Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 21)

September 30, 2012

Text: Mark 9:38-50
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are disturbing, but don’t go cutting off body parts just yet.  I’m certainly not telling you to ignore Jesus’ words.  That would be neither right, nor safe.  Quite the opposite, I’m asking you to take a long, hard look at these words, and yourself in light of them, to ponder what these words mean for your life in a very practical sense, and I pray that these words will lead to action on your part, action produced by the power of the Holy Spirit working in the Word of Jesus Christ, not the mutilation of the body, but the crucifixion of the flesh, repentance, a dying to self, a salting with fire, a return to Holy Baptism, a casting of the self upon the merciful Lord of all who spoke these words on His way to the cross, to suffer and die for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

(I)f your hand causes you to sin,” says Jesus, “cut it off.  It is better to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43; ESV).  Well, that’s true.  Better to be handless and go to heaven than have two perfectly good hands and go to hell.  Beloved, have you sinned with your hands?  You most certainly have.  Hands accomplish a great deal of wickedness.  We strike others with our hands.  We take what doesn’t belong to us with our hands.  We make obscene gestures with our hands.  Our hands are capable of a great deal of wickedness, and our hands are guilty of great iniquity.  But what would happen if you cut off your hands?  Would you then be forgiven of all the sins you committed with them in the past?  Would it undo the damage?  Would it render you unable to sin?  Of course not.  Because hands aren’t the only members you employ for sin.  So Jesus continues, “if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell” (v. 46).  Have you sinned with your feet?  You most certainly have.  Our feet carry us places that we should not go, places that are dangerous to our souls, places of false worship, places of lust and coveting and fornication, places of debauchery and lasciviousness.  Our feet lead us away from our legitimate vocations and the duties of love we owe to our neighbor.  What would happen if you cut off your feet?  Would you in this way be forgiven?  Would this finally prevent you from sinning and being a sinner?  No.  Because your feet aren’t the only members you employ for sin, either.  Ah, and then there’s the eyes.  (I)f your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (vv. 47-48).  Have you sinned with your eyes?  You most certainly have.  Your eyes lust and covet.  They look enviously upon the things that God has given to others.  They look lustfully at members of the opposite sex, or worse, the same sex.  Perhaps they look at evil websites or read dirty romance novels.  They look disdainfully at some, angrily at others.  They look into things that God has not given you to look into.  What would happen if you gouged out your eyes?  Would that take away your lust and covetousness, your hatred and anger?  Would that prevent you from sinning?  No.  Because even if you literally did what Jesus says here, mutilating your body in this way, you’d be a handless, footless, eyeless sinner… but a sinner you’d still be. 

Because in reality it is not your hand, or your foot, or your eye that causes you to sin.  And we haven’t begun to talk about your other members, like your ears that delight in gossip, or your tongue that loves to spread it and to speak curses and put down others, or your other body members that are used in the transgression of God’s Law.  All of these you use for sin, but they don’t cause you to sin.  The real problem, what causes you to sin, is your heart.  As Jesus says elsewhere, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within” (7:21-23).  Your heart is the problem.  So much for the old cliché, “follow your heart.”  Don’t do that.  Look where it will lead you.  It is your heart that needs to be cut out of you.  By God’s Law, leading you to repentance.  You need a new heart, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, leading you to faith in Him and His death and resurrection for your forgiveness, that you may have eternal life.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” we pray with King David (Ps. 51:10).  And He does, in Baptism, as we saw this morning, putting to death the old Adam in us, born in sin, born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  By Baptism, as He did this morning with Bryson, He raises us to new life, gives us His Holy Spirit, gives us faith in Jesus Christ, unites us to the death and resurrection of Christ, washes away all our sins in His blood, and makes us God’s own child.  Baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21).  It is a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).  All who have been baptized into Christ are baptized into His death, buried with Him by Baptism into death, so that, just as Christ has been raised from the dead, so we, too, may live a new life (Rom. 6:3-4).

Baptized into Christ, it’s a death and resurrection, a drowning and an arising, a crucifixion and an empty tomb, with and in Christ Jesus, who died and who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In Baptism, we’re salted with fire (Mark 9:49).  Fire purifies and salt preserves.  Baptism is the fire of purification, like when gold is refined in the fire.  It is melted down into a liquid so that all the impurities rise to the top to be skimmed away.  Such fire hurts us, beloved.  Repentance hurts.  Crucifying the sinful flesh hurts.  Because we have to face up to the ugly truth of our sin and uncleanness, and we have to die to ourselves.  It is bitter medicine.  But the Lord Jesus gives it to us for our good.  And He administers it for the sake of the Gospel, that we have full and free forgiveness of all our sins in Him, and eternal life, including the promise of the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day. 
Baptism also makes us salty.  We become salt in the world.  We flavor the world with our confession of Christ and works of love.  God prepares us for this very thing.  It starts in Baptism and is sustained by the preaching of that Word and the reception of the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.  Without these things, our faith dries up and begins to die.  The salt loses its saltiness.  This is a very practical thing.  Baptism is always a reason for rejoicing.  But how many children do we have whom we’ve baptized here at Epiphany, and then we never see them again?  (Kristina, I’m not implying you’re going to do this with Bryson.  I’m sure you’ll raise him in the faith and in the Church.  But here’s a good opportunity to talk about this very issue.)  In Baptism we enter the Church and eternal life, a life of faith in Christ.  But if we have our children baptized and then never come back to church, or if we ourselves are baptized and then never come to church, that’s like being born and then never eating.  What happens then?  We die.  If you aren’t coming to church, your faith is dying, or maybe already dead.  Repent.  Get back to church.  Get your children to church.  Frankly, if you aren’t bringing your children to church, Jesus has a terrifying word for you in verse 42 of our Gospel lesson.  Read it, tremble, repent, be forgiven, and make the situation right.  Again, not going to church is to your faith like not eating is to your body.  You can skip a meal here and there.  You shouldn’t.  It isn’t good for you.  But you can usually get away with it.  Then again, if you don’t eat for days, you may survive, or you may not.  You will certainly become weak and begin to have health problems.  And if you never eat, well, then… you’ll die.  So it goes with our faith when we starve ourselves of God’s holy Word and Sacrament.  You can skip church now and then.  It isn’t good for you, and you shouldn’t skip church, but you’ll probably survive.  If you skip a lot of church, you’ll be very weak and sick spiritually, and you may not make it.  If you never come back to church, the terrifying truth is that your faith will probably die.  You’ll lose your saltiness.  Because here, in the Church, is where Jesus is, for you, with His Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, to feed and nourish you, to preserve you in the Christian faith, to forgive your sins, and to keep you salty, so that you can have salt in yourself, living the life of faith active in love.  Here is where Jesus performs the divine heart transplant you need as a sinner, to give you life.  And without that, it isn’t worth having hands or feet or eyes.  Because life in Christ is the only real life there is.

Hard words of Law from Jesus today.  But here’s the comfort.  Jesus died for you, so that you don’t have to die, so that you don’t have to cut off your hands and feet or gouge out your eyes, so that you don’t have to go to hell.  Jesus died for you so that all your sins are forgiven, you are redeemed, and made God’s own in Holy Baptism.  Jesus died for you so that you can go to heaven.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead so that you can have eternal life.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead so that you know without a shadow of a doubt that He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day.  The promise is for you and your children.  So repent.  Die to yourself.  And cling to Him.  Cling to Him by hearing His Word.  Cling to Him by eating His body and drinking His blood.  Come here, to His Church, where He’s really present for you, to feed and nourish you in your life of faith and strengthen you for each day lived in Him.  In this way, He fills you with Himself.  In this way He cleanses you with His fire and salts you with His salt.  In this way He gives you a new heart, a heart that beats with faith toward God, and fervent love toward one another.  In Christ, it is a heart that will never die.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 20)
September 23, 2012

Text: Mark 9:30-37

            Our Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy in our Old Testament lesson: “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19; ESV).  Indeed, Jesus is, as St. John the Baptist points out, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb whose blood takes away our guilt and covers our sin.  His death on the cross is the atonement for our iniquity.  He carried our sin and death there, to be nailed to the tree, to be put to death, to be buried forever in His tomb.  By His stripes we are healed.  In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples and us that this is why He came.  This is the second Passion prediction Jesus makes in the Gospel according to St. Mark, and He says, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).  Pretty heady stuff.  Death and resurrection stuff.  This is the essence, the heart and center of our Christian faith, as I’ve been drilling the Catechism students: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.  And the disciples do not understand it.  And they are afraid to ask about it (v. 32).  Instead, how do they react?  In the face of this grave prediction, this word of death and resurrection, the disciples shrug their shoulders, and then argue among themselves about who is the greatest.  And in so doing they unwittingly demonstrate just how necessary it is for Christ to come and do this very thing, to be led like a gentle lamb to the slaughter for us lost sheep, to be delivered into the hands of sinners, to be killed, and on the third day to rise from the dead.

            How do we react to this preaching?  There is nothing new under the sun.  We react the same way the disciples do in out text.  Well, we have an advantage over the disciples in that we know precisely what Jesus means by the Passion prediction.  Thanks to the apostolic witness recorded for us in the New Testament, we know that He’s talking about His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday for our forgiveness and eternal life.  But we still shrug our shoulders in indifference.  I mean, really, if the full impact of what Jesus here tells us, of what Jesus has done for us, is so manifestly clear to us, shouldn’t we be on our knees in tears of repentance and thanksgiving?  Shouldn’t we be shouting the good news of this Gospel from the mountaintops?  Jesus Christ, God almighty, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Son of the Father, became flesh to suffer and die for us so that we don’t have to suffer for all eternity in hell for our sins.  So that we don’t get what we deserve.  And He’s risen from the dead.  He rose on the third day, so that death is not the end of the story for us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus.  He who rose from the dead will raise us, too, on the Last Day.  This is incredible news.  And we’re glad to hear it.  But in some ways we shrug our shoulders, and everything goes on the way it always has in our lives.  We take the Gospel for granted and, instead of asking Jesus about it, inquiring more and more into His sacred Word that we may delve deeper into the mystery of this good news of our salvation, we’re more worried about what’s for lunch after church, and what the afternoon holds for us.  Repent.

            What’s even worse is, like the disciples, we continue to worry about who is the greatest.  Now, not every argument takes that precise form, but think about this for a minute.  I’m convinced that the heart of the matter in any conflict between two sinners is this argument about who is the greatest.  “I’m right, and you’re wrong!”  Whatever particular thing you may be arguing about, you’re arguing that you are the greatest.  When you argue with your spouse about money or the kids, it’s because you think you know better than they do how to run the budget and raise the family.  When you argue with your co-workers about a task or a project, it’s because you believe you know how to do it better than they do.  When you argue with your friends or your brothers and sisters in Christ about anything, it’s because you think you know better, or can do it better, or deserve to have it your way.  If the world would only see things from your perspective, everything would be great.  We’re always jockeying for first position, for the seat of honor, for fame and fortune, to get what’s coming to us, even at the expense of others.  It’s all an argument about who is the greatest.  Meanwhile, there’s Jesus.  He is the greatest.  He’s God.  But He does not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but makes Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He becomes obedient to the point of death, even to the point of the accursed death of the cross for us men and for our salvation (Phil. 2:6-8).  He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Therefore God has highly exalted Him, raising Him from the dead, seating Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, and given Him the Name that is above every Name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). 

            Shame on us.  How dare we argue about who is the greatest.  Repent.  We’re nothing, you and I.  We’re poor, miserable sinners.  That’s what we are.  We deserve none of this.  But God loves us in spite of ourselves.  He forgives us all our sins.  God saves us without any goodness or merit in us, because He is good.  He loves us who are unlovable, because He has declared it so.  So there’s no room for us to be climbing over one another and biting one another and devouring one another.  We’re all in the same boat.  And that boat is the ark of the Christian Church which we have entered by grace in the waters of Holy Baptism, all our sins washed away, united to Christ Jesus and His innocent suffering and death, declared righteous by His resurrection from the dead, inheritors of the Kingdom of the Father by grace alone, possessors of the gift of eternal life.  Who’s the greatest?  Jesus is.  And He gives His greatness to us.  It’s a ponderous mystery, stupendous good news for us who would otherwise be condemned.  Nor more shrugging of the shoulders.  No more arguing about greatness.  Instead, we’ve been freed to do something else, called for this very purpose.  And what is that?

