(I also had the pleasure of baptizing my nephew today as well).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Epistle which was read earlier.
A willingness to do good is a wonderful attribute. Combined with the ability to do good, we’ve got the complete package. We, of course, are not that package. Often we’d like to do good and can’t. Other times, we could do something but don’t because we just want to. In our text for today, the apostle Paul recognizes that God is willing and able to do good for us, specifically, to strengthen the one Holy Christian Church.
God’s willingness and ability are well documented in Scripture. John writes, “For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Added to this creative will is God’s re-creative will: God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Equal to God’s willingness is God’s ability. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” God’s ability to save and strengthen is absolute: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Yet nowhere is Scripture more emphatic about God’s willingness and ability to help us than in our text for today. Paul says that God’s love surpasses knowledge and that He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” What we see is that God is both willing and able to strengthen His Church.
Paul says at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians that God has set forth in Christ “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Our heavenly Father sets out to accomplish His plan through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for it is Christ and Christ alone who is able to restore the created order: for “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him”
The reason for all of this, the reason why we need God to strengthen His Church is because of what the world throws at us. The world applies heat to our spiritual lives. We are heavy with the weight of our sin. Our sins make us miserable and alone. The world will tell us that we are not “a poor, miserable sinner.” The world will tell us that even little Jesse is not a sinner. But that is not what David says. He says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We are told that there is nothing for us to confess because we didn’t sin; we are a good person. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we are “a poor, miserable sinner.” We are not good because we are sinful. The world is wrong, yet we continue to buy into what the world has to say.
Instead of showing to the Ephesian Church what the world will and can do to forgive sins, rather, Paul points them to the source of willingness and ability to strengthen us: our triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Through all of this, though, God is willing, ready, and able to strengthen us. He is willing, ready, and able to forgive us of our sins. It is God, our heavenly Father, who chose to make us His family. It is in our Baptism that we receive God’s name. It is from God Himself that we receive our name as His children, for He made us in His own image – that of being perfect and holy. While our sin has destroyed that image of God upon us, we still receive our name from Him and continue to receive “the riches of his glory.” That is accomplished for us through what our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has done.
Jesus Christ is willing, ready, and able to strengthen us. He dwells in our hearts through faith, as the apostle Paul says. Christ loves us beyond what our minds can fathom. It is beyond our human understanding why Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, would be born into a sinful world to die for sinful people like us. For a reason unknown to us, He was willing to go to the cross for us and for our sins. Because He is man, He was able to substitute for us. Because He is God, His sacrifice was able to satisfy God’s demand for justice, to do what we could not do. Without the saving work of Jesus Christ, everything we have would be worthless. In fact, everything that we do have is worthless unless we have Christ. We can have everything that the world can offer, but without Christ, nothing we have is worth anything, because everything pails in comparison to the gifts which Christ has bestowed upon us: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Not only does God the Father and God the Son strengthen us, God the Holy Spirit also strengthens us. Our inner being is strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, saving faith is created in us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, saving faith is nurtured in us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, saving faith is strengthened in us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, saving faith brings to us the salvation given to us by Jesus Christ.
The work of the Holy Spirit goes beyond that. Luther says that “the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” He also “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.” “He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” “He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” Do these words sound familiar? They should, for these are words which we all studied at one time or another in our lives – these are words from the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed. These are all things which are done for us, not by us. These are things which the Holy Spirit does for us, things which we cannot do for ourselves.
In many and various ways, we see how God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is able, ready, and willing to strengthen us. For the Church, this means several things. First, it means that we are renewed in our identity as God’s children and in the unity of the Church. We are God’s and we are connected to Him. We have that sense of belonging: belonging to God, belonging to a heavenly family with all believers. We are renewed in our knowledge of Christ’s love – love that is for us, even though we are sinners. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Think about what that means. While we were detestable and revolting in the eyes of God, Christ still came into the world to live and die to redeem us, even though there was nothing about us that was worthy of being saved. Despite our limited knowledge, we are renewed in our confidence that God is willing and able to strengthen us. Daily we are strengthened in the promise of our Baptism. When we hear the Word of God preached, we are strengthened. When we are fed with the life-giving body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we are strengthened. Recognizing God’s willingness and ability to do for us far more than we know and even ask, we find strength to grow in grace and see the importance which God has placed upon us: the fact that He has sent His Son to die in our place; the fact that He has sent the Holy Spirit to create saving faith in us and to sanctify us; and the fact that through the saving act of Holy Baptism, we have been given a name – a name which can only be given to us through the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a name which makes us God’s own child. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.