Rev. Philip Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Alvin Schmidt in his book “How Christianity Changed the World,” wrote:
“Christians practiced a morality that condemned the common Roman practices of abortion, infanticide, abandoning infants, suicide, homosexual sex, patria potestas, [the absolute power over all members of the family including the right to kill them, my definition] and the degradation of women. Their moral posture was one of many reasons why they were harassed, hated, despised, and often imprisoned, tortured, or killed. The Romans made them into an army of martyrs. . . . The early Christians were persecuted for nearly three hundred years with intermittent periods of toleration.” [How Christianity Changed the World, Zondervan, 2001, 2004, p. 27]
We often use the term “culture wars” to describe this same phenomenon in our day. Indeed, nothing is new regarding the world's hatred of Christianity because Christians live by a different moral code. But what goes on in the culture wars of every age is merely an outward manifestation of a much more deadly conflict that rages in every Christian. Luther said it this way:
“…it is clear what the Christian life is, namely a trial, warfare, and a struggle.” [AE 27.361]
I.The Christian Life is Warfare
In his letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul wrote:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom. 7:22–23; ESV)
We are justified by grace, for Christ's sake through faith. Faith alone justifies. Sola Fide. Yet, faith is never alone. Faith is accompanied by good works, the works of love. But as I said, we are engaged in warfare with the Old Adam, this “flesh” of which Paul speaks. The impulse to sin remains in us. And yet, as the saying goes, “the Old Adam is a good swimmer.” The Old Adam must be drowned daily in the waters of Holy Baptism. This is a way of saying that you must crucify the desires of your sinful flesh every day. The New Man arises each day, cleansed by the waters of Holy Baptism because in Baptism you were baptized not only into the death of Christ but also the resurrection of Christ. A new person is to come forth each day, one not controlled by the Law but by the Gospel.
Yet the desire to sin remains in our flesh. This is the warfare of which Paul speaks. Here Paul catalogs the works of the flesh. Many sexual sins are mentioned. Christianity upset the ancient world's thinking and practice because Christianity brought chastity and restraint into the world. It was a world where sexual immorality of all sorts was not merely condoned, but was regarded as completely normal and was integral to Roman society.
Our society has regressed, longing for the depravity of the ancient world. There are almost no restraints on sexual sins. The word “sensuality” covers a lot of ground but it might serve to summarize most of these sins. It can be defined as a readiness for any pleasure, no matter how perverted it might be. Quite simply, our culture is drowning in sensuality and has become so obscene that nothing is out of bounds. Those who follow this way of living might called the new Vulgarians. Our culture has become so vulgar that barely anything shocks most people. What was once taboo has become common. A recent survey reveals that less than 40% of Americans consider the “F-bomb” obscene! Our culture has slipped back into its pagan origins.
The other part of the list contains sins like "enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness" and other things. It has become bloodsport in our culture to destroy other people who disagree with us. We want to be superior to everyone else. Sadly, this often happens in Christian congregations.
At the root of all these sins lies the Old Adam, that innate selfishness which lives inside each one of us. It is “a savage evil,” writes Luther [AE 27.370]. To commit any of these sins places us back under the Law which condemns us as sinners, and those who allow themselves to be controlled by them “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We fight this warfare within ourselves. We daily battle against Satan and his minions as well as against the Old Adam within us. Yet it is never by our own power that we fight. It is only Christ in us that makes the difference.
II. Christ in me
You are not under the Law because Christ has set you free to pursue the fruits of the Spirit. You are a new creation in Christ. You have been liberated from the slavery of the Law. Paul wrote:
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24; ESV)
Very simply, this crucifying the flesh is what you learned from the Small Catechism:
“The Old Adam is us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.” [SC, Baptism IV].
With Christ in you by Baptism you are set free from the slavery of these sins. This fruit of the Spirit is really Christ in you by faith. Faith is the mother and source of all good works, says the Formula of Concord [FC SD IV 9].
The first fruit listed is “love.” The Christian life is lived outward for the neighbor, not for self. Note the other fruits Christ produces in his people:
“...joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal. 5:22–23;ESV)
These qualities were not highly valued in the ancient world, nor I dare say, are they valued in our society today because they are not self-centered. If anything such virtues are mocked. Yet one more fruit should be added, the one demonstrated in our Gospel reading by the Samaritan leper, that of thankfulness. Only he returned to offer thanks to Christ.
This reading is an exhortation to practical Christian living, yet we fail continually to bring forth the fruits pleasing to God. The more you feel these sins the more you need to flee to Christ for his forgiveness and strength. As we return daily to the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, we pray for our preservation in the faith as we prayed in the words of today's Collect:
O Lord, keep Your Church with Your perpetual mercy; and because of our frailty we cannot but fall, keep us ever by Your help from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation…
Today Oliver Sebastian Milner was baptized into this same death and resurrection of Christ. His sins are forgiven and he will continue returning to the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism every day, just as we all do. He lives the new life in Christ. It is Christ in him. We, too, live this life in Christ.
In few minutes we shall begin The Service of the Sacrament. It also goes by the name of the Eucharist, from the Greek word for giving thanks. While we give thanks during it, the prominent giving of thanks is what our Lord did when he instituted this supper for the forgiveness of our sins. He gave thanks with the bread and he gave thanks with the wine, giving us his true body and blood for our forgiveness. He cleanses us from all the works of the flesh of which we are guilty. His blood makes us clean. His atonement enables us to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires,” while at the same time forgiving our sins. We return again and again for cleansing and healing. Our Lord hears our pleas for mercy and makes us whole again. And then God the Holy Spirit works in us, turning us from sinful selfishness to the works God intends to produce in us.
On the yellow prayer card in the pew you see suggested prayers before, during, and after receiving the Sacrament. The shortest one comes from Galatians 2.20 and can serve as a summary for us. It's quoted from the KJV:
I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. (Gal. 2:20; KJV)
When you receive Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament you take Christ into yourself, to have him live in you, and by the power of God the Holy Spirit, to produce the fruits of faith. Therefore, as we conclude the Service of the Sacrament we offer prayers of thanksgiving for our cleansing and forgiveness, much like the nameless leper who returned to thank Christ. In Christ is your freedom and your power to bring forth the fruits of faith. In Christ you live. Be what he intends you to be: a fruitful Christian.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit +