Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins at the 21:55 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was an old Adam who swallowed a lie. Perhaps you’ve heard the original version of that: there was an old woman who swallowed a fly. And she swallows progressively larger animals in order to get rid of the fly: a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a cow, and finally a horse. The refrain of at least one version says, “I don’t know why she swallowed the fly; perhaps she’ll die!” A nice and pleasant nursery rhyme. The descendants of Adam and Eve have swallowed progressively larger lies, anything we can get our hands on, in order to stave off the inevitability of death. We too believe the lie: perhaps we won’t die! Perhaps we will be as gods.
But as Adam swallowed the lie and died, so all his descendants do the same. No one will escape death. We live in these tents, these earthly homes, and they are being destroyed. As we heard Paul last week: the outer nature is wasting away. And so we groan, being burdened. No doubt there is still good that we receive while living in these bodies, even while we groan. We still receive everything we have from the merciful goodness of God, much more than we have any right to expect. But eventually these earthly homes will be destroyed. We groan, being burdened.
And it is a natural response, a natural desire, when we are weighed down by sickness, when we’re weighed down by sin, weighed down by death, by difficulties and afflictions of body and mind—it is a natural response to want to be free of these bodies in which we groan. We think that if we are weighed down, burdened in our bodies, the best thing is to be free of them, to free our souls. It plays right into the hands of our modern obsession with our selves—selves we think we can separate from or have apart from our bodies. But it doesn’t work that way. We were never created to be soulless bodies. We are made as people, who are both body and soul.
Bodies matter. The Son of God took up a body to live in this world. And Paul says that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of everything we have done in the body, whether good or evil. What happens to us in our bodies, what we do in our bodies, matters. These bodies as they are, in this world, in this age, are weighed down with sin and death. So it is natural to think it will be better to be free of them. And, in fact, Paul says that if we are given a choice between being at home in these bodies, or away from them with the Lord, it is better to be with the Lord. It is good. It is better than how it is now. But it is not the best.
As a professor of mine used to say, heaven is nice, but it is not the end of the world. It is better to be away from these bodies of sin and to be at home with the Lord. But it is not the best; it is not the end of the world, when even our bodies will be made right again. So we groan here and now, but we do not groan in longing for the day when we will be unclothed of these bodies and be souls with Jesus. We groan in longing for the day when we will be further clothed, with homes not made with human hands, homes made for us by the resurrection of Jesus. We long to be further clothed, with resurrection bodies no longer subject to sin and death.
The hope in which we were saved is the redemption of our bodies, when what is mortal—what is dying—in us is swallowed up in the immortal, undying life of Jesus. We long for the day when what our perishable bodies, inherited from Adam, will put on the imperishable; for the day when our mortal bodies put on immortality. These earthly tents will be sown in the ground perishable; they will be sown in dishonor; they will be sown in weakness. But they will be raised imperishable; raised in glory; raised in the power of God by which He raised Jesus from the dead. On that day the saying will come to pass, what is written, death will be swallowed up in victory. Swallowed up like the Egyptian armies in the Red Sea, while Israel walks to life on dry ground.
What right do we have to believe this promise? What could cause us to believe such a promise, when we don’t see life victorious, but instead everything being swallowed up by death? We see the devil prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to swallow us up, to devour us. How can we believe this promise of resurrection and life in the midst of death? Because the God who has prepared us for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting has given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of everything that is to come, of the fullness of our inheritance in Christ. God has given us the Holy Spirit precisely because we walk by faith and not by sight, so that we will hear and believe the word of Christ. And so we, who have the Holy Spirit, always seek to hear the word of Christ, because it is by that word that our faith is sustained when everything around us says the opposite. It is the words of Christ that are eternal life.
And so we do not lose heart. We are of good courage. We are confident and certain in this promise, even in the midst of death. Because we have a guaranteed promise, that all of what we see will be swallowed up by the life we believe. And even today, even now, and even here, while we groan in these bodies, being burdened, right now we are being fed with the medicine of immortality, with the bread of life, with Jesus’ own body and blood, raised from the dead. He who swallowed up death in His own body, gives us to eat and drink the life that will swallow up our death. On the mountain of the Lord, Isaiah prophesied, a great feast of victory is prepared, by which death will be swallowed up forever, and every tear wiped away from every eye. What we eat and drink from this altar today, in the midst of death, will one day swallow up all our death in life. Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory in our Lord, Jesus Christ!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/11/21