Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent - Oculi - Eph 5:1-9

                                                                                                Lent 3
                                                                                                Eph 5:1-9

            I knew when I came down to Marion that there was a prison here.  In fact, when members at my previous congregation heard that I had received a call to Marion the first thing several people said to me was: “You know there is a prison there, right?”  It was as if the prison was right in the middle of town and posed a constant danger.
            Of course, that’s not quite the situation.  In fact it was more than a decade before I even saw the prison. When I finally did, it was only because some unusual circumstances resulted in my visiting a prisoner there for a period of time.
            On the other hand, when I drove down to Marion I saw a billboard and was surprised to learn that there was a lion’s den here.  I certainly did not expect to find any lions in southern Illinois.  I could tell from the billboard that these were not mountain lions, but rather lions like you have in Africa.  In fact there was a lion and a lioness pictured.  It was remarkable to find a lion in Marion, much less a den of lions.
            It was quite some time before I finally passed by the lion’s den.  My travel patterns take me north and south on 148, but never through that particular section.  I was surprised when I did happen to drive by.  What I saw was a building with no windows.  You could not see inside.  It was all very puzzling.  Didn’t the lions get any sunlight?  Where were they able to roam? I had so many questions….
            Of course, as you all know, the Lion’s Den is not a place where lions live.  It is instead an “adult bookstore” that definitely wants travelers to know it is there. I mention it, because our text from Ephesians this morning is talking about precisely that topic.  Paul addresses the various ways that people abuse God’s gift of sexuality.  He leaves no doubt that this is a matter of the greatest importance for Christians.
            Paul says in our text, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  Let’s start with the end of that sentence.  The apostle is describing life that is fitting and proper for the saints.  When he refers to saints, he’s talking about you.  He’s talking about every Christian. This is not a status that we have earned or deserve.  We are certainly not holy in ourselves.  Instead, it is something that we have received because of Christ.
            Paul says in the first verses of our text: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  You are loved by God.  Because he loves you, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ.  Because Christ loved you he offered himself on the cross as the sacrifice in your place.
            By his sacrifice and resurrection he has taken away your sin.  He has made you holy in God’s eyes.  What Paul says later in this chapter about the Church is true of each person who is in the Church: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
            You have been given rebirth through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He has sanctified you – he has made you holy through faith in Christ.  But this is not just a status you have received. The Spirit’s sanctifying work is present in the way we live. He strengthens us with power in our inner being and leads us to live and act in ways that are true to God’s will.
            In this portion of the letter, the apostle focuses on God’s will for sex.  It not surprising that he does.  It’s actually a topic he addresses on many occasions in his letters.  He does so because sex is a remarkably important and powerful gift of God.
            God created us as male and female.  He created woman from man as the perfect complement for him. The complementary character is expressed in the union of marriage and sexual intercourse.  Later in this chapter Paul quotes the words of Genesis chapter two: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
            The one flesh union of sex has a purpose.  It is meant to produce children; to produces families.  God blessed the first man and woman and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  We were created with a profound and powerful drive to have sex in marriage.  In itself, this is good.  In fact it is very good because sex is God’s good gift for marriage.
            The problem is what sin has now done to the gift – the ways the devil perverts the gift and uses it to harm us.  Paul says, But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  He says that every form of the abuse and misuse of sex has absolutely no place among Christians.  In fact he goes on to add that we shouldn’t use crude language that is sexual in nature. We hear in our text, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”  So that word that rhymes with “luck” – don’t use it even if people around you do.
            The sexual drive is still a profound and powerful force.  But now sin has twisted it in every possible way.  St.Paul could look around his world and see it everywhere.  The Roman government actually ran public brothels that provided prostitutes for the poor. It was assumed that wealthier men had sex with their slaves. Under Roman law, for a husband to have sex with an unmarried woman was not adultery.  Pornography could be seen not just in a brothel or a tavern, but on the wall in someone’s dining room.  Cultic prostitution was practiced at temples.  Religious processions carried a giant phallus through the streets.
            During the last seventy years our world has become one that looks very similar. Sex outside of marriage is now considered normal. Sex is part of dating.  Living together is just what people do.  Our culture is saturated with sexual imagery. And the one place for sure we have the ancient world beat is pornography, because through the wonders of technology people have constant and immediate access to visual content that blows a wall fresco away.
            In his letters, just as in our text, St. Paul was constantly addressing the subject of sex so that Christians understood that faith in Jesus Christ meant that they were to use sex in God’s way and not in the ways of the world. This was so because the Sixth Commandment expresses the truth about the way God has ordered this world.  God is the Creator.  He set up how it is supposed to work. To reject this; to do things your own way, is to reject him as God.  It is to make sex a god because you value lust and pleasure more than his will.
            To do so is sin. And Paul leaves absolutely no doubt about what this means.  He says, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
            Let no one deceive you with empty words.  God will damn people who engage in unrepentant sexual sin.  And I can’t give you a clearer example of unrepentant sexual sin than and a man and woman living together when they are not married.  Cohabitation is the willful choice to enter into and remain in a sinful state.  Apart from repentance, Jesus Christ’s apostle tells you this morning exactly what that means for a person’s eternal welfare.  And let’s be clear, simply getting married after cohabiting does not change the fact that you have committed sin that brings God’s judgment.  Only in confession to God that it was sin and faith in Jesus Christ can there be forgiveness.
            What does this mean for us?  Paul says, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”  He says that we are not to share in the sinful ways of the world.  We are to separate ourselves from those settings and influences which promote sexual sin.
            At one time you were darkness. You were conceived and born as a slave of the devil.  He was your lord. But through his word and baptism the Spirit of Jesus Christ has made you a new creation.  You are now light in the Lord.  And so we need to live as what God has made us to be. We need to walk as children of light.
            Now to be sure, this is not an easy thing to do.  If it was, St. Paul wouldn’t be talking about it!  The devil wants to drag you back into darkness.  He wants you to lust for a body that is not your spouse.  He wants you to look at pornography.  He wants you to have sex with your date, or with your girlfriend or boyfriend.  He wants that to become your normal way of doing things.  He wants you to move in together. He’s working overtime through our culture to make that happen.
            If the devil and the old Adam trip us up; if we look at something we should not or do something we should not, this becomes a crucial moment. The nature of sexual sin is that it tends not to remain where it is. Instead, it grows and advances.  After a person starts looking at pornography, it takes more of it and more explicit content in order to generate the same reaction.  To begin having sex outside of marriage, leads to having more regular sex outside of marriage, and makes cohabitation the obvious next step.
            If we sin in these ways, we need to admit what is.  We need to repent, confess the sin and stop it before it gains momentum.  We confess our sin to God, knowing that Christ loved us and gave himself up for us on the cross. We approach the heavenly Father who wants to forgive because of Jesus.
            When we face temptation, and when we begin anew to live according to God’s will we find the strength for doing so in the Holy Spirit’s work through baptism.  In the previous chapter, St. Paul urged the Ephesians “to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  We believe God’s promise that in baptism the Spirit has joined us to his ongoing work in our life – a work that continues to provide strength for the struggle against sin.  This means that you need to be willing to fight against sin.  You can’t just let it have its way because it feels good.  But God’s promise is that he is leading and supporting in that struggle.
            After all, God’s Spirit has made you saints.  He has sanctified you. In Christ you are God’s beloved children, because our Lord loved you and gave himself up for you as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.    



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