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The Word of God: Sanctifies

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 3 October 2021

A Sermon on Hebrews 2:1-13 by Samuel Zumwalt

Hebrews 2:1-13 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,

or the son of man, that you care for him?

7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;

you have crowned him with glory and honor,

8     putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;

in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

THE WORD OF GOD: SANCTIFIES

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Assembly of the Sanctified

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus!” That hymn, written by Baptist pastor Robert Lowry in 1876, points us to the Holy One in human flesh, Jesus Christ, who alone can sanctify us. Only Jesus can make us holy, which means to set us apart for God’s purposes.

So, you are the “ekklesia,” in Greek, the assembly, the ones whom the Holy Spirit has called out of the world of unbelief to gather with the Lord around His Word and His Meal today. By way of contrast, think how for weeks we have focused, in emails, letters, and announcements, on voting membership in this congregation. We wrote and announced repeatedly the minimal requirements to vote: commune once here in two years and give a contribution of record of any size once in two years, and any confirmed member could vote. So, last weekend, some people who do not regularly gather with this assembly showed up to vote, because they had the legal right. But they do not regularly assemble for worship here, and so, in effect, they are not part of this “ekklesia” in any real sense. I will leave it to the Lord to deal with their motives in so doing.

By speaking of this, my goal is to teach what it means to be church together. If we simply follow the lead of the world around us, we will endlessly be divided into our own version of “red” and “blue” with a succession of behind-the-scenes electioneering for a particular point of view. We are not like politicians and political parties who live in a 24/7/365 election cycle. If that were true, we would be always preparing for the next election and focused constantly on winning. That is not the way of the cross. We did not so learn Christ. We are called out of such a world.

If bearing a particular denominational label would have solved everything, many of you would not be here at St. Matthew’s. You, who did not grow up in St. Matthew’s, visited and came back, because the Holy Spirit called you out of the world to assemble with the Lord and His people here. When some showed up only to vote on which denominational label we will bear, it was an indication that they needed to spend more time in God’s Word and in Martin Luther’s catechisms, which make clear what God’s Word does and does not teach about the Church.

Of course, the world of unbelief does not recognize that God is God, that He is the center, and that everyone is born in bondage to sin and cannot free him- or herself. Everyone is a sinner. Everyone needs to be sanctified, made holy, set apart for God’s purposes by the Blood of Jesus, God’s crucified Son, who gave His life as a ransom for many. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.” Baptized into His saving death and glorious resurrection, we are sanctified and made saints. But we remain sinners, who in word and deed, keep on rebelling.

Returning to the Lord

Repentance is a way of life. You may remember that the Hebrew word for repentance (shuv) means to turn around. You may remember that the Greek word for repentance (metanoia) means to have a change of heart and mind. That’s the Word of the Lord declared by the prophets of old. That’s the Word of the Lord declared by John the Baptist. That’s the Word of the Lord declared by the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And that’s the Word of the Lord declared by Simon Peter and the apostles on Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38).

Even if the Lord gave you an immediate 180 degree turn in matters of outward behavior, the old sinner in you didn’t depart on the day of your baptism, on the day of your conversion. It didn’t!

I knew this old fellow back in Bonham, Texas, who would say: “I used to smoke. I used to drink. I used to run around with evil women. But now I don’t smoke, and now I don’t drink… Oh well, two out of three ain’t bad.” Another one sang, “I was sinking deep in sin… wheeeee!”

Repentance is a way of life. As my Methodist chaplain supervisor at Parkland Hospital in Dallas would say: “We grow from looking down on people, to looking down on those who look down on people, to looking down on those who look down on those who look down on people. Etc.”

In Holy Baptism, we are joined to the only One who is holy. If we are to be sanctified, we must be washed once in the Blood of Jesus in Holy Baptism, and regularly be covered by the Blood of Jesus through His Word and His Holy Supper. As Luke wrote, “they continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the Blood of Jesus!” And we need the Blood of Jesus daily!

Hebrews is a sermon to Christians who have lost that loving feeling. Hebrews warns the whole Church that we have been sanctified, called out of the world of unbelief, and called to return to the Holy One for the forgiveness of sins and the amendment of our sinful lives. We are His.

Growing in Grace

The hardest part of practicing the Christian faith is that we spend so much of our time in a world awash in unbelief and in its hostility to God. An hour or so of worship each week, an hour of Bible study, and an hour of Christian fellowship will be drowned out by the world’s stories if three out of 168 hours are simply a feel-good attempt to put a little God into family life. If what draws people to a church is what it has to offer “me” or my “kids,” then repentance is missing.

Growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Trinity’s slow but steady conquest of all within us that remains unbelieving and hostile to Him. Because Christ is the Head of the Body, He wants to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Himself, who is obedient to His Father (2 Corinthians 10:5). So, then, think on this. If someone does not want to be called out of the world to assemble with the Lord around Word and Sacrament, does that person really want to be with the Lord forever? If one’s golf game or one’s love of team sports is the center of one’s life, does that person really want to be with the Lord forever? Whoever loves father or mother, wife or husband, son or daughter, sports or beer, work or play, toys or treasure more than Jesus is not worthy of the Kingdom, the reign of God.

And to be clear: it matters whom you marry, why you marry or don’t marry, and with whom and how you spend your life with others. Faithfulness in marriage should reflect God’s faithfulness.

Today, the baptized will take into our mouths and into our bodies the very Body and most precious Blood of Jesus given in the bread and wine, the Host and Cup. He is the Medicine of Immortality, who comes to our sin-sick bodies to wash away our sin and to strengthen us to take up our cross-shaped lives. Are you fighting an addiction? Jesus can heal you. Are you caught in a cycle of self-destruction, doing what you learned at home, and expecting different results? Jesus can heal you. Are you ready to let go of sin but you’re terrified? Jesus can heal you. Again, even if He changes your behavior immediately, the change of heart and mind takes a lifetime. Jesus can heal you. That’s what it means for Him to be your Savior. It takes a lifetime of growth as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to make us completely holy, God’s own!

A Pharisee looks good on the outside but is full of dead men’s bones. God isn’t done with us yet.

The Word of God became flesh to wash away our sin. Nothing but the Blood of Jesus does that. If you have not been baptized, the Holy Spirit is calling you out of the world of unbelief and of hostility to God. It’s not a one-time call. It’s a daily call. Whether you are baptized or not, where you are today is not where God wants you to be. How you think today is not how God wants you to think. You have been called out of the world today to assemble with the Lord. Only He can wash away your sin. Only He can change your heart. Only He can make you holy and set you apart for a new life in Him in which all of your relationships, all of your loyalties, yes, all of your thoughts are taken captive to Christ, the Holy One, who says, “Forget about yourself. Follow me!”

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

The Word of God: Sanctifies

Praying

“Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of 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, 622).

Listening

Hebrews 2:1 “…we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

Origen [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “The design of Judas concerning the betrayal of our Lord and Savior did not originate in the wickedness of his mind alone. For Scripture testifies that the ‘devil had already put it into his heart to betray him.’ On this account Solomon rightly commanded saying, ‘Keep your heart with all diligence’” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, 32).

Hebrews 2:3 “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “And, just as though you had asked, ‘what salvation?’ he replied as follows, in order to show that he was referring to the salvation of the New Testament, that is, to the word not spoken by the angels but by the Lord” (33).

Hebrews 2:9 “… so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “This occurred… not for the faithful only, but even for the whole world, for he indeed died for all. He has fulfilled his own part… For as a physician, though not needing to taste the food prepared for a sick person, tastes it first himself so that he may persuade the sick person to eat with confidence, so also, since all people were afraid of death… he tasted it himself, though he did not need it himself” (40).

Hebrews 2:10 “… should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

St. John Chrysostom: “God has done what is worthy of God’s love toward humankind in showing the firstborn to be more glorious than all… He is a Son, and we are sons and daughters; but he saves, and we are saved” (43).

Hebrews 2:11 “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source.”

St. John Chrysostom: “For though we are ‘of one origin,’ yet he sanctifies and we are sanctified and great is the difference… ‘he’ is of the Father as a true Son, that is, of his substance; ‘we’ are created, that is, brought out of things that are not, so that the difference is great” (43).

Reflecting

Do I understand that God’s Son Jesus is both truly God and truly human in order to save us sinners?

Learning

The Ten Commandments

AS THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD SHOLD TEACH THEM IN A SIMPLE WAY TO HIS HOUSEHOLD.

The Fifth Commandment

You shall not murder.

What does this mean?

“We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need” (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

  1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
  2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
  3. Commit yourself to the study of God’s Word at St. Matthew’s in-person.
  4. Practice every day saying the fifth commandment and its explanation. Rehearse it with others in your household or with a Christian friend over the phone. In what ways does God want you to stand for the culture of life over the ever encroaching culture of death in the world around us?
  5. Will you join in the Life Chain at 2 p.m. on October 3? Or sign up to give witness as part of the Forty Days for Life campaign? https://www.40daysforlife.com/en/local-campaigns/wilmington/
  6. 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.184 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year One, Week of 19 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.”