Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lent 5 Preaching - Wednesday

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

2 Cor. 5:16-21/LentWed5.07

Dear Christian, there was a reason Martin Luther said, "When I urge you to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian." There is nothing MORE essential to the Christian life than that we should cry out to our heavenly Father for His help and mercy - not only from a distance - not simply in the midst of our suffering, like the Prodigal Son in his pigsty. But like that repentant son, embraced in the arms of his Father, God wants us to receive His mercy and His help in our times of need. There is nothing more fundamental to the Baptized life, than that Christians recognize their sins, confess them, and receive from the Lord His forgiveness, simply on account of Jesus. So, as your children cry to you when lights go out and shadows crawl, when they scream your name when knees get bruised and battered, call to God in true repentance, and receive His absolution, that is, forgiveness of sins, from your pastor, as from God Himself. That, as Luther says, is simply being . . . Christian.

In this evening's text, St. Paul locates our whole discussion in the waters of Holy Baptism, where it properly belongs. He says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come." What a beautiful description of what happened at your baptism. You are New Creations IN Christ Jesus through His Water and His Word! Read Romans chapter 6. Recite the Fourth Part of Holy Baptism in your Small Catechism. "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live - or walk in - NEWness of life."

Dear NEW Creations, your baptism wraps you up in Jesus, in His holy life and in His innocent suffering and death. You are so clothed with Christ, that God now sees you only in His Son. His righteousness becomes YOUR righteousness. We hear that from St. Paul tonight. "He Who knew no sin became sin for us." That means that Christ was wrapped up in YOUR sin and death upon His cross, dying as if HE were just another sinner. God counted our sins against Him, so that WE might be the righteousness of God, in Jesus. We are that, simply by God's grace. As He considered His Sinless Son to be sin for us, so He considers us to be as sinless as His Son. As St. Paul says in Ephesians chapter five, "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." Through that, He will present you to Himself "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish."

You are holy, because you are IN Christ through Holy Baptism. That's a done deal. There's nothing imperfect about it. But you can look at yourself and see a different story, can't you? We can all take stock of our daily thoughts and words and deeds and find an alternate reality. It seems that our being holy and righteous and pure is some VIRTUAL reality in GOD'S mind, because He's looking at us with His Son wrapped all around His face - 360 degree Jesus-vision! But look in the mirror? Check out our hearts, our minds, our actions? And there is this other reality, the one we feel and experience and see each day. It's reality as well. Not MORE real than what is only true in the mind of God. Don't make THAT mistake. After all, how can your sin and mine be MORE real than God's forgiveness in His Son? But it IS reality that we are sinners. A fading one - thank God! - but real nonetheless.

I say "fading" because, for us in Christ, it is. Through Baptism, we are holy. And because we are in Christ by grace, He is in us also by the same. That is also part of being New Creations. Having been reconciled by God, having the forgiveness of sins, the Spirit works in us new impulses, new desires, new thoughts and strengths. St. Paul says, in Romans 6, "Consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ." In the next chapter, Paul confesses that he WANTS and desires to do as God demands. He even AGREES with the Law, that it is good. Yet, in his flesh, that is, in his sinful nature, he does not succeed in doing what he wants, but what he does not want, he ends up doing. So, there is a struggle, a war in the Christian. The Old Man, who lives according to the sinful nature, wars against the mind we have in Christ, His Spirit, His Word, and often, that Old Man makes us captive to the sin that still remains.

This is where Luther urges us to BE a Christian, to live the Baptized life, to - by daily contrition and repentance, drown and kill the Old Adam in us, along with all sins and evil desires, so that a New Man daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That's what we call repentance, and for that, we have the Sacraments and Absolution.

Dear New Creations, if you were nothing but absolutely holy - as you will be on that coming Day - If sin did not continue to infect you, head to toe and through and through - then you wouldn't need God's Holy Absolution. And, if - being holy in Christ Jesus (as you are, by grace) - If it therefore doesn't matter whether you unseat the Old Man from his perch, where he loves to lord over you with sin - If it doesn't matter whether or not his corrupting influence daily decreases so that the longer you live the more gentle, patient and meek you become, the more free from greed, hatred, envy and pride - If that doesn't matter, we wouldn't have the Sacrament of Repentance, as we may call it, and Luther wouldn't urge you to confession.

But it DOES matter! Where no amendment of life takes place, but the Old Man is given free reign and continually grows stronger, Baptism - says the Large Catechism - is not being used, but resisted! That should not be! The Old Adam is a corruption, a viral-like infection that permeates our whole being. Left unchecked, unrestrained and unsuppressed by the power of Baptism, he goes his merry way, wreaking havoc, making us useless to anyone but ourselves, and not that much to us even! But when we become Christian, the Old Man meets His match. In Christ, we have God's Spirit and power to suppress the Old Man in us, so that a new man may come forth and daily grow stronger.

So, go right ahead and take on the Old Man, dear Christian. You can confess and hear the Absolution together as a group on Sunday mornings, or you can turn it up a notch and take the Old Man on a bit more in-your-face. Take it from your personal physician, the doctor of your soul: Everybody knows they'll die of something. But when it comes YOUR time, that's a different story. And hardly anybody hasn't taken something for a headache. But when the aches and pains are just a bit more PERSONAL, we go for what the doctor can prescribe for US - as individuals. Here on Sunday mornings? We confess what's true of all of us, in general. We deserve to go to hell. Then we hear the general absolution from the pastor. But what about when we are off and separated from the herd? When our sins are obvious? When it's not just, "I'm a sinner," but "I've lied, I've failed again, I've cheated, I've hurt someone or hurt myself?"

Dear Christian, recognize the weapon private absolution is, especially when Satan isolates you from the herd and points out sins specifically! Make use of the physician of your soul. Confess your sins and receive the absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Now, the Old Man's gonna put the skids on, so beware. He doesn't mind you being dirty. It's life the way he's used to it. He's like a child who, having grown out of his diapers and learned to use the potty, doesn't do a thing to stem the tide he feels is coming on. You know the kid. He's playing with his friends and moving kinda funny. You ask, "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" He knows he does. But he lies and tells you, "No." He's too busy playing. He wants what he wants and doesn't give a thought to the mess he'll make for someone. Besides, he really doesn't mind that warm wet feeling, even if it does turn cold too quickly. So he resists all efforts to avoid his filth. Even when your nose has caught a whiff of how he's fallen, and you ask him, "Did you make a mess?" he'll look you in the eye and shake his head. As if to say, "No. I'm clean." Such a dirty little liar!

The Old Man so opposes our being Christian like that, but the New Man, dear Baptized, as fledgling as he is, knows better. Like a toddler who trusts his mom and dad completely, he will speak right up - no matter who may hear him - "Uh-oh!" A poopy diaper! It happens. He wanted to avoid it, to be a big boy. The New Man doesn't want to live in filth anymore. He's eager to make use of God's forgiveness and live in Jesus. So, when an accident occurs, he doesn't hide it. Doesn't say it didn't happen. He's disgusted. Yuck! How gross! And so, he comes to those who have the means to do something about it.

As we mature, we learn to despise the feel of filth against our bodies. Get a dog. Chances are, eventually, you'll step in something! And that feeling in between your toes? That just ain't RIGHT! It's repulsive. Where's a towel, and would you kill that stupid dog for me?! There's the New Man, in some semblance of maturity. He AGREES with God's Law. He DELIGHTS in it, in fact. And so, he hates sin; he hates the Old Man in us and the sinners that we ARE because of him! He does not doubt God's faithfulness, His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy. The New Man doesn't hesitate to go to Him for comfort. The New Man LIVES from God's forgiveness! He is sure that there is not an angry bone in God's whole body, and so, should sin break out, break in, whatever, the New Man doesn't hide it, doesn't think that there is something terrible and frightening in coming to the Lord for help.

The New Man is IN Christ, and since when did our Lord have any doubt about His Father's will, His Father's heart and favor? You are not just rebellious sinful natures, dear Christian. You are New Creations in Christ. You stand before God holy on account of Jesus. And something holy and new and confident and strong is started on account of that IN you. According to the New Man, you agree with everything God says. When I point you to Confession and Absolution, you agree that it is good. You agree that, if you can go to the doctor and have him poke around in places best left secret - but you'll let him do that for your earthly good . . . You agree that so much more a blessing is a pastor who will leave SUCH places secret, but will cover up what's even worse - your sins. He'll hear what's true of you, which the Old Man's beating you up with, and he'll give you something to kick the Old Man in the teeth. "I forgive you all your sins." And by that, I mean YOUR sins, THOSE sins, not just some sins in general. But the ones the Old Man's making use of, to disturb your conscience, to sink you in despair, to rob you of your peace, to destroy your marriages, your home-life, your walking on this earth in view of heaven. How could anybody think that such a gift is painful, dreadful, hurtful, or deadly? . . .Because it IS! But not to the NEW Man. Only to the OLD Man! Only to the OLD!

Dear Christian, live from God's forgiveness, whether spoken generally or individually; whether coming from my mouth or yours, to those you live beside each day. Live in your baptisms. Drown your Old Adam. Be reconciled to God, and reconciled to one another. On the day Christ rose, having died your death, He started something NEW - He breathed on His disciples, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In that, He gave His Church on earth a new and wonderful authority, to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant, as long as they do not repent. The New Man has no place to live but where the Old Man's going under and the righteousness and purity of God are going on by way of His forgiveness. Since the Old Man only stands in the way of that, the called ministers of Christ must sometimes exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation. That's just smackin' down the Old Man! Taking him seriously, especially when he has some poor deluded sinner half way down the gullet. But you? To those who repent and want to do better, who step in it daily and much, but want a towel and, "Would someone please help me kill that dang-dog?" For that, God has a man in place to tell you, "I forgive you all your sins." And that's as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our Dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
In Jesus' Name, Amen

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