Sunday, October 2, 2022

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 7:11-17

 

Trinity 16

                                                                                       Lk 7:11-17

                                                                                      10/2/22

 

          At the beginning of this year, I took part in the funeral procession for Good Shepherd member Dale Krack.  It was an experience unlike anything I had seen before. Dale had just recently retired from his career as an Illinios State Trooper. He had also served in the Army National Guard, and had been deployed overseas on several occasions.

          The Krack family had moved to this area from Red Bud fairly recently.  Most of their family and friends were back in that area, and there was no way that our church building could accommodate the funeral. It therefore made good sense for the funeral to take place at St. John’s, Red Bud, their prior congregation.

          The first thing I saw as the procession began was how people from Red Bud had gathered outside holding American flags all along the route of the funeral procession.  The burial was going to take place at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. During the drive there, the hearse was flanked by State Troopers on motorcycles.  As the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery – every single highway onramp; every single street crossing on the entire route - was blocked off by some type of police unit.  But it was only once we arrived at the cemetery and I saw the rest of the funeral procession pull up, that I realized there were about fifty State Trooper vehicles in the procession. It was incredible.

          The funeral procession bore witness to the respect and admiration that people had for Dale.  You saw it in the response by the people in Red Bud.  Certainly, there is unique bond among those in law enforcement. But the scale of participation went beyond that fact.  In talking with others, it was clear that Dale was highly respected by his fellow State Troopers and that the level of participation bore witness to this.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning we hear about another funeral procession.  Luke describes it in a way that also calls attention to its notable character. Jesus works a miracle as he raises from the dead the young man who is being carried out for burial.  In this miracle, we see that God has visited us to bring us salvation.  And in what follows, we also gain insight into how we are to view the tragedies and hardships that we encounter in this world.

          We learn in our text that Jesus, his disciples, and a great crowd that accompanied him arrived at the town of Nain.  As they drew near to the gate of the town, they were met by another group that was coming out.  We learn: “behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” 

          Luke calls attention to the size of the funeral procession.  Clearly, it made an impression.  In this case the notable character of the procession had been caused by circumstances of the mother.  She was a widow, but she had a son who was a young man.  Unlike the widow that we heard about in last week’s sermon, she did have someone who could begin to help support her.  However now this son – her only son – had died.  Her husband had died.  Her only son had died. She had no one, and the community was clearly moved by her terrible circumstances.

          We learn that when Jesus saw her, he had compassion on her. This teaches us about the character of our Lord.  He sees suffering and has compassion – he cares deeply.  We need to recognize the truth that this is the same way that he views us as we experience suffering and hardship in life.

          Now when we learn about suffering, we often have compassion.  We probably do what we can to comfort and support those involved. But that is all we can do.  The Lord Jesus is different, and we see this in our text because first he does something shocking, and then he performs a miracle.

          Actually, our Lord does two shocking things. First, he said to the woman, “Do not weep.”  Who tells a grieving mother at her only son’s funeral not to cry? Then Jesus stopped the funeral procession as he came up and touched funeral bier on which the body was being carried. Who interrupts a funeral procession?  And then on top of this, the act of touching the bier meant ritual uncleanness according to the Old Testament law.

          Yet Jesus was acting to perform a miracle. We learn: “And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus raised the young man from the dead.

          Understandably, fear seized all who saw it. They glorified God saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  We spoke last Sunday about how Jesus is the final end time prophet.  So this morning, I want to focus on the second statement by the crowd: “God has visited his people!”

          In the Jesus Christ, God has visited his people. When Zechariah spoke words caused by the Holy Spirit after the naming of John the Baptist he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.”  In Jesus, God did visit his people as he fulfilled the promises made to King David and to Abraham. And of course, part of God’s promise to Abraham was that in his offspring, all nations would be blessed – we would be blessed.

          When Jesus was at the synagogue in Nazareth, he read this passage from Isaiah and declared that it was fulfilled in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

          Jesus Christ didn’t just proclaim good news.  He was the good news.  He was the Son of God in this world, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He was God visiting his people in order to bring freedom from sin, death, and the devil.  The miracles that he performed all pointed towards the single great act by which he would accomplish this. 

          Luke tells us in chapter nine, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Earlier in that chapter he had told the apostles, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

          Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, was in this world to suffer and die. He was here to suffer and die to redeem us – to free us from sin.  He was here to take our sins as if they were his own, and receive God’s wrath and judgment in our place.  Jesus hung on the cross in the darkness of Good Friday as he suffered and died for us.

          In our text we see that Jesus confronts death.  The Lord Jesus died on the cross in order to provide the final answer to death. Dead and buried, on the third day God raised him from the dead. The tomb was empty and the angels announced to the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  By his resurrection, Christ has defeated death. We have eternal life already now. To die is to be with Christ, and the Lord will return in glory on the Last Day to raise our bodies from the dead, and transform them to be like his own.

          This is true. But that still leaves us with a question that is impossible to avoid: What about right now? As I will announce in the Prayer of the Church today, what about the Lutheran pastor in our area whose teenage son died this week? What about all of the people for whom we pray in the Prayer of the Church – those suffering from cancer and many other physical hardships?

          Immediately after our text, we hear about how John the Baptist was in prison. John – the fulfilment of God’s prophecies – had proclaimed God’s word about the imminent arrival of God’s reign, and King Herod Antipas had imprisoned him because he had rebuked Antipas’ sin. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. And so from prison John sent two of his disciples with this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

          Jesus answered in this way: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Jesus told John that, yes, he was the One. After all, he had just raised the widow’s son from the dead!

          But to John who sat in prison, and would soon be martyred, our Lord also said, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Jesus Christ did not win our salvation in a way that looked glorious and powerful to the world.  Instead, he did it in the way of the cross.  This is not the way John wanted things done.  It is not the way we want things done.

          The life of the Christian is not one grand victory after another.  It is a life lived in what remains a fallen world as we continue our struggle against the old Adam.  It is a life in which there are tragedies that we cannot understand.  It is a life lived in the midst of suffering and hardships.

          But it is also a life in which we have already seen God’s great answer.  We have seen it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God has revealed his love for us as he sent his Son to die in our place.  Christ has revealed his love as he obeyed the Fathers’ will by suffering and dying on the cross to win forgiveness for us.

          Yet God’s answer did not end in death.  Instead, it led to the resurrection of Jesus.  It led to the defeat of death that has already occurred in the risen Lord. And because of this we have hope.  The apostle Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

          And so we live by faith in Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord.  He is God’s answer in the midst of all the things we don’t understand.  He is God’s comfort in the midst of tragedy and suffering.  The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead is the One who called us to this faith and sustains us in it.  Nourished by Christ’s Means of Grace we too say, “God has visited his people!” even as we live in confidence that he will visit us one final time on the Last Day – the day when we will no longer walk by faith but instead by sight as we live with our Lord in the new creation forever.

         

 

               

 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

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 25, 2022

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity - 1Kg 17:8-16

 

Trinity 15

                                                                                                 1 Kg 17:8-16

                                                                                                 9/25/22

 

          If you were a person living in Russia who was experiencing difficult times simply having enough to eat, and someone told you, “Well, go to Kyiv in Ukraine, and you will get assistance there,” you would probably find that advice to be less than helpful. After all, Russia invaded Ukraine and has carried out a brutal war there. The people in Ukraine hate Russians because of what they have done.  That does not seem like the place where a Russian should go to receive help.

          Or if you were person who was experiencing difficult times simply having enough to eat, and someone told you, “Well, go and live with this family because they have an Illinois Link card,” you would probably also find that advice to be less than helpful. A Link card is the Illinois Department of Human Services program to provide money for buying food to those who are in need.  If someone is not able to provide for food themselves with their own resources, it hardly sounds like a good idea to show up and ask the for food.

          Yet in our Old Testament reading this morning, that’s exactly what God does as he tells Elijah to go to Zarephah in Sidon and stay with a widow. It makes no sense.  Yet Elijah obeys Yahweh, and there God works a miracle to provide for Elijah and the widow.  In this miracle we see an act by God that points forward to the great miracle he has worked in Jesus Christ.  And in the experience of Elijah and the widow we find reason to reflect on our own expectations about God’s provision in life.

          Elijah lived in the ninth century B.C.  The northern tribes had broken away from Judah after the death of king Solomon and formed their own nation, which is normally referred to as Israel in order to distinguish it from the southern kingdom of Judah.  From the beginning Israel’s kings promoted paganism so that the people would not feel drawn to Judah where the temple was located in Jerusalem.

          Spiritually, things were terrible. But economically things were great.  Israel had entered into an alliance with the seaport kingdom of Sidon, and business was booming.  The alliance has been established as Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon.

          Now 1 Kings tells us that Ahab “did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who were before him” – which considering the kings who had preceded him is saying something.  In addition to all the paganism that was already going on, Ahab built a temple for Baal, because that was the god Jezebel worshipped. Jezebel worked to promote the worship of Baal in Israel.

          Finally, Yahweh sent the prophet Elijah to King Ahab to announce these words: “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”  The rain did stop.  At first, God provided for Elijah as he lived by a brook and ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and night.  However, eventually the brook dried up.  The lack of rain meant that crops were poor, and soon there was a famine in Israel and the surrounding area.

          We learn in our text that word of the Lord then came to Elijah as he told him: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  Now Zarephath belonged to Sidon, the home of Jezebel. This was pagan territory.  It was Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, who had announced that there would be no rain – the lack of rain that had caused a famine in Sidon.  It seemed unlikely that the Sidonians would welcome Elijah since they probably saw him as the source of their problems.

          Then, Yahweh also said that he had commanded a widow there to feed Elijah.  In the ancient world, a widow was one of the most vulnerable people in society.  She had no husband to provide for her and so simply getting by was a great challenge. Widows usually needed assistance from others.  Why would Yahweh send Elijah to a widow with the expectation that she would feed him?

          None of this seemed to make much sense. But Elijah obeyed God and went to Zarephath.  There he met the widow at the city gate as she was gathering sticks. Elijah told the widow to bring him some water. And then as she was going he said to her, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”  To the widow, the demand was absurd.  She reported that she had only a handful of flour and a little oil.  She was actually in the process of getting ready to make one last small meal for herself and her son.  After that, they would have nothing and certainly would die.

          However, Elijah replied: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

          God promised that he would provide for the widow, her son, and Elijah.  In response, the widow did as Elijah had said. God fulfilled his word.  We learn at the end of our text, And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.”

          The miracle worked by God in our text stands in a close relationship to our Gospel lesson.  There we see that Jesus promises that our heavenly Father will provide us daily bread – with the things we need to live. Near the end of that text our Lord says, Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

          We note that in our text, God provides the means for making bread.  He provides food in the midst of a famine.  But that’s all he provides.  While that certainly is a big deal in the midst of a famine, the question is whether we are really satisfied with that. God’s promise does not go beyond what he provided to Elijah and the widow.  God promises the basic necessities that sustain life. Yet that is all he promises.

          Are we satisfied with that?  Jesus gives us a hint about the answer when he 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.”  The old Adam in us always wants more.  He always wants something better.  He is not satisfied with daily bread. And so we see that others have more things and have better things and we covet.

          Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  In this statement we find the assurance that God will provide us with what we need. And we also find the forgiveness for the ways that we are unthankful, dissatisfied, and covetous.

          The kingdom of God and his righteousness is God’s saving reign – his saving action to put all things right.  In our text, we see God working through the prophet Elijah.  Elijah’s ministry, like that of his successor Elisha, stand out among the prophets.  We see God work miracles through him to provide food and even raise the widow’s son from the dead.

