Note: That which follows is a presentation made by me to a teacher’s symposium, held June 19, 2002 at Peterschule (the St. Peter School), St. Petersburg, Russia. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce to the group the book by Rev. Dr. Harold Senkbeil, Dying to Live, a volume that had just been translated into Russian by Lutheran Heritage Foundation.]
… In Adam all Sin: An Introduction to
Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness
by The Rev. Dr. Harold L. Senkbeil
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:10-15) –From the book
I. YOU ARE DYING.
One day you will be dead. Hopefully not today, hopefully not even tomorrow, but with certainty I can say “you are dying and one day you will be dead.”
“The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23
“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12
From the account of Adam’s sin in Genesis, to the teachings and writings of the Apostle Saint Paul years after the death of Jesus, all of salvation, surely all of history, is predicated on the fact that because of sin you and I will die. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, you and I are walking the road to our grave.
Yet we were not created to die. Man was created by God to live with him forever. This knowledge, this shadow of what was to be, causes us to revolt against the idea of our death. We make laws to, ultimately, protect and safeguard life and a way to live. We send our men and women to war, to die, that a country may continue to protect the lives of many more of its citizens. We go to doctors when we are sick, we pay for research to find wonderful new cures for illness; we transplant hearts and livers and we employ amazing drugs to lengthen the number of our days as long as possible
The fact of our death scares us, and we will do nearly anything to prevent it or put it off as long as humanly possible. We can create life in a test tube, we can recombine DNA to make a better human, we can make five sheep out of one through cloning, but we have not found a way to stop death. For all have sinned (Romans 3:22), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
In the United States we have an idiom “I would die for…” Since we fear death and would rather do just about anything but die, to say “I would die for” shows the terrific need or desire that one has for something. An alcoholic might say, “I would die for a shot of vodka.” “A smoker might be “dying for” his next cigarette. A young woman in love would just die, if only her true love would ask her to marry. Our desire is expressed as we offer to give up that which is most dear to us—our life.
The title of the book before us draws on the common use of the idiom, “I would die for…” And the author puts before us the depth of our need, our desire, and our hope of hopes, that we would have life. “We might be dying but we are dying to live.
Pastor Senkbeil writes:
Too often we look to the world around us as the source of our moral problem. If we could just stamp our pornography, we think, we could get rid of sexual abuse. If we could clean up the lyrics to rock music we could solve the drug problem. But these are really only the symptoms of a much more drastic predicament.
Of course these issues do deserve our attention; we need to clean up the cesspool. But remember, cesspools are not the source of sewage. Neither is the world the source of sin. The cause of moral pollution, Jesus said, is found much closer to home:
What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” …“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Matthew 15:11; 17-19.
This is truly a mark that we are true children of our parents Adam and Eve. When confronted with their sin in the Garden of Paradise, Eve blames the serpent for her actions, and Adam looks to God and blames him for giving Eve to him: “Lord, it was the woman you gave me.” We look around ourselves and see moral decay and we want someone to blame. Who is to blame?
Who is to blame? Frankly, as offensive as it may sound to you, you and I are to blame for the problems we see around us. If live is a cesspool, you and I are the source of the stench. In our headlong rush away from death, we tend to look for life in all the wrong places. We pollute our lives and our world with things that do not extend our lives or the quality of our lives.
Some would say that the world is godless and this must be the source of our dilemma, the reason we cannot rise above the moral climate that in its search for life actually promotes death. So, we look to spiritual solutions for our problems. Like the people of Athens in St. Paul’s day, we too can look around at our cathedrals and churches, our spiritualists and TV preachers and say, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). But this spirituality is bankrupt and worthless. In fact, since this social and political spirituality does not have its source in the One True God, it diverts our attention away from the source of real life. And inasmuch as it separates us from God, the social religion, the social gospel can only be a message of death.
Who is to blame? Certainly the claim that our societies are godless is not true. Distracting—well that is true, but it is not the source of our problems. Many point to materialism as the source of our problems. In the United States there has been a bumper sticker seen on cars that reads: “he who dies with the most toys wins.” Yet life cannot be found in the things of this world. They have no happiness to give. Their lure is false hope at best. Let us take a look then at where we are directed to find life.
II. “THAT YOU MAY HAVE LIFE” – JOHN 1:1-10
The Good Shepherd says to you, in the 10th chapter of John: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).
Then we recall account of Stephan, a man filled with the Spirit and faith. Stephan, a man who trusted the Good Shepherd. Stephan who had life to the full. Stephan preached this Jesus who gave Him life to the full and He is stoned to death for his efforts.
If life to the full means a long life then Stephan and not a few others must be hypocrites, not Christians. If life to the full means a life free from suffering and pain then Stephan and not a few others failed to believe the Gospel. If the life the full means plenty of food and other consumer goods then many of the Christians in the world today do not have enough faith. Stephan and not a few others who have suffered pain, depravation and death for the sake of Christ surely were Christians.
So what does it mean to have life to the full as the Good Shepherd promises to His Lambs? It means a life lived in a relationship with the Good Shepherd. Such a life, whether short or long, free from or full of pain or free from or full of persecution is life to the full.
It is life to the full because it is life which never ends.
St. Luke writes in his account of Stephen, “Then [Stephan] fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). It does not say that Stephan died, but that he fell asleep. And before he fell asleep, he saw heaven opened and Jesus standing at the right had of God.
Life to the full means that when the door of this life closes, the door of heaven opens. It means those who believe in the Good Shepherd will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
St. Stephan had life to the full. He had the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit in this life and life without end in heaven with Christ. If Stephan could sing for us, I wonder if he might sing, one of my favorite Sunday School songs:
Who so happy as I am,
Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when this short life is ended,
By His angel hosts attended,
He shall fold me to His breast,
There within His arms to rest.
He shall fold me to His breast. Jesus, the Good Shepherd does give life to the full to us His dear Lambs. But it does not mean an easy life here. It means life which never ends in heaven.
In this life we Christians should expect trouble. We should be shocked, but never surprised, by the evil we see at work all around us. Scripture says, the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
Christians understand what is behind wars, ethnic killings and children killing children, terrorists using planes full of people as missiles against civilians. Heaven help us if we ever cease to be shocked and simply shrug off the evil we see. But we are not surprised because we know that behind every murder is the evil one himself.
My dear friends in Christ, the devil are not a mythical creature with horns, tail and pitch fork. Scratch the surface of any act of violence whether it is abortion, spouse abuse, children killing children, racial hatred, or terrorism, and you will find the face of the devil, the thief who kills and brings death into the world.
Speaking about the devil, Jesus says, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Jesus was referring to the very first murder, the murder of Cain by his brother Abel. In St. John’s epistle we read, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother (1 John 3:12).
These words warn us to not go too far and transfer all blame to the devil. To be sure, he is the father of all murder but he has a partner called sin. The devil uses sin and sin moves leaders of countries and children to hate and hate leads to murder. Listen again to St. John, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15)
Sin is in every single one of us and while most, if not all of us here, are not going to murder someone, hate is another story or so you think. You think you can get away with hating people not like you. You think you can get away with hating people who hurt you. Think again. “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” Hate is murder and no murderer has eternal life. Hate starts with envy. Cain envied Abel. Cain nursed that envy. The envy turned to hate and hate turned to murder.
Envy, hate and murder shock us, yes but surprise us? No. We know there is an evil one who is a murderer and a thief. He comes to steal, to kill and to rob. We know sin dwelling in us and we know that if not for the almighty and all merciful intervention of God’s Holy Spirit in our life we could be dragged into envy, hate and even murder.
If you do not believe that, you do not yet understand the depth of your depravity.
I’m sure some of you are familiar with the Father Brown mystery books. Father Brown is a priest who solves murders. Once he was asked how he was able to solved murders which such deftness. He responded by saying, “I am the murderer”
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). In spite of the depth of our depravity, we can have life to the full. We can have life to the full because of what we hear in the words recorded by St. Peter:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:20-25)
Jesus was a victim in the truest sense of the word. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. He was belittled, beaten, bruised but did not retaliate with hate. He could have sent a legion of angels to destroy all of Jerusalem, Israel, and even the entire earth but instead He suffered for you. He suffered great injustice. Someone must pay for this mess we are in and that someone was Jesus. He suffered unjustly but the result is that you are justified.
“All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” All the envy, murder and hate were absorbed by the Lord Jesus who also absorbed the righteous wrath of God against sin.
You were like sheep going astray but the Good Shepherd sought you, found you and brought you back. You have been returned to the care of the Shepherd and overseer of your souls, the Lord Jesus. You have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd. His voice says, “I forgive you all your sins.” His voice says, “You are my sheep and I give to you eternal life and no one can take it from you.” His voice says, “I have come that you may have it to the full.”
III. AS PASTORS AND TEACHERS WE BRING THE MESSAGE OF LIFE TO A DYING WORLD.
The greatest treasures of the Lutheran Church are God’s gifts: His Word and Sacraments. Sacred Scripture, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper offer Christ crucified as the Savior for fallen humanity. Luther’s great Gospel themes: “by grace alone,” by faith alone,” for the sake of Christ alone” are precisely Scripture’s teaching.
The identity and health of the church flow from these Scriptural Foundations with Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).
We live in a culture that increasingly lacks any satisfying account of life and its meaning. Our church is blessed to be able to speak the truthful, meaningful, wholesome, and life-giving story of Jesus. Human life cannot be reduced to a moment of purchase, a moment of pleasure, or a moment of raw power. In a period when the culture of death ends life in womb and seeks to eliminate the sickly elderly, there is an enormous opportunity for the church to support God’s gift of life.
The message of Jesus reveals the sanctity and significance of each and every person. Our wonderful calling is to form our life in Christ—to recall our baptism, to hear the Lord’s absolution, to speak His prayer, to reflect on His truthful Word, and to receive His very body and blood at His table.
Such a calling to life, by God’s grace, displays the abundant life that Christ gives (John 10:10b). The Christian man or woman who nurture and love their children, who care for their parents, and who remain faithful to each other are living witnesses to a richer, fuller and blessed life.
When one looks at unsettled periods in human history—the fall of Rome, the Reformation—they became an opportunity for Christ’s confession to shine with compelling brilliance. In our history – the tragedy of Littleton, Colorado or words unsure of meaning from Washington, D.C., our time is marked by a foundational loss of purpose and meaning.
What an opportunity for every lay person in the Lutheran Church to speak out, to confess the sanctity of the unborn and elderly, the blessedness of marriage, and the hallowedness of service to God and neighbor. All around us, people hunger for something good, beautiful, holy and eternal. Jesus is the Bread of Life.
The Holy Scriptures alone offer the good, the beautiful, the holy and the eternal. This Word is reflected in the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions. They are a wonderful description of the living Triune God and His gifts. Every man, woman, and child in Christ’s church have an opportunity to bring the Gospel to empty souls. Small and large congregations; our grade schools high schools and universities, committees and conventions – all are called to speak the wholesome, truthful and life-giving Gospel of Jesus.
Under God’s grace, it is crucial that the church speak the Gospel message with great authenticity, integrity, clarity, and charity.
Authenticity. Proclaim the Gospel with authenticity. To combine it with other stories that seek to explain life’s meaning is to embrace a false and fatal word. Israel sought to combine its confession of the true God with Baal’s story. The end of such an effort was tragic: the people perished. The church is called to authenticity in its speaking. It is to speak the truth of Jesus (Mt. 28:19ff) and to confess the Scripture’s Gospel in. Other tales of “good news” cannot refresh and restore the soul. Instead, they lead to a fragmented life on earth and separation from God in eternity. The Holy Spirit’s power to revive and to renew resides only the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures.
Integrity. The church practices what she preaches with integrity. God calls us to reach to with evangelistic wholeness in confession and practice. Non-Christians will see our lives as they are upheld in the Gospel and ordered by God’s will. Our creeds and confessions will be seen as living expressions of our very lives rather than relics of Christian tradition.
Clarity. The Word is clear. The church is called to proclaim Christ with great clarity. She is not to repeat formulas in a meaningless wooden fashion. The people of God, in the pews and in the pulpit, are called to be faithful and fresh in their witness to Christ. The church uses her finest gifts to assess critically what is forming the assumptions of the people whom we meet each day. Individualism, consumerism, post-modernism and similar forces destroy the spirits and empty the souls of human beings. The capacity to reflect faithfully and critically is the first and fundamental task in sharing the Gospel.
Charity. These are all done in charity. Charity is our response to God’s gifts. Love is manifested by the humble pastor who serves God’s people; by the believers who supports and provides for their pastor; in the sanctity of family life where fidelity and love are practiced; the Christians who fulfill their calling or job in the marketplace with excellence; the compassion and care that marks the church’s evangelistic and mission efforts: These all provide a wonderful invitation to our fragmented society and fractured families. There IS a place where love is real and true. It is in Christ’s church. The pew and the font, the pulpit and the altar provide the means for such true and real love.
Authenticity. Integrity. Clarity. Charity. More than money, more than technique, more than public relations, more than organizational adjustment — these are the qualities that will carry the church into a bright future with the promise of God’s presence and blessing. Certainly, these are God’s gifts formed in us by His grace rather than by any good capacity within us.
God uses means. Word and Sacraments bestow authenticity, integrity, clarity and charity upon the church and each of its members. Our treasure is in God’s gifts. May we receive them and live in them as we tell the truthful, wholesome, and life-giving Gospel of Jesus to the entire world.