Give Us Clean Hands
Mark 7:3-4: For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.
James 4: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be distressed, mourn, and wail…”
August 26, 2018 / Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
Ten Steps for Hand-Washing – Do a little search on your computer on the subject of hand washing, and you’ll find dozens of articles. Trust me. There is “Five Steps of Handwashing”, “Six Steps of Handwashing”, “When and How to Wash Your Hands”, “Handwashing Do’s and Don’ts,” and my favorite, “Ten Steps for Hand Washing.” I was curious what the additional four or five steps might be, and in an article for Hospice workers, here are the final four steps, in case you’re wondering. #7 Use a dry disposable towel to wipe your hands. #8 Use towel to turn off faucet. #9 Use towel to open door. #10 Throw the towel in the trash.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and other religious leaders had added hundreds of man made rules to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, and on the subject of handwashing, they had taken rituals meant for priests, they had elaborated on these traditions, and then imposed them on regular folks. Dr. William Barclay describes this handwashing ritual with no less than two hundred words,
“There were definite and rigid rules for the washing of hands. Note that this handwashing was not in the interests of hygienic purity; it was ceremonial cleanness which was at stake. Before every meal, and between each of the courses, the hands had to be washed, and they had to be washed in a certain way. The hands, to begin with, had to be free of any coating of sand or mortar or gravel or any such substance. The water for washing had to be kept in special large stone jars, so that the water itself was clean in the ceremonial sense, and that it might be certain it had been used for no other purpose – nothing had fallen into it or had been mixed with it. First, the hands were held with fingertips pointing upwards; water was poured over them and had to run at least down to the wrist; the minimum amount of water was one quarter of a ‘log’, which is equal to one and a half eggshells full of water. While the hands were still wet, each hand had to be cleansed with the fist of the other. That is what the phrase about using the ‘fist’ means [in verse 3, but translated by the NIV ‘hands’]; the fist of one hand was rubbed into the palm and against the surface of the other. This meant that at this stage the hands were wet with water; but that water was now ‘unclean’ because it had touched unclean hands. So, next, the hands had to be held with fingertips pointing downwards and water had to be poured over them in such a way that it began at the wrists and ran off at the fingertips. After all that had been done, the hands were clean.
Our sermon theme today is “Give Us Clean Hands.” Two parts to our sermon are 1) It is in our human nature to turn things upside down. 2) It is in God’s nature to cleanse us from the inside out.
Part #1- It is in our human nature to turn things (upside down). In Isaiah’s day, foolish sinners were thinking they could hide their plans from the one who knows all, they were like clay telling the potter he hadn’t formed them, they were like creatures telling their creator he didn’t know what he was doing. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had taken laws meant for priests and turned them into obligations for common people, they had taken sabbath laws meant to help the common person find rest for both body and soul and turned them into burdensome commands. In our day, church people can be so busy rewriting job descriptions that we don’t take time to listen to the neighbor whose marriage is falling apart. We can sit in church going through the motions thinking we are fulfilling our religious obligations and at the same time falling into arrogance, complacency, and worse. It is in our very nature to fall short of the glory of God, as did the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, as did the chosen people of God in Isaiah’s day.
Traditions, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. Jesus himself did keep some of the traditions. He went regularly to the synagogue, as was his custom. He went up to Jerusalem for annual pilgrimage festivals. Paul urged the Corinthians to maintain the traditions as he delivered them. He urged the Thessalonians to stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us. Three observations from our text for today about turning the things of God upside down.
Observation #1 about the Pharisees turning the things of God upside down: To teach man made rules as being (absolutely necessary). You had to do them even though God had not commanded them to be done. For example, you had to wash your hands at certain times and in certain ways before you could eat. But God had not said that you had to do that. They were adding human rituals as though they were coming from God.