          These miracles point to Jesus Christ who is the final end times prophet.  He performs miracles that are very similar to Elijah.  He feeds more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.   He raises the dead such as Lazarus.  It’s not by chance that when Jesus asks the disciples about who the people say he is, the first name that is mentioned is Elijah.

          But Jesus Christ is more than Elijah.  In Deuteronomy, Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”  Moses had been the greatest prophet.  Preaching in Jerusalem, Peter told those listening that Jesus was this prophet like Moses – the final end times prophet.

          Prophets like Moses and Elijah did mighty miracles.  But when we meet Elijah in our text today he is in the midst of hardship. He is struggling to be fed.  Things will become worse as Jezebel will seek to kill him and he will flee for his life, despairing as if his work has been a failure.  The prophets suffered.  The prophets were killed.

          Jesus carried out a ministry of powerful works.  He healed, cast out demons, fed thousands, and raised the dead.  But Jesus’ greatest miracle as the final end times prophet was worked as he suffered and died. The prophets were mere men.  But Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He had come to be the sacrifice for our sin. He had come to put things right with God by receiving the judgment that our sins of thanklessness, dissatisfaction, and covetousness deserve.  That is what happened as he suffered and died on the cross.

          Sin brings death.  But the Lord Jesus won victory over sin by his forgiving death.  And then his death became the means by which God has given us victory over death.  On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  This was not like when the prophets, or even Jesus, raised someone from dead. Those individuals eventually died.  Instead, this resurrection was the transformation of Jesus’ body so that he can never die again.  It was the end time resurrection – the resurrection of the Last Day that has begun in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”  We look for the consummation of God’s reign when Jesus Christ returns in glory and raises our bodies to be like his. Then the righteousness of God will be fully present, when all has been put right.

We look for that day with eager expectation.  We wait, but we are not without our Lord. In our text, we hear about a miraculous feeding that lasted for many days. The risen and exalted Lord, who is still true God and true man, provides a miraculous feeding that continues every Sunday in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. Through this food he gives you forgiveness for every way that you have been dissatisfied, thankless, and covetous. Through this food he nourishes the new man in you so that you can trust in God’s provision of daily bread and be thankful for it. Through this food he gives you assurance that he will raise up your body on the Last Day when he banishes death from creation forever.

 

 

 

 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Mark's thoughts: Christ's Church has defended life from the beginning





God created human life in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27).  Scripture describes in detail how he uniquely created Adam: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).  It then also describes how God created Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponded to him (Genesis 2:21-22).  God is the Creator, not just in the sense that he first made creation, but also because he is the One who continues to create and sustain creation.  God commanded man to procreate as he told Adam and Eve “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28).  Yet Scripture is clear that in doing so, it is God who works through the one flesh union (Genesis 2:4; Matthew 19:4-6) to create life.  The Psalmist writes: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).

 

God is the Creator and Giver of life, and so apart from limited circumstances entrusted to his representatives who maintain order (Romans 13:1-4), God is also the only One who determines when life ends.  This is the truth that is expressed in the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” 

 

We tend to view abortion and the killing of babies as a “modern” practice and issue.  However, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Abortion was practiced in the ancient world, and the Christian Church has always condemned it.  The Didache which is most likely the earliest Christian text outside of the New Testament (late first century A.D. or early second century) says, “You shall not murder a child, whether by abortion or by killing it once it is born” (2:2).  Writing at the end of the second century A.D., Tertullian stated: “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth” (Apology, 9.8).

 

Yet in the Greco-Roman world abortion was not the only means by which infants were killed and eliminated.  Infant exposure was a much more common practice as unwanted babies were left on trash heaps or abandoned outside.  There they would die, or would be taken up by others to be raised for slavery and prostitution.  Christianity also strongly condemned this practice. Writing in the mid-second century A.D. Justin Martyr stated, “But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God” (First Apology 27.1). The Epistle to Diognetus, written in the second or third century A.D. describes Christians in the following manner: “They marry as men, they bear children, but they do not expose their offspring” (6.6).

 

Christians have always confessed that life is God’s gift.  In the first centuries of the Church, they did so in the face of a world that accepted the practice of killing babies as a normal part of life. When we speak out against abortion, we join our voices to the saints before us who have confessed the sanctity of life because of what God’s Word says.   

 

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist


 

Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.  Matthew was a tax collector who was called by our Lord to be a disciple (Matthew 9:9-13) and was then appointed as one of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4).  He is the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament.  There is uncertainty about the areas in which he worked (some traditions suggest Ethiopia or Persia) and whether he was martyred.

Scripture Reading:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.  And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

 Collect of the Day:

O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist.  Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

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

 

Trinity 14

                                                                                      Gal 5:16-24

                                                                                      9/18/22

 

          In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says that there is a struggle that goes on in the Christian life.  It is present and real, and Christians must take it seriously. However, it is also not the struggle that Galatians have been told about.

          Paul had preached the Gospel to the Galatians during his first missionary journey. They had believed in Jesus Christ and received salvation.  But in the time since then, teachers had come to Galatia and told them that the apostle Paul had not given them the whole story. 

          Yes, the Galatians needed to believe in Jesus Christ who had died on the cross and rose from the dead.  However, if they really wanted to be part of God’s people, they needed to do what God’s people Israel and her descendants – the Jews – had always done. They needed to keep the Torah – the law – that God had given to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

          When it came to the law, either these teachers were expecting a lower level of law keeping among the Gentiles, or they were introducing key points of the law as the first step towards moving the Galatians to living fully like Jews in doing the whole law.  Either way, the focus of their teaching had been circumcision and Jewish religious days.

          The Galatians were being told that they needed to take up the struggle of doing the law if they wanted to be part of God’s people. Yet for Paul, this demand to do the law in order to have a right standing before God was a denial of the Gospel.  Any demand of the law meant that salvation was a matter of faith in Christ plus something else.  Paul declared that as soon as you added the need to do something else – as soon as you added works to part of the reason a person is saved, you have lost the Gospel. 

          Throughout the letter up to our text, Paul has emphasized that salvation occurs through faith in Christ and not by doing the law.  Earlier he wrote, “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 says that there is a very simple reason why no one can have a right standing before God – can be justified – by works of the law.  We can’t do the law.  Paul writes in chapter three, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”  We can’t do the law perfectly.  It will always bring a curse. 

The reason that we can’t is that through the Fall, sin has invaded our lives. As those who have lost the image of God we have been twisted and perverted by sin.  The apostle expresses this in the same chapter when he says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Salvation is not received by doing.  Instead, it is a gift of God.  It is by his grace.  It is something given as a promise from God, and so it is received by faith, and faith alone.  Paul writes, “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.”

God has promised that through Abraham’s offspring – through his “seed” – all nations would be blessed.  Genesis chapter fifteen tells us that Abraham believed God’s promise “and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  What God had promised to Abraham, he has now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The apostle writes in chapter four, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

          Failure to do the law brings a curse.  However, the Son of God entered into the world in the incarnation to free us from the curse. Paul says, “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.’”  Jesus received the curse that should have been ours as he died on the cross.  He redeemed us from the curse – he freed us.  Yet the freedom he has provided includes even more.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  By this action he has defeated death and begun the resurrection that will be ours as well when the Lord Jesus returns in glory.

          The Galatians, and all Christians, are not to take up the struggle of trying to do works of the law in order attain arighteous standing before God.  At the beginning of chapter five Paul exhorts the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Yet immediately before our text Paul also says that this freedom in Christ is not to be misunderstood or misused.  He writes: “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.”

