Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.'"
Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Trinity 09/06/20
Not Because of Who You Are
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Fish family - the one in which I was a child - was raised to think that we were different. We were not raised to think we were better than others, just that we were distinct individuals, and not part of any herd. You are a Fish! That was my father's admonition. It was his justification for requiring us to do things no one else had to do – at least none of our friends – and for forbidding some of the things they were doing. I know that I frustrated some people when I would repeat what my father said, "I am a Fish!", as my justification for being different, or not going along with the crowd. People would accuse me of bragging or saying that I was better than others, or suggesting that by being a "Fish" I was somehow protected from the bad things that happened to others. None of those ideas were ever in my thoughts. The phrase was just the expression of the attitude inculcated by my father that I was not obligated to be just like everyone else.
Our text this morning speaks about the children of Israel, and how God desired that they would be uniquely His people. Their behaviors were not to be formulated by watching the people who lived around them, but were to be grounded in the reality of their relationship with Him. The reason behind their way of life was to be who their God was. He also said that their salvation depended on who their God was as well. As we examine these two ideas, this morning, our theme is, Not Because of Who You Are.
Our text is in the middle of a section of the Law, given to the people as part of the covenant. Through Moses, God tells His people, Israel, that they are not to do what others do, but to do what is right and good in His sight, and His reasons are very simple; they are not just any people, they are His people! Three times in just five verses, God says that the reason they shall not do this or that, but shall do His will, His statutes, and His judgments is because He is the Lord their God. His claim to the right of command, and of their need to be different is because He is their God, and they are His people. This is a call to be "holy" -- to be different, to be set aside for God and His purposes.
That is what Peter meant in 1 Peter 2:9 when he called Christians a "peculiar people". Of course that is the King James Version. Our NASB says, "a people for God s own possession." You and I are also called to be unique, to be different from the world, to be holy to God -- just as He is holy: unlike anyone or anything else, in a class of His own, the only true and almighty God, and without sin. We are called to be holy to Him, and holy for Him, and holy on account of our relationship with Him. This Old Testament text applies directly to us. We are to be holy too. But the call to be holy is not a call based on who you are, but based on who God is and the fact that He is your God!
The temptation we all face is to be just like the world around us, to be profane, which fundamentally means "not religious, not initiated to the mysteries of the religion." The sense of "profane" runs the gamut from blasphemous to simply not having any particular reference to God or religion in your life or conduct. That is what "secular" means to many people. But the distinction for Christians properly is not between "sacred" and "secular", as many imagine, but between "holy" and "profane." Secular simply means "belonging to this world and age." Profane means that it – whatever it is – doesn't recognize God as God.
We are called to be holy, set aside for God and His purposes, just as Old Testament Israel was. We are tempted -- that s the old-fashioned word for peer pressure in this case -- to be just like our family, or just like our friends, or just like our co-workers, or just like our neighbors, in short, profane. We are expected to act as though God doesn't exist, or that He doesn't matter much to us. You know, one of the things that we don't talk about in polite society is religion - and if you do, you find out why people say not to do so very quickly!
The temptation to be profane works itself out in our lives like this: We are expected to like to go where our family and friends and acquaintances like to go. We are expected to do the same sorts of things that they do. We are expected to share the majority opinion on politics, religion, morals, and entertainment. In my family of origin, I call this "group-think". The pressure to be just like everyone else is tremendous – and it isn't just a teen-age phenomenon, as each one of you knows. The reason that we recognize that pressure on the young is that they have not settled on how to handle it yet, and often make phenomenally bad decisions as they work the problem out. You may not recognize peer pressure in your life because you have already compromised yourself to deal with it, or gotten used to having people upset with you because you just won't give it up and give in.
What this text says is that if we are the people of God, we must live His way and not our own. We are to act the part of the people of God if we are, in fact, the people of God. "You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep my statues, to live in accord with them."
We are not to do like those around us, but as God instructs us. His Word is to shape our lives, not the word of family, friends, or neighbors. You are to be an imitator of Jesus Christ, that is, to be like Him in so far as God gives you the strength and ability to do so.
We are not even to think like the world around us. Our values are to be God's values, not the values of men -- not even when their values seem right to us personally. Our values are to be shaped completely by what God has said. The words in our text about statutes are words about behavior -- but the words about the judgments of the Lord are words about values and attitudes. God expects us to shape our attitudes and values around what He has revealed to us, if we are His people.
There are clear differences in what is considered right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, between our culture and what our Lord has revealed as His "judgments". If we are faithful to His Word, we disagree with our culture and our world on issues like abortion and homosexuality. God's Word still considers premarital sexual relations to be immoral and sin. God reveals that He considers gossip and grumbling to be major sins, not minor peccadilloes. And we, His faithful people, hold the confession of the truth in matters religious to be vital to a saving faith, not merely an act of religious stubbornness -- and we underscore that confession by our practice of ‘closed communion' while most of the world around us refuses both to understand and to accept either the truth we confess or the Sacrament we celebrate.
Let me be clear, these values which we confess as Christians are not merely ours. They are God's. We do not hold to them because of who we are, but because of who God is, and who we are in relationship to Him. It is for this very reason that these values generally are not popular in our society, and standing firm in them and clearly confessing them is not comfortable at all times for any of us. And do not be fooled, those who deliberately and rigorously reject these values are not numbered among the people of God, no matter what they may say to the contrary.
We also conduct ourselves according to His will reflected in the light of our salvation. The forgiveness which God has poured out on us must color our approach to others. We can condemn sin - but we must be careful not to hate the sinner or condemn the person while we speak a clear confession about the values and behaviors which contradict the will and Word of God. The act of condemning any person belongs solely to God, the final judge. Our confession is a confession of the truth, but our hearts must be hearts of compassion and forgiveness, just as His heart is toward us. Our enemies are not the people around us that disagree with us. It just feels that way. Our enemies are the "spiritual forces of darkness" that dominate the lives and thoughts of so many in our world today. We want to rescue those people caught in the web of evil just as zealously as we want to confess the truth against error and uphold what is holy against the corruptions of our age.
What our text doesn't say in so many words, but surely intends to imply is that we are to live as the Lord's people or we are not His people. The verses following our text say as much explicitly. If we will not live as God's people, and follow God's ways and adopt God's values, then we are - by that act or those decisions – rejecting Him and His relationship to us as our God -- and therefore we are not His people.
If we cannot forgive, we are rejecting forgiveness.
If we live in fear, we are rejecting the very truth of the providence and protection of our Lord.
For us, this is not about keeping the Law and never sinning. We are simply incapable of that. It is about faith, and the Gospel, and clinging to what God has done for us, first, and holding on in such a way that His grace and goodness to us makes a difference in us and in our lives.
He adopted our troubles, and He took our burdens on Himself in Jesus Christ. He bore our sins and our guilt, and took them to the cross and endured there what we have earned in sin -- extreme suffering and death. He purchased us to be His own, and He has laid claim to us by calling us with the Gospel and forgiving each one of us our personal sins, and giving us eternal life. He marked each one of you as His own in Baptism, calling you by name and adopting you as His child and making you a member of His family and a fellow-partaker in His salvation and glory. Your salvation really is not about who you are, but about who God is and what He has done!
God has paid dearly for you and has purchased the right to stand before you and say, I am the Lord your God, and on the basis of that relationship to command you to live according to His statutes and to walk in His judgments. His right to demand it is Jesus Christ - and is written in blood on the cross, and in grace on your forehead in Baptism. He has made us holy, by the forgiveness of sins, and He tells us in our text that we are to live in that truth and reality deliberately. Your life, now that you are a Christian, is not so much about you. His life – and death – was about you. Your life is about Him, and those He set you in the midst of to love and serve. Your life is about faith, and receiving the grace of Jesus Christ.
If we refuse to do the things which we know God commands us to do, and we reject His values and judgments, we are not simply exercising freedom, we are rejecting Him and denying His claim on us and His right to us. We do that, for example, when we choose to believe anything directly contrary to the clear words of Scripture, such as the so-called Christian who teaches evolution, and calls the Biblical account of creation a myth.
It was much the same thing for the children of Israel. God had rescued them from slavery, and was bringing them to the promised land. It was on this relationship of grace and blessing that He said I am the Lord Your God. He set before the people life and death and said, You are to perform my judgments and keep my statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep my statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them.
Your life is a gift of God. Your salvation is not because of who you are but because Jesus Christ is who He is and has done all that He has done. You are saved by the grace of God, not because of who you are!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Monday, September 07, 2020
Not Because of Who You Are