Monday, October 29, 2012

Reformation Day Observed (Romans 3:19-28)

“We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this festival of the Reformation comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Dear friends in Christ, we humans like to talk, and our favorite subject is ourselves. We love to boast, about our accomplishments, about our skills and talents. We defend our actions or lack of action, we defend our failings or explain them away. We are always chattering, always boasting; to others, but especially to God. In the days of Luther, this boasting was encouraged by the church. If you believe that you achieve heaven through what you do, then you are going to spend a lot of time telling yourself, your neighbors, and especially God what you have done. You are going to brag, you are going to boast, you are going to focus on your good deeds and explain away or justify the bad. And that works well for a while. But then God speaks, and His Word shuts our mouths. “Now we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” God speaks His stern Word of the Law to shut our mouths, to make us be quiet, to cease our endless boasting. God speaks His Law to demonstrate that we are all held accountable to Him.

The Law demonstrates decisively that you, me, and all people are liable to the judgment of God, we are condemned to eternal destruction. We are all accountable to God for our sin. The Law stands us naked with Adam and Eve before God’s judgment throne, with no plea, no boast, with nothing to say. Our mouths are shut, for nothing we say can alter the verdict that is coming. This is the universal human condition; no man, woman, or child can escape. The Law demands perfection, “You shall be holy, as the Lord your God is holy,” and there is nothing we can say against it. There were few in the history of the Church that understood this more clearly than Martin Luther. If you would’ve asked that young monk to describe himself, he may very well have said, “accountable to God.” He understood with great terror what this meant, what this would mean on Judgment Day. He saw his sin more clearly than anyone else, and he despaired of his uncleanness. You will not understand, appreciate, or celebrate the Reformation unless you travel with Luther into the depths of your soul and see the filth, the corruption that dwells there. You will not rejoice this day unless you understand the Law’s verdict upon that sin: “Every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world be held accountable to God.” You will not revel in the glory of heaven unless you understand the horror of hell.

Luther lived fully aware of hell. The crushing burden of his sin drove him to seek salvation, and he tried every path that was offered by the Church to escape. He punished his body with physical and spiritual discipline; he sought after indulgences and relics. As a monk he was exemplary; as a churchgoer he was fanatical. He exhausted each and every avenue, but each led him further into despair, for he was climbing a ladder that couldn’t reach to heaven, as Saint Paul clearly says. “By works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin.” The Law isn’t designed to give grace; its task, given by God, is to show us our sin. But yet we are attracted to the works of the Law like a moth to a flame. Many Christians still believe that they can earn heaven by living a good enough life. We don’t ask for forgiveness, we justify, we explain away, we try to pile up some good works to outweigh the bad. We think that church attendance will earn us favor with God, or putting enough money in the offering plate. We are stuck in the Middle Ages, we are stuck with Luther, trying in vain to earn our own salvation.

But reconciliation with God can never occur on our own merits. You can never do enough good to outweigh the bad you were conceived with. Paul thunders forth the verdict: “There is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All have sinned. All fall short of the glory of God. Luther wasn’t the exception, and neither are you. All are deficient, all lack the righteousness that God requires. You don’t have what it takes for heaven. You have fallen short, you are deficient, you lack, you fall short of the glory of God, no matter what you do in a vain and pathetic attempt to please Him. This is where Luther ended up; in despair, knowing that there was nothing he could do to earn grace. He, along with you and me, needed to be righteous, but the righteousness of the Law is impossible for us. Another righteousness is needed, and St. Paul declares that it has come: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

The righteousness we need isn’t given by the Law, but the Law proclaimed it; it’s given by God Himself with the gift of His Son. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but all “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.” God makes us righteous through the redemption of His Son! Christ’s blood is our righteousness, for God put Jesus forward as the propitiation for our sins, the means by which God is reconciled to us. God Himself provided the means for our reconciliation; He is actor in our redemption, our righteousness, not us. He sent forth Christ to bear our sin; your sin, my sin, and the sin of Martin Luther. He displayed Christ as the sin-bearer, the One who was innocent of any wrong, yet carried the corruption of the world upon His shoulders. And then Jesus shed His blood upon the cross, paying for all of that sin and removing its penalty forever. God is reconciled with you through the death of His Son, the sacrifice for your redemption, the sacrifice which sets you free.

