1 August 2021 - Pentecost 10 - John 6:22-35

“[The crowd] said to [Jesus], ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’”

“Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”

“They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

In today’s text from St. John’s Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life. He describes himself also as the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

Jesus’ frame of reference is, of course, the manna that the Lord miraculously provided for the people of Israel during their sojourn in the wilderness. Every day, God rained down from heaven this special bread, which would sustain the people, and which they were to gather and eat each day.

Since such gathering was considered work - which was prohibited on the Sabbath - God told the people to gather a double portion of manna on the day before the Sabbath each week, which would be enough for two days. But otherwise, there was to be no hoarding or saving up of manna from day to day.

Except for the Sabbath, any left-over manna there might have been on the day after it had been gathered, would be spoiled. We read in the Book of Exodus:

“Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat...”

So, the people were supposed to gather and eat the bread they needed for each day, on that day.

It’s also significant that the metaphor Jesus used, in his first-century Jewish context, to describe himself as spiritual nourishment for those who believe in him, referred to a common every-day kind of food eaten by all classes of people.

He doesn’t compare himself, as Savior, to an unusual food eaten only on special occasions, or only by those with exotic tastes. Jesus does not describe himself as the caviar of God, or as the truffle who comes down from heaven.

He is the bread of life: available to all; and to be taken in, and internalized regularly and often, by all.

It doesn’t surprise us that in the devotional literature and hymnody of the church, the imagery of Jesus as the “bread of life” is often applied to the Lord’s Supper. In this sacred meal, according to his Word and institution, the body of Jesus is sacramentally present in the consecrated bread - and his blood is present in the wine that accompanies it.

The imagery of Jesus as the heavenly bread of life seems tailor-made for the refocusing of our faith on him, and for the deepening of our mystical union with him, as we receive him and his forgiveness in and through our eating and drinking of these blessed earthly elements.

And Jesus’ description of himself as the heavenly bread of life, and not as some exotic and unusual food that is eaten only on special occasions, matches well with the encouraging words of the Large Catechism concerning the benefits of a frequent reception of this sacrament. We are told that the Lord’s Supper

“is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new man. For in the first instance, we are born anew through baptism. However, our human flesh and blood...have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint and at times even stumble. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance, so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened, and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger.”

Elsewhere in the Large Catechism, we are taught that Jesus’ words spoken in his institution of his Supper, “as often as you do it,”

“imply that we should do it frequently. And [these words] are added because he wishes the sacrament to be free, not bound to a special time like the Passover, which the Jews were obligated to eat only once a year...”

“He means to say: ‘I am instituting a Passover or Supper for you, which you shall enjoy not just on this one evening of the year, but frequently, whenever and wherever you will, according to everyone’s opportunity and need, being bound to no special place or time.’”

When Jesus’ description of himself in today’s text as “the bread of life” is applied to the Lord’s Supper, what must also always be applied are these words, that Jesus also speaks in today’s text:

“Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Jesus as “the bread of life” does not bestow his gift of spiritual life upon communicants in a mechanical or natural way - in the way that literal bread satisfies our bodily hunger regardless of what we are thinking or believing as we eat it.

Christ comes to us through the bread and wine of the sacrament, in a supernatural way. And we are to receive him and his gifts, not only physically with the mouth, but also with the heart, by faith.

St. Paul warns us in his First Epistle to the Corinthians of some possible harmful consequences for those who participate in Holy Communion without the proper preparation:

“Whoever...eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

So, we do indeed come to him, with a sober-minded self-examination, and in humble repentance for our sins. And we know that we shall not hunger.

And we do indeed believe in him. We believe in his divine person and his saving work, in his death and resurrection for our redemption, and in the personal promise of forgiveness that he makes to us. And we know that we shall never thirst.

The Book of Concord quotes these words of St. Ambrose, by which this great Father of the church would prepare us in hope for our blessed encounter with Christ in his Supper:

“Go to him and be absolved, for he is the forgiveness of sins. Do you ask who he is? Hear his own words, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.’”

As I said, the devotional literature and hymnody of the church do often apply what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, to the Lord’s Supper; and to the supernatural nourishment that we received there, when we receive him there.

But Jesus does not come to us only by means of that sacrament. Jesus does not fill our spirits with the life-giving presence of his Spirit only through the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

Jesus is the bread of life for us, whom we receive into ourselves by faith for forgiveness and renewal, also when he speaks to us from the pages of Holy Scripture, or through the expositions of Scripture that take place in a proper sermon.

Jesus is the bread of life, who satisfies our hearts’ hunger for God’s grace and pardon, also when he absolves us by the lips of his called servants.

And when we sing the gospel into each other’s ears and minds through the Christ-centered words of our hymns, we are supernaturally feeding each other with Jesus, the bread of life.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper in particular, Jesus does invite communicants to prepare themselves for this sacrament, and to receive it, often. Again, this new Passover for the New Testament era is not limited to an annual observance, as was the old Passover, but is available to us whenever we sense our need for it, and yearn for its blessings.

The Large Catechism does envision the possibility of a daily offering of the Lord’s Supper, although that is not very common. But a daily receiving of Christ in other ways can and should be common.

Unlike the usual frequency of our partaking of the Lord’s Supper, our partaking of the Lord’s Word, broadly speaking, is not limited to a weekly or semi-monthly religious discipline. Or at least it is not supposed to be.

Literal bread is a staple in the diet of most of us. Seldom does a day pass when I have not eaten bread of one kind or another: perhaps a bagel for breakfast, or rye bread in a sandwich for lunch, or a dinner roll with supper, or crackers and cheese with a glass of House Wine Red Blend in the evening.

