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07 Pentecost 07 21 Sunday After Pentecost

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My friends, I greet you today in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  What comes to mind when you think about finishing touches?  Is it the last stroke of the paint brush?  Is it the completion of the carpet and the placement of the furniture?  Perhaps it is the putting up of the art and decorations so the place has the “personal” touch.  At what point in a project do we see the finishing touches come into place?  The end.  So how do we talk about the finishing touches in the lives of a Christian?  Or what does it mean to talk about God’s finishing touches in our lives?  Is it simply a reference to death? Or is there more to it? 

I think there is probably more to it.  To help us talk about that we are going to look at three readings from Scripture.  One from Isaiah, another from Paul and the last one from John.  As we look at those authors we are going to talk about three ways that finishing touches are a part of our lives.  The first one is understanding how God works in our lives.  The second is Loving one another.  The third is living in the protection that God gives us through word and sacrament.  

But first let me set the stage.  If we are talking about finishing touches here, then there is a sense that we are talking about something that comes at the end.  One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works in our lives is to make each follower of Jesus more and more like Jesus.  He removes those things in our lives that pull us away from Jesus.  He takes from us those things that do not reflect the image of the one we are following.  He frees us from those things that hurt us and drag us down.  Do you know what this process is called?  It is one of those big theological words.  Sanctification.  It is a good process, though sometimes it can be quite painful.  But in the end we are better off for it. 

Here is the thing.  This process of being made more like Jesus, this sanctification is a process that will not be fully completed until when?  Death.  That is right.  And while he is working in our lives, the project will not be complete until we have died.  Now there is a happy thought isn’t it?  So what do we do with this? 

Let me give you a timeline that I believe is helpful in understanding this.  Let’s say that this point here is the beginning of time.  Over here we have the end of time.  What happens at the end of time?  God’s kingdom is fully visible.  There will be no more sin, or sickness or sadness or suffering or death.  It will all be gone, and God’s people will live forever with him.  It is something that we look forward to with great anticipation.  Well, we are supposed to anyway.  But this is what is waiting for us at the end of time.  It is the hope of Christianity.  And so for the people God, the end is not a bad thing.  But something happened that was not expected.  Do you know what that was?  God’s kingdom broke into time.  It came earlier than what was expected.  Do you know what that was? 

Jesus.  Somewhere over here we have the life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  And with him, well what did Jesus say at the beginning of his ministry?  “the Kingdom of heaven is…”  Near.  That’s right.  The kingdom of heaven is near.  That means that before the end of time the kingdom of God broke into history.  That is why the demons would say to Jesus, “Have you come before the appointed time to torment us.”  And so while we do not get to experience it in all of its fullness, we do get to experience the kingdom of God right now.  It is really an awesome thing.  When did we enter this kingdom?  In the waters of baptism.  Here God made us his own dear sons and daughters.  He washed away our sins, and placed his name on us.  So having been made God’s own dear children, and being made part of this kingdom, we experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we experience that sanctification where we are made more and more like the one whom we follow.  Are you with me? The major renovation took place in the waters of baptism.  After that, it is time for the finishing touches.

So with that in mind, because this has broken back into time, we can experience these finishing touches without having to die, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  So how do we experience this?  We look to Isaiah, Paul and John . 

First, Isaiah.  Experiencing the finishing touches in our lives means that we trust in God that he is working through the different situations in our lives.  Sometimes those situations mean that we feel the effects of our own sin.  Sometimes it means that we are afflicted by the consequences of others who have sinned against us.  Whatever the case, it leaves us asking a question.  Why?  Why did this happen, or why did God allow this to happen.  God works in a way that we do not understand.  He is bigger than we are.  So this first finishing touch, is trusting God in what he is doing in our lives.  Now that is scary.  We like to be in control.  We like to take charge and tell God how he is supposed to handle our lives, and what he is supposed to do.  And yet, when we do that, we are playing God.  And playing God is not a good thing.  For those of us who have sinned, and who feel the guilt from that sin and are repentant, this finishing touch is the sweet and gracious forgiveness of our God.  Let that guilt fall away.  You have repented.  Receive the forgiveness of your God.  For those who have been sinned against, you can find the strength to forgive.  And in that forgiveness you find strength for yourself.    Isaiah puts it like this.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts high than your thoughts.

The ability to trust in God and in him alone, no matter what situation we are facing in life, no matter what is going on.  This is the first finishing touch. 

The second one is told to us by Paul.  It is about living together as God’s family.  Having been baptized into Christ we are therefore brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are family and live together.  How you and I interact with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, is a mark that we are Christians.  The Holy Spirit works through us.  And we see him in one another.  He makes us more like Christ as we learn how to treat one another as Christ would treat us.  Paul puts it like this.

Therefore, as God’s chose people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Can you look at your own life and see the work of the Spirit in molding you into these things?  Sometimes it is a joyful process.  Other times it can be quite painful.  Especially since this is a life style that really irks our sinful nature.  You see it is natural to live for ourselves.  That is our gut reaction, self-preservation.  But God calls us to live differently.  And did you notice the imagery that is used here?  It is that of clothing.  These things are to be what is seen on the outside, they are to be seen in our actions.  And yet, these are things that cannot be faked.  So where do they come form?  Clothed.  We are clothed with Christ, and where did that come from?  Again our baptism. 

So just as we are called to trust in God in our lives and that he is in control, so too the lives that we live with one another are to be marked with love for one another.  Both of these are challenging, but they are the finishing touches of the Holy Spirit. 

The third finishing touch is seen in our lesson from John.  Here Jesus is praying before his death.  And he is praying for his followers.  Listen to these words of Jesus.

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 

It is a prayer for protection, because as we live our lives as God’s people, we are bombarded by sin, death and the devil.  And these things war to keep us from God, and to cause us to despair.  And yet, even in the midst of those things, even though we don’t understand why God is doing the things he is doing, or allowing the things that he is allowing.  Even though we it can be very difficult to be clothed with love for one another, we can rest and take comfort in knowing that our God protects us.  He keeps us safe.  And he does this through his word and through the sacraments.

                These are the finishing touches, trusting in God, loving one another, standing in God’s protection.  So exactly how do we experience those things in our lives?

                First we hear them, see them and are reminded of them in God’s word.  Spend time in God’s word daily.  Let your mind be renewed by these powerful words that are living and active.  Study that word.  Read it.  Mark it.  Inwardly digest it.  Let the Spirit work through that word to mold you and shape you and make you more and more like your savior. 

                Remember your baptism.  When you get up in the morning, spend some time asking God to forgive your sins.  Drown that old sinful nature, so that a new man, a new woman can rise up to serve God that day.  Ask him to remove those things from you that keep you from him. 

                Spend time with the body of Christ.  Be with your brothers and sisters in worship, in prayer, in study and in service.  As we live together, we grow together, and in that the Holy Spirit works greatly.

                Finally, receive the holy communion.  In with and under this bread and wine is the body and blood of Jesus.  As we receive them we receive forgiveness, life and salvation.  It is a wonderful gift that the Holy Spirit uses as a finishing touch to make us more and more like Jesus. 

                God’s word, remembering your baptism, being with fellow believers, receiving communion, these are things that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about the finishing touches in our lives.  Sometimes it can be a difficult process, but it is always a good one. 

                May you know the presence of God in your life.  May you dwell deeply in his word, live in the joy of your baptism, walk with your fellow believers, receive your lord, and in this be made more and more like the savior you follow. Amen.

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