Thursday, October 31, 2019

Festival of the Reformation

Today is the Festival of the Reformation.  In October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses – or statements – to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany.  By this simple action, Luther initiated the Reformation.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s Church was called back to the truth that she can only live by Scripture alone, grace alone and faith alone.  Today, we are reminded again that Scripture alone is the source of doctrine and practice in the Church.  We are reminded that salvation occurs on the basis of God’s grace alone – His undeserved love and favor towards us.  We are reminded that salvation occurs on the basis of faith alone – faith in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection for us.

Scripture reading:
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 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.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
(Romans 3:19-28)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people.  Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation - Rom 3:19-28

                                                                                                Rom 3:19-28

          Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”
            This statement is not from some medieval writing against which Martin Luther and the Reformation were reacting at the beginning of the sixteenth century.  Instead, it is a quote from the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.  And actually it is an improvement over what Luther had been taught – at least the first sentence is.
            The basic issue that we see here, is whether the actions of man play some role in receiving salvation.  Now Martin Luther had been trained in one school of theology that said that if you did what was in you in making the first move, then God gave you grace which equipped you to work with him in ways that led to salvation. Another school of theology said that God had to make the first move. That is the theology we hear in the current catechism of the Roman Catholic church.  And on this point, it is exactly right.  Only God can make the first move that leads to conversion.
            However both schools of medieval theology went on to say the same thing the current Roman Catholic catechism still says: that equipped by God’s grace we can and must be involved in the merit that leads ultimately to the status of eternal life.  On this view only God’s grace makes it possible, but if you are going to be saved your action needed.
            This principle that your action is necessary for salvation was even more apparent in a place where we Lutherans today would least expect it: absolution. The medieval teaching was that absolution forgave the guilt of sin.  The good news was this meant you were going to be saved.  However, it did not remove the penalty of sin.  And here you owed God something.  You had to do penance in order to make amends.  If during your life you didn’t do enough penance, then you were going to be saved … but first you had to go to purgatory.
            Now this is still the teaching of the Roman Catholic church – they have just toned down the rhetoric a little.  The current Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  So if you haven’t done enough penance, a little more purification is necessary.  Of course the catechism then adds: “The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of cleansing fire.”  Purification by cleansing fire because I haven’t done enough – that doesn’t sound like much fun.  And an absolution that can’t provide the guarantee of immediate reception of eternal life doesn’t sound like the real forgiveness of sins.
            This is the reality that Martin Luther encountered at the beginning of the 1500’s.  He was taught a faith that spoke about God’s grace and gave it a central role.  However, it was also a faith that required human action in order to attain full salvation.   Martin Luther threw himself into this.  He went all the way.  He did what any person who was really serious about his salvation did – he became a monk.  He did the life of a monk with all the vigor and commitment one can imagine.
            But Luther learned from hard experience that when your actions are part of the way you are saved, you can never be certain.  How can you ever know if you have done enough? How can you ever know if you have done it well enough?  You can’t because everything we do is marred by sin.  Our text this morning is from Romans chapter 3.  Earlier in this chapter the apostle Paul had written, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”  Ever since the Fall when Adam and Even disobeyed God, sin has been a power that controls us and causes us to commit sins.  As Paul says in our text, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
            This is who we are apart from Christ.  And even as those who have been given regeneration through the work of the Spirit in Holy Baptism – even as those in whom the Holy Spirit has worked faith – we still struggle against sin and fail.  Paul writes in chapter seven, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”  Even as believers in Christ we must say with Paul, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
            The law and doing can never be part of the reason we are saved – not even just a little part.  As Paul says in our text, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
            But what Luther discovered in Romans is that human actions have nothing to do with our salvation.  Paul goes on to say, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 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.”
            God’s righteousness, his saving action to put all things right, has been revealed in Jesus Christ.  God is the righteous and just judge who will render the verdict against all who sin on the Last Day.  But the apostle says that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  To be justified is to be declared not guilty – to be declared innocent. Paul says that already now we are justified – already now we stand innocent before God.
            This has nothing to do with our doing – our action.  The apostle hammers this point home when he says that is “by God’s grace as a gift.”  It has occurred has a result of God’s undeserved favor towards us.  It has occurred as a gift that God gives to us, when we can do nothing.
            This forgiveness and salvation is a gracious gift.  But that doesn’t mean it has come at no cost. Instead Paul tells us that it is “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  God has redeemed you from sin.  He has freed you.
But this does not mean he has ignored your sin. That is not possible for the just God.
            Instead God put forward his Son Jesus Christ on the cross as the means of providing atonement.  The apostle says later, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The just God directs his judgment and wrath against sinners.  Jesus Christ took all our sin and became the sinner before God for us.  In Christ, God judged our sin as Jesus suffered and died on the cross.
            Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death.  Jesus Christ suffered death for us as he won forgiveness for our every sin.  And then in Jesus, God also defeated death as he raised him from the dead on the third day. Raised from the dead, the Lord Jesus will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
            This redemption – this freedom from sin and death is now received as a gift.  It is received by faith in Jesus Christ.  It is received by faith alone.  We are justified by trusting and believing in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord.  Because of faith in Jesus, we already know the verdict of the Last Day – it is innocent, not guilty!
            And let’s be clear.  When Paul talks about faith this is not just another form of doing.  Instead, when it comes to our standing before God, faith is the opposite of doing.  Paul says in the next chapter: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”
            Luther in the Reformation helped to return the Church to the truth that we are justified by faith alone.  He confessed what St Paul had written, that works have nothing to do with our standing before God.  But like St. Paul, he also confessed that faith can never remain alone.  Because when we turn to consider our neighbor, faith now becomes a works machine which acts in love towards others.
            In the preface that he wrote for Romans, Luther said: “O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them and is constantly doing them.”
            And so the Reformation insight led Luther out of the monastery, and eventually, into marriage.  It led him to an understanding of vocation – that God has placed us in stations and positions in life where he uses us to serve and care for others.  Freed from having to do things in order guarantee our salvation, we are free to love and serve others where God has placed us.  Faith acts in love.  As Paul went on to say later in Romans, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
            As we celebrate the Reformation, we give thanks to God for his servant Martin Luther through whom the Gospel proclaimed by Paul rang forth again.  All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.  But we are justified by his grace as a gift.  We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord.


Friday, October 25, 2019

Commemoration of Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe, Faithful Women

Today we remember and give thanks for Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe, Faithful Women.  These women were exemplary Christians who demonstrated their faith by their material support of the Church. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was well-known and much loved for her acts of charity in the city of Joppa, especially for her making clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died suddenly, the members of her congregation sent to the neighboring city of Lydia for the Apostle Peter, who came and raised her from the dead (Acts 9:36–41). 

Lydia was a woman of Thyatira, who worked at Philippi selling a famous purple dye that was so much in demand in the ancient world. She was also a “worshiper of God” at the local synagogue. When the Apostle Paul encountered her in prayer among other proselyte women, his preaching of the Word brought Lydia to faith in Christ. She and her friends thus became the nucleus of the Christian community in Philippi (16:13–15, 40). 

Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You stirred to compassion the hearts of Your dear servants Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe to uphold and sustain Your Church by their devoted and charitable deeds.  Give us the same will to love You, open our eyes to see You in the least ones, and strengthen our hands to serve You in others, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus  Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr. St. James of Jerusalem (also known as “James the Just”) is identified as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19).  Much of the Church has considered James to be a kinsman of Jesus, but he may in fact have been a later child born to Mary and Joseph.  James did not believe in Jesus until after His resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7).  He quickly became an important leader in the Jerusalem church and played a significant role in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).  He authored the letter that bears his name in the New Testament.  The ancient Jewish historian Josephus reports that James was martyred in 62 A.D. when he was stoned to death by the Sadducees.

