8th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 13) LSB #’s 730, 861, 702
Text – Ecclesiastes 1:14
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, & behold, all is vanity & a striving after wind.
The Heart of Unbelief
Vanity, vanity, all is vanity
That’s any fun at all for humanity.
That is the gist of the prophet’s case
From Bishop Cannon to Canon Chase,
The prophet’s chant & the prophet’s chatter,
But somehow it never seems to matter,
For the world hangs on to its ancient sanity
And orders another round of vanity. “Ha! Original Sin!,” by Ogden Nash
Have you had one of those Aha! moments when you realized you were experiencing the frustration of striving after the wind? Solomon is talking about longer term issues then we often encounter, but things like weeding a garden, dusting the house, or trying to elect honest politicians can seem like chasing after the wind.
There are times in life when we painfully recognize that the material things we strive for are “a chasing after the wind” – like possessions that break down frequently or constantly need maintenance & repair. And yet, irrationally, we continue to strive after the wind. We just can’t let go, & we order still more rounds of vanity.
Ogden Nash was born in 1902, & vanity is not a commonly used word today. So, what is the meaning of the word as Solomon writes the book of Ecclesiastes? The root idea speaks of vapor, something you cannot grasp or hold on to. It slips through your fingers & as such is worthless, pointless or meaningless. Vanity is like a mirage.
Have you ever found yourself searching for satisfaction & yet not achieving it? The
human search for satisfaction in life is as fleeting as an exhaled breath. Solomon uses the word vanity to describe the futility of human effort in this sinful world if that effort is without the blessing of God. Human beings are incapable of creating reality that lasts. Every single thing that any of us does without God is as permanent as an exhaled breath of air.
However, king Solomon is not simply writing about the frustrations of life that all of us endure because of sin. In spite of the fact that God made this king the wisest human creature to ever live, this son of David is writing with a heart of unbelief. That gift of wisdom from God had gone to Solomon’s head & distorted his self-image.
As Solomon wrote, “I applied my heart to seek & to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” (1:13a ESV) For His part, God lets this quest for answers to crucial questions turn out to be an unhappy business & a striving after wind – pure vanity. And who does Solomon blame?
“It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” (1:13b ESV) God gave to us the good gift of freedom, yet mankind makes a sinful use of it. To top it off we then blame God for our sin. Our sin has made an unhappy business of living, & the greatest frustration is that you & I can do nothing to fix it.
Not even the wisest human creature, in king Solomon, could lift a finger to find purpose & meaning in all his wisdom, nor in all that he accomplished as he ruled over his kingdom. He saw everything that is done under the sun & it was vanity & a striving after wind. When you have felt that in your heart & soul then you know what the heart of unbelief is like.
Now, that sounds terrible to good, pious Christians, but don’t refuse to contemplate your own unbelief. All Christians on earth suffer with it each day of their lives. Our sinful nature refuses to be reformed. That’s why the Lutheran faith encourages us to drown the Old Adam in us by daily contrition & repentance. In other words, we should regret our sins & confess them & believe that God forgives them – even our sins of unbelief. The Holy Spirit works that forgiveness in us through our baptism. At baptism, God promised to put our heart of unbelief to death each day of our lives. He also promised to raise us from that death each day.
We find that promise in Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (ESV) Your new life is now one of daily contrition & repentance. Holiness does not come until we are brought into heaven.
That is a source of great frustration for us here on earth. Because of that frustration, for a good portion of his life, king Solomon saw all of life as nothing more than vanity & a striving after wind. Living by faith instead of by sight is an impossible task without God the Holy Spirit. Yet, that is exactly what Solomon was trying to do & He writes about it in Ecclesiastes.
It’s why this book rings so true for so many people, even if they cannot put their struggles into words. Solomon does it for them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, & behold, all is vanity & a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14 ESV)
All the battles you are fighting in this life are painted for you as a striving after wind by you know who. Satan wants us to despair of life, even the very life that the heavenly Father has created for us out of love. Satan wants us to throw that gift to the wind & follow him. Listen again to the words of the wisest human creature to ever live:
“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, & who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? …So I turned about & gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom & knowledge & skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity & a great evil. What has a man from all the toil & striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, & his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 ESV)
At John 10:10, Jesus essentially begins at the same place as Solomon, with despair & hopelessness, but Jesus gives a very different description of the possibilities in our living: “The thief comes only to steal & kill & destroy. I came that they may have life & have it abundantly.” (ESV)
Solomon was a sinful man who was not drowning his Old Adam with contrition & repentance, but he was dealing with reality honestly. Without God everything truly is vanity & a striving after wind. This is where the heart of unbelief can leave you, dead. Solomon was missing an essential piece of the reality that God creates.
In the ditch on the other side of the road are people who do not deal with reality honestly. They deny the despair of sin & pretend that everything is good by them. This group can include Christians & non-Christians, & they too are missing an essential piece of the reality that God is creating. They, like the rich man in Luke, also operate with the heart of unbelief.
In John 10, Jesus was acknowledging both aspects of reality. We are sinful & unclean & everything we do, without God, is vanity & a striving after wind. It’s the equivalent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (19:26 ESV) God acknowledges the reality of our sin & then He saves us because we cannot.
Verse 12 of the OT reading gets to the point. Solomon states that he has been king over Jerusalem, yet his was a failed kingship in which nothing that he accomplished lasted. All his works were but a breath & even the kingdom split in two upon his death. Yet, verse 12 alludes to another king over Jerusalem. He reigned on a cross outside the city walls. Jesus came to be another Solomon – the great & wise king – but Jesus is infinitely greater, & also less depressing, than Solomon. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians:
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (4:17-18 ESV)
In the OT reading, Solomon is looking only at the things that are seen. He recognizes that they are a mere vapor, vanity, a striving after wind, but Solomon is not seeing the things that are unseen, the things of God that are eternal & powerful & filled with meaning & purpose. Solomon is looking at everything under the sun with the heart of unbelief.
God’s Word of Law has crushed the heart of Solomon, but the king has not yet turned back to the Good News of salvation in the promised Messiah. The OT reading is meant to strip away our vanities, our shoddy goals, our false hopes, & all our self-delusions, so that we might be desperately open to the Gospel truth that our Lord Jesus is “the one thing needful.”
Jesus toiled & labored under the sun & all that He earned was credited to those who follow Him. Christ accumulated the righteousness, & we, in the goodness of God, inherit it, we who have “not toiled for it” – indeed, we could not toil for it even if we wanted to. Our Old Adam has died & our lives are now hidden with Christ in God.
That’s not an easy way to live, but it is the only true life in this world. In the next world we will have all of eternity to see, & no one there will ever order another round of vanity. Amen.
Christ be my Leader by night as by day; safe through the darkness, for He is the way. Gladly I follow, my future His care, darkness is daylight when Jesus is there. Christ be my teacher in age as in youth, drifting or doubting, for He is the Truth. Grant me to trust Him; though shifting as sand, doubt cannot daunt me; in Jesus I stand. Christ be my Savior in calm as in strife; death cannot hold me, for He is the life. No darkness nor doubting nor sin & its stain can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign. Amen. LSB 861.
7th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 12) LSB # 766:1-3, 766:4-6, 766:7-9
Text – Luke 11:11
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?
FATHER & CHILD
It was not an uncommon lament, years ago, that children would seldom write home after they went off to college. One father put it into words like this, “The only way I know she’s still alive is by the bills I get from her credit cards & when she reverses charges on phone calls.” The heart of an earthly father can grieve when it’s being taken advantage of.
However, it’s rather normal that you & I ‘use’ God in a similar way. We draw on His bank account by depending on His love, forgiveness & understanding. In prayer, we seek His resolution to our private problems. To our Creator, we reverse the charges for our sins. Yet, our heavenly Father does not despair & continues to lavish His love & His gifts upon us.
Yahweh has given us life to live, & He’s given us His name in which to live, here for a time on earth, & forever in eternity. Let’s all say, “Forever!” Yahweh is the perfect father. He never fails. He never quits. He never abandons His children, & He is always listening because He longs to hear our thoughts & to know the dreams of our saintly heart.
What typically dominates our thoughts; however, are the dreams of our sinful heart. This grieves the heart of the heavenly Father so much more than that of any earthly father. Jesus knows what life is like without the heavenly Father’s blessing. The eternal Son of God experienced that on the cross at Golgotha:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) Yahweh planned that in order to rescue you & me from ever having to experience the horror of that total abandonment. That is how much God loves us, & that He would sacrifice His own Son to win us back should give you a sense of how much His heart grieves when you or I drift away from our relationship with Him. We do not have to sever the relationship in order for our Father to grieve. Simply drifting away causes His heart to ache; because He knows the danger we put ourselves in.
So, when the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” first Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, but then He tells a parable to explain what the heart of prayer is all about. It’s sort of like the saying, “Give a man a fish, & you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, & you feed him for a lifetime.”
We could put it this way, & apply it to the Gospel reading for today: “Give a man a prayer & you nourish him for a day. Teach a man to pray & you nourish him for a lifetime.”
The disciples had experienced the demands of ministry at the beginning of Luke 10. Seventy-two of them had been sent out two by two, lambs in the midst of wolves, without moneybag, knapsack, or sandals. Apparently this experience created the feeling that they needed to become confident prayer warriors.
Their request may reflect a perspective that prayer is about the proper technique, the correct words, even the proper posture. Too often the people trumpeting the need for prayer warriors focus far too much on the mechanics of prayer. Jesus wants His disciples to understand the heart of prayer, because if they do then the mechanics, or the how to, will follow naturally.
Two Sundays ago, the gospel reading was about the Good Samaritan. There, a lawyer had challenged Jesus on the mechanics of determining, “Who is my neighbor?” Instead, Jesus took him to the heart of being a neighbor – show mercy on anyone in need.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus points out that the heart of prayer is not technique, structure, or terminology. The heart of prayer is the relationship of God the Father to us. As chapter 10 drew to a close, Martha was busy doing all the work, & Mary was just sitting down & listening to Jesus. Martha complains & Jesus explains, “…one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42 ESV)
Martha was concerned about the mechanics of being in relationship to God, how to serve Him. Martha wanted to be the giver. Mary recognized the heart of the relationship. She understood that the heart of God’s relationship to us is that we are the receiver. Almighty God gives – you & I receive. That is where everything about our lives begins!
The Lord’s Prayer provides a framework through which we can understand prayer in the context of the Father’s relationship to you & to me. We do not begin that relationship, & God almighty never needs anything from us. Yahweh begins the relationship, & it’s always our 1st task in life to receive from Him. Otherwise, what do we have? Let’s all say, “Nothing!”
God is the Father. You & I are the children. Because of sin, on earth, the roles often reverse. The father becomes old & feeble & the children are then responsible to care for him. Yahweh never grows old & feeble, & you & I never become responsible to care for Yahweh.
In teaching them to pray, Jesus challenges the disciples to rethink the very nature of prayer. Christian prayer is not like the prayers of the people of this world. They view it as a negotiation process with a superpower. The following are not only mere mechanics of prayer, they are the wrong mechanics.
People of the world try appealing to God’s ego with flowery speech & generous portions of praise. They believe they can appeal to greed in God with their promises & pledges. They appeal to His sense of justice by offering many prayers in the hope of shaming God into action. The prayers of those who follow Jesus do none of those things.
Again, “What is the heart of Christian prayer?” The heart of it is that God’s children receive from Yahweh & He is the one who gives. So true prayer begins, or springs, not from our need but from the heavenly Father’s relationship to us & from His desire to give. But we have to admit that often our prayers do begin with our need. We frequently don’t even think to pray until we realize, “Man, I’m in trouble. I need help!”
