Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sermon -- 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 10, 2016)

DEUTERONOMY 30:9-14

THE WORD IS VERY NEAR YOU.

In the name + of Jesus.

      When an expert in the law asked Jesus what works he had to do to receive eternal life, Jesus did not tell the man to look inside of himself to feel what was good for him.  He did not talk about what his society viewed as good or evil.  Jesus pointed the man to one place: “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)  God's commands are not a mystery.  God tells us distinctly what we must do to have eternal life.  He etched it in stone, and we have it written in print.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ (Deuteronomy 30:12-13)  
     Both of those verbs—hear it and do it—are important.  Neither is optional.  In order to know what is good and right so that you may do it, God must tell you what he is pleased with.  In order to know what is evil and warped so that you may avoid it, God must tell you what he forbids.  To be fair, some of these things are obvious.  This past week we heard about police who gunned down men in Baton Rouge and in Minnesota for seemingly wicked reasons, and we saw police get gunned down in Dallas for admittedly wicked reasons.  A lot of evil is recognized for what it is.
     Still, our society has influenced even Christians so that we no longer recognize sin when we see it, or we are afraid to call it sin.  To use as an example a sin which is all too prominent, consider what the Lord says, “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)  Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted the worldly attitudes about this.  Even Christians now embrace fornication and cohabitation and are surprised or enraged when they are called to repent of these things.  Even worse, both those who engage in these sins and those who are friends and family of them issue warnings to the church: If you discipline the people who do these things, you will lose many families.  So, our acceptance of sins outweighs our love for God's word.  Our pride is greater than our fear of God.  And we even dare God to punish us for them.  Even pastors are more worried about losing members and offerings than the eternal welfare of those they serve.  Be warned, and repent.  For, it is God who determines good and evil.  God declares to you plainly what good and evil is so that he you can hear it and do the good and flee from the evil.  And God also enforces his law.
     This is what the Lord says, and he says it to Christians: “You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore, do not become partners with them...” (Ephesians 5:5-7)  Repent!
     The expert in the law who came to Jesus knew that something was expected of him to enter the kingdom of God.  He did not ask what he could get away with.  He asked what good he needed to do.  God gave his law to declare the good we should do.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ (Deuteronomy 30:12-13)  God makes no secret of good and evil.  We do not have to climb Mt. Everest to contemplate God's will; he tells us.  We do not need to sail across the ocean to know what God desires; he says so.
     The word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:14)  God's word is not mere theory.  Three times in these short verses, Moses utters the phrase, “Do it.”  Though the hearing of God's Word, the Lord implants faith in our hearts.  But faith cannot just sit there.  Faith hears God's word which  aligns our will with his.  But then faith goes into action with love.  Love always seeks the good of others.  Only when love is united with faith are our deeds good.
     As we noted before, God's word always defines what is good and what is evil.  God's word, however, also highlights that we have not lived up to what is good.  We are guilty of evil.  Like the expert in the law, we are convinced that we have done good, but we are careful to limit our definitions of good, thinking that we are excused from doing good to people who irk us or from doing good all the time.  God's law convicts the whole world of sin, making us all stand guilty before him.  But this is good; for this means that you will not try to take pride in your good works.  And you don't have to waste energy trying to come up with reasons why your sins are not that bad.  Instead, you get to forsake every effort to defend or excuse yourself, and you flee to God for mercy.
     The word is very near you, and that is good news; for this is what guarantees God's love for you.  Many think that God loves everyone and either ignores or forgives sins, just because that is what God should do.  But that is salvation based on your thoughts.  You are not saved by your personal reflections, and there is no certainty there.  Nor are you saved because you simply want to be saved and the thought of going to hell is just too horrible to accept.  That may be what you want, but no one is saved just because he wants it.  There is neither salvation nor assurance in any of your thoughts, your desires, your efforts, or your dreams.  If you want to be saved, then God must act.  And if you want to be sure that you are saved, then God must say so.
    Good news: God does say so.  The word is very near you so that you can hear it, know it, study it, cling to it, and cherish it.  God does not leave you to guess what saves you.  He tells you in unmistakable words.  This is what the Lord says: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  We have our children memorize verses like these so that it is in your mouth and in your heart... (Deuteronomy 30:14)  God gives us promises so that we can trust them and be comforted in them.  He points us to Jesus for our salvation.  Jesus is the one who saves us from the curse of the law by having kept the law for us.  Moses had given the command to hear God's word and do it; and Jesus has.  He is the Lord our Righteousness, and he has bestowed his righteousness upon us so that we are blameless before our God.  We are not blameless just because we want to be, but because God has said so.  Jesus has also saved us from God's wrath because of our disobedience.  We are not saved because we think we should be, but because God said so.  For this is what the Lord says: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)  The word is very near you, and it shows you that you are saved.  You have God's own word on it.
     Since we have been saved and set apart from a sinful world, let us live as those who are saved and set apart from a sinful world.  We recognize that God's law is good and is right to do; therefore, we conform our lives according to it, and the Lord in his word continues to guide us in paths of righteousness.  In this way, we get to love and honor our Lord and Savior, and we get to love and serve our fellow man.
     The word is very near you to hear it and to do it.  That is what we strive for.  But our comfort is always this: We are not saved by our merits, but by the merits of Jesus Christ.  He lives and reigns to be our Savior who forgives our sins, who declares us saints, and who confess us to be his redeemed people.

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

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