Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 6, 2015)

HEBREWS 13:1-8
In the name + of Jesus. 

     You hear it often.  Who knows?  You might even believe it: “The Church needs to change and get with the times.  If the Church does not change, it will continue to hemorrhage members, and it will die.”  That is a common criticism.  It is considered to be conventional wisdom.  A number of church bodies have adjusted their doctrine and practice for the sake of popularity and relevance.  But you need to understand this: Any church which has changed its doctrine and practice to adapt to the times has also abandoned Jesus Christ.  Let me say that again: Any church which changes its doctrine and practice to adapt to the times also abandons Jesus Christ.  How can I say that so strongly?  Because this is what the Scriptures say: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
     The unchanging God blesses you with his unchanging word.  God does not change, therefore he never needs to adapt his word to any time or place.  From the time of Adam right up until today, the word of the Lord has been preached.  While God has added content to his revelation through the prophets and the apostles, he has never changed his message.  The word of the Lord to Moses is word of the Lord to David, to Peter, James, and John, to Chrysostom, to Martin Luther, to you.  The unchanging God blesses you with his unchanging word.
     The reason people want the church to change its message is because God's holiness bothers us and we don't want to be mindful of our sins and sinfulness.  We live in a world which finds sins to be entertaining.  We are certainly influenced by this.  We find ourselves chuckling at what is perverted and panting at what is promiscuous.  If we don't want to back away from our sins, we would prefer the Church back off condemning them.
     When we see church attendance dwindling, we assume that the Church has the problem.  We want to find ways to keep people—especially the younger people—in the church.  For the sake of not losing members, it is assumed that the Church should ignore their sins.  But the Christian Church is not about seeing how many people we can get in the door.  The task our Lord has given us is to be faithful in preaching his word—all of it, not merely the least offensive portions of it.  If people are going to love their sins more than Jesus, that does not give us permission to change his word.  The unchanging God blesses you with his unchanging word.
     I remember when I was younger hearing the older generations commenting, “I can't believe how bad the world has gotten.  I can't imagine it can get much worse.”  And now I think the same thing.  I suspect some of my sentiment is because I was oblivious to the world's evils when I was younger.  But it surely seems that the world has become more violent, more depraved, and more proud of it, too.  Remembering that many want the Church to change and to get with the times, do you really think the Church serves the world well by accommodating to its evil?  Not at all!  The word of the Lord endures forever.  It does not change.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)  The unchanging God blesses you, not by accommodating himself to you, but with his unchanging word.
     Hear the word of the Lord: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)  These statements are actually imperatives, not granting permission but demanding obedience, so that they could be understood this way: “Thou shalt honor marriage and thou shalt keep the marriage bed undefiled.”  Marriage is holy and honorable because God designed it for the good of a man and a woman.  And he says that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage couples.  The marriage bed is pure.
     Outside of marriage, we hear that God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Hebrews 13:4)  Outside of marriage, all sexual activity is defiled and falls under God's judgment.  Nevertheless, people argue that their sins are good and smart.  Couples who take up cohabiting argue that this saves on their bills.  Divorcing couples insist that abandoning their vows will make them happier.  Abortion rights activists insist that women should not have to bear the responsibility for their promiscuity.  All such actions defy God's design for marriage and the marriage bed.  You may have heard of Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple.  For this, she went to jail.  She claimed that she was the voice of God in defending marriage.  When it was reported that Kim Davis is on her 4th marriage, her strong stance on marriage certainly rings hollow.  The Church is not threatened by same-sex marriage nearly as much as it is by Christians who hook up, shack up, or cause their marriages to break up.  The Church still calls these things sinful and, therefore, calls people to repent of them.
     The writer to the Hebrews also writes, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have...” (Hebrews 13:5)  The reason we are not content is because we do not believe God will actually care for us and meet our needs.  We try to find joy in purchasing and pursuing more stuff.  We invest small fortunes to entertain and distract ourselves.  We even come to believe that we are owed some degree of wealth because we see so many other people with it (or at least, going in debt to fake it).
     In the book of Proverbs, Solomon has taught us to pray, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)  I am willing to bet you can pray half of that prayer, but probably not the half that pleads to be rescued from being rich.  And why?  We love and trust money more than we love and trust God.  Yet, your money will not save you.  It does not pay for even one sin.  It can buy you a lavish headstone, but it will not rescue you from the grave.
     We are always tempted to abandon the words and promises of God to fend our own way through life.  If the Church would adapt to the times, this is finally what we would do.  But apart from God, there is no life.  There is only sin, guilt, and death.  Repent.
     The unchanging God blesses you with an unchanging word.  Finally, this is why God has revealed his word to you—to bless you.  If he has revealed your sins, it is because he wants you to repent of them.  It is because he wants to rescue you from them.  And even though we have been proven sinners yet again, the unchanging God has not changed this promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  From eternity, the unchanging God had planed your salvation.  So, God became flesh to deliver you from sin and death.  He lived a perfect life of obedience—free from immorality, impurity, and infidelity to God's Commandments.  This perfect life, Jesus gave in exchange for your sin.  Christ died once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)  And Jesus does not bring you to his Father as pathetic people who stand in the filth of our sins.  Rather, he has clothed you in garments of salvation, which are the righteousness of Jesus himself.  His blood purifies you of all sin, no matter how bad your sin has been.  Jesus Christ does not call you to repent so that you will wallow in shame and disgrace, but so that you would not defend your sins or depend on yourself.  Rather, depend on Jesus who is your Savior, your righteousness, and the atoning sacrifice for all your sins.  He is your sole defense against sin, death, and hell.
     The unchanging God blesses you with an unchanging word.  He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  In the Greek, this is written in the strongest possible terms.  I will in no way ever leave you.  I will absolutely never forsake you.”  The God who became flesh to pay for all of your sins does not renounce you because you have committed sins again.  Rather, the blood of Jesus purifies you of all sin.  And if that blood purified you before, it continues to purify you even now.  That does not change; for you have an unchanging God who blesses you with an unchanging word.  He and his word and his salvation will never leave you nor forsake you.

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

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