Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Oculi (Ephesians 5:1-9)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 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 is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church of God in Ephesus. Dear friends in Christ: What is love? We read books about love, hear songs about love, watch movies about love, but do we have any idea what it is? Where do we look to learn about love? Do we look to God, imitating Him, or do we look to the world, and imitate those around us? Every three years, at the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s national youth gathering, a survey is taken, asking the opinion of the youth on a variety of topics. In 2013, only fifty-five percent of the youth surveyed agreed with the statement that homosexuality is ‘always wrong according to God’s Word.’ Do we imitate God, or have we imitated the world? In that same survey only forty-four percent of nineteen-year olds reported that they were virgins. Do we imitate God, or have we imitated the world? I have no statistics here, but most pastors today will tell you that it’s extremely rare to work with a couple in preparation for marriage that has not been sexually active, even living together as if they are married. The question remains—as Christians, do we imitate God, and His love, or have we imitated the world, and its love?

Without compromise, without equivocation, without apology, Paul calls on us to imitate God and His love. And there is only one place to look in order to see God’s love: the cross. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Christ’s love is for us; it is for you. His love is not self-serving or self-seeking; it is oriented toward the other, toward you. He loves you, and He gives you everything: His life, His righteousness, His glory, and the very riches of heaven. He gives you everything, and takes what is yours: your sin, your death, your poverty. He takes you place, He exchanges all that you have for all that is His, for His love is always directed outward, from Himself to you, to a world in desperate need of His love.

Christ’s love is self-giving, it is sacrificial. He gives up His own life into death for you; He does not hold onto His own life, He does not seek His own good, but He seeks yours. He gives up everything, submitting to death, even death upon the cross. The aroma of His sacrifice rises pleasing to God, for in the death of Christ, God is revealed as love. Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. He loves you by not leaving you in your sins; He does not pour out His wrath upon you, He pours it out on Christ, the willing sacrifice, who had everything but gave all things up for you. Jesus does not take, but He gives: His life, His blood, His flesh. He gives them to you by sacrificing them for you upon the altar of the cross, and He gives them to you by pouring out His gifts upon you in the Word and holy sacraments. Jesus did not grasp after glory, as Satan tempted Him to do, but He gave up His life into death because He loves you.

This love has very little in common with how the world teaches and practices love. The love of Christ is always directed toward the other; the love of the world is directed toward the self. This is no more evident, or potentially destructive, than in the area of human existence that Paul focuses on today: sexuality. There the world tells you that your wants, your passions, your desires rule the roost. No self-control is called for, no renunciation of the desires of your flesh. You are encouraged to indulge yourself, no matter what the consequences may be. You are told only to think of yourself; there is no thought as to what such activities are doing to your neighbor, or to the one who may someday marry your neighbor. The love of Christ is self-giving; you are told to take, to seize what is not yours, to join yourself with one who has not been given to you in marriage, the only place where God gives another person to you to become one flesh.

Saint Paul is more than explicit: such things have no place among Christians! “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Such things must not even be named among the saints! The saints of Christ, you and me, are to show the same self-giving, self-sacrificial love that Christ has showed to you. You are called to chastity, restricting sexuality to the one God has given to you in marriage. That means laying aside your desires and passions, and that means protecting the chastity of those around you, from your sons and daughters to your boyfriends and girlfriends, to every other man or woman made in the image of God. If what you are doing or saying or thinking isn’t showing to your neighbor the love of Christ, then Paul calls on you to instead give your body to a spouse when He gives one to you, to instead use your thoughts to contemplate God’s Word, to instead use your lips for thanksgiving.

The love that the world teaches, this self-gratifying, self-focused love, contradicts your identity in Christ; that is not the kind of love Christ shows to you! It is incompatible with who you claim to be. You cannot go around bearing the name ‘Christian’ and yet love as the world loves. Paul minces no words in his condemnation of such hypocrisy. “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Paul isn’t talking to the heathen, he isn’t standing on the corner of Bourbon Street, he’s talking to Christians, he’s talking to you and me.

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Do not be deceived by the empty words of others, inside the Church and without, who tell you that sexual sins are no big deal, that chastity is old-fashioned and repressive, that freedom is to be found in serving your natural passions. Do not be deceived by those who would tell you that to be a Christian is to no longer have a use for the Law, those who use the Reformation teaching of grace as an excuse for lawlessness and laziness. Do not be deceived by those who promise freedom, but give only bondage, bondage to sin, a bondage that controls you and leads you away from God. Sexual sin is slavery, slavery that delivers only death. Freedom is only found in Christ, in the release from the shackles of sin won by His shed blood, the freedom He bestows day after day by His forgiveness. Do not return to the slave drivers, but live in the freedom of Jesus Christ.

“Therefore do not associate with them, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk in the light.” You used to be associated with the darkness, but no more. You are light. Christ has shown forth His love to you in taking you out of the darkness, seizing you from the prison house of death. Christ is the Light, the Light no darkness can overcome, the Light that appeared to be snuffed out in the darkness of Good Friday, but instead shone out all the more on Easter morn. Christ loves you by giving you freedom, by releasing you from your sin. He has driven away the suffocating darkness, He has broken the bonds of slavery. He has made you light, shedding His blood and dying for every sin, against every commandment, but especially those against the Sixth Commandment. He died for every sexual sin of thought, word, and deed. He died for those sins that only you know, He died for those sins that only you and one other person knows, He died for those sins that too many people know. He died for them all. He fulfilled the Sixth Commandment perfectly so that He could pay the price for all those times you have not. He died to make you light, and Paul has one encouragement: “Walk in the light.”

What does it mean to walk in the light? It doesn’t mean a life of perfection; it doesn’t mean that you never sin. It doesn’t mean that if you have messed up you are ‘damaged goods’ and have lost something that Christ cannot restore. What does it mean to walk in the light? It means to live the life of repentance. It means to despair of your sins, to cry out for Christ’s forgiveness, receiving that forgiveness by grace, and then, having been forgiven, to bear the fruits of repentance. As Saint Paul says, “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.” The life of chastity is not easy; you will battle your own sinful flesh, and you will feel the overwhelming pressure of a world that doesn’t understand you at all. You cannot live as Christ calls you to live on your own power. Only by daily repentance and faith, confession and absolution, only by continually receiving Christ’s forgiveness can you walk this road.

If you have the guilt and shame of sexual sins in your present or your past, repent and hear these words: You are forgiven! God showed His love to you in that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. You’re not ‘damaged goods,’ you are clean, you are pure in Christ, for you are forgiven. Bear the fruits of repentance. Repent and abstain, repent and move out, repent and purchase accountability software. And know that you do not walk this road on your own. As a Church we need to do more than give out purity rings and sign pledges. We need to support and help all who are walking the road of chastity, before marriage, during marriage, after marriage. We cannot simply tell our young people ‘just say no’ and then give them no help in leading a chaste life. The Church is not the place to excuse or ignore sin, but the place where sin is pointed out, repented of, and forgiven. That’s what Christ does with our sin. He loves us by giving up His life into death and He loves us by shining His light in our hearts, making us light in the Lord; He gives us the supreme example of love, but it is much more than an example, it is your forgiveness, your life, your salvation. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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