Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 15, 2020)



In the name + of Jesus.

     One of the blessings of confessing the Christian faith is that it allows us to be utterly honest about everything.  First of all, we get to be honest with ourselves.  We get to acknowledge what St. Paul says as true: “At one time you were darkness.” (Ephesians 5:8)  Now, for many of us, that darkness did not last that long.  If you were baptized as an infant, you were snatched out of darkness and brought into God's wonderful light. 
     But we did not come into God's family by right.  We all came into this world in darkness, that is, as sinful beings.  And we know what it is to have our sinful nature continue to crave and delight in sins.  We can be honest about this and acknowledge that we have not shaken it off.  We all have our darker days when we seek revenge, we give in to self-importance which leads only to anger, and we despise those whose opinions are not like ours.  In the dark regions of our hearts, we would rather defend our sins and claim that they are justified, or at least understandable.  But God shines the light of his word onto our lives and exposes our sins and our sinful nature for what they are: evil.  Dear Christian, your faith gives you the honesty to confess these things.  We confess our sins and our sinfulness.  We acknowledge that God is good and right and true.  We repent of our sins and fight against every inclination to do them.
     St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians was not written to ungodly, impenitent people.  He was writing to Christians, to people who had been rescued from darkness and from the devil's realm.  He writes not just to the Ephesians, but to the Church, and therefore to you.  And he reminds you what you are now: “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light...” (Ephesians 5:8)  
     You are children of light.  That means that not only Christ has exposed your sinfulness so that you would repent.  It especially means that the Holy Spirit has enlightened you to see that God is merciful; he does not treat us as our sins deserve.  More than that, God is gracious.  He blesses us and gives us gifts that we do not deserve.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and he shows himself to be the Savior of sinners.  He has plunged himself into the depths of darkness to pull us out of sin and death.  In doing so, he has covered himself in our sins.  He did not shy away from our darkest moments, but had compassion on us despite them.  In order to deliver us, Jesus bore our curse.  As he hung cursed from the cross, darkness covered the land and the Father forsook his Son.  Jesus suffered the pains of death and the torments of hell for us.  But on the third day, Jesus brought us into the light of God's goodness by his resurrection.  When the grave burst open, so did the gates of heaven.  Your sins have been taken away.  Your heart has been renewed, and your eyes are now open. 
     You are children of light.  That means you not only see God as the gracious Savior who delivers you from every evil, you also see that God's word is good and right and true.  By his word, God guides and directs us so that we do not return to wickedness and all the consequences that come with it.  You are children of light.  It is honest to confess this, because the Lord Jesus tells you this is what you are, and he never lies to you.  You have been baptized into Christ which cleanses you of your sinfulness and marks you as children of God.
     You are children of light.  Jesus has enlightened you to see that a godly life is a better life.  But you also have the honesty to acknowledge that the world is still wicked.  St. Paul writes, “Walk as children of light....  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:8-12)  
     While it may be shameful to speak of the things that are done under the cover of darkness, we know what those things are.  That is because they are flaunted before us.  They are the main plot in the movies, the lyrics of pop songs, the goal of television characters, and topics which people boast about on social media.  The world has forgotten how to blush over shameful deeds.  Having shameful actions flaunted as they are, we might become so accustomed to them that we no longer regard them as shameful.  God's word shows you differently.  He reminds you who you are: You are children of light.  For this reason, you do not join in with them, nor do you have to approve of them.  Even if sins are commonplace, they ought not be common among us.  You have been rescued from the darkness; you gain nothing by going back to it.  Live as children of light; for that is what you are.
     You get to be utterly honest about everything.  The light of God's word exposes the world for what it is: evil.  It grieves us to see so many live with sin-darkened minds and hearts.  We know that they are perishing.  As children who dwell in God's light, we reveal God's light to others and expose the truth.  If your goal in doing so is only to condemn them for their sins, the scorn you receive will be deserved.  But if your goal is to love them despite their sins and to rescue them from the darkness they live in, you may still receive scorn.  But you can rest with a clean conscience.  God has enlightened us to know the only hope for sinners.  Only in Christ is there deliverance from darkness and death.  Therefore, we proclaim God's word so that others may also be delivered from death and darkness to light and life.
     The light of God's word allows us to see both the blessings in this world and its problems.  We are grateful for the blessings God grants, but we also pray, “Deliver us from evil.”  Whether you are the victim of someone's scorn, grieving the loss of loved ones, or fearful of a pandemic, you recognize evils for what they are—the consequences of sin entering the world and corrupting it.  There is nothing un-Christian about saying, “This really stinks.”  Because of sin, life can be hard and even painful.  It is for these reasons that we pray for the glories of heaven when we will be forever free from sorrow, pain, and loss.
     At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8-9)  You are children of light; therefore, live like children of light.  That is more than just avoiding wickedness.  It is also making sure that you do not make idols of the good things in this world.  Many people are frightened over the coronavirus.  They are afraid of isolation, sickness, and possible death.  Others are bothered because sports have stopped or because the stock market dropped thousands of points.  People want to their entertainment, wealth, and health are preserved.  These are not inherently evil, but neither do they deliver from sin or death.  Only Jesus does this.  Therefore, the only thing with real value is the Gospel in word and sacraments.  That is what we must cherish.
     You are children of light.  God has enlightened you to recognize that our only hope is found in Jesus.  We don't know the future; God has chosen not to reveal it.  Perhaps the virus will pass away.  Perhaps it will be like the Plague in the 1400's which claimed the lives of one third of Europe.  But God has enlightened you to know this: No plague sends anyone to hell.  Only sin does that.  God has enlightened you to know this: Jesus Christ has taken away your sin.  Jesus Christ has overcome death and the grave.  Jesus Christ assures you of an everlasting glory.  God has enlightened you to know this: Life in Christ does not end.  Time in this world may run short, but time in the kingdom of God never runs out.  And God has enlightened you to know this: No matter what you endure in this world, God's love and mercy remain constant.  His promises stand firm—regardless of panic, shortages, quarantines, or death.  In fact, his promises stand firm over death.
     You do not live in the dark.  You are children of light.  And our Lord will finally deliver us all to his kingdom of everlasting light and life and glory.  So, live as children of light.  Do not fear, but rejoice.  The Lord Jesus Christ lives and reigns.  And we shall live and reign with him.

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

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