02. October 2011
Ephesians 4:22-28; Matthew 9:1-8
With the festival of St. Michael and All Angels, the church began the last leg of her annual trek through the life and teachings of Christ. This summer we have learned of our Lord’s kingdom, its creation and its founding. This kingdom has been described to us in great detail, especially what is required of us as its citizens. The end of the church year brings us the church’s completion both now and into eternity. Teaching for daily living transitions into teaching about the close of life.
This end is assured for the true Christian, whose old Adam has been drowned and killed in Baptism, who is clothed now is Christ’s righteousness and whose renewed body and soul are nourished by the Lord’s Supper. On the last day, the judgment will not be a surprise. The pearly gates will open to the glories of our heavenly home.
The end is unknown or feared by many, both heathen and hypocrite. They believe they need no righteousness before God. Former believers cast off their baptismal robes and donned the black cloak of wickedness. Their food is the slop of the world, processed, mashed, regurgitated, and repulsive. That won’t stop them from trying to enter the joys of the wedding feast. Those pearly gates will loom large but quickly diminish on the runaway elevator to hell.
The tone of the end of the church year is a mixture of joy in the promise and solemn in that awful warning. Christians can rest assured in the blood of Christ, but those who find assurance elsewhere will despair. The Epistle echoes this grave warning, charging us to remain in our baptismal grace. “Put off your old self… and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self…”
This is no work of our own. Try as we might, the old self is a damn good swimmer. Each morning we hold his struggling flesh underwater, naming and claiming our error and boldly suggesting today will be different. It doesn’t take long for that old man to rise up to wrestle our new man to the death. Try as we might, we cannot win the victory with good intentions. We lack the strength to keep our flesh at bay.
No, as the Holy Gospel reveals, our Lord Himself is the Savior of our body and soul. Our problem isn’t just with the lusts and passions of our body. Our problem is with the desires of our mind. We may think our most pressing need is our perverse desires, our sickness, or even death on the horizon. Jesus thinks otherwise.
Some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Well, bugger, those friends must have thought. We brought this guy to the miracle healer, believing full well he’d fix him up, right as rain. But no, Jesus has something bigger in mind. Ignoring the man’s paralyzed legs and arms, he says take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.
Its as if Jesus were saying, “Yeah, I know. You can’t walk. You can’t work around the house. Your wife has left you. You’re on disability. The only thing you’ve got for yourself are these four bums that are willing to haul you out to see the crack-pot miracle worker. But let me tell you something, something unbelievable. The paralysis is all your fault. You’re broken and you can’t do a thing to fix it. As matter of fact, everything wrong with you and your life is going to be held against you on the last day. You think your problems are bad now, well, think again. You’ve got another thing comin’.
But don’t fret, that’s not all. There’s one more thing and its a big thing. I’m not walking and breathing to make your worldly cares a bit easier to manage. So what if you recover from your paralysis? You think that will make everything better? The cares gone today will quickly be replaced with new ones tomorrow. No, I’m not going to take care of those basic symptoms, I’m going to affect a cure that will begin its effect now and will take full effect on the last day.
You may not deserve anything good. Even your faith is me is pitiful. But listen to your flesh. Your paralysis is caused by a need so deep, so ingrained in your person, that there’s no way you can claw out. Paralysis is so strong that your are unable to do anything to affect its cure. Your friends—weak though they may be—they get it. I’ve peered into their hearts and know their confession. They know I am a man come from God, the son of God, the Lord of the heavens and the earth.
That’s right, son, this Jesus of Nazareth, whom you have known, the hometown boy, I’m Lord of your body and your soul. And I’m not just interested in your body but also in your soul. Take heart, my Son; yours sins are forgiven. Your palsied conscience is freed, your affection returned to God, your understanding His knowledge, and your will His will. Your body will taste death but you will never see it. For I have renewed you in the forgiveness of sins, for both soul today and bodies into eternity.”
What a wonderful blessing the renewal of the forgiveness of sins truly is. it is the source of every other blessing. Forgiveness purchased and won at the cross is declared to you and is yours. Forgiveness of sins is yours without any merit or worthiness in you.
Repent. Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. As you know of both your wretched condition and the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus, repent and believe.
Christ will not withhold forgiveness from you who know your need for it and are anxious to receive it as often as you are able. Christ will not withhold those who in faith seek forgiveness to break and hinder every plan of the devil and our flesh, in order to gain the new self of His righteousness and holiness. Christ will not withhold forgiveness to those who desire to serve him more devoutly. Indeed, this is repentance, that is, to know our need by the Law, to seek Christ in faith, and desire to serve Him in obedience.
Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven. Be of good cheer, all my children. You are forgiven. Rejoice in this healing of your minds. The old self is drowned forever in the blood of Christ and you are forgiven. Rejoice, in the new self, the reconciliation of God and man in Jesus. If you doubt, rejoice in the Holy Absolution proclaimed and preached. You are forgiven! If you despair, rejoice in the wedding feast of the Lamb once slain, the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s body and blood. If your old self seems to have more lives than a cat, drown him again in the heavenly flood of Holy Baptism. You are named in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Out damned Adam and make way for the new Adam. You are forgiven!
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
(Sermon based on the postil of Lindemann.)