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A Letter from Christ. 12th Sunday after Trinity 2014.


12th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

September 7, 2014

“A Letter From Christ”

 

Iesu iuva!

 

The theme for the next several weeks comes from the verses of 2nd Corinthians chapter 3 that immediately precede the Epistle reading you just heard.

 

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?  Or do we need letters of commendation to you or from you, as some do?  You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.  You have been revealed openly as an epistle from Christ, administered by us, not written in ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on fleshly tablets of the heart.  We have this assurance through Christ toward God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to count anything as being from us, but our competence is from God, who has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life  (2 Cor. 3:1-6).

 

Beloved in Christ,

 

There were questions on people’s minds in the church at Corinth.  Some of them questioned Paul’s competence as an apostle.  There must have also been questions about the Corinthians’ qualifications as a church of Christ.  There were so many problems in that congregation: sexual immorality.  False doctrine.  Divisions, even manifesting themselves at the Lord’s Supper.

 

But despite the problems, Paul expresses his assurance.  He is assured of his own qualifications as a minister of the new testament, and he is assured about the Corinthians as the proof of his ministry.  Despite the weakness and chaos in the Corinthian congregation, Paul says, “You have shown that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us.”  Paul claims this congregation of broken sinners as his letter of recommendation from Jesus, his proof that Christ is working through him.

 

In the same way, you, St. Peter Lutheran Church, are a letter not written by a mere human being but by Jesus Christ Himself.  You are a living, breathing letter from Jesus.  And with God’s help I will speak to you about

The paper of Jesus’ letter,

The ink with which He writes,

The manner in which He writes His letter,

The contents of the letter of Jesus, which He writes on your hearts.

A.

Human letters and documents are written on materials that are not alive.  I wrote this sermon on notebook paper, initially, which is the skin and bones of a dead tree.  Paul probably wrote his letter to the Corinthians on parchment, which is the dried skin of a dead animal.  God wrote the ten commandments on lifeless stone tablets.

 

All of these writing materials are dead.  They carry a message, but they don’t live and breathe.  But Jesus inscribes His message on living paper.  He writes His letter on “the tablets of human hearts.”

Of course, when Jesus gets our hearts, they are already written on.  From the time we are born our hearts are defaced with the devil’s handwriting.  You’ve seen train cars and walls that are covered with graffiti.  All kinds of messages are scrawled chaotically, bearing messages they were never meant to carry, some profane, some claiming ownership, some bragging.  That’s the way our hearts are from birth—a chaotic scrawl of competing messages and conflicting desires with only one organizing principle: they are all contrary to God and His law.

 

What is in the heart flows out into the world in words and deeds.  Human beings are only able to live and breathe out what is in their hearts.  And for fallen people, it’s chaos, conflicting desires, pride, uncleanness.  We act out the devil’s scrawl in our hearts.

 

This is the paper on which Jesus writes His letter.  He writes over the top of the chaos and begins to transform the graffiti of original sin into a letter, a living, breathing letter to the world.  Because it is written in our hearts, in the midst of the chaos that was there, our hearts and lives become not a lifeless, but a living letter proclaiming salvation.  And He combines and gathers the different hearts on which He writes into a unified letter—His holy congregation.

 

B.

When Paul wrote, he had to dip his pen into ink in order to get his thoughts down on paper.  Today we have pens that carry ink inside them, not to mention printers that are able to take data from a computer and transmit it to paper.

 

The ink Jesus uses for His letter is “the Spirit of the living God.”  It’s not merely ink.  It doesn’t simply try to write over the top of what’s already there.  It is the very breath of God that gives life to what is lifeless, the breath of God that creates out of nothing.  With this ink Jesus writes on our hearts, and it transforms the chaos that is there.  It is living, creative, holy ink.  It is ink that carries the life and breath of the immortal God into the inner chambers of our being, our hearts.  It places life in the midst of the core of us which before was only living death.  Just as the breath of God ordered the world in the beginning, separating light from darkness, water from water, sea from land, night from day, so the ink that Jesus uses in His letter begins to make order and beauty where before there was only the sinful flesh and the devil’s ugly scrawl.  It breathes life into death.  The desires and loves that animate us are now breathed on by God, inscribed by His hand with living letters.

 

And how does Jesus do this writing?  He makes the tongues of His preachers His pens.  He puts His word in their mouths.  And from their mouths His breath, the Holy Spirit, enters our ears and makes His inscription on our hearts.  Then gathering together the different hearts on which He has written, he puts together His letter—His holy congregation, all of which are living and breathing letters, parts of His great letter in which He makes known His hidden wisdom to the powers and authorities in the heavenly places.

 

He dips His pen, the tongues of human beings as they speak the word of God, into the ink of His eternal Spirit.  He writes in eternal letters on the fleshly, mortal tablets of human hearts, so that they carry the word of God that stands forever.

 

That’s the reason for coming to hear God’s word and gathering with fellow believers in Christ.  When you are here, the Lord Jesus uses the tongues and mouths of human beings to write in your hearts His message that gives life to you.  And He unites the letter of your heart with the letters of other hearts and makes His heart known to the world.

 

D.

 

And what are the contents of the message that Jesus writes?

 

He writes deep in your heart His own name.  And from His name the contents of His letter spill out like words from a lover to his beloved.  His name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”  He inscribes in your heart His living and true word that He is Your Savior from sin, death, and hell.  All around this writing the chaotic scrawl of sin and the devil blast obscenities against God.  But His writing transforms this filth into part of His message.  Because the contents of this letter tell God’s truth that Jesus bore the obscenity of sin on His innocent body and the wrath of God against it on His holy heart.  And the tears and the blood and the agony that poured out of his body and soul has blotted out forever the ugly handwriting of sin and death that haunts the walls of our hearts.  He writes in our hearts so that even our sins join together in proclaiming His message:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting innocence, righteousness, and blessedness…

 

That is the truth of God that Jesus writes in this living letter on your heart.  God’s truth is that in His Son’s death you have been made alive, your heart together with your body, and you will live.   Even though the devil tries to point out to you the graffiti with which your heart is covered since your birth in sin.  The letter of Jesus tells the truth: this ugly writing was written on Jesus, nailed to the cross and laid in the grave with Him.  It has disappeared in His resurrection from the dead.  And even now Jesus is writing on our hearts so that the letters of sin and death are being blotted out from our hearts forever.

 

This is the letter that Jesus is writing on our hearts.  It tells about His great love for the world and how He has blotted out the handwriting of sin and death with His blood shed on the cross.  He writes it on the tablets of our hearts which are still disfigured by sin and presents them to the world as His love letter.

 

You are a living, breathing letter from Jesus, all of you together, His holy congregation.  Even if you lack the things that would make you beautiful in the eyes of men, you are beautiful to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose appearance was “no beauty that we should desire him.”  You are beautiful because you bear the handwriting of His beloved Son, who bore your sins in His body on the tree.  How could he not find beautiful those who bear the writing of His Son’s own hand on their heart, when the letter He writes on our hearts tells of the inexpressible love with which He loved us?  We should not question our qualifications as Christ’s congregation because we are weak or few or because we have sin.  We are a letter from the Savior who made Himself weak and the bearer of sin for us.  We are a letter from Christ who was crucified for us, who now reigns in the glory of the Father forever and ever.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

SDG

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