11th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 14) LSB #’s 611, 704, 411
Text – Ephesians 4:19
They have become callous & have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Now, more than ever, in these United States of America, we need the children of God to live Christian lives. As the Holy Spirit guided St. Paul to write, “…walk in love, as Christ loved us & gave Himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV) Walking in love is the Christian life. That’s what children of God do. If you resist that, you are directly resisting the will of our Creator.
Satan, & our own sinful nature, are constantly pressuring us, urging us, to resist God’s will for our daily decisions. You feel that pressure when it’s time to wake up on Sunday morning. You feel that pressure when you’re contemplating whether or not to give your offering. That pressure is squeezing you when you are over eating, or over drinking.
Satan & our sinful nature make their presence felt when someone needs the help that you can provide, but you already have your own plans. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Rome, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (7:19 ESV) Satan & our own sinful nature are quite effective at getting their way.
In the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul is painting a line between our sinful nature & the new one given in Baptism. Yet, that line so far transcends each individual as to be cosmic in scope. All of creation is being impacted by the act of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And in a sense each of our lives is being torn in two by that new creation.
The Holy Spirit is at work ripping away from us the old sinful nature, & it is not going quietly; not if you are clinging to Jesus. Sadly, there are many people we know who are waving the white flag of surrender. All of God’s children struggle with sin each & every moment of our lives, but some people that you & I know personally are no longer struggling. Instead, they are giving up & surrendering to the culture. To highlight that shift, here is a quote from a member of the United States House of Representatives. This was in response to another member of the House who had just finished quoting from the Bible:
“Mr. Steube,” he said pointedly, “what any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.” What, do you suppose, the almighty God thinks of that opinion? Let’s compare your thoughts on that with those of the man who conquered death:
“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” (John 19:11 ESV) St. Paul added to that reality, “For there is no authority except from God, & those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1b ESV)
Now, it’s true that our nation’s founding fathers did not want our government to impose any specific religion upon our people. Yet, it is also true that they understood where the authority of government came from. And they also believed that the will of God was certainly a matter of concern to the Congress of the United States.
Balancing those two values together is difficult work at best, & there is always the temptation to simply things by surrendering one value or the other. When it comes to our spiritual lives, surrender is also an issue, but in that case balancing the two together is not possible. They are entirely incompatible.
Remember, in the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul is painting a line between our sinful nature & the new one given in Baptism. Those two natures could not be further apart. The difference between them is as vast as the difference between heaven & hell. You & I, & everyone else alive today, will eventually have surrendered to one or to the other.
This is how St. Paul was inspired to describe the way of death: “Now this I say & testify
in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous & have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19 ESV)
What does that last sentence, the sermon text for today, describe? Is it not a surrendering? They have given themselves us to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That’s what happens whenever God’s will is no concern to someone. They end up on the road called death, & even more sadly, they often take other people with them.
Parents take their children, one spouse takes the other, church leaders take entire congregations, all of them like sheep being led to the slaughter. And all the while, Satan is laughing every step of the way, because one day they will wake up from their deception & realize what they have done.
Take a good look at this picture – a visual illustration of what happens to people on the way of death.
This used to be perfectly good watermelon, & it did not end up looking this way overnight. It took time. It happened so gradually, that if you had been watching day by day, you would only with the utmost attention have been able to detect the daily differences.
However, the end result is unmistakable. When Paul wrote of those who were “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them,” he was painting a picture, that in one half, looked like this watermelon. Fortunately, Paul doesn’t end there. He also paints another picture – that of the way of life:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about Him & were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life & is corrupt through deceitful desires, & to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, & to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness & holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV) This way of life is not easy, but rather a tremendous struggle. However, it is the way a child of God lives. This way of life is a life of love – loving Jesus because of what He has done for us, & loving others also because of what Jesus has done for us.
The Apostle Paul is here encouraging us to surrender to the life that Jesus has already earned for us, & given to us. We receive that life in Baptism, & we receive it again in the Lord’s Supper. And we receive that life every time we hear the Word of God. And these are words by which we surrender to the Lord of our lives:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful & unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word & deed, by what we have done & by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” LSB p. 151. That is how we surrender to our Lord & Savior, through repenting of our sins.
Surrendering to Satan & our sinful nature only leads to more sin, more heartache & eventually to eternal death. But God has chosen, through the foolish things of the world, to rescue us from sin, from death & from the Devil. God has chosen to create within us a clean heart & He has renewed a steadfast spirit within us.
Because we are still saint & sinner it is really impossible for us to tell the difference in our lives by what we see & by what we hear. What St. Paul wrote is so very true, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19 ESV)
Living the Christian life is not a glorious & beautiful thing to behold with our physical senses. It is more like the ministry of Christ, filled with some successes, but ultimately it is filled with rejection, suffering & death. And then comes the resurrection. Until then, our lives are to exhibit forgiveness & mercy, which comes only after we hear Christ forgiving us: “Walk in love, as Christ loved us & gave Himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2). “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you & for His sake forgives you all your sins.” LSB p. 151. With faith in those words you & I can be assured that our heavenly Father is working in us & through us to bring about the glories of the eternal life to come. And to that His children surrender. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined by 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. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet