Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2018)

EPHESIANS 4:17-24

WE ARE CONTINUALLY RENEWED, BY GRACE .

In the name + of Jesus.

     Christians are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so, and you don't need to apologize for it, because Jesus did say so.  To say we are different is not to say we are better.  We know better than that.  We confess what the Scriptures teach: There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22-23)  We are no better than anyone else; for we are sinners, just like everyone else.  But by acknowledging that you are a sinner, you are different.  You make confession of your sins, but not merely to acknowledge them.  Most people will say that much.  “Nobody's perfect.”  But that is not a confession; it is an excuse.  Your confession is not an excuse.  God is not pleased with our sins.  Neither are we. 
     We confess that we are by nature corrupt.  Our sinful nature displays itself when we do what is evil and fail to do what is good.  We confess that we deserve God's wrath for our sinful condition and our sinful deeds.  God does not find our sins acceptable.  We do not find them acceptable, either.  In fact, we want to be rid of them—forever. 
     God has rescued you from your sinful condition.  Jesus has come to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  In that way, you are not different, either.  God does not love a few.  God loves the world.  But “whoever believes and his baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  These are the ones who benefit from Jesus' saving work.  Jesus suffered what you deserve so that you will not suffer for your sins.  Jesus died the cursed death at the cross so that you will have a blessed death.  Death does not mean hell; for Jesus overcame the grave by his resurrection.  He promises that you, too, will rise from the dead with a glorified body to live in glorious freedom forevermore.  You will not merely be free from aches and pains and sorrow, but you will be forever free from your sins, from shame, from regret, and from every other thing that vexes us because of sin.  Though “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), much of the world rejects God's love.  You are different.  By God's grace, you believe in Jesus.  You are baptized into him.  You are saved.
     Your salvation, however, is not limited to what will come down the road someday.  Jesus not only pardons your offenses, he has also rectified the very corruption in your nature sinful.  Jesus has renewed your very heart, mind, and soul from which all thoughts, words, and deeds arise.  In your baptism, your sinful nature was put to death with Jesus.  He drowned your Old Adam in the baptismal waters and he raised you up a new creation.  He has wrapped you in robes of righteousness so that you are holy and blameless before God, and he has renewed your heart and mind so that you are no longer devoted to this world, but rather you are focused on heavenly things.  This is not what you will be someday; it is what you are now.
     We are continually being renewed, by grace.  You are a new creation, and St. Paul urges you to live like one.  He writes: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)  
     Our world has always been tolerant of evil, and even celebrates it.  If you go to a concert and the rock star boasts about his most recent sexual conquest, the audience will roar with approval.  Movies have trained us to cheer for the adulterous affair and feel good when the marriage gets destroyed.  Binge drinking is considered admirable.  Living together outside of marriage is considered wise.  And we build our own virtue in seeing the faults of others exposed.  In short, wickedness is common, it is commended, and it is celebrated.  If you play along, the world will praise you.
     But you are different.  God has enlightened you to see that this worldly thinking is futile.  The world promises happiness for giving into sensuality, for being greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:19)  Whatever gratification you may get does not last.  What does last is guilt, regret, shame, and the fear of the death you deserve for what you have done.  This world seeks to enforce its perverse values on us.  The pressure is great to give in to worldly ways.  It is expected of you, and you are mocked if you are different.  But you are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so.  You should not be ashamed for living like it.  And you surely don't need to apologize for it.  You have been set apart by Christ to be different.
     In our struggle to be faithful, and because of our weakness which results in giving into worldly pressures and pleasures, we need Jesus who continually renews us.  Day after day, we live a life of repentance.  Day after day, we flee to our Savior for mercy, comfort, and strength.  St. Paul reminds us that this daily renewal is not optional.  He writes, “You … were taught in (Christ) … to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:21-24)  
     We are continually renewed by grace.  The Lord renews our hearts and minds so that we agree with God's word.  What God calls evil, we recognize as evil and despise it.  We flee from it, and we root it out of our lives.  But it is more than that.  It also means that what God calls good we recognize is truly good, and we strive to do it.  This is what it means to put on the new self.
     If you had a garden full of weeds, you would rightly want to pull every weed out of it.  Weeds make for a useless garden.  However, after you uproot every weed, it doesn't mean you have a productive garden.  You would only have a plot of dirt.  To have a productive garden, you need to plant good seed and cultivate it.  You need to keep removing weeds and to keep on tending and watering the good seed so that it produces good, useful food.  In the same way, putting off the old self in repentance is only part of our daily life.  It is right to repent of sins, but we also need to put on the new self—to cultivate our lives with good works, and to labor to continue in them.  Our Catechism also teaches this.  In his explanation of the Commandments, Martin Luther teaches that God's will is both to avoid and to do good.  “We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.” (Small Catechism, Explanation of the 8th Commandment)
     We are continually renewed by grace.  Day by day, we return to our baptism to drown the Old Adam who desires what is sinful, and God raises us up anew.  This is how we put on the new self.  Day after day, the Lord assures us that we remain his redeemed and that we stand before the heavenly Father as holy and blameless.  He not only calls us holy and blameless, he also calls us to be holy and blameless.  In this, we struggle.  The Lord, however, does not grow tired of our weaknesses, or that we never live up to status of saints.  Instead, the Lord renews us.  He keeps us in his kingdom.  He encourages us to fight against sin and temptation.  He fills our hearts will a love for what is pure, what is noble, what is good, and what is pleasing to him. 
     We are continually renewed by grace.  We drown the Old Adam in repentance, and the Lord restores and renews us in his forgiveness.  By his word, he continues to conform us to the likeness of Christ.  He teaches us to love him and his word more deeply.  And as the Lord conforms you to Christ, he guides you to love what is good and to love your neighbor and to do good to him.  While the world may recognize that this makes you different, you recognize that it makes you more like Jesus.
     Christians are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so.  You should not be ashamed for living like it.  And you surely don't need to apologize for it.  You have been set apart by Christ to be different—set free from sin and death, and set free for a new life of good works and, finally, glory everlasting.

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