Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Commemoration of Jerome, Translator of Holy Scripture


 

Today we remember and give thanks for Jerome, Translator of Holy Scripture.  Jerome was born in a little village on the Adriatic Sea around the year A.D. 345. At a young age he went to study in Rome, where he was baptized. After extensive travels, he chose the life of a monk and spent five years in the Syrian desert. There he learned Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament . After ordination at Antioch and visits to Rome and Constantinople, Jerome settled in Bethlehem. From the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, he used his ability with languages to translate the Bible into Latin, the common language of his time. This translation, called the Vulgate, was the authoritative version of the Bible in the western Church world for over 1,000 years. Considered one of the great scholars of the early church, Jerome died on September 30, 420. He was originally interred at Bethlehem but his remains were eventually taken to Rome.

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, God of truth, Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  You gave Your servant Jerome delight in his study of Holy Scripture.  May those who continue to read, mark, and inwardly digest Your Word find in it the food of salvation and the fountain of life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels


 

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  The observance of a day to honor the angel St. Michael dates to the fifth century.  It was later expanded to include all angels. .  We confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.”  Included in this are the angels who are spiritual beings created by God to serve Him and help His people.

 

The Bible mentions two angels by name.  Michael is mentioned in Daniel (10:13, 21; 12:1), Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7.  On the basis of these passages he has been honored as “captain of the heavenly hosts.”  Gabriel is mentioned in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21, and was the messenger of God in the annunciation to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) and Mary (Luke 1:26).  In the Scripture reading from Revelation 12, Michael and the angels cast Satan from heaven.  This casting out of Satan took place as a result of Christ’s victory in his death, resurrection, and ascension.  No longer is Satan allowed to appear before God and accuse His people (such as we find in Zechariah 3:1-5; the name Satan means “adversary” in Hebrew). 

 

Scripture reading:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7-12).

 

Collect of the Day:

Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order.  Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

 

 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Kings 17:17-24

 

Trinity 16

                                                                                       1 Kings 17:17-24

                                                                                       9/27/20

 

            A boy got sick and died.  We aren’t told what illness it was, just that the “illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.”  This was certainly tragic.  The mother was a widow. The boy was her only child. Her husband had died.  Her only child had died, and she was left all alone.

Now in the ninth century B.C. this was tragic.  But it wasn’t unusual.  It wasn’t surprising.  This is simply what happened.  The life expectancy in ancient Israel was probably around forty years.  That is skewed somewhat by the high infant mortality of the time. Certainly, there were some who were blessed to live longer.

But death was just an ugly part of life.  It was tragic. But it wasn’t surprising. For millennia it was this way. In fact, the life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was just a little under fifty years. By comparison, the life expectancy today is right at seventy nine years.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t expect to die.  We assume that the wonderful advances in modern medicine will always have an answer to help keep us alive until we get really old.  For us, cancer is probably the greatest fear because it just shows up, often for unexplained reasons. And we know that while there is great success in treating some forms of cancers, others have a low probability of survival.

That’s why the reaction to COVID 19 has been so striking.  When have we ever seen large groups of people completely change their pattern of daily life because they feared an illness that could kill them?  My dad has described to me the reactions to polio outbreaks when he was young. But in my life, I had never seen anything like that … until this year.

In uncomfortable ways, this virus has reminded many that Isaiah’s words are true: death is the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. And in this setting we need all the more hear to about the cause of death and the answer God has provided.

Our Old Testament lesson is a continuation from what we heard last Sunday.  In response to the wicked paganism of King Ahab and his queen Jezebel, God had announced through the prophet Elijah that he was sending a drought upon Israel.  As the drought progressed, God did the unexpected. He sent Elijah to live with a widow and her son in the town of Zarapheth which belonged to Sidon – the very place from which Jezebel had come as the daughter of the king there. Essentially, God sent Elijah to live in Jezebel’s back yard!

We heard last week how the draught had brought about a famine.  The widow and her son were about to die, when Elijah’s presence brought the miracle that their jar of flour and jug of oil for making food did not become empty, according to the word of the LorD that he spoke by Elijah.

It’s a feel good story, that takes a very dark turn in our text today.  We hear this morning: “After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.” The mother said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

The widow’s first reaction to the death of her son was that it was about her sin.  Now while she was misguided in thinking that her sin had caused the death of another, she was not wrong in assuming that there is a link between sin and death. St. Paul tells us in Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Through the disobedience of Adam in the Fall, sin entered into the world.  It entered into every one of us because we have been conceived and born as fallen, sinful people. 

