"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen."
Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity 10/11/20
A Realistic Perspective
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
People often try to make a deal with God. Times are hard, or circumstances are frightening, or the challenge before us is too big to be faced with anything like confidence, and we try to make a deal with God. "Oh God, if only you let me succeed, if only you help me, if only I pass this test, if only . . ., then I will be or do such and so, and I will make this bargain with you, if only."
Such bargaining is based on false doctrine, that is, on a false perspective on God. One mistake is that it assumes that we have to bribe God to be good to us and to care about us – we have to make a deal with Him. The other false idea is that God can be bribed or that He can be coerced into doing anything that is not in His will. Our text disposes of both of those ideas. Our theme is A Realistic Perspective.
What does the Bible say about our relationship to God, and His relationship to us? It says, first of all, that God expects you to be His people. And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you. but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? These words were first written to the children of Israel, people He had chosen to be His own and rescued from bondage in Egypt. He quite reasonably could set before them His command to them to be His people.
Nonetheless, these words are preached to you today. God has placed you in a rich and profoundly blessed land. He has rescued you from sin and death. He quite reasonably sets before you the command to be His children. After all He bought you. And He expects you to be delighted to be His children because He has rescued you and richly blessed you. So, He commands your love. What does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him. But you will notice that He is requiring the sort of love that is demonstrated by keeping His will – walking in all His ways. It is as Jesus said in John 14:15: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
God doesn't simply demand our love because He is God and Creator and such, although He deserves it for that, and for all the good He does to believer and unbeliever alike. No, He has another reason for commanding your love. The foundation for that love is to be the grace which He has poured out on you, choosing you to be His own.
He wrote these words to the children of Israel, through Moses, Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. See, that is the part about His being God – but that isn't listed here as a reason to love Him. It is stated to set up the wonder of the next part of the passage, Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.
He says to Israel that even though He is God of all, and has created all things, none-the-less, He has chosen them to be His people, and set particular affection on them, rescued them and loved them. For all of that, He reasonably expected them to love Him, and willingly, even eagerly, serve Him by keeping the covenant and doing the things that would mark them as His holy people.
He could have written the same words to us – and in fact they are for us as well. He doesn't need us or anything we can bring to Him. He created all things and everyone and everything belongs to Him. In our sins, we earned and we deserve to be thrown away, discarded and destroyed. But that is not what God did. Instead He set His affection on us, to love us. We might be tempted to think that He merely loved a bunch of people and that these passages are generically about all sorts of people. But they are about us – you, and you, and me – in particular.
God didn't just choose our race – He chose us and set His love on us, and called each of us personally, by name. Our names were written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world, but He spoke each one of them softly through the lips of His servant in your baptism. In Baptism, your pastor said, and God was speaking through him!!, Irma, Gene, Lora, Barbara - He spoke Your name - I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. And just like that, God called each one of you by name, and set His affection upon you, to love you – and chose you to be His child both now and in eternity – and forgave you all your sins through Jesus Christ – actually connected you quite literally to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to His glorious resurrection – and made you His child and heir. And now He requires of you that you be His child, and live as His child, and love Him as your heavenly Father, just as He loves you. It is as John wrote in His first epistle, We love because He first loved us.
He has revealed to us that His love for us is to be returned by you showing compassion and consideration to others. You cannot do anything for God that He needs. You cannot kiss Him or cuddle Him. You cannot give Him what He lacks, for He lacks nothing. So, He would have you pour out your love for Him on others, even those most difficult to love. You serve your neighbor and the stranger among you and in so doing you show love to God and serve Him in the only way He will accept.
Now, God knows that this is not easy or natural. He has heard the worldly proverbs we have all heard – you know, "take care of Number One first;" or, "There is no such thing as a free lunch," and the like. He knows that our sinful flesh is selfish and greedy and resists these noble impulses strenuously. So He warns us: Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more. Don't be so stubborn and hard-hearted, but show love: do justice for the helpless, show love for the alien as God does by providing for them in their need, and act out who you are and what you believe by being the child of God He would have you to be. This is what we mean by a realistic perspective.
Why would you want to live this way? Because God is God. He has played favorites with you already. But if you continue to behave as those who do not know Him, and act as those who have never seen His love and have only Number One to take care of, then He will treat you like He treats everyone else who lives that way. If you live as His enemy — as one who does not know Him or love Him — He will deal with you that way as well. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe.
He is not partial. The wicked and the selfish and the unbelieving all go to hell. And that is not referring to three different groups – the wicked are the selfish and they are the unbelieving. They all face His wrath because He has loved them, and purchased them, and yet they continue to pretend He does not exist, or that He does not matter. They live as though they were God, and they blaspheme His name with every self-serving statement, with every time they mention Him without faith, with every time they refuse to believe His love or to embrace His grace. They offend His love by every instance in which they don t show love for one another, as He has already shown love for them by blessing them, and by sending His Son to die for them, and by sending preachers to proclaim His love – preachers whom the enemies of God despise – and ignore – and attack.
And God will not take a bribe. You cannot buy your way out. Salvation is a free gift, but you cannot buy it for any price. You must receive it as His gift — or do without. And just saying, "I m a Lutheran," or "I went to church now and then,"or "I know all about Jesus," isn't going to buy Him off at all. He doesn't take a bribe – of any sort! As Jesus said once, in Matthew 7:21, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.
And what is the will of God for you? [Our Salvation.]
And, the will of God for you is also to live as His people. He wants you to live in forgiveness – and think about what that means to your personal conduct, your morality, and your willingness to forgive others around you. His will is for you to live in His love, and consider how His love for the sinner that you are should color how you treat others who are in need, or undesirable, or even your enemies. He wants you to consider how love and thanksgiving can shape your desire to give back to God by being a blessing to those God places around you for you to serve in His stead. This is life in the grace of God from a realistic perspective.
He will be your God and you will be His people – or – you will abandon Him and deny Him and He will deal with you accordingly. That is the message of the text. It is a promise, and it is a warning. He is your praise and He is your God – those are the words of the last verse of our text – or He is not. Either all that He has done for you is precious, and you know He can be trusted and you walk in that faith, or you are like the unbelieving world – and like them you face His wrath.
Remember, He does not show partiality or take a bribe. Remember Ephesians 5:15-16, Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. And Titus 3:8, This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things 1 want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.
And for your blessing, strength, and help, God has given us this Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, given and shed on the cross for your redemption, that by it we may be equipped to live as His children here and now – and in eternity. This is one of those great and awesome things He has done in your sight. So come, eat and drink and be refreshed, and then walk as His people without fear and without doubt, showing forth His glory in Jesus Christ! That is life lived from a realistic perspective.
We are nothing special, except that God has loved us and chosen us to know Him and His love. So we live for Him just as we live from Him. And we live confident in Him, knowing that we don't have to bargain with Him for His love – it is ours already in Jesus Christ. That is a realistic perspective.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Monday, October 12, 2020
A Realistic Perspective