Slaves to God

Trinity 7
Romans 6:19-23
July 15, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

I talk in a human way because you are naturally weak. But just as you once let uncleanness and wickedness use the parts of your body as slaves to do wrong, so now let righteousness use the parts of your body as slaves in order to live holy. When you were slaves of sin, you weren’t free to serve righteousness as your master. What was your advantage then in doing the things that make you blush now? For they end in death. But now that you’ve been made free from sin and have been made slaves of God, your advantage is that you live in a holy way and finally have everlasting life. The wages paid by sin is death, but the gift given freely by God in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting life.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

There are four conditions in which we can consider the human will—before the fall into sin; after the fall, but before conversion; after conversion; and in the resurrection and new creation. But since we can’t go back to Eden, and Genesis gives us precious little information about what life was like before sin, and since the resurrection is something we hope for, but has not yet been revealed, it is profitable for us only to speak of the the human will in the middle two conditions—the human will after the fall and before conversion, and after conversion. This is what St. Paul writes about in today’s Epistle.

And he pulls no punches. When you were slaves of sin, you weren’t free to serve righteousness as your master. What was your advantage then in doing the things that make you blush now? For they end in death. Sin isn’t just an occasional misdeed, a few little slip-ups here and there. Sin isn’t a minor, superficial flaw that can be buffed out with a little elbow grease. You were slaves to sin. The natural state of the human will since Adam’s fall into sin is complete and utter bondage. There is no such thing as a free will for a slave.

Now it’s at this point that we must make another distinction in addition to the four conditions, and that is of the human will in relation to what it is able to do. In things that are below it, the will has some measure of freedom. High schoolers are free to choose what college to go to. People can consider whether to accept a new job offer or not. You make decisions all the time. And you are free. There is no fatalistic, deterministic force pushing you to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes.

But at the same time, much of your conduct isn’t a result of your will, but of habit. Did you will yourself to brush your teeth this morning? Not likely. You probably ran on autopilot. It’s something you do almost by nature. There is a pre-conscious part of you that does things seemingly apart from your will.

All of this is to say that the powers of the will are not as far-reaching as we’d like to believe. Because we have the ability to choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes does not mean that we have freedom to choose every single outcome of our lives. And this is the second part of this distinction. In spiritual matters, the human will is completely bound to sin, unable to make even the slightest move towards its own improvement, since Adam’s fall into sin.

Yet the illusion of freedom remains. People think that, because we have some measure of freedom in smaller things, then we must also have freedom in higher things, things that are above us. But the bondage of the will means that even when the natural person does good works, they are evil and utterly corrupted by sin. They are done for selfish gain, out of pride, at the expense of others.  There is no advantage in doing any of these things. They end in death. That’s the trajectory of the human will’s every move. Every time you exercise your will, you are taking one more step toward the grave.

And then the will ceases. Dead mean can’t make decisions, not even in thing below. They can’t choose Cheerios over Frosted Flakes, they can’t choose to accept a new job, they can’t choose which college to attend. And they certainly can’t choose to life again. So, there need to be a change to the human will that doesn’t involve the human will at all. We need a will that is able to be done in heaven even as it is done on earth.

1.

But now that you’ve been made free from sin and have been made slaves of God, your advantage is that you live in a holy way and finally have everlasting life. The wages paid by sin is death, but the gift given freely by God in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting life. Now something has changed. You’ve been set free from your sin! But don’t mistake this freedom for an absolute freedom. You have been set free from sin and have been made slaves of God.

After conversion, the human will is bound to God’s will. In spiritual matters, it is God who wills and works salvation. This is the paradox. If there is salvation, it is completely God’s work, given as a gift. If there is condemnation, it is completely the work of the human will. Death is the wage, the earnings of sin. But life is the gift of Jesus Christ.

So, being united with the will of God, the human will also begins to change in the things in which it is capable of acting, in the lower things. But this is in very great weakness. This is on account of the sinful flesh, which still hangs around the neck.

So St. Paul begins this section, I talk in a human way because you are naturally weak. Actually, the better translation would be, “I am speaking to you in a human way, because of the weakness of the flesh. He’s writing to Christians, those who have been baptized, those who have the Holy Spirit, those who have been converted. The new man and the new will has begun in them. But he still has to remind them of the flesh, which is the term Paul uses not for the material stuff of the body, but for the corrupt nature of sin. The flesh is contrasted with the spirit in a person, which is born of the Holy Spirit.

So even with the new creation and renewed will, there is a battle between it and the desires of the flesh. This is the topic of St. Paul’s next chapter. The good that I would do, that I do not. The things I do are the things I don’t want to do. It’s a paradox, that a person can be saved from their sinful flesh, yet continue to go on sinning. The tension of flesh and spirit continues throughout this life until the flesh is put in the grave.

Death is the only thing that can put an end to the corrupt and sinful will. And death is what Jesus delivers. In the verses just prior to this, St. Paul writes his marvelous theology of baptism: For we know that whoever is baptized into Christ Jesus is baptized into His death. We were therefore buried together with him, through baptism, into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we would in this way also walk in a new life.

Baptism is the death of the old will and the birth of the new. It is liberation from slavery to sin, and a new bond to God in Christ. But, as we learn in the Small Catechism, it is a daily death to sin and a daily rising again to new life. And this happens through confession and absolution. As the Large Catechism says, confession and absolution is simply a return to baptism, a remembrance of baptism, a renewal of baptism.

Renewal isn’t a once and done event. It is ongoing, day by day. Death and resurrection. Old will giving way to the new. Flesh giving way to spirit.

You were once a slave to sin, but now you are a slave to God. This is more than a metaphor. Sin has a price—the wages of sin is death. But you did not have to pay it. Jesus shed the blood that is more precious than silver or gold, which purchases you from your captor. You are not your own, you were bought for a price. You are God’s own special possession.

Jesus Paid the Wages of Your Sin, and Gives You the Gift of Life

 

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

He Must Increase

Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2018
John 3:25-30
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Christmas is only six months away! In six months, we’ll be getting ready for the children’s Christmas service, and putting the Christmas Eve dinner in the oven, and wrapping all the last-minute gifts. Only six months; doesn’t seem like that long, right? Except that that also means that every other day of the year is closer to Christmas than today. Today is the farthest from Christmas that you can get. But, there’s a little Christmas feel today in the service. It’s the celebration of the Nativity (or birth) of St. John the Baptist. And, it makes perfect sense; the cousin of our Lord was six months older than Him, so celebrating his birthday on June 24 is only fitting.

You just heard the story of John’s birth, maybe for the first time, or maybe for the umpteenth time. Today, though, I’d like to focus on something that comes a little later in John’s story:

Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:25-30).

2.

The dispute was about purification, which is to be expected if you’re baptizing with water. The Jews had their rites of purification—not only those prescribed in the Levitical law, but also additional laws in the Jewish commentaries on the Law. And John was in the wilderness baptizing with water for repentance. A rite of purification.

And then we find out that Jesus is baptizing, too, and more successfully at that. (Actually, we find out in a few paragraphs that Jesus never baptized anyone; His disciples did all of the baptizing. The people were mistaken. But that’s a different sermon).

But then, John says something peculiar. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” What appears obvious—that Jesus takes over what John is doing—is actually inverted. John, who is Jesus’ senior by six months, is implying that Jesus is the one behind all of the baptisms. “I am not the Christ,” John confessed. “I have been sent before Him.” Six months before the Nativity of Our Lord is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. But though he comes before Jesus, Jesus is the one who ranks above him, because He was before Him. Even though John was born first, Jesus predates Him. This would be impossible, except that Jesus is more than He appears on the surface.

When a man gets married, he often chooses someone close to him—a brother, a friend, maybe a cousin—to be his best man. He’s the one who holds the rings, pays the honoraria, makes sure everything goes smoothly. John says that he was chosen to be the best man, to stand at Jesus side as He prepares for His marriage to His bride, the Church. Another very important job for the best man—in fact, his only real job—is to be a witness. The groom doesn’t sign the marriage certificate; the best man does. He listen to the vow spoken by the groom and puts his name on the paper to say, “Yes, this word is true.” (Maids of honor do the same for the bride).

And this is John’s task. He is a prophet, to be sure, but his main task is to listen. That’s what got his father into trouble—he didn’t listen to God’s Word spoken by the angel, and lost his ability to speak. John’s task wasn’t to invent a new doctrine, but simply to say what had been given him to say. He is a witness. He is a martyr.

And so, when John’s disciples are getting a little antsy that Jesus is starting to gain traction, John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jesus himself says that no man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. But just as the days are beginning to get shorter, John’s ministry must decrease to make room for the groom.

1.

When Zechariah regained his voice, he sang a prophecy of John. We have it in the last part of the Benedictus, which is a canticle we sometimes sing with Matins. It’s on p. 38 of The Lutheran Hymnal:

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest,
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto His people
by the remission of their sins,

Through the tender mercy of our God
whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

This little verse is directed at the infant John, but Zechariah quickly switches to the work of Jesus. He is the one who gives knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins. He is the one who embodies the tender mercy of God. He is the Dayspring who rises upon us. He is the one who enlightens those who sit in the darkness of the shadow of death. He is the one who guides our feet into the way of peace. John goes before the face of Jesus to prepare His way, but the show is all about Jesus.

That verb “increase” seems to be an intransitive verb. In other words, the action of increasing isn’t transferred to anything else. Jesus must get bigger, Jesus must become more prominent, Jesus must become more important. That is true. But I think there’s also a little bit of transitivity to John’s statement as well. An transitive verb transfers the action to an object. Like when you tell the person riding shotgun, “Please increase the volume.” It means, “Make the volume more.” In this sense, Jesus also increases the ministry of John.

John came in the wilderness preaching repentance and administering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus had completed His passion and resurrection, He gave a new, different baptism than that of John. But it’s not completely different. It’s increased. This one goes to eleven. John’s baptism was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; Jesus’ baptism is all that, and a baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a washing of regeneration and renewal. It is a baptism that saves. Jesus must increase, and He must increase John’s ministry. This is the New Testament. Everything that came before the cross of Jesus is a shadow of the reality that comes after.

The lesson for you is that, like John, you must decrease. Your desires, your way of thinking, your way of living. These are, by nature, contrary to God’s desires, God’s way of thinking, God’s way of living. You must decrease. That’s where repentance begins. But it’s when you are nothing that you can be raised up. This is the continuation of repentance. Faith is the increase of Jesus in your heart, in your mind, in your life. This is the goal of John’s ministry, and the goal of Jesus’ ministry. You must decrease,

Jesus must Increase

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Feasting with Wisdom

Second Sunday after Trinity
June 10, 2018
Proverbs 9:1-10
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

1Wisdom has built her house.
   She has carved out her seven pillars.
2 She has butchered her meat, mixed her wine,
   and spread her table.
3 She has sent away her maids
   and calls from the highest spots in the city:
4 “If you’re untaught, turn in here.”
   If you don’t have understanding, she tells you,
5 “Come, eat my bread,
   and drink the wine I mix.
6 Leave ignorant people and begin to live;
   walk the road that leads to understanding.”
7 If you correct a scoffer, you get insulted.
   If you criticize a wicked person, you get hurt.
8 Don’t correct a scoffer or he will hate you;
   correct a wise person and he will love you.
9 Give advice to a wise person and he’ll be wiser still.
   Teach a righteous man and he will learn more.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
   knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

In the name of + Jesus

2.

There is a figure of speech called anthropomorphism. It’s when non-human things are given human attributes. For instance, the animals in Animal Farm are anthropomorphic, because they speak and hold meetings and things of that nature, and Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy are both anthropomorphic characters—a raccoon and a tree that function as humans. (Anthropos means “man,” or, “human” in Greek). But inanimate things can also be anthropomorphic, too. You can say that the fingers of the Mississippi River reach down into the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi Delta.

