Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2012
“Rooted and Grounded in Love” (Ephesians 3:14-21)
On this day when we have the confirmation of our two adult catechumens, I want to take this opportunity to remind all of us of how we have been “Rooted and Grounded in Love.”
“Rooted and grounded in love.” This phrase comes to us from our Epistle lesson for today, from Ephesians chapter 3. It describes what it true for all of us who have been baptized into Christ and instructed in the Christian faith. We are rooted and grounded in love, God’s great love for us in Christ, that “love divine, all loves excelling.”
Now this love of God precedes, it comes before, our becoming aware of it or our being instructed in what it means for our lives. God’s love is. It exists and it acts, apart from our knowing about it or acknowledging it. God is, his love is, whether we know it or not. That’s just who God is, and that’s what he does. He is the God of love.
But God’s goodness and grace are so great that he also lets us in on who he is and what he does. We get to experience God’s love, to receive it and believe it. God wants us to know and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And so that is what the whole catechetical process is all about. It is a time for Christians to become rooted and grounded in God’s love, to know what they believe and why, and to get a good foundation for living the Christian life–indeed, for living and dying in the faith.
Now the church has been doing this catechizing, this instruction in the faith, since the very beginning of the Christian church. The risen Lord Jesus told the apostles to make disciples of all nations–how? By baptizing them and teaching them. So that’s what the church has always done. The first converts on the Day of Pentecost, after they were baptized, the Book of Acts says that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” St. Paul, when he went about on his missionary journeys, spreading the gospel and planting churches–Paul would make sure those Christians would become well grounded in the Christian faith. For instance, the Ephesians, the church to whom Paul writes in our Epistle–Paul himself spent almost three years there teaching the church, admonishing them, encouraging them. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” Paul told the Ephesian elders. And that’s why he can say later, in this letter, that these Ephesian Christians have been “rooted and grounded in love.”
The church has always done this basic and yet thorough instruction in the faith. And one of the ways the church has done this best is through the work of a man named Martin Luther. Dr. Luther drew on the best of how the church had done its catechizing through the centuries, and he encapsulated this catechesis in a marvelous teaching tool called the Small Catechism, along with its companion volume, the Large Catechism. For almost 500 years now, Luther’s catechism has proved its worth, instructing generation after generation, rooting and grounding literally millions of Christians in the faith, by means of a clear, concise, and easily memorizable summary of the teachings of God’s word. That includes all of you here today. So let’s remind ourselves now of how the catechism does this excellent work.
The catechism begins with the teaching of the Ten Commandments. This is the expression of God’s Law, his holy will for his human creatures. Our Creator knows how life will work best for us, and the Commandments sum it up: love for God and love for our neighbor. Do this, and you will live. The problem, of course, is that we don’t. We fail to love God, we fail to love our neighbor, as we should. And so the Ten Commandments expose us as the sinners we are. We do not follow God’s ways as we ought. The Law therefore convicts and condemns us to death. The Commandments show us our lost condition, that we are unable to save ourselves, that we are in need of a righteousness outside of us. That God lets us know this, that he gives us a look in the mirror to see our greatest need–that in itself is due to his love for us, because the Law thus prepares us to hear the sweet, saving word of the Gospel.
The Gospel, the Good News of the God who saves us–that comes to light in the next chief part of the catechism, namely, the Creed. The Apostles’ Creed, drawn from the teaching of the apostles that we find in the New Testament–the Creed tells us who the one true God is, the God who saves us, and how he does it. The true God is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No guessing, no groping in the dark. Now we know who God is, as he reveals himself in his word. God in three persons, Holy Trinity. God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth, and our own creator, who made us and provides for us in all our daily needs. God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us and set us free from the curse of the Law. Here you learned what may be the greatest thing Luther ever wrote, his explanation of the Second Article:
“What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
Now how did you come to this saving faith in Christ? That’s what the Third Article takes up. God the Holy Spirit has called you by the gospel. And that’s how the Spirit will keep you and the whole Christian church together with Christ, until he comes again and raises our bodies and ushers in the life everlasting.
In the meantime, though, we live in this world as God’s children, a world where we have real needs of both body and soul. So our Lord teaches us to pray as God’s dear children, to call upon our Father in heaven in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. The catechism therefore invites us to call upon God in this prayer and gives us other daily prayers as well–for morning, for evening, and for our daily bread. Similarly, for the living of our daily life, the Table of Duties sums up our various vocations in this world, as we live out our calling as God’s people, always asking our Lord for his help.
God helps us and strengthens us through his means of grace, his Word and the Sacraments. So the catechism instructs us about the sacramental life. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is that by which God brings us into his family, the church. This baptism applies our whole life long, a daily dying and rising with Christ unto newness of life, and it will culminate in our resurrection on the Last Day. Confession and Absolution, the Office of the Keys–God wants us to live in the ongoing forgiveness of our sins, always recognizing and repenting of our old sinful nature and receiving his full and free forgiveness in Christ. And then there is the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, God is truly rich and lavish in his grace toward us, showering us with his love.
Rooted and grounded in love. The catechism, which is simply a summary of the biblical teachings–the catechism helps us to see and to know this love and to live and grow in it. That’s why we take such care in catechizing and confirming our people, both young and old.
Today we have the great joy of confirming two such catechumens, Ken and Don, two adult catechumens, both men in their 40s. What a joy it has been to take this journey with Don and Ken over these past months! To see them stick with it! To see them take to God’s word like a duck takes to water! Thanks be to God! Six months of catechism classes, around 40 hours of catechetical instruction. And now it leads to this hour, when Don and Ken will publicly confess their faith, be confirmed, and receive Communion here at this altar for the first time. This is a joyful day for you, Ken and Don, it is a joyful day for your families, and, I assure you, it is a joyful day for this congregation and your pastor. Again, praise and thanks and all the glory goes to God!
Rooted and grounded in love. It is God’s boundless love in Christ, a love that goes beyond all the breadth and length and height and depth that we can ever imagine. Even so, by God’s grace we do know this love, and we will continue to grow in his love, as long as we live and on into the ages of ages.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”