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Entering His Rest October 18, 2015

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Hebrews 4:1-13

Proper 24

October 18, 2015

 

Focus:  God cares for His people.

Function:  That the hearers trust in God to care for them.

Structure:  Story/Reflection.

 

Entering His Rest

 

I want to share with you two pieces of our history today.  As I do, pay attention for what connects these two accounts together.

For the first, we have a group of people, probably some 2 million strong, lost.  They have been journeying around in wilderness for months on end, setting up camp at night, only to break it in the morning.

A large group comes before the leader, a man named Moses, and they begin shouting at him.  Challenging his leadership, calling into question what they’re even doing anymore.  Why are we here?  We had plenty to eat back in Egypt.  Pots of meat, cooked and ready to eat.  And now nothing.  We’re dying of starvation in this desert!

Moses took the matter up with God, sharing the complaint, asking for help.  And the Lord made a promise, a promise that He would indeed give the people food to eat, enough for the day.  And so He set before them something they’d never seen before.  What is it?  Also known as manna.  A bread-like food, tasting of honey and coriander.

And the Lord said that six days of the week, they would wake up and they would find this manna covering the ground, that they should collect as much as they thought they would need for the day, but only that day.  They were to keep none of it until morning.  And on the sixth day, they were to collect twice as much, as there would be nothing out there the seventh morning.

And as dawn broke, the people came out of their tents and saw with their own eyes, manna.  Food to eat.  And so they grabbed their jars, every man, woman, and child, and they went and filled their jars to their liking.  Scooping up this bread from heaven.  It wouldn’t have taken long, the whole ground was covered.  They probably didn’t even need to walk far from their tents.

And so as the day went, they ate, they enjoyed.  They were fed.  But as the next morning broke, the camp awoke to the smell of rot.  Rotting bread filled with maggots.  But they were able to repeat the process.  Until the seventh day, when many went out in the morning to gather, but there was nothing there.

The other account is of twelve spies.  God had made His people a promise, that He would lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Flowing with the very stuff of life, the needs of our bodies, and then some, with the sweet taste on top of it.  The promise of needs met, and blessings abounding.

The same Moses then sent out twelve men to go into this land, to cross the Jordan River, to go into the land of Canaan and to see what the land looked like.  To scope out who lived there, and to bring back some of the fruits.  Bring back news of how great this land really was.

Forty days later, these twelve spies returned from their trip with conflicting reports.  Ten of the men spoke of the people who lived there being like giants, with fortified cities, and little hope that they could possibly overtake them.  It would be certain death.

The people didn’t wait to hear the other two men, they revolted.  They rose up against Moses and sought a new leader who would take them home to Egypt to their pots of meat.

Could you hear the common link?  These are the very people to whom God made a promise, the very people who have seen the works and the miracles of His hands, and He has said to them, “I will provide.  I will give.  Trust Me.”

God made them promises, but what did the people do with them?  He promised to lead them and to provide for them.  But they chose to ignore Him.  They chose ignore the great things they had seen, and to trust instead in their own hands, their own abilities.

This is what the unknown author of the book of Hebrews is talking about in the text.  These are the men and women who heard, but disobeyed.  Who heard the promise, but hardened their hearts.  They didn’t believe.  And so God said they would not enter His rest.

The promise of rest to them was both present and eternal.  The promise of rest was a now and not yet.  The promise of rest was a gift.  You get a day off every week.  Enjoy it.  I’ll do the work, you rest.  I created this world and everything in it.  I can keep you safe and fed on your day off.  Rest.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Present, but also yet to come.  Because this trust in the Lord leads to the second rest, the everlasting rest.  That trusting in Him, having that relationship with Him, would lead them not just to a Promised Land, but to a life that would never end.

But they refused.  They refused the gifts, they refused the rest.  They refused to trust.  And in the end, they received neither, neither the present, nor the eternal rest of God.

The author of Hebrews wants us to know this and to learn from it.  He says,

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

 

He beseeches us to learn from their mistake, and to trust in the Lord and His promises.  You see the promise of a now and not yet time of rest is to you as well.  That He is your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  That He who created you from nothing can and will care for you if you take one day off each week for rest.

A simple glance around our society would say we’re doing what the Israelites did.  That we’re refusing, that we’re going out on the seventh day in search of work, when it’s already been done.  And it seems the average work week simply increases with every passing year.  In 2014, it was up to 47 hours a week.

How many families see both spouses work because of a need for more income?  How many people find themselves taking on second, even third jobs, to make ends meet?  For how many of us have our schedules become so full that it often feels like there’s no time left even to breathe?

Do we really believe the words of the catechism, or do we just vainly say them?

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of the.  He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

 

This is what our gospel reading last week was all about.  It’s what most of you know as the rich young ruler.  He wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life.  And Jesus told him, keep the commandments.  After saying he’s kept them since he was a boy, Jesus challenged that statement.  He asked him to sell everything, give it all away, and follow Him.

We often make the mistake of thinking that text is about money, but it’s not at all.  It’s about trust.  The young man couldn’t trust that Christ would provide, that God would take care of him.  He insisted on doing it for himself, on trusting his stuff to give his life meaning.  He actually hadn’t kept the commandments.  He’d broken the very first one.  Money, stuff, had become an idol, it had become his god.

If you’re struggling to trust the Lord, come and see me.  If it’s figuring out how to have space in your life, I’ll be your accountability partner.  If it’s making the most of every dollar so you have more time to rest and to enjoy God’s creation and His gifts to you, I’d be happy to confidentially coach you.

Because in the end, this thing called Sabbath isn’t about work, or money, or stuff, or really even time.  And it’s not even about going to church on Sunday morning, because God’s part of your whole life, not just on Sunday.  This thing called rest is all about trust.  It’s all about trusting in His promises, that He can do what He has said.

The promise with the manna was that God would be God.  That indeed He would provide for them each and every day.  Some of the Israelites got it, some of them listened well.  That they could live life knowing He was in control, that He loved them, and that He would even feed them.

The promise of the Promised Land was that God would be God.  The other two spies got it.  Joshua and Caleb reported,

The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD delights in us, He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against the LORD.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.

 

They got it.  That no matter the enemy, God would handle it.  No matter the odds, God would provide.  No matter what they faced, God was in control.

And even though this Joshua couldn’t give us rest, the next one did.  Joshua, Yeshua in Hebrew, is the same name as Jesus.  It means “He saves.”  God made us a promise, that He would be God.  And as the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise, Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and Savior.  He saves.

And whether it’s Sabbath, manna, spies, or young rulers, whether it’s work, or busyness, or stuff, none of these things can provide for us.  Only God can do that.  We can’t earn it.  We can’t fight for it.  He’s done it.  It’s a gift, and it is a gift that He freely gives.  Trust in Him, for He is good, and enjoy the rest that only He can give.

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Seek the Lord and Live October 11, 2015

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Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Proper 23

October 11th, 2015

Focus:  God gives us His guarantee.

Function:  That the hearers repent.

Structure:  This is the historical situation in the text…this is what it means for us now.

 

Seek the Lord and Live

 

O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth… For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins.”

God certainly knew the wickedness of His people.  He knew that they taxed the poor and spat on the homeless.  He knew they were taking bribes, persecuting the faithful, and ignoring the needy.  He knew they were full of themselves, that they refused to listen to those who challenged their wrongdoing.  He knew their pride, that they looked at the works of their hands, their beautiful homes, their bountiful crops, and they boasted, bragged among themselves.

So God acted.  He sent them a prophet.  He sent them Amos.  Like the other prophets, Amos was given a prophet’s work.  God sent him to the Israelites to give them a warning.  To call them to repentance, to turn away from their sin and to seek the Lord.

And Amos goes.  Amos addresses the people, he calls them out on their wickedness and their wrongdoing.  He enumerates their evil deeds in their midst, how they laugh in the face of their sin and chase after idols.  And in so doing he warns them, warns them of the consequences of their sinfulness, warns them of what will happen if they continue on this way.  “Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.”  If you keep going, your own sin will bring down upon you the full wrath of God.

And then he gives them a chance.  He tells them the way out.  “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”  Repent, turn away from your sin, take care of the hurting and the needy, and do good.

But did you catch the last part.  Some translations read “it may be” and others say “perhaps,” but either way, there’s only a chance.  If you repent, maybe God will spare you.  If you turn away from evil and turn back to God, maybe He will forgive and not destroy.

This is the way it was.  Look throughout the prophets in the Old Testament, read their preaching, listen to their voice.  There often was no guarantee of hope and restoration.  In fact, sometimes the prophet offered none at all, like Jonah.  He went to the Ninevites and preached the shortest sermon ever.  “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthown.” (Jonah 3:4).  Then he left!

