Friday, February 15, 2013

Sermon for 2/13/13--Ash Wednesday (Catechism Series)

A Jealous God (The Ten Commandments)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It never fails. As you reach for something, you accidentally knock over an open jar. The jar has liquid in it—doesn’t matter what the liquid is. Whatever it is, it’s about to run off the edge of the counter or table or whatever. You grab a towel, and just as you’re about to stop the flow, it goes over and lands in your shoes or on the newspaper or on some prized possession. You weren’t quite fast enough. Or maybe you’ve been playing a game, and all you have to do is roll the right number on the dice to get to the end and win the game. You’re one square away when your opponent rolls the number they need. You came so close, but you still failed. The scribe is like that. He is not far from the kingdom of God, but he’s not quite close enough.  The scribe’s answer shows that he knows what God wants of him: “There is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  It was a wise answer.  It shows us what the Lord wants. 
The Lord God wants every last bit of you.  God does not deal on fractions or parts.  He says, “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  It is the burning passion of the living God to be the Lord over your life: heart, soul, mind, and strength.  For this reason, the Lord describes Himself as a “jealous God.”  True love does not exist without jealousy.  But jealousy here is not self-centered greed, but rather the desire of our loving Lord to have you to Himself.  You are His beloved, and He does not want to share you with any idol.  Israel’s forty years in the wilderness was her honeymoon with God.  There in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, the Lord was teaching His bride Israel how to fear, love, and trust Him above all things.
Israel did not learn that lesson very well. Neither do we. Who can say that they love the Lord God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and with all their strength?  Who here can say that every desire of his heart has been in complete alignment with the heart of God?  Who here can say that his soul is without the stain of disobedience to God who will one day judge the souls of all who have ever lived?  Who here can say that all his strength, all his might, all his energy has been completely directed to service and worship of the Lord alone?  No matter how much we do, no matter how close we come to these standards, we can never do enough.  God gets in us exactly what He got in Israel.  He said to Israel, “Beware, lest you forget who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  Israel forgot the Lord and His love.  God gets exchanged for a golden calf.  We also forget the Lord and His love.  God gets exchanged for a calf of green paper, microchips, or one in the shape of our own face. And those idols turn to dust. “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.
The Law was given not only to Israel but to the whole world that every mouth might be shut and the whole world held accountable to God.  The holy commandments of our God show you your sin, your failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your failure to love your neighbor as yourself.  The Law of God shows you, as it did the scribe, that your best efforts, your right answers to the questions about the Law, are not enough.  It is as the Apostle James writes: “For whoever shall keep the whole law and stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”  When it comes to a holy God and His Law, what we do is never enough.
Nothing we do could ever be enough to earn a place in God’s kingdom.  But the good news is: we don’t have to.  That Kingdom is given to us by grace through faith in the King who did, in fact, actually love the Lord His God with all His heart, His soul, His mind, and His strength.  Our King is the One who was born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the curse of the Law.  The life He lived was sinless: not only in the fact that our Lord refrained from sinning, but also that He actively kept the whole Law of God, loving His Father with all His being and loving His neighbor as Himself.  And He did this in our place.  We see it throughout His life.  He was there in the temple as a boy of twelve years saying, “I must be about my Father’s business.”  He was there in the desert, tempted by Satan, yet overcoming each temptation with the Word of God.  And He loves His neighbor—and indeed the whole world—so much as to lay down His life on the hard wood of a Roman cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. 

In His cross all of your sin is answered for by His blood.  Your half-heartedness toward God is covered by the blood of God’s own Son, whose heart was filled with compassion for the sinners who did not love Him.  Your sin-stained soul is made clean by the forgiveness of sins won by this King at Calvary.  Your mind, darkened by sin and unbelief, is enlightened by the light of the glory of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Your strength is re-focused away from simple survival and self-preservation, so that you live by faith in Him who loved you and gave Himself for you.  What we do is never enough.  But because of Jesus, God speaks these words to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your lord.”  In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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