We see it in the things we say and do to our family and friends.  We see it in our thoughts which turn to jealousy, coveting and lust.  We see it, even when we don’t want it to be there.  And this sin brings death.  Paul leaves no doubt about it when he says, “For the wages of sin is death.”

But God is the God of life. Elijah took the dead boy and to the upper room where he lived and laid the body on his own bed.  He cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”  Then after stretching himself upon the child three times he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again.” Yawheh granted Elijah’s request and the boy returned to life. Elijah brought the woman’s son to her and she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

            Last week, the woman said to Elijah, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.”  But now after this experience she says that the “word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” She had come to know that Yahweh is the true God through the raising of her son from the dead.

            There is an obvious parallel between our Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson in which Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain from the dead.  We learn that after Jesus did this, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’”

            Luke wants us to know that Jesus came as the great end time prophet.  Moses had promised, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.”  Jesus performs miracles just like the great prophet Elijah because he is this One promised by God.

            After our text, Elijah would go on to win a great victory for Yahweh at Mt. Carmel over the prophets of Baal and Asherah. But then the threat from Queen Jezebel that she was going to kill him would send Elijah into the wilderness and he would say to God, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”  He would ask to die.  And after arriving at Mt. Horeb he would speak words of failure: “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.”

            The prophets of the Old Testament suffered. The prophets were killed. Jesus Christ came as the great end time prophet who was more than just another prophet.  He was the Son of God who had entered into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He came to die on the cross in order to win forgiveness for our every sin.  Paul told the Corinthians that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”  How did Jesus Christ reconcile us to God?  Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

            Jesus received God’s judgment in our place as he died on the cross. But the victory that Christ came to win was about more than just forgiveness.  Had had come to defeat what sin had caused.  He came to defeat death itself.  That’s what happened on Easter.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead with a body that can never die again. This resurrected body is the one that he will give to you on the Last Day.  Our risen, ascended and exalted Lord will return in glory, and so Paul told the Philippians that we await, “a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

            You know that this is true for you because you have been baptized.  Paul told the Romans, “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

            Your sin has been forgiven! Death has been defeated! For you, to die is to depart and be with Christ.  For you, to die is to share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he returns. It is to receive a body like Christ’s that can never die again.

            These truths need to guide the way we live every day.  God has loved you and forgiven your sins in Christ. Therefore Paul tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  We are called to love others and forgive them because this is what God has already done for us in Christ Jesus.

            And we cannot live lives that are ruled by the fear of death.  We want to live.  We should want to live because God is the God of life.  Life is the gift that he has given to each one of us. There is nothing “natural” about death.  It has been caused by sin that found its source in the temptation of the devil who is a murderer.

But we know that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  He is risen! He is risen indeed!  And because he has, we know that not even death can separate us from God. More than that, we know that death cannot hold our bodies because Jesus Christ has already started the resurrection of the Last Day. As Paul told the Corinthians, “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Let us live each day, confident in the victory that already belongs to us is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

 

           

 

           

 

           

 

 

 

 

           

   

 

 

 

 

     

 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 6:24-34

 

Trinity 15

Mt 6:24-34

9/20/20

                                              

 

            On the surface of things, Jesus really has nothing to say to you this morning.  In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount he says,  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  He says, “And why are you anxious about clothing?” He concludes our text by saying, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”

            Perhaps I am mistaken, but I sincerely doubt that anyone here this morning has been anxious about what they were going to eat, or drink or wear this week.  Now maybe you faced the question, “What are we doing for dinner tonight?”  That is an issue that often arises in the Surburg house as we try to figure out what we are going to have for supper based on what food is in the house and how much time we have that night.  I suspect we are not alone in this.

            And maybe you had to make a decision about what clothes you were going to wear that day based on work or some activity you were going to attend. For example, school pictures have been going on during the last two weeks and so parents have had to convince their kids to wear something that is, perhaps, a little nicer than the clothes they would normally wear.

