Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Trinity (August 31, 2014)

GENESIS 4:1-15

In the name + of Jesus.

     Two men went up to the temple to pray.  Both knew what they were doing.  Both knew how to pray and to whom they were praying.  Yet, only one of them went home justified before God.  And who was it?  It was the wretched sinner, the thief, the tax collector.  He did not hide his sin or make excuses.  He confessed his sinfulness and pleaded for mercy.  He wanted nothing more.  He got everything he prayed for, and more!  He went home justified, forgiven, saved.
     From outward appearances, the Pharisee was the better man—by a long shot.  You heard him recite his credentials.  The man had performed his religious duties diligently, even above and beyond the call of duty.  And I don’t think anyone would have argued with him that he was better than most.  He prayed boldly, and his worship looked more devout, more sincere, and more authentic than the tax collector’s.  Yet, he was not justified, forgiven, or saved.  That is because the Pharisee trusted in his own goodness.  God is not pleased with people who take pride in how good they are, no matter how good everyone else thinks they are.  True worship comes by faith alone.
     Now, consider two other men who went to worship.  Both knew what they were doing.  Both knew how to make a sacrifice and to whom they were sacrificing.  Yet only one of them went home justified before God.  The Lord had made it clear that Abel’s offering was pleasing and that Cain’s was not.  The letter to the Hebrews explains precisely why.  “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous…” (Hebrews 11:4)  Cain was able to go through the motions of worship, but his heart was set upon something else.  Cain did not long for forgiveness.  He did not repent of his sinfulness.  And he was irate that the Lord did not honor him as Cain was convinced he deserved to be honored.
     True worship comes by faith alone.  Without faith it is impossible to please [God] (Hebrews 11:6); for, without faith, you are still in your sins no matter how noble you appear and no matter how praiseworthy people think your life is.  Without faith, you are not pleasing to God.  And if you are not pleasing to him, then nothing you do will please him either—not your generous charity, not your patience with overbearing co-workers, not your winsome personality, and not even your prayers.  You can’t earn God’s praise.  Therefore, true worship comes not by acts of love and kindness, but by faith alone.
     The Lord admonished Cain, “Why are you angry…?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:6,7)  Nevertheless, Cain would not do well.  He would not repent.  He was convinced that going through the motions was all that mattered, and God should reward it.  Cain would fit in well with many Americans today, for we see his attitude prevalent in many people, including ourselves.  We are all impressed with good works and believe that they are worthy of praise and divine reward.  Consider the case of Robin Williams.  There is no doubt that Mr. Williams had been involved in numerous charities.  He was a kind and genuine friend to many.  And he was beloved by many more because he entertained them.  Now, all that is wonderful, but none of that could save him.  If that sounds cruel to say, it is because you believe God should reward him for his kindness and his talent.  Now, I don’t have any idea of Robin Williams’ eternal fate.  But his fate and the fate of everyone hang on this truth: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16) 
     True worship comes by faith alone, but we all trust in our good works to some extent.  We know that we have done good things, and we believe that we deserve a reward for them.  Therefore, your good works are a snare to you.  You trust in them, and you exalt yourself because of them.  This is worship of self, and it is idolatry.  He who exalts himself will never go home justified, forgiven, or saved.  Repent.
     True worship comes by faith alone.  The Pharisee boasted in his works when he prayed.  He trusted that his works would save him.  He was self-deceived.  Cain did not offer true worship, for the Lord found a heart that was not repentant or humble.  And while you can make every impression that your worship is sincere by belting out the hymns and saying your prayers, the Lord looks at the heart.  The Lord knows what you truly believe in.  True worship comes by faith alone.
     The focus of faith, of course, is Jesus Christ.  Faith does not talk about how good you are or about how much you do.  Faith clings only to Jesus.  He is the source of everything that saves you.  You do not have to go about trying to win God’s favor or to make claims that you are doing enough to please him.  Good heavens!  When would you ever do enough?  When could you ever have the confidence that you have done the works with which God is pleased?  And could you every really convince yourself that you have fulfilled all of God’s Commandments?  Dear Christian, you have a Savior who fulfills all of this for you.  He has wrapped his holy, obedient life around you like a garment in your baptism.  Therefore, God is pleased with you.  God the Father delights in calling you his beloved child.  And since you are pleasing to God, your worship is pleasing to him, your works are pleasing to him, and your life is pleasing to him.  True worship comes by faith alone.
     Faith clings to Jesus Christ, knowing that Jesus takes away every sin you have done and every good you have left undone.  The tax collector did not hide his sin.  He knew he was guilty and confessed it.  Though we do not hear any bad reports about Abel, he knew he was a sinner.  His blood sacrifice acknowledged that he looked for the perfect blood sacrifice which would pay for his sin, overcome his death, and appease God’s wrath.  Jesus Christ is the blood sacrifice which atones for every fault you have. 
     True worship comes by faith alone.  Faith does not try to plea bargain with the Lord to suggest that you are not that bad.  Faith rejoices that Jesus takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus pays for your sins, and he atones for your sinfulness.  Your condition before God now is not sinner, but saint.  Your attitude is no longer to do what is evil, but to flee from it.  Your desire is no longer to do what is right so that you will be rewarded for it; you desire to do what is right because you are a child of God who delights in what is good.
     True worship comes by faith alone.  By faith in Jesus Christ, you are a child of God, covered in the righteousness of Christ.  Therefore, God is pleased with your works and your worship as if they were holy.  It is like a little girl who draws a picture for her parents.  You know that it is not going to be a Rembrandt, but you love it more than anything Rembrandt could paint.  Your daughter did it because she loves you, and you cherish it because she did it for you.  So now, you are children of God.  As you serve, your works will not be flawless.  Nevertheless, God looks upon them as holy.  Your works are dear to him not because they are better than the works of others, but because by faith you are his dear children.  By faith in Jesus, you are holy in his sight.  And that is what pleases God.
     This is your true worship, whether it is done in church, at work, or at home.  Such worship clings to Jesus Christ by faith.  And when you depart from God’s house, you will go home justified, forgiven, and saved.  Jesus has secured it, and faith rejoices in it.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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