Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2018
Is Today Really the Day?
Do you know anybody that is all wrapped up in themselves? What I mean is, do you know somebody that thinks they have it all together, they know what they want in life and they are heading in the right direction? They are confident and know themselves capable. They know what is right and they do it. They are honorable and do good to others, even compassionate towards stray puppies and wandering cats. We all know somebody like that better than we want to admit for we all tend towards self-righteousness more than we want to let on. Just as we see in the man that approached Jesus, such is a lack of love towards God.
The thread of money loving runs through our Old Testament reading from Amos as well. The greed of some causes them to abuse and take advantage of their neighbors. They show little love or compassion for the downtrodden and shrug off God’s admonitions. Their lack of fear for God is reaping an unexpected reward – the loss of all they had worked for; their houses and vineyards, given to another.
In the reading from Hebrews, the author reminds us that it was the very ones whom God had called out of Egypt that rebelled against Him. It was the very ones who witnessed the plagues and who passed through the sea who showed so little trust in God that they thought it better to turn around and submit themselves to slavery once again. It was the very people to whom God gave His word of promise who built a golden idol as Moses met with God on the mountain. They did not trust because they did not believe. They could not see that God would give what He promised because they had rejected what they could not hold or possess immediately. They rejected the very thing that clings to the promise of God -faith!
Like all the others written about in today’s readings, we have the Word of God, His commandments, His ordinances, and His rules and so we know that we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. In theory, we know that this means God takes first place in our lives and so we reason that we know that there is no other God and we do not have images set up in our homes that we worship. But knowledge is not faith and the lack of images does not equate to the lack of idols.
We read through the Scriptures and it is easy to see and understand the material aspects and miss the underlying cause. We read of stone houses and can picture them. We read of the outwardly righteous acts of the man who came to Jesus and we can see them because we do them ourselves. And we can see the tangible things that filled the bellies of the Hebrews, those leeks and onions left behind in Egypt. But all of those tangible things were objects that the unbelieving heart clung to instead of God. This is the evil that the writer to the Hebrews speaks about.
Take care, that is pay attention and watch yourselves, lest your heart become evil, that is, unbelieving. We want to equate evil with wicked behavior such as taking advantage of others but here we are told that an evil heart is one that does not have faith, one that does not trust God or fear God or love God above all else.
Costumes for Halloween have taken on a great variety but we still think of the ideal costume for such a ghoulish night as some depiction of evil. In dressing up, we put a face to that evil. It might have pointy ears and a long tail. It might have red scaly skin and sharp teeth. It may be a humanly created monster. But how would we depict the evil that is put forth in our reading? How would we depict and dress up as the heart that does not have faith in God?
We tend to depict such evil by the result it produces in humanity or in the one that tempts man to do such horrible things. But to depict unbelief seems so sublime, so not scary. In fact, the evil that the author writes about is so commonplace that it goes unnoticed. It is so ordinary that it passes off as normal. I guess that might be the point. What we consider ordinary; what we consider normal; can be and often times, actually is evil. Simply being a good citizen, obeying the laws, being a diligent worker and taking good care of one’s family, teaching the children to be upright and outwardly moral is not enough to exclude being evil because of an unbelieving heart.
If we were to wear the costume of such evil as an unbeliever, we would go unnoticed in the world. But the lack of humility before God, the disrespect for His Word, the disuse of the means of grace, the inability to confess, the absence of prayer, and the lack of desire for the promise delivered in the sacrament – these should scare us. They should terrify us for they are the manifestation of the evil, unbelieving heart. The ogres and goblins that attack from outside can easily be deflected but the old Adam that lurks within is too easily ignored and masked by a smile. Yet, he is just as deadly, if not more so, as he heads the parade of passions and self-righteousness that leads away from the living God.
You may have missed it but this last week there was a prediction made by some group of Christians that Jesus was coming on Oct 7. Such predictions can put the fear of God into people. With the imminent approach of Jesus and Judgment Day, we all tend to pause and question whether we truly have things in order or not. Realizing that our earthly life has come to its end and that we will be face to face with our Judge is sobering. I’m sure there must have been quite a few folks repenting and forsaking all earthly pleasures as they waited for the Lord in whom they trust. We don’t agree with the predictions but we must appreciate the urgency. It is the same urgency with which the author writes, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” There is not time for pause.
Today, you hear His voice. Today, He calls to you.
Today You mercy calls us to wash away our sin.
However great our trespass, whatever we have been,
However long from mercy our hearts have turned away,
Your precious blood can wash us and make us clean today.
Today Your gate is open and all who enter in
Shall find a Father’s welcome and pardon for their sin.
The past shall be forgotten. A present joy be giv’n.
A future grace be promised. A glorious crown in heaven.
Today our Father calls us; His Holy Spirit waits;
His blessed angels gather around the heavenly gates.
No question will be asked us how often we have come;
Although we oft have wandered. It is our Father’s home.
O all-embracing Mercy. O ever-open Door.
What should we do without You when heart and eye run o’er?
When all things seem against us and drive us to despair.
We know one gate is open. One ear will hear our prayer.
(Today Your Mercy Calls Us – LSB 915)