Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Galatians 5:16-24)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost + September 2, 2018

Text: Galatians 5:16-24

When we go to the doctor, they are checking for symptoms.  If it’s an annual exam, they’re looking for symptoms of a healthy body—heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, good glucose and cholesterol levels.  If it’s to diagnose a problem, they use the symptoms and other tests to determine what’s going wrong on the inside.

Though it sometimes manifests in bodily symptoms, there is a diagnostic tool for our faith in Galatians 5.  It’s stated in terms of works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. 

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

These are symptoms of an unhealthy, dying, or dead faith.  They can also manifest in ingratitude, grumbling, complaining, backbiting.  They’re not just negative traits for a person to have; they are the product of sin and must die or we will die with them.  These are the visible signs of an unbeliever.  If you have these symptoms and do not treat them with the medicine of repentance and faith, the prognosis is grim: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Far worse than even the most painful and slow death by cancer is the outlook of eternal death and torment in hell.

On the other hand, the symptoms of a healthy, living faith are these: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” If you see these in your life and are daily increasing, your spiritual health is good.  These are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work within you.

But we need to be more concerned with the works of the flesh because we want to see less of them and more of these healthy indicators.  The works of the flesh indicate a danger to your spiritual welfare.  But if they are only symptoms, what’s the root cause?

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

There is a deadly disease at work within every person—Christian or not.  It’s the deadly infection of sin.  Now, to those who have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ, they are saved from the end-result of sin, which is death—even eternal death.  By grace through faith are you saved.  You are counted righteous and even called a saint, “holy one” by God.

Nevertheless, your disease still remains.  The old wording for the distribution of Christ’s blood is helpful: “The blood of Christ, shed for the remission of your sins.”  Your disease of sin goes into remission.  But it’s still there, because it clings to your flesh.  Every day there’s the potential for it to break out again.  It may erupt and show forth its ugly nature in works of the flesh.  Be it tumors, leprosy, or blood poisoning—the flesh has its way of manifesting the life-long infection of our human nature.

But you are under the care of a physician—the Great Physician of soul and body, Jesus Christ.  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31)  Far better than any durable medical equipment, He has given His Holy Spirit to you.  It is He who is able to fight and at last overcome this deadly sin-disease.

In Holy Baptism, He gives you His Spirit and the Spirit possesses your heart.  In His Word preached, He gives you His Holy Spirit.  In reading His Word at home, He gives you His Holy Spirit.  In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, He gives you His Holy Spirit.  In short, where Jesus is and speaks, there is the Spirit also (John 3:8, 20:22-23).  From there, the Spirit rules where sin once reigned.  From the heart out to thought, word, and deed, it is His work to sanctify all that we think, say, and do.  And it is a daily battle (thankfully not one you wage alone): “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  You have the almighty aid of the Holy Spirit in times of doubt, temptation, rebellion, or failure.  While your flesh will resist and fight Him, the Spirit tirelessly strives to keep your heart and keep you on the way that leads to eternal life!

Because the flesh is so infected, and the devil is always close at hand for the Christian, life is difficult and the road is long.  You may not have had a “flare-up” of your flesh lately.  God may have set a hedge around you and spared you from deep-felt spiritual struggle.  Nonetheless, you must remain vigilant, because the devil does prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [1]  Who more delicious than a once-strong Christian who led and encouraged others?

Also beware, lest you take yourself out of your Great Physician’s care, AMA—“against medical advice.”  You start to think the PA He has assigned to you—your pastor—is just a quack.  You make excuses not to see him.  If I go to the office (I mean, church), he’s just going to find something wrong with me so he can keep me coming back.  It’s just too much trouble, and besides I feel like I’m doing pretty good.  Like the bipolar person who feels alright, you stop taking your medication.  What’s going to happen to your sin-disease?

Let me ask you, who are here today (or are reading this): How do you know if you’re spiritually healthy or not?  Will you go on waiting until symptoms get bad enough?  God’s Word alone can diagnose our spiritual condition—“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) 

As for self-diagnosis and self-managed care, God makes clear, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Who better to diagnose you than the Maker of the human heart!  He understands and knows each of us intimately, and if you are led by the Spirit, you will acknowledge that His will for you is always good—even if it may mean some discipline and correction for the moment.[2]

We all need regular Sabbath-day checkups.  Rest from your work, and rest in God’s work for you and in you.  We listen to our doctors when they say we need CT scans every three months to look for relapses.  How much more should we listen to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier who speaks through His called servant?

Speaking of that, we spend a lot of time and money on our physical health.  They say you can tell a lot about a culture by what its biggest buildings are, and boy to we ever have big medical facilities—so big they’re called “campuses.”  But as God’s redeemer and heirs of the resurrection, we know that this body is going to wear out and die.  There’s no problem pursuing good health, but what return to you get on it?  What about our spiritual health?  In comparison, how much do you invest in that?  I would say it’s the better place for your efforts because your body in its present condition will pass away, but your soul will endure forever.

So spiritual exercise is good for your soul.  “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control”  These are the virtues which are meant to be in a child of God.  Because God has planted His Spirit in your heart, these are the things which God desires to train us every day in.  In place of animosity, He puts love.  Instead of bitterness, He gives joy.  When there is wrath, He works peace.  Even though we want it all to happen on our schedule, the Spirit gives patience (longsuffering).  When it seems more convenient to write another person off, the Spirit is there teaching us kindness.  While something might seem good in our eyes, the Spirit is the one who teaches true goodness.  It’s also the Spirit who—in the face of all things that look contrary—teaches us to cling to God’s words and promises (faithfulness).  When we would become conceited about all we’ve done for God, the Spirit instead teaches humility.  And finally against the corrupt desires of the flesh which seem to have power over us, the Spirit enables us to control our bodies and use them to serve God alone.

Just as you are not left to be tempted by the flesh alone, you are not alone to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.  In His tender mercy, God is with you every day so that you grow as His beloved child, looking forward to the perfect and the eternal.

So, now attend to the words of your Great Physician.  He has a wondrous cure for you.  It’s offered without cost, it has no side effects unless you do not believe, and it renews your strength not only in this frail body but its healing continues into eternal life.  It is the Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for you.  Heavenly health and eternal life be yours in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

[1] 1 Peter 5:8-9

[2] 2 Timothy 3:16

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Romans 13:1-10)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost + September 10, 2017
Text: Romans 13:1-10

People love to be free of the burden of authority.  School kids count the minutes before the bell on the last day of school.  College freshmen rejoice to be free of their parents’ rules when they move into their own space.  Women who have lived in Muslim countries marvel at the freedom of dress and activity that they can enjoy in this country.  We like freedoms, not submission; liberty, not authoritarianism.
That’s why this country was founded, right?  We declared our independence from England so that we could be free to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We built freedom into the Bill of Rights with the free exercise of religion, speech, and the press.  In fact, we’re so accustomed to celebrating freedom, people get in an uproar at the slightest hint of curtailing freedom.
But it’s not a far journey before supposed freedom turns into anarchy.  A simplistic understanding of freedom and the pursuit of individual liberty, would seem to say we can throw off any authority we don’t deem worthy.  Children can mouth off and disobey their parents because they think they’re little free people.  Citizens can rant and rave about the horrible job their elected officials are doing and use their personal life as an excuse to disrespect them.  Members of a congregation can get riled up against their pastor because he doesn’t meet their expectations or he preached against their pet sins, and force him to leave.
But God has a Word for us:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
“He is God’s servant for your good.”  God is doing good to us by the authorities that He has set in place.  In a country with an elaborate democratic process, we might think it was our choice or that “millions of illegal votes” put an official in power.  But it was really God, working out of sight.  As the Prophet Daniel told the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings.”[1]
The point is that the authorities which exist are appointed by God for our good.  They protect us from evil and loss, like fighting wildfires, telling people when to evacuate, and helping cities rebuild after a hurricane.  They bring justice and punish those who act wickedly and those who disobey, putting criminals in jail and garnishing the wages of those who don’t pay their taxes.
But this doesn’t just apply to civil authorities.  God gives authorities for your good in other circles of our lives, all covered by the Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.”  Before there ever was a government, God set up the family—fathers and mothers to nurture, admonish, and train their children.  This, the willful child forgets when he doesn’t want to obey the command to clean his room—without his parents (or sometimes grandparents), he wouldn’t have a room.
It also applies in the church, as God gives spiritual leaders for our good.  God sends men with the Words of eternal life to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness.[2]  But complacent Christians forget the Lord and His good purposes in this man.  They squabble over human opinions and in the end cast off the burden of having a pastor to their great spiritual detriment.
But God does not just bark orders from heaven because He can.  He shows us that these authorities are for our good by living under them Himself.  “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law.”[3]
He submitted to His parents, even to Joseph who was only His father by marriage: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (Luke 2:41-51)
Jesus also submitted Himself to the church authorities of His day, orderly participating in synagogue worship.  Even while He preached against the false teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, He admonished us to obey our leaders: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.”[4]  But ultimately, He submitted to appearing before the Sanhedrin to be charged as a blasphemer.
He submitted to civil authorities when He appeared before King Herod and Governor Pilate, and even confessed before Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”[5]
Even though He was innocent in every respect, He suffered as a lawless man: one who strikes his parents, one who rants and raves against God and His Church, one who leads uprisings and starts riots in the streets.  And He was suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
But so were you, who are baptized into Him.  You, who have not honored your parents and other authorities, have not loved and cherished them, but instead have angered, grieved them, and given them sleepless nights.  Because Christ your Lord stood in your place, suffered in your place under the full weight of the Law, you are forgiven.  And “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”[6]
Because of that, instead of being burdened by all the ways we have abused freedom, we are free to do this:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
As people who have been exhonorated by the highest Authority, raised from dead works, you are free to “honor [your parents and other authorities], serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”[7]  “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” (Rom. 13:5)  Your conscience has been washed clean by the blood of Christ.  So, you are free to love the law enforcement agents, judges, and elected officials.  You are free to love and cherish your parents at home and teachers in school.  You are free to serve this congregation and obey your pastor as the Lord’s servant.  Because we have been redeemed and renewed, we can see and give thanks to God for all of these, imperfect as they may be at times, because over it all God is working for the good of those He has called to His eternal kingdom.  Amen.
[1] Daniel 2:21
[2] 2 Timothy 3:16
[3] Galatians 4:4
[4] Matthew 23:2-3
[5] John 19:11
[6] Romans 4:7-8, quoting Psalm 32:1-2
[7] Small Catechism, 4th Commandment