Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 16)

August 26, 2012

Text: Eph. 5:22-33

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22; ESV). Now, do some deep self-examination. Have you already closed your ears, to say nothing of your heart, to this text? Wives, have you closed your ears and your heart because you hear words of oppression, because you don’t like the idea of giving yourself up to the headship of another, even the one you love the most, he who is one flesh with you? Husbands, have you closed your ears and your heart because you’ve heard what you wanted to hear, because you are turning to your wife to say, “See, I told you so,” because you want to take your place as lord of the household, to be served, to be waited upon, to have your wife bend to your will? To all present, married and unmarried, have you closed your ears and your heart to this text because this phrase, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” is a politically incorrect thing to say? How do you suppose our culture hears this text? What assumptions do we all bring to the table in interpreting this? Do we really ever give it a fair shot? Look deep within yourself. What is it about this text that makes you uncomfortable… or too comfortable in your sinful pride? Repent. You and I, shaped by postmodernism and relativism and political correctness as we are, close our ears and hearts to this text before we ever ask what the words actually mean, what the rest of the text says, what the context is in which St. Paul pens these words, and most importantly, what is the will of God for us in our marriages, in our families, in our lives, in our faith. Our Lord has a gracious Word for us in our text this morning. It is a Word for our marriages and families. And it is a Gospel Word for the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation to God in Christ. I beg you, beloved, to open your ears and your heart once again to the voice of Christ in His Word. But if not, I pray the Holy Spirit will hammer this Word into your ears and heart, so as to take possession of you for Himself, that you may repent and believe.

Marriage is a precious gift of God. God instituted marriage even before the fall into sin, in the Garden of Eden. It was the first and basic building block of society. In the midst of His creation, which God had declared to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), God nonetheless found something to be “not good.” “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (2:18). Man was created to live in relationship, fellowship, communion with God and with other people. And though this is not the case for everyone (some have the gift and/or the cross of remaining single), as a general rule, man was created for marriage in this life. So God created Eve. He put Adam into a deep sleep and took a rib from his body and formed Eve, another human being, different than Adam, but corresponding to him physically and emotionally and even spiritually. And now ever since then, the children of Adam and Eve have enjoyed the great blessing that is marriage. Man was made for marriage. (And just a little aside: I think it’s more important to be theologically correct than politically correct, so I’ll be using the words “man” and “men” not just for Adam and those of the male gender, but as the universal word for all humans, men and women.) Why did God institute marriage? God gave the gift of marriage for procreation of children, for companionship, and as the proper context (and the only proper context) for His good gift of sex. “Therefore,” God says in His words of institution for marriage, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). St. Paul goes right back to this foundational text in Genesis 2 for his discussion of marriage here in Ephesians chapter 5. One flesh. That’s what a husband and wife are. That is what the sexual union accomplishes, which, by the way, makes casual sex an impossibility. That is also what God’s Word accomplishes when a man and woman are pronounced husband and wife in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is why you should wait for your spouse in marriage before you become sexually active. That is why you should be faithful to your spouse and let the marriage bed be undefiled (Heb. 13:4).

So, now, on the basis of this one flesh union, St. Paul has something to say about Christian marriages. Back to the most controversial words first. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22). This has absolutely nothing to do with the inferiority or superiority of one gender or the other. This has absolutely nothing to do with talents or abilities, nor is it about oppression. This is a word for Christian wives. Christian wives willingly submit to their husbands as to the Lord. No one can force you to do this. The word is submit, not obey (as some translations have it). To submit means to willingly place yourself under the authority of another. Why would a wife do this? Before we answer that, we have to complete the picture. Husbands, open your ears and your heart. Here is a word for you, and it’s actually a harder word than that given to wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). How did Christ give Himself up for the Church? He died for her. He was crucified for her. Husbands, die to yourself so that you can live for your wife. And if you have to, die for her, in her place, for her sake. Give up your life for her. That’s what love is. The Greek word is agape, self-sacrificing love as defined by our Lord’s sacrificing of Himself on the cross for us. That is what it means to be the head of your wife and family. It means you die. It means you give yourself totally for your wife’s sake, do everything you do for her and for your family, sacrifice your own preferences to hers, hold her as precious, as God’s own gift to you, as one flesh with you. Love her as your own body (v. 28), for in marriage, that is what she is. Now, that you are the head of the wife doesn’t mean you are her boss. You are not to be a tyrant. That would not be love. It means that you are to protect her, provide for her, and be the spiritual leader of your household. You are to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. You are to bring your family to Church and Sunday School. Would you rather do something else? Tough. Be a man. Die to yourself. Give yourself up. Give your wife and family what they need, God’s holy Word and Sacraments. Give it whether they want it or not, because you’re the head of the family, and you’re called to do that. Teach the Catechism. Lead family devotions. Take out the trash. Mow the lawn. Do the dishes. Change the diapers. Get up every morning and go to work. For your wife. For your family. Die, if necessary. That is your vocation. That your wife is to submit to you does not mean that she should bring you a beer and potato chips every night and wait on you hand and foot. It means that she should receive and accept your self-sacrifice for her, which is your calling in the Lord.

A husband’s vocation is to give. A wife’s vocation is to receive. God has called you to your vocation. And here we should say something about the holy ministry, although this is not the main point of this particular passage. This is why only men are to be pastors. It has nothing to do with discrimination or whether women are capable of the task. It is because men are to give, and women are to receive. And they are to do this willingly. Because in this way (and here is the main point of the text) a Christian husband and wife become a living picture, an icon, of Christ and His bride, the Church. Why does a wife submit to her husband? Why is a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church? Because they become a witness to the world of what Christ has done for the Church.

And here is the gracious Word of the Lord for all of us, married or unmarried, in this text. “This is mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (v. 32). All along this has been about the Church as the bride of Christ. She comes to Him, you come to Him, with the stains of sin and unfaithfulness and the stench of death. What does He do? He dies for you. For the forgiveness of all your sins. For your unfaithfulness and sexual impurity. Wives, for your failure to submit to your husband and be the living picture of the Church submitting to Christ. Husbands, for your failure to love your wife and give yourself up for her. Single people, for your failure to live in chastity in thought, word, and deed. All of us, for our willingness to listen to and heed the teachings of the unbelieving world rather than the teaching of Christ. He dies for you. For all your sins. He shed His blood on the cross for all your sins, as a loving Bridegroom should do for His bride. And now He is risen and lives for His bride, the Church, for you. He makes you holy, washing you and cleansing you by the washing of water with the Word, which is to say, Baptism (v. 26). He washes you that He might present you to Himself in splendor, as a bride adorned in a glorious white gown for her wedding day, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you may be holy and without blemish (v. 27). And He makes you one flesh with Himself. As husband and wife are one flesh, you, the holy Church are the body of Christ. Christ is the head. He teaches His Church from His Word, and she receives the teaching. He protects her, and she is defended against all her enemies. He provides for her, body and soul, as He gives us each day our daily bread and sets a feast before us on the holy altar. We do not teach Him. He teaches us. We live by His Word. We gladly submit to Him, because of all that He has done and continues to do for us. And we live as He would have us live, husbands sacrificially loving their wives, wives respecting their husbands (v. 33), all trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, that we might live and increase in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.

Well, I hope your ears and heart have been open to this Word. It’s not politically correct, but it’s also not what it first appears to our sinful flesh. It is a higher calling than the world’s view of gender relations and marriage. It is a call to give up ourselves for the sake of the other, wives submitting, husbands dying, husbands giving, wives receiving. All to be a picture of Christ and the Church, a gracious Word for all people regardless of marital status. Jesus Christ gave Himself into death for you. And He is risen and lives for you. Such is the love of your Bridegroom Christ, for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 15)

August 19, 2012

Text: Eph. 5:6-21

The voices in our culture, even many voices in the Church, would have us believe that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between the desires of our flesh and our Christian faith. They would have us believe you can be a Christian and still have sex with whomever, whenever you want. You can be a Christian on Sunday and still be ruthless and greedy every other day of the week. You can be a Christian and still be open to other gods, other religions. You can be a Christian and still doubt what God says about various things in His holy Word. After all, it’s an ancient book with an ancient worldview. These times are different. So, live together outside of marriage, or have sexual relationships outside of marriage, and just wink and nod when the pastor talks about how that’s immoral. We all know everybody does it. Look at the pornography on the internet and justify it in your mind as, well, maybe not all that bad. Compartmentalize the Christian faith so that it doesn’t get in the way of the party on Saturday night, so that it doesn’t interrupt your entertainment and your self-fulfillment. You can be a Christian and still walk in the fruitless works of darkness.

Except you can’t. That’s St. Paul’s point in our text this morning. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6; ESV). Now, it is true that we’re all sinners, and it is true that God forgives our sins because of Christ. It is true that all our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, that they’ve been washed away in Baptism, that whenever you commit a sin you can bring it to God in confession and be absolved of all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That is absolutely true. That is the joy and freedom of the Gospel. But we dare never use the Gospel as an excuse to go on sinning. When we do that, we show that we don’t really believe the Gospel in the first place. Because when you know the life-giving mercy of God’s forgiveness in Christ, you no longer want to sin. When you do sin (and you do, every day, it’s a daily battle), you grieve over the fact that you have offended your God. You repent. You run to Him again and again for forgiveness and consolation and you seek to amend your sinful life. You try not to do the sin anymore. Because you know that it grieves your God, that it is not His will for your life, that it is harmful to you and to others. So you daily battle against the flesh, crucify it, drown it again in Baptism. And by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who has enlightened you with His gifts, you know that the voices in our culture, and the rogue voices in the Church, are speaking empty words to you, words that would rob you of your faith and bring you once again under the wrath of God.

“Look carefully then how you walk,” says Paul (v. 15). Don’t participate with the sons of disobedience, the unbelievers, in the works of darkness (v. 7). At one time you were darkness (v. 8), but not anymore. That was your former life, before you came to faith in Jesus. Now, you’re baptized. Now you’ve been enlightened by the Spirit. The Lord Jesus is in you with His very body and blood. You’re light in the Lord. “Walk as children of light” (v. 8). Live your life in such a way that it is consistent with your faith. For walking the light, you will produce the fruit of the light, which is all that is good and right and true (v. 9). A Christian’s aim should always be to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (v. 10). We should always be asking that question of ourselves, “What would be pleasing to the Lord in this situation?” And we know what is pleasing to the Lord, and what is displeasing, because He has revealed it to us in the Holy Scriptures. So do not take part in the unfruitful works of darkness (v. 11). Those don’t help anybody. Rather, they cause great harm, harm to you, harm to those around you, because they are inconsistent with love. Instead, expose those evil things for what they are. Call a sin a sin, whether society wants to hear it or not, whether your family and friends want to hear it or not. That’s your responsibility as a Christian, even if it brings you persecution. Expose those evil things, not in a spirit of meanness or hatred, but in the light of Jesus Christ, so that it can be dealt with and forgiven. For when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible (v. 14), and there aren’t any more secrets. All is out in the open now, so that it won’t have to come out on Judgment Day when it’s too late.

You see, the difference in you is once again your Baptism into Christ. Paul even quotes in our text what is probably an early baptismal hymn: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (v. 14). Your Baptism is nothing less than a resurrection from the dead. For you were born spiritually dead, unable to come to God, as Jesus says in our Gospel: “It is the Spirit who gives life… no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:63, 65). The Spirit gives life in Baptism and shines the Light that is Christ, the Savior, upon you so that you come to the Father through Christ. You don’t want to fall back into the old ways, back into the darkness, back into spiritual death. So look carefully how you walk, lest you stumble. Walk as wise, not as unwise (Eph. 5:15). Don’t be foolish. Search the Scriptures so that you understand what the will of God is (v. 16). And don’t be given to drunkenness and carelessness (that’s what the word “debauchery” means… it means careless and reckless immoral behavior). Instead, be filled with the Spirit (v. 18). Be intoxicated with the Holy Spirit. When you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, you don’t need the old works of darkness, the works of the flesh. You don’t have to search for fulfillment in alcohol or sex or whatever else. When you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, you’re filled with Christ, and with the Father, with the Triune God who created you and redeemed you to be His own. And for the first time, you find true fulfillment.

You see, Jesus has saved you out of emptiness and fruitlessness and vanity, the meaninglessness that you feel so acutely in this fallen world. He has something better for you. He shed His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins, for your blindly walking in darkness. He died for you. He is risen for you. And He gives you new life in His Word and Sacraments. So, leaving the old life behind, you come here, to the Church, as often as you can, to be renewed and refreshed by the life-giving Spirit of God as He comes to you in the Word of Jesus and the Sacrament of His body and blood. Feeding on His flesh and drinking His blood, you have eternal life now, and Jesus will raise you up bodily on the Last Day (John 6:54). So now your time is filled with something other than the works of darkness. Those simply are not an option for you anymore. Instead, your life is now filled with praise for your Savior. You address one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. You sing and make melody to the Lord with all your heart (Eph. 5:19), “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20), because worship is the response to all that God gives you in Christ and here in the Divine Service as Christ is really present with us in His living voice and in His body and blood. You can’t help but sing His praise for all that He does for you. And you submit to one another in love. You do it out of reverence for Christ (v. 21). You submit to one another because God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, submitted Himself to death for you. And He now lives in you, He who is risen from the dead and reigns to all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God.

Next week we’ll learn about what this means for wives and husbands as the living picture of Christ and the Church. You see, far from being empty words that seduce you to more emptiness, like the voices in our culture, the words of holy Scripture have concrete things to say about your concrete situation. They are full words about very real things. For they are the Word of God. Hold to these words. They give life. For they are the words that shine the light of Christ, which no darkness can overcome. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 14)

August 12, 2012

Text: Eph. 4:17-5:2

St. Paul paints a contrasting picture for us this morning between walking in the futility of the unbelieving mind on the one hand, and, on the other hand, having the mind renewed in the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:17, 23). The unbelieving world, the Gentiles, as Paul calls them in our text, you and I before the Spirit takes possession of us, walk with our minds fixed on futile things, fruitless things, empty and worthless things. Such a mind is, Paul says, “darkened in… understanding, alienated from God” because of “ignorance” (v. 18). In other words, such a mind couldn’t find God if eternal life depended on it. Which is just another way of stating the bondage of the will, that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, that I cannot love God, and I cannot even really love my neighbor, not in a way that pleases God, with the self-sacrificial love of Christ. I cannot do these things on my own, by my own power, because I’m bound to sin. I was born that way. I inherited it from my parents, who inherited it from their parents, each generation passing along the fatal disease acquired for us by Adam in the Garden. This is the darkness you and I are born into, beloved, born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. And so we are captivated by futile things, idols really, false gods. You can clearly see the unbelieving world continuing to run after these things. What are the values of the world? Pleasure. Greed. Status. Self-interest. The illusion of self-preservation. St. Paul says that “They” (that is, those who walk in the futility of their minds) “have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (v. 19). This is the liturgy of the idol of the self. This is self-worship. You can observe it in almost any television program, in the media, in what is called acadamia. The world’s values are all about me, myself, and I. Be true to yourself, is the creed of the world. And so if you begin to believe this yourself, if you give ear to the siren song of the world, you will find yourself walking in the futility of your mind. You will become obsessed with sex, money, power, stuff. You will become obsessed with yourself, curved in on yourself as the theologians say. And because these things are futile, empty, you will never be satisfied. You will endlessly covet more. You will never feel whole. That’s the futility of the whole thing. In the end, you will be left with only yourself, Godless and, as you seek to be your own god, unable to deliver. And you will either attempt to numb yourself with even more futility, or (God grant it!) the Holy Spirit will take you captive by the preaching of repentance.

Repent, beloved. That is not how you learned Christ (v. 20). That is not how you’ve heard about Him and been taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus (v. 21). The reason you are so susceptible to the allurement of futility is that you were born into this futility. You confess that in the liturgy when you say that you are by nature sinful and unclean. But God has done something about this. You are baptized into Christ. God has snatched you out of the darkness of unbelief, the bondage of sin and death and hell, and made you His own, His child. He has washed your guilt away in the blood of Jesus Christ. He has given you Christ’s own righteousness as a gift. In your Baptism, you have died with Christ. That is what Paul means when he says that you “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (v. 22). He’s talking about the death of your sinful nature, your old Adam, his drowning in Baptism, his crucifixion in repentance. Repentance is nothing other than a daily return to Baptism. In repentance, you daily put off the old self. You daily reject that walk in the futility of the fleshly mind. And, in Baptism, you have been raised with Christ. Christ is risen from the dead. You are baptized into this reality. And this means not only that you have eternal life and the sure and certain promise that Christ will raise you from the dead bodily on the Last Day, but that you have newness of life now. Newness of life… that’s sanctification, being made holy, and it is the Holy Spirit who does this as He daily renews your mind according to the mind of Christ. He daily clothes you with your new self, the new creation in Christ Jesus. He creates you once again after the image and likeness of God. That likeness was lost in the Garden when our first parents sinned. But in Baptism, it is renewed. You’ve been made new! Don’t go back to the old way of darkness and death. Walk in the light that is Christ Jesus.

Now, this is a daily battle, because you still have the sinful flesh. You are at the same time a saint in Christ, and a sinner in the flesh. It’s a battle for Christians, for you, not to walk in the futility of your fleshly mind. Unbelievers don’t have this problem. They don’t battle against the futility. But you do. Because your Baptism is a call to arms. St. Paul will talk about this later in Ephesians chapter 6, where he talks about you being outfitted with the whole armor of God. The thing about Baptism is that it makes you a target of the devil. He wants you back. God won’t give you back. Thus the battle. But remember, the Holy Spirit is renewing your mind. It is God who fights your battles, just as He fought for Israel of old. Anytime Israel thought they were fighting their own battles, they would lose. But when they believed in the LORD of hosts who fought for them, the LORD would grant them victory, sometimes even without weapons, because He was doing all the work. The Holy Spirit fights the battle for you. He renews your mind. And yet, it is still a battle. It is still hard. It does still hurt. Because it requires the daily death of the flesh.

Put away falsehood, Paul says. Speak the truth (v. 25). That doesn’t come easy to us. Repent of your falsehood, your breaking of the 8th Commandment. Believe the Holy Absolution spoken upon you today, and speak the truth. Be angry, but do not sin. Just give that one a try, I dare you. Repent of your sin against the 5th Commandment, your murdering of your neighbor in your heart. Believe the forgiveness of Christ poured into your mouth from the chalice today, and resolve the conflict with your neighbor in a God-pleasing way before you go to bed tonight (v. 26). Don’t give the devil an opportunity to escalate the situation and bring your soul into peril (v. 27). Don’t steal, whether openly, or craftily, in a way that appears right in the eyes of men. Repent of your sin against the 7th Commandment. Believe that He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will also graciously give you your daily bread. Labor honestly, in His Name, so that you can share with those in need (v. 28). Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking. Repent of your sin against the 2nd Commandment, muddying the Name of God by your sinful words and deeds. Believe that your sins have been washed away in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and call upon that Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, confessing the faith to one another and building one another up, as fits the occasion, that such speech may give grace to those who hear (v. 29). Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed in Baptism (v. 30), by living according to the world’s values. Christians have a different set of values than those of the world. Be who you are called to be in Christ, in Baptism, as a child of God. Put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and all malice. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32). Die to yourself. So you were wronged. Bear it. Forgive, as Christ bore it and forgave you. For in this way you imitate God, your heavenly Father, as any beloved child imitates their parent (5:1). You reflect the image and likeness of God in which you have been created anew. You walk in love, the love of Christ with which He loved us and gave Himself for us on the cross, and you, like Him, become “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (v. 2).

St. Paul calls us this morning to walk with minds renewed by the Holy Spirit, living in the world, but not living according to the world’s values, according to the futility of their minds. Instead of chasing after empty things, impotent idols, worshiping the self, we are called to be filled with the Spirit and the gifts of God which He gives us in Christ. After all, God redeemed us to be His own by the blood and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. He has put His Name upon us. We are His children. We belong to Him. In fact, the Lord Jesus has redeemed us for this very purpose, that we may be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 13)

August 5, 2012

Text: Eph. 4:1-16

St. Paul celebrates unity, not diversity. Diversity is a sacred cow of our society, but it’s not on the list of biblical values. We 21st Century postmodern Americans are virtually hardwired to “celebrate diversity.” And certainly if we mean celebrating the good things from other cultures around the world, that’s all fine and good. But when it comes to what we believe, teach, and confess, and our life together as the one body of Christ, the holy Church, diversity is not a virtue. There’s another word for diversity in the doctrine and life of the Church. That word is “division.” And division in the Church is not good. It is sinful. It is evil. It is the devil’s delight. Division is caused when we are not eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, when we are not humble or gentle or patient with one another, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), but instead biting and kicking one another, needlessly quarrelling and criticizing, stepping on one another to get our way and get to the top, and holding one another’s sins against each other. Division is caused when we are tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes, or in other words, by false teachers and false doctrine, by pop-Christian fads and church growth programs that deny the power of God’s Word and Sacraments and drive the church by the personality of the preacher. These things create factions. One person believes one thing, another person believes something entirely different. One congregation communes only those who have been instructed in the Christian faith. Another communes everybody and their brother, even the unbaptized. One church body ordains women and homosexuals and dismisses what the Bible has to say about it, because that’s the politically correct thing to do. Another church body seeks to be faithful to her Lord’s commands. St. Paul does not celebrate this kind of diversity in the Church. He calls us to repent of our divisions. And in our text, he confesses what we know only by faith, not by sight: that the Church is, in fact, though not in appearance, united, one, holy, Christian Church, under Christ, her Lord.

You’re united to one another, beloved. You’re united to one another in this congregation, and in this church body that is the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and with all Christians in the holy Church throughout the world and throughout history, those in heaven and those on earth. And this union is deeper than any other union on earth. St. Paul says that we Christians are “one body,” the body of Christ (v. 4). Listen again as he describes the Christian Church in a series of seven “ones” in vv. 4-6 of our text (ESV): “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.” Notice first of all that the unity of the Church is grounded in the unity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. We have a backwards Trinity of sorts in this passage: One Spirit, One Lord (namely, Jesus Christ, the Son of God), and One God and Father of all. God Himself lives in community within His divinity. He is Three in One and One in Three. And He desires communion with us, His Church, and that we live in community with one another. And the communion is described, as I said, in a series of seven “ones.” The number seven in the Bible is a complete number, describing God’s gracious interaction with His people. The number 7 appears all over the place. For example, the seventh day was the day of completion for God’s creation, the day upon which God rested from His work. The sin atoning work of Jesus was complete by the 7th day of Holy Week, thus He rested in the grave. And on the 8th day, the first day of the week, of course, our Lord rose from the dead, ushering in the new creation and giving us eternal life. Seven “ones” in our text, complete. And this is an indication of what God has made us to be as His new creation in Christ Jesus. We are one body, the body of Christ. Each of us is individually a member of it. We’re still individuals. And yet, we form one body. When one member suffers, we all suffer. Just like when I hit my thumb with a hammer and my whole body hurts. When one of our own is hurting, we hurt with them and seek to relieve their pain or their need. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice. Just like when I bite into a juicy bacon cheeseburger and my whole body rejoices with my taste-buds. When one of our own has reason to rejoice, we join our voices in giving thanks to God. We have one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He is the soul of the Christian Church. We live in one hope, the sure and certain hope of eternal life which we already possess now by virtue of our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and of our own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. We live under one Lord, Jesus Christ, our Savior. We confess one faith, and here we’re talking about the doctrine of the Church. We believe, teach, and confess, what has been revealed to us by God in His inspired and inerrant Word, the Holy Scriptures. We are all baptized with one Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, where all our sins are washed away, we are made God’s own child, born anew by water and the Spirit, united to the death and resurrection of Christ, and covered in His righteousness. And so we have one God and Father, our Father who art in heaven, who loves us, speaks to us in His Son, the Word made flesh, loves to hear our prayers, delights in us because of Christ, forgives all our sins by the blood of Jesus, and calls us His dear children and Himself our dear Father.