From Luke 11:11, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” In those words, Jesus is teaching that God is our Father & we are His children. Our adoption as daughters & sons into God’s kingdom is a gift from God granted to us through the life, the death & the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The fact that God is our Father changes everything in prayer. Now, we are bold in our petitions to our Father, not because of our need, but because our Father wants to give. And, as our Father, He knows best what to give.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the true neighbor stopped & gave aid to the victim of the robbery. Our Father in heaven is our true neighbor. He will always help us even in times of no trouble, yet also as the words of Psalm 50 in today’s Introit declared, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, & you shall glorify me.” (50:15 ESV)
If God willingly made us alive when we were dead in sin, how much more will He answer our prayers. His whole desire is to be in relationship to the creatures of His creation. It’s what He created us for. Sin disrupted all of that, yet God started over again, by sending His Son to reclaim us & renew us & remake us through Baptism.
Now, He longs to hear from us in good times & in bad, because He desires to give us life each & every day. He gives life to us with meaning & purpose, though because of our sin we don’t see that clearly. Life here on earth is a walk we do by faith, but it is faith in a Father who loves us & provides for us in every need.
He even provides for the forgiveness of every time that we grieve His heart by not
seeking Him in every circumstance. In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Father, who from heaven above bids all of us to live in love as members of one family & pray to You in unity, teach us no thoughtless words to say but from our inmost hearts to pray. Your gracious will on earth be done as it is done before Your throne that patiently we may obey throughout our lives all that You say. Curb flesh & blood & every ill that sets itself against Your will. Amen, that is, so shall it be, make strong our faith in You, that we may doubt not but with trust believe that what we ask we shall receive. Thus in Your name & at Your Word we say, “Amen, O hear us, Lord!” LSB 766:1, 4, 9.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 10) LSB #’s 869, 848, 698
Text – Luke 10:37b
And Jesus said to him, “You go, & do likewise.”
Failure! It’s an experience that all human beings have in common. If you deny it everyone knows, without a doubt, that you are lying. As with all things, people confront failure in different ways. Some of those methods cause even more failure & just add fuel to the fire. Other methods are constructive & work to bring good out of bad.
For example, a man who made his living transporting slaves might not seem like an obvious choice to help bring an end to the slave trade. But God reached out in mercy to the unbelieving slave ship captain John Newton. In gratitude for the mercy he’d received, Newton eventually helped bring an end to the British slave trade, & wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
People who chose abortion might not seem like natural choices to speak up for children in the womb. Yet, women who’ve had abortions, along with doctors & nurses who’ve performed abortions, but now live in the healing warmth of God’s forgiveness, have come to be some of the most effective advocates for the unborn.
The God who saved us in a way that mankind never would have guessed – by taking on human flesh & dying for our sins – that God continues to astound us in the ways He works & the choices He makes. His thoughts are certainly not our thoughts, nor are His ways ours. As a result do you ever wonder if you are going to make it to heaven?
Failure is a fact in your life. A fact you are a fool to deny. Each one of us is a total failure when it comes to anything important in life, & the last thing we ever want to do is to admit that. And that dilemma is what Jesus is confronting when He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. The scene begins with an expert in the Law who is confident that he is qualified to test this “man” who is nothing more than the son of a carpenter: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Although these words are being spoken 4000 years later, their intent has been echoing throughout the universe ever since the Fall, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
The expert in the Law knows, & Satan knows, that love for God & love for the neighbor is the way of everyone who has eternal life. So Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly; do this, & you will live.” Suddenly, the lawyer realizes that the tables have been turned. He had come fully confident in his ability to test Jesus & finds that now he is the one being tested.
We all know that feeling & you & I know it well! It bites when we fail! Especially in public, in front of everyone, for all to see. So, what does a person do when you’ve been caught red-handed? First, Adam & Eve tried to hide among the trees of the garden. Then they blamed someone else, even God, for their sin.
The expert in the Law, who had come to test Jesus, & instead found his own lack of love being exposed for all to see, tries to hide in the Law. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” It’s like a parent, upon finding that the dishes have not been cleaned, saying to a child, “I told you to wash the dishes.” And the child replies, “What dishes?”
If you watch any criminal trials, you see defense attorneys doing exactly that, all the time. But, instead of getting drawn into the argument, which the expert in the Law intends to hide behind, Jesus tells a parable. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, & he fell among robbers…”
Already there, the expert in the Law feels the convicting power of the Law. With just that one, first sentence, Jesus is essentially accusing him of robbing his neighbor of the love that he owes to him. Then, Jesus illustrates his point with the individual characters of the priest & the Levite who both further the robbery by withholding their love from the victim. Finally, a despised outcast comes along, the Samaritan. He goes way beyond the call of duty in order to show love & mercy to the victim of the crime. Even the expert in the Law, when questioned by Jesus, had to admit that the one who was neighbor to the victim is the one who showed mercy.
The expert in the Law now has nowhere left to hide his lack of mercy & love. If he does not refuse to see it, his failure is obvious. His attempt to reveal Jesus as a fraud had backfired & had exposed himself instead. The expert in the Law has been revealed as a victim of Satan’s robbery, who was himself in need of mercy & love. Would he receive it?
That’s where the parable of the Good Samaritan leaves him. Luke does not record what happened to this expert in the Law. Now the question applies to you & me this morning. Will we receive the mercy & love of Jesus? If we do it’s because the Holy Spirit has called us by the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. If we refuse it’s because of the hardness of our hearts.
If we do receive God’s mercy & love then we are a new creation, one that by nature will show love & mercy to anyone in need. Yes, our sinful nature still gets in the way. We still, daily, need to repent of our failures & sins, but as long we do so God’s Spirit remains in us.
It is when we refuse to acknowledge our sins, when we choose to hide from God’s forgiveness, that we endanger our soul. The parable of the Good Samaritan is meant to show us what life in Christ is like. If we are trying to justify ourselves, it is meant to show us our sinful condition. If we are repentant the parable is meant to show us what Jesus has done for us.
As with all things, people confront sin in different ways. Some of those methods cause even more sin & just add fuel to the fire. Other methods are constructive & work to bring good out of bad. God brought good out of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to save the world from sin.
You & I do not define who is our neighbor. The Holy Spirit does that for us as He
brings people into our lives, people who have needs & struggles & sorrows. Unbelievers are not capable of responding rightly to their neighbor since they have rejected the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. On the other hand, St. Paul in Colossians 1, writes to believers who do have the power of the Holy Spirit:
“…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work & increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance & patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:10-14 ESV)
For children of God, failure & sin do not define us, because Jesus has covered us with His robe of righteousness. His perfection & holiness cover all our sin. We do not live in fear of running out of God’s blessings or holiness, so we can love our neighbor as ourselves without fear or envy. In our lives, there is no need to justify anything we do. God does that for us.
In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, Who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. Called by worship to Your service, forth in Your dear name we go, to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope & health, goodwill & comfort, counsel, aid, & peace we give, that Your servants, Lord, in freedom may Your mercy know & live. Amen. LSB 848:1, 4.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 9) LSB #’s 906, 608, 704
Text – Galatians 6:4
But let each one test his own work, & then his reason to boast will be in himself alone & not in his neighbor.
TESTING YOUR WORK
When I was working as an electrician, it was always a good idea to test my work before I finished for the day. I did not want to get a phone call after I got home to be told, “Hey, our kitchen lights are not working!” I know one time; I had forgotten to turn the circuit breaker back on. With electricity – testing your work is a good thing!
When you’re doing plumbing it’s a good idea to test your work. If you don’t there might be a leak somewhere. Worse yet, you could end up with flooding. When you’re the church secretary, preparing the slides for Sunday worship, it’s a good idea to test your work, because any mistakes you make will be on full display in front of the whole congregation.
Testing your work is a helpful practice no matter what your occupation. Given that we live in a broken & twisted creation, testing your work in the spiritual realm is of far greater importance. In fact it is a necessity if we are going to live a Christian life that is genuine. Not that doing so earns you anything. It’s just the only way for a sinner to express the heart of God.
In order for you & me to express God’s heart to anyone first we have to drown our own. Jesus tells us why in Matthew 15: “…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, & this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (15:18-19 ESV)
The concept that St. Paul is working with, as he writes to the church at Galatia, is meant to counter the evil that naturally springs forth from our heart: “…let each one test his own work…” (Galatians 6:4 ESV) It’s not the most familiar language from Scripture, so we’ll turn to a more well-known passage that conveys the same idea. In Luke 6, Jesus said this, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, & then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (6:42 NIV)
Testing your work is first removing the plank from your own eye. Testing your work is a solution to the problem Paul cited in the previous verse, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3 ESV)
Notice that it does not say, “Satan is leading the deception.” Rather, it is you & me who are guilty of deceiving ourselves. It’s all too easy to be convinced that I am the one to remove the speck from your eye. That is a dangerous place to be as Proverbs 16:18 makes clear, “Pride goes before destruction, & haughtiness before a fall.” (NLT) What’s the antidote?
Testing your work is, & that takes us back to verse 1. What is the work that Paul is writing about? “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1 ESV) But our sinful nature finds no pleasure in being gentle!
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Our own sinful nature wants to put the other sinner in his place! So, “Pride goes before destruction, & haughtiness before a fall.” And because he knows us so well, St. Paul continues in verse 1, “…Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1 ESV) It takes humility to bear the burdens of some other sinner.
In Paul’s day, bearing burdens was the task of a slave. Paradoxically, those who are free in Christ actually bear the burdens of others. And whom is the ultimate burden bearer? Is it Jesus? Yes! You know it is! Christ Jesus has already borne the greatest burden of life – sin – my sin, your sin, the sins of the entire world. Everything that we are ashamed of or embarrassed to admit, Jesus has borne the weight of it upon His shoulders & upon His heart. The Son of God did that in order to prove His love for us, but He didn’t stop there. He doesn’t just pay for our sins & leave us on our own. He also adopted us into God’s family. At the resurrection from the dead, our physical bodies will join Him in paradise, forever.
However, it’s not only at the end of time that Yahweh’s Spirit will be joined with ours. Already now, as justified children of God, the Holy Spirit is at work sanctifying us. Through the sorrows & through the joys of our lives, He is shaping & molding us into the image of Christ. That is where the text this morning comes into play.
As we do not refuse God’s work, His Spirit moves us to test our own work. He can accomplish miracles in us & through us. The struggle is that our sinful nature wants to refuse the help of the Holy Spirit. While justification is an instantaneous process, sanctification is as long & drawn out as the number of our years here on earth. It is also a very messy affair.
Testing our work sounds simple enough, but due to the evil nature living in our heart it is anything but a simple affair. It involves surrendering our heart & soul to God. You can see that struggle clearly in the lives of people who are suffering with addiction. They often have to reach bottom before they can begin to recover.
In the theological realm we recognize that as surrendering to God. It can take a lot of suffering & heartache to reach that point. Yet, even if we are not addicted to drugs or alcohol or something else that tangible, all of us are addicted to our sins. We just are not able to give them up perfectly. All sinners, in a sense, need to reach bottom & acknowledge that truth.
We need God’s help. Our friends & neighbors, our brothers & sisters in Christ, all people need God’s help. By properly testing our own works, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we will no longer condemn those caught in transgression. Instead, we will seek to restore them in the gentleness that Christ’s Spirit used with us, & inspires us to use with those whom we catch in transgression. If gentleness does not work then they cannot be restored. Jesus will come again for true judgment on the Last Day. Until then, our work is to help people be reconciled to their Creator.
Truly testing our own work, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will always lead to repentance. That includes the sorrowful recognition & confession of our sins. Repentance also, always includes the joyful reception of the forgiveness of our sins. As children of God, we will rest & find peace in that forgiveness when we stop running away from our Lord.
Christ has given us the privilege of receiving gentleness from Him as He forgives our sins & restores us. He then provides us with opportunities to share that gentleness & restoration with the people we encounter in our lives. As the Holy Spirit works in us, testing our own work helps us to get there. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Grant that I only You may love & seek those things which are above till I behold You face to face, O Light eternal, through Your grace. Amen. LSB 704:1-2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet