Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The portion of God's Word this morning that we will consider is the Epistle reading, from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!-- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
A “window of opportunity” is a short period of time during which an opportunity must be acted upon or missed. When the space shuttle is scheduled to lift off and head to the international space station, there is always a “window of opportunity” in which the weather, the position of the space station, and other factors play a role. If any of these things conflict, then the “window of opportunity” shrinks. The time is limited in which the shuttle can lift off. The same goes for the spacecraft when it is time to reenter the earth's atmosphere. The timing has to be just right. Otherwise, they have to stay in orbit for another few days.
You've probably also heard the old adage, “Opportunity knocks but once.” In other words, you only get one chance to achieve something great. I ran across a revision of that proverb, which is more true than the original: “Opportunity knocks only once, but temptation bangs on your door for years.”
St. Paul tells us, “give no opportunity for the devil.” Yet we do. We leave our windows wide open, and he takes the opportunity to climb right in and cause problems. And he usually doesn't have to bang too long on our doors. We freely open them and welcome him in.
When do we do this? Think about the attitudes and behaviors which Paul mentions in the text. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Anger is not necessarily sinful. What you do with it is. Do you seek out the person immediately who angered you and seek to reconcile, or do you let it fester and hold grudges? “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.” I doubt if any of us have a problem with shoplifting. But I bet we don't always put out 100% for our employer. That's stealing. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.” Yet the words that come from our mouth tear down, when we criticize and make unkind judgments about our neighbor behind their backs. And what else does Paul list? Bitterness. Wrath. Clamor. Slander. Malice. I'm afraid you're going to find those attitudes and behaviors wherever you see people gather, even in church. We are not always “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”
That's when we give the devil his “window of opportunity” and he climbs right in. That's when we open the door to his incessant banging, and he freely walks in. He wreaks havoc and stinks up the place, as his foul work spreads to others. The more we harbor those awful attitudes and terrible thoughts in our heart, the more our hearts become calloused. It's as if we were unbelievers. It's as if we had never had our hearts softened by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Instead of putting on the new self, which was created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness, we don our old self which loves to walk in darkness and is alienated from the life of God. The windows through which we should let God's light and life shine through, we close. The windows which should be opened so that we can look out and see our neighbor's needs and our opportunities to love and serve and forgive, we close.
All of this grieves the Holy Spirit. If we remain in this sinful condition and do not repent, then we will be eternally grieved. The bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice which we deliver to others and which we endure from others now is only a foretaste of what it will be like when God doles out his wrath over our unforgiving, unbelieving, unrepentant hearts. The devil has climbed in our windows and walked through our open doors. Our sin has given him ample opportunity to create division and dissension among us.
But God had his own “window of opportunity” in which to carry out his rescue plan for us, rescuing us from our sinful selves and stealing away Satan's opportunities. God did this “when the fullness of time had come” as St. Paul writes in Galatians 4. What did God do? He took his own “window of opportunity” – which really was no window at all, as if God might somehow miss his chance to save humanity. This was no random chance. This happened “at the right time.” Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” This was in his plan from all eternity. God entered into human history and sent his Son to take on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)
Jesus did all of this out of love for you and for me. “Walk in love,” Paul says, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The devil crawled into our windows and stunk up the place. But it's not as if we needed any help. Our sins which come from our sinful hearts have done a pretty good job on their own. But our Lord Jesus was a fragrant offering and sacrifice for us. The offerings and incense in the temple under the Old Covenant ascended into heaven, and God accepted them as a covering over of sin, pointing to the once for all sacrifice of his Son at the cross. And now, the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus opens the windows of our lives to bring in the fresh air of his grace and forgiveness. The fragrant smell of his sacrifice covers over the smell of our rebellion and casts out the devil from among us
Refreshed, restored, and renewed, we can once again “put on the new self” which was given to us in the waters of Holy Baptism. “Created after the likeness of God,” the Holy Spirit empowers us to be “imitators of God, as beloved children.” Like Father, like son. We look to our God and Savior in his Word. We learn from him and get to know him better. Like devoted sons, we want to be just like our Father when we grow up. And so we make sure to take every “window of opportunity” to let God's Word do its work on us to mold us and shape us so that we will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph. 4:15) How will we recognize those “windows of opportunity”? It's not hard. It starts right here in the Divine Service. The font is a window of opportunity. The altar from where we receive the Body and Blood of Christ is a window of opportunity. The Word read and preached is a window of opportunity. The Gospel given in the Absolution is a window of opportunity. These are all windows that swing wide open with the winds of the Holy Spirit who brings life, forgiveness, and salvation.
In Christ Jesus, now God's light and life shine through our windows and enter into our lives, our families, our church family. Those windows are wide open now so we can look out and see the opportunities which our Lord places before us. Now, we can “speak the truth with [each other], for [as the body of Christ] we are members one of another.” Now, we can seek to reconcile before our anger turns to bitterness and hate. Now, words that build up can come from our mouths, “that it may give grace to those who hear.” Now, we can “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”