Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Proverbs 9:1–10 & Joshua 24:1-2(a), 14-18 | Ephesians 5:6–21 | John 6:51–69

Text: Ephesians 5:6-21

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”
~ John 6:68-69 ~

Yesterday at the men’s breakfast, we learned about the thread in American Christianity of revivalism, which says that the Christian life begins with your personal decision.  And if you listen to the Old Testament lesson and Gospel today with the glasses on of personal decision, that’s certainly what it sounds like Joshua and Peter are saying: “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) And, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:67-69)

But does one’s eternal destiny really hang on their own choice?  That’s a ton of pressure!  In fact, we need more than our flimsy decision as the foundation for our life today and for eternity.  But, it’s also clear in the verses right before that the things Joshua and Peter said were not just their own personal sentiment: “And [Jesus] said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”  God was at work in and through their pledge of faithfulness to Jesus over the alternatives.  God gave Joshua the conviction to say, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”…even if all the other people should choose to serve manmade gods.  God gave Peter the wisdom to believe, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”…even though such a large number of disciples were ditching Jesus.  Their examples are written down for our learning.  They had a conviction that there was only one God who could save, and only one God worthy of fear, love, and trust.

There’s something to that conviction and power to confess which is behind what St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them;

There is an opposite to one serving the Lord and these words of eternal life.  It is the world of idolatry and lies, darkness and death.  Without God helping us, it’s not just that a person becomes sort of neutral and unaffiliated.  They actually go the way of the enemies of God, in danger of falling under the wrath of God.  That is to say, if we are left to ourselves, a human being will always drift toward evil.

The empty words Paul warns us about are always there, appealing to that part of us that wants to rise above the place God has placed us.  “You will be like God” it promises, if only you would be free of those shackles of the God of the Bible [Ps. 2:3].  All you need is to unlock the person within, and just imagine what potential is inside you! 

Over the last century, the Church has been engaged in many spiritual battles.  Even while many of us have fond childhood memories of crowded Sunday Schools and packed worship services, there was serious contention between what the Church believes and what the world was trying to sell to Christians—the kind of “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” and an invitation to give up simple faith in God’s Word.  Take for instance, the battle over creation versus evolution.  God’s Word teaches that He made everything by His Word, while the evolution understands everything happening according to mutations and survival of the fittest.  But the Church persevered in battle, insisting that we are creations of God not descendants of apes.  Little by little, even non-Christian scientists have had to admit the faults of their theory. Now, the only reason it persists in schools is because they don’t have a God-free alternative. Even intelligent design suggests there might be a personal force out there.

Another major conflict has been the battle for the Bible itself against Higher Criticism, and that has dragged on for more than a century.  Higher critics are eager to find human fault in the Bible and reduce it to precepts of men and their prejudices. That way, they’re free to rise above those parts of which they disapprove. Yet, because of the conviction which God puts in His people, pastors and professors rose to the occasion and laypeople took up the mantle.  They persevered even when the majority of professors walked out of Concordia Seminary in 1974.  Those who held to the defense of God’s Word actively engaged against world-creep.

They studied and prayed, exhorted and did their best to convince, and their labors bore fruit.  Today, there is a wealth of scholarship and resources available about the evidence for a young earth and the geological processes caused by the Flood.  Today, biblical scholarship is remarkably gifted, with a treasure of in-depth study of biblical manuscripts and critical study of the texts as the Word of God.

The generation now living has its own battle, and it’s one which rears its head within the Church, and that is indifference and resignation.  That’s just your opinion.  Well, whatever works for you.  Listen again to verse 6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of apathy.”  Apeitheia is translated as disobedience because it pictures someone who is unpersuaded and will not be convinced.   Something is true because it works for me, or I feel it in my heart, and forget the outside, objective truth of a matter. 

And isn’t that what we face today?  COVID has helped people become apathetic about the necessity of coming together to worship.  Couples are apathetic about the institution of marriage.  More Christians, especially youth are apathetic about the biblical view of sexuality as they are force-fed the LGBT agenda.  It seems little to matter what argument you can come up with, because they don’t care.  Their mind is made up already because they’ve decided what’s right for them.  This is also what God calls hardness of heart.

That’s a scary thing to consider, that baptized Christians could be found with hard hearts and suffer the fate of the ungodly!  Lord, have mercy upon us!  We have sinned against Him when we have let this dark world set our priorities and gone after what appeals to our sinful nature and the easy road that is.  We have also seen our family and friends embrace the lies and we’ve comforted ourselves by taking the tack, “Well, I guess that works for them.”

Christ your Lord was not impassive and apathetic.  For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross and rejection you have deserved.  When He saw you in darkness, He had compassion which moved Him to come down and take on flesh.  He persevered in the cause, so that you would have forgiveness, peace with God, and eternal life!  He has made you not a son of disobedience or of apathy, but a child of light.

This is why Paul warns us not to become partners with sons of apathy, with those who have hardened their heart to God’s Word, which He sent to save us.  We continually need the reminder of what we truly are and what is really important:

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.

Walking in the darkness without God doesn’t lead anywhere good.  Even if you were at one time darkness, now you are light in the Lord.  If at one time you followed your heart and followed the example of unbelievers around you, if you were wise in your own eyes and didn’t want anyone to tell you otherwise—you are now light in the Lord.  Separate your heart from the ways of those in darkness.  You cannot join with them in celebrating the evil they do.  By living as children of light, expose what is darkness in this world—no matter how socially accepted it is, no matter how you may be slandered because you refuse.

Rather, love all people the way that God does.  He doesn’t want even His enemies to stay lost in darkness and error, of apathy and judgment.  So, He shines the light of His Word to you, to them.  Through you, He calls out to them:

“Awake, O sleeper,

and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It was significantly less challenging to walk as a Christian in years gone by, when social norms and ethics agreed with the Christian worldview—things like modesty, speech, and standards for decency.  If Paul said the days were evil, we can see how true that is more and more each year.  And Christians living in 21st century America certainly need help knowing what the will of our Lord is.  It’s easy to find out the will of other people—watch a movie, turn on the TV, talk to non-Christian friends.  You will get their view, the things they value and what’s acceptable to them.  But for us, it takes purposeful study to know the will of the Lord.  It takes reading His Word regularly.  It’s nothing elaborate, and we are truly blessed with easy access to God’s holy Word.  Just start reading through the New Testament, the Gospels or the Epistles, or both.  Save Revelation for later, because it will likely cause more confusion than clarity.

There in the Scriptures, you will see what God has created and redeemed you for, and how He is at work to sanctify you as His own child.  Don’t delight in alcohol the way the world does. Rather, be filled with the Holy Spirit, who fills your mouth not with words that need recalling, but with true godly words.  Open your lips with Psalms instead of cursing, sing hymns and spiritual songs instead of whatever drivel pop singers do.  And be filled with thanksgiving instead of fear, anger, or posturing.  Those things are the way of the world and your sinful flesh, which has no patience to wait for God to answer. 

Give thanks to God continually, because He has brought you out of darkness and death to light and life through His Son.  Christians have faced this and worse before, and the Lord has brought them through.  He will preserve us, so let us seek His counsel and pray for His help:

Almighty and most merciful God, in this earthly life we endure sufferings and death before we enter into eternal glory. Grant us grace at all times to subject ourselves to Your holy will and to continue steadfast in the true faith to the end of our lives that we may know the peace and joy of the blessed hope of the resurrection of the dead and of the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.