Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 14, 2018)

1 SAMUEL 3:1-10


In the name + of Jesus.

     Do you envy Samuel?  Do you long for the Lord to speak to you directly?  If you do, it is probably for one of two reasons.  The first reason is because you want to be sure of what God has to say to you.  If God tells you directly, then you can be sure.  The second reason is because you want to feel important.  If God speaks to you, then you can boast to others about it.  This is idolatry.  It is a desire to honor yourself at God's expense, and it is a craving to feel important to yourself and to others.
     There are other serious problems if you want God to speak directly to you.  How do you know what you hear is the Lord speaking to you?  Is it because you like what you hear?  Or because it reinforces an opinion you already have?  Furthermore, if you believe that the Lord speaks directly to you, what if someone else claims the same thing?  You have to accept their claims, don't you?  After all, they have the same proof that you do that God speaks directly to them—they said so.  Finally, when many claim to have a message from the Lord, you will never know what the Lord actually has to say because there are so many different messages from so many different sources.  And you are right back to not knowing what the word of the Lord is.
     We all want to be certain of what the Lord has to say.  That is crucial if we want to know whether we are going to heaven or hell, whether we live under God's favor or God's curse.  Good news!  You can absolutely be certain of what God has to say, because God has put it in writing for you.  It is even an all-time best-selling book.  Behold!  The Lord speaks in the Holy Bible. 
     This is what the Lord says: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets....” (Hebrews 1:1)  We have one example of that in our Old Testament lesson.  Samuel was a boy, perhaps a teenager, serving under the priest Eli at the temple.  The Lord had not given any revelations to Samuel before; this was new, and so Samuel did not recognize it.  Samuel heard the voice, and it sounded like his pastor.  So Samuel went to Eli.  Eli eventually recognized what the Lord was doing.  The Lord, who dwelt above the ark of the covenant, was revealing his word to Samuel.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Samuel 3:9-10)
     Behold!  The Lord speaks!  The Lord came and stood by Samuel to personally deliver his message.  Now, before you envy Samuel, you might want to know the message God gave to him.  The Lord told Samuel that he was bringing judgment upon his pastor, Eli, and his sons, and that Eli's sons were going to be put to death for their sins.  It was not a message that Samuel wanted to hear, much less deliver.  Nevertheless, behold! The Lord had spoken, and Samuel delivered the word to Eli in the stead and by the command of the Lord.  Behold!  The Lord speaks. 
     It is trendy these days for people to claim, “I am not religious, I am spiritual.”  That usually means that such people have no use for the Christian Church but claim they are in tune to what God has to say.  Some will say, “God has laid this on my heart,” or, “God spoke to me.”  Once again, how do you know?  If you probe deeper, you will probably discover that this “god” who speaks directly to you apart from the Bible affirms what you already feel and believe.  This is invoking God's name to validate yourself.  This is saying that God's opinion which is not revealed in the Bible is revealed in your opinion.  In other words, this is idolatry.  God does not guide us by our feelings or preferences.  Behold!  The Lord speaks in the Bible, and only through the words recorded in the Bible
     When the Lord spoke to Samuel, the first word the Lord gave him was something Samuel would rather not have heard.  The Lord also tells us things we would rather not hear.  He shows us that we are sinners who love ourselves and who wrongly equate our judgment to God's judgment.  The Lord calls us to repent so that we will not die in our sins.  The Lord does not care about our feelings when he calls us to repent; he cares about our salvation.  He calls us to renounce any faith in our opinions, feelings, or efforts.  He reveals to us that our salvation is his work for us.
     Behold!  The Lord speaks to us in his word, and he proclaims what he does for sinners.  Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son... (Hebrews 1:1-2)  Jesus Christ is the God who dwelt above the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies and remained hidden from sinners behind a curtain.  But now he has come to dwell among them hidden under flesh.  The Lord became a man to suffer for the sins of man and to die under the curse that sinners deserve.  Rather than tell us we will be judged as we deserve as Eli and his sons were, the Lord reveals that he will be judged and punished for us. 
     Behold!  The Lord speaks and proclaims salvation for sinners.  Jesus does not tell us that we are forgiven of our sins if we feel forgiven.  He knows that our feelings are fickle.  There will be times when the devil throws your sins in front of your face and tries to convince you that you have no business considering yourself a child of God.  He will make you feel your guilt, and you will feel dirty and ashamed and worthless.  But do not trust your feelings, and do not listen to the devil's voice.  The devil is a liar. 
     Behold!  The Lord speaks to you, and the Lord always tells you the truth.  This is what the Bible tells you: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)  This is true whether you feel forgiven or not, because God's forgiveness is not based on how you feel; it is based on what Jesus Christ has done for you.  He endured the curse of death at the cross for you.  He died for your sins.  That is the payment for your sins, and that is why you are redeemed.
     Behold!  The Lord speaks in the Bible to you.  In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son... (Hebrews 1:2)  The Son of God has come to declare God's salvation to us.  In turn, Jesus commissioned his apostles to record his words and works for us so that we can know God's works, God's promises, and therefore God's salvation for us.  That is why we come to God's house again and again.  We need to hear God's words and promises so that we will not be deceived by clever-sounding teachings and so that we will not despair when we are hit by feelings of guilt, doubt, hopelessness, or fear.  Just as a bride needs to hear her groom tell her that he loves her over and over again, so the Church needs to hear her heavenly Groom pledge his love for her again and again.  And he does.  His steadfast love endures forever.  Therefore, he has commissioned his ministers to proclaim it and bestow it to you from him.  It is poured out in baptism.  It is decreed in the absolution.  It is fed to you at the Lord's Supper.  And you can be sure you receive God's forgiveness and salvation through these things because Jesus attaches his words of promise to them.
     Behold!  You do not need to envy Samuel.  The Lord speaks to you every time you read your Bible, every time you come for Bible Class, and every time you gather for Church.  He speaks in the Scriptures so that you don't have to wonder or guess what the Lord has to say to you.  Behold!  The Lord speaks to you.  He gives you his very words so that you can be sure of your forgiveness, your resurrection, and your eternal life.  He speaks in the Scriptures so that you continue to be guided in your life to flee from sins and so that you will continue to find encouragement to do what is right.  The Lord speaks to you in his word so that you will continue to be comforted in days of sadness and soothed in days of distress.  The Lord speaks to you in his word so that you will know that you are his redeemed child now and forevermore.  It is true.  God said so.

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

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