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Archives - August 2020

Secrets

August 30, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this twelfth Sunday after Trinity comes from our gospel text where Mark records, “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Why would Jesus say this? Call what has just happened in our text what it is – a miracle. An in-breaking of divinity into the darkness of this world so broken by sin and sin’s effects. To call it incredible and astounding is an understatement … so why would Jesus, as Mark records, charge them to tell no one? You’d think something like this would be cause for celebration, right? Why is our Lord insistent … upon secrecy?

It’s not an isolated incident either. Scattered throughout Mark’s gospel account are similar instances where Jesus does something absolutely incredible, extraordinary … supernatural … and before the people are even able to process what’s happened, Jesus charges them to tell no one. It happens with the leper in chapter one, when Jesus charges him to “say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” In chapter eight, Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida and orders him to “not even enter the village,” but rather to go home. When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, again, “He strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.”

Then, of course, we’ve got today’s text. The crowds bring a deaf and mute Gentile to Jesus, imploring Him “to lay His hand on him.” Jesus doesn’t do it publicly; He takes the man aside, sticks His fingers in the man’s ears, touching his tongue with a spittle-covered holy finger, groans, and utters His “Ephphatha.” Lo and behold, the man can speak plainly, he can hear as his ears are opened, and one of the first things he hears is the sound of Jesus charging him and those with him to tell no one about what had just happened.

Why this messianic secret? After all, these miracles and healings would no doubt bolster Jesus’s popularity and renown. It even seems a bit futile, as we’re told by Mark that, despite His clear and strict instruction, “the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Was Jesus simply speaking out of both sides of his mouth? Well, no, Jesus wasn’t giving a nod and a wink to those who just witnessed the impossible occur. It’s not a dog-whistle or anything like that. His charge is genuine … and it is purposeful.

Allow me to explain. Jews and Gentiles were not the only ones that Jesus charged to keep quiet about who He is and what He was here to do. On several occasions in Mark’s gospel, Jesus had interactions with unclean spirits, demons who, whether in terror or derision, proclaim loudly for all to hear, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” And Jesus’s immediate response is to sharply rebuke them and order them to come out of their hosts – a command the demons cannot help but obey.

Compare and contrast that with the final time that Jesus orders the silence of those who witness a manifestation of His divinity: the transfiguration. The disciples had just seen their rabbi “transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” They’d been terrified as they saw their Lord conversing with Moses and Elijah – long since dead. They had cowered as they heard a voice out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him,” only to blink and suddenly find themselves alone with Jesus. As they headed down the mountain, we’re told that “[Jesus] charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Taken together, these texts paint an interesting picture and inform our understanding of our text and this messianic secret. The demons want Jesus exposed as who He is … but for obviously nefarious reasons. To His disciples, in the wake of His transfiguration, Jesus specifically gives an end date to His charge for secrecy: after “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” This messianic secret, incredulous as it may seem, was charged to ensure that Jesus would accomplish His mission, what He came here to do.

See, people back then had great misunderstandings about who Jesus was, and certainly about what the purpose of the Messiah was. Jesus didn’t come to be a great teacher. He didn’t take on human flesh to be a “magic man,” performing miracles for the amusement of unbelievers. He didn’t condescend into His creation in order to become the new King David, ousting the Romans and ushering a new Judean golden age. Jesus came … to make all things new.

We do see this in part as He does open closed ears, heal blind eyes, restore palsied limbs, loosen immobilized tongues, and liberate demoniacs … but all of those miracles, all His teachings … all point to something greater. A greater miracle that would take place not long after what happens in our text … on a hill reminiscent of a skull … outside of Jerusalem’s city walls. There, in that moment, as Jesus yielded up His spirit and breathed His last, He performed one of the greatest miracles of all: the complete removal of sins, pacifying the fully justified wrath of Almighty God against man and restoring a right relation between them. No longer a secret, even the centurion standing by proclaimed, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” In His sacrificial death on Golgotha’s tree, Jesus showed the world who He was … who He is: the Messiah. And it is no longer any secret!

Of course, today people still have misunderstandings about who Jesus is and His purpose for taking on human flesh. They still see Him as only a great rabbi, guru, or life coach. People still only see His miracles as “magic tricks,” if they believe they happened or He existed at all. Unbelievers still only see Him as a revolutionary or humanitarian, pigeonholing Him into their political narrative or cause. His resurrection from the dead, the greatest miracle to date, proves them all wrong. Jesus of Nazareth was not a magic man, but the Messiah, the savior of the world, and all people need to hear this Good News that is no longer a secret! He has accomplished His task of atoning for all sin, and all people need to hear it! Zealously proclaim it: Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus is coming again! It’s no secret!

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

Tags: Mark 7:31-37

Humble Yourself

August 23, 2020
By Rev. David French

In today’s lesson we meet a Pharisee and a tax collector. It’s a fairly straight-forward parable; in general, easy to understand. So easy, in fact, we may assume things or miss some of the finer details that also reinforce eternal truths.

We see, for example, how different God’s gift of justification is from the Pharisee’s idea of justification. And I’m not talking about the faith versus works difference. We all see that. No, I’m talking about the objective justification God offers, free and complete, and the subjective justification earned (at least in his mind) by the Pharisee.

In our text we’re given a picture of a broken man, a betrayer of his people, a Jew by birth and a Roman tax collector by choice who’s been cut to the heart by the truth of his sin and cries out to God for mercy … and we’re told he went home justified before God. The Pharisee, who could see the sins of others but not his own, judged himself not by the demands of the Law, but by comparing himself with those around him. The end result of his self-glorifying was that while he no doubt felt good about himself, we’re told that he went home unjustified. That is, still under God’s condemnation because his sin remained.

You see, with God there are no “better than” comparisons to be made. And, while some people do behave worse than others, none of us are perfect. The truth is, in our mind’s eye, we all see others as having a higher or lower standing in life than we judge ourselves to have. It’s one of those lies that’s easy to believe, but you know as well as I do, the truth is, we are all sinners. We are all in need of God’s mercy and we all need His Spirit, working through His Word, to open our minds and hearts to the truth that Christ has fulfilled the law for us. Truly, we are saved by grace alone.

You may not know that the tax collector doesn’t literally say “God be merciful to me,” but “God, be propitiated to me.” Now, propitiation is pure Old Testament sacrificial language. It’s a word that we just don’t use much, if at all, today. It’s a word that means “to appease or to satisfy.” It’s more the reason to expect mercy than a cry for mercy.

Another dot most of us wouldn’t connect to anything, but would jump off the page to a first-century Jewish disciple, is that just before prayers at the temple began, the high priest would be in the inner-court of the temple preparing a whole unblemished lamb, that is flesh and blood, as a burnt offering to God on the altar of sacrifice. That happened twice a day, morning and evening. The altar fire never went out and the sacrifice to God never ended. It was a visible sign that the people could see to know that their Almighty God was being propitiated; that is, His wrath against sin was being appeased. As God said in our psalm, “your burnt offering is continually before me.”

This daily offering also pointed to a yearly offering on the Day of Atonement. On that day, after the priest killed the unblemished lamb, he would collect the blood in basins. Half of the blood would be put on the four corners of the altar as well as on the mercy seat that covered the ark of the covenant which was God’s earthly throne, the place where He could be with His people. The other half was sprinkled on the people covering their sins with the blood of the lamb. And so, the blood of the lamb without blemish fulfilled two purposes. First, it appeased God’s wrath against sin. Second, it satisfied the debt owed to God for sin. Even as it reminded His chosen people in a very tangible way that their God was propitiated, He was satisfied that His demands had been met and they were forgiven. Again, not because of their faithfulness or good deeds, but because they were covered with the blood of the lamb without stain.

So, what does all this have to do with the tax collector’s or our cries for mercy? Remember, the tax collector or the sinner doesn’t asked God to be merciful to him. He asks God, for the sake of the body and blood of a lamb on the altar, to be propitiated towards him.

Today, we seek God’s mercy through the eternal sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ on the cross. That is, we ask God, for the sake of Christ, to be who He has showed and told us He is, the One who freely and daily forgives sinners. 

Remember where the tax collector put his faith. It wasn’t in his works or education or wealth or social standing. No, his faith was focused on the lamb being offered on the altar of sacrifice for all of God’s children as he was going in to pray. You can picture him looking at the smoke of the sacrifice as it was ascending as a pleasing aroma to the Lord crying out: “Show me your mercy oh God, not because I deserve it but because of your promise and the body and blood of the lamb burning on your altar for me.”

You see, this man knew his sin. He didn’t try to justify himself or to blame others or look for someone worse. In his heart of hearts, He could see and feel the true weight of his sin. And when he looked into his heart through the lens of the law written on it, what he saw filled him with shame and fear. According to God’s law, the Pharisee and tax collector in our text, the person in your pew or at home in a comfy chair watching online or standing in this pulpit are all sinners. The tax collector understood that and did the only thing he could do. He turned to God and begged for mercy. He knew he didn’t deserve mercy, but he believed God’s promise to be merciful to him because of the unblemished life that had been sacrificed for his sin. By grace through faith, he trusted God’s promise, and as Jesus says, he went home “justified before God” while the Pharisee, we’re told, just went home, no doubt still feeling really good about himself.

So, humble yourself. But, understand that’s not easy to do nor is it a pleasant experience. As we learn from Luther’s small catechism, true repentance is both sorrow over sin and trust in God’s word of forgiveness. We can be honest with ourselves and with our God because we know Christ has with His body and blood has already paid for our sins - even though we also know we don’t deserve it, we have been forgiven.

And so, Christ comes to you again this day to be with you, to share His table with you, to feed you with His life-giving Word and His true Body and Blood; the same Body and Blood that appeased God’s wrath for all sin on the altar of His cross. Hold tightly with the faith God gives to His Lamb, who is the Christ, for in Him alone is our life. And, be confident, not in yourself, but in Him who also rose from the dead and has promised he will never leave nor forsake you.

My friends, our triune God has paid for your sin, washed you with His blood, called you by name, and on the day of your baptism into Christ, made you His precious child. 

In His name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 18:9-17

You Did Not Know

August 16, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

Our text for today is the gospel lesson from Luke 19. It begins, “When He (Jesus) drew near (during Holy Week) and saw the city (the city of Jerusalem), He wept over it.” Why was Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, so long ago? He says in our text, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. But now, they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-42).

Jesus is saying, in effect, “You, even you, the chosen people of God, the Jewish nation, of all people of the world, should know what really makes for real peace.” God called Abraham, long ago, and made from him the great nation of Israel. God promised through Joseph, already in Genesis 50:24, “God will visit you and bring you up out of this land (of Egypt) to the land He swore to Abraham.” God did visit His people through Moses and rescued them from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land. God gave this people the land of Israel and his Word, the whole Old Testament, through Moses and many other prophets. God gave this people the capitol city of Jerusalem, through David, and a magnificent temple, built and destroyed and rebuilt, as the place to worship the one true God and hear of Him and serve Him alone. God gave this very people so many others gifts and blessings; and above all, God gave them the promise that He would visit this people through the Messiah, the promised Savior, the One called the Prince of Peace, who would bring true peace from and with God.

“Here I am,” Jesus had been proclaiming and demonstrating to His people for several years. Yet, He says, to many of you, I am hidden from your eyes. You don’t recognize me, because you are all wrapped up in yourselves and your desires, and are looking for the wrong kind of peace, and the wrong kind of Messiah.

Many Jews were looking for a political messiah who would overthrow the Romans and their occupation of Israel and make Israel a great political nation again. Could Jesus be that Messiah? Jesus resisted all that. After He fed the 5,000 men, plus women and children, we read that, “perceiving that (the people) were about to come and take Him by force to make Him King, Jesus withdrew to a mountain by Himself” (John 6:15). Later on, He would tell the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in effect, I am no political threat to you. “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Other people simply wanted a more stable and prosperous and healthier life for themselves and their families and their nation. And Jesus did so much good for so many people in His ministry because He did care about their daily lives and struggles, but that was not His primary work. That would only bring some peace, for a while, for some people.

The religious leaders and other prominent people thought they could bring more peace to themselves and their nation by simply getting rid of Jesus. We read later on in our text that, “the chief priests and the scribes and the principle men of the people were seeking to destroy Jesus” (Luke 19:47). He was interfering with their plans and wishes, and they simply waited for an opportune time to kill Him, which Judas and Pilate and others would provide later on that week when Jesus was put to death on the cross.

Almost everyone was missing the real problem that Jesus had come to deal with - the problem of sin and evil and rebellion against God and His will, and all the problems that then come with fellow human beings. Jeremiah described it so dramatically in our Old Testament lesson for today. Inspired by God, he said, “Amend (change, make good) your ways…. Do not trust those deceptive words: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord,” which is an excuse for continuing to do just what you want, instead of seeking to trust the Lord and His will and work. “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery swear falsely and go after other gods …?” (Did you notice that Jeremiah mentions 5 of the 10 Commandments in that little verse? All of which the people of Israel were breaking!) And then, (God says,) “You come and stand before me, in this house and say, ‘We are delivered’ - only to go on doing all these same abominations?” (Jeremiah 7:3,4,9,10). The problem of sin is so ingrained in human beings - the original sin we inherited and the actual sins that we commit - that we cannot overcome sin and evil on our own.

That’s why Jesus, God the Son, had to come into this world to forgive our sins and bring peace between us and God by His sacrificial death on the cross, paying the penalty for all sins and calling people to faith in Him alone as Lord and Savior. Jesus came in love for the whole world, including His own people of Israel. No wonder he wept for them, for so many were resisting Him, their only way to eternal peace with God and salvation.

But Jesus did not give up on them. He spent much of Holy Week teaching the full Word of God. He very strongly preached the Law - warning the people in our text of judgement and destruction coming for Jerusalem and for many of its people (which did happen in 70 AD) because so many continued to reject God’s visitation to them through His Son, Jesus. They were trusting themselves and their efforts instead of Jesus.

Jesus also went to the temple that week, and as our text says, He chased out people who were making it “a den of thieves” - the buyers and sellers and money changers - who were creating chaos there. And He quoted Scripture which said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people” (Luke 19:45-46. See also Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11). And Jesus kept teaching the Good News of hope in Him also that week. Our text says, “He was teaching daily in the temple … and all the people were hanging on His words” (Luke 19:47, 48. See also Luke 21:37-38). And some of those people surely came to faith in Him over time through that teaching.

And, finally, on Good Friday, Jesus faithfully followed His Father’s will and died on the cross in payment for the sins of the whole world, including those who opposed Him and helped put Him to death. Then they could still be eventually saved, through faith in Him. And on Easter Sunday, the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples and told them, “As the Father has sent me” (to do My saving work), “even so I am sending you” to tell others this Good News for all people (John 20:21). And later He told them, “You will be my witnesses,” beginning in Jerusalem, even where there was so much opposition, and then on “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And that is what they sought to do. And that is why and how we have the Good News of Jesus today in our own community too.

As we think about our own day, don’t we often get off track too, just like so many people in Jerusalem in our text? There is so much talk today too about government and what it can do and about political change. If we could only get rid of those Republicans …. If we could only throw out those Democrats …. If we could only change our political system…. Government and leaders are important, but they are made up of sinful, imperfect people who cannot solve our deepest problems and our spiritual needs and our sin against God.

In our everyday life and family life, especially in this time of Covid-19, it is sometimes so hard just to survive and carry on. Our focus is mostly on ourselves and our needs. If we only had more of this and less of that; if only we had more money, and on and on. Someone reminded me recently that on the back of every dollar bill are the words, “In God we trust.” It is not the almighty dollar we trust. But, we all too often forget that or ignore that - and all the help the Lord can and wants to give us as we trust Him more.

I have to confess that I got off track myself in writing this sermon. It is so easy to do. I had finished the sermon and then realized that, at the end, I was putting too much emphasis upon us and what we ourselves now need to do as Christians. I did not say it so crassly, but it could have been understood as: Now, if we only shape up as Christians and witness more and share God’s Word more and do this and that good thing, then …. Notice that the focus was all on us and what we are to do. God was left out. God does want us to be His witnesses - or as we sing in the children’s song, to let our little gospel light shine. But, I had to go back and make it very clear, as I am doing now, that our own efforts can never make us acceptable to God, no matter how much we might witness and do other good things; nor can we ever save anyone for eternal life. Only God can bring people to faith and keep them in faith by His amazing grace.

That is what Paul is emphasizing in our epistle lesson and what called me to re-work my sermon. Paul says that many of his fellow Jews were pursuing a law that would lead them to righteousness, but they did not ever succeed in reaching, in keeping, that law (Romans 9:31). They were ignorant of the righteousness from God (through Christ) and were seeking to establish their own by their works (Romans 10:3). Never could they do enough though; and in the process, they were stumbling over Jesus and rejecting Him and what he did for them instead of trusting Him alone, by faith (Romans 9:32, 10:4).

To put it simply, we sang a hymn of prayer just before our sermon that said, “Lord Jesus, think on me” (#610). The Good News of God’s Word is that Jesus did think about us and knows us by name and gave His life for us on the cross. We also have had our own personal “time of visitation” when the Holy Spirit brought us to faith through His Word and the gift of baptism. Through Jesus’s saving work, all of our sins are already forgiven and we are already counted as righteous and we do have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2). What Good News to know for ourselves and to share as God leads us!

Let us rise for prayer. Lord Jesus, keep thinking about us in Your love and care, and help us to keep thinking about You as well, and trusting You for the joyful and the challenging days ahead for each of us. In your name we pray. Amen.

Superman

August 09, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this ninth Sunday after Trinity comes from our Old Testament text, where we hear David’s words, “For who is God, but YHWH? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Who would you rather be: Clark Kent … or Superman? The bumbling reporter for the Daily Planet with the dorky glasses, wrinkled clothes, and clumsy disposition or the Man of Steel with his laser-vision, perfectly coiffed hair, chiseled chin, saving the planet on a daily basis with ease? No, you haven’t wandered into ComicCon. I ask the question because our text reads somewhat like a classic Superman comic: David describes himself, not exactly faster than a speeding bullet, but able to run against a troop of soldiers. He may not leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he does say that he can leap over a wall. He might not be more powerful than a locomotive, but his arms can bend a bow of bronze. We often think of the so-called “heroes of the faith” in somewhat romanticized terms, but here, David legitimately sounds more akin to Superman than to the mild-mannered alter-ego. By this point in life, when David is singing this psalm, he’s been ruler over a growing kingdom. Again, which would you rather be? The little shepherd boy, gangly and last to be considered, the Clark Kent of Israel … or the mighty slayer of giants and conqueror of Jerusalem?

Before you answer, consider the following: the last 14 chapters of 2 Samuel prior to our text had shown the façade of superhuman King David … beginning to crack. Things started off well with his reign: the Ark of the Covenant’s return to Jerusalem from enemy hands, the promise YHWH gave to David regarding a descendant who would remain on the throne for eternity, the touching scene where the shepherd-king shows kindness to the son of his old enemy. But then, in chapter 10, some of the peoples he rules over rebel against him, forcing David into a very costly battle. Things only get worse as the story progresses: David disregards God’s law, takes in Bathsheba, murders Uriah, and sees the child of that adulterous relationship die. This is to say nothing of the rest of David’s family life: the violating of Tamar by firstborn son Amnon, Amnon’s subsequent murder by the third son Absalom, which leads to a chapters-long struggle between father and rebellious son that only ends when Absalom is hanging dead from a tree and David is mourning yet another lost son.

When he is restored to the throne, does everything go swimmingly for David? Hardly; cracks appear in the borders of his kingdom. A famine that only dissipates after the grisly sacrifice of Saul’s descendants. Yet more war with the Philistines who have, not one giant this time around, but four. By the end of chapter 21, David more resembles Clark Kent than he does Kal-El. No longer the youthful shepherd-boy who fought lions and giants, he’s old now, wearied by war and the weight of kingship. He certainly doesn’t seem like a “superman.” He barely seems like a shadow of himself.

But it’s at this point that we hear this incredible psalm. After all the strains and cracks and failures, nearing a rather inglorious end of his life, David lifts up his voice and sings the only psalm of his to be included in the historical books of the Old Testament. In it, he does make mention of the rather superhuman feats that he is able to do – incredulous though it would seem, given his frail and aged condition. Is it bluster? Some Israelite propaganda? Is it him employing the power of positive thinking? Is it him whistling past the graveyard, unwilling to come to grips with what he has done and where he’s at in life? None of the above – instead, David insists upon the truth of his life: “YHWH is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

David fully acknowledges that it is only by the hand of YHWH that he is able to do anything, let alone accomplish those incredible superhuman feats. “For by you I can run against a troop,” the king sings, “and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” David is Clark Kent … but he’s Clark Kent with YHWH behind him, beside him, before him.

Moreover, David recognizes that it’s not about him at all! “For this I will praise you, YHWH, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” YHWH’s preservation of David, in spite of his bumbling and sin, is not solely for the sake of David alone. YHWH does it … to preserve the Messianic line, to fulfill the promise to David and to Abraham and to Adam. YHWH preserves David and his descendants from generation to generation – most of whom were far and away idolatrous monsters – to ensure that the ultimate King … David’s King … would enter this world to accomplish His mission to save, not only David, but the whole of humanity. David had heard the promise that YHWH his God would send the Messiah, who would save His people from their sin. This psalm of David is not about God saving David, but rather about God saving His people through David’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived, died, and rose again to bring His kingdom to His people … including us. He is for us, and He sent Jesus to show it.

As school is gearing up to start and we rededicate our school staff, may I humbly encourage you all to remember that you’re not Superman any more than David was. You don’t have the laser-vision or the perfect hair. You’re Clark Kent, the bumbling sinner, and so are we all. But you do have YHWH your God before you, beside you, behind you, above you, and below you. He is your rock and fortress, doing battle for you. He will give you what you need to endure these incredibly trying times. He already has, in fact, by sending Jesus. Sing with David, and all creation, in praise of Christ, our crucified and resurrected Lord, Who has given us salvation and forgiveness! “For who is God, but YHWH? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless.”

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

Heirs

August 02, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this eighth Sunday after Trinity comes from our epistle text where Paul tells the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

After a very long time coming, this is also the weekend that we confirm our nine confirmands – after a half-year of upheaval and consternation, we’re all thankful to be here! In light of that, for those of you who have already been confirmed in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I want you to think back to the vows you took when you were confirmed:

“Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism?” Yes I do. “Do you renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways?” Yes I do. “Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as confessed in the Apostles Creed?” Yes I do.

“Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God?” I do. “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” I do.

“Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?” I do, by the grace of God. “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to the Triune God, even to death?” I do, by the grace of God. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” I do, by the grace of God.

Those are the vows you took. Those are the vows that you’ll be taking in a matter of moments. These vows are confirming the faith that was given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, whether you were an infant mere days or weeks old, an elderly child of God after weeks of instruction, or anywhere in between. Suffice it to say … what we are celebrating this weekend is not so much a culmination, as if one stops learning from God’s Word once those vows are taken; it is, go figure, a confirmation of the new life, the new identity, given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism. You are confirming that gift of faith in Jesus Christ, proclaiming that it is, indeed, what you believe and confess before the world. And that makes our epistle lesson from Romans perfect to consider.

I say that because, as I’ve said to all my students, there come days when that identity as a redeemed and adopted child of the Most High, a fellow heir with Christ … seems downright inaccurate. There are days when you don’t feel like a Christian. There are days when you realize just how wretched a sinner you really are, as you unintentionally or otherwise hurt your loved ones and neighbors in careless thoughts, thoughtless words, and destructive deeds. That certainly doesn’t sound like the life of a forgiven child of God! To our ears, that sounds more like, as Paul puts it, the conduct of those who live according to the flesh … who set their minds on the things of the flesh … whose minds are those hostile to God …. In those moments, our identity as the redeemed seems lost, leaving us to wonder if God actually claimed us as His own, if our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus really did anything, and if Jesus’s blood really could atone for such a hostile, wretched, fleshly sinner like me ….

But is that what Paul is saying? This is, after all, the same Paul who told the Roman Christians a few lines before our text, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Yup, even Paul wrestled against his sinful flesh, fully acknowledging – even after Jesus came to him IN PERSON – that he was a sinner.

No, our identity as Christians is not beholden to the idea that we always think, do, and say the right things. We are not Christian by virtue of our keeping of the Ten Commandments. We aren’t Christians by our ability (or complete lack thereof) to be perfect. We are Christian by virtue of one reason: the gift of faith which, first delivered in baptism, helps us trust that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did in His life, death, and resurrection. We’re the same lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinners that we were before; the difference is that we acknowledge it, confess and repent of it, and trust that Jesus on the cross atoned, paid for, all our sin. That’s the faith we were given in baptism, and it’s that faith our confirmands are affirming as true and right, by the grace of God.

Paul himself exclaims, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But then he immediately acknowledges where his help comes from, where his hope lies: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Baptized and confirmed Christians are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination; I’m certainly not, and I know none of you are either! But our salvation, our standing before God is not dependent upon our ability to keep the commandments of God, but rather upon the faith, the trust that says “Amen! Let it be to me as You say, O Lord!” when God says, “In Jesus, My Son, your sins are forgiven, and I’ve claimed you as My own!”

From the moment you were conceived until you draw your final breath, you will be a sinner. However, God has the final word, and He has marked you with the sign of the cross on your forehead and heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ, the crucified and resurrected Lord! In spite of what you may see, one lives according to the Spirit by trusting the promise that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. We are heirs with Jesus, my friends. That’s who we are … by the grace of God.

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

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