Second in a Three Part Series
John 17: 11b-19 – “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
When it rains, it pours. That’s the way life felt one day to Calvin in the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip. First, Calvin sits on a wad of bubble gum. Next, his teacher catches him glancing at his classmate’s paper. Then a bully knocks him down in the hallway. The water fountain sprays in his face. The bug he’d brought in for show-and-tell escapes. He gets picked last at recess. There is a hair in his lunch, and when he heads to the swing set, all the seats are occupied. Finally he misses the bus and has to walk home in the rain. In his bedroom that evening, Calvin looks at his trusted tiger and says, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”
We’ve all had the adult version of one of those days. When we think to ourselves and maybe say it out loud. When it rains, it pours. And on our particularly difficult days, we may even take our “woe is me” attitude a step further. We might even wonder out loud to God why bad things happen to a good person like me. Which is really bad theology. First the idea that you and I are good people, apart from Christ. And secondly the idea that we deserve better luck than we are getting is a lousy way to begin the day. Better that we learn from Jesus today. To learn from Jesus to get down on our knees and pray as Jesus prayed. To pray, “Father, help me today to be in the world but not of the world. Protect me from the devil and every one of his demons……” Or to say it another way, “Father, sanctify me with the truth. Your Word is truth.”
Our sermon today is the second in a three part series. The first sermon was “Chosen”, and the third sermon will be “Unshakeable”. Today’s sermon explores what it means to be sanctified. In his explanation to the Third Article, Luther wrote, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but He has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith……” What does it mean to be sanctified and kept in the true Christian faith? Two answers to that question. First, To be sanctified is to be (kept) by our Father even as we (keep our eyes peeled) for the enemies of our faith.
Before we say much more about what it means to be sanctified and kept in the Christian faith, we want to keep in mind how we came to be people of faith in the first place. We want to make sure we are keeping the horse (justification) before the cart (sanctification) One of our early Lutheran writers (Adolph Koeberle) referred justification as the mother of sanctification. To be justified is to be declared holy by God on the basis of what Christ has done for us. To be sanctified is to be made holy by God through daily repentance and faith. By drowning the old and nasty and ornery old Adam so that the new and delightful life that we have in Christ will rise up on the inside of us and rule. We are justified by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ, and we are sanctified as we fight the good fight of faith/ run the race marked out before us/ renounce the devil and every one of his evil ways and works, in daily and deliberate and devoted fashion. The horse is justification, that is to say that Christ was and is and ever shall be for us. The cart that it pulls is sanctification, that is to say that Christ is in us. In history Christ has accomplished our salvation, and in the means of grace that salvation has been and continues to be delivered to us. Our ongoing prayer and desire is that God would keep us in that faith and that we never stray from, much less lose that faith.
Twice in our text Jesus declares that He has guarded/ kept His disciples in the Name of His Father, and twice more He pleads with His Father to keep them in His Name/ to keep them from the evil one. In Holy Baptism, the Name of the Triune God was placed on our foreheads and on our hearts. In Divine Service we begin by invoking that Name, and in the Benediction we hear again and again, “The Lord bless you and keep you…..” How does, in fact, the Lord keep us safe? Peter, a man who knew all too well about having good intentions and yet falling into temptation, wrote that we, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Paul pointed the Thessalonians to the Word of God as that which is at work in believers. Jesus said simply, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies us as often as we use our ears to hear, as often as we remember what we have learned from our mother’s knees, as often as we taste at our Lord’s Table just how good He is, as often as we cry out for His refuge and strength – that often we receive exactly what we have asked for.
Even as we trust our Father in heaven to send His holy angels to watch over us, that the wicked foe would have no power over us, we want to recognize our own responsibility to keep our eyes peeled for the enemies of our faith. We are watched over, even as we are called to be watchful. Attended to by our guardian angels, even as we would be reminded today to be attentive.
Recognizing our (vulnerability) and remaining (suspicious). In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus warns us to Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Ask a man with a drinking problem how dangerous it would be for him to have a case of beer in his fridge and a bottle of rum in his cupboard, and he would tell you how easily he can fall. Ask a person who is trying to lose weight how tempting it can be to have pastries and ice cream and cookies just a few feet away, and that person would likely launch into a story of how good intentions can go awry. At our Saturday morning session of Men Who Need Help, we men who need help landed on the topic of how contentment in marriage can turn into complacency in marriage. Contentment with God’s rich blessings in marriage – good. Complacency in marriage in terms of having no desire to be a better husband or to have a better marriage- not good at all. And so we ask our Father in heaven this very day, Lord, help us to recognize just how vulnerable we are. Work within us a spirit that remains suspicious of that little voice inside of us that says “go ahead and take that path of least resistance. A spirit that remains suspicious of a world that says, “go ahead and eat and drink and be merry, you have worked hard and you deserve to be happy. A spirit that keeps one eye fixed on Jesus and the other eye looking out for the adversaries of Jesus.
To be sanctified in the truth is to be (acted upon), even as we (act). That’s another way of saying that although we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith never comes alone. James says it this way, that faith without works is dead. Luther wrote in famous fashion “Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good unceasingly! Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them and is always engaged in doing them.
In terms of sanctification being a matter of being acted upon, our Psalm for the day refers to the sanctified Christian as a tree that is firmly planted by the streams of water. Trees that are Growing and flourishing in days of prosperity as well as (adversity). Trees bloom and expand and do well when the sun is shining and the rains are falling and the weather is seasonable. The bear fruit in season and their leaves don’t wither. (days of prosperity) But nature tells us that days of adversity are a necessary part of the process as well.
Scientists tell us that as well. In a book “Ownership Spirit”, author Dennis Deaton tells of an experiment near Tuscon, Arizona, where an experimental glass building envelops 3.14 acres of land. One of the purposes of the facility was to construct a closed system where the complex interrelationships of life forms could be studied. One of their original theories was that if they could create a perfect growing environment, life could be sustained in remote places like outer space. What they soon discovered about trees in closed structures is that they began tipping over once they reached a certain height. These trees lacked “stress wood”, which would be developed in the outdoors as a result of gravity, wind exposure, snow buildup, soil movement, etc. The author noted a law of nature which would apply to all living species, from plants to animals, including human beings: “Living things are strengthened by struggle.”
As trees grow deep roots in response to battering winds, so do we develop strength and character as we respond to challenges. Luke recorded in Acts 14 Paul and other disciples reacting to a recent stoning and getting dragged around by encouraging early Christians with the saying that “through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s comforting to know that God’s Spirit is growing us up into Jesus Christ both in good times and bad. Both when the winds of life are calm and when they are of hurricane force. Both when our days are smooth and when nothing is going right. Both when we are sitting still and listening to the preaching of God’s Word and when we are putting into practice what we preach. Both when we are succeeding and when we are failing, the Spirit of God is teaching and the Father is protecting and the Son is growing up on the inside of us. Sanctification is at the same time the Father keeping us from the evil one and we doing battle with that evil one. It is both passively receiving the righteousness one for us at Calvary and actively exercising our human responsibilities.
One strategy for actively taking the battle to the enemies of the faith is by Doing at once the (very opposite) of what the evil one proposes. The kingdom of God is like a woman who fights off the temptation to complain about what is wrong in life by thinking about that which is right. It’s like the traveler who fights off the desire to murmur about the delays and detours of the day by counting his blessings which are in fact too numerous to count. It’s like the person who fights off the inclination to rant and rave by going off into his quiet place to pray. Like the teenager who fights the temptation to be lazy by getting a job and staying busy. Like the man who fights off the urge to curse his enemies by praying for them.
The day Sara’s family was born again / The author of “Glorious Ruin (How Suffering Sets You Free) tells of a young woman named Sara who was telling the story of her family’s public fall from grace. “She grew up in a privileged family – enormous house, beautiful clothes, expensive cars and schools, country club membership…Family was strict and her dad’s insane temper could be set off by the slightest offense…..When she heard her dad’s Porsche rumble into the driveway, she would hide in her room, never knowing when her father would explode in anger. One day her dad came home, gathered his terrified family for a meeting, and told how he had been caught embezzling. He wept as he confessed his wrongdoing to his children and indicated that they would have to start over. Sara describes that day as the day her dad was instantly better. Through a combination of suffering and public humiliation, Sara’s family was born again. All of heaven rejoiced over a single sinner that was brought to repentance. Not by his own reason or strength did her father come to Jesus Christ or believe in Him. The Holy Spirit called and He gathered and as the days when on He enlightened and He sanctified. And Sara discovered what I invite all of you to learn this very day about the work of the Holy Spirit. When it rains, it pours.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther