Focus: God has claimed the victory
Function: that the hearers would struggle well in the fight.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
+ God has no (grandchildren) – Billy Graham was supposed to have said this on more than one occasion. The church has no grandchildren because it’s never a given that each generation will be raised in the Christian faith, and, even if they are, there’s no guarantee that they will continue on with it through all their days. Billy Graham echoes what our Deuteronomy text tells us: each generation must be won, must be taught, and must be confident to share with the next. Faith and instruction are handed down from generation to generation but each generation must grasp it for their own. You aren’t saved through your parents’ faith; you’re saved when you have faith. You see, this thing we call life, that we call the walk of discipleship, it’s a fight – it’s us versus them - and it’s a fight in every generation.
That’s why Paul uses battle metaphors in our text for today. Among the many metaphors for the Christian life – producing fruit like a well-cared plant, walking with your Savior, being filled by your God, maturing into adulthood… here he uses military language – a battle metaphor – because it brings out some particular truths of the spiritual life that coincide with the truth we find about war. And sure, the battle metaphor does leave some things hidden – like how we are to love the world and be kind to our enemies and all that, but it highlights at least three points we would make for today.
Three points and three lessons from these points. First that it’s a battle to the death. Second, evil comes from within. Third, that the battle’s been won.
First, it’s a battle to the (death). That is something our parish members know well these days. After six months without any funerals here at Trinity, it seems as though many who have battled well over these months are facing mortality. At the bedside of Karen Westphal, her family holds her hand as they wonder when the Lord will let her rest. At the bedside of Deb Brandmire, of Beatrice Gekeler, of Larry Hogetvedt, of Jeff Ewert, of Dale Keyes, of Russell Miller, families wrestle with the twin truths that they are glad their loved one has finished their struggle, and yet they are sad, overwhelmingly sad, that they are gone.
There are seasons of life where life and vitality abound, where the very concept that life will end in death you only grasp as an intellectual idea somewhere out there. It’s hard even to conceive of your own end. And then there are seasons when it seems as though death is around every corner, when you feel like everyone you’ve ever loved is battling a battle they know they will lose. This life is a battle and it’s a battle to the death.
One young man, writing a letter after years of wrestling an inoperable brain tumor reflected on the battle he had fought. He said, there are many times that I wanted to give up, many times I wanted to step back, but I saw how this terrible tragedy in my life had in fact unlocked a love in the hearts of my family that they wouldn’t have known otherwise.
But there’s another truth to that phrase. You see, it isn’t just a battle from the point of conception until the sleep of physical death. Paul here also tells us that it is a battle of life and death, a battle with eternal significance. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood alone – he’s saying flesh and blood aren’t our most powerful opponents – but we are against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. These are all in Paul’s vocabulary for the fallen angels. We battle against an intelligent and willful evil that would knock down every good brick we’d build up.
So, I’ll leave you with a few questions. Have you thought of the Christian life this way recently? Have you looked at your neighbors and thought about them as if they are eternal beings that have one of two stories and your words could have significance to change that? That they, as CS Lewis would remind us, are turning into the glory of heaven or into the horrors that inhabit hell? When you think of your neighbors, do you think of their eternal destiny and how your words that day would affect them?
Second, evil comes from (within). Jesus says as much in our Gospel reading. Jesus declares all foods clean by saying “It isn’t what comes from outside into a man that defiles him. No, evil comes from within.” As Luther says, the enemies of the Gospel are the Devil, the World, and our Sinful Nature, and by the inheritance of Adam each and every soul born is first claimed by the devil as his rightful and broken property.
And, I’ll tell you, as Lutherans, we regularly acknowledge the same. This weekend, five times in fact, we will baptize Bentely, Coltyn Jr., Sara, Zachary, and Elliot. And every time, we will renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. Renounce - That’s the same language that a Christian pastor would use in an exorcism. That’s the word that means, in the name of Jesus, I kick you out. Christ claims you as his own, he cleanses you to your core, and he kicks the devil out.
But even after baptism, wickedness still comes. John Calvin recognizes this – he calls man’s heart a perpetual factory of idols. And I quote: “We may gather that man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . So it goes. Man's mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; … it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Man’s mind almost automatically raises up good things to be ultimate things. Man’s mind almost automatically will continue to produce idols that need to be constantly dashed down.
So to that Paul says, “Stand firm. Take up the sword of the Spirit, and let that double-edged blade of law and Gospel first kill and then make alive your own heart.” “Stand firm and keep giving over with feverish prayer and supplication, every single new idol in your heart to your God who will dash it down.” “Stand firm because we don’t have to be strong with the strength of our puny legs or our chicken wing arms. We are strong in the strength of his might.”
So, from this, Lesson number two is, put on the whole armor of God. Don’t leave any piece off. That is to say, take every opportunity to hear the words of God and let the law cut you to the bone, so that the Gospel can heal you deeply. Fit your feet with the Gospel of peace, so that you are good to go whenever God would call you away from this world, because you know who holds your hand and where your journey ends. Keep up the shield of faith because faith finds its power not on what you’ve done but on the one who is faithful to you. Be truthful and honest in your prayers and in your life. Pour out your supplications, because he is eager, cupping his ear to hear your shouts and whispers.
Third, The battle's already been (won). Some days it feels like you’ve lost. Perhaps in these days, you feel like Christianity has lost in the public sphere. Perhaps you feel your faith diminishes because of the loss you feel today. Perhaps you feel lost because things are falling apart. But remember this: These words in
Ephesians were penned by a man in chains for the Gospel, going to where he was certain he would die and yet he would use every opportunity to preach the Gospel boldly
As Christians, we know that the battle is already won. Christ has won by dying on the cross. The devil is defeated. Death has lost its sting. Sin is on its way out. It means that the pain of marital problems and divorce will one day be covered with the calm of new life. That the blinding and bewildering loneliness of grief will one day be cloaked with the fellowship of the church of God. That the idol factory of sin in your heart going out of business.
In lesson number three I’ll first tell you what that doesn’t mean by sharing a story about Laura and her family, and it’s probably one of the more controversial stories I’ll tell. It’s about cribbage. One of the first times I came to her parents’ house, they suggested, among the twelve people there, that we would split off into teams of two to play a best-of-three game series. So I’m with Laura and in the first game, we skunk the other team. That means, we beat them by over 30 points, which traditionally scored as a two-game victory, and that means we’ve already taken the series. Now, since we had done that so quickly, we had time enough to play two more games, both of which we lost, because we had figured to have fun – I mean we were already advancing – so I could just (as my Uncle Tim says) took’re easy and fool around. It turns out that that rule was not an accepted house rule where I was playing and Laura and I in fact lost that round. And I tell you that to tell you this. Our Lord has won the victory for us, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to took’re easy.
I’ve said this twice this weekend at weddings, and I’ll say it again now. Just like a wife’s constant love doesn’t mean that the husband can slack off in his husbanding. No! It means that husbands, you should work all the harder for your wife. In the same way, the victory of Christ doesn’t mean that you can lollygag through this world; it instead means that you should look to act all the more like the one who won the victory for you.
In conclusion, we are (Freed) from curse, because God has chained himself to (promise). We are freed from the curse because God is chained to promise. The delightfully Lutheran take on the Gospel sets us free because God does what God says he’s going to do. It is God’s effort that frees these baptized babies to be children of God. It is God’s work to strengthen you in the Lord’s Supper. It is God’s work when others find encouragement from words you had long forgotten to have spoken.
In our little baptismal class, we get to the end of our Theology of baptism and there’s a little summary section: Is baptism for infants or for adults. We remember that we believe that baptism is a miracle that imparts faith, forgiveness, and salvation. We remember that baptism is not something we do but something God does. And then the question at the end of life or in the middle of doubt is not “Do we believe enough? It is instead, Does God do what God says he’s going to do? Well, yeah, he’s God."
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther