quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vespers Homily - Week of Lent 3

Oculi (Lent 3) - Vespers Homily 14 March 2007

Ephesians 5:1-9
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).

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

"Now you are light in the Lord." These words to the church at Ephesus are why Paul makes such a big deal about issues like "fornication" and "uncleanness" and "covetousness." There are two realities going on at the same time. One is that you are beloved children of God because Christ loved you and gave Himself for you as "an offering and a sacrifice to God." The cross is His sacrifice for you. Here is the "sweet-smelling aroma" that your heavenly Father smells when He sees you His children, who He calls "saints." The other reality is that you still have your human nature, that, without the benefit of God's Spirit, can and will lead you to desire and do the same things that are seen in those who do not know God. Therefore, the Apostle writes these words so that you who "are light in the Lord" will not come under the wrath of God and fall away from the inheritance that is yours in the kingdom of Christ and God.

It is not something you did that made you "light in the Lord." Rather, by God's grace you were taken out of darkness. "Darkness" is another way of saying that one does not know God or what is pleasing to God. "Darkness" is the blindness of seeking one's own way without God, of doing what is pleasing only to one's self. In other words, without God we cannot understand or do what He commands. Rather than fear, love and trust in Him above all things we are inclined to put our full trust in our desires and in things. The Apostle repeats what he wrote in the previous chapter, "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." (Eph. 4:17-19) You have heard this before. In his Gospel, John the Evangelist writes this about the "Word" - "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (Jn. 1:4,5) Being in the darkness means that one is "alienated from the life of God" and unable to "comprehend" the "light." This leads to blind and hardened hearts and sinful deeds and idolatry. Yet, in Christ "was life, and the life was the light of men."

"Now you are light in the Lord." This means that you are "in Christ." In place of the deeds of darkness you are given over to good works. These works reflect the mercy of God and the "life and light" of God which is yours in Christ Jesus. Those who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death and resurrection. They are a "sweet-smelling aroma" to God. By faith they know God and know what is pleasing to Him. As the Apostle writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, "But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." "Now you are light" means the situation has changed. You still have to fight the sin of your nature, temptations and attempts of the devil to lead you away from God. During Lent we remember how Jesus battled the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. We do not have the same success; this is a daily fight. This is a matter of confession and absolution. This is the reality of the forgiveness of your sins. If "you are light in the Lord" this means that, though you sin, you are no longer under the control of the power of sin and death because sin and death no longer control Him. We now live in the reality which is the gift of life as "light in the Lord." We are "children of light." By faith we do good works. God supports us as He supports the wicked with the things that we need to live here on earth. He supports us in this life of light with the holy food of His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar. "In addition to showering upon us both temporal and eternal blessings He has given His own self; He has completely poured out Himself for us, with all He is, with all He has, with all He does . . ." [Luther, Lenker VII:151] By faith we say with the psalmist, "My eyes are ever toward the Lord." (Ps. 25) Amen.

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

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.