Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sermon: Thursday of Lent 2 (Oculi)

3 March 2005 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Paul’s words seem like all law, and no gospel.

Paul tells us “do this, don’t do that.” And furthermore, “if you do this and not that, you will have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.” Paul speaks of God’s wrath to those of us who are the “sons of disobedience.”

Of course, that doesn’t apply to anyone here, right? We’re all obedient, pious, holy, and loving – all the time. We don’t engage in “foolish talking,” or “uncleanness.” None of us here engages in course language, or sexual sins, or of the idolatry of putting worldly things ahead of God. Nobody here in our Lutheran High community – neither students nor parents, neither faculty nor staff – have sins like covetousness and filthiness, right?

So none of us need to worry about the wrath of God, his “temporal and eternal punishment.” Don’t we wish?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Even the most pious among us, the ones whom everyone thinks are the most righteous, harbors hidden and secret sins. Even those of us who can curb our actions and control our tongues know very well that our minds are full of selfishness, conceit, greed, lust, envy, courseness, rebellion against authority, lying, cheating, gossiping, violence, hatred, and self-righteousness. We do not love God with our whole hearts. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves. And we don’t even love ourselves: poisoning our bodies with the abuse of things that are unhealthy – be they drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or junk food. How many of us really exercise as we should? But, of course, we congratulate ourselves that we don’t smoke crack as we reach for the second, or third, slice of pie.

We fritter away our valuable time on mindless entertainments while our responsibilities go unfulfilled. We shun reading the scriptures, we make other things more important than worship on Sundays. And even when we go to church, our minds wander, we have evil thoughts about those around us, and we complain about everything.

“We are by nature sinful and unclean” as we often say mindlessly on Sunday. We all do the things Paul tells us not to do in today’s reading, and we all refuse to do the things Paul tells us we need to be doing.

So what awaits the person who commits such acts? Scripture is very clear about it, dear friends. Death, both temporal and eternal – both in this life and for eternity – awaits those who rebel against God’s law. This means, quite simply, we all deserve nothing but hell. We “poor miserable sinners” have brought death upon ourselves. We cannot blame Adam. We cannot blame God. We cannot blame others. We have done it to ourselves – and we do it every day of our lives. St. Paul’s unpleasant words are not merely for serial killers and terrorists – they are for all of us who, in the words of St. Paul, “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So is there any gospel at all in today’s reading? Absolutely! First of all, Paul’s words, inspired by the Holy Spirit himself, are a warning. They are a yellow road sign telling us to slow down because we are heading toward a cliff. But we have not yet fallen over the side. Our Lord, in his mercy, allows us to repent. His law, for all its harshness, is a call to return to him, to return to his loving care. It is an invitation to step away from the edge of the bottomless pit, to be rescued by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

And look at how Paul describes our blessed Savior in this passage: “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Paul doesn’t leave us hanging – in spite of his sobering words and his demands that we do the impossible. For we are not left alone. Christ has loved us, and continues to love us – but even more importantly, he gave himself for us – not merely as a friend, a homeboy, a bobble-headed trinket, or a comic-book superhero. Jesus is not a t-shirt slogan. Rather, he offered himself as a sacrifice, beaten and nailed to a cross for us. Jesus is the Lamb, the victim, whose Blood was poured on the ground (blood that should have been ours). Jesus is the Lamb whose flesh was burned on the altar of God, producing the pleasant smell of meat cooking on a grill – an aroma that pleases God, rising to the highest of the heavens like sweet incense, pleading with the Father to spare us, all of us “poor miserable sinners” who deserve what Jesus got. This, dear friends, is no “homeboy” – this is our Savior, our atonement, our suffering servant, our substitute. His wounds should have been my wounds. And if that were not enough – this is God himself. Jesus is to be worshipped.

And because Jesus died, our sinful flesh has also been offered to God on the cross. And because Jesus lives, we too can live and walk as children of light. We are not alone. We are not left to wage this battle against sin, Satan, and our own flesh on our own. As St. Paul prays later on in this passage: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

For our Lord provides us with lifelines to his saving cross: Holy Baptism – in which we die and rise with him; Confession and Absolution – in which our Lord’s ministers forgive us in his name; the Holy Supper – in which we are united body and soul with our dear Lord and God; and in the preaching of the Gospel – in which our blessed Savior bespeaks his life and love into us again and again.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, let us praise and thank God for giving his holy apostle Paul the words he gives us, calling us to repentance and newness of life. For we know that on our own we are lost and condemned persons – but in his mercy and grace, we are forgiven and are sanctified to “serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” This is most certainly true.

Let us heed the apostle’s warning, and flee the darkness of sin, running toward the light of the cross. For no matter what our past sins have been, they are all absolved – not because I say so, but because Jesus says so. For Jesus paid the ultimate price, and furthermore, has authorized me to speak these magnificent and universe-altering words to you, right here and right now: “I forgive you all your sins...

in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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