Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 6:10-20

Dear fellow soldiers: grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

We are at war.

Usually, when we think of war, we think of something far away, distant from us on the other side of the world; or distant from us in time, something that took place many decades ago. This is also how we often think of spiritual warfare; that it takes place far from us; that there is warfare going on in some other dimension, far removed from us; that God’s mighty angels fight this cosmic battle against the angels of darkness on our behalf, far away. We look at ourselves as civilians, not soldiers, and we don’t see ourselves as part of the battle.

But be warned – the enemy has declared war on you. Satan has declared war against your soul, and his spiritual attacks against you take place every day. Every Christian is in the war. You may be inclined to ask, “When was I recruited to be a soldier?” or “When did I sign up for this?” The answer may surprise you – it was in your Baptism.

Usually when we think of Baptism, we think of the white robe of righteousness we receive. What should not be forgotten is that we also receive a soldier’s uniform. You see, in your Baptism, you were brought into communion with God, and were united in Christ’s death [Rom. 6:3, 5]. You were therefore brought to God’s side of the battle, against the enemy.

The next question is with whom are we battling? Who is the enemy? In our eyes, terrorists and those who seek to hurt us are our enemies. Our neighbour who did something against us seems to be our enemy. Our family member who is fighting over the inheritance. A fellow church member who is being selfish. But our Epistle says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood [v. 12].”

In a battle, a horrific disaster that can happen is confusing who the enemy is. This confusion results in so-called “friendly fire”. We start to assault those on our own side. We should see that other people are not the enemy. Not even the person who just sinned against you. No, we have a common enemy, and that enemy has attacked you through this person.

If someone sins against you, it is an injury to himself, he is the one with the sin, he is the one who was hit by the enemy’s arrow. Fighting him is turning against your own side. With fellow Christians you hold shields together on the front line. If you start to fight with your fellow soldiers, you are helping the enemy. Instead, stand with them against the schemes of the devil [v.11].

This is exactly what the enemy does not want you to do. He does not want you to stand against his schemes. He does not want you to put up a fight. He wants you to take sin lightly. He wants you to give up the fight.

When the enemy manages to injure you, perhaps yet again in that same place where he always injures you: you again get angry and sin; you again speak poorly of a person behind their back; you again lust and covet; you again have too much to drink; you again act selfishly. His arrow hits you again in that spot which is already raw and in pain. The enemy wants you to give up. He wants you to drop your shield and say that you cannot take any more battle. He wants your fatigue to take over. He wants your sin to overwhelm you, so that you will doubt that God will still forgive you. Once the enemy has knocked you down, he wants you to stay down and despair.

But when the battle ends, we have either fallen away from the faith or we are in heaven. As long as we still have our sinful flesh, we are either at war with it, or have surrendered to it. Once surrendered, we are spiritually dead, and thus the battle ends, for no one attacks dead soldiers.

Being at war is the normal situation for the Christian. We should not be surprised that arrows are flying and swords are swinging, because we are in battle. And injuries happen. Burning arrows, or flaming darts, are especially dangerous [v. 16]. Not only is there danger from the arrow, but once it strikes, the fire can spread and cause more damage. Even if the arrow does not strike you, but only near you, it can still hurt you. And this in fact is the strategy of the enemy.

He wants to graze you with his fiery arrows. He wants you to see that you are not badly injured, and there is just a tiny little flame left behind. Not so bad, you can leave it alone. The enemy wants you to take his attacks lightly. He wants you to take your sin lightly. The devil wants you to believe that God forgives you so you can sin all you want without consequence. So you justify your sins to yourself and excuse them. You know what God’s Word says, but in this case it’s just not practical to follow, so you defend your sin. In this case you will just let it slide. You feel you do what God wants in so many other ways that you can allow this one sin to remain in your life. After all it is just a little flame.

But as the proverb goes, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned [Prov. 6:27]”? Every sin, no matter how small, is worthy of eternal death [Gal. 3:10]. And leaving the fire burning not only hurts you, but it also hurts those soldiers standing with you. Do not allow even a little flame to remain. It must be extinguished. Even little things must be resolved. Confess your sins and douse the flame. The longer you leave the flame alone, the larger the fire will get, and soon it cannot so easily be extinguished anymore. So, yes, stand firm in the fight. Do not give up.

So that you do not despair because the battle is so great, know that all that is required of you is that you stand firm [v. 11, 13, 14]. Nowhere are you commanded to attack the enemy – that is not your task. You need only to stand firm. And note what it says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might [v. 10].” Stand in the Lord’s might. You don’t need to rely on your might. When you fall, He picks you up. And He doesn’t count how many times He picks you up. Each time is the first time He picks you up, because He forgives you [Ps. 32:5], and removes your sins from you as far as the east is from the west [Ps. 103:12], and He has promised to remember your sins no more [Jer. 31:34, Heb. 8:12].

So what is required of us for the battle? We need only to stand firm and be strengthened in the Lord and in His might. God equips us and gives us everything we need. Note that all of the equipment is armour; it is defensive: the belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, and helmet. Even the sword is primarily a defensive weapon. It is not a great big broadsword for attacking, but a short sword used to parry the attacks of the enemy.

And we do not need to fear that our equipment is inadequate, for it is not ours, but God’s. God gives it to us and strengthens us to stand firm in it. The belt of truth is first. The devil, the father of lies, tries to trick you in every way – to make you believe that there is no war; that the small fire from his arrow won’t hurt you; that your fellow soldiers are your enemy. God’s truth alone can counter the devil’s lies.

The breastplate of righteousness is next. It is Christ’s righteousness with which He has covered you. His righteousness will protect you through the battle to heavenly peace after the battle is done.

The shoes of the Gospel of peace make you stand firm, so you don’t slip. It is the Gospel which “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes [Rom. 1:16].” It is the Gospel which gives us our confidence in the battle.

Faith is your shield. This is the shield that protects you from the flaming arrows of the enemy.

The helmet is the hope of our salvation [cf. also 1 Thess. 5:8]. The hope that the war will soon be ended, and we will be in our peaceful, heavenly home. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us [Rom. 5:5].”

Finally, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is our sword of defence. We cannot defend ourselves with weapons of the flesh, since we are not waging war according to the flesh [2 Cor. 10:3]. Through God’s Word, He does the work. His Word will not return empty [Is. 55:11] and is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword [Heb. 4:12]. Immerse yourself in Scripture daily so that you are armed. Memorize Scripture so that you will have it at hand when the devil attacks.

Above all, we must remember that the battle is the Lord’s [1 Sam. 17:47, 2 Ch. 20:15], and He has already won the battle. Our Saviour, Christ Jesus, abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through His death and resurrection [2 Tim. 1:10].

Our Saviour did not take our sin lightly. He took the weight of it on Himself to the cross and left it buried in the tomb. Jesus has bound Satan [Mk. 3:27] and defeated him and the power of death by His own death [Heb. 2:14-15]. Christ won the battle on the cross. So, while the spiritual battle in our lives is very real, the enemy has been destroyed. And destroyed, the devil has nothing except last-minute schemes into which he tries to mislead us, before he is thrown into the eternal fire prepared for him and his angels [Mt. 25:41]. These are the schemes God has equipped us to stand firm against in His armour, until, on that great Day, He raises us from the dead and we say with all the saints, “’Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting [1 Cor. 15:54-55]?’”

“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [1 Cor. 15:57].” Amen.

The peace of God given to us through Christ’s victory on the cross, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

For His Name’s Sake

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Eph. 4:17-5:2 and John 6:35-51

Dear people of God who will live forever: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our battle with sin is… well, a battle. Some days it may feel like the battle is going well, and other days it seems like we are losing really badly. Some days we may think that we are doing so well in our battle with sin that we are tempted to be prideful over how little we have sinned, but more often we may think that we are doing so poorly in our battle with sin that we are tempted to despair over our salvation.

Hearing the exhortations of the Holy Spirit to imitate God as we heard in our Epistle reading can therefore be quite distressing. You must no longer walk as unbelievers do, in the futility of their minds. You must not live for the sake of what makes you feel good. Put away falsehood. Do not sin in your anger. Do not take what is not yours. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

In addition to telling us what not to do, the Holy Spirit also tells us what we are to do. Speak the truth. Resolve your disputes rather than going to sleep angry. Earn an honest living so that you can help those in need. Speak only in a way that is good for building others up. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

This is a warning to Christians. There is indeed great danger to your soul if you walk as unbelievers walk. Walking in sin leads to being callous. Walking in sin makes you hardened, dead to feeling. Walking in sin makes your conscience calloused and dead to God’s Word and there is no moral sensitivity to restrain such people from following their desires. Becoming callous, they give themselves up to sensuality, to doing whatever makes them feel good, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Yes, this is what the world does, but it is not what a Christian is to do. A Christian does not surrender the battle to sin without falling away from the faith.

The Epistle says, “That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Eph. 4:20) You did not learn in confirmation class to ignore God’s Law. Rather, you learned the Ten Commandments and the summary in which God says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My Commandments.” (Ex. 20:5-6) You have not learned in sermons or Bible classes that you should grieve the Holy Spirit of God by the way you live your life. Rather, you have learned that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that you should glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:19-20).

However, we must admit, that despite the exhortations of Scripture to walk in love, imitate God, and keep His Commandments, we have not done so. We have not always spoken the truth. We have been angry and sinned against our parents, our children, and our spouses. We have taken what is not ours and not even considered it stealing although we took advantage of someone else, wasted what belonged to someone else, or didn’t pay taxes we rightly should have paid. Corrupting speech has come out of our mouths as we have spoken evil of others, whether it was true or not. We must admit that we have not done what God has commanded us to do.

Thus, as Christians, we return to our Baptism. In Baptism, our old man was put off, we were renewed in the spirit of our minds, and the new man was put on us created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22-24, cf. Rom. 6:6). God’s Law shows us our sin, and we turn away from it daily. It is a daily battle. Thus we confess that baptizing with water indicates, “That the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (SC IV.4).

As Christians, we recognize and admit our sin. We confess our sin. But we do not walk in sin. We do not accept or excuse the sin in our lives but we daily turn away from it. We daily repent. We gather to hear God’s Word, receive His Absolution, and receive Christ’s true body and blood because we “daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (SC III.5). We despair in ourselves and rely on Christ, His fulfilling of the Law for us, and His death on the cross for our sins.

We return to our Baptism, because that is where God put His name on us. God putting His name on us is no small matter. God does not act for your sake when He forgives you your sins. Rather, He acts for His own name’s sake. He will vindicate the holiness of His great name which has been profaned by the world and which we have profaned among the world by our sins. God will continue to cleanse us from all of our sins not for our sake, but for His name’s sake with which He has sealed us. God will deliver us from all our uncleanness. Scripture says, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways” (Ezek. 36:32).

God does not cleanse us of our sins because of what we have done or not done. God does not cleanse us of our sins because we have been pretty good at imitating Him. God does not forgive us because we have battled so valiantly with sin. Remembering our ways will only cause us to loathe ourselves for our iniquities and our abominations.

God cleanses us of our sins for the sake of His name. We are baptized into the death of Christ, so we are in Christ. We are forgiven because we are baptized into His name. Our failures to fight the good fight; our lack of imitating God or our imitation of the world are forgiven not for our sake, but for God’s name’s sake (for the preceding three paragraphs, cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).

Jesus tells us even more what God will do for His name’s sake. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (Jn. 6:37). God put His name on us, and for His name’s sake brings us to Jesus, who will never cast us out. Indeed, it is the Father’s will that none of us who have been given to Jesus would be lost, but that He would raise us up on the last day (Jn. 6:39).

Remember this in your battle with sin. When you stumble, for His name’s sake God will lift you up and forgive you all your sins. When you sin, turn in repentance to God. For His name’s sake He will cover your sins and strengthen you in your fight with sin. And when at the end of life you die, for His name’s sake He will raise you up on the last day.

Keep battling with sin. Do not accept or excuse sin in your life, but rather keep fighting against it. For His name’s sake which He has put on you God will continue to forgive you and strengthen you. For His name’s sake He will never cast you out. For His name’s sake, you will live forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Bread of Life

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on John 6:22-35

Dear recipients of the bread of life: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The crowds just didn’t get it. Jesus miraculously fed them in the desert, but they missed the miracle and only thought of the food. They laboured for the food that perishes, while being ignorant of the food that endures to eternal life.

Well, really they didn’t even labour for the food that perishes, they simply received the free food Jesus miraculously gave them and stuffed themselves with it, then followed him to the other side of the lake and begged for more. They missed the point. They didn’t understand that the miracle was to teach them something, not just to feed them. They didn’t understand that the miracle was teaching them not about food that perishes, but about the food that endures to eternal life. They didn’t understand, and thought that Moses was a bigger deal than Jesus. They were so caught up in earthly needs, that they missed their spiritual needs completely. Yes, they were following Jesus, but they were only following Him because they thought they might get another handout.

How different are we? How much do we labour for the food that perishes compared to how much we receive the food that endures to eternal life? How many hours per day do we spend worrying about food that perishes – our work, our houses, our taxes, or the stock market? How many hours per day do we spend receiving the food that endures to eternal life – reading and hearing God’s Word, and receiving His forgiveness?

We get so caught up in our earthly lives, that we neglect our spiritual lives. We would rather eat the food that perishes than the food that gives us eternal life. We can come up with a million excuses to skip church. We prioritize just about every activity over personal devotions. We don’t have the Lord’s Supper every Sunday because we would lose ten minutes from our day that we could spend sitting at a restaurant eating food that perishes. We should also keep this in mind as we discuss changing the way we deal with the offering as right now we send out our offering counters away from receiving the bread of life to count the bread that will perish.

Why are we labouring for food that perishes when Jesus wants to feed us with food that gives eternal life? We are obviously missing the point, just as the crowds following Jesus for bread missed the point.

We are like the Israelites, grumbling because even though God has saved us from the slavery of sin, we are more attached to the things of this world than we are to eternal life. And when God gave the Israelites bread from heaven, they became more attached to the food than to God’s promise to provide it. God told the Israelites to only gather the amount of manna they would need for a day (Ex. 16:19). But many were so attached to the food that perishes, that they tried hoarding the manna and storing some for the next day. It bred worms and stank (Ex. 16:20). The Israelites laboured for the food that perishes rather than receiving the food that endures to eternal life.

Everything that we are attached to in this life will breed worms and stink. Food, money, power, possessions, sex, fame, health – all of these will pass away along with those who are attached to them. They are all the food that perishes. Let us not labour after the food that perishes, but let us rather receive the food that endures to eternal life.

There is a food that endures to eternal life, and you don’t even have to labour for it. In fact you cannot labour for it. You can only receive it as a gift. Jesus says that He is the bread of life. Jesus can fill your hunger and your thirst like nothing else can. All the things in this life that we are attached to still leave us empty, wanting more. We can never be satisfied by them. Jesus is the food that endures to eternal life and does satisfy.

Despite all the things that we are attached to in this life, Jesus attached Himself to us. In our Baptism, Jesus attached Himself to us and made us His. And He works through His Word to detach us from earthly things. Jesus works through His Word to break us free from our attachment to food that perishes; from everything that will breed worms and stink; from everything that is decaying and temporal.

Jesus breaks us free from all these attachments, from this slavery, through giving us Himself – the food that endures to eternity. Through giving us the forgiveness of sins, Jesus breaks us free from all our sins. He continually wants to focus us on eternity so that we would not get caught in earthly attachments and fail to receive eternal life.

But do not ask what you have to do. That’s what the crowd asked Jesus. When told by Jesus that the Son of Man gives food that endures to eternal life, they asked, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28) They were so accustomed to labouring for food that perishes, that they could not wrap their minds around getting food that endures to eternal life as a gift. Jesus responded by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (v. 29) So the bread of life is Jesus, and it is the work of God that we believe in Him.

Our believing in Jesus is God’s work because faith is a gift. Ephesians 2(:8-9) says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Romans 11(:6) adds, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

This is saying that we receive the bread of life as a gift. If it was something that depended on our works, then grace would no longer be grace; then the gift would no longer be a gift but rather our wages for what we have done. That is why Jesus says that He will give us the bread that endures to eternal life.

Jesus gives us Himself, because He is the bread of life. He gives us His body and blood which was broken and shed for us on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus gives us His Word of Absolution which speaks our sins forgiven as a free gift. He gives us Himself – the food that endures to eternal life. And He gives Himself to us freely as a gift.

Jesus is the bread of life that endures to eternal life. So don’t labour for the food that perishes. Don’t resist Jesus as He breaks you away from worldly attachments. Don’t cling to food that will breed worms and stink. Instead, receive the gift of the bread of life. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believe in me shall never thirst. Amen.”

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.