Scripture reading:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:1-12)

Collect of the Day:
Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church.  Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your  Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity - Deut 10:12-21

                                                                                                Trinity 18
                                                                                                Deut 10:12-21

            The history had produced a sense of inevitability.  No one living had ever seen any other result.  And so for many people there was no reason to expect any other outcome.
            More than a hundred baseball seasons began and ended with the same result: the Chicago Cubs did not win the World Series.  Seven times in a row the Cubs lost in the World Series. Since the last loss in 1945, the Cubs had rarely been in the playoffs and had never been back to the World Series.  The few times when they had success were marred by memorable collapses: the 1969 team that failed to make the playoffs; the 1984 and 2003 teams that failed to make the World Series.
            In the discussion that leads into our text, Moses has been describing a similar history of failure punctuated by epic acts of disobedience. In the previous chapter he said, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.”  There was a long history of Israel failing to trust in Yahweh and disobeying him.
            At the very beginning, when they arrived at the Red Sea and saw that the Egyptians were pursuing them they said, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’”
            Their repeated grumbling, complaining and doubting had been capped off by two huge acts of disobedience.  At Mt Sinai they had made and worshipped a golden calf instead of Yahweh.  And then when Yahweh brought them to the land of Canaan and told them to go in and take possession of the land, they did not believe God and refused. Moses was able to summarize their history this way: “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.”
            But now, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they were about to enter the promised land.  In a series of sermon like addresses, Moses was urging Israel to be faithful to Yahweh, to trust him, and to obey him.  He begins our text by saying, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” 
            Moses called Israel to fear and love God.  He urged them to walk in his ways and to keep the Torah that Yahweh had given to them as his covenant people.  This relationship – this covenant God had made Israel – had not been caused by anything Israel had done.  Instead in our text Moses says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” 
            The whole creation belongs to God, yet in his grace he had called Abraham, and reaffirmed his promises to Isaac and Jacob.  God’s saving action for Israel was grounded in the promise he had made to the patriarchs. As Moses had said earlier, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
            Despite God’s love, Israel’s track record was one of disobedience.  And so in our text Moses urges Israel: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.  For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” Moses called Israel to repentance and faithfulness. The reason was very simple.  God is the awesome judge who shows no partiality and judges justly.  And Yahweh had warned Israel that continued disobedience would bring his judgment.
            It would be great if I could tell you that Israel finally broke out of her history.  I wish I could say that like the Chicago Cubs in 2016 they shook off their past and did the unexpected. Yet that’s not how things turned out. They entered the promised land where they worshipped other gods and did not walk in God’s ways. The result, as God warned them in Deuteronomy, was God’s judgment of exile from the land he had given to them.
            I also wish I could say that we are all that different from Israel.  In the opening verse of our text we hear echoes of the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Commandment: we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  Like Israel we have our false gods.  They are not Asherah poles or golden calves, but instead the money that gives us a sense of security and value; the possessions that we just can’t be without; the sports that occupy so much of our time and attention.
            God had told Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son.”  Yet because Israel was an unfaithful son, God sent his own Son into the world to fulfill what Israel was meant to be.  In our text Moses says that “the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers.”  When God first set his love on Abraham and called him, he promised, “and in you all families of the earth will be blessed.”
            Unlike Israel, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, walked in all God’s ways, loved and served God with all his heart soul, and kept the commandments and statutes.  He did this for Israel.  And he also did it for you.  At his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit as he took on the role of the suffering Servant.  He took the sins of Israel upon himself. He took your sins upon himself.  And then he walked in the way of the Lord that led to the cross on Good Friday. 
            As Moses says in our text, “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” He is the impartial and just God who condemned your sin in Christ. As St Paul wrote, “For our sake he made who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  In obedience to the Father, our Lord Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sins.  Though without sin of his own, Jesus received the wages of our sin as he died on the cross and was buried in a tomb.
            Jesus loved, trusted and obeyed the Father all the way to death and the tomb.  But he did so knowing that God’s Spirit had promised through David in Psalm 16 about the Messiah: “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”  On the third day God’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dead as he won victory over death.  Now the risen and ascended Lord has given us the Spirit as we received the washing of regeneration and renewal in Holy Baptism.
            It is the Spirit of Christ who now leads us to fear and love God as we serve him and walk in his ways.  Though no longer bound by the specific commandments and statutes of the Torah given to Israel, we still find that the things God commands us in his Word are for our good.  They describe how God has ordered his creation and so they are always best for us.  They bring blessings as we walk in the way of the Lord.
            God’s saving action for you in Christ is the ultimate demonstration of his loving character.  It is a reflection of who God has always been.  In our text Moses says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” God is the One who loves and cares for the helpless.  That’s why he sent his Son to suffer and die for you.  That’s why he raised Christ from the dead. That is why he has called you to faith through his Spirit.
            And because we have received this love, it is now something we share with others.  Moses goes on to add in our text, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”  We are called to help others, because God has helped us.  We are called to serve others, because Christ served us. We are called to love others because God loved us.  The love that God has given us in Christ cannot stop with us.  It can never end there.  Instead it sets us in motion to help and assist those around us.  By his Spirit, Christ leads us to support and encourage those in need. We do this wherever Christ places us in the various callings in life – our vocations. You don’t have to look for people who need help. God has placed them right there around you where you are in your family, your church, your job and your school.
            At the end our text Moses says, “You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.  He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.”  Like Israel, we are called to fear the Lord and serve him.  And we are to hold fast to him. 
            We hold fast to God by clinging to his Means of Grace.  We return daily to our baptism, as we believe God’s promises about what he has done for us through water and the Word. There we were buried with Christ and clothed with Christ.  We receive Holy Absolution as the risen Lord speaks forgiveness here and now through his called servant.  We receive the Sacrament of the Altar in which Jesus gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for us.  We receive his Word both in its reading and preaching in the Divine Service, and in our own reading of Scripture at home.
            We cling to God in these ways by which he comes to us. And then we respond in the life of prayer that turns to God in every need. We pray for others in their difficulties. We give thanks for every blessing.  We do all of this because of the great and awesome things that God has done for us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.



Friday, October 18, 2019

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist. According to Colossians 4:14, Luke was a physician.  He joined Paul during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:9-11) and accompanied him during several portions of his travels.  He traveled with Paul to Jerusalem and was with him during the two years that he was imprisoned in Caesarea (Acts 21-26).  It is likely that Luke used this time to gather material he used in writing the Gospel of Luke.  Luke wrote the Book of Acts as the second volume that accompanies the Gospel of Luke (Acts 1:1-2).  More than one-third of the New Testament was written by Luke.

Scripture reading:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:1-9 ESV)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, our Father, Your blessed Son called Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul.  Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Commemoration of Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr

Today we remember and give thanks for Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr.  Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, we praise Your name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice.  Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity - Eph 4:1-6

                                                                                                Trinity 17
                                                                                                Eph 4:1-6

            “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”  This saying captures a reality of life. We do indeed choose our friends.  We decide which people we like – the people with whom we want to spend time.  We meet people with whom we “just click” – our personalities and interests fit with each other and we enjoy being around them.  These are people with whom we choose to be friends.
            On the other hand, you have no choice in the members of your family.  You are simply born into a family.  Your father and mother are the ones who created you. They are your parents, and you have no say in the matter.  Likewise, any siblings you have – any brothers and sisters – are your siblings because your parents created them too. And beyond the immediate family, your grandparents, aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins are your family because of the connections of blood and marriage.  These connections of family are facts of life.  They are realities in which you have no choice.
            The amazing thing about families is that children produced by the same parents and raised in the same house can be so very different in their personalities.  Within this diversity it can be the case that members of the family don’t always get along all that well.  And of course as you consider the extended family, the potential for this simply grows.  Family members may have characteristics and habits that rub each other the wrong way and create tensions. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are still family.
            In our epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul addresses the fact that the same thing is true in the Church.  Now of course, for many of us, our family and Church are one and the same.  And if personality characteristics and habits can create problems among people who grow up in the same family, it’s not surprising that they also exist within the larger group of the Church.
            Paul had experience dealing with many different congregations.  He ministered for extended periods of time in settings such as Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus.  He kept in touch with congregations through his letters.  He knew that the Church was a collection of sinners – forgiven sinners to be sure in whom the Spirit is at work.  Yet in the struggle against sin, there were times when Christians failed and wronged one another. And beyond that, Paul knew from firsthand experience that sometimes the personalities of Christians just didn’t mesh all that well. Sometimes the issue was not sin, but just that Christians annoyed each other.
            And so Paul begins our text by saying: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  The apostle urges that Christians live in a way that is worthy – that matches – the calling we have received.
            He gives a description of what this looks like when he says that it is a life marked by humility and gentleness.  To live in humility is to put the needs of other before ourselves, rather than thinking only of what I want and what is easiest for me. To live in gentleness is to speak and act in kind ways, rather than reacting brusquely by doing and saying whatever comes to mind even if it harsh and likely to offend.
            Paul says it means being patient with one another.  And then he explains what this involves, it is “bearing with one another in love.”  You can just as easily translate the Greek here as “putting up with one another in love.” Christians will sin against one another.  Christians will rub each other the wrong way.  We will not always have personalities that are a perfect fit with one another.  Yet the apostle says that are to put up with one another in love.  Love is to cause us to forgive.  Love is to cause us to overlook and ignore the source of these tensions. And finally, Paul says that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  The Spirit worked unity of our life in Christ is maintained as we live in peace with one another.
            Paul says that this life is “worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  The apostle talks about how we are to live with one another as Christians.  But he reminds us that the source of this life is not found in us.  Instead, it is based in the God’s gracious calling – our election and predestination by God in Christ. Paul begins this letter by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
            God called you.  He chose you.  He elected you from eternity in Christ. This is the ultimate demonstration of his grace. Before you could do a thing, God chose you in Christ to receive salvation.  As Paul goes on to say, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  It was God’s grace that sent our Lord Jesus Christ to die as the sacrifice for our sin.  It was God’s grace to call you to faith through his Spirit.  It is God’s gift from beginning to end.  As Paul says in the second chapter of this letter, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
            You didn’t choose your family.  And you didn’t choose the Church. God chose you.  He did it because of his great love.  Paul tells us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ.” 
            Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has given you forgiveness and hope.  He has applied the forgiveness won by Christ to you when he sanctified you by the washing of water with the Word in Holy Baptism.  God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to his right hand.  Because you have been joined to Christ through faith and baptism, Paul says that God has made us alive together in Christ – that he has raised up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.
            Now through this gracious work – through his calling – God has united us together.  The apostle emphasizes in our text the many ways God has joined us together when he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
            God has done this for you in Christ through the Spirit.  He has graciously called you to this salvation that we have in the Church. And so Paul says in our text, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 
            Because God has done this for us and joined us together in this way, we now seek to walk in a manner worth of this calling.  Christ humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross – for us, and so now as those who are in Christ we humble ourselves as we serve and help others in the church.  We seek to put the needs of others before ourselves, just as Christ put our needs before himself.  We live with gentleness towards others as we show care and compassion, knowing that God has treated us this way in Christ.
            And we as live in the Church we show patience, bearing with one another in love.  There are times that we have to put up with one another in love.  We are still fallen people.  We struggle with sin.  We sin against one another.  But because of Jesus Christ we do not look to take offense or to hold on to a grudge.  Instead, Paul says later in this chapter, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  The forgiveness that God has given us in Christ is the forgiveness that we pass on to one another.
            God called you to be in his Church, just as he has called all those who sit around you this morning – and that includes the members of your own family.  He has called people with many different personalities.  Some you might not choose to be your friends in the world. But it is God who has called us of us together in Christ. He has united us as one body through the work of his Spirit. And so now as we live together in the Church, we do so “with patience, bearing with one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 
            We overlook the shortcomings of others, and choose not to focus on those things they do and say that annoy us.  We put up with one another in love.  We do this because of Christ. For Paul says in the next chapter, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
            These are all things that we do as we live with one another in the Church.  We are humble and kind.  We are patient and bear with one another in love. We seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit on the bond of peace.  But this life of faith is always the response - it is the life prompted by what God has done for in Christ.  It is a response to God’s gracious saving election that he carried out in Christ before the foundation of the world.  And so as Paul exhorts, we seek to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.