quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lent 2 - Homily

Homily for Vespers - Week of Lent 2
Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs - 7 March 2007
1 Thessalonians 4:1-7

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

On this day, the Church commemorates Perpetua and Felicitas, who with their companions, were martyred under the rule of Severus early in the 3rd century. The faith of these women is demonstrated in that they died rather than renounce God in order to worship the pagan gods and goddesses of the empire. Although today the Church does not face persecution in the same way we have the example of the faith of these martyrs as they made their confession of the Lord Jesus. In remembering them and their faith we are strengthened so that we may face our own trials and temptations with the same faith and confession. Perpetua is especially remembered for having clarity of mind, faith and confession that she would not renounce her faith in the Lord even when her own father pleaded with her to do so and even though she would be leaving her new-born child behind. Her confession of the faith of the Church lives on to this day. Like the other women of faith - the Canaanite woman who persisted with great faith and said to Jesus, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table,” (Mt. 15) and the Blessed Virgin, who said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1)

We are exhorted by God's Word to lives of holiness. There are two sins mentioned in this passage. The first sin is that of not living sexually moral lives within the holy estate of marriage and the other sin is that of defrauding one's brother. When we sin in these ways we sin against ourselves and our own bodies and we sin against our neighbor. So we sin against God who calls us not to uncleanness but to holiness or sanctification. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are called to live in righteousness. As the Scriptures teach, our freedom is not given us to follow our sinful desires or to cover up our sinfulness. Rather, we are given freedom to be slaves of God and follow what He desires and commands. When we fall into these sins and others we are controlled by sin and are no longer free. When we die to our sinful desires and repent of them then this is the same Spirit at work, Whom we received in Baptism, and Who washes away our sins and raises us together with Christ in the life of righteousness that is ours in Him. For all of our sins Christ suffered and died and in His resurrection we are raised to live in Him and grow in His righteousness. This new life is not that of fornication and fraud but one of faith and charity. It is not a life that is forced upon us. As one church father writes, "Whatever Christians do, it should be willing service, not compulsory; but when a command is given, it should be in the form of exhortation or entreaty. Those who have received the Spirit are they from whom obedience is due; but those not inclined to a willing performance, we should leave to themselves." (Luther's Epistle Sermons, Vol. VII, 145) Twice Paul writes that we are "to love one another", once before and once after the exhortation to holiness given in this evening's text. For loving one another is living in God's Spirit and according to His will in faith and charity. Love does no harm to one's neighbor.

This means that we are no longer like those who live according to their passions and lusts; "like the Gentiles who do not know God." They will be handled according to God's punishment and in His time. We actually know how we ought to walk and how to please God. This knowledge has been given to us. We know the commandments that have been given to us and which we have received "through the Lord Jesus." These are not steps to Christian living nor Christian steps to success nor "how to" descriptions of the Christian life. Rather these are words from the mouth of the Lord, His commands, that call us to holiness. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification." In Christ, God takes us away from uncleanness, impurity and sin. In Christ we have God's mercy and forgiveness. We are given faith and charity to live holy lives before God and others, confessing with those lives the same faith and confession of Perpetua, that of the Canaanite woman, and that of the Blessed Mother of God. But all of this is not finally about them nor about us. Rather this is all about lives of holiness here on earth that reflect Christ's own righteousness that we have been freely given and receive in His Holy Word and at His Holy Supper. As the Apostle writes, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2)

Therefore, the Word of God does not simply call us to live holy lives but to live the life we have in the Son of God. Through this life in Christ's holy Church, the faith and confession of the Savior lives on in this world. By God's grace, may those who do not know God see in our lives the faith and charity which we have received. May they see the face of God in Christ so that they too know how they ought to walk and how to please God.

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

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