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HOLY BAPTISM: THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 10 July 2022

A Sermon on Colossians 1:1-14 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

Colossians 1:1-14 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

HOLY BAPTISM: THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

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

The Lord God gave the Ten Commandments (Ten Words) to Israel at Sinai. Initially rooted in Israel’s Book as its only Scripture, the Church continued to teach those commandments to the baptized as indicative of God’s good and gracious will. With the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, the Commandments formed the earliest catechism (book of instruction) for new Christians.

Following the pattern of St. Augustine and the Samaritan Pentateuch (five books of Moses), both Roman Catholics and Lutheran Christians share the same numbering of the commandments. We divide the two tables of commandments as three pointed to God and seven to the neighbor. So, the fourth commandment is about the first neighbors we meet, namely, our parents. Normatively, a child’s biological parents would be the same as the parents who raise the child. But, let us be clear, the people who do the daily work of childrearing are a child’s parents apart from biology.

This needs to be said at the outset, because biology is important for getting a child here and for understanding what kinds of genetic problems a child may encounter. But the adopted child who wanders through the wilderness fantasizing about biological parents invariably fails to see that the people who raise us are indeed our parents. The first three to five years of life have a great influence on the rest of a child’s life, yes, but adults are responsible for themselves. Some of the most gifted caregivers in the world emerged from terrible early years. Anyone can do better.

So, today our memory work, what God wants from us, is simple and straight forward:

P: Honor your father and your mother

C: That it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth (Deuteronomy 5:16).

The indisputable norm (natural law) is that only one woman and one man can, by nature, create a child. Same-sex partners can never, by nature, produce a child together. Mothers are, by nature, biological women who, after being fertilized by a father, who is a biological male, conceive, carry to term, and give birth to a child. Those who cannot say what a woman is and what a mother is have no measurable, observable data for their point of view. The farther removed from nature the inhabitants of the bubbles of Washington DC, New York, LA, Chicago, other major metropolitan cities, and, sadly, academia, the wackier their ideas become. A child growing up on a farm in flyover country knows by observation what it takes to be a parent. Can I get an Amen?

If you are adoptive or foster parents, parents by marriage, or have or had such parents, give thanks for biological parents that gave life and then give thanks to God for the gift of family. Children successfully make it to adulthood, precisely because of parents. Praise God! Again:

P: Honor your father and your mother

C: That it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth (Deuteronomy 5:16).

Colossae, was “a city of Phrygia on the Lycus River… [Today, it is known as Honaz, Turkey, which was then] … on the great highway traversing the country from Ephesus to the Euphrates valley… 13 miles from Hierapolis and 10 from Laodicea” (https://bibleatlas.org/colossae.htm).

St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae was written during his imprisonment, very possibly, in Caesarea in the late 50s or, possibly, from Rome in the early 60s. Colossae had a larger Jewish population and was a textile center known for its wool cloth. By the content of the letter, Bible scholars have noted some Gnostic ideas (spirit good; body bad) and some Jewish ideas about angels, particularly, St. Michael the Archangel. All in all, like present-day America, there was a strange mixture of ideas (some call that cafeteria religion) that had no room for the lordship of Christ Jesus. To the Church at Colossae, founded by native son Epaphras, and filled with new Christians, St. Paul writes as a father teaching the meaning of Holy Baptism and all the basics.

As we noted last week, Holy Baptism is the beginning of the end of the old world into which we were born and which must eventually pass away. No child starts out in a neutral place. He or she is born sinful and thus born to die. The world outside the Church is, even at its best, hostile to the lordship of God’s Son Jesus, who as both truly God and truly human, suffered and died for the salvation of the world. So, St. Paul’s defining words declare today: Christians live “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:12-14). Christians are always grateful for the new birth from above in Holy Baptism, where we are joined to the Lord Jesus.

Our biological mother, impregnated by our biological father, gives us life in this world. Our Mother the Church, according to the will of the Father through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us the new birth from above in Holy Baptism. There, we are transferred from the rule of the unholy trinity (the devil, the world, and our sinful self) into the gracious rule and reign of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, through the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life.

Born in bondage to the unholy trinity, we cannot save ourselves. God alone must do the work!

Life is difficult. Marriage is difficult. Parenting is difficult. Growing up is difficult. Being the Church in the world is difficult. Living as Christians in the world is difficult. Relationships, even in the Church, are difficult. Before our first parents’ primeval rebellion in the Garden, life was perfect. At the end of all things, life will be perfect again in the resurrection and in the new heaven and the new earth. In-between, life in a sinful world in a sinful body under the assault of the old evil foe is difficult. That’s the biblical story. Face it. Accept it. Don’t go to strangers.

So, as a spiritual father in Christ, St. Paul describes for the Church at Colossae what St. Luke would write later in Acts 2. You become a child of God through Holy Baptism and there receive the Holy Spirit with the laying on of hands (Acts 2:38). Then, according to Acts 2:42, the baptized children of God continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the Breaking of the Bread (the Lord’s Supper) and the prayers (the ordered worship inherited from the Temple in Jerusalem). So, St. Paul writes that the Church, the assembly of the baptized, gathered around God’s Word and the Meal, receives from the Father the knowledge of His will, spiritual wisdom, and understanding (1:9). Christians walk in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus, bearing good fruit by doing good works, and increasing in the knowledge of God (1:10). And, continuing in the Church, Christians will be strengthened to endure and joyfully persevere through a difficult life (1:11). Woe to those who present the Christian faith and life as not particularly difficult!

To the Church at Corinth in his first letter, St. Paul wrote that the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit are faith, hope, and charity (that is agape: the will to loving service like the Crucified) (13:13). Faith in the Lord Jesus is grounded in hope based upon His bodily resurrection. That hope in Christ Jesus results in loving service for one’s neighbor (especially in the Church). Again, as a spiritual father in Christ, St. Paul is parenting the new Christians to grow up as God’s children!

P: Honor your father and your mother

C: That it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth (Deuteronomy 5:16).

Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “To the position of fatherhood and motherhood God has given special distinction above all positions that are beneath it: He does not simply command us to love our parents but to honor them” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 371:105) …. He continues: “Experience teaches that where there are honorable, old families who do well and have many children, they certainly owe their origin to the fact that some of them were brought up well and full of regard for their parents… All this I say that it may be well impressed upon the young [Deuteronomy 6:7]. Therefore, note well how great a thing in God’s sight obedience is. He values it so highly, is so highly pleased with it, and rewards it richly. He also enforces punishment rigorously on those who act against it” (374:138-140).

In other words, God gives us parents not only to give us life but to raise us to be godly adults. In obedience to the Lord Jesus’ command, parents are to bring us for Holy Baptism, bring us to the services of God’s house, teach us the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments; place in our hands the Holy Scriptures, and provide for our instruction in the Christian faith that we may lead godly lives until we draw our last breath in this life or until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. That is the Christian way of life.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine, an adult convert, with a godly Christian mother and a powerful, pagan father, famously wrote: “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find their rest in You.” Everyone has a God-shaped hole in the soul that only God can fill. Sadly, some of us have to go through a lot of pain trying everything else: beloved people, pleasure, possessions and money, daily work, and a host of other, anesthetizing agents that cannot fill that empty place. Sometimes, when death is clearly impending, finally, an empty soul asks: “Could it be God?”

In two weeks, we will speak plainly about Christian marriage and why it is necessary to marry a Christian spouse. But, today, it should be obvious that to have godly children you need godly parents, who practice the faith. Frankly, as some of us have learned through painful experience, when one marries someone who has been catechized more by the world than by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, faithful to her Lord across space and time, then one has a more difficult and, perhaps, insurmountable path in trying to raise godly, baptized children of God.

Some had very good parents, who saw that you were healthy, educated, and learned how to be responsible adults, but they neither practiced nor taught you the Christian faith. Some had very good parents who brought you to the services of God’s house but, having been catechized more by the world, your parents taught you by example something other than the Christian faith. Some of us sadly had bad parents, who may have somehow gotten us to adulthood, but your lives have been very painful, and you have had to be, or presently are being, parented in the Christian faith apart from them. Remember: the past is prologue. Life is difficult even in the Church.

Today, it is enough to hear again what our Father wants for us regarding our parents and why. If kids do not learn how to be obedient, godly children, we will end up with the very mess that our American culture has become, tossed to and fro by silly ideas masquerading as knowledge and, yes, sometimes calling itself science. How so very ludicrous many 21st century Americans are!

Let us, then, give God thanks and praise for parents who gave us life, for parents who got us safely to adulthood, but especially for godly parents who practiced the Christian faith daily.

Now, before we go: parents, if you are repenting of the work you have done raising your children, it is not too late to practice the Christian faith rightly and, perhaps, to be far better Christian grandparents than you were parents. Let us think and pray on these things, dear ones, and say:

P: Honor your father and your mother

C: That it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth (Deuteronomy 5:16).  

Father, grant that what we say with our lips, we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our lives. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

Holy Baptism: The Fourth Commandment

Praying

“Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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, 617).

Listening

Colossians 1:9 “…filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,”

St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “What, then, is more divine than the working of the Holy Spirit, since God himself testifies that the Holy Spirit presides over his blessings!… He taught that this was the will of God: that by walking in good works and words and affections, we should be filled with God’s will, who puts his Holy Spirit into our hearts” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Colossians, 6).

Colossians 1:10 “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him….”

St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Here he speaks of life and its works, for so he does also everywhere with faith Paul always couples conduct” (6).

Colossians 1:10 “… bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

St. Clement [Late 2nd – early 3rd century Head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Egypt]: “For there is instruction of the perfect, concerning which Paul writes to the Colossians… there are the mysteries which were hid till the time of the apostles and were delivered by them as they received from the Lord…there is…faith and hope in Christ; which in another place he has called the ‘foundation’” (6).

Colossians 1:12 “… who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

St. John Chrysostom: “But why does he call it an inheritance (or lot)? … For no one leads a life so good as to be counted worthy of the kingdom, but the whole is his free gift” (7).

Colossians 1:13 “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness …”

St. John Chrysostom: “The whole is from him… It is a great thing indeed to have been delivered from darkness; but to have been brought into a kingdom too is far greater” (7).

Colossians 1:13 “…transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son….”

St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “And we effect a most salutary passing over when we pass over from the devil to Christ, and from this tottering world to his most solidly established kingdom. And therefore we pass over to God…” (8).

Reflecting

  1. Do I live my Baptism daily and, thus, praise God for delivering me by His grace and mercy?

 Learning

Christian Questions with Their Answers

After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions:

1)Do you believe that you are a sinner?

Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.

2)How do you know this?

From the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.

3)Are you sorry for your sins?

Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.

4)What have you deserved from God because of your sins?

His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Romans 6:21, 23.

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. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the importance of and great need for self-examination before receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. If you have never considered making a private confession before a pastor, please do so… not for the pastor’s sake but for yours.
  4. 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 new devotional booklet before or after worship this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two, Week of 5 Pentecost).
  5. Review this week’s section of Luther’s Large Catechism on the Fourth Commandment and read next week’s section on the Fifth Commandment and the preaching text (Colossians 1:15-28). https://bookofconcord.org/large-catechism/

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.”