Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Eph. 4:17-5:2 and John 6:35-51
Dear people of God who will live forever: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our battle with sin is… well, a battle. Some days it may feel like the battle is going well, and other days it seems like we are losing really badly. Some days we may think that we are doing so well in our battle with sin that we are tempted to be prideful over how little we have sinned, but more often we may think that we are doing so poorly in our battle with sin that we are tempted to despair over our salvation.
Hearing the exhortations of the Holy Spirit to imitate God as we heard in our Epistle reading can therefore be quite distressing. You must no longer walk as unbelievers do, in the futility of their minds. You must not live for the sake of what makes you feel good. Put away falsehood. Do not sin in your anger. Do not take what is not yours. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
In addition to telling us what not to do, the Holy Spirit also tells us what we are to do. Speak the truth. Resolve your disputes rather than going to sleep angry. Earn an honest living so that you can help those in need. Speak only in a way that is good for building others up. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
This is a warning to Christians. There is indeed great danger to your soul if you walk as unbelievers walk. Walking in sin leads to being callous. Walking in sin makes you hardened, dead to feeling. Walking in sin makes your conscience calloused and dead to God’s Word and there is no moral sensitivity to restrain such people from following their desires. Becoming callous, they give themselves up to sensuality, to doing whatever makes them feel good, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Yes, this is what the world does, but it is not what a Christian is to do. A Christian does not surrender the battle to sin without falling away from the faith.
The Epistle says, “That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Eph. 4:20) You did not learn in confirmation class to ignore God’s Law. Rather, you learned the Ten Commandments and the summary in which God says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My Commandments.” (Ex. 20:5-6) You have not learned in sermons or Bible classes that you should grieve the Holy Spirit of God by the way you live your life. Rather, you have learned that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that you should glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:19-20).
However, we must admit, that despite the exhortations of Scripture to walk in love, imitate God, and keep His Commandments, we have not done so. We have not always spoken the truth. We have been angry and sinned against our parents, our children, and our spouses. We have taken what is not ours and not even considered it stealing although we took advantage of someone else, wasted what belonged to someone else, or didn’t pay taxes we rightly should have paid. Corrupting speech has come out of our mouths as we have spoken evil of others, whether it was true or not. We must admit that we have not done what God has commanded us to do.
Thus, as Christians, we return to our Baptism. In Baptism, our old man was put off, we were renewed in the spirit of our minds, and the new man was put on us created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22-24, cf. Rom. 6:6). God’s Law shows us our sin, and we turn away from it daily. It is a daily battle. Thus we confess that baptizing with water indicates, “That the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (SC IV.4).
As Christians, we recognize and admit our sin. We confess our sin. But we do not walk in sin. We do not accept or excuse the sin in our lives but we daily turn away from it. We daily repent. We gather to hear God’s Word, receive His Absolution, and receive Christ’s true body and blood because we “daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (SC III.5). We despair in ourselves and rely on Christ, His fulfilling of the Law for us, and His death on the cross for our sins.
We return to our Baptism, because that is where God put His name on us. God putting His name on us is no small matter. God does not act for your sake when He forgives you your sins. Rather, He acts for His own name’s sake. He will vindicate the holiness of His great name which has been profaned by the world and which we have profaned among the world by our sins. God will continue to cleanse us from all of our sins not for our sake, but for His name’s sake with which He has sealed us. God will deliver us from all our uncleanness. Scripture says, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways” (Ezek. 36:32).
God does not cleanse us of our sins because of what we have done or not done. God does not cleanse us of our sins because we have been pretty good at imitating Him. God does not forgive us because we have battled so valiantly with sin. Remembering our ways will only cause us to loathe ourselves for our iniquities and our abominations.
God cleanses us of our sins for the sake of His name. We are baptized into the death of Christ, so we are in Christ. We are forgiven because we are baptized into His name. Our failures to fight the good fight; our lack of imitating God or our imitation of the world are forgiven not for our sake, but for God’s name’s sake (for the preceding three paragraphs, cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).
Jesus tells us even more what God will do for His name’s sake. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (Jn. 6:37). God put His name on us, and for His name’s sake brings us to Jesus, who will never cast us out. Indeed, it is the Father’s will that none of us who have been given to Jesus would be lost, but that He would raise us up on the last day (Jn. 6:39).
Remember this in your battle with sin. When you stumble, for His name’s sake God will lift you up and forgive you all your sins. When you sin, turn in repentance to God. For His name’s sake He will cover your sins and strengthen you in your fight with sin. And when at the end of life you die, for His name’s sake He will raise you up on the last day.
Keep battling with sin. Do not accept or excuse sin in your life, but rather keep fighting against it. For His name’s sake which He has put on you God will continue to forgive you and strengthen you. For His name’s sake He will never cast you out. For His name’s sake, you will live forever. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.