Observation #2 - To hold to traditions as a way of (earning merit before God). Good and decent people were led to believe that they could earn their salvation, or at least contribute to it, by doing these things. The thought was that if you followed certain traditions, you could be piling up points with God. (Story of a good and a decent man who called me to his bedside as he approached death, he looked me in the eyes with a worried kind of a look, he asked me if I thought he was a good enough person to go into heaven. I answered no, and of course I explained that none of us were good enough, apart from Christ.)
Observation #3 - To use the traditions of the past as a way of (avoiding the clear commands of God} In Jesus’ day, there was a tradition that if you declared some of your money “corban”, that is a gift dedicated to God, then it was off limits. You couldn’t use that money for any other purpose. Even if your parents needed help. And so the Pharisees were circumventing a clear command of God, “Honor your father and mother” by using a man made tradition about “corban” as their excuse.”
The truth is that we all stand without excuse before Almighty God, if left to our sinful nature. Praise be to God that we have not been left alone to our own resources, we have not been left alone to our own abilities to keep God’s commands, we have not been left alone to try to clean ourselves up and make ourselves somehow and in some way acceptable to the holy and all knowing maker of heaven and earth.
Praise be to God that Sermon Part #2 is true! Sermon Part #2 - It is in God’s nature to cleanse us from the (inside out). There really isn’t much for Good News in our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today. And so we go to the wider context in all of Scripture to find out how to be standing in the presence of God with clean hands and pure hearts. Two familiar Gospel truths we find in Scripture, from beginning to end.
Familiar Gospel truth #1 is that The blood of Jesus cleanses us (once and for all) The Old Testament way of having pure hearts and clean hands was for the priests of God to offer all kinds of sacrifices to atone for the sins of His people. There were burnt offerings of bulls, sheep, goats, turtledoves and pigeons to gain access to God’s favor. There were grain offerings to provide for the sanctification of the priests. There were peace offerings of bulls, cows, sheep, and goats to gain meat for the priests and communion for all with God. There were sin offerings of sheep, goats, turtledoves, or pigeons for certain intentional sins and built offerings of rams for unintentional sins. In these ways, Old Testament people of God prayed, “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts, help us to not lift our souls to another.”
Praise be to God that Jesus Christ lived the perfect life we could never begin to live, he fulfilled the law in a way we could never hope to fulfill, he found his way to Jerusalem, he suffered all that he was sent to suffer, he entered the holy of holies once and for all, he was crucified until dead and buried, he offered himself up once and for all, our sins are forgiven, our debts cancelled. In Baptism, we are washed, we are claimed, the sign of the cross is placed on our heart and on our foreheads, our journey of faith begins with pure hearts and clean hands.
Familiar Gospel truth #2 is that We need for God to create in us clean hearts (again and again and again) While it is true that on the one hand it is true that Christ died once and for all, it is also true on the other hand that we need to have a daily dying to sin and rising up in the Easter victory. At the same time we are saints that soar and sinners that struggle. Even as we celebrate being born again in baptism, we parents and godparents and grandparents and congregational members promise to help the little ones spend their days renouncing the enemies of the faith in daily repentance.
Last Sunday Pastor Muther closed a three week sermon series based on John chapter 6 conversation between Jesus and Jewish leaders with three thoughts. Thought #1 was that Jesus doesn’t ask us to repent of one thing in our life, he insists that we repent of everything. Thought #2 was that the discipline of the Christian is to remember what Jesus says again and again and again. Thought #3 was to wonder what battles we are fighting that we shouldn’t be fighting and which battles we should be fighting that we aren’t.
David prayed for help in fighting his battles in this way, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
James said this about how to fight our battles with God’s help, Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be distressed, mourn, and wail…”
One Step for Coming Clean Recently I read an article by Rich Loughery in National Review with the title “Trump Needs to Come Clean.” He suggested that in terms of his past affairs with women outside of marriage, that if the president would just admit what he had done, the payments he had authorized to keep people quiet, and asked for forgiveness, that all kinds of Americans would accept his apology, even if they continued to disagree with him and worse.