Jesus Himself declares in our Gospel lesson: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It was that glorious freedom that Luther trumpeted forth. He reveled in the truth that Paul speaks of at the end of our text: “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Christ has already done it, He has won salvation, and when we cling to Him in faith, faith which is itself a gift of God, we have all that He won through the cross and empty tomb. For Luther, it was personal; his troubled soul had found comfort in this glorious Gospel. But then he brought this freedom to the world, he fought for it and with others struggled to preserve it in the face of numerous enemies, and thanks be to God that the proclamation of the Gospel of God’s free grace through Christ still rings out in this world of sin. Through His death on your behalf, through His resurrection in victory on the third day, you are set free; free from the bondage of your sin, free from the condemnation of the Law, free from trying to earn your way to heaven.

For God didn’t ignore or wink at your sin, pretending that it doesn’t exist. He may have passed over the sins of the Old Testament saints, but only because they would one day be paid for. “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins.” If God ignored sin, then He would not be a God of justice. His Law still stands, it still condemns, but it has now been answered—by God Himself. God’s justice is satisfied because the Law’s penalty was poured out upon His innocent Son. He forgives you because Christ has paid for your sin, just as He forgave the Old Testament saints because Christ would pay for their sin. God didn’t sweep sin under the rug, instead He removed its penalty forever, for He offered up Christ Himself as the required sacrifice.

Therefore, God remains righteous because He has made us righteous. “It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” He declares us righteous because we cling to Christ in faith. We believe, with faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Through the Word, through the Lord’s Supper, and through the waters of Holy Baptism, God declares us righteous by forgiving our sins and working faith within us.  Today Peyton, Wyatt, and James were declared righteous in the washing of the water with the Word. God claimed them as His own, not because of anything they have done, but solely and only because of Christ. His redemption has been applied to them, right before your eyes!  Those who are redeemed then do good works, not to earn righteousness, but because Christ has made us righteous.

Therefore, every mouth is once again shut. “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.” The Law shuts our mouths, telling us that there is nothing that we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. But then the Gospel also shuts off any boasting, for it declares that Christ has done it all for us. Therefore, today we do not boast in ourselves, or even in Martin Luther. We boast in Christ, who saves lost and condemned people. He saved Luther, and the story of the Reformation has its roots in his personal struggle to hear the glorious Gospel of Christ. But then, thanks be to God, Luther was a beggar who showed other beggars where to find bread; he pointed the Church to the redemption and merits of Christ, and it is that glorious Gospel message that we hear and rejoice in on this Reformation Day and every day. In the Name of Jesus, who redeemed us with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, Amen.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Proper 23 of Series B (Amos 5:6-7, 10-15)

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the prophet Amos. Dear friends in Christ, imagine a prosperous nation. This nation enjoys relative peace, although it does have violent enemies. It has an economy that is booming, that even despite the ups and downs that any society experiences provides to its people a quality of life rarely experienced before. The people of this nation build big houses to dwell in, they plow fertile fields and enjoy the fruit of the harvest. The rich receive the full benefits of their labors, and even the middle class live in prosperity. Broad roads, grand palaces, and huge barns dominate the landscape. This is a nation that has struck gold—the good times have come, and now there is little left to do but sit back and enjoy them to the fullest.

This nation of prosperity is filled with religious people. In fact, they believe that it is because of their faithfulness to God that they have been given such riches. The great speakers of the day reinforce this. Preachers speak to thousands, declaring that their great wealth is a sure and certain sign of God’s favor. To know with certainty that God approves of them, they need only to look at the prosperity they enjoy. Politicians speak of the nation as being ‘exceptional,’ a one-of-a-kind place uniquely blessed by God. It is the manifest destiny of this nation to be prosperous, to thrive and expand. God has blessed this nation, He is with them, and the proof is in the pudding: prosperity is the sure sign and seal that God Himself has given them. And so this nation’s wealth becomes more than simply abundance, it is God Himself smiling upon them, it is their religion. And everyone is going to church—in their big houses, bigger fields, and amongst their many possessions.

Into this nation of prosperity comes a prophet. He declares, “Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!” Their prosperity hasn’t led to faithfulness, it has led to laziness. Their wealth hasn’t bred justice, it has caused oppression. This is the dark side of prosperity. Material goods bring selfishness, wealth brings jealousy, and justice is sacrificed at the altar of earthly treasure. This society has everything that anyone could ever want, except justice and care for others. And they don’t want to hear anything about it. “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.” The prophet is persecuted, who calls out the nation on its selfishness. Those who seek to bring justice, those who speak the truth, are hated.

Therefore the poor don’t find justice. In the gate, in the courtroom, in the womb, the poor and vulnerable aren’t protected, they are exploited. The gate is where justice was to take place, where the poor were to be protected from the assaults of others, but in this nation of prosperity, the gate is where injustice occurs. Those who have exploit and burden those who do not. Those out of the womb persecute and even kill those within it. The rich forget or ignore the poor. They say, ‘let the government provide,’ or ‘let the church provide,’ forgetting that they are commanded by God to provide for their neighbor in need. God is a God of justice and care for the downtrodden, and He calls on His people to show that same concern. The prosperous nation may not see, they may not comprehend the injustice that is all around them, but God does. “I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.” They are serving not God, or their neighbor in need, but themselves. This nation thinks that its prosperity comes from a unique blessing of God, but the prophet declares that if they do not turn from their injustice and seek the good of their neighbor, that prosperity will come to a terrible end. “Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted a pleasant vineyard, but you shall not drink their wine.”

Amos is speaking against the wickedness of the nation of Israel, as it enjoys the greatest prosperity in its history. And Amos is speaking against you and me, who despite a struggling economy are living in prosperity never before experienced by any people in the history of this planet. His message is simple, it is clear: Repent! “Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.” Seek the Lord and live! Do not love riches, your material possessions more than God! That was the tragic error of the rich young man in our Gospel lesson. Jesus called on Him to renounce his idolatry, to cease clinging to his things, and this was his response: “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He loved his things more than the Lord. That young man’s great possessions were to serve his neighbor, so his refusal to give up his wealth was not only the sin of idolatry, it was also the sin of selfishness, of injustice. One sin leads to the other, and Amos calls us to repent of both. Seek good and not evil! Do not love your riches, your material possessions, more than you love justice! Seek to serve your neighbor with the material blessings you have been given. Repent of your lack of concern, repent of your selfishness, repent of failing to speak up for the poor and vulnerable.

“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said.” The prosperous nation claims to have God’s favor, its people declare that God is with them, but they are deceiving themselves. Amos calls to his people, to you and me this day: Repent! Repent and wait on the Lord. “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” It may be that God will show grace. It may be. God is not obligated to save us, He is not obligated to show us grace. He is not a candy machine, where we put in some repentance and He gives us some grace. God’s decision to save or not, to have grace or not, to forgive or not, is His own, otherwise, it wouldn’t be grace at all. God doesn’t have to deliver us.

But yet He does. In the midst of man’s injustice, God will establish His justice, He will bring His righteousness upon the earth. Sinful man is incapable of perfect justice, and so Jesus Christ took on our human flesh to establish God’s justice. He comes to establish God’s justice by suffering man’s injustice. He spoke the truth, He proclaimed God’s stern Law against man’s rebellion, and the Gospel remedy that could only be found in Him. But as Amos declared, “They hate Him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor Him who speaks the truth.” Their hatred drove them to nail an innocent man to the cross in the greatest miscarriage of justice this world has ever seen. The One who committed no sin is condemned as a criminal; God is put to death by His creatures. But in this act of injustice, Christ brings forth God’s justice. 

For God’s justice is nothing like the world’s. God’s justice is that sinful, corrupted people are just and righteous not because of anything in themselves, but because they have been given the righteousness of another. God declares through the prophet, “I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins.” He knows our sins, He knows our injustice, He knows our greed and selfishness, the idols we make out of our possessions, and yet He justifies us. Christ’s justice is that you should be clothed in His righteousness. Christ’s justice is that He should die for sins you committed. His justice is that you should be declared righteous by virtue of His death and resurrection. Jesus wasn’t obligated to show grace to you—but He did, He was gracious to the remnant.

That is who you are by grace: the remnant. You are the remnant, that poor, harassed, persecuted band, separated out from the world and despised by it as insignificant. You are the remnant, the baptized, glorious, justified band, esteemed by God because you have been redeemed by His Son. The remnant isn’t those who are perfect, it is those who are forgiven, who daily die to sin in repentance and rise to Christ in faith. The remnant isn’t guaranteed physical safety in this sinful world. God didn’t relent over the disaster that was coming upon Israel, and we may find our own nation chastised for its injustice. But what we are guaranteed through the cross and empty tomb is our eternal salvation. We are guaranteed heavenly treasure, far above that of this earth. We are guaranteed that this remnant will endure despite all of the injustice of the world, for this remnant is protected by Christ Himself, it is His own nation.

This is a nation of prosperity, perfect prosperity. To the world, it appears poor and weak, but its wealth and strength is not found according to the world’s standards. This nation has no need of an economy, for the One who provides for it gives all that it needs. All the people of this nation dwell in big houses they didn’t built, they enjoy the fruit of a harvest they didn’t plant. This is a nation that has been shown grace. This is a nation that has heavenly, eternal treasure, for it has Christ, the One who gives forgiveness, life, and salvation through His death and resurrection. It is a nation that possesses this treasure right now, but will not fully experience it until He returns in glory. This nation is the remnant, this nation is your home, this nation is the Church, which will endure for eternity as a place of justice, God’s justice, for Jesus Christ is the one who makes you, me, and all believers just, now and for eternity. In His holy and precious name, Amen.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why do Christians vote? (Sermon preached 10-07-12)

Why do we vote? We don’t vote because it is our right. Unbelievers are concerned about their rights; they want to exercise them, they want to protect them. Christians care little about their own rights. Why do we vote? We don’t vote to get what we want. Unbelievers are concerned about their own desires. No wonder the economy is such a big issue, indeed the issue in this election—voters want to see more money in their own pockets, and they will vote for the candidate that they believe will make it happen. But voting based on my bank account is the height of selfishness, and it certainly isn’t Christian. Christians don’t care about getting their own way. Why do we vote? We don’t vote to protect ourselves. Unbelievers are focused on what they have, and what they don’t want to lose. Christians aren’t concerned about the things of this world.

As Christians, we vote for one reason, and one reason alone: to serve our neighbor. We vote for the good of our neighbor, not for our own good. Voting is an act of service, and how we vote isn’t determined by our own wants, but by the needs of those around us. We vote for their rights and interests. This is fundamental, basic Christianity, and for an example, we need to look no further than the LWML. The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League has for decades been a wonderful example of Christian service. Their sacrificial giving in those wonderful mite boxes has supported the spread of the Gospel and the good of their neighbors around the world. Those mighty mite boxes make it possible for the work of the Church to go on in witness and mercy. The service of these women in our own congregations is sacrificial, it is indispensable, and it is given in love, following Christ’s example and command: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

As Christians, we vote to show love to our neighbor, for their good, not our own. In fact, we may vote against our own interests in order to serve our neighbor. Our neighbors’ need compels us to go to the polls, to speak up for them on the basis of God’s Word in the public square. If we voted only for ourselves, we could stay home if we wanted to, but because we vote for the good of others, refusing to vote is not an option. Christians aren’t quiet—they speak, their voice is heard. The distinction between church and state, taught by our Lutheran Confessions, doesn’t mean that our faith has no place in politics. Luther taught that the Church and the State have two different spheres or realms; the Church is concerned with eternal salvation and works through the Word and Sacraments, while the State is concerned with temporal welfare and works through rule of law. But God is over both, and you stand with a foot firmly in each. God’s Word should inform how you serve the neighbor, just as it should inform how the Christian rules. Applying God’s Word to foreign policy, economics, defense, and a variety of other issues isn’t easy, and sincere Christians will have honest disagreements on how we best serve our neighbors in those areas, but we cannot pretend that God’s Word has no guidance for such thorny topics. Moreover, there are other areas where God’s Word speaks very clearly, and there we must take our stand.

We vote to serve the most vulnerable, those under the greatest threat. We vote to serve those whom Christ loves, whom He protected during His days on this earth, saying to His disciples, “Let the children come do me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Christ’s concern for the little ones is our own; they are unable to protect themselves, and so we are called upon to protect them. And no other class of human beings is under greater threat. I’m told that after the Second World War, German citizens were taken to the Nazi death camps. As they saw those horrors that occurred in their own backyard, they kept saying, ‘We had no idea.’ You and I cannot make that excuse. Over fifty million children have been sacrificed on the altar of convenience over the past forty years. Fifty million children killed for any reason, or no reason at all, and for every child, there is a mother and father scarred, in need of forgiveness. When the fifth commandment is so blatantly disregarded, we are called upon to have the same compassion as Christ: “He took them up in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.”

The Christian has no higher priority than the protection of life. No other liberty can be guaranteed to our neighbor if life itself is threatened. Christian quietism, being convinced election after election that there are ‘more important issues,’ has led to now more than forty years of slaughter. Christians failing to stand firm and demand an end to the destruction of unborn life has led to leaders that support abortion and leaders that oppose it with their words, but are unwilling to do anything about it. We need to hold our leaders accountable, we need to demand an end to this culture of death. There is nothing more selfish than to be concerned with our own bank accounts while thousands are dying.

The protection of life, especially that of the unborn and infirm, trumps all other concerns; without the protection of life, no other liberty matters. But there are other areas where God’s Word calls on us to speak. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus spoke about divorce and then affirmed the definition of marriage found in Genesis: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This one flesh union was established by God as the very foundation of society. He did this for our good, especially for the good of children. But as Satan attacked that relationship in the beginning, so we find the building blocks of a healthy culture being torn down by sex outside of marriage, rampart divorce, and the attempt to redefine it to make it genderless. Who suffers when marriage is weakened? Children, and the evidence is all around you, with broken families and hurting children everywhere you look.

In this nation, we aren’t just free to express our faith behind closed doors on Sunday morning; we are free to take that faith into our lives in this world. And this freedom is under attack, as the government attempts to keep religion inside church buildings, even telling religious employers that they must provide drugs to employees that they object to, including those that cause abortion. Gay marriage will also erode our religious liberty, as we will find ourselves increasingly unable to speak God’s Word of condemnation against sexual sins. We must speak out against such attacks, not for our good, but for the good of our neighbor. We vote so that all religious people, even those we don’t agree with, will be able to express their faith, in worship and in the public square.

We vote and do not despair, we do not fear. When we vote for ourselves, we vote out of fear, fear for our interests, our rights, our possessions. We vote in fear, and then we despair that the outcome will not be as we desire. A Christian doesn’t do anything from a standpoint of fear, nor does the one with hope in Christ despair the outcome of anything in this world. The Christian votes for the good of the neighbor, and then rests with confidence in Christ. For, as our Epistle lesson put so beautifully, Christ is Lord of all. “‘You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned Him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under His feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control.” He has everything under His control, even history itself. Whatever rulers we have are given by God, sometimes to chasten, sometimes to help, but always for our ultimate good. St. Paul wasn’t joking when he said, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Nations rise and fall; it has been happening since the beginning, and it will continue to happen until the Last Day. America has no promise of eternal endurance. But Christ’s Church does. That is Christ’s promise, His gift to you and to me. He promised Peter that the gates of hell would never prevail over His Church, and He intends to keep that promise. The Church will never die. Christianity will never be snuffed out. The Church is Christ’s body, and Christ is risen never to die again.

There is no need to fear, no need to despair, no matter what comes in November or in the years to come. For Christ has won the victory over all the powers of this world. He holds all things in His control: our nation, this election, even history itself, though it is difficult to see. “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” The crucified One conquered the powers of this world by submitting Himself to their rage and allowing Himself to be killed at their hand. He is exalted because He humbled Himself to death, even death upon a cross. His death is victory, victory over sin, victory, over death, victory over Satan. That victory is hidden, “At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.” Indeed, the world seems to just be getting much worse. But Christ’s victory isn’t determined by an election. His resurrection is the proof of His triumph, not votes in a ballot box.

Therefore, your salvation is certain and true. Christ tasted death for you, dying in your place, dying with all your sins upon Him. Nothing can change the victory He won for you, nor the claim He has on you in your Baptism. In the month to come, vote as a Christian, not seeking your own interests in fear and despair, but instead seeking the good of your neighbor in faith. Do not despair over the result, for Christ’s victory is certain and true, and your salvation is equally true. No election can change that. Christ tasted death for you so that you will not die eternally, so that you will be delivered from this world of sin to live before Him forever. Take confidence, your sins are forgiven, and the One who claims you as His own is the Lord of history. All things are under His feet, and will be, forever. In the Name of Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, Amen.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Proper 21 of Series B (Mark 9:38-50)

“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, you are salt. That is your identity, who you are. Salt isn’t what you can become if you try hard enough; it isn’t some goal to achieve. You are salt. Christ Himself has made you salt. He made you salt when He baptized you into His Name, when He claimed you as His own beloved child. It was to make you salt that led Him to the cross. He didn’t endure the suffering, the pain, the death of the cross so that people might be able to make themselves salt; He did all of that so that He could come to you and make you salt Himself. It is His work, His task, which He delights in. He delights to take rotten, spoiled, sinful people and make them salt by grace. He seasons that old sinful Adam, making that disgusting figure a savory, fragrant offering to His Father. Old Testament sacrifices were salted to make them acceptable to the Lord. An unsalted person offered to God will find only destruction, but one who is salted by Christ will find favor and grace, reconciliation with their Creator. Being salt is nothing else than being forgiven. Being salt is nothing else than having the promise of eternal life. You are forgiven, you will live because Jesus lives! His death, His resurrection, are all for you—your Baptism proves it! You are salt.

What is salt like? Salt purifies, it preserves, it adds flavor. Salt always has an effect on whatever it touches. It can’t help it. Salt is salty. You can have uncaffinated coffee, you can have non-alcoholic wine, but there is no such thing as unsalty salt, as Jesus declares: “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” Salt does what salt does, or else it isn’t salt at all.

And salt is salty. The salty one places his mind into submission, refusing to give into pride. But the Christian who acts in jealousy, who allows his pride to take hold of him, is as ridiculous as unsalty salt. “John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” Unsalty salt is concerned for its own position; it’s envious or jealous of those who are not a part of its group. Its concern isn’t for the wider mission of the Church, but for its own position and honor. Unsalty salt hasn’t seasoned the corruption of the old Adam, who always seeks his own way. Instead, the tired old question continues to be asked, “Who is the greatest?”

But those made salt by grace season their thoughts, placing them in submission under Christ. “But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.’” Do not hinder the one who serves Christ! Be concerned that the work of the church goes forward, not whether you get credit for it! Rejoice that your fellow congregation members are serving the work of the church, even if they are not doing so in the way that you would. Rejoice also that your fellow Christians throughout the world are doing wonderful works of witness and mercy, even as we acknowledge our very real differences. “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Anything done in the name of Christ, even the smallest act of mercy, is done because that person is salt.

And salt is salty. The salty one protects the little ones, leading them away from sin. But the Christian who leads the little ones into sin, who causes them to stumble or even fall from the faith, is as ridiculous, as dangerous, as unsalty salt. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Unsalty salt lives with no concern of the witness its life makes before the world, especially before Christ’s little ones. Unsalty salt pays no attention to how it teaches God’s Word, at home, in the classroom, or from the pulpit. It lives recklessly, thinking only of itself.

But those made salt by grace seek to protect the little ones, to lead them out of sin and not into it. St. James writes in our Epistle lesson, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Don’t scandalize Christ’s little ones! Watch over your words and actions so that they will not lead the weak and vulnerable into sin or even unbelief. Know the Scriptures, so that you can guide the little ones in the ways they should go. Strive to live as an example for your children, your grandchildren, and all the little ones around you. Season the lives of those around you, for you are salt.

And salt is salty. The salty one places his body into submission, refusing to let his members lead him into sin. But the Christian who is controlled by his members, who allows his body to lead him into sin or even unbelief, is as ridiculous, as foolish, as unsalty salt. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” Unsalty salt lets its members take it wherever they want to go. The hands, the feet, the eyes call the shots, they control the action, and what they want is to rebel against God. Hands reach for that which doesn’t belong to them, feet walk into places they shouldn’t be, eyes look in lust or coveting, and unsalty salt simply follows their lead.

But those made salt by grace seek to place their members into submission, tightly controlling them so that they do not lead into sin or unbelief. If your hand reaches for what is not yours, place it into submission! If your feet are walking into bad situations, control them! If your eyes are inspiring sinful thoughts, don’t look twice! Don’t allow your sinful, corrupted members to lead you into sin, but season them so that they serve Christ. Let your hand be ready in service toward your neighbor, let your feet carry you to worship, and let your eye be searching for someone in need. Press your members into service of Christ, not of sin, for you have been made salt by Christ.

This isn’t easy; our minds and bodies don’t want to be placed into submission, they want no part of being salted. This is why Jesus says, “Everyone will be salted by fire.” You are salted by fire; your purification happens only through the painful work of fire. This is first of all the fire of tribulation. Our members rebel against every attempt to place them under submission, they make life miserable for us unless we let them indulge in the sin they wish to wallow in. Sin causes the fires of tribulation in our lives, for the sin of this world is the cause of all suffering and difficulty in this life. And Christ uses those fires to burn away our sin, because when we suffer due to our sin or the sin of the world, we yearn to be rid of it, we desire more and more to place our members into submission.

That is when Christ uses another fire, the fire of God’s Word. Christ wields His Word as a purifying fire to burn away all corruption. His Law calls our sin what it is: rebellion against our Creator deserving the very wrath of God forever in hell. You heard Jesus proclaim the Law in all of its severity this very day. That Law should put to fiery death our sin. He salts us with this fire to prevent rot and decay, to keep our sinful nature from reasserting itself. How does this happen? The Law shows us our sin, and the Holy Spirit works repentance within us. Only through His work within us can we confess, pleading for sin’s destruction within us. His Law then guides us to live under His rule and leading, to day by day burn away the corruption of our flesh. Without daily being salted by the fire of God’s Word, the worms will return, and decay will continue.

But the fire of Christ’s Word doesn’t just halt decay, it destroys it forever. Having called our sin exactly what it is by the Law, Christ’s Word removes its penalty by the Gospel. The Law speaks the truth, and so does the Gospel: you are salt! Despite your corruption and sin, Christ comes to you and makes you salt. His Law can only put to death; His Gospel is given to make alive. His Gospel makes you salt! The Law put Christ to death in your place, as He died the death that your corruption deserved. He died to defeat that corruption forever, for it has been paid for; it cannot condemn you any longer. His mercy, His love was extended toward you, and when He left His tomb empty, He went forth to make you salt. Salt is your identity by grace; you are salt because Jesus died for you, because He rose for you. You are salt because you are forgiven, because you are the savory, fragrant offering that Christ is not ashamed to bring to His Father.

Salt is your identity forever. Today you are continually being salted by fire, as your mind and your members are placed under submission and salted by the fires of tribulation and God’s Word. But on the Last Day, you will pass through the fire and all of that corruption will finally be completely burned away. Christ’s redemption through the cross and empty tomb will be brought to its full completion when He returns in glory. Until that day, you are salt; salt by grace, salt in a decidedly unsalty world. Through your words, through your actions, you salt those around you, as the Church salts this entire world. You are made salt by grace, and you remain salt by grace; Christ’s Law burns away your corruption, Christ’s Gospel forgives it, declaring once again this day that you are salt, and will be salt for eternity, not by your efforts, but only through His grace. In the Name of Jesus, who makes and keeps us as His salt in this unsalty world, Amen.