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16th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:19-23, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who has given us our mission in life, dear friends in Christ,

You’re driving down the road and you look down and you see this (show pic of a gas gauge on empty). You’re in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception. What are your thoughts? What’s your reaction? How do you feel? What’s it like to run your car on empty? Anxious? Nervous? Scared? On the verge of a breakdown? Without fuel your car won’t go anywhere and you can be left stranded.  Well, not only do our vehicles need fuel to keep going, our bodies also need fuel to keep going. What happens when you don’t eat? What happens when you miss a meal? What happens when you don’t eat for a day? Generally, if I miss a meal or two, not only do I get hungry, I also get somewhat irritable, cranky, tired, often I’ll develop some sort of a headache. Our bodies need food. Our cars need fuel. Well, in a way, our souls need food and fuel too. The food and fuel for our soul is God’s life giving Word and Sacraments. If our souls are not fed and fueled, they will die.

You and I were born into this world dead in sin and doomed to death in the dungeon of hell. But God did something about that. God sent Jesus to rescue us with His life, death, and resurrection. Then in further grace, God sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to spiritual life, to convince us that what Jesus did is the truth. And when God worked the miracle of faith in your heart, when God convinced you that what Jesus did on the cross, He did for you, when God led you to trust in Jesus as your Savior – maybe at your baptism, maybe sometime later – God could have simply taken you from this life and into life eternal. Being brought to faith in Jesus is what is most important. So, in one sense God’s purpose for you is complete: you’ve been brought to faith, you’ve been made an heir of eternal life. But you’re still here! I’m still here! God hasn’t taken you or me from this life yet! That means God still has a purpose for us.

And it’s a twofold purpose. The first part is summed up in 2 Peter 3, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” That’s part of the purpose for which God has left you in this world: to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. To continue to be fed and fueled by God’s Word and Sacraments. There is no plateauing or coasting as a Christian, either our faith is growing or it’s dying, it’s either getting stronger or getting weaker.

And really, that’s why we exist as a congregation. We exist to assist people in growing up in their salvation, we exist to help you hold firmly to everything that Jesus has instructed us, we exist to continue to provide opportunities for you to mature in your Christian faith.

You see, there’s a big difference between an infant and a mature adult. Perhaps we all know people who’ve never “grown up.” What they often like? They’re needy people, they’re insecure, they’re immature, they do things that are silly and foolish, they’re a rollercoaster of emotions, they’re selfish, they’re childish, etc. This is same when it comes to being a Christian. You can be a Christian baby or you can be a Christian adult.

If you remain a Christian infant, what happens in life? What happens when the waves and storms of life come? There’s a big difference between a small toddler standing in a river and an adult when a large wave comes splashing down the river. Who is going to be better able to stand firm? The mature adult! There’s all kinds of things that happen in life – troubles, hardships, difficulties, medical problems, sicknesses, deaths, tragedies, financial burdens, problems, difficult people – they’re kind of like waves. A Christian adult is much more prepared to weather the storms of life. I once had a call from someone – not a member here – but she was frantic, distraught, scared, because she had found out that her mother was just diagnosed with cancer. At the very same time I knew someone else who was actively in her Bible, actively engaged in her church, who’s close family member was also diagnosed with cancer. The difference between the two was like the difference between an adult and a child. God wants us to continue to grow in our Christian maturity.

And maturity isn’t just about what you know, it also about how you apply what you know in what you do and how you act. God doesn’t just want His truths to be firmly in our minds, He also wants them to be in our hearts. Christian maturity isn’t just about being able to quote the Bible, it’s about knowing God’s Word and applying it in how I act and treat other people. That means, not just knowing that God loves me and God wants me to love others, it means applying that on a day to day basis with the way that I treat my spouse, my children, my parents, my coworkers, my friends, the person in front of me at the grocery store. It means, not just knowing that God wants me to pray to Him, but actively setting aside time to engage God in prayer. It means, not just knowing that God promises to be with me always and work all things out for my good, but actually applying that and looking for the blessings of God in every circumstance.