I have no idea how that kind of apology would play out in the court of public opinion, but this I do know. The kingdom of God is like a king of Israel who came clean before God with sins of adultery, sins of murder, sins of arrogance, and sins of deceit. In response, God forgave the iniquity of his sin. The kingdom of God is like a husband who confesses to his wife that he has fallen into selfishness, it’s like a wife who admits to her husband that she has stumbled into stubbornness, it’s like the teenager who comes clean on her habit of sassiness, it’s like the baby boomer who comes clean on his habit of walking right past his neighbor wounded and broken and asking for help. And again and again and again, God forgives the iniquity of their sin. Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts. Let us not lift our souls to another.
Hear O Israel: Soul
Colossians 3:12- 17 / I Peter 2:9-12 / Matthew 10:26-33
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Shema is an ancient prayer found in the book of Deuteronomy, a petition still prayed twice a day by devout Jewish believers. In the first three parts of this six part study of the Shema, we turned to the structure of the prayer:
The Greek word of heart is cardio, and thus we can refer to our heart doctors as cardiologists. As many of you know, I have a 15 year history with my cardiologist that includes triple bypass surgery at age 48, another round of procedures and stenting at age 58, regular conversations and lectures from Dr. Houlihan, leading up to my last appointment with him a couple of years ago where he looked me in the eyes and said,
Griffin, Your problem is half genetics and (half behavior). On the one hand, I could blame my heart troubles on my father and grandfathers who seem to have passed along their heart disease to me, but on the other hand I need to recognize that there’s a war going on in my heart and body with a desire on the one hand to be healthy and fit but a desire on the other hand to eat all kinds of bacon cheeseburgers covered with pepper jack, cheddar, and American cheese.
So also do we want to recognize this morning that your spiritual problems are part genetic and part behavior. On the one hand we have inherited all kinds of fleshly desires from our parents, and on the other hand, we have been successfully tempted over the years to develop all kinds of lousy habits that sabotage our genuine desire to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts / souls / strength.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our soul? Peter answers, Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
First lesson - Our souls are (at war), says Peter. Peter knew all about falling into temptation, and he knew all about Jesus Christ having mercy on his soul, he knew all about being given all kinds of second chances. In our reading for today, Peter wants us to know three truths. First, he wants us to know who we are, to never doubt that by the grace of God we have been chosen to be a royal, a holy, and a redeemed people. Secondly, he wants us to know our purpose, to never forget that we are to spend our lives proclaiming the excellencies of Christ who has called us out of darkness into a marvelous light. And third, he wants us to never take lightly the fact that there are dark and powerful forces at war against our soul, to never take lightly that the devil’s #1 desire is for our souls to be lost forever, to never take lightly the fact that every morning we will wake up with an inclination towards selfishness, stubbornness, and worse, to never take lightly the enemies of our faith that are all around us and yes, within us.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has been in and out of treatment for alcoholism multiple times, he has been in and out of favor with his own children because of his own bad behavior, the good that he wants to do he has a hard time doing, the bad that he wants to avoid he has a dickens of a time avoiding that which he wants to avoid. As life goes on he more and more appreciates the fact that even though he stands in a great victory won by His Savior at the cross and empty tomb, it will be a daily battle to fight against the passions that are warring against his soul
There is good news, there is bad news, and there is an assignment. The Good News is that a great victory is already ours by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The bad news is that there will be a war against our souls until the moment we breathe our last. Your first assignment this week is to spend some time thinking about and naming one or two of your sinful passions that are causing trouble in your life.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our souls? And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell….Fear not, therefore you are of more value than many sparrows.
