A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
All Saints Sunday – November 7, 2004
Text: Ephesians 1:11-14
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are certain images – whether they’re in film, on television, in a photograph, or part of your real life experience – that have a way of sticking with a person. For example, I particularly recall the opening of one movie. In extreme close-up, the camera reveals to us what looks like a piece of parchment, lit in dim candlelight. Suddenly, unexpectedly, something dark, shiny, and liquid drips onto the page from out of the camera’s frame. More drops follow, leaving a red-tinged blob on the paper. The audience’s tension increases with each drop, becoming more and more certain that something terrible is going to be revealed. And then a hand descends into the frame, clenched in a fist, and on that hand is a signet ring. As the ring is pressed into the glob, we realize that what we are seeing is not some awful death, but nothing more than the sealing of a document with a wax impression.
It’s a scene that works because although most filmgoers have seen plenty of dripping blood in their day, few have any experience with setting a seal. And so when Paul talks about the Holy Spirit being set upon us as God’s seal, we believers hardly know what to make of these words anymore. We smile and nod, and think they’re rather pretty, but unless we know what a seal is for, we can hardly grasp what an important thing Paul is telling us about the Spirit and about ourselves.
So let’s look at a seal’s three primary purposes, and see what they have to say about Christian life in the Spirit. The three most important things a seal does are to claim an item, to protect it, and to be its guarantee.
Walk around a college campus for a day, and you’ll see the claiming power of a seal in action. In practically every college bookstore around the country you’ll find heather gray tee shirts marked with the college’s seal, and the stenciled-in words: “Property of Concordia College,” or something very similar. It could well be that you have a shirt like this in your dresser – they’re very popular. I’ve always wondered whether it’s the shirt or the person inside the shirt that is being claimed by the seal.
Either way, the connection is there. Whatever the seal is placed on has been claimed for the owner of the seal. It’s not so different from Neil Armstrong planting an American flag on the moon – although the United States obviously doesn’t own the moon, its achievement in sending men to walk there gave Armstrong the right to lay special claim to that lunar soil, just the same.
Or consider the presidential seal. Wherever the American president goes, he is surrounded by items bearing the seal of his office. It’s on Air Force One. It’s on his podium. His windbreaker. His luggage. His cufflinks. His letterhead. These things are the president’s for his own use, and they are marked with that seal. Even if you never see his face, there can be no mistaking when an American president is near, because of the parade of items claimed by his seal.
We also have been marked by the seal of a great ruler, Paul says, and that seal lays claim to us just as surely as the president’s seal lays claim to his cufflinks. There was a moment in your life when God filled you up with faith, and from that very moment you have been marked with his Holy Spirit as God’s seal upon you. You are his – you belong to him – and the seal of the Holy Spirit stakes God’s claim on your life once and for all. He will not forget you or lose you, because in your baptism you have been marked forever.
But this is nothing to brag about. The president’s cufflinks are marked with his seal because he chooses to mark them as his own, not because those cufflinks somehow earned it! And once they have the seal, they are part of that large collection of claimed objects. So, too, is it for the Christian. God claims us because that’s his will, and not because we have earned his seal. And as soon as we’ve received the Holy Spirit as his claim on our lives, we become aware that – far from being unique in this claim – we are now part of a collection, a matched set, if you will. That seal has been placed on your brothers and sisters here, and in [Litchville/Hastings], and on the saints in all times and all places, one great set claimed by God for himself.
The second thing a seal does is to protect whatever it has been placed on. When you receive a fancy invitation in the mail, the envelope will often be sealed with a sticker. This is a faint reminder of the days when an important message would be placed in an envelope and sealed in by a glob of hot wax across the flap, stamped with the one-of-a-kind ring for security. Once that seal had been placed, the letter was tamperproof. There was no way to access its contents without breaking the wax seal and giving away the meddling.
This was important for two reasons. First of all, it ensured that when a person sent a confidential message it would remain as secure as possible. Since there was no way to read the message without breaking the seal, that wax glob did wonders to discourage snooping. A seal couldn’t prevent espionage, but it could at least guarantee that the dirty deed would be uncovered quickly.
The seal also protected its contents from unauthorized change. The recipient of a sealed message could be sure that what was inside was authentic, written by the person whose seal was on the outside. Nothing had been added by some sneak in between the writing and the delivery, as long as the seal was true.
So a seal provided real security for both the sender and the recipient of a message. And the same is true for you. The Holy Spirit’s mark upon your life provides you with that same kind of protection. God’s children are tamper-proof. No matter how hard the enemy may try – and believe me, he will – he cannot break that seal. The word of truth, the gospel of your salvation has been locked inside your heart, and no devil can get at that message to pollute and corrupt it as long as the Holy Spirit is your seal.
Finally, the seal of a powerful person is their guarantee. The mightier and more influential a person was, the more intricate their seal was likely to be. While a commoner might simply dab some wax onto a page, a royal seal was broad and thick, pressed in a perfect circle with exquisite detail.
This wasn’t just for show. The more complex a seal was, the harder it was to forge. A seal could then be legally binding, a way of authenticating a document. You can still see this legal use of a seal at work today – just look at the diplomas and certificates hanging in your doctor or lawyer’s office. There, next to the signatures, you’re likely to see an embossed gold sticker with the seal of the organization…even our confirmation certificates have one. Those seals have been placed there as a guarantee that the documents they are on are legitimate. The seal is just a marker, but it carries all of the authority of the one who placed it there. A seal is a promise.
God’s Holy Spirit is his seal on your life, a guarantee and a promise. He has adopted you as his child, along with all of his many saints, and promised you an inheritance with them in heaven – an inheritance of redemption and forgiveness forever. How can you be sure of this? How can you trust this promise? By the seal that God has placed. In the Holy Spirit, God binds himself to you, just as tightly as a king’s seal bound him to the words he had written. Because of the Holy Spirit in your life, you can be sure that what God has promised, he will deliver on. He will raise you and all his other sealed saints on the last day, and give you new life – that is God’s promise. That is his guarantee.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has claimed you. He has kept you safe, protecting you every step of your journey. And because of the gift of his Spirit, you can be confident that God will give you everything that he has promised – his love, his forgiveness, his very life – so that you will be with him, marked by the sealing Spirit forever. Amen.