Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11, c) July 17, 2022
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
In the Name of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul is preparing the Church for suffering. He’s preparing us for suffering.
The Church suffers. We don’t want to. But there is no escaping it.
We see the obvious suffering of the Church—the martyrs of the faith throughout the ages. Our brothers and sisters killed by Colosseum lions under Nero. Those Christian families murdered for the faith in the siege of Constantinople. Christians such as Jon Hus burned at the stake. Christians even now being kidnapped and murdered in northern Africa.
That suffering is obvious. But also the not so obvious. Christian families in our own nation having their children taught in the schools immoral teachings about marriage and family. Christians under threat in the workplace if they don’t publicly approve and endorse such prevailing doctrines as unnatural marriage and unnatural sex.
The Church suffers.
We suffer not just due to our sinful world, but also due to our own sinful flesh. We’re not done with that, after all. In our sinful flesh, we walk ourselves, with the help of the devil, into all sorts of sin and arrogance and pride and envy and all forms of despising our Lord’s gifts, walking ourselves finally into trying to justify ourselves before God, which is the ultimate insult to our Creator.
Yes. The Church suffers. Until our own sinful flesh is buried, and until our Lord comes again to judge the living and the dead, the Church suffers.
This is not the suffering of the cross. That was suffered by Jesus alone. The Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world, the Son of Man standing in for all sinners, the promised Messiah sent to save, he alone suffered the death for all sin on the cross. Then from the cross he said, It is finished. As he gave up his dying breath, the suffering of the cross, the suffering to shed the holy blood to cleanse every sinner, at the words “It is finished,” the suffering for sin is over, finished, complete.
Then what is the suffering of the Church? What is the suffering the Apostle Paul speaks of when he says,
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”?
The suffering Paul is suffering, the afflictions of Christ for the Church, this is not the affliction of Jesus’ crucifixion—that’s over and complete. This is, rather, the affliction Jesus, who is now resurrected and ascended, gives to the Church.
Yes, Jesus gives his Church affliction. He gives us to suffer in the world. He places the Church in the world in weakness.
Because, the Gospel goes forth in affliction. The Gospel is spoken in weakness.
The Gospel is a strong word, to be sure. It is God’s strong Word forgiving sin, cleansing the sinner, justifying you and me. The Gospel is the strong word bearing life into a dying world and bringing life daily to you and me and our children.
But the Gospel is spoken in weakness. The Gospel is given to our neighbor not by force or coercion or political action, but as gift.
And a gift never comes by coercion, or it is no gift.
So Jesus, as he gathers sinners into his Church, as he calls us into his Church as those he has reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach, he places his Church in the world to suffer. Not to come to our neighbor in strength and power, but to speak to our neighbor in the weakness, in the kindness and gentleness of the Gospel, to speak to our neighbor as those who have been reconciled by Jesus in the body of his flesh, and who are now given to speak that forgiveness of all sin to our neighbor.
For in that word of the forgiveness of all sins, Jesus is gathering the sinner into life and salvation.
So Paul rejoices in the suffering the Lord gives him. For as Paul says, he is suffering for the sake of the Church, for the sake of his fellow Christians, that even in his own flesh Paul is filling up what is lacking in the afflictions Christ gives to the Church. [Colossians 1:24]
We may all see our suffering that way. We are suffering as those who belong to Christ’s body, the Church. The affections we suffer are filling up, that is, are bringing to completion the afflictions Christ gives us to suffer for the sake of his body, the Church. [Colossians 1:24]
We may not understand this, of course, for any particular affliction; we may not be able to see how the affliction is part of the affliction of the Church, or how the affliction the Church suffers is part of her witness of Christ to the world, but we are to know, as Paul says, that this is of the riches of the glory of [God’s] mystery, which is Christ among you, and it is our hope of glory. [Colossians 1:27]
This is our hope and confidence of resurrected eternal life. For just as we have been baptized into Christ’s cross and death, we have been baptized also into his resurrection and life.
It’s by Baptism that Jesus put his Name on us. It’s by Baptism that he made us members of his body, the Church, setting us in the world as those afflicted for the Gospel.
It’s by Baptism that Jesus this morning put his Name on little Koa.
Two parts of bearing the Name of Baptism.
Go and make disciples of all nations,
by baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe all things I have commanded unto you.
That is the gift to Koa—the gift of being made a disciple unto eternal life, of being made a member of Christ’s body, the Church.
First, Baptism into the Holy Name, so that Koa belongs to that Name by promise for eternity.
Second, parents given to bring little Koa to the Lord’s gifts, teaching him to observe all the that Christ has commanded.
What has Christ given to the church by his command, his promise, given to little Koa?
The Gospel. The proclamation of all sins forgiven. The word justifying the sinner and brining into eternal life. The Body and Blood Christ gives to his Church each week for the forgiveness of all sins.
All the gifts of Christ, all the gifts of his cross, of his teaching of grace, of his blood—all the gifts given never by force or coercion but always in the weakness of the spoken promise, in the gentleness of a gift given to a sinner to bring into life, all the gifts given this morning to little Koa, given each week to the Lord’s Body, the Church.
We will be afflicted. But afflicted as those who belong to the Lord, who belong to the promise—afflicted as those who, along with Paul, rejoice in our afflictions.
In the Name of Jesus.