Second lesson - Our souls are (of great value), says Jesus. The kingdom of God is like a woman who is not afraid to speak truth these days. She has arrived at a point in her spiritual journey where she is more concerned with her Savior’s reputation than her own. She knows without a doubt that the devil with the help of his minions can cause all kinds of trouble in her life, but Almighty God is in fact the keeper of her soul. In those days when she is tempted to stay quiet on the social issues of the day, she remembers that the very hairs of her head are numbered by her Father in heaven, she remembers that not a single silly sparrow falls to the ground unless God gives permission, she remembers that she is so much more valuable than many sparrows, her entire being body, soul, and spirit are in the hands of the one who lived the perfect life she could never begin to live, in the hands of the one who suffered all that he was appointed to suffer, in the hands of the one who was crucified until he was dead and buried for her, in the hands of the one who rose up on the third day for her, in the hands of the one who has commissioned her to confess Him by the way that she lives, by the way that she behaves, by the way she speaks.
The Good news is that our souls are of great value, the bad news is that we are easily tempted to be afraid of what other people might be thinking, and our assignment #2 this week is to spend some time thinking about and naming one or two of your fears which are keeping you from speaking in the daylight what Jesus taught his disciples in private, name one or two of your fears which are keeping you from proclaiming from the rooftops what you have been taught in your confirmation class and beyond.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all of our souls? Colossians 3: Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…
Third lesson - Our souls are in need (of clothing or virtues from on high), says Paul. Greek philosophers named the four cardinal virtues as temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. I Corinthians 13 suggests the three virtues of faith, hope, and love or charity. In Colossians 3, Paul names virtues as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, he talks to us about forgiving as we have been forgiven and putting on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect harmony. He talks to us this morning about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and he follows it up with an encouragement to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.
In closing today, I invite you to think in practical terms – what does it mean to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly? How does one go about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, or to use a more literal translation, letting the peace of Christ be the umpire in your life? How does one be clothed with virtues from on high in a daily sort of a way?
Permit me to use the metaphor of getting dressed in the morning as a way of thinking about whether the Word of God is dwelling in us richly or something less than that?
A man I know very well gets dressed in the morning in three minutes or less. He grabs a pair of socks and the first shirt that he sees, and he goes from there. Usually he will ask his bride if it matches, and often there is change in plans, but it doesn’t take long and he’s on his way. His wife on the other hand engages in a thoughtful and more than three minute process, and almost always she comes out looking, as my Aunt Linny would say, as pretty as a picture.
As there are at least two attitudes one can take towards getting dressed in the morning, so also are there at least two attitudes one can take towards the precious Word of God. Dear friends in Christ, in this place we believe that the Word of God is inerrant, it is inspired, and it is inspiring. In this place we believe that the Word of God is able to make us wise unto salvation and to train us in holy living. The preaching and the teaching and the reading and the listening to and the study of and the meditation on the Word of God is essential if we are to do what we say we want to do in our life together – to love the Lord our God with all of our souls, our nephesh.
The good news is that the Word of God incarnate is Jesus Christ and He loves us through all the chapters of life with a love we cannot receive but not begin to understand. The bad news is that in every one of our days we will be tempted to chase after other words, other voices, and other gods. Your assignment, should you be in the mood to accept it, is to examine your attitude towards the Word of Christ and to choose a statement that best describes that attitude.
Hear, O Israel: Heart
Fourth in a series of six
Jeremiah 31:31-34 // 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 // Mark 7:14-23
Our sermon texts are all three
Dear Friends in Christ,
Three weeks ago we began a six-part study of the Shema, an ancient prayer found in the book of Deuteronomy, a petition still prayed twice a day by devout Jewish believers. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Once again, we turn to the structure of this prayer: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God. It begins with a command: Hear this. Listen up! I need your eyes for this: Hear that the Lord our God is one. Since he is God and he is one, therefore, Love the Lord your God. So far, we’ve gone Command, confession, Command.
In the second half of this sermon series, , we answer the question, “With what do we love the Lord our God?” Love the Lord your God with what? With all your heart today, with all your soul next week, and with all your strength the week after. And today, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart.”
So, here’s my question to you: What are the desires of your heart? Is that an easy question or a hard one? Do you know the desires of your heart, or not?
