some of his own. In Galatians chapter 2, Paul had to oppose Peter for this very issue. Peter! Another apostle! Peter was associating and eating with Gentiles, but when a certain group of people showed up, Peter began to hold back. He withdrew from the gentiles and closed himself off in his group of Jews. Others started following his example. Paul sees what’s going on and he calls all of them out right there, publicly.
Was it easy for Paul to let go of all the customs that he had been raised in? No. Was it easy for Paul to go against the grain when it came to his cultures most closely guarded beliefs? No. Was it easy for Paul to give up everything that he formerly held dear? No. But he did it. He did it because his focus was on getting this message of salvation out into all the world around him. He did it, because he was all in when it came to God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom was for all people. Paul set aside every other kingdom for the sake of the gospel. Paul set aside the kingdom of Israel. He set aside the kingdom of Paul. He focused entirely on the big kingdom—God’s kingdom.
One question I have to refresh myself on every year is this: what exactly is Epiphany? In its simplest form, you might say that Epiphany is the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus came not just for the Jews, but he came to save the whole world. That’s why we have the reading from Matthew chapter 2. Wise men from a foreign nation come to worship Jesus. But for today, let me frame the purpose of Epiphany Sunday a little differently. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our Savior. During the Epiphany season, we’re still thinking about the birth of our Savior, but we’re asking the question: So what? What’s the big deal? Why is my life any different now that Jesus has been born?
Today we saw Paul answer that question: So what? Christ is the Savior of all the world. This news is too big, too important for us to let anything stand in the way of sharing it. Christ didn’t just come to save one nation. He same to make payment for the sins of every person from every nation. How can we not tell this story of salvation? Paul wasn’t going to let cultural custom or personal preference or racial division stand in the way of sharing this message. He turned his back on all those things and preached the message of salvation for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Brothers and sisters of St. Luke’s and New Hope. I have every confidence we can do the same. What sacrifices will we make for the sake of taking this gospel message into the world around us? I don’t know. But I have confidence that God will strengthen us to do just that. You’ve already started to do it. It wasn’t ideal to have to share a pastor between 3 ministries—but you were willing to do it. Was it partly out of necessity? Sure. But I also think it’s a move that points to some big kingdom focus. And for the last 6 months, we’ve been making it work. We’ve maybe sacrificed our ideal service time, or we have had to do without pastor for part or all of an event, but they’re things we’re willing to let go of as we focus on God’s kingdom and spreading this message of salvation.
So, I hope you’ll continue the conversation with me on this one. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Don’t be afraid to poke where it hurts. When we start doing those things, growth will start to take place. Forward thinking will happen.
Would you like to make my week? Let me tell you how you can make my week. Think about this tough question we talked about today: Which kingdom are we focused on—God’s kingdom, or our kingdom? And come up with an answer for both sides of that question. Come up with a way that we’re potentially too focused on our kingdom of St. Luke’s or New Hope, but also come up with a way that we are clearly focused on the advancement of the big kingdom—God’s kingdom. Once you’ve done that, either email or text me your answer. My information is on the bulletin. That would make my week.
This message of salvation is big news. I’m excited in this new year to start making some strides, to start asking the tough questions, and to start thinking outside the box so that we can figure out how to get this message of forgiveness to more and more souls. We saw it today from Paul: this message of salvation isn’t just for us. It’s for everyone. Every nation. Every culture. May Christ bless our new year. May he guide our steps as we bring this message to our communities. May he help us answer the tough questions that are going to result in spiritual growth. Amen? Amen.