Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 5-6, 2011 sermon

Colossians 3:12-17
February 5-6, 2011

“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

I. Love (3:12-14)

As the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness and longsuffering. That’s how our epistle begins. Put on these virtues, it says; don’t just haul them out from time to time, but clothe yourselves in them. Wear them constantly and treat other people accordingly.

Clothe yourself in tender mercies and kindness: wear these daily. Where people are in need, do what you can to assist them. Don’t do so out of pride or in such a way that broadcasts how much it inconveniences you, but do so tenderly—because your brother or sister is in need of help, and you are God’s instrument to help them. On the other hand, as you are able, act as you can so that you do not burden others—but so that those who are in greater need receive the help that is necessary. This goes for congregational life, too: act with tender mercy toward the body of Christ in this place. Where there is the need for service and help, set aside the time to be merciful to the congregation here.

Clothe yourself in humility, meekness and longsuffering. The world works by power, by striving to gain for yourself by being better than those around you. That is not how Christians live. Do not clothe yourself in pride which draws attention to your own achievements, however big or small they are; rather, put on humility which seeks to serve others for the sake of Jesus. Do not seek to use what authority God gives you in order to make people serve you—whether your office of authority be parent, teacher, pastor, supervisor, head of the household, etc.; rather clothe yourself in meekness that uses this authority to serve. Be patient—clothe yourself in longsuffering. There will be plenty of people and situations which annoy you and inconvenience you, perhaps even hurt you: be patient, for the Lord is patient with you.

As you are clothed in these virtues, the text then instructs you: bear with one another and forgive one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you must also do. The elect of God—saved by grace for Jesus’ sake—are still plagued by sin in this world. Therefore, it is necessary that each of us bear with the faults of each other and forgive each other. This is patently obvious, and yet terribly difficult. There will be brothers and sisters in Christ whom you do not like so much; and when you encounter such people, it is easy to spot whatever weaknesses they have and target them: either to marginalize them, push them out or just make fun of them. This ought not be: you and I each have weaknesses and limitations; we have some talents and lack others. We each have sins which need to be addressed, and I am not saying we should overlook sin, especially doctrinal error. But where it is simply a matter of personality, bear with one another. Where there is sin, clothe yourself in repentance if you are the sinner and forgiveness if you are the victim. And where you may still not get along with everybody, remember two things. First, each one here is one for whom Christ died, and that mean the Lord places immense value upon them. Second, the Lord does not require to like people you don’t get along with…but He does require you to love them.

This brings us to the third verse of the text, the summary of the first half: “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” Clothe yourselves in love: wear it constantly. Not the gooey emotional stuff of romantic movies—that’s not the love to which our text speaks. Rather, this love is the totality of all the virtues listed in the previous verses, and more. It is all good thought, word and deed put together. It is the hard work of service toward other people. It is the bond of perfection, our text says; or, in the words of Romans 13:10, love is the fulfillment of the Law.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, you are daily and continually to clothe yourselves in fulfilling the Law. You are daily to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and you are daily to love your neighbor as yourself.

That leads us to two more remarks about the first half of our text. One is that, by now, the warning bell should be ringing in your head. You are already thinking, “We are to clothe ourselves in love. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, we are daily to clothe ourselves in the perfect keeping of the Law. And therefore, we are never clothed as we ought to be, because perfect obedience is beyond the abilities of sinners like us.” This is absolutely true. It is not an excuse to be unloving or to give up trying to obey: to do so is to enslave ourselves to sin. We will never love as we ought. That’s why, as much as we need to hear this Law, we also need to hear our Lord’s Gospel. Our behavior won’t save us. Christ will. That Good News is coming soon, but there is one more thing of which we should speak, one sin of which to warn.

I have heard it said that the foundation of the Church is love—the Church stands or falls upon love. As long as we love one another, then the Church is in good shape. As long as we love the people around us, they will become Christians, too. It doesn’t sound bad, at least not at first. But consider this: if Church stands or falls upon love, then the Church stands or falls upon what we do. If people become Christians because we love them, then we are saying that people are saved by our works. Suddenly, this doesn’t sound so good anymore; clearly, in fact, this is a false teaching.

There are side effects to this false teaching: if our love is the foundation of the Church, then our Lord and His salvation are no longer. “Therefore,” the argument goes, “since what matters is that we love each other, then we don’t have to be so careful about what we teach and what we practice. We do not need to teach and work exactly according to God’s Word; rather, we need to change our practice so that what we do appears to be loving.”

By the grace of God, we must give a two-pronged defense. The first is that true love is the keeping of God’s Law, and God’s Law demands that we keep every jot and tittle of His Word. Therefore, anything that departs from God’s Word is no longer loving, even if it appears to be. The second is this: no matter how much we love, it doesn’t save us. If we are forgiven, then love will undoubtedly follow. But if we are not forgiven, we are lost eternally no matter how much we love.

That is why this sermon and text each have a second part, the preaching of the Gospel. That is why we turn from love and turn to peace.

II. Peace (3:15-16)

“Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body.” When the angels sang praises to shepherds at Christmas, they sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, His first words to them were, “Peace to you.” Sin causes strife. It makes enemies. We witness this in our dealings with other people all the time. But that is only a little reminder of a far more awful truth: because of our sinfulness, we are naturally enemies with God. If we are to be at peace with God, then our sins must be taken away. That is what Jesus has come to do—to bring peace by taking away sin. The peace of God is nothing else than the forgiveness that Jesus brings.

So after instructing you to clothe yourselves in love—telling you that you ought to keep God’s Law, St. Paul quickly tells you to let the peace of God rule in your hearts. Be forgiven. Where you are not as merciful as you ought to be, Jesus Christ is merciful to you: He does not reward you according to your love, but according to His. Because He has died and risen for you, He mercifully forgives you all of your sins. Where you are not kind, He is the kindness of God who has saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit; in other words, because you cannot clothe yourself in kindness as you ought, Jesus has clothed you with Himself in Holy Baptism. Where you are neither humble or meek, Jesus has cloaked His power in meekness and humility, suffering God’s judgment for His enemies in your place, dying your death so that you may live. And where you are not longsuffering, the Lord has suffered with your sin and still patiently grants you His grace today. His grace gives you peace with God; and if you are peace with God, you are His beloved child. And if you are His beloved child, then every good gift of God belongs to you.

As St. Paul points out, this determines the substance of our worship here, for all worship should be designed to bring to you the peace of God. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,” declares our text: we therefore speak the Word of Christ to you, for by it the Word made flesh dwells in you with all of His grace and favor. There are other words in the world that give wisdom and help and good advice, but it is only this Word that gives you peace with God. Likewise, we teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. As we sing liturgy and hymns here, we sing God’s Word to Him and to one another. There are many other songs that convey all sorts of knowledge and good feeling, but the music for worship is that which proclaims God’s peace with us in Christ. Thus, whatever we do in Word and deed, we do it all in the name of Jesus. We do it as those whom He has put His name on as His people. In other words, we love because He first loved us. If we are forgiven, love will follow. If we are not forgiven, all is lost.

As this sermon draws to a conclusion, we dare not ignore today’s Gospel lesson and its importance. Simeon is told by the Holy Spirit that he will see the Christ at the temple, and so he goes to find Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. We don’t know much about Simeon; in fact, for all we know, he may have been a believer who struggled with love and lacked much in the way of mercy, kindness or patience. Whoever he was as an individual, by the grace of God he believed that the Baby in his arms—that helpless, fragile infant—was his Savior. And so he sang his song which begins, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace—according to Your Word.” Simeon did not appeal to Jesus to save him because of his, Simeon’s, love. Rather, Simeon prayed that the Savior would act according to His Word—and thus bring peace between Simeon and God.

As long as the Lord preserves you here, you will come to the altar and receive the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins—the same flesh and blood that Simeon held in his arms, because the same Savior is present with you. Afterwards, you’ll sing Simeon’s song: “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace—according to Your Word.” For, dear elect of God, you live with this certain comfort that the Lord Jesus Christ comes to you with grace and life. He clothes you with Himself. He grants you His peace. Indeed, the peace of the Lord be with you always, for you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

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