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ST. STEPHEN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH

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Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 for the First Sunday in Advent, November 30 & December 3, 2017

  1. I was a terrible student. Sometimes I tried to absorb what was going on in class and then just wing it on a test, or other times, I would just go along in the class for the ride, and then panic or cram at test time. Neither of those is good preparation. What does it mean to be prepared? Well, preparation is something you can’t really do at the last minute. Jesus’ parable of the ten bridesmaids teaches us that. You have to keep your lamps burning with extra oil in case the bridegroom is late. It’ll be hard to buy oil at midnight—Jesus point there was that you can’t get faith at the last minute. The Christian life is just that—life, and a way of life, devoted to the Word about Christ and growing in it. A phrase from Romans that Luther loved was “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). We often emphasize faith is what is accounted to us as righteousness, yes. But also, we live by faith. We live and act with the righteousness that God has given to us.
  2. Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, and was writing about being prepared—prepared to live a life of faith and prepared for the day Christ calls us out of this world—at the end of our lives or at the end of the world. The church in Corinth has many problems—and because Paul was setting out to prepare them in faith, he would have a hard task ahead of him. The church in Corinth was divided. They were divided because they played favorites with their preachers: not just “Paul is our favorite” or “Peter is our favorite,” but it was an unfriendly rivalry. “Our guy is great. Your guy is rotten, and you’re rotten if you follow him. You’re a lesser Christian or not as strong in faith if you follow your guy.” And then they were divided more—some thought they had special spiritual gifts. Some thought they had the gift of prophecy. Some thought they had the gift of speaking in tongues, languages they hadn’t learned, like the Spirit gave on Pentecost. It’s good to have gifts. It’s bad to despise those who don’t have the same gifts as you. It’s bad to despise those you don’t think are gifted. And then they were divided again—much like divisions we see among Christians today. Some thought “We’re progressive and in touch with our culture. See how accepting we are.” And they were accepting of sin. How would Paul even begin prepare people in faith when they have divisions like that?
  3. He does it by taking the focus off the divisions, off of the people, off of their favorite subjects that divided them. He begins the way we often begin sermons: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” He doesn’t say, “What a bunch of bums you are! Can’t you ever shape up?” No. He puts the focus on God, on our faithful God. “Grace to you and peace from God.” They were lacking in grace and peace. And in case they missed it, he says it again: “I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus.” The focus is not on the Corinthians—troubled Corinthians. The focus is not on their divisions—many divisions and many problems. “I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus.” The focus is on God and his love, his grace that is theirs because of Christ Jesus. The focus was not on who they were or what they were doing. It was on what God was making them—his own dear children, and what God was giving them—grace, undeserved love, the purest of pure love.

I. He Enriches Us,

  1. Some of the Corinthians were proud of their spiritual gifts. So Paul tells them about the real gifts—the most important gifts. “You were enriched in [Christ] in every way, in all your speaking and in all your knowledge, because the testimony about Christ was established in you.” He focuses them on Christ—he’s lovingly drawing their attention away from their arguments, “Look at us! We follow the right guy!” and “Look at us! We have special gifts!” He tells them, “Look at you! You have been enriched in Christ! The good things you say and the good things you know you all got from him.”
  2. How do you feel when you receive a gift? Sometimes you open it and you say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted one of these!” Sometimes you open it and maybe you groan, “Oh, one of these things!” Sometimes, if it is a good gift, an exceptional gift, perhaps an expensive gift, you open it and say, “Oh my. I don’t deserve this! Wow!” The gift humbles you. That’s what Paul is doing by telling the Corinthians, “God has enriched you.” They were proud of themselves and their abilities or their own little groups. Paul says, “Let this be your pride. Boast in Christ.”
  3. Among us, and sadly, in our churches we find things to be proud of. One person might say, “My family was one of the founding families of this church!” Another might say “I’ve taught Sunday school for twenty years!” Another might say “I donated that new window.” Those are all fine things. We want people to establish new churches, teach Sunday school and donate windows and other things. These are all good—but none are anywhere near as good as the gifts God has given. It is Christ and his work alone that has brought us into his Holy Christian Church and communion of saints. That is what has made us Christian people. That is what has given us value in God’s kingdom.

II. He Prepares Us.

  1. The first “R” of Advent is Readiness, or as we have it on our banners, Prepare. Paul is thinking of Advent, even though it wasn’t a season that was celebrated at the time. He was thinking about Christ’s second coming. Being prepared for Christ’s coming is his goal and his goal for the Corinthians. It should be our goal, too. Jesus told us “No one knows about that day or our… Watch! Be alert and pray, because you do not know when the time will come.” Even though Jesus tells us “Watch! Be alert and pray,” Paul tells us how we become prepared. “You do not lack any gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also keep you strong until the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has blessed us with his gifts. He will keep us strong to the end.
  2. The old Sunday school song says “We are weak but he is strong.”[1] Scripture tells us that we are dead in sin. On our own, we can’t prepare ourselves—God himself prepares us. He puts his Word in our hearts. Sometimes it seems he leads us to go places and do things we thought we never could do. That’s because he is working in us. Our broken human nature can resist the work God wants to do in us. He keeps working on us. He began his work in us. He wants to finish it. We need to get out of his way—keep listening, keep praying, keep alert as we look at the world around us—and let him prepare us.

III. He Has Called Us.

  1. One self-help book says “begin with the end in mind.” [2] Paul ends where I think most of us would start. “God is faithful, who called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” “[God] called you.” He ends with the beginning in mind because he is thinking about God’s faithfulness. Faithfulness means constancy. When we’re talking about God’s faithfulness, we have to also remember his nature—eternal and unchanging and abounding in steadfast love. Calling, election and predestination are a great mystery to us. Why would God choose any broken, sinful human being? It’s because of his grace. Because of his faithful love. He chose us to be his own because that’s what he promised to do.
  2. God called you at the beginning of your life of faith, whether it was with the water and Spirit of Baptism or whether it was from hearing the Word. For some of us the call was renewed when we went through some hard experience that got our attention and drove us back to him. God who is faithful called you at the beginning will be faithful to the end. He will strengthen. He will preserve. He will move you and me. Open your hearts. Follow where he leads. Listen to his call. God is faithful. There is nothing uncertain about him.

Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! 4I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus. 5You were enriched in him in every way, in all your speaking and all your knowledge, 6because the testimony about Christ was established in you. 7As a result you do not lack any gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also keep you strong until the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, who called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. (EHV)

 

[1] Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.

[2] Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

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