What Do You Really Look Like?
2nd Sunday in Easter
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Oscar Wilde wrote a story in 1890 titled “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. In this story, a handsome young man has his portrait painted by an aspiring artist. Dorian Gray was very impressed by the beauty of the likeness and wished that he could remain forever beautiful as the painting. His wish came true and for many years, every sin and evil act performed by Dorian Gray left his physical appearance unmarked but marred the portrait which he kept hidden away in a secret room of his mansion.
As with many tales the underlying subject is a commentary on human morality. The character in this story was able, through supernatural means, to show one face to the world while his true self was deteriorating on a canvas hidden away.
We do this every day of our lives. We put on the happy Christian face to everyone around us while our true sinful selves rot away hidden within the secret room of our hearts. It would mortify us if anyone should see our true selves, our true souls. And so, over the years, we fool ourselves into believing the outward appearance we falsely portray. We deceive ourselves into thinking we are without sin; but God sees our true portrait hidden away.
Over the next twenty years, Dorian would infrequently look at the painting to see how his life of hedonism affected the portrait. It became such a hideous picture that he could barely stand the sight of it.
The Law of God is a powerful thing. The Law of God convicts us of our sinful nature. Like a mirror, the Law shows us the true picture of our souls. It shows every ugly scar, contemptuous sneer and haughty arrogance. In whole, it shows us the fruits of the flesh. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians states:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” [Galatians 5:19-21]
In our world today it may be difficult to differentiate what is unlawful to God and what is acceptable to society. Because we are continuously drowned in the excesses of the world through media of all types, we begin to lose grasp of what is offensive to God.
Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality have been and are constantly being redefined to be acceptable. Sorcery and idolatry have reemerged as new forms of religion. Dissensions and divisions are considered as revolutionary or applauded as the courageous exposure of oppression of subjective truths.
Enmity, strife, envy, fits of anger are viewed as tools to be used to achieve goals to which we are entitled or as a right. No wonder that people are rejecting the conviction of the Law of our Creator because this would force us to acknowledge our sin and to view our self-idolatry in its true, hideous form.
At one point, Dorian Gray decides to change his ways and live righteously. He meets a young woman and becomes romantically involved. He purposely strives not to break the heart of the young woman and become an upright person. He hopes his new path of goodness would revert the ugliness of the painting. Yet when he views the portrait again, he sees it only getting worse and realizes that his newfound morality and self-sacrifice were just another vain curiosity for new selfish experiences.
Oh, how we try to save ourselves from our sinful condition! We see the sin and its effects on us and we say, ‘I will try better. I will do good works and that will please God and save my eternal soul.’ But this too is only grasping at the wind in our vanity. Because of our sin we can only be selfish in our wants and desires. By these actions we will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Instead we must turn to Christ. For it is through his death and resurrection that we may be purged of our sins and given everlasting life. St. Paul gives us this assurance in his Epistle: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22-23]
No law can go against Jesus Christ and his sacrifice because he fulfilled the law completely when he overcame sin, death, and the devil. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [Galatians 5:24]
How do we become bearers of the Spirit? How do we live in this world but gain the kingdom of God? We receive salvation through Jesus Christ’s body and blood, given to you for the forgiveness of sins.
Our communion with Christ through his body and blood under the bread and wine at this altar is a heavenly treasure given to you! This is what infuriates our enemy, Satan. You see, the devil cannot bear to see us resist him.
“…when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield [hand and foot] and become indifferent or impatient.”
For this reason, we need the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. For:
“Christ’s body can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, impotent and useless. Yet, however great the treasure may be in itself, it must be comprehended in the Word and offered to us through the Word, otherwise we could never know of it or seek it.”
The gift of forgiveness is before you. Jesus Christ said:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” [John 6:48-51]
Yet what do we do? We treat forgiveness as an obligation rather than a blessed gift. We become listless and lazy about communion with our Savior. Many believe that they are strong devout Christians without the need to receive the sacrament. And so, a few weeks go by, then a month, then a few more months, until they ultimately despise both the sacrament and the Word of God. Some people become convinced that it is a matter of choice and not necessity and that it is enough if they simply believe.
Our church father, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther said this:
“… let it be understood that people who abstain and absent themselves from the sacrament over a long period of time are not to be considered Christians. Christ did not institute it to be treated merely as a spectacle, but commanded his Christians to eat and drink and thereby remember him.”
What must we do to be saved? First, we must be baptized into the body of Christ through the water and the Word. Next, since we continue to sin, we must continue to receive forgiveness of sins through the same body and blood of Christ. Both gifts are the means of Grace by which the only Son of God was given to you through his death and resurrection.
How do we partake in this blessed gift? First, we must confess our sins before God. We must acknowledge our sin. We must look into that mirror of the Law and say, ‘Yes, that is my sin. I repent of that sin and desire never to do it again.’ Secondly, we must grab hold of both the commandment and the promise of the Lord Christ to take, eat of the bread of life that comes from heaven. Drink of the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins, your sins, and the world’s.
We are in the world and of the world. As long as you feel a heartbeat in your chest, you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. If you think you are above all others or not part of this world, just ask your neighbors what they think. Let them paint a picture of you and look at it. I guarantee it will not be beautiful. You will see the ugliness that is your sin.
Dorian Gray could no longer stand the portrait that showed him as he really was. He finally came to the conclusion that he could not erase the ugliness of his sin. In despair he took a knife to the portrait and destroyed it. The story ends with his servants hearing the cry of a man being stabbed and find the old withered body of a man with a knife in his heart. The only way they could identify him was by the rings on his fingers that belonged to Dorian Gray.
We need not suffer the same fate. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we are forgiven our daily sin. The blood of Christ erases all the ugliness that comes through our sins of the desires of our flesh. Once erased, it is gone forever.
What a precious gift it is that we can be made clean and new simply by following the good and gracious will of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In addition, we also become a new child of God who bears the fruit of the Spirit. We bear the name of Jesus Christ when we call ourselves Christians. Let us not be ‘Christians’ in name only but true followers of his commandment to receive forgiveness of sin through his body and blood.
 Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 449.
 Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 451.