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“Measure Twice – Cut Once”

Date: August 27, 2017 Speaker:



“Measure Twice – Cut Once”

Romans 11:33-12:8

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: August 27, 2017

Pastor Mark Wiesenborn

St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas

 

     Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Today’s sermon is based on the Epistle, where Paul makes an appeal to all fellow Christian believers:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

Waiting in line one morning at a traffic light, my gaze fell on the bumper sticker just ten feet away: “My Boss Is a Jewish Carpenter”.

I have seen others like it over the years, but somehow it seems more immediate and more real now that I am serving as the pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Although the Bible identifies both Joseph of Nazareth and his son Jesus as carpenters, it does not say anything about their projects or accomplishments in this vocation.  The Greek word for carpenter [“tek-tone”, Mark 6:3] refers to a skilled craftsman who builds using wood or stone, and possibly also metal.  But Jesus demonstrates the touch of the Master’s hands when He takes each one of us, flawed and damaged though we may be, and transforms us spiritually so that we become acceptable before God.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are “People Under Construction”.  During the next month, we will explore together what it means to have a Jewish carpenter as our Maker and Redeemer.  The sermon messages will follow this theme, as we re-discover the craftsmanship of Jesus who takes us into His strong but gentle hands and builds us up with Christian values, compassion, accountability, commitment, and victory!

 

And so today, we begin with Christian values.  There is an old but reliable saying among carpenters, which goes: “Measure Twice – Cut Once”.  This little piece of wisdom is equally important to anybody who uses a saw, or a scissors, or a knife, or any other cutting tool when something has to be cut down to the right size!  Sooner or later we figure this out by trial and error.  On a good day the mistake is in our favor: we still have enough of the wooden two-by-four or PVC pipe or fabric left over to try again.  And then, there are those “other” days – when everything seems to go wrong – and our good materials are unexpectedly reduced to a pile of worthless scraps.  You might have to start all over, or you might just get discouraged and give up.  What we do in these circumstances is established by our values.

 

And when it comes to our Christian values, we depend on the Word of God.  During my confirmation years I was convinced that our called and ordained pastor knew EVERYTHING.  As you might guess, he was expected to patiently respond to all kinds of questions from the students!

For example: “Hey, Pastor…”

▪   “…when Jesus was a carpenter, did he ever hit his thumb with a hammer? (or)

▪   “…if Jesus built a chair, would it last forever?

 

Of course the pastor would first challenge us to look for answers in the Bible.  Then he would explain that we need to be careful about speculating or making things up that suit our own purposes, where the Bible is silent.  And finally, he would teach us how the information in the Bible comes together in ways that lead us to enlightening and useful discoveries.  This is what it means to have a firm foundation of faith built upon knowing the Word of God!

 

So when we want to understand the Jewish carpenter named Jesus, we have to begin by acknowledging how the Bible declares that He was both fully God and also fully human.  During the roughly three years of His public ministry, the unmistakable power of God was often displayed through miraculous acts.  But when Jesus visited His hometown, those people who had known Him for years took offense and tried to cut down His teaching by saying:

“Isn’t this the carpenter?”  Isn’t this person just like the rest of us?

 

Words like those, especially from people He respected and cared about, must have been painful – but Jesus did not get discouraged and He did not give up.  His response was established by His values!

 

We need to rediscover what this means, because today the term “Christian values” is often used loosely to describe people who appear to be honest and ethical, who claim to raise their children to obey and respect authority, and who might even go to church from time to time.  These are all commendable qualities – but these do not come close enough to the values established for us through Jesus.

 

Our Lord Jesus comes into our lives as that Jewish carpenter, inspecting our spiritual foundations and finding evidence of brokenness and failure.  He might find:

▪   gaping cracks in our relationships with family members and friends;

     ▪   hearts that open only with great difficulty, or not at all; and

▪   sagging spirits as our health, or our finances, or our hope for the future seems to come closer and closer to falling apart.

 

The difficult part about seeking an opinion from an expert is deciding whether you are willing to pay the price to get the job done right.  We live in a culture that encourages self-reliance.  You can spend an hour in a workshop at the local Home Depot hardware store learning some basic pointers about how to paint cabinets or lay ceramic tile, how to install a ceiling fan, or how to build a wooden deck.  But in between getting the job started, and getting it finished, things sometimes go in an unexpected – and perhaps very costly – direction!

 

And when we finally realize that we have gotten in over our heads, the benefit of an expert’s experience and craftsmanship suddenly seems more affordable.  So listen closely to the advice about Christian values from Jesus in our Gospel message:

“…on this rock (meaning Peter’s confession of faith) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

[Matthew 16:18]

 

Peter describes how we are brought into this church by saying: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [1st Peter 2:4-5]  Paul encourages us in a similar way, saying: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

 

My youth confirmation students will tell you that I like to describe FAITH as a process of “people under construction” as we are being built up. More specifically, we use the image of a pyramid made up of three horizontal layers – wide at the base, and narrow at the top.  The bottom layer is the firm foundation of KNOWLEDGE, which comes through diligent and patient study of the Bible.  The middle layer is the reinforced structure of BELIEF, which comes from reflecting on and even questioning what the Word of God says.  Have you ever asked yourself:

▪   Did God really create the world, and everything in it, in six 24-hour days?

▪   Did shepherds and angels really come to see baby Jesus laying in a manger?

▪   Did Jesus really have to suffer and die on the cross for MY sins?

 

The top of the pyramid is smallest, because it is the hardest part – TRUST, where we learn to love God and to be obedient to the things He has commanded.

 

There is a passage in Hebrews chapter 12 which describes God’s relationship with people using two different mountains, which are very much like this pyramid of faith.  They represent two different standards for measuring the people of GodMount Sinai is described as the terrifying place of fire and judgment.  There Moses received God’s Law in the Ten Commandments, inscribed on two tablets of stone by an awesome God whose covenant struck fear into the hearts of the people.  Even the prospect of approaching that mountain was deadly – and so they struggled to comprehend the knowledge that God was revealing.  They did not dare to ask the many questions that would enable them to grow in belief.  And the legacy of God’s people throughout the Old Testament reflects their struggle with trustAnyone who seeks to be measured according to the Law will fall short of God’s expectations.

 

Mount Zion, on the other hand, is described as “the city of the living God” – the place where we find Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant.  While Jesus was living on earth, He was measured according to human expectations for a Messiah and found to be unacceptable.  Taking a hammer and handful of rusty nails, sinful people just like us fastened that Jewish carpenter to some old wooden beams and left Him to die along with several other “worthless” trouble-makers on a small hill outside the city gates of Jerusalem.  But in between getting the job started, and getting it finished, things went in an unexpected but very precious direction!

 

Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, was raised from the dead and seated on a chair that WILL last forever – the throne of His glorious Kingdom in heaven!  From there He offers Himself as the new standard, by which we may be measured again and found to be not only acceptable, but even made perfect in the light of the Cross.  We are transformed through His craftsmanship, so that we become “level and true” by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Our ability to be renewed in faith is made possible because we have Jesus lifting us up at every step along the way!

 

My friends, being People Under Construction means that God is not finished with us yet.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 1:6]  Until then, the Christian church is an ongoing Project of Renewal.  God is building us up to carry the knowledge and love of Christ to hurting people, so that all who hear the Good News might believe and be saved!

 

And our Lord Jesus, the Jewish carpenter, has furnished us with these Christian values to equip us for His noble task:

▪   Growing in knowledge through faithful Bible study;

▪   Growing in belief through spiritual worship and prayers; and

▪   Growing in trust through discipleship and service, using the gifts He gives us.

 

Therefore, may we go forward in the boldness of faith that clearly displays these values established for us through Jesus.  We pray this in His name.  Amen!


EPISTLE LESSON – Romans 11:33-12:8

 

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

 

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

 

4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.



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