            We’ve been called in Holy Baptism to imitate Christ, to give our very selves for the sake of the other.  If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35), as Christ Himself became the least and the last, the Suffering Servant who gave Himself for our sakes, to redeem us.  To make this point to His disciples, and to us, Jesus calls a child to Him.  How Jesus loves the children.  He takes the child in His arms right there in the midst of the disciples and He makes this point: Such a servant should you be that you serve this little child as you would serve a king, as you would serve the Lord Himself.  Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (v. 37).  Humble yourself to serve a little child, and in so serving, you serve Jesus.  In receiving a little child, you receive Jesus, and in receiving Jesus, you receive God the Father Almighty.  Parents, this brings a new perspective to your vocation, does it not?  And what light this sheds on the abortion issue.  And in any case, for all of us, this is a reminder that we’re not above serving the least of these, for that is the very thing Jesus commands.  We’re not above any lowly task in the church or in society or in our families.  There is nothing beneath us.  And there is no one beneath us.  We are to be beneath them, lifting them up, serving them, lavishing upon them the Savior’s love and bringing them as a little child to the Savior’s arms.  You do this with your children when you bring them to Holy Baptism and to church and Sunday School and Catechism class, and when you do family devotions with them in the home.  You do this with others when you serve them in the love of Jesus Christ, and confess the Savior’s Name and what He’s done for you in your daily life and vocation.

            The Lord Jesus was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter that Good Friday as He carried His own cross to Golgotha.  Though there was one difference between Him and a lamb.  A lamb knows not his fate as he marches to the slaughter house.  Jesus went willingly, compelled by love for you.  You are the little child He receives as He stretches out His arms to be nailed to the tree.  No more shrugging in indifference.  No more arguing amongst yourselves.  Behold your God, God Almighty, crucified for your forgiveness.  On the third day He rose from the dead.  He is risen and lives for you, and rules all things at the right hand of the Father.  And He is with you always, the very end of the age.  He is with you now in His Word and in the Sacrament of His body and blood.  Ponder this mystery.  Don’t be afraid to ask Him by His Spirit to reveal more and more about this to you in His Word.  For His Word is life.  This is, after all, the heart and center of the Christian faith: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 18)
September 9, 2012

Text: Mark 7:24-37
            Our Lord breaks all the social rules in our Gospel this morning.  He does not behave in the way we expect our God to behave.  He dismisses a poor woman whose daughter is demon-possessed with a racial slur.  He calls her a “dog” and makes her beg Him for help.  Then, much to the chagrin of the Jewish authorities, He goes and hangs out in a Gentile region known as the Decapolis (the Ten Cities, southeast of the Sea of Galilee).  There they bring to Him a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment and Jesus does all sorts of gross things to heal him.  He puts His fingers into His ears, He spits and touches the man’s tongue.  Couldn’t He have just waved His hands over the man or spoken a few magic words?  And to top it all off, He commands the man and His disciples not to evangelize, not to spread the good news of the healing.  What’s going on with that?  No, our Lord does not behave in the way we’d expect a god we worship to behave.  Which, first of all, exposes our idolatry.  Far be it from us to judge the ways of God, which are higher than our ways, or the thoughts of God, which are higher than our thoughts (Is 55:9)!  And second, this shows the grace of God, that all His ways are for us and for our salvation.

            But His ways are not what we expect.  What do we expect from God?  How do we want Him to behave?  Well, first and foremost, we want Him to be nice… nice by our standards of niceness.  We don’t want Him to be harsh or offensive or demanding.  We don’t want Him to do gross things or to get too up close and personal.  We certainly don’t want Him to use physical stuff, flesh and blood stuff, to accomplish His purposes.  We don’t want Him to be too involved in our lives.  We like knowing He’s there, but we’d also like Him for the most part to leave us alone.  Right?  Because there are things we like to do that we know He doesn’t approve of.  We don’t want Him to be so judgmental.  We like knowing that God is here at church waiting for us whenever we want to come make use of Him, but when we don’t want to come, we’d prefer He didn’t ask questions about what we decided is more important than He is.  We get tired of Him telling us what we should believe and what we should do, and how we don’t believe and do it, and how we need His forgiveness if we are to be saved.  That’s not what we want.  What we want is “our kind grandfather who art in heaven,” who winks at our “mistakes,” and puts His arm around us and tells us everything will be alright when we’re having a difficult time.  We do want the occasional miracle in a time of crisis, but we want it to be done our prescribed way at our prescribed time.  What we want is a god in a box whom we can trot out whenever we need or want him, and safely stow away the rest of the time.  But such a god is not the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Such a god is an idol of our own making, a false god.  Beloved, repent.

            You see, we can only deal with God on His terms, in the way that He comes to us.  And He comes to us in the flesh, the Son of God born of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is a flesh and blood God.  He is a God who becomes one with us, gets down and dirty with us, gets messy with our sin.  He has no sin of His own.  He fulfills the Law of God without ever stumbling.  Not even once.  But all we do is stumble.  All we do is break God’s Law.  Jesus takes our sin upon Himself.  He exchanges our sin for His righteousness.  He gets dirty as He cleans us up.  We get all the credit for His perfection and He takes the damnation we have earned by our sin.  He takes our sin all the way to its wages; death and hell on the cross.  He dies for us.  He dies in our place.  That is our death.  We should have died there.  We should have suffered hell.  But we don’t, because He did.  Because God comes to us in the flesh.  God dies.  God is laid in a grave.  We would NEVER have done salvation this way.  It’s so harsh, so offensive, so gross!  And here is the surprise ending.  This God, Jesus Christ, who died, is risen from the dead.  Bodily.  Flesh and blood.  And you know what?  He continues to come to us flesh and blood.  He comes on His terms in His way. 

            He comes to the Syrophoenician woman (a Philistine is what she really is) on His terms, in His way, flesh and blood Jesus.  He comes to her calling her a “dog” (Mark 7:27), what Jews called the Gentiles, the unbelievers.  He makes her beg, like a dog begging for scraps from the table.  Is this how God should act?  Beloved, what we’re seeing here is Jesus exercising the faith of this Gentile child of God as she prays for her daughter.  It is like when you pray earnestly in a time of crisis, and God seems to be ignoring you.  He is silent, or worse, perhaps He rebukes you, slanders you.  The situation gets worse.  The harder you pray, the more it seems like Jesus couldn’t care less.  But is that really the case?  Of course not!  Jesus died for you.  That’s how much He cares.  Jesus died for the woman in our text.  That’s how much He cares for her.  Jesus exercises your faith just as He is exercising the woman’s faith.  He wants you to trust Him even when all seems hopeless.  He wants you to hold Him to His promises.  Which is what the woman does in our text.  She knows Jesus is the Savior of all people.  She also knows she is a dog, not because she is a Gentile, but because she is a sinner.  She confesses it, and she hopes in Jesus Christ in spite of it, because she knows He is her Savior from sin and her daughter’s savior from demonic possession.  All she needs is crumbs falling from the Master’s table.  And Jesus gives so much more than crumbs.  He gives Himself.  you may go your way,” says Jesus, for “the demon has left your daughter” (v. 29; ESV).  Faith receives Jesus as He comes for us, receives the gifts He gives, as He gives them.

            Jesus goes on to the Gentile region of the Decapolis, the same area where He had previously cast out Legion from the demon-possessed man into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-20).  They bring to Him a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment (7:31-37).  Now, again, couldn’t Jesus have healed the man with a simple wave of His hand or a Word or even a glance?  He could.  But He doesn’t.  What does He do?  He takes the man away from the crowd.  Ministry is not to be a spectacle, not even a healing (take heed, Church of God!).  He puts His fingers into His ears.  Awkward.  He spits and touches the man’s tongue.  Yuck.  He sighs, and then He speaks: “Ephphatha,” an Aramaic word, “Be opened” (v. 34).  And it works.  The man can hear.  The man can talk.  Jesus strictly charges the man and the bystanders to tell no one.  Why does He do that?  Again, ministry is not to be a spectacle.  It would be a distraction.  Evangelism must happen God’s way, according to His Word.  And what about all the gross stuff Jesus does in healing the man?  Jesus heals on His terms.  It is a flesh and blood healing.  Real fingers stuck into the man’s ears.  Real spit on a real hand touching the man’s tongue.  The sigh of Jesus, the breath of life.  Words, THE Word of God, spoken by a human voice, the first Words the man has ever heard.  Freedom, real and true freedom, given by a real God in real flesh and blood.

            And this is what Jesus does for you.  He comes to you on His own terms, in His own way, flesh and blood.  He sighs His Spirit into you and opens your ears in Baptism, by water and the Word.  “Ephphatha, be opened.”  He speaks to you with a human voice, the voice of your pastor in Absolution and preaching.  He sticks His body in your mouth just as surely as He sticks His fingers into the mouth of the man in our text.  He sticks His body and blood into your mouth for the forgiveness of your sins.  Gross.  It’s gross when you think about it.  Except that it’s not, because it’s Jesus.  And sometimes He makes you wait for His answer to your prayers, just as He made the Syrophoenician woman wait.  Sometimes He makes you beg.  Sometimes He sends you even more affliction.  Because He wants you to hold Him to His promises.  He will deliver.  He will heal.  He will drive the devil away from you.  The proof is that He has come in the flesh.  The proof is the marks of the nails and the spear.  The proof is that He gave His life for you.  He is risen and lives for you.  He comes on His terms, in His way.  He does not behave as we expect Him to.  Thank God, He does not behave as we expect Him to.  That would be an idol.  Not our God.  He’s in your face.  He’s flesh and blood.  He’s real, He’s earthy, He’s death and resurrection for our us and for our salvation.  We would never have done it His way.  That is why He had to come His way.  To do what we never would have, nor could have done.  He came as one of us, to save us.  And He comes as one of us to cast out Satan, open our ears to His Word, and put His body and blood in our mouths.  For the forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and salvation.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                     

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 17)
Sept. 2, 2012
Text: Eph. 6:10-20
            It’s a battle, the Christian life.  Simply put, it’s not easy to be a Christian.  It takes strength.  It takes discipline.  And the worst part is, in the weakness of your sinful flesh, you have no strength and you resist the discipline of the Lord.  So how on earth are you to do what Paul says in our text, to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10; ESV)?  Well, first of all, realize that it is the strength of His might that is at work within you, to make you strong.  This, too, is God’s gift of grace.  It’s not your might.  It’s His.  He works in you by His Spirit in His Word to strengthen you with the very strength and might of Jesus Himself.  Because you have no strength, He gives you Jesus’ strength.  And then there is the next verse, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11).  The English here is perhaps a bit misleading.  You don’t put the armor on.  You have the armor put upon you.  God puts His armor upon you.  A soldier in Paul’s day would have an armor bearer, who would dress him in his armor.  Armor is too heavy to dress yourself.  Someone else has to do it.  Furthermore, it was a great honor and considered good fortune to wear the armor of a great hero, armor that had been tested in battle and proven in victory.  Here God Himself outfits you with the armor of your great hero, Jesus Christ.  It is this armor that St. Paul bids you wear, the whole armor of God, and He describes it in detail. 
            But first you need to know your enemy.  In a political season, especially when things are not as they should be in our country, the Christian is often led to mis-identify the enemy.  Too often Christians think that if their guy wins the election, all will be right with the world.  And too often Christians think that if the other guy wins the election, there’s no hope for the world.  Certainly elections are important for life in this earthly realm.  We should vote and volunteer and do what we can, to the best of our God-given abilities, if possible, to make life in this sinful world a little bit better.  But don’t idolize your candidate.  Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3).  And make no mistake: Politicians are not the enemy against whom you fight in the battle of the Christian life.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  He’s talking about demons.  He’s talking about the devil.  And so you see just how serious this battle is.  You can’t win it on your own.  You’re powerless against the devil by your own strength.  The Lord must fight for you.  And He does.  Just as He went out with the armies of Israel, went before them and drove out the nations.  When Israel would take it upon herself to fight the battle, she would lose, for she had failed to believe in the Lord and confess that He fights for her.  But when Israel trusted in the Lord to win the battle, the Lord would give the victory to Israel.  That is the case for the Church, for you, as you battle against the spiritual forces of darkness. You believe that the Lord fights for you.  You confess that He wins the victory.  And so you are kept safe.
            God gives you His armor for your protection in this dangerous fallen world.  He knows that here in this life, as one who is baptized into Christ, you will always be a target of the devil.  He knows that apart from Him, you will not be able to stand firm in the evil day (v. 13).  So He outfits you with His panoply.  He fastens around you the belt of truth (v. 14), the truth of God’s Word, the truth of your sin and your salvation in Jesus Christ, the truth that God has snatched you out of Satan’s hands in your Baptism.  He covers your chest with the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14), not a righteousness that is your own, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been credited to your account (justification), which then results in righteous acts that you perform by the power of the Spirit of Jesus working within you (sanctification).  Your feet are shod by God with the readiness given by the Gospel of peace (v. 15), for having received the full and free forgiveness of all your sins by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you are ready at all times to confess Him to others, to witness, to give an account of the hope that is within you, with all gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).  God outfits you with the shield of faith, to be taken up in all circumstances, so that you can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one (Eph. 6:16), the bitter temptations and accusations and afflictions that Satan shoots toward your heart.  You extinguish these as you hold fast to God’s promises in Christ, as you trust in His salvation, as you pray earnestly, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The Lord places upon you the helmet of salvation (v. 17), protecting your head, so that you retain the mind of Christ uninjured, lest the empty mind of the world infiltrate and by its enticements lead you down a path away from God.  And God gives you an offensive weapon against these sinister demonic enemies, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (v. 17).  Hearing the Word, hearing the preaching, reading the Scriptures, meditating upon them, speaking that Word, confessing that Word, eating and drinking that Word, having been taken captive by that Word, you do great damage to the devil’s kingdom.  Or, rather, as we should confess, God does great damage to the devil’s kingdom.  And He uses you to do it with His Word.  What a great privilege.  He covers you.  He keeps you safe.  And He sends you on the offensive.  You know you will be successful, because it is the Lord who fights for you.
            And pray, Paul says.  That is another offensive weapon you are given against the devil, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (v. 18).  Don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security.  The devil does his best work against you when he convinces you there is no danger.  You become indolent in prayer, lazy.  Don’t give up on prayer.  Pray at all times, in all circumstances, always and everywhere.  God wants to hear you.  He invites you to call upon Him in the day of trouble.  The devil is always right there, even when you’re not thinking about him.  Pray against him.  Pray for yourself.  Pray for all the saints.  Pray for your fellow church members who are engaged in the same battle.  And Paul entreats the Philippians to pray for him as an apostle, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (vv. 19-20).  Well, Paul no longer needs your prayers.  He enjoys his heavenly crown, having been martyred for the preaching of Jesus Christ.  But the application is this: Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, please pray for me, your pastor.  Paul tells you precisely what you should pray.  Pray that words may be given me to open my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.  Pray that I speak it in season and out of season, whether it’s popular or not, no matter what the consequences, even if it leads to chains and death.  Pray that I speak it boldly, as I ought to speak.  Pray for all pastors in Christ, all ministers of the Gospel, that the Word of God may have free course, and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.  Nothing does more damage to the devil.  Nothing is more important in the battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
            Remember, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  This is an all-out war with demons and the devil, the fallen angels who want to get back at God by killing our faith and dragging us to hell with them.  The stakes could not be higher.  But the point of this text is that in Christ, you’re safe.  Baptized into Christ, the devil has no claim on you.  You don’t belong to him anymore.  You belong to Christ, who shed His blood to redeem you for Himself.  You belong to His Father, God’s own child.  God’s Name is written upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
            I said at the beginning of this sermon series that St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is about Baptism, the baptismal life, and our life together as the Baptized Church of God.  We end where we began.  You are baptized into Christ.  And so He has placed His whole armor upon you, to stand in the evil day, and to fight.  Beloved, fight, work, and pray, as is your calling in Christ.  Do so in the strength of the Lord.  And know that God wins the victory for you over the devil, sin, death, hell.  He has already won the victory in the death and resurrection of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  Satan cannot harm you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.