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SERMON FOR THE WEEK: Life in the Spirit

Because opportunities to attend services may be limited for several weeks, the newspaper has invited local clergy to submit sermons for publication here.

St. John Lutheran Church, Tampa

A pastor by the name of Dan Meyer once said, “Years ago I traveled to Ecuador and spent a couple of weeks traveling in the mountains. The Quechua Indian people I met there lived amidst the most mind-numbing squalor. The disease and disfigured bodies were heartbreaking. The bugs and stench were everywhere. People were living in a hole in the ground and calling it a house. They were feeding on rotten food and prizing garbage as possessions. But they didn’t know it. Why? Because everyone lived that way. They had never been given a picture of what it means to be a genuinely healthy human being. They did not know what an abundant life truly looked like.”

That is our problem, too. It’s the reason we think of ourselves as largely innocent people — people who have little to do with bringing about the Cross of Christ.

We don’t get how sick and undeveloped we are spiritually. In Psalm 14, David says, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

In other words, we are condemned, and we don’t even know it.

Yes, we are condemned by sin from birth. Now sin is like a carnival ride — the first few minutes are really fun but the fun quickly ends and soon we can feel trapped — trapped by our addictions, by our emotions, by our actions and words. There are times we want to stop but know there is no way we can without some outside help. There are times we feel like we are going to die or wish we could so we would feel better. There are times when we stagger and get sick all over ourselves and those closest to us stand and cheer!

There is nothing funny about sin or the effects of sin and here is some real bad news — in sin we were born and in sin we live! We look into the letter of the Law and all that is left for us are the words of St. Paul to the Romans — “The wages of sin is death.”

The Law shows us our sin and we know that we deserve nothing less than God’s temporal and eternal punishment!

That is what we deserve but here is some good news — this is what we receive when someone besides our self stops the carnival ride of sin — “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) Now that is the good news of our text for this day.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus — now that is good news!

On the Cross Jesus put sin to death in His flesh and fulfilled the Law in our place! How well the prophet Isaiah put it: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

It was St. Athanasius who said of Christ our Lord, “He became what we are that He might make us what He is.”

By the wounds of Christ we were healed when the holy waters of Baptism flowed over us and brought us into God’s family and made Christ our brother. By His wounds we are healed every time we truly repent of our sins and hear the blessed words of the Absolution.

By His wounds we are healed as God’s Word comes to our lives and moves us to walk in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, denying ourselves and daily taking up our crosses!

By His wounds we are healed when our Lord comes to us with His true body and blood in the Sacrament to assure us of our forgiveness and give us the strength through His Spirit to walk free from the law of sin and death.

By His wounds we have been changed!

It once was said that every time we confess in the Creed’s “I believe in the Holy Spirit” that we are confessing that we believe that there truly is a living God who enters human personalities and changes them. As the Catechism points out the work of the Spirit is sanctification — which is just a big word made up of two Latin words that means to make holy!

That isn’t a one-time event but an ongoing process all our days. We can never say that we have arrived at perfect holiness till the moment of our death no matter how hard we work at it, but with the Spirit working in our lives we can sure make a lot of progress when it comes to walking in the footsteps of the Lord! When the Spirit lives in us there are a lot of changes that come to our sinful lives as His presence fills us and leads us to remember our Lord and Savior and what He has done for us.

St. Paul puts it this way in our text: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

How blessed we are to believe and know that we have life and not death — we have an eternal home waiting for us instead of eternal torment!

How blessed we are to know the love God has for us that He sent His only Son to die for our sins and rise again that we might have life!

How blessed we are to know that our sins have been forgiven and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

How blessed we are to know that we are part of the family of God!

Rev. Craig Barnes is the pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C. and grew up in a minister’s home.

“When I was a child, my minister father brought home a 12-year-old boy named Roger, whose parents had died from a drug overdose. There was no one to care for Roger, so my folks decided they’d just raise him as if he were one of their own sons.

At first it was quite difficult for Roger to adjust to his new home — an environment free of heroin-addicted adults. Every day, several times a day, I heard my parents saying to Roger:

“No, Roger. That’s not how we behave in this family.”

“No, Roger. You don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want.”

“No, Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family.”

And in time Roger began to change.

Now, did Roger have to make all those changes in order to become a part of the family? No. He was made a part of the family simply by the grace of my father.

But did he then have to do a lot of hard work because he was in the family? You bet he did.

It was tough for him to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude for the incredible love he had received.

Do we have a lot of hard work to do now that the Spirit has adopted us into God’s family? Certainly, but not so we might become a son or a daughter of the heavenly Father because we are sons and daughters just as St. Paul reminds us when he writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal. 4:4-7)

Now, every time life seems like a carnival ride from hell, every time we feel like there is nothing we can do but go with the flow right down the sewer of life, every time we cheer when someone staggers and gets so sick on sin they think they are going to die, the Holy Spirit says to us, “No, that’s not how we act in this family.” Amen.

Last modified April 1, 2020

 

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