Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 5
                                                                                                            1 Kg 19:11-21
There is a diversity of opinion about what to call Edward Snowden.  Snowden is the former National Security Agency employee who revealed details to the public about a NSA program called Prism.  Prism is the code name for a classified program under which the NSA accessed the central computer servers of nine U.S. Internet companies, extracting e-mail, audio and video chats, photographs, documents, and other material.
The revelation about the NSA surveillance which has included the information of U.S. citizens has raised many questions.  There are concerns that intelligence officials deceived Congress in hearings about intelligence gathering operations. This new information has followed on the heels of recent scandals involving the IRS as it has become clear that the IRS targeted groups that the current administration considered to be political threats. This scandal has created an environment of suspicion and people fear how the government could use the information it has been secretly gathering.
Some people call Snowden a “whistle blower” and a hero.  They believe that he has courageously revealed illegal activity that threatens the privacy of American citizens.  Other people call him a traitor. They say that he has illegally revealed information that harms national security.
One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t want to be Snowden right now. The U.S. government has charged him with espionage.  The administration and the national security apparatus have been embarrassed and it seems clear that they are going to do everything they can to see that he ends up in prison.  As this sermon was being written, Snowden was stranded in a Moscow airport, looking for a country somewhere in the world that would take him.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Elijah finds himself in a very similar situation.  Elijah lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the ninth century B.C.  It was a time when a power vacuum in the near eastern world had allowed Israel and her neighbor Tyre to prosper.  Tyre was a prominent shipping point on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  Israel and Tyre had worked out a very profitable relationship and business was booming.  In order to strengthen the relationship, the daughter of the king of Tyre, Jezebel, had married the king of Israel, Ahab.
Paganism was already rampant in Israel.  When the nation had split into northern and southern kingdoms after the death of king Solomon, the northern king had feared that his people would become disloyal because the temple was in the south in Jerusalem.  So he created his own cult sites at Dan and Bethel in his own territory and set up golden statues of calves there to be worshipped as god.  He intentionally created pagan worship sites.
Jezebel took things a step further. She was a worshipper of the god Baal.  She used her royal power to promote the worship of Baal in Israel.  The prophet Elijah opposed this and called for a showdown between Yahweh and Baal on Mt. Carmel.  There the priests of Baal were unable to call down fire to burn up a sacrifice.  Instead, Yahweh burned up a water logged sacrifice along with the stone altar itself.  When it was all over the people said, “Yahweh he is God.  Yahweh he is God.”  And Elijah commanded that the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal who were misleading the people were to be put to death.
When Jezebel heard about what Elijah had done to the prophets of Baal, she sent a message to him that said, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  Elijah knew that the queen had the power to kill him. So fearful, he ran for his life into the wilderness.  Despairing, he travelled forty days and forty nights until he came to the mountain Horeb, which we also know by the name Mt. Sinai.  He came to the place where God entered into the covenant with Israel and gave the Ten Commandments through Moses.
            In the verses just before our text we learn that Elijah as living in a cave when the word of the LORD came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
            As we look back on the events of this past week, it’s not all that hard to relate to what Elijah was feeling.  In its decision, the Supreme Court has made it very likely that homosexual marriage will be coming to every state in our nation – whether they want it or not.  The language of the decision says that opposition to homosexuality is purely based on animus – ill will that seeks to denigrate a group and suppress their rights for no reason. Equipped with such an opinion there really are few limits as to how far homosexuality can be forced upon society and the Church.
            At the same time, is spite of the recent horrors revealed at the Gosnell abortion trial, 196 congressmen voted against a bill that would forbid abortions after the twentieth week because scientific evidence demonstrates those babies can feel pain. Our nation’s president said he would veto such a bill if it ever came to him.  National leaders, the media and large portions of our country think there is nothing wrong with tearing apart and dismembering a baby in the womb – an act that if it happens to occur just outside the womb brings the charge of murder.
            And then we see the complete breakdown of sexual conduct in our society.  Sex outside of marriage is considered normal – part of the “hook up” culture on college campuses.  Living together outside of marriage is considered normal.  Pornography saturates our culture as it destroys lives and marriages. When we look around at all of these things, it’s not hard to feel like Elijah – to feel alone and threatened in a land awash with paganism and sin.
            God told Elijah to go outside the cave.  Next there occurred a great wind, and an earthquake and a fire – but Yahweh was not in each one of them.  And then we hear in our text, “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”  God called Elijah to hear him, not with something awesome and powerful, but with the sound of a low whisper.
            Elijah replied with the same lament about his situation.  And so Yahweh said, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
            God told Elijah to get back to the life he was supposed to be leading.  He told the prophet that he was to anoint three men, including his successor Elisha, through whom God would act.  And he declared that Elijah was wrong.  He was not alone. God had preserved a remnant – seven thousand faithful Israelites who had not worshipped Baal.
            What would you have thought if you had been Elijah?  God had revealed himself not in the mighty and powerful, but in a low whisper.  He didn’t promise instant answers, but rather that men were to be anointed through whom he would work.  His “good news” was that there were all of seven thousand faithful believers in the whole of Israel. It would have been easy for Elijah to feel let down.  And often this is how we feel with God, because we don’t want to accept the ways in which he works; because we don’t want hardship; because we think we know better.
            God’s answer in the face of all that we encounter is that he has done something.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has conquered sin, death and the devil.  God has reconciled us to himself.  He has made us his children.  On Easter he began the resurrection of the dead that we will receive on the Last Day.
            Like Elijah, he gives his Church things to do through which he is at work.  He tells her to proclaim the Gospel; to make disciples by baptizing and teaching; to forgive sins in Holy Absolution; to celebrate the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. On the surface they may not seem like all that much.  But these are the means through which he creates faith, forgives sin and sustains believes unto eternal life.
            And like Elijah he assures us that there are seven thousand who have not bowed their knee to Baal.  Sustained by his Word and Sacraments, our Lord has assured us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church.  She may seem small and haggard, but she is his bride and nothing will change this fact.
            Yes, we are called to suffer and face hardship.  But this is simply to take up the cross and follow our Lord.  And we can do this because in Jesus Christ we have already seen where the way leads.  It leads to resurrection and eternal life.  In the midst of our weakness it is God who is a work through his Spirit.
We gather in this place today, and we hear the low whisper.  Through his word God asks, “What are you doing here?”  And when we tell him about that our world is circling the drain and that we face hardships, he listens.  He tells us that he has put his name upon us in Holy Baptism and made us his own.  He feeds us with his Word and with the saving body and blood of Christ.  He equips us with the Good News of the Gospel. And at the end of the service he sends us to return on the way with the assurance that he is at work and that there is – and always will be – seven thousand who have not bowed to Baal.     

Friday, June 28, 2013

Culture news: Homosexual marriage and the threat to freedom of religion

Ben Domenech has written a piece in which he argues that one result of the sexual revolution has been that people now define themselves on the basis of the sexuality, much as Christians define themselves on the basis of faith in Christ:

"During the sexual revolution, we crossed a line from sex being something you do to defining who you are. When it enters into that territory, we move beyond the possibility of having a society in which sex acts were tolerated, in the Mrs. Patrick Campbell sense – "I don't care what they do, so long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses" – and one where it is insufficient to be anything but a cheerleader for sexual persuasion of all manner and type, because to be any less so is to hate the person themselves. Sex stopped being an aspect of a person, and became their lodestar – in much the same way religion is for others."

He goes on to point to the real issue raised by the approach of homosexual marriage:

"No, the real problem with gay marriage is that the nature of the marriage union is inherently entwined in the future of the first line of the Bill of Rights: our right to religious liberty. Orthodox believers of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths were slow to understand this. I'm talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers: I'm talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law – and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Culture news: The engine of "hate speech" in the Supreme Court marriage decision

In his analysis of the Supreme Court decision about marriage Hardley Arkes writes that it places "hate speech" as the engine that will sweep away all barriers to homosexual marriage in our country.
He writes:

These decisions, handed down by the Court today, affect to be limited in their reach, but they are even worse than they appear, and they cannot be cabined. They lay down the predicates for litigation that will clearly unfold now, and with short steps sure to come, virtually all of the barriers to same-sex marriage in this country can be swept away. Even constitutional amendments, passed by so many of the states, can be overridden now. The engine put in place to power this drive is supplied by Justice Kennedy’s “hate speech,” offering itself as the opinion of the Court in U.S. v. Windsor. Kennedy wrote for the Court in striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the part of the act that recognized as “marriage,” in federal law, only the union of a man and woman. In Kennedy’s translation, the Defense of Marriage Act showed its animus in its very title: The defense of marriage was simply another way of disparaging and “denigrating” gays and lesbians, and denying dignity to their “relationships.” As Justice Scalia noted so tellingly in his dissent, Kennedy could characterize then as bigots the 85 senators who voted for the Act, along with the president (Clinton) who signed it. Every plausible account of marriage as a relation of a man and woman can then be swept away, as so much cover for malice and blind hatred.

As Scalia suggested, that opinion can now become the predicate for challenges to the laws on marriage in all of the States. A couple of the same sex need merely go into a federal court and invoke Justice Kennedy’s opinion in the DOMA case (U.S. v. Windsor): The Supreme Court has declared now that a law that refuses to recognize same-sex marriage is animated by a passion to demean and denigrate. Any such law cannot find a rational ground of justification. As Kennedy had famously said in Romer v. Evans, those kinds of laws can be explained only in terms of an irrational “animus.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mark's thoughts: Back to the water, living in the water

The fourth and fifth centuries were a time of great change for the Church.  At the beginning of the fourth century, the Church went from facing the worst empire wide persecution it had ever seen under the Emperor Diocletian, to being the favored religion under the Emperor Constantine who himself became a Christian.  By the end of the century, it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius.

These changes provided the setting in which the Church found herself receiving large numbers of people into her membership.  This presented a challenge as the Church worked to receive a much larger volume of people, while still teaching people the faith and forming them to understand what happens in the worship service.

In order to handle this situation, the Church modified the process of the catechumenate.  She created a process for catechumens that began on Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent, and that ended at the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday.  At the Vigil, the catechumens received Holy Baptism and then received the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time.  A person could become a catechumen, but in order to to become a full member of the Church who received the Sacrament of the Altar, they had to go through the Lenten process leading to baptism.

However, it soon became clear that this had created an unintended consequence.  A person who was a catechumen, but who had not yet entered into the Lenten process leading to baptism was considered to be part of the Church in a general way.  At the same time, since the Church still practiced a rigorous process of church discipline for communing members, including public penance; and because it was recognized that baptism forgave all sins, people were becoming catechumens and then waiting years before they actually received baptism.

The logic of this was that individuals who had the status of being a catechumen were considered part of the Church – even if they weren’t yet in full fellowship.  At the same time, they were exempt from any form of church discipline, and so they could do what they wanted.  And by holding off on Holy Baptism, people believed that they had the guarantee of forgiveness for whatever they did while they were a catechumen.

The most famous example of this was St. Augustine. He became a catechumen as a young man, and then it was many years before he was actually baptized.  He said of this time that his prayer was, “Give me chastity … but not yet.”  And once he became a bishop, he found out what it was like to be on the other side of the process.  Like all bishops of this age, he found himself during the time leading up to Lent urging people to present themselves for the Lenten process that led to baptism.

There was in this abuse of the system, a fundamental misunderstanding of baptism and what it means for our life.  Romans 6 makes it clear that baptism calls us to a life that turns away from sin.  As the apostle Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:1-3).

Baptism connects us with the saving death of the crucified Lord and risen Lord.  It brings about rebirth by the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11), and therefore it means that the resurrection of power of Christ is already at work in us.  As Paul goes on to say, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Yet the very fact that Paul has to write these words indicates that baptism does not bring about an end to sin.  After all, he writes to baptized Christians in our text and tells them, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:12-13).

We know this from our own experience as well.  We are baptized Christians, and yet so often Paul’s words in the next chapter describe our own life: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  We know that we fail to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  We know that we fail to call upon God’s Name as we should and faithfully to receive his Word.  We know that we fail in the vocations where God has placed us.  We know that we hate and covet and gossip.

So what are we supposed to do?  The answer is that as baptized Christians we go back to the water.  This doesn’t mean that we need to be baptized again.  Instead, it means that we return to our baptism and what it means for us.  We return in faith and listen again to what God’s Word tells us about baptism.  We trust in faith that this is in fact true.  And strengthened by  the Spirit through this we go forth to live as the forgiven child of God baptism has made us to be.

We return to the fact that through baptism we have died with Christ.  Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:3-4).  Through baptism you shared in Jesus’ death and therefore you are forgiven. And what is more, in baptism God has begun to put to death the old Adam in us.  Paul writes, “We know that our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).

Martin Luther once quipped that the old Adam is a good swimmer.  He is in the process of dying, but he doesn’t give up without a fight – our fallen nature continues to be there as we live in this fallen world until the Last Day.  And so we need to continue to return to our baptism.  For in our baptism we find forgiveness for the sin that continues to be present in our life.  And in our baptism we find the power of the Spirit present to help us live more and more like Christ.

We do this by repenting, confessing our sins and returning in faith to the promises God has made in baptism.  Writing in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther employed the method of baptism used in his day to explain what this means.  Coming out of the medieval period, baptisms were commonly still done by immersion. The infant was actually dipped into the water of the font (see Mark’s thoughts: Putting baptism back into “the forgiveness of sins”of the Apostles’ Creed).

And so in the fourth question in the Small Catechism about baptism, Luther asks, “What does such baptizing with water indicate?” – by which he means the action of being dipped into the water.  He then provides the answer: “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

How do we drown the old Adam?  We do it by repenting and confessing our sins as baptized Christians.  And when we do this with faith in what God did in baptism, we also receive the power for the new man to come forth.  Luther put it this way in the Large Catechism: “These two parts, being dipped under the water and emerging from it, point to the power and effect of baptism, which is nothing else than the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of a new creature, both of which must continue in us our whole life long.  Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.  For we must keep at it without ceasing, always purging whatever pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth” (IV.65-66).  We repent and return to the water and what God did for us there. For as Luther teaches us, “Repentance therefore is nothing else than a return and approach to baptism, to resume and practice what has earlier been begun but abandoned” (IV.79).

Baptism is therefore a present reality in which we live.  It is reality that we are to use in faith daily. There we died with Christ, and there the life giving Spirit began His continuing work in us.  It is always true.  It is the blessing that is always ready to be received in faith.  It is the gift that has meaning for us every day until the Last Day.  And so, may the words of the Large Catechism always describe our lives: “Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time.  Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and growing up in the new” (IV.84-85).

Culture news: Homosexual "parents" to appear on Disney's "Good Luck Charlie"

My children enjoy watching the Disney Channel's show "Good Luck Charlie."  It's filled with harmless humor that amuses pre-teens. So the news that the show will have an episode which features lesbian "parents" certainly caught my eye.  From reports, the episode will follow the now typical formula in which homosexuals are always portrayed as interesting, engaging and funny individuals.  The upcoming episode is yet one more example of the way in which our culture is trying to condition people to accept homosexuality as good and normal.  The challenge for the Church as we face this setting will continue to grow.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 4
                                                                                                                        Rom 12:14-21