          When Paul refers to “the flesh,” he means the fallen sinful nature that still clings to us.  Baptized into Christ, we have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  But just as Christ’s resurrection does not mean we escape death, so also the presence of the Spirit does not mean that we have fully escaped the fallen, sinful nature. 

          This means that there is a struggle inside of us.  The apostle expresses this when he says in our text, “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.”  The flesh – the remnants of the fallen nature – continue to battle against the new man that the Spirit has created within us. And so Paul says that there is a struggle that we must undertake as Christians.

          The apostle states in our text that its not hard to tell which side has the upper hand.  He says first, “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, carousing, and things like these.”

          The first three of these all have to do with the misuse of sex. It’s not by chance that Paul mentions them first because as Christianity faced the pagan world it could not have been more different.  In the Greco-Roman world it was assumed that men had sex with their slaves or they had sex with prostitutes.  The only thing that was off limits was sex with the wife of another man. Christianity on the other hand, said that a husband could have sex with his wife, and that was it – any other form or use of sex was sin.  Christianity placed limits on the use of sex by men that had never been seen before.

          I really don’t have to explain to you how much our world sounds like the first century world.  Perhaps in some ways one can argue that it is worse, because now women are told that they too are free to use sex in any way they want. Certainly, the pornography that is so widely available today blows away anything the ancient world had.  Yet God’s will for his gift of sex – his ordering of creation – has not changed. Sex outside of marriage is sin against God.  The use of pornography to generate lustful thoughts is sin against God.  What Paul told the Galatians has not changed.

          The references to idolatry and sorcery obviously are about breaking the First Commandment in the first century world.  But remember, a god is anything that is most important in your life – anything that receives the most attention and effort. So there is plenty of idolatry in our world and lives.  Much of the rest of the list deals with ways that sin produces anger, strife, and divisions in life.  We don’t have to look far to see how this is present among our family, friends, work and world.

          The apostle Paul strongly warns us against taking these sins for granted. We must view them as the true spiritual threats that they are.  We can’t regularly engage in them, but then think we are fine because after all, we are “Christians.”  Instead, he says, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

          St. Paul realizes that there is a struggle.  He wouldn’t be writing about this and exhorting the Galatians if this was not so.  But it is important to recognize that Paul does not believe it is a hopeless struggle.  Quite the opposite, he says in the first verse of our text, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  What our translation conceals is that Paul states this in an emphatic way which means “you will certainly not.”  Paul says that when we align ourselves with the Spirit – when we follow the Spirit’s leading and are enabled by his power – we are able to avoid what the sinful nature desires.

          When the Spirit guides our life he produces results that please God – he produces results that we see in our Lord Jesus.  Paul says in our text, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

This is the struggle that goes on in the Christian life.  It is present and real, and Christians must take it seriously.  This is certainly not an easy thing.  The apostle says in our text, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  We need to view these sins as the enemy that must be killed. And at same time, we must do more than give lip service to the presence and work of the Spirit. Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

This can only happen if our lives are focused on the ways – those means – by which the Spirit is present for us.  You are here this morning to hear God’s word read and preached.  That is excellent!  But you also need to seeking to learn more about God’s word by attending Bible class.  You need to be reading Scripture during the week as part of your devotional life.  The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the One who comes to us through the Scriptures to give us insight and strength for living as Christians.

Will there be failures? Will we stumble in sin? Yes. The old Adam is a tough opponent. When we do, in repentance we return to our baptism.  There we have the assurance of forgiveness. And there we also have the source of the Spirit’s new life in us.  As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires” and likewise, “a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

In our text today, Paul warns us that we cannot ignore the presence of sin in our lives as if it is no big deal.  We can’t continue on in sin without struggling against it.  Instead, those who are in Christ crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.  We walk by the Spirit so that we don’t gratify the desires of the flesh.  And so we make use of the means by which the Spirit is present for us.  We read and study God’s Word.  We cling in faith to our baptism. To do so is to live in Christ.  As Paul says in this letter, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”