And while the Ninevites did repent, and God actually chose to spare them, the Israelites, the people to whom Amos prophesied, they didn’t.  They refused his message, as God knew they would.  It was even in the message, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”  Amos came, he presented the words of the Lord, and the people ignored it.

Worse than that, they accused him and kicked him out.  The priest at the time, Amaziah, brought charges to the king against Amos.  And he spoke to Amos saying, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” (Amos 7:12-13)

The Israelite leaders chose their sin.  They chose to boast in their own works, and to worship their own kingdom.  And so Amos responds with chilling words of judgment.  He lays out the planned destruction of the nation of Israel, their death at the hand of the Assyrians, not one shall escape.  In their wickedness, they have brought about their own demise.

It was not Amos speaking.  These were God’s words.  And within a matter of just about fifteen years, they came to pass.  Assyria came and conquered the people of Israel.

And so we fast-forward to today, to our present lives.  And I can tell you truly that what we have is no longer an “if,” but a guarantee.  In his children’s sermon last week, Pastor Fritsch described the job of a pastor as sharing God’s Word with you, His people.  In many ways, pastors today are much more like prophets than we are Levitical priests.  It isn’t really our job to maintain the sanctuary.  Sure, we help, but largely, it’s you that does that.  We also don’t have to offer countless sacrifices throughout the week to atone for your sin.  That’s been handled by Christ.

But we do share God’s Word with you.  We share the good and the bad.  We call you to repentance, and we also tell you what happens when you do repent.  But unlike Amos, I don’t have to leave you with a “perhaps” or a “it may be.”  I can give you a guarantee.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through God’s great love for you, your sins are forgiven and you have life in His name.  And there can be no doubt.  It is a promise given you in your baptism, poured out upon you regularly when you confess your sins and when you come to this altar in repentance.  It’s no longer a question of “if” God will do this.  He’s guaranteed it.

Unfortunately, like the Israelite’s abused God’s grace, we do, too.  We cheapen repentance.  We cheapen it first by often not knowing what it really is.  Repentance is turning away from sin and evil, and turning back towards God.  Because of this, we’re not actually repenting if we confess our sin while at the same time already planning how we can do it again.  We’re not really repenting if we have a “oh woe is me” attitude and think that we can’t possibly help but do it again.  We turn away from it and we give it to God.  It is possible to slip up again, to truly be repentant and fall back into our sins.  But we shouldn’t be planning it or banking on it.

We cheapen repentance when we outright refuse to repent.  This is when we walk away from God.  When we tell Him we would rather keep our sin than to have our relationship with Him.

We again cheapen repentance when we say it can wait.  Sometimes we do this when we’re actively sinning.  We think we can continue the lustful look for a few more seconds, or keep the lie going for a couple more days, and that we’ll be okay.

We cheapen repentance when we laugh at our sin.  When we ask for forgiveness almost half-heartedly, thinking oh, but everyone speeds.  Everyone gets grumpy behind the wheel.  And we neglect to consider just how serious the matter is.

We cheapen repentance when we think we don’t need it.  That wasn’t really a sin.  It didn’t hurt anyone.  But that ignores the very gravity or our sin.  That even breaking the smallest of God’s commands just once is an offense punishable by death, everlasting death.

These things are why Luther begins his 95 Theses by saying that “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

To these things, the prophet Amos still speaks to us:

“Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel…

…Seek good, and not evil, that you may live…

…Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…”

 

We are called to repent.  To turn away from our sin, indeed to run away from our sin, and to turn back to God.  We are called to flee from sin, to hate evil, and to seek good.  We are called to seek the Lord.

And He has made us a promise.  He invites us to come and see, to taste and see that the Lord is good.  When you come to this altar today, pray for true repentance, that God would guide you, that His Spirit would work repentance in you, that He would help you to seek a relationship with God and not evil.

When you come to this altar today, the forgiveness given in this body and bread, in this blood and wine, is real, it’s genuine.  Your sins are forgiven, they are removed from you.  The blight that made you a transgressor, the pride and the boasting, the hate and the filth, indeed death itself, is removed from you.  It has been nailed to the cross.  That price was paid.

And so as you leave the table, this is why I’ve changed the words of dismissal.  Depart now in God’s peace, and with His joy.  As you walk away, you do so in rejoicing and in thanksgiving.  You’ve been purified and cleansed, your relationship with God has been restored and strengthened.  Let joy overwhelm you.  Let joy overflow.  Smile!  Your sins are forgiven.  It’s no longer an “if,” it’s a guarantee!