The Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 18 September 2022
A Sermon on Ephesians 2:4-10 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Ephesians 2:4-10 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
HOLY BAPTISM: RAISES
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Born Dead in Trespasses
Everyone is born dead in his or her trespasses. This is a hard concept for us to grasp, because most people love babies, especially their own newborns. When Paul writes that everyone is born dead in his or her trespasses, he is referring to David’s confession in Psalm 51:5 that sin begins at conception. Earlier Paul has written to the Romans in chapter 5 that Adam our first parent’s disobedience created a hereditary condition. So, then, sin is not what we do or don’t do, rather sin is our natural state from conception. There, he is thinking of the loss of Paradise when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s good and gracious will, and death became the logical consequence of their rebellion. Only by death will the rebellious creature be able to grasp that God alone is God: eternal, uncreated, and the definition of good. So, rebellion in the heart and mind of humans will always be temporary, because every creature has a birth date and a death date.
This biblical anthropology defines mankind as male and female, created in the image of God, and the highest of all the mortal creatures. Yet, each of us must die a physical death, not as a kind of planned obsolescence, but as a result of the rebellious nature of the creature, who must face his or her place in the order of things. There is a God. We are not God, no matter how much we might, at times, like to pretend otherwise. Anyone can choose to act nice. Anyone can choose to do good. Anyone can, by her or his actions, be highly thought of as an exemplary human being. But what people see on the outside does not change what is on the inside. We are all born dead in our trespasses. We need a Savior, and only God’s Beloved Son Jesus can save us.
For those born under a death sentence, born dead in trespasses, we cannot free ourselves. Only God can deliver us from sin, death, and evil. To accomplish this, God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, so that by sharing our humanity, we might be joined to Him eternally. He lived the life of total obedience to His Father that none of us can live and died the innocent death that none of us can die. Because Jesus is both God and human, the shedding of His Blood on the cross is the one-for-all sacrifice for sin. Before the death of God’s Son, the blood of a sacrificial animal was a vicarious substitute offered for sins. Such sacrifices had to be repeated throughout the life of God’s people for their forgiveness. The death of God’s Son in human flesh is the only way those born dead in our trespasses can receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus is the only Savior.
Made Alive in Christ
Baptism is God’s work of joining sinners to the saving death and glorious resurrection of His Son (Romans 6:3). A parent may bring a child for Baptism. An older child, teen, or adult may ask for Baptism. But Baptism is not a human work. Baptism is God’s saving work (Titus 3:5). Those dead in our trespasses cannot save ourselves, cannot come to faith on our own, and cannot decide anything. The dead can do nothing but be dead. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to draw us to the birth from above (John 3:5) making us children of God for Jesus’ sake.
Think again of that encounter when the Glorified Jesus blinded Paul, who was dead in his trespasses, on the Road to Damascus and, then, sent Ananias to him when Paul was helpless. When Ananias laid hands on him, the Holy Spirit gave Paul his sight, and he was immediately baptized (Acts 9:18). After being fed and strengthened, Paul began to confess Jesus as Lord. What did Paul bring to his encounter with the Glorified Jesus? Nothing but his sin and death. He was dead. God did the work. The Father sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die for Paul. The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. When Jesus ascended, the Father poured out the Holy Spirit through the Son upon the 120 disciples gathered in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit called the Twelve to be apostles. Then, later, He called Paul. God did all the work. God always does all the work, because, if we are to be made alive in Christ, only the Holy Spirit can join us to Jesus Christ.
In Holy Baptism, God the Father adopts us through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we hear the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and are washed with water, we become disciples (Matthew 28:16). We are now God’s adopted and beloved sons, yes, children of the Heavenly Father (Romans 8:16). Faith, which is trust, comes from hearing God’s promises in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17). When we confess Jesus is Lord and Savior, that is the Holy Spirit’s work through the preaching of the Good News. The dead must be made alive, but God must do that work, or that work will not be done.