            Yet this is not what Jesus is talking about in our text.  Our Lord is speaking to first century residents of Palestine.  Just before the Sermon on the Mount begins, Matthew tells us, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 

And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”

            Great crowds followed Jesus.  Those who came to hear Jesus were people who - for the most part, lived a life of subsistence.  Whether farmers, or fishermen, or craftsmen they had just enough to live.  They lived life on the edge.  A season of drought or some kind of blight could ruin crops and cause a famine like we hear about in Acts chapter eleven.  It could cause economic devastation to cascade through the economy.  Or at a personal level if the fishing was bad, or crops didn’t do well, or business wasn’t good, or if you got sick you could easily find yourself with not enough food and struggling to replace clothing that wore out.

            Honestly, you are just not worried about whether you are going to have food to eat or clothes to wear. Perhaps I am wrong, and if I am then please come and talk to me privately because as a congregation we have funds available to help you.  We know that there certainly are people in our area who face this problem.  But I doubt that this is true of anyone here this morning.

            Yet in spite of this fact, Jesus certainly does have something very significant to say this morning that applies to every one of us.  The sign for this is found in the word “therefore” with which Jesus introduces the statement, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”

            Literally, the Greek says, “because of this.”  Jesus has provided the reason that people are not to worry.  Just before our text he said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

            So what is your treasure? What do you value most?  It is your house and your perfectly manicured yard and garden? It is your collection of guns, or trains, or woodworking tools?  It is the interior d├ęcor, furniture and decorating in your house?  Is it your car, or your “big toys” like a boat, or a camper?

            Jesus says that these are not to be our true treasure.  Instead, the treasure that we are to lay up for ourselves are the ones in heaven – the ones that are secure with God.  These treasures are the life of faith.  They are the way we value, use and receive the Means of Grace. They are the life of prayer, as we invest time coming to God as we call upon him in every trouble, praise him and give thanks.  They are the life of love and service that we direct toward others, instead of focusing on ourselves.

            Our Lord says this matters because, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Your treasure – what you value – shows where your heart is really at.  And this leads directly into the first verse our text in which Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

            You can have only one Lord. And Jesus says that it is either God or money. Remember, a god is whatever you value most.  It is whatever gives you a sense of security, meaning and value. And it is here that money competes as a god in our lives.

We live in a culture of wealth.  According to Credit Suisse Research Institute, if you have a net wealth of $93,000, that is, the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing)owned by households, minus their debts, then you are richer than ninety percent of the people in the world.  If you have a net wealth of $4,000 you are richer than half of the world’s residents – your are richer than 3.9 billion people. We live lives in which we just assume that things like cars, smart phones, big screen tv’s, surround sound, and air conditioning are part of ordinary existence.

The money needed to maintain this existence? Now that is what is essential. That is what gives us a sense of security. Oh, and of course, beyond that we should be able to take great vacations and do home improvements.

This is a god.  It is a false god that presents a great spiritual challenge for each of us.  When a rich young man came to Jesus, he asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and when the man confidently asserted: All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 

So Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Jesus was saying that there is an inherent spiritual danger in wealth. This is a danger we all face, because by the standards of the people in our text; by the standards of billions of people in this world, we are wealthy. 

We see in our text this morning that God has only promised you food, drink and clothing.  That’s it.  We don’t want to hear it, but almost everything that we consider to be a financial crisis just doesn’t matter to God.  It doesn’t count because it has almost always has been created by the craving for all those things that having nothing to do with what God has promised.

So what does matter?  Jesus says in our text, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Our Lord says that we are to seek the reign of God that Jesus has brought into the world.  We are to seek God’s righteousness – his saving action to put all things right.

What matters is that God sent his Son into the world to suffer and die for all of the times and ways we allow money and wealth to act as a god in our life. What matters is that by his sacrificial death on the cross Jesus Christ has won forgiveness for this and every other sin. What matters is that on the third day God defeated death by raising Jesus from the dead.

This is what matters.  And it matters because this reign of God, the righteousness of God, is present in our midst right now.  The Spirit of the risen Lord brings this reign to us through the Means of Grace that Jesus Christ has given us.  What are our real treasures?  It is the Word of the Gospel that is proclaimed to you now and that you can read at home.  It is Holy Baptism by which we know that our sins have been washed away.  It is Holy Absolution, as the Lord Jesus speaks his forgiveness to us. And it is the Sacrament of the Altar in which the risen Lord comes into our midst and gives us his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and assurance that our bodies too will share in Jesus’ resurrection on the Last Day.

