Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi)

Readings: Exodus 8:16-24 | Ephesians 5:1-9 | Luke 11:14-28

Text: Luke 11:14-28

This time of year, many of us are looking at spring cleaning. As more light comes in the window, the grime on the windows and the dust in the air is harder to turn a blind eye to.

The first part of spring cleaning involves moving things out of the way to uncover what you haven’t been dealing with: dead leaves, fur, dust, long lost items that fell off behind the table. There’s an excitement about making visible progress.

As the job wears on, you may reach a point where you say, I never want to have to do this ever again! Let’s just do a massive purge! If we just didn’t amass all the stuff, it wouldn’t be so much trouble. Your stories of cleaning may vary…or it might be an unpleasant reminder of how you haven’t or can’t seem to get to it.

Of course, our Lord is not concerned whether our houses are tidy or messy, just as it doesn’t put Him off if the clothes you’re wearing today are up to cultural snuff. He is concerned with saving us from things far more insidious than dust mites.

If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. (Luke 11:20-22)

Satan is no friend to people. From the beginning, he has shown what sort of deceitful “friend” he is. Those who today claim to be Satanists, and who dabble in taboo practices like tarot and Ouija boards are embracing the sweet poison of the lies that Satan dispenses. C.S. Lewis was wise to depict Satan as a woman in white who invites the unsuspecting in with Turkish delight (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

The difference between the devil and dust mites is that the clutter simply accumulates due to inattention, but this Satanic strong man and his demons are an active danger: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The dust and daddy longlegs do not target you as Satan does. His aim is your eternal destruction with him. He would like to see you and your family, as well as every human being ripped away from God eternally because of spiritual death and proud rebellion (like him).

~ Demonic Possession ~

In the past, overt displays of violence and a show of strength to make people cower and avoid the demoniac. [Mark 5:1-20]

Today, it manifests itself in what Jesus says today: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather [together, that is, synagogue] with me scatters.”

What demonic lies have won over your friends, your children, and grandchildren that keep them from being gathered with the faithful?

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Whoever is not with Christ is actually against Him. The lip service people pay to being a Christian (that is, one who follows Christ) is proved to be false by their way of life, and it will not escape the Judgment Day. Whoever does not synagogue with Him scatters. What this means is that the chief work of Satan we see today, and even more so after the COVID revolution, is when the victims of Satan are kept from the congregation.

The satanic way is to put the proverbial rock in your shoe: be it what you think of the other people at church, some supposed failing in the music or the manner in which the service is conducted, and perhaps Satan will even tempt your spouse so that they incite you and drive you away.

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. For the one who has been rescued by the Lord, there is comfort and safety in the congregation. It’s not merely a matter of “church attendance,” but of the ground upon which our life is built: beginning with Baptism.

~ Living in Baptism ~

Baptism of Christ by Cima da Conegliano

We have to clean multiple times. It’s never truly complete until we move out of a house and lock the door for the last time. Then we can set down our mop. What are the sort of things we only have to do once? Get a social security card? Usually just take the driver’s test once.

We do confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in…one Baptism for the remission of sins.” But whenever we treat it like a past event as if it were a lifetime membership, a ticket to heaven, that is a lie out of hell. That is the work of Satan and his demons in our day.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

In Holy Baptism, it begins with an exorcism. Not the Hollywood pea-soup kind, but a warning against the devil and all his host: This one being baptized now belongs to a new Lord and Master.

“Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?” (Rite of Holy Baptism, LSB 270)

  • Who is the devil, but a fallen angel who masquerades as an angel of God [2 Corinthians 11:14].
  • What are his works? He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44]. He twists God’s Word into exactly what He wants it to say, seeking spiritual and eternal death of men and women.
  • What are his ways? To appear as a pious friend, who tells you that you are right, and “the church” or people in it are wrong. [1 John 2:18-20]

The alternative rite for Holy Baptism, authored by Martin Luther puts it very frankly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!” And in our dull awareness of the spiritual realm, we think it can’t be all that bad away from Christ. I mean, they’re not shrieking and cursing Christ vocally. But that is not where the unclean spirits show themselves today in America.

They want to keep the baptized away from Baptism. There they lurk, in waterless places. That is, places away from the waters of Baptism. Listen to these wise words from the church father, Tertullian, speaking to us from the 3rd century:

“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed [in the faith], but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith. The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and basilisks themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ [ichthus, an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior’], Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water!” (Tertullian, On Baptism, 1)

Beloved little fishes at Bethlehem, Beelzebul is no friend and inert danger that we can steer clear of by our own wits. The Stronger Man, the Lord Jesus, has cast him out and away from you. He has saved you in the waters of Holy Baptism. Live in it every day. Begin every day in the sacred Name He places on you.

You have been cleaned out of the devil’s works and ways, in order to be filled with Him and the Word He speaks. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. By the Word which speaks to each of us in our lives—as husbands and wives, parents and children, leaders and followers, rulers and citizens—He shines the bright truth that we may recognize and flee from the craft of our enemy.

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you…14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11-14)


Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi)

Readings: Jeremiah 26:1–15 | Ephesians 5:1-9 | Luke 11:14–28

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

The art on the bulletin cover is unsettling.  It’s disturbing to think of a demon possessing a person.  It’s grotesque because that’s not what the human body was made for.  The demon, whether it was visible or invisible—doesn’t belong there.  Neither should it have been for the man himself: the tongue was not made to hang loosely, nor the vocal folds to be absent of words.

Looking at it from this perspective, in His ministry, Jesus healed the other members of sin-broken people: ears were opened so that they could hear the Word, eyes were opened so that they could do their proper function of beholding God’s beautiful creation and witnessing the saving acts of God, lame feet were healed so that one might follow the Savior and go about the work He gives every day.  He raises the dead and gives them back to their relatives in order to show that death is not natural and is not the way the world is supposed to be.

Another part of the body upon which Jesus works is the heart.  Now, when we hear ‘heart’ today, we think of it as the seat of the emotions. That’s not how the ancients thought of it.  The heart—lev in Hebrew and kardia in Greek—is the core of a person.  Sometimes this is translated, “the inner man,” but not in the sense that we have a “ghost in the machine.”  For our present life, our heart is tied to soul, mind, and body.  They’re all bound up together, and God is the only surgeon who can treat one without breaking the others.

That’s what Jesus does—He operates on the heart.  More accurately, He creates a new heart—“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)  This is the same thing we earnestly pray for after the sermon and before Holy Communion: “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right Spirit within me. (Ps. 51:10)

God the Holy Spirit’s work is that change of heart.  It’s a necessary change, too.  When it comes to malfunctions and diseases of the body, people are good at recognizing them.  You go to the optometrist if your eyes don’t see clearly; the gastroenterologist for digestive issues; the neurologist for non-responsive muscles and seizures.  But diagnosing the heart is another matter.  Psychology can get at some of the processes of the mind, but doesn’t get to the Biblical heart of a person.  That takes the ministry of the Spirit to “make ye straight what long was crooked” (Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People, LSB 347, st. 4).

That is what St. Paul is doing in the beginning of Ephesians 5:

1 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.

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.

We human creatures of God were first made in His image and likeness, so it is reasonable that we should resemble our Creator.  But in so many ways we do not.  That requires the diagnosis of the Great Physician, and His benchmarks that He gives us in His Word.

There are several things the Apostle Paul mentions which are “out of plumb” with our humanity:

  • Sexual immorality (Greek: porneia) is the distortion of “in the beginning, He created them male and female, and the man shall cleave to His wife and the two shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2)  It’s when that one-flesh union, or a part of it is divorced (pun intended) from the rest of the intended unity between husband and wife.  While the word, porneia, specifically referred to prostitution, people have been innovators when it comes to ways to “get the milk without buying the cow”—from the damage birth control has done, to the volume of explicit content that is available on TV and other screens.

This has become so prevalent in our era, that it’s increasingly difficult to avoid it and protect our children from being influenced and have their sexuality misshapen by it. By a kind of saturation of it, we have become partially numb to this abuse of what is meant to be private between a man and his wife.

  • Impurity (uncleanness) – Sexual immorality isn’t the only thing that results from our deformed humanity.  This same word, uncleanness, is used in Romans 1:24 to describe people following the lusts of their hearts, dishonoring their bodies after having exchanged the truth of God for a lie and serving the creature rather than the Creator.

To identify what’s wrong here, we again return to the creation of man and woman.  We are embodied souls. Our body is part of our existence, so much so that, when we are adopted as God’s children in Baptism, our body actually becomes a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).  Uncleanness (even in much of the Levitical law) describes the misuse or dysfunction of the glorious creation of God which is the human body. “My body, my choice” echoes the cry of servants who have appropriated their Master’s property for their own benefit.

  • Covetousness – The Greek word literally means being filled with having. This is a deformity of our will.  It’s so important—and slips past our notice—that it also is called out by the last of the Commandments.  To lust after something God hasn’t given you truly is sin.  It’s not a matter of how much you have, but contentment with what your Creator has provided.  Whatever the historical reasons, this malady isn’t cast in such a negative light in our culture, but it is equally enslaving.  Because we are surrounded by it and it’s nearly all we’ve known in our lifetimes, it’s hardly noticed.  Covetousness drives the consumer market, the loan industry, credit card debt, and casinos.
  • The next are distortions of how we use our tongue: Filthiness (obscenity, deformity, ugliness), foolish talk (lit: the words of fools), and crude joking (ribaldry).  These describe taking a sick satisfaction with, or approval of, the way things are in this world.  St. James puts it condemningly-well when he writes,

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet hit boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:5-10)

From all this (and there is certainly more), it’s clear how much we need to be worked over in order to resemble God’s creation of us.  For me, it would be like holding up an X-ray of a healthy spine next to mine with scoliosis which is severely bent.  God, through His Word, holds this perfect overlay up and it shows all that is deformed in us.

It’s all too common for us to resemble the image of our father Adam, and the other people around us.  Seeing that the society around us either turns a blind eye or celebrates these maladies as good, it’s that much harder for beloved children of God to live in between our new birth in Baptism to when our time in these evil days comes to an end [Eph. 5:19].  No wonder He must continually call us back to what we were created for and what we, as His children, are destined toward.

But what shall we do?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could put the proverbial genie back in the bottle on these things?  I’m afraid that won’t be enough for a couple reasons.  One, as several of the Church’s teachers have noted, humanity is gradually getting worse—weaker in self-control, more depraved, willing to let slide what was previously outrageous (see Augsburg Confession, XXIII 14.  The second reason, connected to that, is that St. Paul says that outward prohibitions may stop the action for a while, but comments, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)  What we need is change on the inside, a new heart.

The first thing we do is repent and admit that we have gone with the crowd (even if up until now you didn’t know any better!), and that we have followed the desires of our sinful minds and hearts. 

The second is to ask the Lord to drive out what is evil and grotesque within us—the evil spirit that is at work in this age, as Paul described earlier to the Ephesians: “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)  Remember that disturbing bulletin cover art?  Yes, that’s what needs to happen to us when we have been enslaved by the devil’s lies and our own lusts.  And by His Word and the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus is the stronger man of the Gospel reading (Luke 11:14-28), and we are those plundered from the devil and the world, for God to adopt us as beloved children!

Third, we need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to create that new, clean heart within us.  He is called the Holy Spirit because His work is to make God’s people holy, which He does from the inside, out. 

We will sin and we will fall short of the glory God has created us for.  We are not able to achieve perfection, and God doesn’t demand that of us.  That isn’t an excuse to give in or give up the struggle.  Fight the good fight, press on toward the goal of the upward call in Christ Jesus [1 Tim. 6:12, Phil. 3:14].  That is, knowing that your God created you for better, do your best to flee sexual immorality, avoid uncleanness, foster contentment, and bridle your tongue. Yet, it’s even in our weakness, our deformity, our cries of “I believe, help my unbelief” [Mark 9:24], our groaning over failing for the thousandth time in our wretched body of death [Rom. 7:25] that the beauty of our Savior shines.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Sinners have a Savior.  So, be a sinner and confess your sins, believing that Jesus has the power to save you from what you’ve been, what you can’t seem to shake, and even death from which none of us can escape.  Except, we will in Jesus who has both broken the power of sin and of death.

Finally, St. Paul started this all out by telling us, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  This is the key to our life: That Christ has loved us in our abysmal condition and gave Himself up that we might be beautiful in God’s sight, called “The Redeemed of the Lord” with renewed hearts and minds.  We are about to sing Psalm 51:10-12 in the Offertory, but would you please pray with me the verses which follow:

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.  Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”  Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) (Exodus 8:16-24)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) + March 24, 2019

Text: Exodus 8:16-24

While God was executing His judgment against the Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and their gods, God made a distinction between His people and His enemies.  Sure, at the start, the Egyptian magicians were able to turn water into blood (Ex. 7:22), and brought frogs on the land (Ex. 8:7).  But the time came where God displayed His mighty power that Moses wasn’t just a wizard, and the Deity Moses served was no impressive demon or demiurge.  The Lord God did not permit the magicians to counterfeit His work any longer (v. 8).  Furthermore, in the fourth plague of flies, He set a distinction between the lands.

The Exodus was, and to an extent still is, the quintessential act of deliverance for God’s people.  The Ten Commandments are prefaced with the identification: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:2)  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that act, for in it the Lamb of God and Firstborn Son shed His blood and became a whole burnt offering for the forgiveness of sins.  Not to mention, all of these things took place against the backdrop of the Passover (Mark 14:1, Luke 22:7, John 19:14).

It should not be a surprise that the same God who caused His people to walk through the Red Sea on dry ground, who crushed the Serpent’s head at the cross, and broke the unchallenged reign of death, would also mightily act for His people today.  The accounts of old were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4), and are a visible manifestation of what He still does for those who are His sons through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26).  In the Exodus, He restrained those who mocked Him and despised His people, and He still does.  They harden their hearts against God, and eventually “He gives them over to the evil lusts of their hearts.” (Rom. 1:24)  When it came to the flies, the Lord set apart His land and shielded it from the judgments against the hard-hearted Egyptians.  In the same way, He shields us from the wrath which is waiting to be revealed (Rom. 2:5) by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The Exodus was one example where God made a visible distinction between His people and those not His people.  Often the Psalmists complain that the wicked seem to have an advantage over the righteous (Ps. 73:1-12, Psalm 37:7-9).  In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses:

1Truly God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart.

2But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,

my steps had nearly slipped.

3For I was envious of the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4For they have no pangs until death;

their bodies are fat and sleek.

9They set their mouths against the heavens,

and their tongue struts through the earth.

10Therefore his people turn back to them,

and find no fault in them.

We also wish that God would draw the lines thicker so we could see who’s in, and who’s out?  Are we in or are we out?  That’s what the Jews did when it came to Samaritans—a whole nationality of unbelievers.  Fantastic!  Now we know who God is going to rain fire and brimstone on, and who He’s going to shelter. 

But God doesn’t make it that simple for us, because the division isn’t a visible boundary.  Exodus 8:23 is translated, “I will make a difference between my people and your people.”  Well, in Hebrew it literally says, “I will set redemption between my people and your people.”  There’s the difference—who has the redemption?  Those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.  The boundary between the people of God and hypocrites is found in human hearts—which only God knows.

As the Redeemed, we have a special status before God.  We have an access to Him that far exceeds anything money can buy or the right connections can get you.  We have the heart and ear of the Almighty: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)  As a matter of fact, God does not hear and answer the prayers of unbelievers, no matter how pious their “thoughts and prayers” might be.

So, when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, it’s not a magic formula to secure God’s blessing.  Instead, it’s a list of promises God the Father gives through His Son.  It’s promises as powerful and sure as the plagues poured out against Egypt, and the voice which commands the unclean spirits and they obey.

Now, as we pray the Our Father—or really any time we come to God in faith—we are asking for Him to prevail.  Let God be victorious and let His enemies perish.  This is what we ask as we pray: Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.  We’re praying that other names would be profaned and shown to be as weak as their owners. We pray that God’s Kingdom of grace and glory would conquer the devil’s kingdom so that men might be saved.  We pray that everything on earth opposed to God’s will would fail, and that God have His good and gracious way in spite of everything else.

Luther says that we pray against the “world, the devil, and our sinful nature which do not want to hallow God’s Name or let His Kingdom come.” We’d all agree that those three are enemies of God.  Yet when we pray, we’re also asking God in spite of even our best plans and intentions.  As dear children asking their dear Father, we must submit our plans to Him.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

When we pray, we must acknowledge that only God is 100% right. Everything in us is always subject to misunderstanding at best and corruption at worst.  It’s not only calling on God when problems are bigger than we can handle; it’s calling on Him every moment because we can’t live without His direction.  We need to let God be right when we’re embroiled in disagreements, when husbands and wives are facing divorce, when we’re uncertain about the future.  Only God is right and only His motives are pure.  Only He knows the best solution for our future.  So we bow our knees before Him and ask for Him to lead the way.  Let God be God, and let us be His humble and obedient children.  If we won’t do this, and live without the assurance from Him, we might as well not pray and live like secular humanists.

In spite of our weak faith, and even before we had lifted a finger toward God, He reconciled us through the blood of His true, only-begotten Son.  It’s in Christ and through Christ that we have the access and blessing to call on God as our Father.  Even when we falter in our prayers, may God continue to work His good purpose for us and for all who hold to Christ.

Today, during the Prayer of the Church, we are going to take some much-needed time with each petition of the Our Father.  Luther called this prayer the greatest martyr of the Church because of how it’s rattled off.  Lord, forgive us our many trespasses, especially for treating your Word as something to be “gotten through.”  And just as surely as He set redemption between His people and all others, He is ready and willing to answer the prayer of faith.  Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) (Ephesians 5:1-9)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi) + March 4, 2018
Text: Ephesians 5:1-9
St. Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
“What makes you think that you’re special?” The implication is that being special or privileged is a bad thing.  Sure people will tolerate that you can be unique in your appearance, tastes, or life story, but woe to the person who has special status.  We’re bombarded by messages that tell us to shun privileged status and never to discriminate between people.
The resentment over privilege may come from times when someone thinks they’re better than others (like the Pharisee over the tax collector in Luke 18:11).  But the problem isn’t with the privileged status itself. It’s a problem in the heart called entitlement.  It’s much easier to throw out the baby with the bath water and say that all privilege is a bad thing, and that we should strive for equality in every form.
Christians are one of those people who get labelled as special and privileged.  “Boy I can’t stand church-going people.  They just think they’re better than everyone else, like they’re God’s chosen people”
Actually, we are—the chosen part, not the better than others.  It didn’t come from an arrogant desire to look down on other people.  God said we are His chosen people…multiple times: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” and “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”[1]
For the believer, it is right to say that God has chosen us.  He called us by the Gospel to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.  That calling sets believers apart from the rest of the world, makes them distinct, and gives them privileged status.  But it’s best to use the word God uses: holy.  Christians are holy people.
In contrast to holy people are people who are profane.  As holy people, Christians believe differently, think differently, and live differently from the profane.  Holy people belong to the Lord who rescued and redeemed them.  Profane people do not have a god, and so their life is built on a different foundation.  For the profane, it is enough to fit in and be like those who are around you.
Take gender and sexuality for example.  If we were profane people, it would be enough to imitate the people around us.  Questions of propriety are answered by prevailing trends.  60 years ago, homosexuality, fornication, and abortion were all looked down upon.  But times have changed, and those things are socially acceptable.
So, for the profane, it’s perfectly acceptable for sexuality to be a means to gratify personal pleasure.  Whatever makes you feel best must be right.
But it’s different for a holy people.  We have a God who has redeemed us from the manmade gods of this world.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (v. 1) Christians are imitators of God and beloved children.  Our God made us—body and soul—in His image, male and female as two necessary, and not interchangeable parts of a whole. Husbands for wives, and wives for husbands.  Men and women uniquely made with gifts that differ according to God’s ordering.
We know the God who created men and women as sexual and emotional beings, for life-long intimacy between husband and wife.  Those desires are not to be gratified selfishly but as part of a whole life of love toward your spouse and children.
Christians have a different ethic than the world, because God has made Himself known to us.  And that is a good thing in God’s eyes, to be a peculiar people for Him.
But we still live in the world, and we still live with our hardened, sinful hearts.  So it is a struggle between the holy and the profane right inside each of us.
This is evident even in our own synod. The profane rears its head, even among God’s holy people.  At the 2016 National Youth Gathering, a survey found the following:

  • 6 percent of youth said that homosexual acts are always wrong, 20.3 percent responded it is OK if both people love each other and 11.2 responded that it is OK if both people consent.
  • 3 percent favored gay marriage…26.5 percent were unsure.
  • 48.3 percent responded that pre-marital sex is always wrong, 16.1 percent that it is OK if both people love each other and 14.3 percent that it is ok if both persons consent.[2]

The battle is wages in each of our hearts, for the holy calling of God to triumph over the profane sinful flesh.  And the stakes are incredibly high.  To His holy, beloved children, God also warns: 5You 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. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5–6)   Those who forsake God and the privileged position He has bestowed on them by grace, will also lose their place in His kingdom. If you want to be like the world, you will go the way of the world and pass away.
With such danger all around and inside us, what can we do?  God gives us His Holy Spirit.  Remember that the Holy Spirit is the one who “sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.”  He alone is the One who makes and keeps us holy against such pressure.  But where does He do this?
In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luke 11:28)  This, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit—to guard and keep the Word of God in our heart.  It is the Holy Spirit in you who guards the precious, life-giving Word within you!  Whenever you see the Spirit fighting against the desire to “be like the rest” and do what’s contrary to God’s Word, there you can assure your heart that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)  The Holy Spirit is more powerful than your sinful flesh, the devil, and the world.
Rest assured that it is continually God’s will to make you, as a believer in Christ, holy.  His desire is constantly to keep you in your faith—hearing the Law which exposes all unholiness in heart, mouth, and hand, and believing the Gospel which forgives all your sins.
Therefore, let us as children of God rejoice in our being made holy by God, set apart, being different from the world.  This isn’t because it’s a privilege to gloat of before others.  (Indeed it is a gift which God desires for every profane person.)  We rejoice in God our Savior because in Him we have true freedom and the pure knowledge of who we as human beings were created to be, and who He is as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  Amen.
[1] Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:9, 10; also often translated as “elect” (Matt. 24:31, Rom. 8:33)