Yet, even though we are adopted in Holy Baptism, the old Adam or Eve remains as long as we live in these mortal bodies. Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). In Matthew 4:17 and Luke 13:5, our Lord Jesus calls His hearers to repent. Peter’s Pentecost sermon calls his hearers to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Paul admonishes his hearers to examine ourselves before communing (1 Corinthians 11:28). In the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray to be forgiven as we forgive (Matthew 6:11-12). James exhorts his hearers to “confess your sins to one another” (5:16). Even after our adoption in Holy Baptism, even after we have been made alive in Christ, the old Adam or Eve tugs at us daily, and so daily repentance, daily returning to Baptism, is our need to die daily.
We repent, because Christ has raised us up with Him in Holy Baptism. Joined to Christ, we rise with Christ. Joined to Christ, we are, as beloved sons, seated with Him in the heavenly places. Joined to Christ, the Father will by the power of the Holy Spirit raise us bodily from the dead at the last to enjoy forever the immeasurable riches of His grace. We are already His but not fully.
Lifted for Loving Service
Today, we are celebrating the 130th anniversary of the founding of our parish. As German immigrants gave birth to American children, the children spoke English, and so the pastor of St. Paul’s German church founded an English Sunday School. In time, this effort became St. Matthew’s English Lutheran Church on 4th Street. Some friends and neighbors were drawn to the parish, and it grew slowly. When a boiler fire burned the first wooden building, a new facility was built at the corner of 17th and Ann. During World War II, Lutherans from the Piedmont were in need of work and came to join in building 200 Liberty ships. St. Matthew’s grew with many baby boom children. In 1963, Pastor Charles McCombs led that group of families to build the oldest part of our building on a two-lane road through the pine forest and across from the newly relocated College of Wilmington. We worshiped in what is now the Fellowship Hall named after him until the original nave was built in 1973 shortly before Pr. McCombs’ sudden death.
Pastor Harold McSwain spent the next 20 years growing the congregation, adding the wing with a nursery, library, choir room, and classrooms. He had a series of seminary interns and the first Associate Pastor, Jerry Nordsiek. As the 100th anniversary approached in 1992, we built a new Activity Center especially for the youth, expanded the nave, added the Austin organ, and offered weekly communion. Then, Pastor McSwain died suddenly in 1994. Pr. Chip Salzgeber served the congregation for nine years along with two associates. The congregation was aging. Young people grew up and moved away. Eighteen years ago, I came to St. Matthew’s. More youth grew up and moved away. More of our seniors died. Major changes in our denomination led to upheaval as we struggled with what it means to be the Church. We went through Hurricane Florence and suffered major damages. After replacing the roof and HVAC units, we had a sudden opportunity to expand the pipe organ. We continued a conversation about what it means to be the Church, and voted No to our denomination’s changes. Then, there was Covid, and, then, we voted again to leave the ELCA to join another Lutheran denomination. We were told No by the Synod Council, but out of faithfulness to our Lord we have made and are making a powerful witness to the wider denomination that Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today, and forever.
On this 130th anniversary, we have heard Paul’s words: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8). Hearing what God has done in Christ for us is not the end of things. We are not called merely to be regular pew sitters, occasional pew sitters, rare pew sitters, or online pew sitters. The Holy Spirit is calling us to do the good works for which God has created us in Christ, and that is not merely about helping out neighbors in need near and far. God’s love has lifted us from death to life in Holy Baptism, and the Holy Spirit is calling us to seek out those who are still dead in their trespasses, those who have not been baptized into Jesus’ saving death and glorious resurrection, yes, those who may not even know that apart from Christ they are without life.
The boats and planes from the old country stopped bringing Lutherans decades ago. Yet, the Holy Spirit was never calling us merely to add Lutherans. Oh, we need to grow younger, yes, but there are plenty of middle and older adults who are unbaptized and unchurched. Are you praying for them? Do you have a nephew or niece, a grandson or granddaughter, a cousin, neighbor, or friend who is unbaptized or unchurched? Are you praying for the Holy Spirit to give you an occasion to ask them to come to worship with you? You were created for good works in Christ, and there is no greater loving service than to make new disciples by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is nothing quite like the joy of seeing new people coming to faith in Christ Jesus, their Lord and Savior. There is joy in heaven when one sinner repents.
Ask yourself today whether it matters that you are baptized and have been adopted by grace as a child of God. If you answer yes, don’t you want that for everyone? Ask yourself today whether you believe the Lord Jesus’ promise “This is my Body. This is my Blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If you answer yes, don’t you want everyone to be able to be baptized and to receive Jesus in the Host and Cup? If you believe that it is by grace alone that you are a child of God, don’t you want everyone to receive His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ?
This is the loving service for which you have been lifted in Christ. This world surely needs Jesus.
Twenty years from now, the congregations where people have prayed and worked to invite the unbaptized and unchurched to the services of God’s house will be thriving. There will be children and young people. There will be middle-aged and older folks. They will be praying daily, worshiping weekly, reading the Bible, serving at and beyond the congregation, being in relationship to encourage spiritual growth in others, and giving of time, talents, and resources. They won’t have slick marketing programs. They won’t be tailoring the message and the music to what people want to hear. They will be parishes made up of people like you and me who know that everyone is born dead in his or her trespasses, and only Jesus Christ crucified can forgive sins and give eternal life and salvation. Those congregations will be made up of people who know they have been made alive in Christ in whom all their hope is founded. They will be thriving, because they are convinced that the Holy Spirit has lifted them for loving service to a dying world. Now, I may not be here in twenty years, but I hope and pray that this congregation will be one of those thriving congregations, because the Holy Spirit lifted you up, and that your loving service made all the difference between eternal life and eternal death for the people you know.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Holy Baptism: Raises
“Almighty God, in your boundless mercy you chose Matthew, a tax collector, to share the dignity of your apostles: Enable us, sustained by his example, steadfastly to follow your Son Jesus Christ and to remain faithful in your service; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1526).
Ephesians 2:6 “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”
Origen [Early 3rd century Bible scholar and theologian in Alexandria, Egypt]: “If you believe that Christ is risen from the dead, believe also that you too have risen with him. If you believe that he sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, believe that your place too is amid not earthly but heavenly things” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Ephesians, 132).
Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith.”
St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “Do not rely on your own efforts but on the grace of Christ, ‘You are,’ says the apostle, ‘saved by grace.’ Therefore it is not a matter of arrogance here but faith when we celebrate: We are accepted! This is not pride, but devotion” (133).
Ephesians 2:8 “… And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place… then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again… Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe… so even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, the gift of God” (134).
Ephesians 2:9 “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
St. John Chrysostom: “God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has save us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent” (134).
Ephesians 2:10 “…created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand….”
St. Cyril [Early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “But our [original, created] nature has implanted in it a zealous desire for whatever is good…” (135).
In what ways have I experienced being raised with Christ in Holy Baptism?
The Ten Commandments
AS THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD SHOULD TEACH THEM IN A SIMPLE WAY TO HIS HOUSEHOLD.
The Third Commandment
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
What does this mean?
“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
• Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
• Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
• Commit yourself to the study of God’s Word at St. Matthew’s. Sunday School classes for all ages are at 9:45. The Crossways Bible Study continues this week with Unit 26 (of 60) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 10 a.m. Newcomers and visitors welcome.
• Practice every day saying the third commandment and its explanation. Discuss with your family or a friend what God wants most of all when it comes to Sabbath keeping. How are you doing with that?
• Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please pick up a copy of the Portals of Prayer devotional booklet on the table in the narthex. Daily lectionary readings are on p.190 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two, Week of 15 Pentecost).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”