These treasures give us forgiveness for all of the ways that we allow money and wealth to act like a god in our life.  But they do more than just that. They are also the means by which the Holy Spirit changes and moves us to use our money to seek the kingdom of God.  He leads us to see our money as the means by which we seek to have the reign of God shared with others.  It is the means for supporting mission work here in our own country and around the world.

The Spirit leads us to see how God works through us to share his love – the love he has given us in Jesus Christ.  God has promised food and clothing to those who believe in him.  It is the blessing that we should want all people to have.  And God uses us as the means by which he provides it to others. We, the Body of Christ, use the money with which God has blessed us – the money that goes so far beyond the food and clothing he has promised to us – to help feed and clothe others.

Our Lord has given you all the things he promises in our text this morning.  He has blessed you in ways that surpass anything those who first heard Jesus’ words could have imagined. Yet in that great blessing we also find great temptation.  Jesus warns, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

We are called to serve God, and the way to do this begins with receiving the greatest treasure of all.  Our Lord says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” This we do in Christ’s Means of Grace for there we receive forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit, who leads us to use God’s abundant blessings to help others. 

           

 

             

 

 

             

           

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Commemoration of Cyprian, Pastor and Martyr


 

Today we remember and give thanks for Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr.  Cyprian (A.D.  ca. 200–258), was acclaimed bishop of the north African city Carthage around 248. During the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius, Cyprian fled Carthage but returned two years later. He was then forced to deal with the problem of Christians who had lapsed from their faith under persecution and now wanted to return to the Church. It was decided that these lapsed Christians could be restored but that their restoration could take place only after a period of penance that demonstrated their faithfulness. During the persecution under Emperor Valerian, Cyprian at first went into hiding but later gave himself up to the authorities. He was beheaded for the faith in Carthage in the year 258.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You gave Your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, before the rulers of this world and courage to die for the faith he proclaimed.  Give us strength always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 5:16-24

 

Trinity 14 

Gal 5:16-24

                                                                            9/13/20

 

            No doubt, a few of you were disappointed this morning to learn that I did not have that $1,000,000 cashier’s check for you as I promised last Sunday.  It was, of course, a sermon illustration at the beginning of the sermon meant to highlight the character of a promise.  And just to be clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, the only thing that Matthew and I are doing in our basement is running trains – making money for the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1950’s.

            However, the emphasis on God’s promise that we saw in last week’s sermon based on the text from Galatians chapter three continues to be very relevant as we look now at our text from Galatians chapter 5.  We saw last week how Paul said that salvation is not received by works of the law, but by the hearing with faith, just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Paul went on to add, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

            Paul announced the theme he would develop throughout the letter when he wrote in chapter two, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

            The apostle has been absolutely clear that works of the law – doing – has no part in being saved as part of God’s people.  Instead, since we are unable to do the law we are under a curse. Or at least we were until Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for us on the cross.  As Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”

            Just before our text at the beginning of chapter five, Paul has hammered home this point one last time. He wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  The apostle told the Galatians to ignore what the false teachers were saying.  In Christ, through faith, they were free from sin.  They were free from the idea that works and doing were part of how they were saved. To listen to these teachers and start doing parts of the Law of Moses such as circumcision, foods laws and Jewish religious days would be to submit again to slavery.

            Paul lays it out in terms that no one can misunderstand as he writes, “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”  To submit again to the law would be to deny Christ.  And if you want the law to be part of how you deal with God, there can never be just a “little bit of law.” The law is an all or nothing deal.  Because we can never do the law perfectly in thought, word, and deed the apostle says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

            This is powerful stuff!  You can understand why Martin Luther described the letter to the Galatians has “his Katie von Bora” – as his wife. Here, Paul says that salvation is a gift received by faith – faith alone.

            But the old Adam is one sneaky dude.  He is always looking for an angle he can work against us.  And in this case, it is really very simple.  I am saved by grace.  I am saved by faith and not doing.  Therefore, doing is not important. Or more than that, an emphasis on doing – living a God pleasing life – can be portrayed as a bad thing.  It can even be labeled as a threat to the Gospel.

            The apostle Paul knew this very well. And so in chapter five he picks up the other side of things. We are saved by faith alone.  But where faith in Christ worked by the Spirit is present, faith is never alone.  It can’t be.  Before our text Pauls says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”  Faith is not a work that saves.  Faith is a gift worked by the Spirit that receives what Christ gives. And because it receives this forgiveness and love of God, faith then works through love toward others.

