Beloved. Our Gospel has a two events recorded in it. The first shows us the Lord’s mercy. One Sabbath day, when Jesus went into the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat bread, they were watching him closely. Right in front of him was a man who was suffering from swelling of his body. Jesus addressed the legal experts and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they were silent. So he took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go. It again seems to be a “set up” as the religious leaders of Jews were watching him closely and just coincidently right in front of him was a man who was suffering from swelling of his body. They knew from the past that Jesus would show mercy and heal the man; they knew from the past that Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, that is, the true God, the One who gave the Sabbath to begin with. They knew that Jesus would show mercy and “break the Sabbath law” and heal this man and so they would have a cause or reason to reject Jesus; they could justify themselves for rejecting Jesus in spite of His teaching and miracles. Jesus, knowing all this/ knowing their hearts, went right to the heart of the matter pointedly asking them: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they were silent.
Then we notice something else interesting. Although this man who was suffering from swelling of his body was right in front of Jesus, perhaps a prime spot since Jesus may have been a “guest of honor”, Jesus noticed how [the guests] were selecting the places of honor. Certainly you can imagine the scene with the people jockeying for position. What Jesus then says is not so much a lesson in etiquette as it is a great spiritual lesson. It is a call to humility; not a false humility that really is trying for honor and recognition but a humility that is grounded in a recognition of one’s own sin and need of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus. In today’s Gospel Jesus describes this true humility flowing from faith this way: Yes, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. We are humble as we recognize that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. That means I am not better than the next guy. We are all equal before God, equally in need of His grace and mercy. And as I am a Christian, who in faith receives God’s grace and mercy to me in Jesus, as I am a recipient of God’s love and mercy, how can I, then, not love and serve others as God has loved and served me?
That’s also precisely the point St. Paul makes in today’s epistle: As a prisoner in the Lord, therefore, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. Notice that one word: therefore. That one word points us back to what St. Paul had written before. In the previous chapters He had taught so much Christian doctrine about Jesus and His work, our election and call, Jesus reconciling us to God, that Jesus has broken the divisions between people, the mystery and glory of the Church. Here is our dignity and here is our glory as Christians! With all of that rich background of doctrine of who Jesus is and what His work has done for us, St. Paul writes: therefore, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. As we walk in a manner worthy of [our] calling, with all of God’s love and mercy, with all of the fruits and blessings of Jesus’ work that we now enjoy, let us live out who and what we are as Christians. Let us live out who we are in Jesus—children of God and heirs of heaven; ones redeemed, forgiven and restored. In other words, let our Creed/ what it is that we believe about Jesus let that influence how we act. It’s not that doctrine/ what we believe is here and our lives and how we live out our lives are there, and never shall the two meet. No! What we believe about Jesus will affect what we do and how we act.
So what is it to live our lives/ to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called? St. Paul then goes on to explain: Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. That’s what our lives as Christians are to be like all the time; that is what is to mark our lives especially in the Christian congregation; that is what is to be the mark especially of Faith Lutheran as we enter a period of vacancy as we work with and serve each other to make sure that the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the holy Sacraments continue among us. Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love.
St. Paul then continues: Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. How very vital it is for us to keep this in mind—at all times but especially now! Notice what the holy apostle says: maintain the unity of the Spirit. We do not create our unity, but we better maintain it. In spite of all our personal differences we have a glorious unity, dear Christian. Ours is a divinely worked unity. The unity of the Church, of Christians and of a Christian congregation is not like the unity one finds in civic groups where like-minded people come together for a specific reason or cause. That coming together starts down below, with us. The coming together of the Church, of the Christian congregation, begins with God. He calls us together; He gathers us together. The word “church” in Scripture comes from the word meaning “to be called out”. We have been called out of the world to be our Lord’s dear Christian. We have been called out of the world to be our Lord’s dear Christian and specifically we have been called into this congregation so that the Lord can feed us and strengthen us in the faith by His holy word and sacraments. Our unity in the Church and even here at Faith is a glorious working and gift of God to us. Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ours is a spiritual unity—a unity in Spirit and truth. Remember what Luther writes in the catechism that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. We have the Holy Spirit who worked in us that one and the same faith in Jesus as our Savior. He worked in us that same faith that grabs ahold and receives the gifts Jesus gives us. We have that same eternal hope of a glorious eternity with Jesus in heaven where we will be with Him soul and body, together with all the saints and holy angels.
What a glorious divinely worked unity we have! St. Paul describes it this way in our text: There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in the one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. What a glorious description of what Christians really are and have! As Christians, we do have a glorious unity because the glorious unity of the Church is rooted in Jesus and our baptism into Him. Holy Baptism unites us with Jesus—it is a baptism into His death and resurrection; and as we are united with Jesus in baptism, so is each and every Christian. That means that we are united then with our fellow Christian. Throughout His epistles, St. Paul refers to the Church as the body of Christ. Just as the various parts of the body make up the one body, so also all Christians are united and are the body of Christ. What binds us together is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not divided and one little bit of the Holy Spirit is given to one Christian and another part to another. Instead, the one and the same indivisible Holy Spirit unites us all. United as we are to each other by the same Holy Spirit working that one and same faith in Jesus in each, we are striving for the same goal—holiness of life and a heavenly eternity.
As that is true of the whole holy Christian Church, how much more is it true of the Christians that the Lord has gathered around His holy word and sacrament here at Faith. We all have the same Holy Spirit. We all have His gracious working in us and on us. We have the same ultimate goal—heaven; and we have the same goal now: the hearing and receiving of our Lord in His word and Sacrament in church and living lives of faith and good works. Let each of us recognize the Holy Spirit in the other; that the Holy Spirit is working in the other. Let us recognize that glorious unity that we share in Jesus; let us recognize Jesus in the other. And as we see our Lord in the other, let us show that love and honor that they are due. Let us be diligent in the upcoming days to display our God-worked unity and pull together even more and work in union with our fellow members here at Faith to make sure that we maintain God’s holy word and Sacrament here. That is for our spiritual good, the spiritual good of our fellow Christian and the spiritual good of those who have yet to hear our Lord’s word.
Especially now and especially among us let us hear St. Paul in our text: Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. These basic characteristics of the Christian are virtues that help maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Look at these characteristics: humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love; these are characteristics that Jesus works in the Christian. And notice something else, take it a step further: Jesus works these in His Christian because He Himself is in His Christian; the characteristics of Christ become the characteristics of His Christian. That’s because of our union with Him, where He is in us and we are in Him.
Look at these virtues and how they help maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Humility—that puts the other person first and subordinates self to the other; it doesn’t lord it over the other. Gentleness gladly serves rather than demands. Patience is putting up with provocations from others. Bearing with one another in love is putting up with perhaps even unpleasant peculiarities of another. As we make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially here in our church, it is not a burden; instead, led by the Holy Spirit, it is a delight to serve our fellow Christians with what the Lord of the Church has given us to do. Now, He is calling you to extra service here in the congregation. Look for additional ways you can serve; ask out and see how you can help and support those already serving. Remember: All the good that we do, all our good works, we do by the power of God. We are His instruments of mercy through whom He carries out His intentions—even in the congregation. As you see others serving in the congregation here, see them as God’s instruments of mercy; pray for them.
Be warned: Satan will be extra hard at work to try to destroy the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. Don’t let him succeed. Pray the Lord to send His holy angels to guard and protect this parish. And, also, do not be annoyed with the defects and weakness of your fellow Christians here at faith; instead remember that they are still the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, that they belong of Jesus and are heirs of salvation with you. And, to be sure, they must remember the same thing about you!
Dear Christian, peace is the bond that binds Christians together—especially in the local church. We will be at peace with each other as we remember and follow the Apostle’s word to us today: I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. As we strive for this, we will maintain the unity of the Spirit given by the word. INJ Amen.