            The 1987 movie “The Princess Bride” was become part of pop culture.  It wasn’t a huge financial success when it was in the theaters.  However it received very favorable reviews and when it was released on home video it went on to become a cult classic.  It has been called “the Wizard of Oz” of our time and has become a quotable movie. So for example, Facebook posts use lines from the move like, “Inconceivable!” and “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”
            “The Princess Bride” is a romance and comedy movie.  Yet in the midst of the comedy there is – like so many other movies – a story of revenge.  In the movie we meet the Spanish pirate Inigo Montoya.  He longs to find the mysterious six fingered man who murdered his father and scarred his face years ago.  He has spent his entire life training to be a master swordsman so that he can get revenge by killing this man.  Over and over he has rehearsed exactly what he is going to say: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”
            Finally during the movie he encounters the villainous Count Rugen – the six fingered man he has been looking for all of his life.  They engage in a sword duel and Rugen proves to be far too skilled for Montoya.  Montoya is severely wounded and mocked by Rugen for the fact that he has failed in his life’s mission.  Yet at that moment, driven by the intense desire for vengeance Montoya begins to say over and over again, ““Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father.  Prepare to die,” as he presses the attack. Finally he corners the wounded Rugen and plunges his sword into Rugen’s stomach.
            The theme of revenge occurs in movies all the time because it is such a basic human instinct.  When wronged, we want to get pay back – we want to get revenge.  But in our epistle lesson this morning, Paul tells us that this is not how it is to be for us who are baptized Christians.  We are not to seek revenge.  Instead we are to leave justice to God as we care for those around us.
            It’s not hard to be pick out a recurring theme in our text this morning.  Paul begins by saying, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Three verses later he writes, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”  And then, in case we missed his point, he goes on to add, “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.” 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.’”  Finally he concludes by saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
            There are two sides to what Paul says here.  On the one hand he says to bless those who wrong us.  To bless means to ask for God’s favor upon a person.  It is to ask that God treat them well, and so it is the exact opposite of cursing them. 
Paul says that we are to bless those who persecute us.  When he gives this instruction, he is simply passing on what Jesus taught.  Christ said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Our Lord’s words are helpful because when he says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” he shows us that this love is not some kind of warm fuzzy feeling that we are to conjure up inside of ourselves.  Instead, love is an action and not merely an emotion.  It is the act of doing good to another.
            The other side of this is that are not to seek revenge for specific wrongs. We are not to do this because God is the one administers justice.  It is axiomatic in the Scriptures that God rewards and punishes based on what people do.  Paul has said earlier in chapter 2, “He will render to each one according to his works.”  And when God does this, he acts in a manner that is absolutely fair. Paul echoes a recurring theme in Scripture when he goes on to add, “For God shows no partiality.”
            Because this is so, the apostle tells us that we are to leave justice and vengeance to God.  Paul writes, “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.’”
            Now we all know that time and again this is not how we handle things.  As fallen people, the old Adam delights in revenge.  We want pay back.  And given the opportunity, we extract it.  Or worse yet, we seek out the opportunity.  Oh we are very good at trying to clothe our vengeful actions in language about “justice” and “fairness.”  But these are really just ways that sin works in us.  The problem with our vengeance is that it is the playground for the devil.  Receiving the harm of one sin becomes the occasion to provoke us to sin even more.
            Paul calls us to recognize that this is sin.  And then he calls us to be different. At the beginning of this chapter he wrote, “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.”  This world – this sinful age – operates on the basis of payback and vengeance.  But the apostle says that instead we are to be transformed in the renewal of our mind so that we can recognize what God’s will is – his way of doing the world.
            For you see, God doesn’t do things in the way of this sinful age.  Even though you are someone who wrongs God – someone who rejects the lordship of the Creator of the cosmos as you create your own gods that you fear, love and trust in more than him – he blesses you and loves you. Even though you are someone who wrongs God, He does not seek payback or vengeance or justice against you.
            Now in his blessing and love for you who wrong him, he has not ceased to be just.  Where his will for the ordering of his creation is rejected, he does not ignore the need for just judgment.  Instead, he has loved and blessed you and he has been just by sending his Son to suffer and die for your sin.  In chapter three of this letter Paul writes, ‘For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
            God loved and blessed you by justly punishing your sin in Jesus Christ.  God didn’t bring judgment against you.  Instead he executed it upon his own Son.  As Paul says elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has justly given you forgiveness, salvation and eternal life.
            God has done this for you.  He has blessed you who often wrong him.  He has not acted in judgment against you because of your sins.  And so now, this is the reason you are able to bless those who persecute you instead of cursing.   This is the reason you now do not repay evil for evil.  It is the reason you do not avenge yourself, but instead leave it to the wrath of God.
            This change in behavior is not something you can do on your own.  Instead, it is God who does it in you and through you.  He does it through his Spirit who has given you new life through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism. The Spirit has worked faith in you. The Spirit nurtures and sustains this faith through the Word and through the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
            In Christ this change is present and at work in you through the Spirit.  But in yourself you are still the old Adam too.  And that is why Paul continues to exhort: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” If you are going to live as transformed people who bless and don’t curse; who leave judgment and justice to God, then you need to cling ever tighter to Christ’s Means of Grace.  It is through them that the Spirit supports and fosters this transformation and renewal. It is through them that the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes the source that sustains us in the life of forgiveness and love. 
            For the more we focus upon Christ’s gifts for us, the more the Spirit leads us to be gifts to others.  God’s love received in Christ through the work of the Spirit moves us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.  Knit together as the Body of Christ in baptism; joined together as the Body of the Lord in the reception of the Sacrament we live in support and care for one another as Christians.
            Because Christ humbled himself by serving us, we view others as the having the dignity, worth and value of those redeemed by Christ. As Paul says in our text, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”
God has given us peace in Christ, and so we seek to be at peace with others.  Paul says in our text, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” As Paul indicates, there will be those who don’t want to be at peace with us.  We can’t change them and what they do.  There will be times when they will persecute and wrong us.
But because the Holy Spirit has given us a share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are able to be transformed and renewed in our mind.  Because God has blessed us in Christ with forgiveness and love we now bless instead of cursing.   Because God has forgiven our wrongs in Christ we do not seek to return evil for evil, but instead we forgive as we entrust all things to God.