Sunday, September 24, 2023

This, Therefore, That

 1 Kings 17:17-24

Now it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe, that there was no breath left in him.  So she said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance, and to put my son to death!"  And he said to her, "Give me your son." Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.  And he called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?"  Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD, and said, "O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child's life return to him."  And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.  And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son is alive."  Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity                                      9/24/23

This, Therefore That

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever had one of those experiences?  You do your best and you give your all and you try to be faithful, and what happens?  You get trouble.  You have what is called "bad luck"?  Things go against you and you want to ask yourself what you bothered for?  Everyone has those times.  It seems to us like life should pay back the investment.  If I try, and if I am good, I expect to succeed and find rewards and just compensation.  Instead, I find pain and frustration and trouble.

That is the situation of this good woman of Zarephath.  She fed the prophet with the very last of her food.  She had just enough to make one more meal for herself and her son, and then, because the famine was so severe, she was going to sit down and wait for death.  But Elijah told her to feed him something first, and then she could go and fix that last meal.  So, she did.  And God caused the little bit of flour and the little bit of oil to last for many days – long enough for the drought to end, and a new crop to grow and new flour and oil to be produced.

So she thought that she had a reason to expect a special relationship – special and good treatment from God on account of her faithfulness and generosity in difficult times.  So, imagine her surprise when her son falls ill and dies.  But she makes a connection between her troubles and her sins of the past, whatever they may be and she figures it is a case of this, therefore that.  And that is our theme.  This text shows us how there is a connection between things - logically and theologically.  Our theme is This, therefore that.

The woman made the connection between her misfortune and her sins.  I cannot say that she is right or wrong, because the text doesn't say it.  I suspect that she is making a connection that she doesn't need to make.  Surely trouble comes in our lives because we are sinners.  Life is filled with pain and illness and sorrow because we live in a fallen world, but every problem is not connected to a specific sin we have committed.  Some are – sexually transmitted diseases result from unchastity and fornication, for example.  Colds and heart trouble and strokes and cancer, however, are not necessarily traceable to specific sins, or even specific patterns of behavior.

But what the woman did that was correct – and natural – was make the connection between human troubles and sin, and between her close contact with God through the prophet, and guilt.  Because God is holy, when we come into close contact with God, either through His Word, or His messengers, the Law of God is always brought to the fore.  We don't have to look for it.  We don't need to want it.  God is holy, and wherever His holiness is seen or felt, our sin stands in bright relief.  The Law of God is preached, even when no one says a word.

Life will be painful and difficult at times, even for Christians.  That pain and those difficulties will preach the Law to us.  They will scourge us and may make us question the love of God and His good will toward us.  We won't necessarily think of it that way - we may just expect pain.  Pretty soon, we will begin to think of sickness and trouble as the lot we have been given by God.  That is when the troubles begin, troubles like those that haunted this widow of Zarephath.  Some might even begin to despair of any hope from Him because they continue to battle troubles – even while they think of themselves as believers.  

That is the danger.  We might allow our troubles to preach false theology to us.  We might listen to our aches and our sorrows and think that we hear the heart of God toward us in those troubles.  I have seen it happen more than once.  If it does, we then may have a head of faith –  and a heart of fear and worry and despair.  When that happens, we are no longer believers, at least in the sense of saving faith.  We have the faith of the head, which means we still think we believe – but we don't trust God.  In this situation, we despair of His love, or of His good will toward us, or of His ability to make things better for us.  We call this being "nominally Christian" – Christian in name, but not in reality.

That is not what this text is about, however.  The woman's despair and fear and guilt were in the lesson to highlight the other part.  The other part tells us about the power, and the good will, of God.  God can do anything, and He is merciful.  This is also the point of our Epistle lesson this morning, and Paul concludes the verses of our Epistle with these words, Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Elijah takes the child and prays.  Trouble and need brought the prophet to prayer.  This, therefore that.  Sometimes God uses affliction to draw His people closer to Him.  When life is good and we are pleased with everything, we tend to get sloppy about prayer and worship.  For example, statistics tell us that during the Great Depression, over ninety-five percent of Christians attended worship each and every Sunday.  In the last five years, the average church attendance by church members was 20 to 35% per week - only about one church-member out of three bothered to come to church on any given Sunday.

Another example of the principle is stewardship.  When I was a vicar in Austin, Minnesota back in the ‘70's, the Synod released some statistics that indicated that the average "tithe" of Christians across denominational lines during the Great Depression was 4.9% of their income. The tell-tale statistic was that at that time, the average "tithe" (during the 1970's) was 1.9%.  And it isn't as good today as it was back then.

The evidence is, and human experience shows, that we tend to grow less attentive to God and His Word, and our prayers when life gets easy and pleasant, and we grow rich.  So, God often uses sorrow, trouble, pain, and affliction to draw us back to Him and catch our attention in order to remind us of Him and our need for His presence in our lives and in our hearts.  He may give us trouble to teach us to pray.  And when trouble comes, we should pray, and pray fervently and in faith.

But that isn't exactly where this text takes us, either.  God answers the prayers of Elijah, and brings the boy back to life!  What an amazing thing!  God can do anything.  He has the power to do whatever it is we need done.  We can trust in Him.  And the woman takes the healing of her son, this great blessing from God, and she understands that this blessing is the evidence that Elijah is God's prophet, and that what Elijah says, when he preaches God's Word, is truth.  
That is the "This, therefore that" of our theme.

When God shows His power and His good will toward us, then we should be brought to trust in His Word and His promises and His will for us.  And what is the will of God toward us?  (Our Salvation).

And how do we know that?  We look at the cross of Jesus Christ.  When we want to see what is in the heart of God, we do not measure His love for us or His will toward us by the moment - how we feel or whether we experience the moment as good or bad, as happy or sad, as comfortable or painful.  The moment changes constantly, but God does not change.  He says so.  His will toward us is always the same - and we find it not by feeling ourselves or by gazing at our navels like the Buddhists, but by lifting our eyes to the cross.

God demonstrated His love for us and His will to save us by giving us His Son.  Jesus was born one of us, fully human.  What a humbling step that was!  But there was more.  He lived – poor by any standards, abject poverty by our standards today.  He lived in a backwards nation in a backwards time.  He faced all of the temptations to sin that are common to man.  He endured hostility toward Himself for nothing more than being holy and righteous.  Finally He allowed Himself to be falsely convicted and willingly bore our sins and guilt to the cross.  He suffered almost unimaginable agony of body - and the wrath of God against our sins in His soul.  He who is God was forsaken by God!  He died, even though He had earned the right to life without end.  He died in your place, and in yours, and in mine!  He paid the price demanded by the justice of God for our sins.

Then he rose again from the grave.  Just like the son of the Widow in our lesson – except He did not need a prophet throwing His body over Him and interceding with God for His life.  He laid down His life for us, and He took it up again of His own power - raised by the Spirit of God to proclaim that sin was done with, the guilt was no more, and that death had been conquered by life.  His resurrection tells us that God loves us and wants us to live with Him beyond death and every symptom and consequence of sin.  He that believes and is Baptized, shall be saved.

This, therefore that.  Because Jesus has died -- and has risen from His grave, your sins are forgiven!  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It is by grace, and it is received by faith.  It is possessed by taking God at His Word and trusting Him and trusting His promises.  You want to be like the widow of Zarephath.  You want to see the great things that God has done - particularly the great things that He has done for you - and you will find in them the evidence that God's Word is truth.  His love for you is as real as His Word say that it is.  His will for you is life and health and peace – but not merely today and tomorrow in this corrupt and painful world.  He wants you at His side for all eternity.  He desires that you live for Him today and with Him forever.

His will is so complete that He preaches to you each week, and brings you this Holy Supper of the body and blood of Jesus Christ to strengthen and establish you in His love.  Here He hides the body and blood of Jesus under the form of bread and wine so that it is visible only to faith.  Those who have seen the great deeds of God for them may know that His Word is truth, and that His Word delivers the very things that He promises through it.  In this Supper He promises forgiveness and everlasting life and salvation, and health that endures eternally, and a home with God and joys eternally.  This is the Medicine of Immortality that bestows all that Christ has won for you - so that you may receive it and know individually that God was speaking about you and that He loves you, and that He means to rescue and save you!

So you do not need to fret and worry.  No matter what the moment may seem like, or what the danger may appear to be, or what ever, God can handle it, and His will toward you is good -- it is life and hope and peace and salvation -- and resurrection from your grave, just as He has risen from His grave!  It doesn't matter whether you are tempted to worry about your children, or your health, or your family finances, or your church, or whatever.  God can handle it, and His will is for your blessing and salvation.  You can see what God has done on the cross - and in the empty tomb of Easter.  This, therefore that.  You can trust God – and His Word is true.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Two Paths

 Proverbs 4:10-23

Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many.  I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.  Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.  

Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not proceed in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on.  For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.  The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.  

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.  Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their whole body.  Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity                                 9/10/23

Two Paths

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This time of year in the Church Calendar, the readings tend to focus on Christian living.  Our lessons this week are no exception to this rule.  The Gospel talks about faith and thanksgiving and compares those that believe with those that do not in the account of The Healing of the Ten Lepers.  The Epistle lesson compares the life led by the Spirit of God and the life lived for the flesh.  It seems quite natural, then, that the Old Testament Lesson should compare those same two conditions, and what results from them.  The results are likened to two footpaths - the path of the wicked and the path of the righteous.  This morning we will examine these two, and what really makes the difference, under the theme, "Two Paths."

Our theme comes directly from the text which speaks of "the path of the wicked" and "the path of the righteous".  They are two paths that a man or a woman might choose - but only if he or she is the child of God.  The words of Solomon, who spoke so many of the proverbs, are intended for the believer as a guide for living.  Notice the intimate, fatherly way he proceeds:  Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many.  I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.  

Solomon was not directing these word to his own son in specific, but as the wise man, was playing kindly father for us all.  He calls us "son" just as the New Testament calls all Christians "sons of God".  You see, the term is not even gender specific here, for all who believe are counted as sons.  There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God.  We all rank as sons - and because of Jesus we are all counted as first-born and as precious as His only-begotten Son.

He encourages us to take his words to heart, and you have got to know that these words are not merely the words of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, but God speaking through Solomon to His chosen people - to us!  If we pay attention to these truths, we can live a good life, a satisfying life.  These words will be a solid guide even if life becomes rich, abundant and wildly successful.  That is what it means to run, and not stumble.

What are the things which we are counseled to do that we might have this good life?  First, Solomon says, "Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life."  He is not referring to just any instruction, mind you.  Learning is good, but learning a trade, for example, is not going to make you stumble proof.  The learning here is the moral instruction and the instruction in the faith to which God is drawing our attention.  This is the kind of instruction that the world wants to have nothing to do with.  This is what children - of all ages - object to at home and in church.  This is what Rosie O'Donnell was reacting to when she said that radical Christianity was as threatening to America as radical Islam.  People don't mind learning, per sé, they object to the truth as truth, and to holiness in principle.  They don't want to hear that they are wicked, or that they have no automatic path to whatever good there might be in the next life, or that their conduct is sin.  Since they do not place their trust in Jesus Christ, they do not want to hear that salvation is in Him alone.  To them, as to Rosie, the idea of the free gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone is dangerous, because it threatens them and their eternity with whatever the other alternative might be – and whether they admit it or not, human nature is wired to understand what the alternative to salvation and "heaven" is.

This instruction in the faith is your life - eternal life - and yet it is also useful and effective and salutary - that's the old word for beneficial - salutary for daily life in the here and now.  That is the substance of the other points of our text.  Secondly, God warns us, "Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not proceed in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on.  For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence."

Notice that there is no detailing here of what that path entails.  We all kind of know what it is, and other passages here in Proverbs and in the rest of Scripture fill that in for us.  Here, we are simply told to avoid it.  Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men.  One of the two paths is evil.  We are not to join the wicked in their ways, or to turn to wickedness, nor allow ourselves to be seduced into the ways of sin.  The world around us will do that.  Sometimes we call it "peer pressure".  Other times it is just temptation to fit in, or belong to a group, or to achieve something - success or wealth - or something - the easy way.

God says,  Avoid it.  Do not even pass by it.  Turn away from it, and keep moving.  These words remind me of my Sunday School memory work - "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not" or "Flee youthful lusts".  The way to avoid the paths of the wicked is to stay away, turn away to another direction when you see it in front of you, and run - physically - from temptation when it confronts you.  Put space between you and the immediate cause of your temptation.

The nature of the evil path is hinted at here, as well.  It is addictive, in a sense.  The Bible says that they cannot sleep unless they do evil.  There is something compelling about sin.  It puts me in mind of the passages that speak of us as slaves of sin.  Once you embark of the path of the wicked, you are compelled to do wicked things.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence.  Perhaps you can identify examples of this in your own life - not big things, of course (at least I hope so), but you may remember times when you were not going to say something - or do something, but you couldn't resist.  You spoke what you know you should not have spoken in the heat of anger in an argument, or you went ahead and did something you knew better than to do because your just felt compelled.  It is the sort of thing Flip Wilson used to joke about when he said, "The devil made me do it."

The path of the wicked is also infectious.  Once you go wrong, there is a powerful urge to drag others down with you.  You cannot let good enough alone.  "They are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble".  You can see that in how false teachers want to destroy the churches from which they arise.  How often haven't we heard the cry, "Why can't they just go somewhere else, where they agree with their false teachings"?  This is apparently why.  The path of evil compels one to seek recruits.  Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it."

He also said, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."  The way is so narrow, in fact, that Jesus likened it to the eye of a needle.  It is the path of the righteous.  Our text doesn't tell us to choose the path of righteousness, or to decide for it, or to walk on it, as though it depended on us.  That is because it does not.  It describes the path briefly.  The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.  It sounds good, but then, goodness tends to sound good.  The description is clearer, actually, by comparison to the other path:  The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.   The path of the righteous is bright and clear-sighted and only gets better and clearer as you go.  But it is a path which we are given, not a path which we may choose.  You can only choose to depart from it.

It is, in fact, the path of faith.  Proverbs doesn't say it explicitly, but then it would be foolish to expect to find the New Testament explicit in the Old.  But even here, it is pretty clear.  Solomon speaks of His words and sayings as giving life and health.  The real indication, however, is the last line of our text where he says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life".  The only other place where I remember hearing this language is John 7, where Jesus says, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"

The path of the righteous is path that Jesus walked.  He walked it perfectly because you and I could not.  We are far too easily drawn to the path of the wicked.  He walked that path alone and hated.  And He died - but not for walking that path, because that path is the way of life - the narrow way that few find.  You know, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."  Jesus found it, and He gives it to us and places us upon it, and causes us to flow with rivers of living water.

The words which are life, according to our text, are the words which tell us about Jesus and teach our hearts to believe, and through which the Holy Spirit creates in us that faith which receives all the riches of forgiveness and life for the sake of Jesus Christ.  He places us on the path of the righteous by declaring us righteous and giving us life and salvation.   We cannot choose this path, but once there, we can choose to remain on it and flee from the paths of the wicked.  This is the instruction to which you are to cling and never let go.  These word of God's love and grace are life and health to your body - both now and in eternity.

Solomon speaks of directing us in the way of wisdom in the first verses of our text.  Wisdom, as you know, is the proper application of knowledge.  The proper application of the knowledge of the gospel is faith.  Trust in the Lord.  There are times when doing something else will seem wise and good.  People around you will encourage you to step out, and be bold, and fit in, and run with them.  The temptation may be subtle and it may be bold and blatant and compelling.  The truth is, when you confront those moments of temptation, you are facing the moment of decision between two paths, the path on which Christ has placed you - His path, the path of the righteous - and the path of the wicked.  Wisdom tells us to turn away from that second path, flee in another direction, refuse to enter - and to refuse to continue in the company of the wicked.

God will give you the strength - and He has already given you the instruction.  When you face the Two Paths, walk in the path of Christ.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, September 03, 2023

But and Just

 Leviticus 18:1-5

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                  9/03/23

But and Just .   .   .

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

My father was a writer.  It was one of his many hobbies.  I think he was a good writer, although he was never published.  He wrote about the things that happened while raising six children in the fifties and sixties.  He submitted a lot of things to Reader's Digest that just didn't quite make the cut.  One piece I particularly like, and some of you may have heard me mention it before, is called "But and Just."

"But and Just" is about my older sister.  She was always coming home with some plea to be allowed to do what everyone else was doing, or wear what everyone else was wearing, or go where everyone else was going.  She would say "But Daddy, just everyone is doing it."  And my father would counter with, "Not everyone, .  .  .  you re not."  He told the stories in a very humorous way.

Sometimes the point of the refusal was safety.  Sometimes it was to keep her from giving a bad impression, without realizing she was doing so.  But now and then my father would not let us do what it seemed like everyone else was doing to teach us that we did not need to go along with the crowd.  He wanted us to think for ourselves.  He taught us that peer pressure is not a good foundation for decision making.  Let the crowd follow you, or let the crowd go its own way, but you must choose your own path, he would say.  You are responsible to think for yourself  –  whether you understand your responsibility or not.

Our text touches on the issues of following the behavior and attitudes of others, or going your own way, and the issues of personal responsibility and such.  In it, God calls on the people of God to be the people of God in their actions and values in the face of the temptation to do otherwise.  The admonition of Moses put me in mind of my father's lessons, and that reminded me of his story.  I've borrowed his title for our theme, this morning.  Our theme is "But and Just."

When we would want to act just like everyone else, my father would tells us that we were not everyone else, we were us -- unique individuals -- "You are a Fish!"  That was his emphatic point.  "The Johnsons may be doing that.  The Petersons may be doing that, The Knudsons may be doing that, but the Fish family is not."  We were different from others; not better, not worse, just different.  The Fish family simply did not do something or go somewhere just because others were doing it.  We did what was right, according to our best judgment, or at least what we chose for our own good reasons, because we were the Fishes.

God tells His people, Israel, that they are not to do what others do, but what is right and good in His sight, and His reason is very simple; they are not just any other 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 command, and to 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".  Our course that is the King James Version.  Our NASB says, "a people for God s own possession."  We 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.

Of course, the temptation we face is to be profane, which fundamentally means "not religious, not initiated to the mysteries of the religion."  Profane runs the gamut from blasphemous to simply not having any reference to God or religion in your life or conduct.  That is what "secular" means to many people.  But the distinction for Christians is not between "sacred  and "secular", as many imagine, but between "holy" and "profane."  Secular simply means "of this world and age."  Profane means that it – whatever it is – doesn't recognize God as God.

We are called to be holy.  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 like to go where they 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.  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.

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 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 statues.  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.

We are not even to think like them.   Our values are to be God's values, not the values of men -- not even what seems right to us personally, but what God has said.   The talk in our text about statutes is talk about behavior -- but the talk about the judgments of the Lord is talk about values and attitudes.   We are expected to shape our attitudes and values around what God reveals 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".   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 to be vital to a saving faith, not merely an act of religious peculiarity -- and we underscore that confession by our practice of closed communion while most of the world around us refuses to understand or accept either the truth we confess or the sacrament we celebrate.   Let us be clear, these values which we confess as Christians are not ours.  They 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.   Nevertheless, they are God's values, clearly taught in His Word, and therefore they are the values of the People of God.

We also confess these values and conduct ourselves according to His will in the light of our salvation.  Our own forgiveness colors 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 to God, the final judge.  Our confession is 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.  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 the 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, verbatim, but surely intends to imply is that we must 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.  If we choose to act against the expressed will of God, or refuse to act out what our gospel faith tells us is true, we are rejecting God.

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 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.

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.

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.   None of us can live perfectly.   Not one of us is capable in this sinful world of absolute obedience or perfect forgiveness toward those who sin against us -- but that truth is not a valid reason to not set our minds and hearts on Him and to refuse to seek to do His will.

If we reject His will and refuse His values, we are not His people.   That is not to say that if we stumble, or if we err, or if we in weakness do the wrong thing, or in ignorance hold a value that God does not share, that we are not Christians.   It means that if we don't care, and we choose to live otherwise, or with better knowledge simply elect to hold a value that is clearly wrong, clearly not His, we are despising Him and denying our relationship to Him and are -- deliberately and by our own choices -- not His people.

When we do that, we are like those who choose to believe something directly contrary to the clear words of Scripture.  They admit that the Bible says something, but they deny that it means what the words clearly say, or that those words hold any application to us today.  One example is the so-called Christian who teaches evolution, and calls the Biblical account of creation a myth.  Another example might be the woman who admits that the Bible teaches that a woman cannot be a Christian pastor, but pursues the ministry anyhow, saying, "That part doesn't apply any longer."

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 statues, 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.

Imagine standing before the Lord one day, and trying to explain your life by saying, But God, just everyone was doing that.   But God, the whole world held to those values.   But God, just everyone.   It s but and just.   And God's answer is in our text, I am the Lord your God -- on that day He might say to some,  or at least I should have been.   Bask in His love, rejoice in His forgiveness, be comforted and strengthened in His salvation -- and be His holy people in thought and word and deed, for He is faithfully the Lord your God.   But and just didn't work for my sister with my dad, and it won't work for any one of us with our heavenly Father either.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)