SERMON TEXT BELOW
Vicar Matthew Kinne
A stone sculptor has a fascinating challenge; he has to chisel away stone bit by bit until he makes a figure that matches what he saw in his imagination. If he makes one mistake along the way while chiseling he has to make a choice of either making a smaller piece of artwork or he has to scrap the whole project and start over. Carving stone is a difficult and mentally exhausting task and yet renowned artists, such as Michelangelo, were so well trained and gifted in this art, that they were able to carve out things we perceive as soft and cloth-like out of stone. They could carve pillows, drapes, clothing, and even skin out of stone so intricately, it wouldn’t be until you touched the statue that you would realize you were touching a hard stony surface. It was almost as if the figure made from stone was the perfect depiction of the artist's dream brought into reality. But these amazing sculptures, just like anything else made by man, eventually decay and crumble.
We are always tempted to say something is “perfect” when it is new or has reached its highest potential. But if something was truly perfect, it would be everlasting. When we say God is perfect, this is not an attribute that we have attached to God ourselves. He is the definition of heavenly “perfection”. He is the perfect rock that does not crumble or decay. We heard St. Paul quote the prophet Isaiah saying, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, who has been his counselor?” The Lord is His own counselor, because there is no one else perfect like Him from whom He can seek council. Therefore, God is the standard of perfection, He cannot do or be anything else but perfection.
If anyone imperfect was to be in the presence of God’s glory, that person would not just crumble, they melt away. That goes for anyone. It doesn’t matter if you went to church your whole life, or only attend on and off; it doesn’t matter if you know you’ve sinned a little, or a lot– anyone who has some form of imperfection is not worthy of being in the presence of God. Think back to some of the Old Testament stories of the Ark of the Covenant. If anyone, it didn’t matter if priest or commoner, ever so much as grazed the mercy seat of the Ark, they would die. This isn’t because the Ark was cursed, but in reality it is the other way around. The person who is imperfect is the cursed one who, by touching the Ark, was touching the definition of perfection. This ultimately leads to the demise of the cursed being, because they cannot live in the perfect presence of God.
The curse of sin you and I carry is what makes Jesus’ work so invaluable for the church. Because of the cross Christ bore, and the curtain split in two on that Good Friday, His perfect body given up to death for us allowed a bridge of righteousness to be carved out for us sinful humanity to cross over and be with our Father in heaven. Without Christ dying and without that robe of righteousness you wear from your baptism, there would be no chance of eternal life for you. Without the righteousness you wear, the perfection of God would scrape against your unholiness and you would die. Thanks be to God that Jesus, the definition of perfection, also became the definition of sin so that we as the church could live. It is not as if God is being mean to us. It’s not as though He wants to take a hammer and smash us into bits and pieces. No, He wants us to be with Him in paradise forever and be shaped in His perfection. But He cannot change. The only way for His church to stand at His throne is if He chisels away all of our impurities and refines us in His son.
Some false teachers, who are also talented at sculpting their craft, piece together a fake truth; one that is not perfect; one that will crumble on the day of judgment. They are the stone builders that reject Christ and teach people that “God would never kill, because He loves us.” Or “There will be people from every religion in heaven, because God would be too mean to establish hell and condemn someone to a life of agony and torment.” These false teachers do not understand what it means to be in the presence of God’s glory. They do not understand that the same God who burned in righteous anger destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. They do not understand what Jesus means by saying, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. They do not understand that being conformed to the world is to reject God and to become part of a crumbling statue of the faith in sinful man.
Unlike the false teachers, we know that Jesus, the true teacher, saves us only through His atoning sacrifice, not through some other religion or personal philosophy. There is assurance to His church that this is all true because of His resurrection. If He did not rise from the dead, that would mean that His body was imperfect and not any more powerful than death. On the contrary, His resurrection is foundational in showing us that He has power over death and the grave, promising that we too will also be raised one day with perfect bodies so that we can bask in His glory.
This would be a perfect place for me to leave you today, because it is such a wonderful thought that we all in the church are saved and going to go to heaven one day to be with Christ in the clouds. We are going to have perfect bodies again, just like Adam and Eve before the fall into sin. But we have only scratched the surface. Let us be honest, until we see our Lord in heaven, we, being the church militant, have to deal with our sinful pride, our imperfect bodies, and a world that wants us to break down more than ever. We have to deal with it day in and day out. And even though we deal with this turmoil, we are called to use our bodies as perfect statues or a living sacrifice in the world portraying us as Christ's disciples.
We sang about it in our sermon hymn today:
yet He who dwells in heav'n above
chooses to live with us in love,
making our body His temple.
(LSB 645 Sanza 3)
St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Just like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, God puts tests in your way so that your faith can be proved. He shapes you with His Gospel because He wants you to have the image of Christ who never sinned. But the tests of faith happen so Christ can shine through you, not so your pride can peak out its ugly head. Without Christ inside of us, it’s easy to sin. It is the more common way out of a life with responsibility. Addictions are easy to pick back up. Speeding while driving is almost expected. Ignoring someone who needs help is simple– just put in a pair of headphones, look at your phone, and relax as the rest of the world burns. And while we’re at it, talking about phones- how easy is it to find inappropriate content or send messages talking about someone behind their back. How easy it is to believe that wearing specific brands of clothing and maybe wearing clothes in an immodest way allows the public to view the body in an unholy way. These examples are only but a few things showing that we sinners do not always display our bodies as temples.
It is also a simple trap of pride to think that you are better than everyone in the world because you are doing churchy-looking activities. Teaching Bible Studies, volunteering at church, serving the homeless, visiting the sick, going on Christian retreats, or supplying needs to the needy are not things that gain you salvation. These things can be intended for good, but if you are using your works to justify your salvation and displaying your “good deeds” to the world to gain attention to yourself, you are redefining what is “perfection”. Remember who is the definition of “Perfection”? It is not you. It is Christ, alone.
You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone. It is He who saves you and makes your body His temple; a living sacrifice. But it is only those who believe that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, not they themselves, that hear the sculptor’s voice, and follow in His ways.
many may come to hear God's Word
where He this promise is bringing:
"I know My own, My own know Me;
you, not the world, My face shall see;
My peace I leave with you. Amen."
(LSB 645 Stanza 4)
So, if there is one thing I would want you to take away from this sermon it is this:
Those of you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the Rock, Jesus Christ, from which you were hewn; the perfect Rock that the stone builders rejected. It is in Christ Jesus you are saved from the wrath of this world, sin, death, and the devil and also carved into His perfect sculpture through the baptismal life in which the world sees Christ’s work of salvation. Amen.