            In the verses immediately before our text, Paul plays on the word “freedom” that he has just used as he warned the Galatians not to become slaves of the law and sin. But now he says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

            The freedom provided by the Gospel is not meant to give the flesh – the fallen sinful nature still present in us – the opportunity to sin.  We can’t live thinking, “I’m forgiven in Christ, so what’s the big deal if I do this.”  We can’t live thinking that because we are saved by faith apart from works of the law, that now we don’t have to bother to do anything. Instead faith leads us to love our neighbor in service. 

            In our text Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  Paul says that when we follow the Spirit’s guiding - when we allow the Spirit of Christ to provide the motivation - we will not allow the desires of the sinful nature to run our life. And then Paul immediately explains why it has been necessary to say this as he adds, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

            Paul explains the reality that we experience every day.  Through the work of the Spirit in baptism we are a new creation in Christ.  The new man is present who rejoices in God’s will and does it.  But as we live in this time of the now and the not yet, the old Adam – the fallen sinful nature – is also still present.  That’s why we continue to feel jealousy and coveting. That’s why we get angry and feel hate. That is why we have lust.

            These two continue to battle against each other. But before we consign ourselves to being perpetual losers in this struggle – before we assume that the old Adam is always going to win – we need to remember why Paul gave this explanation. It was to support and explain his assertion: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  Paul doesn’t assume that the old Adam is always going to win.  On the contrary, he expresses the thought emphatically in the Greek: “walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

            Paul alerts us to the fact that there is a struggle, and that we must therefore align ourselves with the Spirit.  When we do, we will not carry out the desires of the flesh.  And the reason for this is rooted in the same power by which Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Paul tells us in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The power of Jesus’ resurrection is at work in you because you have received the Holy Spirit.  This is the power that is present through the Spirit to help you refuse the desires of the flesh.

            Now the good news is that the works of the flesh are very obvious.  Paul says in our text, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” They are obvious, and Paul is explicit in describing their result as he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

            When we see these things in our life, the first thing to do is repent. We need to confess it as what it truly is: sin. Next, we need to return to the gift of forgiveness that God has given us in our baptism. In faith we believe God’s promise that through the water of baptism this sin has been forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We listen to God’s word about what our life in Christ should be like because through baptism and the word the Spirit continues to be at work in us.

            The Spirit within you – the Spirit you have received is the Spirit of the risen Lord!   He is no loser. But victory over sin does not mean the absence of struggle.  In fact, Paul says in our text, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Victory over sin means that through the work of the Spirit we crucify the flesh – we put it do death.  And this is not a one time thing.  It is an ongoing process that lasts as long as we live.  Where we fail, we repent and return to our baptism. For there we have forgiveness and the source of the Spirit’s presence in our life by which we get back after it.

            You have received the Spirit.  As you are fed by the Means of Grace, the Spirit continues to be at work in you.  And the Spirit’s work is about more than just combatting sin.  Paul goes on to say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The more we read and study God’s Word; the more we return in faith to our baptism; the more we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar and believe his words, “given and shed for your for the forgiveness of sins,” the more the Spirit will be at work in us to produce these things. That’s what he does.  That what God’s word tells us.

            So as Christians we rejoice that forgiveness and salvation is the free gift of God.  It was won by the death of Jesus Christ for us on the cross.  Death was defeated and the resurrection we will receive has already begun in Jesus Christ – it began on Easter. This salvation is not a matter of works and doing.  It is received by faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord.  It is received by faith alone.

            But because Christ has given us the Holy Spirit – the Spirit who raised him from the dead – faith can never remain alone. Instead it is active in love.  It does things. The old Adam is still present too.  And so the life of faith that is led by the Spirit must crucify the flesh – it has to daily put to death the old Adam and its sinful ways. 

This is not an easy thing.  If it were, Paul wouldn’t bother to talk about it. When we fail, we repent and return to the forgiveness we have through our baptism.  But the apostle tells us that the Spirit of the risen Lord – the Spirit who raised the Lord – is no loser.  When we follow his leading and rely on the strength he provides, we will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh. Instead we will produce the fruit of the Spirit. We will live lives marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We will live lives that are a blessing to those around us.