But do I - do we - receive the bread of life from heaven into our souls, as often in a day as we receive bread from the grains of earth into our stomachs? Or do we treat Christ and our relationship with him as if he were like an unusual food that we have only occasionally, and not like a staple that we need and have every day?

During a typical week, are we perhaps trying to save up some of the manna we had received in church on Sunday, and live just on that, without any additional prayer or sacred meditation in our homes Monday through Saturday? Or are we gathering up the manna from God that we need each day, on each day?

In Psalm 119 we are able to find words that properly express our daily need for Christ, and our daily need to partake of Christ and of his teachings, as we pray:

“I will never forget your precepts, for you have given me life through them. I am yours; save me, for I have studied your precepts. The wicked hope to destroy me, but I contemplate your decrees. ... How I love your instruction! It is my meditation all day long. Your command makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.”

And elsewhere in that Psalm, the author testifies to the seriousness of his devotion to his Lord, thereby setting a good example for us, when he prays:

“I rejoice over your promise like one who finds vast treasure. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your instruction. I praise you seven times a day for your righteous judgments.”

There should be punctuated times in our week - not just on Sunday mornings! - when we set everything else aside, and focus our minds just on prayerfully reading and studying the words of Holy Scripture, where the voice of Christ is heard; and on reading and studying other works of spiritual literature that are based on Holy Scripture.

And even when you are doing other things - especially things that don’t require a lot of mental attentiveness - you can even then also remember and review, contemplate and consider, the divine words about Christ and from Christ that are embedded in your memory.

You can recite to yourself familiar texts of the Bible, and ponder their meaning. You can hum and sing to yourself familiar hymns of faith, and apply them to your own circumstances.

Your understanding of God’s Word can be clarified, and your commitment to the truthfulness of God’s Word can be strengthened, as you in these ways partake once again of the bread of life; and as your mystical union with Christ is in these ways deepened.

Psalm 119 also speaks to this, and gives us a prayer for this:

“I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you. Lord, may you be blessed; teach me your statutes. ... I will meditate on your precepts and think about your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

The people in the crowd with whom Jesus was talking in today’s text did not understand very much of what he was saying to them. But one of the things they said - that is, one of the requests they made of Jesus - was a proper and correct request:

“Sir, give us this bread always.”

They didn’t know what they were actually asking for. But we do. And so in faith we ask Jesus:

“Sir, give us this bread always.”

Dear Lord, give us yourself always.

In our weakness and inability to come to you in our own strength, come to us always. In our remorse and regret for our failures, forgive our sins always.

In our alarmed awareness of the temptations that surround us, and that well up within us, fortify and protect us always. In our darkness and confusion, teach us and guide us always.

In our fear of the unknown, lead us to the heaven from which you came to save us, always. In our hunger for all that is good, pure, and righteous, be for us the bread of life, always. Amen.

8 August 2021 - Pentecost 11 - Ephesians 4:17-5:2

No normal person likes conflict and warfare. When we hear news reports about the suffering of those who are caught in the middle of conflict in various parts of the world, or when we see images of the death and destruction brought about by war, we cringe. We desire peace - for ourselves, and for everyone else too.

But sometimes, conflict is the better of two options - the lesser of two evils. Sometimes in human history, wars of annihilation have been launched by a dominant group against a vulnerable population, with the goal of the total destruction of that whole tribe or nation.

At such times, for the people under attack, warfare and conflict, and fighting back for their very survival, is the only choice to be made. In such a context, ceasing to struggle and fight would mean ceasing to exist.

Are you involved in a struggle like that? You may not realize it, or think of it in this way, but you are. In this life, such a war is being waged inside every baptized and believing Christian.

I’m not talking now about the external struggle that takes place between the church and the forces of evil that surround it in this world. I’m talking about something that is going on, on the inside of every Christian.

The “old self” or the “old sinful nature,” which has been with you since your natural conception and birth, is relentlessly attacking the “new self” or the “new righteous nature,” which God has placed within you through the new birth of water and the Spirit.

And this is a war of annihilation. It is a fight to the death. There can be no truce, no negotiated cessation of hostilities. In the end, only one nature can survive.

In the next world, your identity will be either as a righteous and holy saint, who loves God and the things of God, and who enjoys fellowship with God forever; or it will be as an unrighteous and rebellious servant of darkness, hating God, and destined for eternal destruction.

Which will it be? Which nature will prevail in the struggle that is being waged within you, even now?

Will it be that aspect of your inner being than comes from our common ancestor Adam, through his fall into sin, by means of your natural generation? Or will it be that aspect of your inner being that comes from our common Savior Jesus Christ, the new Adam, through his work of redemption, by means of your supernatural regeneration?

In today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we see descriptions of these two natures or “inner selfs,” as they compete with each other for dominance in your life.

First, Paul describes the life of the Gentiles - the unbelievers in this world. With them there is no inner struggle between the old nature and the new nature, because they have no new nature. They are as they have always been: without faith, without hope, without the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. Paul writes:

“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 and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

The fallen spiritual state of the Gentiles, and their corrupted moral condition, lead them to live in ways that are in harmony with their flawed inner character, but which are out of harmony with God’s loving will for his creatures.

Lust and debauchery. Greed and stealing. Laziness and exploitation of others. These attitudes and actions isolate an individual from a community: from the human family, and the larger human society; and from God and his fellowship.

That’s what sin does. It turns us in on ourselves, and away from others: away from our obligations toward others; and away from the fulfillment that comes through caring relationships with others. Sin is a consuming and degrading power, not an enriching and fruitful power.

There’s nothing good or desirable about what Paul says here, concerning the old sinful nature that indwells all people in their original, natural state. We are repulsed by this description - or at least we should be.

Unbelievers themselves usually don’t admit that, on the inside, they are as bad as they actually are. They often try to cover up and “plaster over” their shameful thoughts and desires with outward works of civil righteousness.

But these sinful impulses and thoughts cannot be defeated through external human works. The roots of our sin run too deeply.

Those roots cannot be dug out and removed from us, even with the best of human moral effort. The “old self” is embedded very deeply in our human psyche.

But God does have the power to suppress these harmful thoughts and inclinations. The Spirit of God is able to push back and counteract the destructive influence of the sinful nature with which we are all born.

And, if you are a Christian - if you trust in the promises of Christ and embrace his Word - then the God who has this power is residing in you. His Spirit is working in you, specifically in and through the new nature that he brought into existence when he called you to faith.

In this new nature - this “new self” - your will has been set free from its original bondage to rebellion and destruction, by the liberating power of the gospel. According to the “new self” - the new spiritual person that is now in you - you desire and want only what is good and pure and right.

These two natures - these two inner selfs - are locked in a constant struggle with each other. They are competing for your soul. They are fighting to determine which one will exercise the predominant influence on how you think and act, and which one will carry you into eternity.

In words of admonition and encouragement, St. Paul impresses upon us how important this struggle is, for the sake of our life of faith, and for the sake of our identity as the children of God. After his description of the self-centered and self-consuming impulses and actions of the old nature, Paul makes the following contrast:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ! - assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life, and is corrupt through deceitful desires; and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

By the power of Christ, through your faith in the truth of Jesus, the “old self” is to be “put off” and suppressed. And by the power of Christ, through your faith in the truth of Jesus, the “new self” is to be “put on” and exalted.

The spirit of your mind is to be renewed by the grace of the Spirit of Christ. The truth of Christ, and the godly desires that his truth engenders, are to push back against the deceitful and wicked desires of the old nature, which formerly governed your life, and which are still trying to make a comeback in influencing you.

St. Paul goes on to describe some practical effects of the influence of the new nature in the life of a Christian, when he writes:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

When you think and live according to the impulses of the “new self,” you will show respect to others by speaking truthfully to them. You will not try to deceive and manipulate others for your own selfish advantage.

When you think and live according to the impulses of the “new self,” you will control your anger, remembering that you are not God, who alone has the ultimate right to judge and to punish. You are, instead, under his mercy, and therefore will show mercy.

The new nature in the Christian instills a new sense of responsibility in us. We know that we have the duty to work to support ourselves, and not to be a burden on others, or to impose on others unnecessarily.

The mutual help that Christian brothers and sisters do render to each other in times of genuine need, is not to be coerced, but is to be offered and received freely and in love.

Our general way of speaking, as it flows out of the thoughts and values of the new self, is a grace-filled way of speaking. When we don’t know exactly what to say, we should search for words that build others up, and that express kindness and compassion toward them - because in Christ, that’s how we actually do feel about other people.

The new nature - created within us by the Spirit of Christ - is a Christ-like nature.

According to this nature, we love those whom Christ loves. We are patient with those with whom Christ is patient. We forgive those whom Christ forgives.

It cannot be any other way - at least not when the new nature is alive and well, and is prevailing over the old nature. But how often does the new nature actually have the upper hand in your life? Well, if you’re like me, my guess is: not as often as it should.

How consistent are any of us in thinking, speaking, and acting in accordance with the godly nature that the Holy Spirit has birthed within us, rather than in accordance with the rebellious and selfish nature that we inherited from Adam?

What people see in us, and hear from us, is not a pure and undiluted manifestation of the life of Christ in our inner being. Instead, what they get from us is a disappointing cocktail of mixed motives and half-hearted efforts.

Sometimes people do see some evidence of the love of Christ showing forth from us. Sometimes they do not.

Sometimes we are at peace in our conscience, resting in God’s grace and committed to his ways. Sometimes we are worn down and discouraged by guilt, and by feelings of inadequacy, because we know that we have not done as the children of light are to do, but have done instead what a child of darkness would do.

Remember that the old nature within you is engaged, without rest, in a deep and continuing struggle against the new nature. And it is a war of annihilation.

The old nature wants to destroy the new nature. And once God and his influence are out of the way, the old nature wants to lead you back, in the chains of a re-enslaved will, into a hopeless captivity to the devil.

The old nature knows that this is the only way it can survive. And so the old nature stops at nothing in trying to reassert itself, in one attempt after another to scheme and lie itself back into a position of dominance in your life.

Its attacks against God, and against the work and influence of God within you, are relentless. It should not surprise you, therefore, that, in spite of the fact that you know better, you often stumble and fall back into the ways of that old nature.

It should not surprise you. But it should alarm you.

Every time you sin - in thought, word, or deed - you are taking a step away from God, and away from the protection of his grace. Every time you sin - by the evil that you do, or by the good that you fail to do - you are threatening the continuation of your own spiritual life.

You are creating an environment within yourself that is inhospitable to God. You are, in effect, inviting him to leave, and to give up on you. There’s a lot at stake in this struggle - this struggle between the old self and the new self.

But as you experience that struggle, and endure that conflict, remember the words with which St. Paul concludes the section of his Epistle to the Ephesians from which we read today:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Christ’s love for us does indeed set an example for how we should love others. But that’s not all his love for us accomplished.

Christ’s love for fallen humanity - for a weak and struggling humanity - carried him to the cross of Calvary. And there, on the cross, he gave himself up for us: atoning for all our sins; sacrificing himself in our place to the justice of God.

And, God’s Son was raised again for our justification. The righteousness and perfect obedience of Jesus now cling to us, and cover over all our disobedience, as we with a penitent and humble faith cling to him and his promises.

The many times you have stumbled and fallen, and the many times you have allowed the old nature to have its way in your life, are all paid for and washed away by the blood of the Lamb.

Because Jesus did die, and because his resurrection announces that this death was accepted by his Father in heaven as a fragrant offering, God will never, ever stop forgiving the weaknesses and failures of those for whom his Son suffered.

And that includes you. You are forgiven, right now.

In Christ, God will never, ever stop giving you another chance. When you come to him in sorrow for your failures, and ask him for his help in the ongoing battle, he will always give it.

You have another chance, beginning right now. He is helping you, right now.

Through the continuing ministry of his Word and Sacrament in your life, God will continually renew the spirit of your mind. He will advance and restore the “new self” that is still alive in you - the new nature which he created and preserves - to its proper place of prominence and influence.

He will be your Lord. On your behalf, as he also indwells you, he will fight for you, and will prevail over the machinations of the devil and the temptations of your sinful flesh.

The Lord Jehovah is the only true God, not Satan. He is in charge of your life, not the devil - because with the purchase price of his own blood he has redeemed you, and taken you back as his own precious possession. And so he will be God: for you, and in you.

The struggle between old and new, between the power of sin and the power of righteousness, will continue. Yet the old sinful nature will not prevail, but will ultimately perish.

The work that God has begun in you will be sustained, and will be brought to a joyful and victorious completion in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Who you are in Christ is the real you. That is what will survive, and live forever in the resurrection, by the grace of almighty God.

We close with these words from a hymn by Thomas Kingo, about the struggle that is always taking place within us; and about the power of Christ to bring us through that struggle victoriously:

The power of sin no longer Within my heart shall reign;
Faith must grow ever stronger And fleshly lust be slain;
For when I was baptized, The bonds of sin were severed,
And I, by grace, delivered To live for Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, help me ever To drown my nature, so
That it shall not deliver Me to eternal woe;
But that I daily die To sin and all offenses,
And by the blood that cleanses, Attain my home on high. Amen.

15 August 2021 - St. Mary

On the church calendar, today is the feast day of Saint Mary, Mother of Our Lord. Some may think it strange for a Lutheran church to have a special day to remember and honor Mary.

But the abuse of something does not nullify its proper use. The honoring of our Savior’s mother can be abused; and at many times and in many places within Christendom this honoring of Mary has been abused and misdirected.

But we should not overcorrect, and ignore Mary. We should instead take seriously the statement that Mary makes in today’s Gospel from St. Luke: “Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

That’s what we’re doing today. We are recalling the blessings she received.

It’s not a secret, though, that the largest church body in Christendom does not honor Mary only in terms of remembering the blessings she received from God, and in terms of seeking to follow the example of her faith in response to those blessings.

Many believe, without Biblical warrant, that they are able to receive blessings from Mary; and so they call upon her for these blessings. Here are some lines from a prayer to Mary that was composed by Alphonsus Ligouri in the eighteenth-century, and that appears in various officially-approved prayer books:

“Most Holy Virgin Immaculate, my Mother Mary, to you - ...the advocate, the hope, the refuge of sinners - I, who am the most miserable of all sinners, have recourse this day. I venerate you, ...and I thank you for the many graces you have bestowed upon me...; in particular for having delivered me from the hell which I have so often deserved by my sins. ...”

“I place in you all my hopes for salvation; accept me as your servant, and shelter me under your mantle, you who are the Mother of mercy. And since you are so powerful with God, deliver me from all temptations, or at least obtain for me the strength to overcome them until death. From you I implore a true love for Jesus Christ. Through you I hope to die a holy death.”

Blessings and gifts that are actually bestowed upon us, and worked in us, by the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - are attributed here to Mary, and are sought from Mary.

But in Holy Scripture, it is the Lord who issues this invitation to all people: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

St. Paul reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Jesus directly teaches us to pray to our Father in heaven: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

And it is Jesus whom we serve, and in whom we place all our hope for salvation from sin and hell. St. Paul teaches that Christ Jesus “became wisdom from God for us - our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”

The real virgin Mary would be aghast if she knew what so many people think she is capable of doing. She herself relied upon God for the kind of things that many think they can rely upon her for.

She said in today’s text: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Indeed, Mary also needed a Savior. In her merciful Lord, Mary had a Savior.

And in the miracle of the incarnation, Mary’s Savior became Mary’s son. When the Second Person of the Holy Trinity entered into her womb, he took to himself, from her, a true human nature: so that he could live and die as a human being, atoning for humanity’s sins from within humanity, as humanity’s representative.

The Formula of Concord accordingly teaches:

“Mary did not conceive and give birth to a child who was merely, purely, simply human, but she gave birth to the true Son of God. Therefore she is rightly called, and truly is, the Mother of God. ...”

“Thus, the Son of God truly suffered for us..., according to the characteristics of the human nature, which he had assumed into the unity of his divine person and made his own, so that he could suffer and be our high priest for our reconciliation with God, as it is written, ‘They crucified the Lord of glory,’ and, ‘With God’s blood we have been redeemed.’”

Mary is an important person in the history of salvation, not because she saves anyone, but because she is the point of contact through whom humanity’s one and only divine Savior became also a human Savior. Her womb and her humanity were the gateway through which God himself entered into the human race.

In today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul writes that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

We marvel at this wonder even as Mary’s relative Elizabeth marveled at it, when she met Mary and said:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states that

“Blessed Mary...does not receive souls in death, conquer death, or give life.. What does Christ do if the blessed Mary performs all these things? Even though she is worthy of the highest honor, nevertheless she does not want herself to be made equal with Christ but instead wants us to consider and follow her example.”

This is our belief. And this is why we have a festival for St. Mary, which we are observing today.

We are not here to ask her to help us overcome temptations or to grant us a peaceful death. But we are here “to consider and follow her example.”

Most of the time, when we remember the saints of the past and the example they set for us, we think of the way they lived their lives, according to their vocations, as an outgrowth of their faith. We ponder the way in which their faith was active, and bore fruit in good works and in faithful service to God and man.

With Mary, though, it is a bit different. Those who pray to her certainly do expect her to be active even now, and to do good things for them.

But Mary’s importance as an example for us is mostly not in regard to the activity that flowed out of her faith, and in regard to what she did for others. It is mostly in regard to the humility of her faith, her submission to God’s will and Word, and her trusting acceptance of what God did for her.

As Elizabeth said in today’s Gospel, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary was willing to believe humanly impossible things, because God had revealed to her that these things were so. She knew, and by her example she teaches us, that everything God says is to be embraced as true. No exceptions.

This is most evident in the conversation that took place between Mary and the angel Gabriel, when Gabriel came to announce to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. St. Luke reports that

“The angel said to her, ‘...behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’”

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be borne will be called holy - the Son of God. ...’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’”

With respect to the things that God reveals to us and promises us, we, too - in all the circumstances of our lives - should always join Mary in saying, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And to us, God does reveal and promise some very extraordinary things!

The incarnation of God’s Son and the coming of Jesus in the flesh was, of course, a one-time event in human history that will never be repeated. But as today’s lesson from Galatians reminds us, the saving consequences of that one-time event continue on.

To us who were born into slavery to sin, but who have now been adopted as God’s children in Christ through the new birth of water and the Spirit, Paul speaks in a very personal and uplifting way:

“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

As Christians, we speak so often about our being God’s children, and about having a Father in heaven in whom we can trust and to whom we can pray, that we may not fully appreciate how wonderful and deeply comforting it is to be able to believe this. There are so many hurting and angry people in this world who do not know God as a loving and protective Father.

Mired in sin and unbelief, they know God only as a judge, or they do not know him at all. They have not received the gift of adoption into God’s family. They either despair at their inability to obey God’s commandments; or they see God’s commandments as foolish at best, or as hateful and intolerant at worst.

They are in the condition that St. Paul describes in his Epistle to the Ephesians: “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

At the deepest level of their hearts and souls, they are empty. Yet they continually grope and grab at something to fill that void, and to give meaning and purpose to their lives.

But when the promises of the gospel come - promises regarding the truth of humanly impossible things - all of that changes. When people follow the example of Mary, and believe that there will be a fulfillment of what is spoken to them from the Lord, their alienation is replaced by reconciliation to their Maker.

In the gospel, God sets aside his judgment against them, and God’s forgiveness and justification in Christ rests upon them instead. And God’s Spirit comes to dwell in them, filling them with a new life and a new hope, and bearing his fruit in them and through them.

But following the example of Mary’s humble and submissive faith, is not only for converts at the beginning of their life with God. It is for us too: as we face daily struggles and daily temptations, as we battle against the pride that always wells up from our old nature, and as we seek to learn and grow in our understanding of God’s ways and of his will for us.

As we walk the pathway of life, our prayer to the Lord should always be the prayer of the Psalmist: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

And when we stumble and fall, God has something to say to us then as well. Through the Apostle John we are told:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We ask God to give us a faith like the faith of Mary, so that we can and will believe and accept everything God tells us: as he warns us, absolves us, comforts us, and instructs us. And with God’s Word in our lives in this way, we can follow the example of Mary also in exclaiming: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Jesus’ mother Mary did also play a prominent role in the events surrounding his first miracle, at the wedding in Cana. John’s Gospel recounts that when they ran out of wine, Mary informed her son of this problem. And then

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever he says to you, do it.’ Now there were six stone water jars there... Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’”

As the master of the feast then experienced when he tasted what was brought to him, the water had become wine. And so the wedding celebration was saved, and proper hospitality could continue to be shown to all the guests.

An even greater miracle takes place in the Lord’s Supper. In the sacrament, water does not become wine, but wine becomes the blood of Christ, shed for the remission of sins; and bread becomes - by a special sacramental union - the body of Christ.

As we are careful to make sure we are carrying out a proper celebration of this sacrament each Lord’s Day, it’s as if Mary is once again exhorting us: “Whatever he says to you, do it.” There is a specific way in which the body and blood of Christ become present for us in Holy Communion.

We are to receive the true body and blood of Jesus in faith, as we once again believe in humanly impossible things in this sacrament. But our faith doesn’t create the sacrament, or cause Jesus to be present. Rather, as the Formula of Concord confesses,

“Christ’s command, ‘Do this,’ must be observed without division or confusion. For it includes the entire action or administration of this sacrament: that in a Christian assembly bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, and drunk, and that thereby the Lord’s death is proclaimed...”

The Formula of Concord also explains that

“In all places in which the Supper is observed according to Christ’s institution and his words are used, the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed and received on the basis of the power and might of the very same words that Christ spoke in the first Supper.”

“For wherever what Christ instituted is observed and his words are spoken over the bread and cup, and wherever the consecrated bread and cup are distributed, Christ himself exercises his power through the spoken words, which are still his Word, by virtue of the power of the first institution.”

If we fail to apply to our observances of the Lord’s Supper the words of Mary, “Whatever he says to you, do it,” and if we instead do something else, or do less than what Jesus did and tells us to do, then we are not actually having the Lord’s Supper, even if we think we are. If we do not do what Mary’s son says to us, we have no proper basis to believe that his body and blood are present and received.

But when the Word and institution of Christ are honored and followed, and when we believe that there will be a fulfillment of what is spoken to us from the Lord, we will indeed receive a great blessing.

It’s not just an earthly wedding celebration that is saved, but the salvation of our souls is renewed to us, as we receive a foretaste in this world of what the Book of Revelation describes regarding the next world:

“‘The Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready... And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, These are the true words of God.’”

King of glory, Thou, O Christ; Son of God, yet born of Mary,
For us sinners sacrificed, On the cross our sins didst carry;
First to break the bars of death, Thou hast opened heaven to faith.

O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee, and adore Thee,
In thanksgiving bow before Thee.
Thou with Thy body and Thy blood wilt nourish
Our weak souls that they may flourish.
May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry,
And Thy blood for us plead
In all trial, fear, and need. Amen.

22 August 2021 - Pentecost 13 - Ephesians 5:21-31

“Instructions included.” “Use only as directed.”

We read statements like this very often, when we buy something that comes in pieces and needs to be assembled in a certain way, or as we pick up some prescription medicine from the pharmacy that needs to be taken in a certain way.

We are glad to know that instructions are included when we spend a lot of money on something, like a shelf unit or a piece of exercise equipment, because we don’t want to mess it up in our ignorance of how it is supposed to be put together. Likewise, we appreciate the warnings against misuse of drugs that could harm or kill us if we were to dose ourselves according to our own guesses, instead of according to the doctor’s orders.

“Instructions included.” “Use only as directed.”

In effect, these statements also accompany one of the most important personal and social institutions that exists in this world: marriage.

God instituted marriage, in the Garden of Eden. Our first parents were joined together according to God’s plan and design, to be each other’s companions, to tend the garden together, and to be the procreative fountainhead for the continuation of the human race. We read in the Book of Genesis:

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”

Again, we read:

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

But if Adam and Eve, on their own, would redefine the nature and purpose of their relationship, there could be much emotional and spiritual damage. And this is in fact what happened when they sinned against the Lord, and when Adam then turned on Eve, and tried to make her responsible for his wrongdoing.

Adam’s harmonious relationship with God was already broken because of his transgression. On top of that he also brought even more grief into his relationship with his wife, by blaming her for his sin:

“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

“Instructions included.” “Use only as directed.”

It is often the case with a manufacturer, that after a product has been out for a while, the manufacturer is able to see that it had not anticipated all the ways in which customers might misuse the product, or misunderstand the directions for its proper use. And so the instructions that are included with the product then become clearer and fuller.

In a similar way, and for similar reasons, God gave the human race - after the fall, and after the coming of Christ - a more detailed set of instructions regarding his institution of marriage. He did this through the apostle Paul, in today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Ephesians. Paul says:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

This is the first step in how a marriage is to be put together, according to the specifications of its divine designer.

Now, the concept of “submission” in our society usually has very negative connotations. What the word literally means, though, is to position something or someone under something or someone else.

The word itself does not carry with it the idea that there is a personal degradation or humiliation of a woman who positions herself under her husband.

During a hail storm, we position ourselves under a roof or an overhang for the sake of safety and protection. Similarly, in the midst of the moral and spiritual storms of life, a Christian woman places herself under the headship of her husband.

Further on in today’s text, St. Paul uses a synonymous expression that illustrates more clearly what he has in mind when he says that wives are to submit to their own husbands. He writes:

“Let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

To submit to one’s husband is, therefore, to respect him as the husband - that is, to acknowledge him as someone who has been given certain unique responsibilities by God that are to be recognized and honored.

Another important point is that God does not here command husbands to force their wives to submit to them. God is the one who established human marriage, and who still considers himself to be its guardian and guide. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

God is therefore the one who instructs Christian wives in these matters. Wives are, accordingly, accountable chiefly to God for how they think about, and act toward, their husbands.

Wives are not to respect the authority of their husbands simply to please their husbands, and not only when they think their husbands deserve to be treated in this way.

A married woman who refuses to respect her husband as she should, will certainly run afoul of her husband. She will likely hurt herself too, just as a person who steps out from under a protective covering in a hail storm will suffer some unpleasant consequences.

But ultimately, a woman who decides to redefine the nature and purpose of her relationship with her husband on her own, or under the influence of a foreign ideology, will run afoul of her Creator, to her own spiritual harm.

In this, as with all other aspects of life, a Christian woman is to reflect on the teaching of God’s Word as a whole, and of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians in particular. God there gives us heavenly guidance regarding marriage, as he has instituted it.

“Instructions included.” “Use only as directed.”

In today’s text, St. Paul goes on to lay what is arguably a much heavier weight of responsibility on the male partner in a marriage. He writes:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”

“He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”

Following the pure and perfect example of Jesus Christ, a husband is to love his wife in a completely self-sacrificing way. He is to be concerned about what is best for her, and not selfishly to be concerned only about what he thinks is best for himself.

But this love is not to be a patronizing or belittling love, as if his wife were not his moral or spiritual equal before God. He is to love his wife as the one with whom he has become “one flesh.” To belittle her would be to belittle himself.

He is to love her as the friend and companion with whom he has established a new home, and with whom he will share equally the honor that their children will render to father and mother under the Fourth Commandment.

The husband’s headship, according to the order of creation, does not make him more important than his wife, or smarter, or personally superior. It certainly doesn’t give him the right to abuse his wife emotionally or physically, or to treat her dismissively or disrespectfully.

But it does give him a different set of responsibilities, and a different kind of accountability before God.

The divinely-ordered principle of male headship also does not lay out a blueprint for exactly how a couple will arrange the details of their life together. The so-called “traditional” family arrangement, according to which the man is expected to go out to work while the woman stays at home, is only as old as the industrial revolution.

Before the industrial revolution, which concentrated labor in centralized locations like factories and mills, both parents usually stayed at home during the day: the wife to pursue her domestic duties, and the husband to fulfill his vocation, either in his craftsman’s shop or store, usually on the first floor of his town house; or in his fields and barn, just outside the door of his farm house.

The Bible does not prescribe the exact decisions that a couple will make in regard to such economic arrangements today. But it does prescribe the relational framework within which such decisions will be made.

The husband doesn’t automatically get to boss his wife around, or to insist on something unilaterally and impulsively, without taking his wife’s feelings into account. But the husband does play a leadership role in the decision-making process. And the decisions that are eventually made are to be decisions that he sincerely believes are best for his wife and family, whether or not they are best for him as an individual.

In this, as with all other aspects of life, a Christian man is to reflect on the teaching of God’s Word as a whole, and of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians in particular. God there gives us heavenly guidance regarding marriage, as he has instituted it.

“Instructions included.” “Use only as directed.”

When you assemble a piece of furniture or exercise equipment the wrong way, it’s not always possible to take it apart and put it back together the right way. If glue has been applied, if screws have been set, or if metal pieces have been bent, the thing is probably going to stay ruined and un-fixable.

And if you take too much medicine, or if you take it in the wrong way, your health may be permanently damaged, and you may even die. Sometimes there’s no going back from such a mistake.

But what about the mistakes and failures that characterize our marriages? Is there a way out, and a way back from those mistakes and failures? Can a damaged relationship have a fresh start, and a new beginning?

Let’s hope this is possible, because none of us who is married - none of us - has consistently followed the “instructions.” None of us has made use of our marital relationship “as directed” all the time.

Women have not submitted to their husbands as to the Lord, and have not had proper respect for them. Men have not loved their wives as Christ loved the church, selflessly and sacrificially.

As we regret the sins we have committed within our marriage, against our spouse and ultimately against God; and as we wonder if anything can be done about those sins now, we can remember that Christ is a part of our marriage: not just as the model or example of good behavior and good attitudes, but also as the forgiver of bad behavior and bad attitudes.

All of us - husbands and wives, parents and children - are members of Jesus’ bride, the church, through faith. We share a common baptism into Jesus, in which we have all been graciously cleansed of sin through the washing of water with the word.

By the blood that he shed for us in his atoning sacrifice on the cross, Jesus now presents us to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. The guilt of our sin has been lifted, and the stain of our sin has been washed away.

Whatever your sins have been, whatever your failures have been, whatever pain you have caused: all is forgiven in Christ, the perfect, loving bridegroom to his bride, the church. Those of you who are not married, but who have sinned in the relationships into which God has placed you, are included in this gracious pardon before God, and in this gracious cleansing from God.

And along with the forgiveness that God gives, God also changes your heart, so that you are willing and able to forgive a spouse, and others, who have failed you, or disappointed you, or hurt you - even as your spouse, and your friends and other relatives, with the help and strength that Christ gives, can and will forgive you, and give you another chance.

A Christlike, forgiving heart, is a supernatural and liberating gift of Christ’s Spirit. Because of this gift, we can and do joyfully say together the prayer our Lord has taught us: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Jesus, as the Savior of his church, always does the will of his Father. He always loves, restores, and heals us by his life-giving Word: that is, he always follows the instructions - the eternal instructions from the Father that accompanied him on his saving mission to the world. As recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus said:

“Whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. ...this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

And, in regard to his divine power, Jesus always uses that power as directed. He uses his power not to destroy us and our relationships, but to lift us up and protect us, to heal and restore us when we are broken down and broken-hearted, and to bring peace and reconciliation, and a new beginning, to his people.

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes as “a servant of Christ Jesus, ...set apart for the gospel of God,” and says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”

“Instructions included.” “Use only as directed.” Amen.

29 August 2021 - Pentecost 14 - Mark 7:14-23

“Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

Most people would agree that this is a list of vices - that is, of bad and undesirable things - and that this is not a list of virtues. Most people would also agree that these vices, even though they are identified as vices, are nevertheless running rampant in the world.

Can anything be done about these problems, which defile our humanity, and which cause so much pain and suffering in human lives, and in human relationships? If so, what?

Among those in history who have recognized the harmfulness of these or similar vices, one approach in trying to eradicate them has been to use the law-enforcement agencies of civil government to police such unwanted behaviors, and - with great strictness - to police the people who are prone to exhibit those behaviors.

It is true, of course, that it is a God-given responsibility of the civil authorities to restrain evil, and to punish criminals. St. Paul writes to the Romans that rulers are a “terror” to bad conduct.

He goes on to say that the one who is in authority “does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

But some of the methods by which various governments have tried to eliminate all such vices from a society have involved a very intrusive monitoring of people’s personal lives, and a suffocating level of control over everything people do.

The basic idea here, is that humanity’s problem, most fundamentally, is its lack of outward discipline. So, if you ratchet-up the discipline - by external coercion if necessary - then you will solve the problem.

Today the best-known advocates of this “Big Brother” totalitarian way of getting rid of behaviors that are seen to be harmful, are those who have an agenda of introducing a strict enforcement of Sharia law in a society. In the past, the rules and regulations of Puritan societies exhibited many of these features as well.

But does that approach really go to the source of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness? Does clamping down tightly on these evil things with the force of law - from the outside - really get rid of these evil things?

Another theory, popular in many liberal cultures, is that these social pathologies arise in a human society, not because of a lack of outward discipline, but because of a lack of education. Most fundamentally, this school of thought believes that ignorance is the breeding ground of vice.

So, the way for a society to get rid of these problems, is for the society systematically to educate its citizens away from them. Teach people the wisdom of healthy and positive behavior, and you will then get healthy and positive behavior.

There is some truth to this. We read in the Book of Proverbs:

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

In today’s reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the Israelites to make sure they do not forget the things that their eyes have seen, and to teach these things to their children and grandchildren.

In progressive western countries, such progressive educational theories have been at work in public school systems, and in criminal rehabilitation systems, for generations.

But has this resulted in anything close to an eradication of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness? Or, have these socially-defiling vices actually gotten worse, and more pronounced?

In truth, the deep and underlying cause of these evils in human lives, and in human relationships, is not a lack of discipline - to be remedied by a more stringent enforcement of outward order and control. It is also not a matter of ignorance, to be remedied by a more thorough system of education or re-education.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel from St. Mark, tells us where these things really come from:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

That’s scary. It’s a bit like being in a Sigourney Weaver “Alien” movie, and finding out that where the baby alien is growing, is inside of you!

And something like that - an inherited problem that runs that deeply inside of us - is also much harder to deal with than a mere law and order problem, or a mere schooling problem. If the source of these destructive actions is my own heart and mind - and the hearts and minds of all other people - then how can my heart and mind be the instrument for devising a decisive solution to these destructive actions?

My heart and mind - my morally-corrupt heart and mind - are a part of the problem. In themselves, my heart and mind do not hold the key to the solution of the problem.

Our Lord’s words in today’s text are one of the chief proof-passages for the Biblical doctrine of original sin. We are not sinners because we commit sins. We commit sins because we are sinners.

At the point of your origin as an individual human being, you were already sinful. You were in Adam, in his ancient rebellion. And Adam is in you now.

The popular notion of the original innocence and purity of a baby’s heart is a myth. Any notion about the moral innocence and innate goodness of human nature is a superstition, which defies everything that can be observed about what people are really like.

In Psalm 51, King David declares with startling but necessary starkness:

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

This is the human condition, by nature. This is why we often confess, right here in this sanctuary, that we are by nature sinful and unclean.

And this is why our lives in this world are plagued by sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.

To one degree or another, in one variant or another, we are both the victims and the perpetrators of these evils. We have met the enemy, and he is us.

But the same Psalm that acknowledges our inborn sinfulness, and the defilement of our hearts by nature, also expresses the faith and the hope that God can and will do something about this.

Neither fanatical Muslims nor the public education establishment can do anything about this problem at its deepest level. But God can. Today’s Introit quotes these familiar verses from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians reminds us that the devil is an active ally of humanity’s sinful nature, in the ruination of human lives. But Paul also asks the Ephesians to pray for him, “that words may be given to me, in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, ...that I may declare it boldly.”

The words of the gospel are a power from God, that overcomes the wiles of the devil against us. And the words of the gospel are a power from God, that brings about the cleanness and newness of heart within us, for which the Psalmist prays - and for which you and I, in repentance and hope, also pray.

Elsewhere, in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul says this:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself... For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus, the Son of God, died for all the sins that have flowed out of all the sinful hearts of all fallen people. He died for our sins. He died for every evil thought, and for every evil action, that have ever offended God’s holiness.

And Jesus was raised up from the dead by his Father to become the living source of a new life for us - a life of forgiveness and righteousness; a life of regeneration and holiness.

God, in Christ, repairs the breach in fellowship with him, that our sins have caused. And God, in Christ, repairs us - on the inside. In answer to the pleas of David, and in answer to our pleas, the Lord creates in us a clean heart, and renews a right spirit within us.

He does not cast us away from his presence, as our sins would deserve, but he forgives us, and embraces us. He restores to us the joy of salvation.

He does not take his Holy Spirit from us, but he renews to us and within us the gift of his Spirit. And the fruit of his Spirit, flowing out from the Spirit who now dwells in our new nature, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul teaches that

“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ...”

“We know that our old self was crucified with him, in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing... Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. ... So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

So far St. Paul.

None of this is done in your own strength. Christ, who covers over your sin with his righteousness, also lives within you, and lives out his righteousness through you.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” as St. Paul tells the Philippians.

Jesus is the new Adam, who has redeemed fallen humanity, and who has established a new humanity for his kingdom, by the power of his gospel. In a certain sense, you were in Christ in his death - for you and because of your sins, which he took upon himself and carried to the cross. Your old self died in Christ’s death.

And according to the new nature, and the new self that God has birthed within you, Christ is now in you, through his resurrection for your salvation. He is in you as your divine-human Lord.

His Spirit, the giver of life, is giving you life. In the mystery of his Holy Supper, his body, given for you, and his blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, are supernaturally placed within you as well.

When you falter and fail, God forgives again. Seventy times seven times does he forgive. When you are weak, God is strong. God’s strength is made perfect in your weakness.

With deep regret for all the times when sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness have flowed out from your sinful hearts; but also with deep confidence in the promises of Christ your Savior, you can therefore pray, in the words of a well-known hymn:

Renew me, O eternal Light, And let my heart and soul be bright,
Illumined with the light of grace That issues from Thy holy face.

Destroy in me the lust of sin, From all impureness make me clean.
Oh, grant me power and strength, my God, To strive against my flesh and blood!

Create in me a new heart, Lord, That gladly I obey Thy Word
And naught but what Thou wilt, desire; With such new life my soul inspire. Amen.