Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sermon -- 10th Sunday after Pentecost (July 29, 2018)


EPHESIANS 4:1-7,11-16

WE ARE UNITED AND STRENGTHENED BY GRACE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul encourages us to do two things in our Epistle lesson.  The first is that we maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  (Ephesians 4:3)  The second is that we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14)—in other words, that we grow in the faith.  Ironically, we can't do either of these things.  Both are gifts of God which he delivers to us in Christ.  Both are aspects of the Church which the Holy Spirit works in us and sustains among us.  We are united and strengthened by grace.  The unity we enjoy with one another is what God has worked among us through his word.  If we are growing in the knowledge of God's word, if we are maturing in both our understanding of God's truth and in lives that reflect God's good will, that is also God's work in us through his word and by his grace. 
     Nevertheless, St. Paul's encouragement stands.  While it is true that the unity we enjoy is God's work among us, it is also something that we strive to retain.  St. Paul directs us this way: “I … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) 
     We are united to each other by grace.  Our unity is based on God's word; so, our unity remains as long as our faithfulness to God's word remains.  Our Lord has united us in a common confession.  We are not all individuals who are exercising our Christian faith as we see fit.  Nor do we live our Christian lives independent of each other.  There is no such thing as one's own personal Jesus.  We do not make our own personal confession.  We confess what our Lord has made known to us.  While the Nicene Creed is your confession, it is because it is the confession of the Christian Church.  It expresses what the Bible teaches.  There is one hope that we all share, based on one truth which is revealed in sacred Scripture.  We are united in one Lord Jesus Christ who has suffered and died for sinners.  We are united by one Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets and the apostles to give us the very word of God.  Our Father in heaven is the same loving, merciful Father of us all. 
     By grace, our Triune God has united us to each other as the body of Christ.  This does not rob you of your personality.  It does not take away what is unique about you.  Rather, it takes what is unique about you and joins you to others who have been blessed with different gifts and abilities.  We all serve each other and seek the good of one another; for God has given us all to each other and united us for our good.
     We are united to each other by grace.  St. Paul also encourages us to be strengthened in the Christian faith—to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)  Once again, this is not something that we do.  You cannot make yourself grow any more than you can go into a farmer's field and make the corn grow fuller or taller.  Strengthening and growth are both God's work.  God carries this work out through his word which is preached, read, and studied.  When we come to God's house to hear and study his word, or when we read our Bibles at home, we are giving God the opportunity to work in us through that word to increase our faith, our knowledge, and our maturity.  In that word, God reveals who he is, what he is like, what he wants, and what his will is.  And the more we are strengthened in those things, the more we are conformed to the likeness of Jesus.
     We are united and strengthened by grace.  It is God's will that you grow in the knowledge of his word and become more mature in your faith.  St. Paul gives you a most significant reason why: “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14)  To nelgect the word of God is to open yourself up to being deceived by false teachings.  Satan has not stopped being crafty, and he seeks to lead you astray.
     St. Paul reminds us: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)  Satan's lies are cloaked in godly-sounding language.  If Satan told you a bald-faced lie, you would be smart enough to recognize it for what it is.  But Satan tries his hardest to sound like Jesus.  He distorts God's word just a little bit so that you will turn away from God's truth to trust in something else.
     There are too many examples of these deceitful teachings to consider, so we will limit ourselves to one.  It is quite popular to hear people say, “I just felt that the Lord wanted me to do this or was telling me to do that.”  But, how can you know that the Lord is the author of your feelings?  In an extreme example of this claim, there have been Christians who have murdered doctors who perform abortions.  They know that abortion is murder, and that those who commit such murders are sinning against God and taking human lives.  They claim, “I just felt the Lord wanted me to put a stop to their horrible actions.”  Do not doubt their sincerity, but they are horribly wrong.  The Lord has not assigned us to take the law into our own hands and to prevent all of society's ills.  The God who decreed, “You shall not murder,” does not sanction the murder of anyone, even criminals, no matter how much you might feel compelled to act.
     God's name is invoked on much smaller issues, too.  We just feel God wants us to do something.  How do you know that it is God who makes you feel that way?  How do you know it isn't the devil?  Or is it perhaps something that you really want to do, but it sounds better to put God's approval on it?  Even if your desire to do something is helpful, by saying “I feel that God wants me to do this,” it also means that you are sinning against God if you change your mind or find out your plans won't work.
     If you put your faith in your feelings, you have abandoned God's word—no matter how pious or powerful your feelings are.  If you want to guard against being deceived, then devote yourself to God's word.  God has spelled out very clearly what his will is in the Holy Bible.  He tells you what is good so that you can devote yourself to it and do it.  He exposes what is evil so that you can rid yourself of it and flee from it.  In many places, God remains silent, granting you the freedom to do what you like.  God does not dictate what kind of car you should drive, who your favorite team should be, or what color you should paint your bathroom.  But when God's word directs you, you don't have to wonder if you are being deceived.  You have the confidence that your life and your faith are firmly founded on God's word.
     We are united and strengthened by grace.  We join together at church for the benefits God prepares and gives to us.  For “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)  The Lord does not give you a Bible and tell you to do your best with it.  He joins you to a church where his ministers preach that word to you—to instruct you, admonish you, enlighten you, and comfort you.  He joins you to fellow Christians who make a common confession for mutual consolation, encouragement to walk in a manner worthy of your calling, and to bear with one another in love and prayer.  These things do not happen by accident.  God has graciously worked in your lives to bring you together for each other's good.  God has united you to himselff and sustains and strengthens you by his word.  That word is where you will know God's saving truth.  That word makes you sure of his grace.

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