A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday after Christmas – January 4, 2004
Text: Ephesians 1:13-14
“In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I found a very interesting device in my desk in the church office my first week here. I probably started out looking for a pen to write a note, and then forgot about the note completely as I rummaged through the drawers. There were all the usual office supplies, with a few oddballs thrown in – nine-volt batteries for the wireless microphone, old sermon notes – but it was this one particular item that caught my imagination and caused me to forget whatever it was I had been doing for the time being.
It was the church’s seal embosser.
You’ve seen them before, or at least their results. They look a bit like an oversized garlic press, and they work a lot like one, too. Slip a piece of paper between the two circular plates, squeeze the handle, and out comes a perfectly-impressed seal, raised and embossed into the paper like a convention of little Braille dots. What those dots say is, of course, entirely up to you. In this case, it was the seal of First Lutheran Church.
I’ve always wanted one of these seal embossers for my library. I lend out my books all the time, and it’s always seemed like a holdover from grade school to have to write my name inside everything I own. A seal embosser is much more subtle, and much classier. Instead of putting my John Hancock on the inside cover of my books, I could mark the first page of each with my seal – “From the Library of Pastor Bob Schaefer” – just like they do at college and university libraries.
Seals like these have two purposes. First of all, they are a mark of authenticity. Second, they are a mark of ownership. Let me explain.
The First Lutheran seal could be used as a sign of authenticity. We could use it, for example, to mark a confirmation certificate when the pastor signs it. Not only would the certificate look more official, but it would also be much harder to forge. A kid wanting to fake a confirmation certificate for some reason would not only need a copy of the paper itself, but would need to use the church’s seal embosser to make it authentic.
On my letter of call and certificate of ordination back at home, you’ll find a gold, embossed foil seal on each, marking them as official documents of the Eastern North Dakota Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The seals aren’t there just to look impressive – they’re there to guarantee that these two important sheets of paper are legitimate. Seals, whether punched in paper or foil or wax, can be signs of authenticity.
The second use of a seal is as a mark of ownership. That’s how I’d be using my library seal. It would take me an afternoon, but I’d like to take each of my hundreds of books off its shelf, open it up, and impress my seal into its pages as a way of claiming it as my own. It’s darn near impossible to get rid of one of those embossed seals once you squeeze the handle – think about it: they’re designed so that even being squashed underneath a stack of books won’t flatten the seal out. Once those books have been marked with my seal, I won’t have to worry about losing them at conferences or having someone question whose they are. Those books will be marked as mine, as part of my library, because they have my seal on them.
So a seal can be a mark of authenticity and a mark of ownership.
Our scriptures today tell us in no uncertain terms that God has set his seal on us, and that seal is the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would come to all who believe in him. When you were baptized, the pastor dipped a finger into the water of the font and traced a cross on your forehead and breast, saying: “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” In that moment, God set his seal upon you as a mark of ownership and a mark of authenticity.
The Holy Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you. He has made you his very own, and at great cost to himself. And so he puts his seal on you, so that you might not ever be lost to him. Wherever you go, whatever you do, his mark is on you so that no one else and nothing else can lay claim to you. You belong only to God, and he won’t ever let you go.
The Holy Spirit is also God’s mark of authenticity on you. Many days you won’t feel as though you belong to God or as though he’s got any special claim on you at all. Your family and friends will doubt it. You’ll doubt it, too. The seal of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of what God has done for you, beyond all doubt. Your forgiveness is official, because God says it is and puts his seal to it. That seal guarantees to you and to everyone you meet that God is at work in your life, and through your life, and that his claim on you is real. Your salvation doesn’t matter how authentic a Christian you are…it depends on how authentic God’s claim is. And so he seals us.
God has set his seal on us, as Paul says, to be “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” When God claims us and guarantees us, he also promises us that we will inherit eternal life with him.
Children of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever. This is God’s own doing, and it is God’s promise that you belong to him. You are his precious possession, and he will never, ever let you be lost.
Let us pray. Lord God, you have set your seal upon us and claimed us as your own. Make us ever more confident of the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, through your Holy Spirit whom you have marked us by. In the name of Christ, in whom we set our hope. Amen.