Sermon for Trinity 17
Ephesians 4:1-6 + Luke 14:1-11 + Proverbs 25:6-14
It’s always a joyful occasion when we can celebrate a baptism here in our congregation – even more joyful when there are two baptisms. Not only do we get to welcome the newly baptized into our church, but all of us who are baptized into Christ get a chance to recall the blessings that are ours as baptized Christians. Today’s Epistle from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, teaches us about the blessed calling we have received as members of his Holy Christian and apostolic Church – a membership that became ours through Holy Baptism. Jaimie and Jeremy have now been brought into this blessed fellowship, and so it’s good and right for all of us, as members of God’s Church, to consider today what it means to be a part of this Church, to marvel, together with the Apostle Paul, at the calling we have received: What a blessed calling! to belong to the one Church of God.
Paul begins, I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Now, what is that calling to which you have been called, and how were you called to it? He’s talking about how God has called out to you through the preaching of his Gospel and called you into his kingdom by faith, just as Jesus called out in his preaching, “Repent and believe the good news!”
First, it’s that call to repent, to acknowledge your sin – both the sin that infects your very nature since the moment you were conceived, as well as all the sins of thought, word and deed that flow out of your sinful heart. Pride was the sin Jesus specifically called on people to repent of in the Gospel today.
The people at the banquet where he was were filled with sinful pride, first toward God. They thought the Sabbath day was all about their service to God by keeping his Sabbath commandment, while all the while they refused to admit that they were the ones who needed to be served by God, by Jesus, to be healed by Jesus on that Sabbath day, to admit that they were the ones who had fallen into a pit of condemnation and needed Jesus to reach down and pull them out.
Then he called them to repent of their pride toward their fellow man, as each one of them at that banquet rushed to take the most important seat for himself, looking out for himself, seeking his own benefit, because each one thought, “I deserve it! I deserve to be honored more than all these people around me. I’m better than them. I’m more important than them.” And so Jesus called on them and today calls on you to repent, not of this one thing or that one thing, but of everything, to fall on your knees before God and admit your complete inability to please God or to come up with the selflessness and with the righteousness that God demands of you in his holy Law. You can’t save yourself. You need him to do it for you.
And he does! The calling to which you have been called – you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, you who are weary and burdened – is the call to believe the good news, the Gospel, the call to believe in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God for the forgiveness of sins. He is the one who took on our flesh and humbled himself to the lowest place, even death on a cross, so that we might be lifted up with him to the highest place, even heaven. He accomplished the righteousness that we lack, the only righteousness that counts before God. He offered the sacrifice on the cross that covers all your sins, that reconciles you to God, that makes you his child and heir, that gives you a gracious Father in heaven.
The calling to which you have been called is nothing less than to trust in God’s promise that all who believe in Jesus are judged by God to be saints, not because of your own holiness, but because of the holiness of Jesus, whose name you bear as Christians, with whom God clothed you when you were baptized. What a blessed calling!
Paul urges you, then, to walk in a manner worthy of that calling to which you have been called. By faith in Christ, you are Christians. So live like Christians. By faith in Christ you are saints. So live accordingly – not to become children of God, but because, as baptized believers in Christ, you are children of God.
How do saints – how do Christians behave? What kind of attitude do they have? What does it mean to walk in a manner worthy of you calling?
Paul gives a few specific examples. He says, “with all humility and gentleness.” Humility is to have a lowly opinion of yourself, to think of others more highly than yourself – not just some others, like the people you really respect and admire, but all people. To walk in humility means not to look down on anyone, as if they don’t live up to your standards, as if your needs mattered more than theirs, as if they were here on this earth or in this church to serve you. No, we can’t behave that way. Humility is the way of Christ, and it must be the way of the Christian if we would walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
And to walk with gentleness – that’s the opposite of meanness, nastiness, harshness. There are many of you who walk in humility and gentleness. It’s evident in how you treat your fellow members with respect and concern. But if you ignore your fellow members, or give them a dirty look or snap at them or complain about them – that’s not gentleness. If you present yourself to the world as a mean and nasty person, as a churchly snob or a disinterested Christian, then you dishonor the name of Christ. Repent. Go back to Christ for mercy and grace and forgiveness, and you will find it, because he is humble and gentle. He had such a lowly opinion of himself that he thought even you were more important than he, and that your well-being was worth more than his. And he doesn’t snap at you or complain about you. He is gentle toward you. In his gentleness is your salvation.
Paul gives another example of walking in a manner worthy of your calling. He says, “with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Patience – literally, “a long-suffering attitude,” an eager willingness to put up other people, with all their sins and weaknesses and flaws, not because you’re forced to, but “in love.” Many of you do bear with your fellow members in patience when they ignore you or speak unkindly to you or about you. When you bear with them in love, you’re walking in the steps of Jesus. But understand this, people of God, fellow Christians: your calling from God does not allow you to get disgruntled or angry or to walk away from your Christian family when your family doesn’t do what you want them to do or treat you how you want to be treated, when someone says or does something you don’t like, or if your pastor isn’t the pastor you want him to be. That is walking unworthily of the calling to which you were called. We are all sinners here. If you thought otherwise, you were wrong. We are sinners who are called to live each day in repentance and faith, sinners with whom the sinless God has been very patient, bearing with us in love, for Jesus’ sake whose name we bear. What better reason could there be to be patient and bear with one another – fellow sinners! – in love?
Finally, Paul tells us how we are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling:. “being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Being eager, literally, hastening, hurrying up to hold onto the unity of the Spirit. The unity of the Spirit is not a feeling of camaraderie. It is not an atmosphere of friendliness. The unity of the Spirit is a unity around the doctrine – the teaching of Christ, just as it was the Spirit who came upon the apostles and taught them the heavenly doctrine and inspired them to write it down for us, the same Spirit who has brought us to faith through the preaching of this doctrine. The unity of the Spirit is a unity of faith and confession. That’s why we’re confessional Lutherans and not Roman Catholics or Methodists or anything else – because we are convinced that we have in our Lutheran Confessions the one, true, apostolic doctrine of Christ, the unadulterated Christian faith that has been undeservedly passed down to us over these two thousand years. We are confessional Lutherans because we are hurrying up to maintain that unity, and yes, running away from those who would disturb it through false doctrine.
So let us hurry up to preserve this unity. Let us be quick to hold up every teaching of every teacher in the Church to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions to make sure they agree. And if someone among us has doubts or questions about the doctrine of Christ, let us hurry up to search the Scriptures together. And if someone doesn’t care to grow in knowledge of the doctrine of Christ, then let us hurry up to warn them about such spiritual apathy. And if someone is causing discord or dissension or strife in our midst, then let us hurry up to address it, in love. Don’t let it fester and grow, so that it may not threaten the unity of the Spirit, the unity to which we have been called.
And what a blessed calling it is! As Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is over us all and through us all and in us all.” Many entire sermons could be preached on just those words, but for today, it’s the one baptism that’s on our minds. It’s not a WELS baptism or a Lutheran baptism. It’s a Christian baptism, and it unites us not with the Wisconsin Synod, not with any denomination, but rather it unites us to the one Christian Church that exists in every nation, in every language under heaven, that confesses Jesus Christ as Lord; the one Christian Church made up of saints on earth and saints who have already fallen asleep and wait in heaven for the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This one Church is called the body of Christ for good reason, because all who have been baptized are united by faith to the Person of Christ so closely that we died with him and were raised with him, so closely that when God the Father looks at you, he sees Jesus and is as pleased with you as he is with his Son.
This is what it means to belong to the one Church of God – to be called out of the unbelieving world, to be called out of the family of the devil that is perishing, to be called into the family of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In his name we are baptized. In his name we have been called to inherit eternal life. By his name alone we are saved. What a blessed calling, to belong to the one Church of God! Amen.