Monday, August 20, 2012

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 19, 2012)

EPHESIANS 4:30 – 5:2
BE IMITATORS OF GOD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul encourages you to do something that is impossible.  And yet, he encourages you to do this all the same: “Be imitators of God.” (Ephesians 5:1)  Why?  Because you are children of the heavenly Father.  Because Christ has loved you and has given himself as a sin offering for you.  Because the Holy Spirit dwells in you.  Because you will inherit a place in heaven on the day of redemption. 
     Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. (Ephesians 5:1)  This has always been God’s intention for you.  When God first made Adam and Eve, they were remarkably different from the rest of creation.  While God simply summoned everything else into being by commanding it to be so (“Let there be light,” and there was light – Genesis 1:3, etc.), the man and the woman were different.  God did not summon the man and the woman into existence.  From the dust of the ground, God formed the man.  From the rib of the man, God crafted the woman.  But God set them apart especially in this way: God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
     Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.  They knew what God’s will was.  They wanted to do God’s will.  They could do God’s will.  They were cheerful, willing, and perfect imitators of God.  Although we only hear of the one command that God had given to them, the Ten Commandments were in effect for them, too.  Adam and Eve feared, loved, and trusted God above all things.  They had no intention to lust, to covet, to hate, to harm, or to lie.  And as perfect imitators of God – although briefly – they lived up to their intentions.  They joyfully lived in God’s image.  They happily dwelt under God’s law.  They dutifully kept God’s commands.  And they gratefully received all of God’s blessings.  That is the way God always intended his world to be.  It is what he still desires.
     Over the past number of years, I have heard Christians say that they are disenchanted and even disgusted with the Lutheran church because we have not given much direction in Christian living.  I suppose that there is an element of truth in that charge.  Since we know that we are not saved by our good works, perhaps we give the impression that they are useless or unnecessary.  But good works are God’s will, so they cannot be useless.  Following God’s will is necessary.
     Still, the criticism comes: “We know that Jesus died for us.  We want to know what is next.”  Well, if you are asking what God expects of you in your new life, this is it: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love… (Ephesians 4:30-5:2) 
     This is the life God wants you to live.  Be imitators of God.  You might strive for this, but you still fall short.  Way short.  It is not just that your deeds are evil.  It is that your heart is evil.  When Adam and Eve sinned against God, the image of God was obliterated in man.  You may know what God wants.  But you cannot do what God wants.  Often times, you don’t even want to.  You are bitter toward your co-worker.  You have slandered your friend.  You have no patience to be kind and tenderhearted to that jerk in the crowd.  You do not walk in love; for you would rather seek your own good than that of your fellow man – and sometimes at the expense of your fellow man. You will only forgive them once they prove that they are worth it – which is surely not how Christ forgives anyone.  This is surely not the image and likeness of God.  The Lord himself assessed mankind, in whom the image of God has been lost.  The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)  If the heart is wicked, the deeds that flow from it will be wretched as well.  Your sin has made you a foul stench in God’s nostrils.  You walk about with the smell of death on you.    
     And yet, Paul’s word stands: Be imitators of God.  This is not optional; this is God’s command.  Do not be deceived by those who complain, “We know that Jesus died for us.  We want to know what is next.”  These people think they can keep God’s Law, which certainly does give direction.  But God’s Law always accuses.  It tells you what you should do, and highlights that you have not.  Your problem is not ignorance; it is your heart.  It cannot be cured.  It must be put to death.  Do not be deceived.  Do not seek anything beyond Jesus Christ.  There is no life outside of Jesus.  Cling fervently to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  That is the only place where you remain alive.
     St. Paul says: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)  St. Paul connects your life to Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ innocent life and holy obedience makes him a sweet aroma, pleasing to the Father.  But Jesus Christ offered up that holy life as a fragrant sacrifice for you.  This offering has pleased God Almighty, and he has given his approval of Jesus’ sacrifice by raising him from the dead.  The risen Savior, who had been buried in 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, appeared on Easter Sunday reeking of incense.  The sweet smell of our crucified and risen Lord covers over every odor of sin and evil. 
     Jesus Christ has washed you in baptism.  You are covered in Christ, and therefore, you have become a pleasing aroma to the Lord, holy and blameless before him.  You are a new creation in Christ Jesus, renewed in the image and likeness of God, with a clean heart and a right spirit.  You have been granted the status as children of God.  And now St. Paul urges you to have your life and behavior reflect your status in all that you think and say and do.  You do not do this to become more pleasing to God.  He regards you as holy and blameless – how can you improve on that?!  Rather, as children who bear God’s name, you have been created to do the works God desires.
     Therefore, be imitators of God.  Do not find excuses for your evil.  Repent, and rid yourself of all evil.  Flee from temptation.  And pursue what is good and right.  Yes, you will be fighting against worldly attitudes and actions, even against yourself!  You will surely stand out as one who is different.  But then, you are, aren’t you?  You are no longer children of the world or offspring of Satan.  You have been redeemed.  You are children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.  It is your desire to walk in love.  It is your joy to serve the Lord.  It is your daily work to follow God’s will.
     No matter how hard you work to be imitators of God, you will still find that your sins get the best of you.  Striving to do good works and follow God’s commandments will lead to frustration, because you will never be as good as you want to be.  But remember, there is no life outside of Jesus Christ.  You will always need Jesus’ righteousness and forgiveness.  Do not look for anything that is supposedly “next.”  Your life is hidden in Jesus alone.  Just as Jesus was put to death and then was raised to life, so it is with you.  First, you put to death your sin and your filth by daily contrition and repentance.  Then, God shall raise you up anew, forgiven, pure, and blameless, that you might serve him in joy. 
     Your imitation of God will never be perfect in this world, but your status before him surely is.  Jesus has redeemed you.  The Holy Spirit dwells in you.  As you continue to be fed by Word and Sacrament, God will continue to renew you in his own image.  This is how Jesus remains in you.  In this way, the Holy Spirit will not be grieved, but will continue to dwell in you and work through you.  And while you give up your life in service to God by whatever works you do, rejoice that Jesus has given up his life as a fragrant offering for you. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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