September 18, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
“There are two ways—one of life and one of death—and there is a great difference between the two ways.” So begins the Didache, an early Christian catechism on the apostolic teaching. Before Christianity was called Christianity, it was call The Way. Not just one way among many to choose from, but because of Jesus’ exclusive claim: I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (Jn 14:6). And again He says, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads into destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For narrow is the gate and confined is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it (Mt 7:13-14).
But that’s not a very popular message today. Exclusivity is a cardinal sin in our pluralistic culture; diversity is a virtue. You are encouraged to strike your own path, to be a master of your own destiny. And it doesn’t really matter which way you choose, because all roads lead to the same god, they say. In a sense, this is true. The way is broad that leads to the god of destruction; there are many ways to get there. But in the end it is a false god.
On the other hand, the narrow way, the definite way, has a definite goal and ending point. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, I am counseling you then—I a prisoner in the Lord—to walk worthily of the calling to which you have been called (v 1). Ways are made for walking. And the walk of the Way that leads to life is drawn by the calling of God. In other words, the Way is defined by the God’s Word. There are a multitude of religious systems and philosophies of life that try to define a better way, but none of them do it the way that Christ does.
Walk with all humility and meekness, with longsuffering, bearing with each other in unconditional love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (vv 2-3). We have been so conditioned by nearly 2,000 years of Christian charity shaping the thoughts of the Western world that we can forget how revolutionary this way of thinking actually was. The way of the world is to seek power and influence, to control and exalt the self. The way of the world seeks peace with friends, and violence with enemies. The way of the world conditions love only so far as the beloved can provide a benefit, then they are tossed aside like worn out shoes.
But that’s not the way that you have been called. You have been called to walk the Way of humility. It means to refrain from asserting yourself, your own standing or accomplishments. They do nothing but harm the unity of the church. If you find yourself talking more about yourself and not about Jesus, you might need a slice of humble pie.
Meekness follows and expands upon humility. Meekness is the opposite of roughness, and a bad temper and sudden anger. Meekness tempers the sternness of the Law. For a Christian, it means to correct an erring brother or sister without arrogance, impatience, or anger. It may appear to be weakness or softness, and often is misinterpreted for a weak faith that lacks boldness. But recall the Apostles’ bold confession before kings, which was tempered by them rejoicing to be able to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.
Meekness leads to longsuffering. My, we are a people who want what we want and we want it now. We are impatient and petulant. And God help the person who wrongs us—we’ll demand our pound of flesh and then some. But the way calls you to patient endurance. It means when someone lashes out at you that you keep your mouth closed. It means that you give up any claim on vengeance or retribution.
These are all grounded in love. Not just any love, but agape. Unconditional love. Not an emotion, but an action. It’s love that loves and doesn’t expect anything in return.
But a thorough self-examination will show that there is no worthiness in you. Left to your own devices you would choose a path paved in arrogance and impatience and retribution, taking whatever you thought you deserved by right along the way. The paths we choose are all ultimately paths to destruction. To death.
At House of Blues concert hall in Chicago, there’s a slogan above the stage that says, “Unity in Diversity.” The thought is that we are all on different walks in life, but that our differences are what unites us. But that’s not unity. However, we are not united by our similarities, either. The Church is not simply a collection of like-minded individuals.
Our unity is of the Spirit, and our bond is of peace. On the evening of the day that Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples and the first words He spoke were, Peace to you. Then He gave them the Spirit and told them to forgive sins. That’s what unites us. We are sinners who are called to the Way by the Word of forgiveness. It’s a humble Word, a meek Word, a patient Word, a loving Word. It defines our way.
The Unity of the Spirit Is the Bond of Forgiveness
Being thus united, there are no longer a bunch of individuals who happen to be of the same mind. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also have been called in one hope that is of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all (vv 4-6a). One.
One body. The one body is the body of Christ, the body that hung bleeding on a cross, the body that rested in a grave, the body that rose from the dead. You are incorporated into that body of Christ because He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink. Like branches to a vine, you have been grafted into the flesh and blood of Jesus. Every member is distinct, but all contribute to the whole. Even the most insignificant member is important. When you wake up in the middle of the night and stub your pinky toe, your whole body is immediately concerned, bends over and cares for it.
One Spirit. But you are more than the sum of your parts. If you get your appendix taken out, you don’t cease being you. Your self, or your soul is everything about you that makes you, “You.” Likewise the body is more than the sum of its members. The Spirit binds you together with all believers in Christ—here at Trinity, New Haven and across all space and time.
One hope. Hope is faith in a future reality. This one body and Spirit seem hopelessly fractured. Not only are there Lutherans, but also Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopal, and the list goes one. One body? Hardly. But that doesn’t mean to quit pressing on for the truth. You have a promise that when Christ returns the sons of God will be revealed. In every church where the Word of God is still preached, Christians are being made, even if their beliefs are sometimes inconsistent with what Christ teaches. The hope of our calling is that our Lord will reunite all believers—not by the political works of men, but by the divine work of a new creation.
One Lord. One Lord Jesus Christ. He is the head of the body, that which causes it to live and breathe and move. The body submits to the head because the head is concerned for each and every member of the body. Husbands, you are a picture of this, as you are the heads of your wives, which means that you nurture her and care for her and love her as your own body.
One faith. Faith is not your creation, but a gift from God. It’s given and implanted in you by the Spirit whenever the Word is preached and the Sacraments are given. Faith is what clings to the promises of God. Faith instinctively receives the gifts.
One baptism. Water is where the bond of peace is first made because baptismal water isn’t just water, but water and the Spirit. It’s what you all have in common. One baptism. Even when all else fails, you can confess with the Large Catechism, “Nevertheless, I am baptized!”
One God and Father of all. The Church, body of Christ, is a divine family. Because you have been incorporated into Christ, you are also incorporated into the life of the Holy Trinity. So, when you address God, the name He gives you isn’t Almighty or Most Excellent or Terrible Judge or any other honorific, but Our Father. Even if your earthly family pales in comparison, God is a God of the fatherless and the widow. He is the Father by whom all other fathers are known. He is above all, and through all, and in all (v 6b). Trinitarian.
Now, working backwards from the Fatherhood of God, baptism bestows faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection give you the hope of your own resurrection, where you will be united by the Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life, revealing the body of Christ. This is the goal of the Way that we are walking. It begins with baptism and ends with resurrection and eternal life. That’s the gift and promise that’s found in the water: by baptism you are united in the divine household of the Holy Trinity.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity, now and forever.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard