Letters from God

A sermon preached on Matthew 3:13-17 by Pastor Jonathan Were at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD on January 12, 2020.
www.gswels.org

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am a saint.  God is my Father.  Heaven is my home. He told me so at my baptism.
Therefore, this body is for the death of sin, all day long, and for joy, all day long.
Even in the most deadening defeats and heartbreaking failures.”

 

So this letter came in the mail.

Dear Pastors Johnson & Werre,

It has come to my attention that there are, in your congregation, some who care more what their friends think about them than what I think about them.  This is deeply disturbing.

Upon further inquiry, I have also discovered that some in your congregation define themselves most of all by the fact that they are Americans.  This, too, is deeply disturbing.  And still others define themselves first of all by their last name, or by the fact that they are millennials, or that they are single, or that they are married.  Many men in your congregation define themselves primarily by their job, saying things like, “I am a doctor”, “I am a plumber”, “I am a pastor,” as if their vocation is the most important way to define who they are. Some are even being tempted to define themselves as L or G or B or T.  This is deeply, deeply disturbing.

Warn them.  They are violating the #1 rule of having a relationship with me.  Because whatever gives you your true identity is your god.  But the #1 rule of having a relationship with me is that you shall have no other gods besides me.  If you violate that rule, I will destroy you.  Or rather, you will end up destroying yourself and have hell at the end.

Because I gave you your real identify at your baptism.  If you don’t use it, you are as big a fool as Satan.

(signed)
God the Father

The next day, this letter came in the mail.

Dear Pastors Johnson & Werre,

It has come to my attention that there is deadly confusion among the people you serve about who they really, truly are.  So call on them to repent and remind them again about my baptism and theirs.

I remember that day well.  The water of the Jordan was cool, but not cold.  John, who had, it appeared, some locust bits stuck in his teeth, said, “This is backwards, Lord.  You should baptism me, I should not be baptizing you.”  And he had a point—after all, baptism washes away sin and I did not have any sin.  But I put him at ease.  I told him, “This is exactly the right thing to do because I am here on earth doing what every sinner should be doing and doing it perfectly.”  And so John consented.

And that’s when my Father pulled aside that thin curtain, the one that separates heaven and earth, the one that looks so thick and impenetrable on your side but on eternity’s side you can see how paper thin it actually is, it’s as thin as a breath.  Your last breath.

And what the Father said of me is what he says of each of you at your baptism: “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.”  Because it is at your baptism that God adopts you as his child, says, “For now on call me Father.”  And because your soul is absolutely filthy because of the original sin you are born with, he washes you clean of your sin, makes you squeaky clean every single day, so clean that you are in God’s eyes a saint.  For that is the only way he could be well-pleased with you.

This is what happened at your baptism because your baptism connected you to my grave and my resurrection.  I realize it doesn’t look that way when you see a baptism, but that’s why I asked the Holy Spirit to tell Paul to write this all down in Romans 6.

So that now when you are thinking of who you are, truly, really are, say to yourself, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  I am a saint.  God is my Father.  Heaven is my home.  He told me so at my baptism.”

(signed)
God the Son

On the third day, this letter came in the mail.

Dear Pastors Johnson & Werre,

One of my great sadnesses (Eph. 4:30) is that God’s people act as if their baptism is something that happened in the musty, dusty past.  Which is very sad.  And very wasteful.  For there is daily power in your baptism.

So please teach them to say this:  “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  I am a saint.  God is my Father.  Heaven is my home.  He told me so at my baptism.”  And then add this, “Therefore this body is for the death of sin, all day long, and for joy, all day long, even in the most deadening defeats and heartbreaking failures.”

Tell them that each day their body is for the death of sin, all day long—each day, including weekends.  Now, please explain to them that sometimes when you use your body for the death of sin it will feel like intense discomfort, because you will have a very strong itch that wants to be scratched very badly, but you are single, or even married.  Sometimes using your body for the death of sin will feel like “This is so unfair”, like when you are trying all day long to take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way possible, as I told you in the 8th Commandment, but no one seems to be doing that for you.  Sometimes using your body for the death of sin all day long will feel like trying to be brave, as you tell your guilt and shame, “Jesus paid for that on the cross.  He has no interest in having me feel guilty about it even one more minute.”

Tell them their body is for the death of sin all day long, even weekends; but also tell them that their body is for joy, all day long too, even Monday mornings.  And about joy, all I have to say is this—a great deal of joy comes from ENjoying the good things I and the Father and the Son give you every day.  From the central heating in your house when you get up in the morning to the softness of your bed when you go to sleep at night and all the tastes and sounds and colors and textures and nuances in between are meant for you to enjoy.  So do that.  Pay attention and enjoy.  (I Tim. 4:1-5, Eccl. 2:24ff)  For your body is for the death of sin all day long, that is true, but it also is for joy, all day long.

So I charge you, Pastors Johnson and Werre, to teach those I have called you to serve to say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  I am a saint.  God is my Father.  Heaven is my home.  He told me so at my baptism.  Therefore, this body is for the death of sin, all day long, and for joy, all day long, even in the most deadening defeats and heartbreaking failures.”  Even in the most deadening defeats and heartbreaking failures.  And you will have those, too.  Everyone does.

That’s why it is essential to remember who you are, really, truly are because of your baptism and faith which trusts that baptism.

(signed)
God the Holy Spirit who gave you that faith and worked through your baptism

Wrapping Up a Loose End

Just to be clear, Pastor Johnson and I did not actually receive letters from God this week.  That was just a teaching technique.

However, God did speak to me, as he has to you, in the way he has promised to—through his Word.  And in this account of Christ’s baptism, our Triune God teaches us to say to ourselves, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  I am a saint.  God is my Father.  Heaven is my home.  He told me so at my baptism. Therefore, this body is for the death of sin, all day long, and for joy, all day long, even in the most deadening defeats and heartbreaking failures.”  Amen.