Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Overcoming the world begins with the conquering of our own souls

THE MIRACLE OF REBIRTH
Jeremiah 26:1-15
Ephesians 5:1-9
Luke 11:14-28


Do all Christians have adjustment problems?  Absolutely.  We live in a precarious balance between our society, to which there is constant pressure to adjust, and a Lord to whom we want to adjust.  We are the saints.  In the Old Testament God called His people "saints" whom He rescued from Egypt and brought out into the desert.  He called them a kingdom of priests, a holy  nation, a consecrated people.  He brought them out of one land to conquer another so every saint was a soldier.  You and I have been rescued from something far worse than slavery.  Jesus has rescued us from the system of evil that dominates the world and has set before us the task of enlarging our little remnant, of liberating and recruiting the people around us.  The first goal of conquest for each of us is his own soul.  God has called us to stake out territory in our hearts and minds, to break down the walls of stubbornness and pride, to exterminate the lust and covetousness, and to plow under the falsehood and love of vanity.

That seems like a tall order.  Each little remnant of goodness is besieged by evil, but I have good news for you.  There is a power which can change men, energy to renew and sanctify our lives.  While all the generators in the world could not help us control ourselves, while all the technology can do nothing about sin and its consequences, the Light of the World with His full and free grace makes us new creatures.  He anoints us with the Holy Spirit to make us "prisoners of hope,"  The Light shines into our business life, our home life, our social life.  All of these would be in total darkness without Him, but since the cross and resurrection are very public, very much there for all to see, there is no reason to be without Jesus.  He is here for everyone with full and free forgiveness.

Now the Bible does not just say that we are "in the light."  St. Paul says, "You are the light in the Lord."  That is our calling -- to be living lights, reflecting what Jesus is constantly beaming upon us.  How do we do this?  We test every word and deed to see whether it pleases God, whether it serves profitably toward the goal of conquest, which in the first case is the conquest of our own souls. This is never accomplished by programs or human meddling.  Matthew was an intriguing, graft-ridden bureaucrat.  He didn't need a twelve-step program, or a daily dose of Ritalin to make him a conscientious disciple.  Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but she didn't need hours of counseling, or a course in philosophy.  The Word of Christ changed her life.  And what about Saul, the persecutor, breathing out threatenings and slaughter?  Did he need a vegetarian diet, or warm mineral baths?  Hardly!  It was a voice from heaven that begat him to a lively hope, so that he went to Ananias to be baptized, to die to sin, to have his Old Adam drowned, so that the life he lived in the flesh he lived by faith in the Son of God.

On every hand there is darkness, but that's not the worst of it.  God isn't going to let the darkness go on forever.  He is going to put a stop to all the lying, the obscenity, the pursuit of vanity, the contempt, the coveting, and all the other fruits of disobedience.  As in the days of Noah, God is going to put a stop to it.  We are to have nothing to do with evil.  That does not mean we cannot love individual people who are enthralled by the world.  We always stand ready to forgive them, to reach to those we can see stumbling about in the darkness, but we cannot let ourselves get entangled in evil's web.  We are holy.  In one sense we are holy because Jesus has made us holy.  In another we are becoming holy, because God's strength increases in us as our own strength is used up.  Fortunately we do not have to make ourselves holy.  We reflect the holy light of our Lord.

The light which Jesus beams on us and through us is the only hope for the perishing world around us.  Our society spends billions on advertising every year, but Jesus is counting on the living testimony of His saints to call people out of darkness.  What kind of testimony do we give?  In this letter St. Paul seems especially concerned about our speech, warning us to avoid obscenity, silliness, and levity.  All humor is not wrong, but adultery and fornication are no laughing matter.  Falsehood is always out of place, and idle gossip is not a fit pastime for the saints of the Most High.  Be creative with your icebreakers.  Why should your tongue be an organ of wrath when God made it to be an organ of praise?

Hemmed in and besieged by evil we cannot help but sin.  Be assured that the wonderful grace of God forgives all our sins.  We contribute absolutely nothing to the process of our salvation, still we must confess that the Light shines not only on us, but in us.  It becomes in fact, our light.  The fruit belongs to the vine, but it also belongs to the branch that bore it.  That fruit does not bring us any closer to God, but it is still active, leading us to walk as children of light.  This is a miracle, the miracle of second birth, of regeneration.  No one can make the tongue, hands, feet, eyes, or anything else right if the heart is not right.  Jesus did exactly that for us in the Holy Baptism, as He joined us together with Himself in His death, made us partakers of His atonement, cleansed us by His blood, and created faith within us.  Jesus has liberated us, separated us from the surrounding darkness, and recruited us as His soldiers.  In Baptism we crossed the Red Sea with Jesus, and now we stand with Him in the desert, temptation all around us, and a promised land ahead.  The exodus is done.  The time for conquest has come.  The Jericho whose walls we must take is in our own soul.  We must not let the devil cut us off from the Word, or from Christ's Holy Sacrament, the manna that He gives us sealing our forgiveness and strengthening our faith.

The light discloses all things.  That makes us squirm with discomfort for there is so much we would as soon keep hidden, but we know better than to fear the Light of the World.  We may not look like much in the light, be we are the real winners here.  Of all the people in the world, we are the only ones who have the privilege of doing good works.  Yes there is sin in us, but Jesus forgives it so we can overcome it.  We can let people see the help of our hands, hear the praises of our tongues, be warmed by the comfort of our presence.  We want to export the miracle of rebirth.  Even before our own souls are completely conquered, we can start on the nearby parts of the world.  Amen

 ~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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