And that’s why St. Marks is here! We’re here to facilitate the continual growth of faith in Jesus. Conversion happens in an instant and in a moment when God the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to convince us that Jesus is our Savior. But at the same time the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart and begins a life-long process of sanctification. Through the Word and Sacraments God works in each of us a greater and greater desire to hear God’s Word, read it, learn it, take it to heart. Then the Holy Spirit leads us to make changes to our priorities. We begin to see the importance of God and His Word- indeed, the number one importance.

God didn’t have to, but God has chosen to work on us through very specific means. Growing in faith doesn’t really happen from gazing at a sunset, or staring at the clouds, or looking at a beautiful landscape. Those are all nice things, they might lead us to appreciate God’s creation.  But, God has chosen to come to us through very specific means- the means of grace, the tools He has chosen to use to work on our hearts: the Gospel that comes to us both in the Word of God and in the Sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

So, if we want to grow in our faith, to what will we direct our attention? To the Word and the Sacraments! That’s why St. Mark’s exists. We exist to share the gospel by teaching God’s Word and administering the sacraments.

That’s part of your purpose in life: Grow in your faith. And how do you do that? By hearing, reading, studying, learning God’s Word. By recalling your baptism daily. By receiving the Lord’s Supper over and over again. And as you do so, what happens? You learn and appreciate more and more the fact and the reality that you have a God who loves you so much that He sent His own Son to be your Savior, to live a life free from sin in your place, to die on a cross as a full payment for each and every sin that you’ve committed. And the more you know about God’s love, His power, His faithfulness, the more you’ll be able to apply it to your life. When the tragedies and difficulties of life come (and they will) being rooted in God’s Word you’ll have an eternal focus and be able to put things in their proper perspective. You’ll see more and more how God does indeed work all things out for the good of His people. You’ll find more and more ways to give glory to God in every circumstance. You’ll be able to remain firm in your trust in God’s grace and power through thick and through thin, through weal and woe.

In fact, so dear does God want His Word to be to us that we actually crave His Word like newborn babies. If you’ve been to St. Mark’s you’ve heard a baby cry because we have tons of babies here. What a cool thought every time you hear a baby cry because he or she is hungry – that’s how God wants you and me to be about His Word- He wants us to crave His Word. He wants us to fix His words in our minds and hearts, the more we know God’s Word it just becomes part of us. And the blessing? God tells us that as we are into His Word He gives us those fruits of the Spirit – more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Try it. God doesn’t lie! He will give you more of those things as you dig deeply into His Word.

That’s why we’re a church. So that we ALL can continue to grow up in our salvation, grow in our faith, stand firm in our faith and not be carried away by error or temptation.  And then something else happens. As we grow in the Word, as we learn more about God and what God has done for us. As we learn more about the love of Christ that has reconciled us to God, we’re compelled. “Christ’s love compels us.” Compels to do what? To be God’s ambassadors in the world. To blab all over the place the message of reconciliation with God through Christ. What did Jesus direct us to do? “Go and make disciples of all nations.” “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

As Christians God has given us the privilege and honor of being His partners in taking the good news of Jesus to more and more people. You do that by inviting people to church or bible study, you do that by communicating your faith to people, by crediting God with the blessings in your life and in others, by giving someone a message about Jesus when they are down, afraid, lonely, or confused. God has entrusted you with the message of life eternal through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus!

Many years ago a Lutheran pastor once commented something like this, “If you discovered a way to prolong human life for a few more years, oh how people would adore you, respect you, cherish you.” Just think if you discovered a simple universal cure for all forms of cancer or some other disease. How would people react? Wouldn’t people absolutely love you? But think about what message we bring! We bring to people a message not just of prolonging this earthly life a little longer, but a message that affects a person for all eternity!! Can you imagine meeting someone in heaven and that person telling you, “God used you to comfort me when I was done, God used you to bring the message of Jesus to me, God used the church that you supported with your prayers and offerings to lead me to my Savior.” Could anything in life possibly be better than that?

That’s why you’re here! God’s given you incredible purpose for life. God’s given incredible purpose for us as a congregation. As long as you’re still in this life, as long as we’re still a congregation, God wants us to focus on the purpose and mission He’s given us: To continue to grow in our salvation and continue to go with God’s good news taking it to more and more people. And that’s an eternal purpose! Amen.