Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sermon: Oculi (Lent 3)

24 February 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 11:14-28 (Jer 26:1-15, Eph 5:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is a big difference between license and forgiveness. “License” means permission. It means that something is lawful. It means you can do it with no fear of punishment or negative consequence.

Forgiveness is something else entirely. To be forgiven means one doesn’t have permission. In this sense, it is the opposite of license. For if you need forgiveness, it means you acted without license. You did something unlawful, something that breaks the law.

And yet, to be forgiven means to be released from the punishment. It doesn’t mean you have permission to sin, in fact it’s the opposite. To admit the need for forgiveness is to admit wrongdoing, to admit guilt, to admit being deserving of punishment.

The Gospel is the good news that because of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, forgiveness is offered to every person. The sins we have accumulated, the laws we have shattered, the messes we have made, the hurts that we have inflicted, the selfishness we have displayed, and the evil we have entertained have all been atoned for by the very blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.

The Gospel is forgiveness, not license.

But dear friends, be on guard. For your sinful flesh will tempt you to see the Gospel as license. Your Old Man will try to convince you that since Jesus died on the cross, since you have been baptized, since you are a church member, since you can accurately repeat the doctrine of the church –you therefore have license to sin in thought, word, and deed. Your fallen human nature will try to convince you that a little dalliance with sin here, a little overindulgence there, just a peccadillo that everyone else is doing – is no problem. It’s all good.

Thanks be to God that our Lord is merciful enough to send us prophets, to give us Holy Scripture, and to take on flesh as the Son of Man to cast out this demon of defiance we trifle with.

For our Lord Himself says: “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” And while it is true that our Lord Himself keeps the law for us, it is equally true that treating that reality as license to sin is nothing less than the repudiation of the faith and a forfeiture of salvation.

Sin is never a trifle. It is always a big deal.

This is why our Lord warns us that a demon, once expelled, will return, and if given the opportunity, will bring seven of his friends, and will do so with a vengeance. Don’t ever forget this, dear brothers and sisters.

The first president of the Missouri Synod, the Reverend C.F.W. Walther, made the following statements that some Lutherans today might even consider false doctrine:

He wrote: “While it is impossible to obtain salvation by holiness, it is entirely possible for a person to lose his salvation again by the neglect of his holiness,” and furthermore: “A Christian who will not continually fight against sin, earnestly strive after the virtues that please God, faithfully watch over his heart and life, and always pray for new power and grace soon ceases to be a Christian.”

You cannot save yourself by your good works, as Walther writes us, as Luther reminds us, as St. Paul preaches to us, and as the Holy Spirit reveals to us, but don’t let your sinful flesh take that ball and run with it by drawing the conclusion that you are free to neglect prayer, treat the divine service as a low priority, spurn confession and absolution, gossip, not practice godly stewardship, be unforgiving of others, be a glutton, commit sexual sins, be uncompassionate, display greed, turn away from self-discipline, and make all sorts of excuses for your sins – and that your baptism gives you license to do these things. That may be a popular religion, but it is not the Christian faith.

St. Paul, the apostle whose letters articulate the Gospel with such clarity and grace, has this to say to the saints at Ephesus, the baptized children of God in the Church: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

This isn’t just a suggestion or a helpful hint, dear brothers and sisters. For St. Paul continues (and please listen very carefully to this): “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

We Lutherans are very quick to weasel out of this by saying something along the lines that since we’re baptized, we don’t have to worry. Is that what St. Paul is saying? Is Paul giving us license to do whatever we want? Is repentance simply being able to quote the Book of Concord and remember your baptism with the sign of the cross?

Listen to the rest of the holy apostle’s warning: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),”

St. Paul is not telling you to give in to temptation and just play the baptism card. He’s telling you to fight back! This is your eternal salvation we’re talking about. This is no time to be flippant. The enemy is inside your house, and he wants to destroy you and your children. Your options are simple: fight or give up. The Christian life is nothing other than warfare. We are to punch, kick, scrap, spit, pull hair, gouge eyes, and grab any weapon at hand. And look at the weaponry the Lord has provided us with! Look at the opportunities you have week in and week out to arm yourselves and your children for battle.

Now, you will lose battles. You will sin. You will allow the Old Man his way. That’s precisely when you need the power of the Holy Spirit to gird your loins for battle, to get back up, and fight again.

Listen to the prophet Jeremiah (whose message was so unpopular that everybody wanted to kill him): “Amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, then the Lord will relent concerning the doom that He has pronounced against you.”

A warning is an act of mercy. A tornado warning may not be good news in and of itself, but the opportunity to seek shelter is. God’s wrath is not to be trifled with. Our sins are serious. Every sin, great and small. Every sin, those committed years ago, and those committed right now. Listen to the prophet! Listen to the apostle! Most of all, listen to our Lord!

God is pleading with us to repudiate the darkness and walk in the light. He is demanding that we give no quarter to evil, show no hospitality to the devil, and certainly don’t take the Gospel for granted.

The warnings of Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus are as real today as they were when the Holy Spirit inspired them. Those warnings are for us, right here and right now. God is pleading with us to repent, to have a change of heart. To come to grips with just how serious our sins are.

It is only in this context that the Gospel is the Gospel. A life jacket is only an unnoticed prop on a boat until the boat is sinking. When that happens, that dirty orange vest is more beautiful than the fanciest gown worn by an Oscar winner, and worth more than the swankiest tailored suit sported by a king.

The Gospel, the real Gospel – not empty words and slogans – but the real flesh and blood atonement won for you by God in the flesh dying on the cross and offering forgiveness to you, is your only hope. The Lord grants you complete and total forgiveness, not license, but rather grace. He gives you the weapons you need to hurl at the devil. And they are the Word of God and the Sacraments that bear His promises. Use those weapons, dear friends, wield them! Brandish them!

Bible class is not about learning trivia – but rather arming yourself for battle. The Divine Service isn’t a time-filler between breakfast and lunch, or a chance to chit chat with friends – but rather preparation and fortification for war. Confession and absolution isn’t just for mass murderers and rapists – it’s for every person who has ever sinned – and it is also a weapon for you to take aim at the one who wants to drag you into hell.

For the Lord Jesus is here to cast out the demons. Demons are not our playmates, but our mortal enemies. And these enemies are to be defeated and given no terms.

For even in our imperfect flesh, dear brethren, we have been given the power to “walk as children of light” and “walk in love” for “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us.” These are the words of Scripture. This is the Word of the Lord.

Let us turn from our sins and flee from cheapening the Gospel into mere license. Rather let us embrace the forgiveness of sins that our Lord has won for us, proclaims into our ears, places on our tongues, and instills in our hearts. For only in Him can we be, as St. Paul implores us, “imitators of God as dear children.” Amen.

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

1 comment:

Brett Cornelius said...

I see we're both reading the same blogs. My sermon text for yesterday was from Ephesians 5, and I used the same quotes from Walther. Now I have to read, 'God Grant It!' Great sermon by the way. Great blog too!