Sermon – Pentecost 9
August 2nd, 2009
Unity, Truth and Love. Three key ideas in Paul's letter to the church of Ephesus. Three Christian virtues we sinners struggle to uphold. Three important words with meaning and application for each of us individually and as a congregation. What does God say to us, through St. Paul, about Unity, Truth and Love?
Unity – Paul prays that we would be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
There is a unity, a one-ness to the church. The first thing to note is that this unity is a gift of God, not a human achievement. Paul simply prays that we would be able to maintain this gift, in the bond of peace. We sinners aren't always so good at that. But we would join in Paul's prayer that God's church may be united.
There is unity in the church, even while there is division. We look around and see Christians of other denominations with different and confusing teachings which don't line up with Scripture. There are many divisions.
And yet there is a unity to the extent that they believe in the one Lord Jesus Christ, through the one Spirit. We also share one baptism. We Lutherans have distinguished between the many church confessions, which show great fracture and disagreement, and the “universal church” which includes all who hold saving faith, even if they also believe some wrong things.
One day, we will be perfectly united, not only in saving faith but in all things – when we attain to the fullness of Christ. But until that day when Jesus comes to bring his Church home, we struggle to maintain what unity we can on earth – always giving God thanks for the blessing when it is found.
But unity doesn't just mean we all “get along” or like each other. It's not an emotional or sentimental state. For Christians, unity is a oneness that is based on something – the truth. A common faith – and a common confession of it. That we hold Jesus Christ as True God and True Man. That we believe he died for sinners and rose victorious to give us life. That we believe in the doctrine taught in his word. That we practice and apply his word of both Law and Gospel faithfully. Unity in the truth means calling sinners to repentance and freely bestowing his grace through Absolution, Proclamation, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Paul says we should not be, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes' but rather, “speak the truth in love”
The truth is, there are a lot of lies out there. And such deceits and winds of false doctrine work against our unity. And don't think you're not susceptible to these falsehoods! We live in an atmosphere thick with the winds of false teaching – telling us that truth is relative, that biblical morality is outdated, that all religions lead to heaven, that each should choose for himself what is right or wrong, and that just about the only sin left is telling someone else they are wrong.
And these winds can toss us about like children in an inflatable raft on the sea in the midst of a hurricane. We would be defenseless against the devil's bag of wind were it not for our anchor of Truth, in Jesus Christ. Were it not for the chart and course laid out for us in Holy Scripture, and delivered to us by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
We pray, as Paul prayed, for the Truth to win the day. That our unity would be kept and maintained, even as we continue to speak and believe the Truth, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Finally, Paul instructs that Christians speak the truth in love. And here, too, we may have a definition problem. For many caught in the winds of false teaching, the word “love” has all kinds of baggage. What does it mean, for the Christian, to be truly loving? What does it mean to speak the truth in love?
Does it mean always being nice and polite and sweet-as-pie? Certainly not. For Jesus and the Apostles, the Prophets and the saints before us show by example that sometimes a harsh word is in order. And this word, this “no” is usually not received as love. It may mean saying no to your child for their own good. It may mean saying no to a friend who wants you to join them in some sin. It may mean saying no when you are asked to sign on to something apart from the Truth. Speaking the truth in love, sometimes means “tough love”, a harsh word of law that is as tough to say as it is to hear.
We should all know that love, because we need to hear that law, too. We need to have our noses rubbed in our sin. We need someone to knock off our armor of self-righteousness and expose the rot within us. We are poor miserable sinners, and facing that fact hurts. It doesn't feel loving when someone tells us so. But it is.
Speaking the truth in love also means speaking the truth Of love. Of God's love. Speaking and telling, rehearsing and proclaiming the awesome and wonderful message of the Gospel – the good news of Jesus. He who said, “greater love has no one than this – that he lay down his life for his friends”. He who said it, did it. He laid down his life for us all to make us his friends. He who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He who brings us Unity with God, and Unity with each other through the cross.
One final thought, that in this Church, we maintain our Unity by speaking the Truth in Love, and through serving each other as God has equipped us to do. Thus the body is built up, and grows toward our fullness in Christ.
And so we, the body of Christ, the church, hold these things dear: Unity, Truth and Love. All are gifts from the Lord. All are ours through Christ our Lord. When we fail – when we are divided, when we are caught in falsehood, and when we fail to love each other – we come in humility again to the cross, and are reunited with God and each other in the truth and love of Christ. So we hear, and so we speak. So we believe and live. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.