I can tell you this, I don’t have a teenaged daughter, but I’m told that from time to time a dad comes home to see his teenage daughter, the pride of his heart, crying on the couch. He wants to fix things; he wants to make it all better, and so he asks her, “What’s wrong?” And do you know what she says? She says through tears, “Dad, I don’t know.” She doesn’t know the desires of her heart.
Or, I’ve been around enough 8thgrade boys to know that they can be knuckleheads. I’m young enough to remember being an 8thgrader and being a knucklehead; doing and saying things that just didn’t make sense. And you ask them, “What were you thinking?” They say, “I dunno.” Sometimes they say that because they just don’t want you to know, but much of the time, they really don’t know. They don't know the desires of their heart.
I was at a leadership training seminar, the first thing they did was tell us to calm ourselves and to answer the question, “How are you?” I calmed myself and realized, apart from the usual throw-away answer, “Good” or “Peachy” (which aren’t all bad, but that’s a discussion for a different time) I didn’t really know how I was.
Or, to say it in a different way, I didn’t know the desires of my heart.
There’s a parable that the philosopher James K. A. Smith retells, of two people in a wasteland future being guided to a room where you receive the desires of your heart. They get right there, to the edge of the room.
“[The two] hesitate because it dawns on them: What if I don’t know what I want? ‘Well,’ [the author] observes, ‘that’s for the Room to decide. The Room reveals all; what you get is not what you think you wish for but what you most deeply wish for.’ A disturbing epiphany is creeping up on [the two]: what if they don’t want what they think?”
If you’ve ever struggled to complete a diet, if you’ve ever sabotaged yourself on a way to a goal, you know that what you think you wish for (in your brain) can be different than what you deeply wish for.
We’re beginning this meditation at the point where our little word study video ended. We saw that the Hebrew word for heart, Lev, encompasses the place life springs from, thoughts spring from, feelings spring from, and at the root of that all are our motivations, our desires.
We can control our actions and our thoughts; we can name our feelings, much of the time at best we can only guess at our motivations. There is more about ourselves than we know about ourselves.
That’s part of what Paul’s saying in the epistle. The first step of humility is to know how little we know, and the first step that Paul takes is to think, “If I don’t even know all of my motivations, how can I judge the motivations of someone else?” Paul isn’t saying, “Don't judge the actions of others. Don’t name your emotions. He is saying, “Leave to God the things that are God’s.” Let the God who shines light into the darkness be the one who discloses the purposes of your heart.
What part of your life, if you were honest, would you really wish God would leave alone? Because much of the time, we would rather God only look at our actions, not at our thoughts, not at our inmost desires. We would rather him look at the outside, because not even we sometimes know what’s deep down in ourselves.
Jesus goes a step further. He says, evil actions don’t come from what goes into you; they flow from a corrupted heart. As Jesus always does through the Gospels, he raises the level of expectation in the Law up to the top. Every single sin demonstrates not a scratch that needs a bandaid, but that something in us is fundamentally flawed, fundamentally broken. Bad fruit aren’t the problem; the bad tree that bears bad fruit is the problem.
But here, of course, is the kingdom of heaven. Because, you’ll note, it’s Jesus speaking the words of our Gospel. It is mercy incarnate telling us by words of love that we cannot do it on our own. It is the Living Forgiveness that in the same breath as he condemns our sins he takes them upon himself and the only One who has pure motivations takes on all that flows from our wicked desires. The one that knows us better than we know ourselves loves us more than we can understand,
The word for this is sincerity, in the Greek, haplotetis, literally meaning “Single-hearted.” That your life and your thoughts and your deeds and your desires are single-hearted.
Because the Lord our God, the Lord is single-hearted, he is of one purpose he is One and because -- here are the simple and beautiful words of our Old Testament reading: because he would be our God, so that we can be his people.
Which brings us back, like our little video, to Jeremiah 31. The goal of the Christian life is so that we know the Lord: that the truths of God would be so ingrained in us, that after day after day of forgiving and being forgiven, after day after day of loving and caring and being cared for and being loved, after day after day of having compassion and weeping together and laughing together, then the law of God wouldn’t be something that we need to follow, but that it would be laid on our hearts, it would be our immediate reaction, it would be the new covenant that we run to and cling to in every trouble and trial, that we would praise in every good thing.
Three thoughts for today at the end of sermon.
Thought number one is that one of the goals of Scripture is that by this vast collection of human experiences, we would know the thoughts and motivations of our hearts.
Second, the primary goal of Scripture is that we would know the thoughts and motivations of our God; we would know him as he is.
Third, the third goal of the Scriptures is that by knowing our God more, it would shape us even more into his people.
Praise be to God that he is single-hearted in his desire that all are saved through faith in Christ. Praise be to God that he sent his son
Amen and amen.
We are using videos to do short word studies on each of the Hebrew words that we are using in the sermons. https://thebibleproject.com/videos/yhwh-lord/
Hear O Israel: LORD
Second in a series of six
Exodus 3:13-15 // Acts 2:32-36 // Mark 2:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are in the Green season, the season of Pentecost, where we seek to grow and deepen our Christian faith. We continue working our way through the Shema, the ancient prayer in Deuteronomy, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Dear friends in Christ,
This is the second in a series of six sermons on the Shema. The first sermon was on the first word of the Shema, which is Shema. If you weren’t here last week, you’re wondering what that word means, and here’s the answer: it means listen. But not just listen; it means, like we use the English word, it means listen, and understand, and obey.
It’s a command. Hear, O Israel. Do it. Hear this. Hear and obey! To which one of our kind and gentle members came up to me and asked, “Pastor is this really a prayer? It doesn’t sound like a prayer,” which is a good question, because she’s right; it doesn’t really sound like a prayer. Usually we start out prayers with “Dear Lord,” and usually, they are directed toward God, and yet here we have a command, a command directed toward us: Hear!
Maybe this is a better way of looking at it: Israel was to pray the content of these words. Let me give you an example. Many times in the funeral process, I speak the Words of Psalm 23 to the family – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..., but sometimes I pray them: Lord, be our Good Shepherd in this place. Make us not to want. Do you see the difference? And yet, they are essentially the same.
In reciting these words at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, they were saying in essence, Lord help me to hear. Help me to remember. Help me to obey what you are asking of me.
Now, notice the progression of our prayer: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God. Notice the progression: Command, confession, Command. The first word is HEAR! Hear what’s coming next. Remember it. Hang it on your hearts, and don’t let go. And what does he say next? The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
What does that mean? It’s a statement of confession. What does it confess? The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
What does that say? Right? Because this is significant... it signals the reason, the confession, the ground, that allows Moses to give the greatest commandment (or at least that’s what Jesus calls it): Love the Lord your God. Remember that the Lord is God and the Lord is one, and when you remember this, then it gives rise to the greatest commandment, love the Lord your God, and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.
So, this confession, it’s significant; it's a big deal; it’s the basis for the whole Law, the whole idea of being moral. But what does it confess?
Three layers that we explore and two questions that we ask. For the beginning of an answer, we can turn back to Exodus 3, remembering that the same Moses who is preaching Deuteronomy to the people is the one who forty-odd years before heard from the burning bush the personal name of God himself.
I am who I am. Tell them, I AM, HE IS, He says to Moses, the LORD has sent you. We talked about this a few weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday. God is who he is. He depends on no one. He needs nothing. He has no flaws. He is first, and before him is nothing, and nothing could ever possibly come after him, because he is eternal.
The Lord our God, the Lord is One. He is number one. He is preeminent. He is one. There are none other like him. His power is unlike all other power. His love is unlike all other love. His holiness is of a different kind. He is one.
Remember the Nicene Creed? I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, in one Lord Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord. And yet there are not three Lords but one Lord. There are not three almighties but one almighty. One in Three, three in one.
Let me add the second layer. Hear the poetry of this: The God who is before everything was and who will be after everything is not, who has no flaws, needs nothing chooses to make himself known by being incarnate as an infant. The God who depends on no one makes himself known by becoming the most dependent, helpless little creature, who (as I remind my 7th and 8th graders) couldn’t eat on his own, sleep without being told to sleep, who couldn’t even hold up his own head with his little neck.
Here is the significance of Acts 2:32-36. God has revealed himself as fully as we can handle to know in Jesus Christ, the infant Son of God, defenseless and dependent as he came into the world, and defenseless and dependent as he died, utterly emptied of his divine powers as he demonstrates the clearest picture we have of our God. The cross proves that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man; the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man.
Now, let me add the final layer. We go back to Mark 2. Usually in this passage we focus on the guys who let their friend down through the roof, but today, let’s focus on what Jesus does first, and what the reaction is. He forgives the man’s sin. If he did that today, no one would bat an eye. He forgives the man’s sin and the Pharisees bring up the charge of blasphemy – and remember that this is the charge that’s brought up against Jesus at the end of his life. No one can forgive sins but God alone.
Not only is the LORD one, not only does he choose to make himself known in weakness, the final layer of this all is that the God whose list of attributes is bewildering and eternal, the God who is fierce, who is Judge, who is holy, who is terrifying, who is every bit the God who to see means certain death, this God actively chooses to say that the first quality He wants you to know about him is his mercy.
He was and is able to be known in many other ways, but when he speaks (and let me remind you, he speaks with a voice that created the universe) when he speaks, he chooses to say words of mercy.
If our God in his might has chosen to reveal himself in weakness and dependence, then, what are we supposed to do?
If our God in his might has chosen that he desires to be known chiefly by his forgiveness, by his mercy, what are you known by?
Praise be to God that he chooses to be known by his mercy, in his weakness, in his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.
Theme – Hear O Israel: Shema
(First in a Series of Six Sermons)
Texts – Deuteronomy 6:1-9, James 1:19-27, Matthew 13:10-17
June 23 and 24, 2018
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this sermon series, we explore one of the most famous and important prayers contained in the Bible. To this very day, devout and orthodox Jews repeat this prayer twice daily. This prayer is called the Shema, and in the five weeks to come, we will focus on the Hebrew word for LORD, which is Yahweh, then on the Hebrew word for LOVE, then on the word for HEART, then on the word for SOUL, and finally on the word for STRENGTH.
Today we focus our attention on the first word of this famous prayer, the word SHEMA. As our little video clearly showed, the word SHEMA is a Hebrew word full of meaning. It is often translated to hear or listen, but it’s more than just sound waves entering your ear. Biblically, to shema is to listen and to obey. Listening and obeying are two sides of the same coin. Shema is about giving respect to the one speaking to you and doing what they say. In this sense, real listening takes effort and action.
Shema at 410 North Main The best I know to illustrate the meaning of shema involves my dear bride, Debi. Imagine that! (Story of Debi 25 years ago out for a walk, picking up a Waseca Shopper newspaper off a sidewalk, taking it up into a “little room” in our house, sitting down, opening up the paper, and a bat flies out! I hear the kind of a scream that led me to think one of our children had died. The words were something like, “Larry come here!” Of course I responded in record time, I threw open the door, I bravely threw a towel over the bat and took her by the hand, and rescued her. Then, like the coward I am, I sent our son Nathan up there with two tennis rackets to deal with the unwanted fowl.
The word Shema in my house on that day included no less than four thoughts1)Hear the scream / sound waves entering my head. 2) Pay attention to the scream. 3)Respond to the one who is screaming. 4) Respond now to the scream.
Shema in the Old Testament includes on the one hand people living with the premise that God is hearing them cry out, God is paying attention to their crying out, God will be responding, and God will be responding in an ongoing and generous and wise manner. On the other hand, we see that the very covenant relationship between Israel depended on Israel listening, listening closely, and obeying the commandments and the statutes if they were to continue to enjoy God’s special treatment.
Leah cries out for help, and God (shema). In Genesis 29, we read that when the Lord saw that Jacob loved his wife Rachel but hated his wife Leah, He chose to open Leah’s womb but close Rachel’s. Leah cried out to the Lord, he heard (the word is shema) her cry, and he responded by giving her a son whom she called Simeon. The name Simeon in Hebrew is shim’on, which means that God heard her prayer.
At Mt. Sinai, Israel’s very future depended on them (shema) In Exodus 19, God thundered down from Mt. Sinai that if Israel shemas him, that is to say if they listen and obey his covenant, then out of all the nations on earth, they would be his treasured people, they would be to him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Their listening to and responding to God’s Word would change their hearts, it would make them a people that would be different than all other peoples on the face of the earth. Shema in the Old Testament carries with it the idea of listening, paying attention to, and responding.
Shema in the New Testament is also all about both hearing and doing the Word of God.
Our Epistle Lesson for today teaches us that Hearing without doing is (worthless). James says that hearing but not doing the Word of God is like a man who looks himself in the mirror, then walks away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James goes on to say that the one who claims to be religious but spends his days slandering and gossiping and tearing down people with his words, that religion is worthless. His baptism and confirmation certificates, to quote an old saying, wouldn’t be worth the price of the piece of paper they are written on.
James reminds us today that religion that is pure and undefiled in God’s courtroom is the religion that visits the orphans, the widows, sick, and those in prison. Religion that is pure and undefiled is the religion that cares about the basic needs of others, it cares about the social issues of the day, it cares about those who are struggling with all kinds of troubles, whether those troubles are self-inflicted or not.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who desire to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves, but many days they don’t know where to start, they don’t know who needs their help the most, and they aren’t always sure if their helpfulness is actually helping. And so they cry out in a regular way for God to give them wisdom from on high. They understand the first safety net for folks in danger would be a circle of family and friends, the next safety net would be local Christian congregations near and far, and the third safety net would be local, state, and national government. Often they are tempted to throw their hands up in the air and to let everyone else fight their own battles and to adopt the attitude that says “you made your bed, now lie down in it.” But the apostle James keeps poking them, reminding them that in fact hearing without doing the Word of God is worthless.
Finally, today, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus would teach us that Our very (blessedness) depends on seeing and hearing what God is wanting us to see and hear. Jesus would teach us today that we are the little children to whom he has entrusted the secrets of the kingdom. Those who keep on resisting Jesus would be losing what knowledge they have. This is why Jesus spoke almost always in parables and short stories – to give grace to those who were looking for grace and to show mercy to those who had ears to hear.
Our very blessedness in life has to do with listening to God’s Word and refusing to let it go in one ear and out the other. It has to do with being still on a regular basis and working hard to listen, to actively listen, to use the language of the 1941 hymnal, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. Shema has always been true, in the language of Jesus, that blessed are they who hear the Word of God and hold onto it, treasure it, keep it. That’s another way of saying, to use the language of David, that blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, blessed is the one who sin is covered, blessed is the man against whom the Lord count no iniquity. Another way of saying, in the language of Psalm 1, blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, blessed is the woman who does not stand in the way of sinners, blessed is the person of all ages who delights in the law of the Lord, and on this law he meditates day and night.
The kingdom of God is like a nation whose people are less and less paying attention to the God of their parents and grandparents, more and more they feel like something is missing. But it’s also like little and big Christian congregations all across the country side who operate with the premise that their covenant God is hearing them cry out for mercy and guidance, he is paying close attention to their crying out, He is responding to their cries, He is responding in a regular way to their crying out. And because of all that is true, these folks are more and more appreciating that they are the favored and the redeemed people of God, they are more and more delighting in the forgiveness of their sins, more and more contented to be swimming in the waters of their Holy Baptism, more and more reveling in the eating and the drinking of the Lord’s Supper, less and less do they feel like something is missing.
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther