Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Christ Jesus, the Cornerstone - July 19, 2015 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Ephesians 2:11-22
Thanks be to God, we are no longer what we were before being given faith. Unfortunately, at the same time, we are also, not all we will be one day in heaven. We are no longer complete lost and condemned sinners. Yet, we are not yet completely perfect and holy saints. We are at the same time both sinner and saint. We are on this path of life, through this world, being given as our Lord gives, forgiven, strengthened and kept in faith, until the day He takes us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
What were we before? Paul describes our situation as he writes, beginning at verse eleven, “11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—12remember that you were at that time 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” (v. 11-12). At one time we were “Gentiles in the flesh.” We were called the “uncircumcised.” Here we might make a very real comparison of circumcision and baptism. Circumcision happened for a child at the age of eight days and marked him as being a part of God’s covenant people. Indeed, circumcision was a sacrament for the children of Israel. For us, circumcision is no longer required and is no longer a requirement for being members of God’s family. For us, we are given faith and made a part of God’s family through the means of the Word and Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism is a sacrament, a holy act through which God gives us faith, marks us as His children and makes us a part of His covenant people. Thus, Paul might have easily written to us saying that we were called the unbaptized.
Before our Baptism, before being given faith, we were separated from God. Our nature is that we are conceived and born in sin. Sin is genetically passed on from one generation to the next. And no, I do not believe we will ever find the genetic code, the DNA strand, for original sin, rather I believe that original sin permeates all our genes. We are conceived in sin. We are born in sin. And sin separates us from God, thus we are born separated from God. Certainly this helps us see, even more, the importance of Holy Baptism, especially the importance of baptizing our children and baptizing them as soon after their birth as possible.
Before our Baptism and before being given faith, we were without hope. The prerequisite of heaven is perfection, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We are not perfect. We are not born perfect. We cannot make ourselves perfect. Our perfection must be given to us, it must come from outside of us, otherwise we are without hope.
Paul describes our situation before begin given faith. He also describes what Christ has done for us. We pick up at verse thirteen, “13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 13-22).
The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden. The price for sin is death, physical death and apart from Jesus eternal spiritual death. Blood had to be shed. And, as we have said, we are sinners. We are conceived in sin. We are born in sin. We sin in thought, Word and deed. We sins sin of omission, not doing what we should be doing. We sin sins of commission, doing the things we should not be doing. We sin and we sin boldly. We disobey the commandments. We attempt to justify our sins. And the price for our sins, the cost is death, eternal spiritual death. Left to ourselves, we would be lost, eternally lost. Paul now tells us, Jesus shed His blood on the cross for our sins. What great love our Lord has for us, to take on Himself, our flesh and blood. To take on Himself our sins and to pay the price for our sins.
Not only did Jesus pay the price for our sins, He also fulfilled all the Law completely, thus abolishing the Law. Having said that let me elaborate on this fulfilling and abolishing of the law which some seem to confuse at times. Jesus has fulfilled all the law; the ceremonial law, the moral law and the civil law. In fulfilling the ceremonial law, that law which regulated the sacrifices, that law which pointed to Him, to His suffering, death and resurrection for the sins of all, He has abolished, completely the ceremonial law so that we no longer need to offer sacrifices. However, even though He has fulfilled the civil and moral law completely, that is He kept all the law of the land, the civil law and the Ten Commandments, the moral law, we still live under and abide by these laws. And the reason we have been given these laws, the civil and moral law is in order to keep us safe, for our protection. Yet, because of our nature all the Law does is accuse. All the Law does is point to the fact that we are sinners. If you ever listen to the TV evangelists and radio preachers, more often than not they preach only the law. They tell you what you have to do to be saved, usually implying that you can be obedient. The fact of the matter is that we cannot be obedient. We cannot keep the law. We cannot be perfect which is the demand if we attempt to save ourselves by keeping the law, that is we must keep the law completely for to stumble at one point is to be guilty of the whole law, thus the law truly only accuses us. Yet, Jesus fulfilled the Law. What we could not do, Jesus did, perfectly. And in His perfect obedience of the Law, He abolished the Law, so we are no longer under the Law.
Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly, He paid the price for our sins and by faith in Him, He brings all people together into one fellowship. As Paul tells us, by faith in Jesus we are no longer considered Jew and Gentile, members of the covenant and non-members. Today, through faith in Jesus, faith that He gives, we too are a part of the family of Christ. Remember, the covenant, the promise of a Savior was made in the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew or Gentile. The promise was reiterated to Abraham that through his family the Savior of all people would be born. Although the promise to Abraham included a promise of a piece of property, if they would remain faithful, which they were not thus giving up the promise, yet pointing to the ultimate property of heaven, the true promised land. Jesus even said that God could raise children of Abraham from stones reminding us that the true Israel is not an Israel by birth, by genetics, but by faith. Indeed, all those who do not believe in Jesus, no matter what their genetic background, Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, will not be saved. All those who do believe in Jesus are children of Abraham, are the true Israel and are saved, that is you and me.
It is not what we do that makes us one in Christ. It is not the denomination of which we are members. It is not our family name. It is not the congregation we belong to. It is not having our names on some church list. It is not how we act, but it is what we believe. It is our doctrine. It is our faith in Jesus, our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation that makes us one. We are in fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ in the invisible Church.
When Jesus asked His disciples, “who do people say that I am,” and then “who do you say that I am,” we heard Peter’s wonderful confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” and we heard Jesus’ response that this confession was not a confession Peter made on His own, but was a confession given to Peter by God the Father. And we heard Jesus explain that His Church, His Fellowship is based, not on a building or denomination, but is built only on Peter’s confession that Jesus is God, thus this Church, the one true Church, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, His work and Word.
Not only is the church built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, it is also built up, strengthened and kept in faith together as the Body of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Notice, as always, all of this is coming from outside of us. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin boldly, yet we have forgiveness, life and salvation, we are given, strengthened and kept in faith because this comes from outside of us. This comes from God having His way with us, giving to us, doing to us, working in and through us.
What Does this Mean? As we have been hearing all along, the fact of the matter is that we are born separate from God and we have to understand, that because of our nature, because we are born separate from God, because our nature is that we are conceived and born in sin, we cannot draw ourselves to Him. We do not seek God, as if to find Him. We do not choose God as if it were a decision we had to make. Our nature is such that we run away from God, we choose sin, we do the exact opposite of what will save us.
Thanks be to God that Jesus has taken care of everything. He has taken care of literally everything for us, in our place, because we cannot. He has lived perfectly for us, because we cannot live perfect lives. He has obeyed perfectly for us, because all we can do is disobey. He has taken all our sins upon Himself and had paid the price for our sins by dying the perfect death. And, yet, He did not stay dead, but He rose from the dead showing us that He has defeated sin and death and giving us the certainty that we too will rise again. Death and the grave have no hold on us.
Jesus has taken care of everything for us as individuals and He is also the one who brings us together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is interesting, if you look at the individual characters of the twelve disciples, if they had simply met on their own, without Jesus, they probably never would have even been friends. It is Jesus who unites them and it is faith in Jesus that unites all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Jesus is the glue that binds us together, but even more, He is the cornerstone on which the Holy Christian Church is built. He is the Word made flesh. He is the fulfillment of all of Holy Scripture for us.
Jesus takes care of us, His people, the sheep of His pasture. He is the one who gives the gifts. And we are the ones who are given too. Through His means of grace He gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. Through His means of grace He gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Through His means of grace He has His way with us, loving us, caring for us, protecting us, getting us ready for His kingdom.
And Jesus gives to us to respond. Remember, as a child, whenever someone would give us something, there seemed to always be that prompt from mom or dad, “What do you say?” Oh, yeah, “Thank you.” “Thank you” was not a part of our vocabulary. And it still is not a part of our vocabulary. Our Lord gives to us. Our Lord does to us. Our Lord has His way with us. And we are given to and done to and had our way with and our Lord even prompts us so that we respond with words and actions and lives of thanks and praise.
We are like sheep and Jesus is our Great Good Shepherd. In the Old Testament reading there is the warning of one who leads the sheep astray. In the Gospel reading we see Jesus taking care of the sheep. We are Jesus’ sheep and just as sheep have a tendency to roam and run away, so we have a tendency to do what we should not do and to not do what we should do. We are sheep and just as sheep need someone to watch over them, guide them and keep them out of trouble, so we need someone, we need the Good Shepherd. Left to ourselves we would stray and be eternally separated from God. Thanks be to God that He is our Good Shepherd who constantly works to keep us on the straight and narrow road which leads to eternal life in heaven. Yes, we are not what we were at birth, complete, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet what we will be in heaven, perfect, sinless, brothers and sisters in Christ. And so while we remain in this world, we pray and give thanks to the Lord for His giving, strengthening and keeping us in faith and we look forward to our being taken from this vale of tears to be with Him and all the saints in heaven. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.