Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 12, 2018
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
A new church is ready to begin in my neighborhood on September 16. Near the corner of Coal Mine and Pierce, “Authentic Life Church” is launching in about a month. The facility they will be using has housed a number of different churches over the last decade, or so. They hope to stick around for a while.
Authentic Life Church is part of the “Non-Denominational” Denomination. It has churches in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Tucson and California. Its purpose is “Building Authentic Relationships with God and Others.”
I think that is what people want, or should want. Authentic. Real. True. Genuine. We get tired of fake, putting on a show, putting on a bunch of make-up so that we look good, holding in our gut so we look thinner for the picture. Authentic faith. Authentic life.
Last week in the advice column in the Denver Post a single lady in her 50’s let off some steam about dating sites. She went there looking for a single man. But she wasn’t always given the truth by the people responding to her. She used her real picture and real age and real current status – single. That’s where she made her mistake. Her responses included a number of guys who said they were single but really were married and just wanted to fool around. The picture that they gave didn’t quite look like the guy who showed up at the restaurant or bar. And their age? At one time they were fifty, but that was some time ago. She wanted honest, real, genuine, true. She didn’t get that. She wanted something authentic and got phony.
Authentic. A church needs to be authentic. This church needs to be authentic. I need to be authentic. You need to be the same. That’s what Paul says. But more than that, greater than that, that is what Jesus says. Matthew 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’” (Verses 21-23) I guess they weren’t real. It was all show, no substance.
Jesus quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah in Matthew 15, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Verses 7-9)
Jesus didn’t have much time for phony or fake, putting on appearances when everything under the skin was rotting.
I’m ready for authentic. You? An authentic life begins with an authentic faith. Much of what we read in the words of Paul in Ephesians 4 talk about how we are to live. “So I tell you, and insist on it in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-18) Darkness. Ignorance. Hardening of hearts. Always running away from what is true. God is looking for something radically different.
An authentic life must begin with an authentic faith in Jesus. Jesus is real. He really suffered for us. He really carried all of our dishonesty and the sin of hiding our mistakes and our false lives and false motives. All of our dirt He received. No longer play a game with God!! The place where that new day begins is with a true faith in Jesus. The last verses in our reading (Ephesians 5:1-2) say, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” A true life is based on a true faith. As Jesus said, “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4c)
Ephesians 6, just a chapter after our reading, is the chapter about fighting the devil and his schemes that seek to destroy our life and faith. It begins with Jesus and faith in Him and then shows itself by our life. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can takes your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)
But don’t think that this authentic new life is going to occur by you or I making a few improvements to our life and then declaring that that is enough. Let’s see – We’re going to watch our sharp tongue. We’re going to stop having such a critical attitude. We’re going to control our temper. We’re not going to let dirty thoughts take over our mind and heart. If we do those things then we’re authentic. Right? No!! We don’t have a few things that have to be changed. We have a life that has to die. Over and over again. That’s the authentic life. The old man needs to be put to death. Everyday. And everyday we need to be resurrected. Jesus does that.
Thomas Winger who wrote a commentary on Ephesians wrote, “The man cannot be made new simply by removing some vices, but must be put to death, ‘crucified’ (Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20; 5:24) – must be completely undone.” (Page 546, Concordia Commentary). I read that in the earliest Christian church the Baptism of adults or children, the candidates for baptism came to the water completely naked. The baptismal candidate would remove every stitch of clothing and enter the water. All sin was taken off, all human effort was taken off, and God’s washing was put on. (By the way, we’re NOT going to implement that early church practice here at Ascension.)
In our rich reading from Ephesians we gain the same picture of dying and rising, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; and to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
It is clear that how the world lives – a world not trusting in Jesus, a world not guided by His Word, the Scriptures, a world not empowered by the Holy Spirit, is not how we are to live. Authentic faith leads to an authentic life. God is quite direct when He speaks through St. Paul to tell us how that life looks: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor…Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths…Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Sections of Ephesians 4:25-32)
I believe the greatest insult to a Christian is that we have been a fake, a fraud, a liar. We would be accused that we’re only playing a game concerning faith and have not been faithful to God, or to others, in what we believe and how we live. But instead of defending ourselves and pointing out how good and faithful we are, we should admit that faith and faithfulness, doing all those things God tells us to do, has been hard and we have failed.
On the Authentic Life Church website the first thing that greets you are the words, “Welcome Home”. Those are words we really need to hear. Aren’t those the words of the waiting Father as He welcomes the prodigal son back home? “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:22-24) For every lost son or daughter, everyone who made the wrong turn in life, we have a waiting Father. He says, “Welcome home!!” What He says is real and true and honest.
I hope that this church is an authentic life church. Authentic faith in God. Authentic life with Him and others. This is a place where the Father welcomes us home. Amen!!