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“What Works for God, Works In Me”

Date: September 3, 2017 Speaker:

“What Works for God, Works In Me”

Romans 12:9-21

 Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 3, 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.  Last Sunday (before we cancelled worship services due to Hurricane Harvey causing massive flooding across southeast Texas) I had planned to begin a sermon series on what it means to be People Under Construction. (These sermons will soon be available on the St. Matthew website.) Paul has encouraged each and every one of us to “be transformed by the renewal of your minds”, and I intended to share some thoughts about how lifelong growth in our knowledge, belief, and trust in God shapes and renews our Christian values.  Today I will be talking about a renewal of Christian compassion, as Paul teaches in Romans chapter 12:


Let your love be genuine.” [Romans 12:9]


Dear friends in Christ, I can confidently say that nearly all of you are familiar with the expression “That works for me!”  Most of us have even spoken these words to indicate our agreement with what someone else is saying; perhaps to offer our support for some activity a group of friends or neighbors or coworkers is preparing to enjoy together.  It tells others that they can not only count you in, but that they can also count on you to help out when and where you could be needed.


Yet as you already know, there is a similar but opposite expression: “That DOESN’T work for me!”  The local weatherman predicts unprecedented rainfall ranging from thirty to fifty inches, expected to accumulate over just a few days. Suddenly it’s upon us and all around us, as we watch the curbs overflow until water is lapping at our doors. Government officials inform us that rivers and bayous are about to exceed historic flood stages, with the result that dams and levees are at risk of catastrophic failure. At 8 am certain areas of town are told they are under a voluntary evacuation notice, then at 8 pm the order suddenly becomes mandatory. Utility services to your home are lost, leaving you with no electricity, water, or telephone. Major roadways are closed without warning when they become impassable. Take what you can carry and try, as best as you can, to flag down someone in a boat to take your family to higher ground. A few inches of water in your home destroys treasured possessions along with flooring and sheetrock, even though the FEMA flood hazard maps led you to believe you did not need insurance for rising water. If you can find your car, it is a total loss.


So who would criticize those who say, “That DOESN’T work for me!” It can be expressed in a positive way, taking the form of concerned disagreement; or in more negative ways, such as stiff-necked resistance and even outspoken angry refusal – “count me out, and don’t count on me”. Look a little closer and it isn’t hard to see that people are hurting and scared, even traumatized. This is how we process loss and grieving, with anger and denial coming before acceptance. Even if your home and possessions came through undamaged, we ALL have friends who were less fortunate. We are ALL broken-hearted by the experiences of this past week. We ALL have stories to share, and if you look carefully you will find evidence of God’s compassion and faithfulness at the center, over and over again!


The question of what works for each of us (and what doesn’t) seems to be the dilemma we face as Paul moves from encouraging us, to challenging us to put our Christian faith into action in ways that involve loving and serving others. YES, this sometimes requires making sacrifices of our time and our abilities and even our resources!  Let me ask how some of these challenges have been working for you:


▪   [vs. 10] “Love one another with brotherly affection.”

▪   [vs. 14] “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

▪   [vs. 18] “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with ALL.”

▪   [vs. 19] “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.”


Maybe these challenges sound more reasonable here in church on Sunday mornings, than they do when we are dealing with difficult people in everyday situations.  Some days you may find yourself believing (or even saying out loud): “That DOESN’T work for me!”  And when Paul follows his challenges with what seems to be guidance for heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head, we might at times even smile and think to ourselves: “Now THAT is what works for me!


Paul is teaching us that the genuine love God has placed within our hearts gives us an alternative to the dangerous, self-centered emotions that so easily tempt us:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with GOOD.

[vs. 21]


The painful reality is that our sinful thoughts, words, and actions provide more than enough evidence to show that each of us is caught up in the ongoing battle between doing GOOD versus EVIL.  The great spiritual danger that faces each person who would be conformed to this world is of being overcome by evil.  But for all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we have the promise that He has overcome the power of sin and temptation by His Crucifixion and Resurrection.  And through the love and the leading of the Holy Spirit, He has invited us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  So let’s take advantage of these quiet moments of reflection, worshiping God and seeking His strength, mercy, and peace to govern and guide our lives in showing genuine love for others.  For example:


▪   Over the past few years, members of St. Matthew have supported wonderful mission projects like Cows for Kenya to help farmers start a family dairy business; Water to Thrive, completing two water wells in poor communities in Ethiopia so that children can be in school rather than gathering muddy water from ponds; and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative where we learned how something as simple as providing insecticide-treated mosquito netting to hang over childrens’ beds is directly saving many lives in Africa.  Yet there is so much more to be done in the mission field.  Now is the time “to rejoice with them in hope, to be patient in tribulation, and to be constant in prayer”. [vs. 12]


▪   This week Hurricane Harvey has come crashing onto the Gulf Coast, taking about three dozen lives and causing widespread flooding and devastation.  All of us who experienced Hurricane Ike a few years ago remember and understand the heartache and the difficult process of recovery, and so in the months to come we will have the opportunity to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”. [vs. 15] We can do all things, through God who strengthens us!


