Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 19, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul begins this section of his letter to the Ephesians with this instruction: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)  The word translated “walk” could have been better translated “conduct yourself.”  It has to do with the way you live your life—your behavior, your mindset, your morals, and your faith. 
     Most people would not argue with St. Paul when he encourages us to be wise in the way we conduct ourselves.  Many problems come because they are self-inflicted.  You pay the price for careless words, for a haughty attitude, for showing up late for work, or for spending more than you can afford.  The opposite is true, too: Many blessings come because we are self-disciplined.  If you want to avoid fines and court appearances, be careful to obey the law.  If you want to avoid pregnancy outside of marriage or even the fear that it might happen, remain chaste until you are married.  If you want to have a strong family, then worship together, eat meals together, put your cell phones away and talk to each other.  Devoting yourself to these things is wise for avoiding problems and enjoying blessings. 
     While conducting yourself with good manners and a strong morality is good and useful, these are not the essence of the Christian faith.  Mormons and Muslims are polite and have strong morals.  That means they stay out of jail and have a decent reputation with others.  But they reject what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ and, therefore, sadly, they live outside of salvation.  No matter how much praise a person may receive for being friendly, upstanding, honest, and moral, without faith it is impossible to please [God]. (Hebrews 11:6)  We are not saved because we are more friendly, more upstanding, more honest, or more moral than Muslims, Mormons, or anyone else.  We are not saved because Jesus gives us better commandments than other religions.  Salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ.  For Jesus alone supplies the righteousness we need to stand before God.  Jesus alone takes away every blotch of sin that effects us.  Jesus alone gives us his Holy Spirit who makes us a new creation and who fills us with a godly spirit.  We live Spirit-filled lives, by grace.
     While we are saved by grace, and while saving faith is a gift of God, our salvation and our faith can be lost.  The Spirit who dwells in us can be grieved and even evicted.  That is the reason St. Paul instructs us as he does.  Again, he writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)  
     The evils that come with each day are not limited to violence, drunkenness, lies, and perversion.  Granted, we see these things constantly.  But we are not forced to join in with the world and practice these things.  Rather than practicing evil, we often fail to do what is good by neglecting God's word and our faith.  Faith is a gift of God.  St. Paul reminds us how God delivered that gift to us: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  Faith was given to us through God's word.  That word was applied to you in baptism, making it a water of life and rebirth.  That word was preached from a pulpit.  It was taught to you by your parents in your home or by teachers in Sunday School.  That word is how God created faith in your heart and gave you his Holy Spirit.  It is also how he keeps the Spirit in you.  Faith comes by hearing.  If you want to remain in the faith, then you devote yourself to the word of God.  This is how you make the best use of the time. 
     We live Spirit-filled lives, by grace.  In order to keep on living Spirit-filled lives, the Spirit must keep on filling you.  The Holy Spirit strengthens and sustains us through God's word.  The main place we hear God's word is in church.  We hear how God loves us and sent his Son to win our salvation.  We hear how Jesus supplies the holiness we need, and how Jesus removes the sin that damns.  The word is added to bread and wine so that, by eating and drinking, we receive the body and blood of Jesus which strengthens and keeps us in the one true faith.  Christ's minister delivers the word which absolves us of sin, and puts God's name on us as we depart.  This is how God gives us the blessings he reveals in his word.  The word supplies what God promises.  And the Spirit comes to us, sustains us in God's kingdom, and turns our hearts to love and to do the commands of God.
     I have no doubt that you all want your family and friends to receive the same peace, comfort, and salvation that you have.  Sadly, we usually just assume that they do.  Since we like them, God must like them.  Since we have known God's truth since infancy, they must know it too.  But no one is saved because we like them or because they are related to a Christian.  We are saved by faith in Jesus.  Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.  To make the best use of the time you have in this world in sustaining your own faith, in bringing friends to know Jesus' salvation, and in raising your own children to be in God's kingdom, then God's word is the highest priority.  Is it not appalling when parents let their children decide if they want to come to church anymore?  What other part of life do parents let their children stop doing if they don't want to anymore?  “If you don't feel like going to school anymore, you don't have to.  You can stop eating your vegetables if you don't like them.  You don't need to shower anymore if you'd rather not.”  We would never allow that. 
     If parents act like church is optional, children will learn that God's word is not important, and they will opt out.  If you want to see your children in heaven, then bring them to church.  It is not to be considered optional, but essential and sacred.  It is viewed as the place where God delivers his gifts of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  It is where the Holy Spirit works to protect us from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  It is where God's mercy is proclaimed and delivered.  It is how the Spirit keeps us living Spirit-filled lives.
     At the Divine Service, Jesus serves us with what we need for life, faith, and salvation.  St. Paul notes how we also serve each other in these Divine Services.  He writes, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...” (Ephesians 5:18-20)  We join our voices to honor God with our songs.  But our hymns are not merely praise.  That is to say, we do not merely tell God what we think about him.  Nor do we take turns to tell each other: “This is what God means to me”—as if the Bible has a unique meaning to each of us or we all have our own personal Jesus.  Rather, as the family of God, we join in the confession of the Church.  We honor God by proclaiming what God has done for us.  God's saving work is true for every one of us.  God's promises are proclaimed in song for the encouragement and instruction of one another.
     This is why our hymns matter.  The Holy Spirit does not come by me telling you of my opinions or how much I love Jesus.  That only tells you about me.  The Holy Spirit comes only through God's words and promises.  Therefore, when we address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, those songs proclaim God's words and works.  The Holy Spirit comes through God's word to comfort you in these evil days, to direct you with God's wisdom, and to lead you to cherish God's will.
     “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)  The Lord Jesus has invested himself in our time so that we would have our eternity with him.  Therefore, our joy both here and hereafter is to hear our Savior's voice proclaim his mercy upon us.  We, in turn, join our voices with the saints and angels to declare the glory of God.  For, it is truly good and right that we should give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)  

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

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