Pastor Peter Walther / Advent 1 / December 3, 2017 / “Always Giving Thanks for His Grace”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, dear brothers and sisters,
As I was coming home from work a day or so before Thanksgiving, I began seeing my first Christmas trees strapped to the roof of a car, heading down the road. Now if that was one of you, I’m here to publicly shame you today for skipping Thanksgiving and going right to Christmas! No, just kidding. If that is your tradition, I’m ok with that. However, I just thought it was a good metaphor for the couple weeks or so right around Thanksgiving. Now this isn’t the old stodgy man in me that is going to say, “In my day…we never did that!” But I’m going to pull a nearly 2000 year old man, named St. Paul, because what St. Paul did was he gave thanks in preparation for Jesus coming. And so on our first week of Advent, as we look forward and prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas, we are going to go backwards, back to Thanksgiving. Why? Because I said so! No, but because St. Paul did!
In fact, the apostle Paul gives thanks to God for the Corinthians. Now, that is strange giving thanks to God for the Corinthian congregation, a church so full of problems. It seems strange to give thanks to God for a church that was so careless about distinguishing between right and wrong in a city known for its lax morals and sexually scandalous lifestyles. It just seems strange to thank God for these Corinthians who were so self centered, who were so sure of themselves, and who failed time and time again to live upright Christian lives. I find it strange that Paul doesn’t start out his letter with, “What is wrong with you people? I thought you were Christian!” But instead, he thanks God for them.
Would the apostle Paul thank God for you? As he types out his email to you, would Paul thank God for the fact that our church is named after him, so we must be good people? We must not be facing the same issues that the Corinthians were having because we are living in the 21st century. We are new and improved as a human race, right? We look back in history and think, those people were terrible. Good thing we have everything figured out now. I think reality sets in and Paul would find our congregation and Christians all over in situations much worse: We are made up of liars, cheats; those who have been wronged and those who have wronged. Those who have been abused and those who have abused. Those who have abandoned their families and those who actively pushed away those they loved. Those who have considered themselves better than others, and those who love to have the world revolve around them. I see the effects of sin around us. It seems like story after story nowadays is sexual assaults and sexual allegations. People say that pornography has no effect on people and has no correlation to these events, but we are seeing time and time again the complete opposite and how men and women are hurt emotionally and physically. I see my life and the life of our members, and we are a mess, dealing with some awful situations, places where we hurt or are hurt. The reality is that we are not better off, but we are sometimes worse off than the Corinthian congregation.
So how could Paul possibly give thanks to God for the Corinthians? How could we give thanks to God for our congregation, knowing the sinful struggles and effects of sin that we deal with? If you have the lesson still in front of you, or if you have your bibles with you, or a bible app, look at the verses and not just at our verses but the verses immediately before and after. There is one name that is repeated multiple times as the emphasis: Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul was not giving thanks to the Corinthians. But he was giving thanks and credit to God. Everything we have and are as Christians Paul attributes to Jesus Christ.
That’s why Paul starts out the letter the way that he did, focused on verse 3. I’ll read that again, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” When do you tend to hear the pastor say those words? At the beginning of the sermon! We may be quick to glance over this verse, maybe because we hear it so often, but this verse sets the tone for the letter and for a Christian’s life. Paul is thankful for the gift of “Grace.” Grace is undeserved love. It is God’s favorable disposition through Jesus towards sinners like you and me. This grace led God to send Jesus to live the perfect life of love that God’s law demands and he offered himself as the sacrifice for our sin, dying for us, but God raised him from the dead that we might ultimately live. That is grace, grace which was preached to the Corinthians, grace that is preached to you each and every Sunday and every time you hear God’s Word.
By grace the Corinthians believed the message. By grace they had been kept in faith and equipped for the life of faith. For this grace, Paul thanks God. Without grace, there can be no peace. That’s because grace is the source of peace, peace with God. The order of these two, grace and peace, remains constant, grace always first, peace always second. There is no greater blessing than grace. It is the heart and soul of the gospel, the sure foundation of our Christian faith.
In grace, God treats us the way that we shouldn’t be treated, and we thank God for that, right? When you fail to put God first in your lives and fail to give thanks to God, God doesn’t plaster your name all over Google news. When you cheat on your history exam or cheat on your taxes, I don’t see your name scrolling across the morning tv talk show. When you abuse your relationship with another man or woman, God doesn’t strike you down right then and there. Otherwise, the Corinthian congregation and all people would be in hell at this moment. Instead, God treats us the way we shouldn’t be treated. God looks at us through the eyes of grace and peace. To those who have sinned, like you and me, you are blameless in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus.
To those who have been hurt, you can find comfort in the grace that only God can give. When someone has lied about you behind your back, ruining your good name, God reminds us that he has given to us His name. When someone has hurt us physically or emotionally, God reminds us that we are dearly loved children of God, priceless in value and worth. When we lose our health or wealth, we know that God ultimately will work all things out for our eternal good, as God reminds us that he wants us next to him in heaven. We thank God that in his grace we are blameless, we are comforted and we are restored!
We truly have a lot to be thankful for in this Advent season, looking forward to Christmas, and I’m not talking about the physical stuff that we will get as gifts, but I’m talking about God’s grace and peace. We are truly rich with God’s grace, not by ourselves or in our own right, but in Christ Jesus.
That’s why Paul starts out his letter the way that he does. That’s why Paul can give thanks for the Corinthian congregation, in spite of all of its shortcomings. That’s why we can we can thank God for our congregation in spite of all of our flaws. Because it is not our failure to keep the law that defines us and motivates us to do better, but we are motivated by the message of grace and peace to live new lives.
If you’ve just been saved from a burning building because the Christmas tree that you bought long before Thanksgiving has dried out and is a fire hazard, would you feel that you’re going to miss that tree in your house so much that you’d want to go back into the burning building and stay with it admiring the lights and gifts that are slowly melting? No! That’s preposterous! In the same way, we have been freed from sin. Why go back to the sin that ruins our lives? Sin ruins. That’s just what it does. It ruins our relationship with God, it ruins our relationship with one another.
But it is only the gospel that can heal a relationship. It is only by God’s grace and peace that a struggling marriage can be restored as they put God first and the other person first. It is only by God’s grace and peace that racial tensions could ever be healed. It is only by God’s grace that someone sexually abused could ever begin to love again. It is only by God’s grace that we have been given new life in Christ.
I thank God for you. I thank God not only for the grace and peace that God has given to you, but also for the grace and peace that you have so lovingly shared with me and my new wife, even with all of our failings. I thank God for the grace and peace that you have shown to each other over so many years of ministry and mistakes. I thank God that the gospel that continues to ring out with your invitations to your family and friends letting them know that this church is where we read and study God’s word, and where we are filled with peace and hope.
As we prepare for Christ’s return, and prepare for this upcoming Christmas season, cling to that grace and peace, that precious message and thank God for it! It is by the Word that he made us his own in the first place; it is by his Word that he keeps us faithful in service. If you want to be ready for Christmas, if you want to be prepared for Judgment Day, cling to the gifts of forgiveness in the Word. God is faithful to that promise of forgiveness, new life, and salvation. Thanking God for his grace each and every day, and motivated by the gospel, we eagerly await our Lord’s coming. Amen.