Sunday, October 4, 2020

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


                                           Trinity 17

                                                                                            Eph 4:1-6



     Pastoral longevity is often a very good indicator of the health of a congregation.  Now certainly there can be exceptions, but if you find that pastors regularly stay a long time at a congregation it is usually positive indicator about that setting.  I think that certainly applies as a description of Good Shepherd.  Pastor Schmidt was pastor here for sixteen years, and certainly would have been here even longer if his health had not forced him to retire.

      I have now been pastor at Good Shepherd for fourteen years.   I am rapidly closing in on Pastor Schmidt’s mark, and before too long I will overtake him as the longest tenured pastor at Good Shepherd. During my years at Good Shepherd I have found it to be a place of remarkable peace and unity.

     Now admittedly, I was not here for that epic event in which the congregation went through the process of deciding to buy a riding mower.  But during my time as pastor, I think I can count of two hands the number of times there has not been a unanimous vote at all the church council and voters’ meetings that have taken place. The level of unity and agreement has frankly been quite remarkable.

     That is why the events that began during March of this year have been so striking.  As Covid 19 became an issue, and the governor then issued his original stay at home order, for the first time during all of my years at Good Shepherd I have seen something that has caused tension and a degree of division in the congregation.  There has been disagreement about whether to have services or not. There has been disagreement about whether to wear masks or not.  There has been disagreement about the actual risk the virus poses.

     And these have not been mere intellectual disagreements.  They have often been filled with emotion and strong feelings. 

The fact of the matter is that this has just been a really weird time, unlike anything we have seen before.  And our congregation is by no means unusual.  I have talked with many pastors who have experienced the same thing in their congregations too.

     As we live in a fallen world, even really good churches can at times experience division.  And what is true at the level of congregations, is certainly also true in Christian families and between Christian friends. We are therefore always in need of hearing what St. Paul has to say in our text today from his letter to the Ephesians.

     Paul begins 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 begins by urging us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.  Paul says it plainly: God called us.  We say the words in the Small Catechism’s explanation to the Third Article of the Creed: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts and kept me in the truth faith.”

     But sometimes we forget that this really is the case. God called you to faith through the Gospel.  It is a matter of God’s grace.  In fact, Paul this says this was God’s will for you in Christ before the world was even created. He began 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 ourselves we had no reason to be called – no reason that God should want to call us. The apostle describes our past when he says in chapter two, And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” 

     The apostle paints a bleak picture of what we are on our own, conceived and born as fallen, sinful people.  We are slaves of Satan.  That’s the way the world lives apart from Christ – living in the passions of the flesh; carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. This it calls “freedom.”  But what appears to be gold is actually a gilded cage.  It is slavery to Satan that actually brings pain and chaos in this life as it leads to damnation.  Just look at what that the abandonment of all biblical teaching about marriage and sexuality has done to our culture – to families, parents and children.

     There was nothing about us that was lovable.  However, Paul goes on to say, “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 Jesus.”

     In his mercy and grace God sent his Son into the world to die on the cross for our trespasses.  And the on the third day he raised him from the dead. This resurrection is the revelation of God’s incredible saving power for us.  It is what gives us the living hope that we have every day.  Earlier Paul said that he prays for the Ephesians, “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

     You have received the Holy Spirit through baptism and the Word. You live a life that is in Christ – a life joined to our Lord and his saving work.  Paul begins our text with the word “therefore.”  His thought in our text is based upon what we heard in last week’s epistle lesson. There he spoke of how he prayed to God, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

     Paul’s “therefore” in our text is based on power the Spirit gives so that Christ dwells in our heart through faith.  It is based on knowing the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge.  You have been called to this. And because you have, the apostle urges us 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”

     Walking – living – in a manner worthy of the calling we have received in Christ is marked by humility and gentleness.  These are not characteristics that the world admires.  The athlete makes a great play and then he poses and preens.  In a rude and brusque world, gentleness is considered to be weakness. But those who already have everything in Christ have no need to boast.  Instead we follow Christ in humble service toward others that shows care and compassion

     Because we have received forgiveness in Christ we seek to be patient with others – to bear with one another.  Frankly at times we put up with another and choose to overlook shortcomings, because this is what God has done for us in Christ. This is what Christ’s Spirit gives us the power to do. After all, Paul has said just before our text, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”

     And Paul says in our text that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  The Holy Spirit has created faith within us.  Because of his work we share in the bond that is peace.  We have peace with God – the peace that God has brought about through our Savior Jesus Christ.

     And therefore we seek to live in ways that are produced by this unity – ways that maintain this unity. We seek to live as what God has made us to be.  In our text Paul hammers home the oneness that rests in God.  He says, “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.”

     You have been joined by the Spirit into the Body of Christ.  You have one hope – the resurrection of our Lord which gives eternal life now and resurrection no the Last Day.  You have one Lord – the Lord Jesus who gave himself on the cross to win the forgiveness of your sins.  You have one faith – faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  You have received one baptism for the forgiveness of your sins.  You have one God and Father who loved you when you were unlovable and gave his Son as the sacrifice to make you the children of God.

     This is the unity that God has given to us.  This is the unity to which God has called us in love. And because this is so may the Spirit of the risen Lord lead each of us to live the apostle’s words that we hear this morning: 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.” 


















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