“Choose Christ”

Ephesians 2:1-10 / John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

At first glance at our lessons for today, one would wonder why any pastor would pick anything to speak on other than the Gospel lesson in John 3. I mean, Verse 16 is the Gospel lesson in one verse….and it’s Lent. What could be better? And to that I say your right. John 3 is an excellent source from which a sermon can originate, especially during Lent. But that is surely not the only section of Scripture that speaks of God’s infinite grace, love, mercy and peace. In fact, the committee who picked out our Bible verses today did an excellent job of finding sources that fit the season. I only say committee, because it was a bunch of Lutherans and that’s just what we do.

Our New Testament reading in Ephesians is such a section and its one of my very favorite parts of Scripture. In it we find a beautiful explanation of our utter lostness and following salvation through Jesus Christ. In it we find the paradox of works verses faith. And finally, it explains God’s infinite grace and mercy in a way that gives supreme hope to every believer. Let’s take this one step at a time.

First we’ll start with an illustration: There were two brothers, well known around town for their crooked business dealings and underworld connections.

They were as mean and cold-blooded as you could imagine. One day one of the brothers died, and the surviving brother wanted to give his dead brother a funeral fit for a king. He called the funeral home and made all the arrangements, then he called the town’s pastor and made him an offer, as they say, he couldn’t refuse. He said, “I’ll give you $10,000 to put that new roof on the church if, in eulogizing my brother, you call him a saint.” The minister agreed.

The whole town turned out for the funeral, and the pastor began: “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a degenerate and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers and lives of countless people in this city, many of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten thing you can think of. But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

We laugh because the pastor is talking at the expense of two known sinners. But, as vile and ugly as their lives were, at least they didn’t hide their sinfulness. It was out there in blinking neon for all to see.

The joke gets less humorous when we fit ourselves into the story. It’s much less amusing when we see where our own sin has taken us, many times in the secret lives we lead. Before Christ, Paul is telling his readers in Ephesus that they were once dead in their sins because they chose to live their lives as people of the world and not people of God.

Without Christ they were walking in the path of unrighteousness led by the devil himself. They cared more for worldly things and lived their lives as disobedient children whose father is darkness. Their thoughts were of things of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, children of wrath like all the others who claim they are in no need of a Savior.

In every life, there are things on this list that bring us discomfort. We look back on times when we were much more worldly then God has called us to be. We harken back to memories, some of them recent, when we cared more for the desires of the flesh than we did our desires to follow Christ. We remember our disobedience, our cavalier attitude towards our faith in God. We have to admit that we have been too often children of wrath and not children of a loving Lord. We laugh at the jokes of sinners getting their just desserts but we stay silent in our own secret world of sin, playing the part of a Christian but living our lives as children of the night.

In our sins we are doomed to everlasting despair, separated from God and lost to destruction. In our sins we have no hope and our only path leads to eternal damnation. In our sins, we cling to anger and deceit. We hold on to grudges and forsake forgiveness.

In our sins the only everlasting life we have to look forward to is one with eternal suffering, understanding what could have been but knowing there is no hope left to achieve it.

In our sin we are simply people of the world content with living our lives grasping at anything of the world that might bring us an instant of comfort. We look for God unaware and try to find Him in things of  human frailty. Maybe money will satisfy this yearning in my heart. Maybe this drug will placate this desire within me. Maybe sex will help me to fill the void in my soul. In our sin we remain lost, always searching for an answer that only the one true God can give.

Even as Christians, we try to manipulate God into becoming the kind of God who will look past our sins. We seek to form Him into our own image so that the desires of the flesh might get past His ever watchful eyes. We work and work to try to please Him but our faith lingers in worldly sludge. “If only he would look past my sins and see all the great deeds I’ve done,” we say as we satisfy our desires on the screen of our desktop computers or try to drown our sorrows with one last drink of gin. We are all people born into sin with no hope but the hope that comes from Christ.

Because, you see, God answered our search for salvation with the death of His only Son.

He responded to our sinfulness the only way a God of infinite grace, mercy, love and peace could, He paid the price we couldn’t pay. His infinite grace overwhelmed our sinfulness by giving us something we had no hope to earn on our own. In His infinite mercy, he held back the penalty we all deserve. With His infinite love for us, He sacrificed the one He held most dear so that we could live lives free from sin and death. And with His infinite peace He has soothed our troubled hearts. All this out of infinite wisdom that knew that love always finds a way.

Ephesians 2:5 says that, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”

Even within grasp of our most deserved death and damnation, God made it possible for us to live again through the death and resurrection of His Son. Once we were destined for an eternal grave but now we have the promise of being raised up with Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly places. And all this because of God’s immeasurable grace, mercy, love and peace.  Romans 5:8, “…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for us, even though we deserved nothing but worldly hate and everlasting despair.

My favorite two words in this section of scripture are actually the first two in verse 4, But God.” How many of us understand what God has done for us well enough that it literally changes our lives? How many of us try to understand just what an amazing gift Jesus Christ really is? We were once doomed to destruction, but God has paved a way to everlasting life in paradise for those who believe. We were lost in sin, but God provided the victory over sin by placing that sin upon His only Son so that we could put on His Son’s righteousness. We once had no hope, But God through His grace gave us infinite hope in better things to come. He could have condemned us forever, but God loved us enough to give His only Son that we might understand true freedom.

Instead of forsaken we have been chosen as worthy. Instead of living our lives as orphans with no promise, God has adopted us has as His own to live with Him forever in everlasting love. Instead of rejection, God has excepted us, even as we are. Instead of forever living lives under His wrath and damnation, we have been forgiven just in the asking. Instead of paying the price we should have paid, we have been redeemed through the blood of Christ. And all this out of divine grace, mercy, love and peace.

Where do you find yourself this morning? Can you count yourself as one redeemed or are you still searching for a god of your own design?

Are you living secret lives of sin, or have you surrendered to the one who can eliminate that sin and offer you true salvation in return? Are you here this morning hoping that your good works will help God to overlook your sinfulness or have you confessed those sins understanding your gift of complete forgiveness.

In our sins we are lost nomads looking under every rock for the satisfaction we seek, not knowing that only God can fill that void in our heart. In our sin, we are forever condemned to live lives of eternal desolation, hoping worldly Gods will suffice.

But in Christ, our hope is renewed and we look forward to life everlasting free from death, pain, sorrow and despair. In Christ we have a renewed spirit eager to face the day knowing we never have to face it alone. In Christ, we have salvation as a byproduct of our faith, from every evil force who wants to steal our very souls.

My advice, and Paul’s to the Ephesians, choose a life in Christ, rich in mercy, infinite in love, abounding in hope and covered in peace. Amen.



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