One. We are one. A sevenfold unity grounded in the Holy Trinity. It’s a gift of God. We can’t create such unity. God gives it to us. Christ has made this happen by His sin atoning death and victorious resurrection. Now, our Lord Jesus doesn’t just abandon us to try to run this whole thing called the Church on our own. That would be disastrous. Division happens when we try to do that. No, Christ rules His Church. Christ Himself, the head of the body, has ascended into heaven to rule all things at the right hand of the Father, thus leading us out of captivity to sin, death, and the devil, and filling all things in His divine and human natures. He rules and governs His holy Church. And He has given the gift of the Holy Ministry to His Church, to tend and keep the Church in His Name. He gave apostles, the writers of the New Testament. He gave prophets to speak His Word. He gave the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to write the four Gospels so that we could know and believe the Good News about our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection. He gives shepherds, pastors in Latin, and teachers to proclaim His Word to the Church and administer the Sacraments, to shepherd the flock of God in this dangerous world; to equip the saints, you, beloved, with the Word of God for your Christian life; to do the work of ministry; to build up the body of Christ in Word and Sacrament, so that the body can grow and mature. And here we aren’t simply talking about growing numerically, though, by God’s grace, that does often happen. We’re talking about the growth of the Church in grace and faith and in the Word and in all good things.

And we’re not to put up with divisions or diversity in doctrine. “Rather,” says Paul, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (vv. 15-16). This is an amazing statement. So much for the old cliché, “doctrine divides but love unites.” Paul says the truth (doctrine) and love go hand in hand. We are to preach true doctrine, to speak the truth in love, and in this way we grow up into our head, Christ Jesus. In this way we are joined and held together by every joint with which the body is equipped (I’m convinced Paul means by this the Word and the Sacraments which the Lord has given His Church). In this way each part of the body, which is to say, you individually, begins to work properly so that the body can grow and build itself up in love, do good works, love the neighbor, serve the community, do evangelism and missions, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and all the other wonderful things our Lord Jesus calls us to do.

We’re one body, beloved, baptized into one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, holding one faith and one hope. That means we’re part of one another. That means we are to love one another and serve one another. We’re to live in humility toward one another, considering the other better than ourselves. We’re to be gentle and patient with one another. We are to forgive one another and bear with one another in the self-sacrificing love of Christ. The Gospel empowers us to do this. We’re a community. We’re a communion, the communion of saints, knit together by the Spirit of God. This is what it means to be the Church. The Church is not just a voluntary organization, a club, a thing to do on Sunday morning. The Church is a living body. And you, you are a member of that body. And it’s not just any body. It’s the living body of the living Lord Jesus who has made you His own by His blood. You need the Church and the Church needs you. We need you to be here, and you need us to be here. Because we are all members of one another. God has made it so in Christ. And in the end, all the divisions of the Church will cease. In the end, when our Lord returns, we’ll all believe the same thing, because we’ll all believe the truth and we’ll all be united in love. In the end, there won’t be diversity in the sense of division. There will be perfect unity. Our Lord Jesus will do it. He will perfect us in union with Him and with one another. Beloved, this is a unity worthy of celebration with nothing less than an unending Feast. So come to the altar, where with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, as one Church, we receive the gifts of Christ, and laud and magnify His holy Name. It is a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.