Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany 2017

Exhort each other to endure through encouragement. We continue our Epiphany season series on living as heirs of God in the context of a commuter Church. Last week, we looked at the word “holy.” This week, we turn to the second letter in heirs, which we will meditate upon through exhortation, endurance, and encouragement. We will look at this through the lens of our Epistle, Romans 12:6-16. We are sojourners and exiles in this world as servants of Christ. This means we are outsiders with a mission to be holy or set apart for the purpose of proclaiming salvation to all peoples. Let us meditate upon the need and importance of building each other up in these three essentials.

Exhortation

            First, exhortation is an important part of living life in Christ with each other. As we read in Romans 12:8, “the one who exhorts, in his exhortation.”The word “exhortation” means, “persuasive discourse, stirring address – instructive, admonitory, consolatory, powerful horatory discourse.” I Thessalonians 2:12 provides one of many examples of what exhortation should resemble, “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” We need each other in calling each other to the holy or set apart life God calls us to in Christ. God’s Word serves as our foundation to teach us the way. We need each other to put God’s Words into our ears, minds, and hearts by communicating such to each other. A key verse in understanding exhortation is I Corinthians 4:14, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” When we exhort or admonish each other in the truth of Jesus Christ to live by His Word, do we do so to shame, or do we do so to treat each other as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ? This is very important in Christian spirituality and holiness.

            When we exhort each other, it must be through loving humility. When it shames to make the person exhorting look good, it has gone too far and is no longer exhortation. Proper exhortation is full of grace and mercy, wanting the very best for the person we address. When we seek to shame others through seeking to further self and call it exhortation, it is really a cloak for us to hide our own passions of the flesh. In such, we need to repent and ask for the grace to love out of gratitude that we are in just as much need for Christ as the rest of humanity. Exhortation does not shame to promote self. Exhortation calls with loving hope for others to turn to Jesus with us. Instead of shame-ridden statements, our statements should call others to repent with the realization that we are all sinners in need of repentance and the hope of forgiving reconciliation that only Jesus gives. Proper exhortation calls the object of the exhortation to our next point.

Endurance

            This is the call to each other to endure in Jesus Christ. We all need these exhortations periodically. When exhortation turns to sinful shame though, we are really telling the person we think we are exhorting to give up. It is quite sad that we are prone to do this to each other as Christians. Knowing our weaknesses, we are called to repent and ask for the grace needed to exhort properly, lovingly.

            Romans 12:12 states, “be patient in tribulation.” Patience and endurance are vitally connected. When we feel called to exhort, we must take extreme care through preparing in the Word and in prayer that our words are with love, aimed at calling the person to endure in patience. This goes so contrary to the world around us that we need to be cautious of our approach to others in both our verbal and our non-verbal communication. Are we when we exhort each other a blessing to the person we are exhorting, or a curse to trounce them into the mud through discouragement. Discouragement only aims to beat people down to impatience to give up.  

            The New Testament is replete with examples of endurance through patience in the power and strength of Jesus Christ. In a world that encourages revenge, we are called to endure in love. As Romans 12:14 states, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 15:4 states, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Exhorting each other to endure properly occurs in the context of pointing to God’s Word. We must point to Jesus as the one that endured perfectly. We must point to Him for the strength we need to endure. In our commuter context beyond our worship, we are called to do all we can to exhort each other to endurance as we walk in the faith. We have no excuses in our instant communication age. In former times, people had to make house calls to check on each other and exhort each other to endure in Christ. Now, most of us have multiple platforms to reach out to each other to endure. In this context also comes the danger of shaming sinfully while falsely labeling it as “exhortation.” Unfortunately, it is much easier to shame someone that we are not face to face with instant communication mediums. Hence, the call to responsibility and checking what we write in the form of a message or comment is crucial. Sometimes we run across people in life that in face-to-face conversations have no filters and resort to shame others. It is much easier to shame from behind a screen. As Christians, we must when interacting with each other exhort out of love with the aim of teaching that builds each other up to endure.

Encouragement

            This brings us to the last point in proper exhortation, encouragement. When we are exhorting each other, we must run it through the test of whether or not it encourages the person to endure in Jesus Christ. Romans 12:9 states, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” If what we are going to say brings evil into the situation or to the person, say shaming, we must abhor it and rather cling to the goodness of Christ in communicating with each other. If our non-verbal communication brings evil into the situation or to the person, say shaming, we must abhor it and rather cling to the goodness of Christ in communicating with each other.

            As we read earlier in Romans 15, endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures give us hope. We all need to pray for the ability to encourage as we interact with each other. Even when we have moments where we need to exhort someone toward Christ and His way, we must do so with the mind of building the person up, edification. As Ephesians 4:29 states, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We must test the words we are thinking to use or write through this filter. Is it corrupting, filthy, blasphemous, or scandalous to the cause of Jesus Christ? If so, we need to refrain and pray for the grace to think of all things beautiful and commendable in Christ.  For Christians, we do not have the luxury of having an on/off switch in terms of our environment. Living Christ is through all moments.

Yet, we all periodically fail in the type of exhortation that builds up and encourages others to endure in Jesus Christ. We can go in the direction of telling people they just need to suck it up and power their way through their difficulties alone. Or, we can go to the point of using corrupting language to tear people down rather than building them up. Unfortunately, these are the directions we sometimes take with those needing love. In such knowledge of our weakness in the flesh in this area, our minds and hearts must ever drift to God’s undeserved love for us. God’s love guides us to be a people that rejoice in the hope provided through the loving grace of Christ. Love moves us to go beyond self to meet the needs of others.  

            To faithful exhort in love, we need to be constant in prayer as verse 12 states. In our prayers, we admit our limitations and sins, asking for forgiveness and the grace to love. In our commuter context, this is of the utmost importance as much of our communications with each other during the week are through instant communications. When we feel as if we have gone too far in bringing shame rather than exhorting, we need to apologize and seek forgiveness with each other.

            The way we exhort as we ought is through submission to Christ and each other. It is to outdo each other in showing honor to each other. It is to be ready when needed to show hospitality to each other, even if it pushes us a bit out of our comfort zones. We pray for grace to rejoice with those that rejoice and to weep with those that weep. In our commuter Church status, it makes the times we have together in terms of worship, Sunday school, events, work days, and so forth very important. These are all precious and well-needed moments with each other as the Body of Christ. God uses these moments to build us up in the grace of His Word and Sacrament to go forth from this place to be His instruments of exhortation and encouragement. These are moments of love and encouragement, times to be low as our liturgy calls, times to submit to the wisdom of God’s Word and not to be wise in our own sight. As Ephesians 5:15-16 exhorts, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

                In all our moments of weakness, we need encouragement. This encouragement is found in and through Jesus Christ. The more we stay steeped in the reminders Jesus has given us through His Church, His Word, and His Sacraments; the more we will slowly be sanctified to exhort each other to endure through godly and loving encouragement. This is through the endurance in the encouragement of the Scriptures that builds us up through all we face. The answer to our failures is not to try a little bit harder in our power, but to get low before God to cling increasingly more to Christ.

            We live in a time where shaming is rampant. We live in a time where wearing people down to give up are rampant. We live in a time where discouragement is rampant. Whether in the secular world or in the Church, these seek to dominate our lives. Our call rather is to turn to Jesus as our only hope in the exhortation of His Word to call us to endure in Him through the encouragement He alone provides in His Finished Work upon the Cross. May this be so in our midst. Amen.