▪   And in spite of the threats of terrorism and strained diplomatic relationships, our gracious Lord and King is still in control of ALL things. As Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:44-45] In order to for us thrive as a Christian nation, we must learn to “repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. [vs. 17]


If there was ever a time to discern the good and perfect will of God, then NOW is that time.  And my friends, I believe that we have to begin by making an honest and open acknowledgement: What works for God, also works IN me!  In the same way that we “labor in our vocations” to obtain not only the physical necessities of life but also the things we desire, we have also been called to “labor in the Lord” knowing that His work through us is not in vain [1st Cor. 15:58].  We have each been blessed by God, to be a blessing to others by becoming living sacrifices.


Yet people tend to back away when they hear the word SACRIFICE.  In many cultures that word is connected to experiences that involve suffering and some kind of loss.  Think about the high school and college football players who are expected to “tough it out” during hours of conditioning drills and wind sprints for several weeks every summer before they are even allowed to enjoy the competition of their first scrimmage.  Maybe you are better able to relate to working parents who come home exhausted every night, only to begin the tag-team routine of cooking dinner and spending quality time with the kids before they are tucked into their beds.


How about the sacrifice a caregiver makes when their disabled spouse or their handicapped child can never be left unattended?  Or when the physical therapist keeps pushing you to work harder or continue longer in spite of excruciating pain?  When nobody notices or cares about your job, or your health, or your life?  When family and friends have forgotten or abandoned you – and you feel all alone?


We cannot begin to understand the sacrifices that some people make every single day, as they climb out of bed only to face another day trapped in what may at times feel like some kind personal hell.  Yet by faith they are not overcome!  So listen again to what Paul says: “By the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”  Genuine love is patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Genuine love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And genuine love never ends.

[1st Corinthians 13:4-8]


I believe that as the many members of ONE healthy Christian congregation, we share this genuine love in three specific areas: worship, and fellowship, and service.  Every member needs to be actively engaged and involved in all three areas, so that we can stay connected to the body – and then get to work with the urgent business of helping others get connected.  I will be talking more about this in the weeks to come, but today I would like to remind us all of the sacrifice that was required from Jesus in order to let our love be genuine.


Brothers and sisters, in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  The Holy Spirit has been powerfully at work in and through the people of this congregation and community, so that we might be a blessing to others in sharing the compassion of Christ with those among us and around us.


This is the way that the Body of Christ is meant to function – overflowing with the gentle love and unswerving strength of Jesus Christ! Haven’t you noticed? People want to donate, but at least for now the shelters cannot take any more items. People want to volunteer, and in many cases there have already been more people than volunteer jobs. People want to help feed emergency responders, but their police and fire stations have received too much food already.


Yet this is only the first week. Much work remains to be done, and so we will need even more people to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices”.  Efforts have already begun to identify specific needs both within our congregation and in your neighborhoods, and to recruit volunteers to serve together or even to lead a team of workers. Depending on your time and abilities, it might involve cleaning and repairing and painting homes. It might be an opportunity to provide meals and gift cards to those who need your kindness and support. It might involve washing and folding a few loads of laundry. It might be an invitation to provide transportation for several trips until someone can get back on their feet. It could include helping out with caregiving for children or perhaps an adult. Staff members from the LC-MS and Texas District have mobilized staff in several cities affected by the storm who are already conducting similar assessments, and will soon be offering opportunities for you to serve as the hands and feet and heart and voice of Jesus.


My friends, I truly hope that “this works for you!” We are the children of a mighty God and Father who genuinely loves His Church, who genuinely loves His people, and who genuinely loves those who do not yet know Him!  We would love to not only count you in, but also to count on you to help out when and where you could be needed. By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, what works for God works IN us!


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   Amen!



EPISTLE LESSON – Romans 12:9-21 [ESV]


      9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.


      14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

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