Anthropomorphism can also be used to speak of God. We use this figure of speech every week when we confess that Jesus ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. God is spirit, so He doesn’t literally have a right hand like each of you have. Rather, it’s to indicate the place of favor and authority. Similarly, we use language like “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” but God doesn’t have a mouth filled with teeth and surrounded with a beard, no matter what Michelangelo may have painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The first verses of Proverbs 9 looks to be an anthropomorphism, attributing to wisdom the activities of building a house, preparing a feast, inviting guests. But this wisdom literature goes beyond an anthropomorphic figure of speech. Wisdom here is not an inanimate object, or an idea, with human attributes ascribed to it. Rather, Wisdom—capital W—is a name for God. This is Wisdom incarnate, God incarnate. Jesus Christ. These proverbs are simply another way of telling the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel.

Parabolically in the Gospel, and proverbially in the Old Testament, God is telling us that in Christ He is setting up a household, preparing a feast, and giving us the invitation to join Him in fellowship. But the wisdom of Wisdom incarnate is not like the wisdom of the world.

Who gets the invitation? It’s not the rich, connected, well-to-do. In the parable, it’s the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. And the vagabonds that live out on the fringes. The “respectable” citizens have all rejected the invitation because, they can set a feast on their own, thank you very much.

And, similarly, when Wisdom prepares her feast, it’s not the wise who get the invitation. Wisdom has built her house. She has carved out her seven pillars. She has butchered her meat, mixed her wine, and spread her table. She has sent away her maids and calls from the highest spots in the city: “If you’re untaught, turn in here.”       If you don’t have understanding, she tells you, “Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine I mix. Leave ignorant people and begin to live; walk the road that leads to understanding.”

1.

There is some more proverbial wisdom that falls out of the nature of Wisdom incarnate. If you correct a scoffer, you get insulted. If you criticize a wicked person, you get hurt. Don’t correct a scoffer or he will hate you; correct a wise person and he will love you. Give advice to a wise person and he’ll be wiser still. Teach a righteous man and he will learn more.

There is some real wisdom here. Practical wisdom. If you try to correct a fool, who is committed to his foolishness, how will he react? He will insult you. He will try to hurt you. Not physically, usually, but he’ll try to hurt your reputation. That’s what an ad hominem fallacy is. It means, “against the person.” Fools who have no ground on which to stand must resort to insults and injury to reputation in order to win their argument. An ad hominem fallacy goes something like this.

Fool: “Abortion should be a woman’s choice, so she can have full reproductive equality.”

You: “Abortion takes the life of a child, even though it’s in its earliest stages of development. Abortion is not about choice, because the child never gets a choice.”

Fool: “You’re a Christian, and Christians have slaughtered thousands in the name of their religion, and so you can’t say anything about abortion.”

Notice how the fool does not engage in the argument, but tries to win by insult and injury. The fool must discredit his corrector because his position is foolish. So, if you’re wise, you won’t even engage in correcting a fool. It’s frivolous and self-defeating. You can’t convince someone who is unashamedly and uncritically committed to their own foolish errors.

The proverb puts you in the place of corrector, but there’s also the obverse, where you are the one being corrected. Here’s something for your self-examination: how do you react when you’re being corrected? Is your immediate reaction to lash out with an insult, to tell your corrector how he or she is wrong, to try to discredit your opponent? Do you come to hate when people correct you? Or do you love it? Don’t correct a scoffer or he will hate you; correct a wise person and he will love you.

Wise people welcome correction. It’s how you learn. Give advice to a wise person and he’ll be wiser still. Teach a righteous man and he will learn more. Even if your corrector is not completely right (and no corrector is completely right, even if it’s you doing the correcting), there is still an opportunity to learn and grow. Because very few correctors are also completely wrong. This is something I’ve come to appreciate in recent years, how to learn from people who are wrong.

Fools become more foolish, but wise become wiser still. But the question still remains: how do you become wise in the first place? All of us are more or less foolish, and we react badly to correction. Where does wisdom begin? The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Imagine the poor, crippled, blind, and lame coming up to the king’s feast. Imagine the vagabonds knocking on that door. Is there not a little fear? Imagine the novice disciple sitting at the feet of the master philosopher for the first time. Is there not a little fear? Fear here corresponds to humility. This is the way to approach God. And when you sit at the feast prepared by Wisdom, you gain access to a wisdom that exceeds all wisdom, a knowledge that exceeds all knowledge, and understanding that exceeds all understanding. You come to know the Lord and the Holy One in and through Jesus Christ. And the fear evaporates into wisdom of your own. Because,

Wisdom Is the End of the Fear of the Lord

In the name of + Jesus

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Love One Another

First Sunday after Trinity
1 John 4:16-21
June 3, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

16And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is Love, and if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you. 17His love has accomplished what He wants when we can look ahead confidently to the day of judgment because we are what He is in this world. 18Such love isn’t terrified, but the finest love throws out terror. We are terrified by punishment, and if we’re terrified, our love isn’t at its best.

19We love because He first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he’s a liar. If anyone doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, he can’t love God Whom he hasn’t seen. 21And this is the order He gave us: If you love God, love your brother.

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

There is a tradition that as St. John the Apostle and Evangelist neared the end of his life on earth he would repeat the phrase over and over again, “Little children, love one another.” This phrase is the entire message of John distilled down to one sentence. In fact, it’s the entire Gospel distilled down to its essence. Little children, love one another.

The message of love often gets drowned out in our Lutheran circles, with our emphasis on faith, justification, forgiveness, and the forensic declaration of the righteousness of God. But love is not excluded in this way of speaking. In fact, St. Paul, the great theologian of justification, is also the author of the great chapter on love to the Corinthians.

If I speak the languages of men and of angels but don’t have any love, I’ve become a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. Even if I speak God’s Word and know every kind of hidden truth and have every kind of knowledge, even if I have all the faith to move mountains but don’t have any love, I’m nothing. Even if I give away all I have to feed the hungry and give up my body but only to boast and don’t have any love, it doesn’t help me…And now these three, faith, hope, and love, go on, but the most important of these is love (1 Cor 13:1-3, 13). So faith doesn’t exclude love, rather, love includes faith.

Love isn’t John’s invention. It comes right from the mouth of the Savior. And this is the order He gave us: If you love God, love your brother. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives this command in the upper room on the night in which He is betrayed. This love is exemplified in Jesus washing His disciples’ feet; the Master serving the students, the Lord serving the followers, the greater serving the lesser. “Greater love has no one that this,” said Jesus, “that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus lays down His life to justify sinners as the personification of love.

And this love with which Christ has loved us is what shapes our love. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he’s a liar. If anyone doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen, he can’t love God Whom he hasn’t seen. God has loved us to the point of laying down His life for us, and we say we love God. But we’re also skilled in the subtle art of being a liar without uttering any lies. Because our love is imperfect; it’s incomplete. We find it terribly easy to love the lovable, but the command of Jesus is a call to love the unlovable.

2.

A wise philosopher once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We hate because we fear. And we fear a lot of things. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct correspondence. You might hate snakes because you’re afraid of them, but you might hate your brother because you’re afraid of something completely unrelated.

What are your fears? Maybe you’re thinking about spiders or heights or clowns or the number 13. But those are really superficial fears. The fear that is antithetical to love is something that runs a bit deeper. It’s a more existential fear. Angst. Anxiety. Perhaps you can’t quite put it into words. But you’re absolutely sure that you don’t want your kids exposed to it.

Fear creeps in and sows the seeds of hatred. Fear and love cannot coexist. With one exception. Every explanation to the commandments in the Small Catechism begins, “We should fear and love God…” It always seemed strange to me that we should fear God, if God is love. I remember one of my grade school teachers said that this fear really means respect. But I think if Martin Luther (following the Bible) would have wanted us to respect God, he would have written “respect.” Fear means fear. But why should we fear God?

We are terrified by punishment, and if we’re terrified, our love isn’t at its best. Fear has to do with punishment. And punishment is a function of the Law. God commands us to live and act in a certain way—be it in relation to Him, to our parents, to our spouse, to our other neighbors. And if we fail to do what God expects us to do, there is the threat of punishment. So you should fear God, because He is the One who has the authority and the power to destroy both body and soul in hell.

But what do you do with the command from the mouth of Jesus to love one another? If you don’t love, then you’ll be punished, which creates fear, which is incompatible with love. It’s a self-defeating command.

But all the commandments also enjoin us to love God. How is it possible to love when the threat of punishment looms? This is not possible with an imperfect love, an incomplete love. Love must be perfected. His love has accomplished what He wants when we can look ahead confidently to the day of judgment because we are what He is in this world. Such love isn’t terrified, but the finest love throws out terror.

Perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in love. That’s why it’s impossible to love God and hate your brother. There’s no room for hate because there’s no room for fear if love is perfected. The seed of hate is never allowed to take root if love is complete.

1.

So with a perfect love, we can be confident of the judgment, because we know that the love of Christ was to suffer the punishment in our place. There has been no greater love that He who laid down His life for His enemies in order to make them His friends. This is the love of Christ, and that love has an effect on us.

I recently read a book called You Are What You Love. The point isn’t that if you love chocolate cake, you literally turn into chocolate cake. Rather, when you love something, you’re all about it. You pursue it as a goal. But in turn, your loves shape who you are. They define you. I once saw a shirt that said, “Running is life.” I wouldn’t wear that shirt because I don’t love running. I only do it if there’s a bear chasing me.

St. John says that in the world we are as He is. This is not because of anything that we have done, but because Jesus has loved us with an unrelenting love, such that He became us, that is, He became man, in order to pursue us to the depths of hell, which He suffered on the cross. He loved the unlovable and suffered crucifixion because of it.

And in turn, His love creates a new love. Sometimes it works out that way. If you experience love from someone else, you begin to experience love in return. We are as He is in the world. The love of God in Christ fills in all of the gaps where our love is incomplete. And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is Love, and if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you.

Love Is Perfected by the Love of God for Us In Christ

Little children, love one another.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

 

While We Own the Mystery

Holy Trinity
May 27, 2018
Romans 11:33-36
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who gave a gift to Him and he will be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

2.

There is a German saying, attributed to Martin Luther (although it likely belongs to the apocryphal sayings of Luther), that goes like this: Wenn es zur Theologie kommt, eine gewiße Bescheidenheit gehört dazu; “When it comes to theology, a certain humility is called for.” (I’m taking my German qualifier exam in a couple weeks, so I need the practice). What this saying get to is that there is a temptation once you learn a little bit of theology, to think that you have all the answers, to be so certain and sure that you are right, that you have no qualms about telling everyone else about how wrong they are. This is something of a plague for first-year seminarians, who dig deeper into theology than they ever have before, and mistakenly think that after reading a couple of books that they have all the right answers. Some of us shake off that notion, but it’s not easy to do. After learning a little bit of theology, it is still necessary to be trained in the school of experience by the Holy Spirit, which often involves large doses of humility.

The same is true of lay men and women. When it comes to theology, there is a certain superiority that manifests itself. But while you may have one or two answers, you definitely don’t have them all. This quest for certainty originates more in modern philosophical and scientific pursuits, which seek to discover all the secrets of the universe, than in the faith of Jesus Christ. Trust the LORD with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding, goes the Proverb (3:5).

In fact, sometimes answers are not even the most important part of theology. More important is to be able to ask the right questions. Because there is no right answer to a wrong question. Our questions get us in trouble, because we question where we ought not.

Today, let us take a cue from St. Paul, the leading theologian of the Christian Church, and his letter to the Romans, which exceeds entire libraries of theology written since then in its presentation of the faith. After exploring the topics of sin, righteousness, faith, good works, baptism, new life in Christ, and predestination, he simply has to stop and marvel at what he doesn’t know.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who gave a gift to Him and he will be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

When it comes to theology, a certain humility is called for. You have to know when to stop. You have to know when you cannot answer any further. You simply must exclaim that God’s judgments and ways are so far above our own, that that no one is able to mine the knowledge of God to its depths. You have to admit that you cannot know the mind of the Lord, you cannot be His counselor. There is a time to open your mouth and speak, but it is just as important to be able to recognize when you should shut your mouth and be silent. The Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “There is an appointed time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to talk” (Eccl 3:1a; 7b).

1.

We just confessed the Athanasian Creed, one of the three ecumenical (or, universal) creeds of the Christian Church. Its Trinitarian theology is unmatched. In fact, it is my opinion that the Athanasian Creed is the full extent of what we in our limited capabilities are able to say concerning the Trinity; to say more is to land in heresy. And the thing about the Athanasian Creed is that you probably understand the Trinity as little after you say it as you did before you say it. I also think that’s part of the point. The Trinity is a mystery. Let’s keep it a mystery, and confess what God gives us to confess in His name, the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Holy Father, Holy Son, / Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; / Though in essence only one, / Undivided God we claim Thee / And, adoring, bend the knee / While we own the mystery.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. Hey, that sounds awfully Trinitarian, doesn’t it? I think I’ll shut my mouth now.

To God Be Glory Forever

 

Amen.
Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

The Work of the Spirit

Holy Pentecost
John 14:26
May 20, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I told you.

In the name of + Jesus.

Once I had the opportunity to visit a charismatic church in the hill country of West Virginia. These are the churches who believe the Holy Spirit is floating around, disconnected from any definite means, whose preachers swallow the Holy Spirit, feathers and all (to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther). I recall very vividly that the preacher told us he was going to start preaching, and he wouldn’t stop until the spirit left him. And he was true to his word. The only thing is, I now question what kind of spirit it was that came upon him and left him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is very explicit about what the Spirit will do when He comes. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I told you. There are many things people attribute to the Holy Spirit—some real, some imagined—but there’s really only one thing that the Spirit does. And if it’s not this one thing, then it’s doubtful whether the spirit is of the holy variety or not. The essence of the Spirit’s work, according to Jesus, is that

The Holy Spirit Brings You the Word of Jesus

I.

The very first public, manifest work of the Holy Spirit was precisely that. The marvels of the day were the rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the sudden acquisition of foreign languages. But the true miracle of the day was that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed. “In our own languages we hear them tell about God’s wonderful things,” says the crowd. The Spirit caused the Word of Jesus to be proclaimed.

If there was no Spirit, that Word would certainly never have been uttered. Just a few weeks prior to Pentecost, the disciples were afraid to be seen in public or to acknowledge that they even knew Jesus. Now that He was gone—ascended in to heaven—they had no reason whatsoever to tell his story. Their lives would have been much easier, and much more peaceful had they all returned to their old lives—James and John and Peter and Andrew to their fishing business, Matthew to collecting taxes, Thaddeus to whatever he did, and so on. They could have avoided a bunch of hardships and some pretty gruesome ends if they had given up the Gospel of Jesus. But the Holy Spirit was with them, and the Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus, and brings His words to mind. They cannot stay buried there.

So the miracle is not that they heard in their own language, but that they heard the great deeds of God. They heard of the promise of the Messiah, the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus, His death for sinners, and His resurrection in victory over death.

This is the basic message that has echoed throughout the generations of the Church. And from this message comes the comfort for which the Spirit is named. From this message comes the peace that surpasses all understanding. From this message comes justification and reconciliation with God and with neighbor. From this message come the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. From this message comes sanctification—the Holy Spirit’s work of making holy. The Holy Spirit brings the words of Jesus to mind.

II.

The word of Jesus led to another work of the Spirit. When the people heard Peter’s sermon, they were convicted of their sins, and asked, “Fellow Jews, what should we do?” Peter answered them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will be given the Holy Spirit. What is promised belongs to you, to your children, and to all who are far away, all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:37-39). They Holy Spirit not only causes the Word of Jesus to be proclaimed, but He also brings it to your mind by applying it personally to you.

Pentecost was a long time ago. The flames have all flickered out, the crowds have dispersed, we all speak the same language here. But the promise is not only for the crowds that day. It’s not just for a privileged few. The promise is for you, for your children, and all who are far off—not only in space, but also in time. The same promise of the Holy Spirit is for you and your children today. And the sign of that promise, the means to deliver that promise, is Holy Baptism.

So, Holy Baptism is called a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). That is to say, the Holy Spirit is actively at work in Baptism. It cannot be just a symbolic work. The Spirit moves the waters as He did at creation, and in Holy Baptism, He makes a new creation. It’s a new life. Today we are blessed to witness the Holy Spirit at work, both in Holy Baptism and in its renewal in the rite of confirmation.

But it’s not just the kids getting wet or the folks who are making confirmation vows today who are recipients of the Holy Spirit. All Christians who have been baptized have the Holy Spirit—not in tongues of flame or in the ability to speak new languages, but in the promise of the Gospel. As the Prophet Joel prophesied long ago, “Then everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.”

The work of the Spirit is to bring to your mind the words of Jesus. He does so through the preaching of the Gospel and applies it in baptism and its remembrance. By bringing you the words of Jesus, the Spirit brings you the comfort of the forgiveness of sins, the comfort of being reconciled with God in spite of your failures. The work of the Spirit is to give you peace. And the new life He begins in you bears fruit of renewed living.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

A New Heart

Sunday after the Ascension
Ezekiel 36:22-28
May 13, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

“So tell Israel, ‘The Lord GOD says this: I’m not doing this for you, O Israel, but for My holy name that you have defiled among the people wherever you went. I will make holy My great name that you have defiled among the nations. Then those nations will know I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I let them see how I make Myself holy among you. I will take you from these nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. I will also cleanse you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My orders and carefully keep My laws. You will live in the land I gave your fathers and be My people, and I will be your God.

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

Last week we meditated upon the name of Jesus, and what a precious gift it is, by which we have access to the Father to bring our prayers, requests, and petitions apart from any priestly mediator. God Himself is our mediator, the God-man Christ Jesus. For His sake and in His name, our prayers are acceptable before God. And so His name is kept holy, and the Second Commandment is fulfilled by prayer.

But it’s not as if our prayer, our handling of God’s name, makes it holy. The First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer explains that God’s name is certainly holy in itself. He has no need of us to hallow what is already holy. In fact, when we get a hold of God’s name, it can only end in misuse, in profanity. And I’m not talking about using a few bad words. Rather, anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

Ezekiel’s prophecy spends some time on the name of God: “So tell Israel, ‘The Lord GOD says this: I’m not doing this for you, O Israel, but for My holy name that you have defiled among the people wherever you went. I will make holy My great name that you have defiled among the nations. Then those nations will know I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I let them see how I make Myself holy among you.”

What does it mean to be holy? In the Old Testament, holy things and holy people were those who were associated with the culture and worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. People and things that were in proximity to God were holy. That is, they were set apart for God’s special use. As the temple culture disintegrated in the course of Israel’s history, and as more and more often pagan worship was introduced, holiness could no longer be associated with the outward practices of Jewish worship. God put His name in the temple for prayer and worship, and the people defiled His name, the profaned it by their unholy living and teaching.

God is the One who makes holy. Good and proper worship and life do not make God’s name holy. It’s the other way around—God’s holy name makes good and proper worship. God makes Himself holy among His people.

2.

The prophets were sent to diagnose transgressions, but also to foretell God’s future remedy. In response to the profanity of His people, God acts even more unilaterally. I will take you from these nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. I will also cleanse you from all your idols.

To sanctify—to make holy—is to set apart for God’s special use. If you are in the service of an idol, you cannot be in service of God. So to sanctify you, God separates you from the nations and their false idols. And He uses a very specific means. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. This is not clean water in the sense of water that’s been through the treatment plant, but water that has been set apart for God’s holy use, water that has been sanctified by His holy name.

And water that is combined with God’s name is called baptism. Ezekiel prophesies of the day when God will use water to cleanse people, not of dirt from the body, but of the uncleanness of idolatry. This is water that cleanses a guilty conscience by the forgiveness of sins. This is what separates—what sanctifies—you from the profane world.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, Don’t you know wicked people will have no share in God’s kingdom? Don’t be mistaken about this: No one who lives in sexual sin or worships idols, no adulterers or men who sin sexually with other men, who steal, are greedy, are drunkards, slander, or rob will have a share in God’s kingdom. Some of you used to do these things. But you have been washed, you have been made holy, you have been declared righteous by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11).

1.

But this sanctification doesn’t come about with simply a superficial change in behavior. That is simply hypocrisy. No, we need to dig a bit deeper. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My orders and carefully keep My laws.

The problem isn’t dirt on the body that needs to be cleansed with a bath, nor is it some bad habits that need to be corrected with some good old self-discipline. The problem is deeper—a callous heart, a heart of stone. It can’t be reformed; it must be replaced. The old spirit is exorcised by the Holy Spirit; the stone heart is replaced with a flesh heart; the hard-hearted becomes tender-hearted with the gift of the Spirit.

This is your sanctification. Only a tender heart of flesh receives God’s Word and lives according to it. The remedy must work from the inside out. This is where your baptism begins. The sprinkling of water doesn’t wash you outwardly, but, as St. Peter writes, In the same way also, baptism now saves us, not by washing dirt from the body, but by guaranteeing us a good conscience before God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who has gone to heaven and is at the right of God, where angels, rulers, and powers have been put under Him.

Just this Thursday, we celebrated our Lord’s ascension. He ascended not to vacate this earth, but to fill it in a more substantial way. From the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ rules the Church sacramentally. He delivers His kingdom, His gracious reign, with the gift of preaching, baptism, and supper. Sanctification isn’t about doing; it’s about location. You will live in the land I gave your fathers and be My people, and I will be your God. This is not a land that you must patiently await, as the Israelites waited forty years in the desert to enter their promised land. This land is right here, right now, in the Church, in the kingdom of heaven. Christ is present, not far above all galaxies, but here and now. He brings His kingdom of heaven to you here on earth.

You are a community of new hearts, because you are the community of the baptized. The Spirit of God is among you, sanctifying you, setting you apart for God’s service.

The Gift of the Spirit, Which Is Yours in Baptism, Gives You a New Heart

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

One Flesh

Otten-Guehne Wedding
Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5
May 12, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

The two will become one flesh.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

When the Bible repeats something, you know it’s important. Repetition is the mother of all learning. If it’s repeated once, you should pay attention, but if it’s repeated more than once, you should pay extra special attention. The saying, “The two will become one flesh,” is repeated five times in five different places, from Genesis to Revelation. It’s the only thing I’ve encountered in my reading of the Bible that features explicitly in the teaching of Moses, Jesus, and Paul. This is an indication that marriage is an important, foundational estate for what it means to be human.

It’s part of what it means to be in the image of God. God created humanity in His image; as a male and female He created them. This dichotomy of humanity indicates something about the nature of God. Woman was taken out of man, and then they are brought back together and united in one flesh. This is the essence of marriage.

Marriage pleases God—not that He requires marriage as an absolute; Paul writes that it’s also good for a man not to marry. But there is something in the unique relationship between one man and one woman till death parts them that expresses something about God that no other relationship is able to do. The two will become one flesh.

So God blesses marriage. He gives marriage His good Word. And this blessing is threefold: marriage is for mutual companionship, help, and support, in good and in bad; it’s for man and woman to find delight in each other in their complementary ways; and it’s for the procreation and raising of children.

Now that was in the beginning, before sin entered the picture. The blessing still remains, but it is obscured by the corruption of sin. That’s why before St. Paul gets to the bit about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives and not being harsh with them, he writes, Then, as holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be tender-hearted, kind, humble, gentle, patient; bear with one another and forgive one another if you have a complaint against anyone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. With all this have love, which binds it all together to make it perfect (Col 3:12-14). If your marriage is not built on forgiveness, then it will never reflect the image of God.

1.

But what is it about the one-flesh union between a man and a woman that expresses God’s image? The two will become one flesh. God and humanity are completely other, as far as the east is from the west. They say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. But man is from earth and God is from heaven. How can that distance be bridged?

It is only in the unique union of God and man in the flesh of Jesus that bridges the gulf between God and man. The two have become one flesh. And this is why St. Paul writes that the union of a man and a woman is really all about Christ and the Church. The union of man and woman here on earth images the union of Jesus with His beloved.

He became flesh not to lord it over His people, and to rule with an iron fist, but to suffer all, even death, so that His beloved could be presented as the most beautiful thing creation has ever seen. Luke, that’s your duty—every day from here on, you are to give yourself up for the sake of your bride. And the Church submits to Christ, her head, and receives every good gift from Him, so wives submit to their husbands as it is right in the Lord. Michelle, that’s your duty—to submit means put yourself at the receiving end of God’s good gifts for you, which He gives through your husband. This is the order of marriage established at creation, which mirrors the relationship of Jesus and the Church.

The fruit of the union of God and man in the flesh of Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. That’s why Paul cannot teach about marriage until he has first taught all Christians—including husbands and wives—to forgive sins. The forgiveness of Jesus is the medicine for every corruption of your marriage by sin, every transgression that each of you will commit against one another, every failure of duty. Forgiveness is what holds this union together, because forgiveness removes the enmity of sin.

By His Word and Blessing, Today God Joins You Two, Luke and Michelle, Together as One Flesh

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

The Name

Fifth Sunday after Easter
John 16:23-30
May 6, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

It’s almost a throw-away line: in the name of Jesus. But have you considered what a unique privilege that is, to invoke the name of Jesus? It’s not just anybody who can do something in someone else’s name. If you just start doing things in someone else’s name—like buying a car or opening credit cards—you can go to jail. It’s called identify theft. To do something in somebody’s name means that you are under authority to do or say what you’re doing or saying. It cannot be just a throw-away line. In the name of Jesus means something.

And Jesus tells His disciples what it means to do one particular thing in His name. Then you won’t ask Me any questions. I tell you the truth, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. So far you haven’t asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. “Ask the Father in My name,” says Jesus. The name of Jesus is the distinct element of a Christian petition—but it’s not just tacking on those vocables at the end of a prayer, as a throw-away line. It’s about praying as Jesus does.

The Name of Jesus Is Your Access to the Father

I.

In order to pray in the name of Jesus, you have to have the name of Jesus. How do you come about that name? It’s not by nature, or by birthright, or by government fiat, or by any work of man. The name of Jesus is a gift. And it’s a gift given to you in your Baptism.

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water combined with God’s Word and command. Which word and command? Jesus says to His disciples, Therefore, as you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Mt 28:19-20).

In the book of Acts, which records the activity of the Church in the first yeas following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, baptism is simply, “in the name of Jesus.” This is not a different kind of baptism; baptism is always in the one name. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three names, but designations of the three persons who share the one name. In the name (singular) of Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus shares the name of Father and Spirit. And baptism gives you a share of the same name.

To be baptized in the name of Jesus means that it’s not a human work—neither of the minister or of the one getting baptized—it’s the work of God. And the little word “in” indicates a motion. Once you did not have the name of Jesus; now you have it because you are baptized into it.

The name gives you a duty. First, His name is to be used in support of the truth. In most cases, Christians are simply to tell the truth, and to let their “yes” be yes, and their “no” be no. But in solemn situations, such as testifying in court or taking an oath of office, it is necessary to swear by God’s name. These are exceptional uses of God’s name in support of the truth, but there are other, less exceptional, uses, as well, such as the first utterance of this sermon. His name supports the truth of the preaching of His Word.

The second, and more common duty and use of God’s name is prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. The Large Catechism summarizes the duty of the Commandment to not misuse God’s name: This commandment also applies to right teaching and to calling on His name in trouble or praising and thanking Him in prosperity, and so on. All of this is summed up and commanded in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” For all this is bringing God’s name into the service of truth and using it in a blessed way. In this way His name is hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

This is what Jesus tells His disciples in that upper room, when He says, “If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” Soon Jesus will suffer and die, rise and ascend into heaven. Then the Holy Spirit will come, and then disciples of Jesus will be the baptized and instructed. That is to say, they will be the ones with His name.

You are baptized, you are a disciple, you bear the name of Jesus. But, you misuse that name, don’t you? Maybe you don’t shout swears from the rooftops, but you mutter them under your breath. And you play fast and loose with the truth; even if you don’t attach the name of Jesus to it, you bear the name of Jesus and every word you speak and every deed you do reflects on Him. And your prayers are not all that. The brother of our Lord writes, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:2-3).

II.

Yet, despite your misuse of God’s name, He still gives you His own prayer. And that prayer begins in a spectacular way. Our Father… No other prayer ever prayed begins this way. Only when Jesus comes on the scene is God called Father, not in the sense of patriarchal, authoritative despot, but in the sense of the one who loves to give good gifts. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you…Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. The name of Jesus gives you access to the Father.

First of all, the name gives you the right to call God, “Father.” Because of Jesus and His name, the relationship between God and man is not primarily that of creator-creature, master-servant, Lord-subject, but, father-child. You can ask the Father for things like kids ask their parents. This means that God invites you to pester Him and put all your trust in Him that He will provide.

Why does God do this for you? Because of His great love. “I used veiled speech in telling you these things. The time is coming when I won’t use veiled speech any more in talking to you, but I’ll tell you about the Father in plain words. Then you will ask in My name, and I don’t tell you that I’ll ask the Father for you. The Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and believe that I came from the Father. I left the Father and came into the world; and now I’m leaving the world again and going to the Father.”

We live in the last days, the days of Jesus’ ascension to the Father’s right hand. By all appearances, it looks like God has abandoned this world and withdrawn His love. But that is not the case at all. He’s left His name, and because of His name, you have the assurance that God has not abandoned you. You have the name of His Son, and that means you have the love of the Father for the Son. That’s why He invites you to pester Him with your petitions. He loves you because you loved Jesus.

The name of Jesus guarantees you an answer to your prayers. There are three answers that parents tend to give to their kids—yes, no, and maybe (but we all know that “maybe” is just another way of saying no). Someone once said that God answers prayers in three ways—yes, no, and wait. That’s a little better, but it doesn’t quite square with the nature of God as Father; He’s promised to give us what we ask for in the name of Jesus, after all. A better way of looking at God’s answers is that He answers in two ways—yes, and, “I’ve got something better.” Sometimes we ask and God gives. But sometimes we ask selfishly, and not in the spirit of Jesus’ name. God does not ever say no to Jesus’ name, but sometimes He gives something more than what we pray for. It’s like asking for an ’87 Ford Escort and getting a brand new Mustang Cobra. Be bold with your prayers. You have Jesus’ name.

And because you have Jesus name, you have direct access to the Father, to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. You have the name of Jesus, given to you in baptism. And despite your misuse of the name, God still loves you for the sake of the name of Jesus. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

 

Gifts From Above

Fourth Sunday after Easter
James 1:16-21
April 29, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Don’t make a mistake, my dear Christian friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

As He wanted it, He gave birth to us by the Word of truth so we would be the first and best of His creatures.

My dear fellow Christians, you should know this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to get angry. An angry man doesn’t do what’s right before God. So get rid of everything filthy and every breaking out of wickedness, and with a gentle spirit welcome the Word that’s planted in you and can save your souls.

In the name of + Jesus.

Christians often mistake where their gifts come from. They often mistake gifts for something else—like rewards or earnings or wages. But James, the brother of our Lord, doesn’t want us to be mistaken. Don’t make a mistake, my dear Christian friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

There is nothing good except that which God gives. There is nothing complete except that which God gifts. These good and perfect gifts come from above, the Father of lights. That is, everything that enlightens, that gives life, that reveals God, these are from God. Anything that is contrary to this is not from God. The sun, moon, and stars give light, but they dim from time to time. There is no variation, no shifting shadow, no eclipse of the Father’s enlightening gifts.

Every Good and Perfect Give Comes Down from Above, from the Father of Lights

I.

How are these gifts characterized? The bishop of Jerusalem goes on: As He wanted it, He gave birth to us by the Word of truth so we would be the first and best of His creatures. It’s not just the things that are accidental to our being, but our very being itself, our very lives, the fact that we are even here to begin with, that is a gift from God. From above, the Father gives the gift of life.

And this life comes from His Word of truth. All things were made by God’s speaking—He said, and it was so. Mankind is a little different. For every other creature, God’s speaks into the void, into the emptiness, and brings forth what was not there. But for the creation of mankind, He addresses Himself. “Let Us make man in Our image, like Ourselves, that they might rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, and the cattle, over all the earth and everything that moves on the earth.” And God created man in His image, in God’s image He created him; He created them male and female (Gen 1:26-27 AAT). God does not call man out of nothing; He calls man out of Himself. Mankind—male and female—thus bear the image of God. But there’s also more Word of truth: Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28-29 NKJV).

But there is a bit of a contradiction here. Bishop James writes that we were born as the first and best of His creatures. But mankind is the last of God’s creation. And while our race may have enjoyed a brief moment as the best of creation, we’ve fallen quite low since then. Our rebellion against the Father of lights has cast darkness over the face of the earth. Either James needs to go back to Sunday School, or he’s talking about something else.

The enlightening gift from above that gives birth as the first and best of His creatures is not for birth in the old creation. It’s not the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. Rather, it’s the birth from above that Jesus tells Nicodemus about in John’s Gospel-the birth of water and the Spirit. This is the enlightening gift of the Father because it is the gift of new birth and new life by the Holy Spirit.

And truly, we are the firstborn of the new creation. The new creation after Christ’s return will bear much resemblance to this creation. But as of yet there are not new trees and new dogs and new crocodiles and new stars. But there are renewed men and women. Each and every one of you who has been baptized is a new creation, a prelude to what’s coming when Jesus returns to put all things right. The darkness of your sin is snuffed out by the Light of Christ, delivered by the Spirit from the Father above.

II.

But if life were the extent of the gifts from above, it would be an empty gift. Good, but not a full, complete gift. We would be like the rest of the animals. But we were created in the image of God, which means a life of fullness. Mankind’s life and existence was sanctified—set apart—from the other creatures, and this sanctity is often lost. My dear fellow Christians, you should know this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to get angry. An angry man doesn’t do what’s right before God. So get rid of everything filthy and every breaking out of wickedness, and with a gentle spirit welcome the Word that’s planted in you and can save your souls. From above, the Father gives the gift of sanctified patience and forbearance, which gives life its fullness.

Even though God created mankind in His image, that image is marred and lost in sin. By nature we are now quick to talk, slow to listen, and anger easily. And it’s over the silliest things, usually. Think back to a time when you were angry, and now you can’t for the life of you figure out why it made you so mad—it was such an insignificant thing. But that’s human nature. Without the gift of sanctification, which comes from above, life is empty, incomplete.

It would be a mistake to confuse sanctification with moral living. They are not mutually exclusive, to be sure, but there are many moral people who do not have a sanctified life. Sanctification, of course, cannot exist simultaneously with an intentionally immoral life, but they are not one and the same.

Morality doesn’t lead to sanctification. There is another cause, which Bishop James indicates here. It’s the implanted Word and a gentle spirit, which is to say, a receiving spirit. It’s not a spirit that dictates to God and to neighbor how such and such must be. But like gentle Mary, such a spirit responds, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

With the Word implanted, then comes the fruit—to put away everything filthy, and wicked. And this happens by confession and absolution. Confess those things that are contrary to God’s Word and receive the forgiveness won by Christ—a gift that comes down from above.

The implanted Word gives you a spirit of gentleness, which leads to salvation. It is the path to a full life. The gift of the Father from above is always good and perfect, but in this life, the fruit is never quite complete. Yet, there is a beginning to sanctification here and now. Strive after it. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and if you feel like you’re getting angry, stop and pray for your enemy—because it’s hard to be angry with someone you’ve just prayed for. And pray for a gentle spirit.

From above, the Father of lights gifts the good and perfect gift—life here in the old creation, and the hidden life of the new creation. In this hidden life lies your sanctification, the life that is set apart for God, implanted in you by His Word, which leads to the salvation of your souls.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA