Do As I Say, Not As I Do!

13th Sunday in Pentecost B, August 26, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh  joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” [Isaiah 29:18, 19]

Today is the day, which this prophesy speaks of!  Today, you hear the Word of God, the Words of His book and you are called out of your gloom and  darkness so that your blind eyes may see!  You who were once weak are filled with the power of God, and your joy is fresh and new every morning.    And why do you hear and see?  Why is your joy in the Lord refreshed every morning?  So that you will praise your Holy God!

Now if I were to ask you how you will praise the Lord, you might say in song and words of acclamation.  That is how we usually think of praise; in fact  the Book of Psalms is full of examples of God’s people being directed to sing praises to their God.  But if all we are giving is lip service and not changed  lives, I’m afraid we are like a mighty tree in the forest that is overlooked and disregarded every year by the lumber jacks.  There is good reason that  the lumberjacks pass over the biggest and oldest trees; you see, many of them are hollow and dead on the inside.  They’re fit only to provide a home  for raccoons and owls.  While they appear to be strong on the outside, they are dead and rotten on the inside.

Maybe you prefer another example of what lip-service religion is like.  How about this… it’s like a father who complains about the amount of time his  family spends in front of the television. His children watch cartoons and neglect their school work. His wife prefers soap operas to housework. His  solution? He’s going to cancel their cable service… as soon as baseball season is over.  The truth is, we are all prone to live our lives as hypocrites.    We say one thing and do another.  “Do as I say” we may tell our children and grandchildren, “and not as I do!”

In both our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 29:11-19) and our Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1-13) this is the warning that God gave to both the people then and us today.  In essence, God is calling us out; out of darkness and into light… His light!

People in darkness think that they are hidden from God; they think that God doesn’t see them.  They believe that they can hide their true intentions and actions from an all-knowing God.  That’s what Adam and Eve thought after their sin, when they tried to hide both their location and their nakedness from God.  The truth is, their sin and our sin is a darkness that doesn’t hide us from God, it hides God from us!  In essence, sin makes our hearts hollow and foolish.

If God was a master potter and you were His clay, wouldn’t it be foolish if after He made you into a beautiful pot or vase, you told Him that He made a mistake when He made you, because you were suppose to be a bowl.  Or worse yet, wouldn’t it be foolish if you denied the existence and workmanship of the Potter?  And when we live our lives as if God does not see or know what we do, that is precisely what we are doing.  The clay, you and I are nothing without the Potter who created us.  How foolish we are to deny the presences and attention of our Creator!  And yet we do precisely that!

What is sin if not an individual’s claim to be superior to the Lord of heaven?  When God tells us “Don’t” the heart of a sinner says, “I am free do to whatever I want, as long as it isn’t illegal.” When God in His Word tells us over and over again that “By grace you are saved through faith,” the heart of a sinner says, “I earn my way.  I will make a life and a future for myself!”

You see, sin turns everything, and I mean everything upside down.  The heart of a sinner doesn’t want God sticking His nose into its business.  It doesn’t want free and faith-filled grace; it doesn’t want a God that sends Jesus to be our Savior.  Instead, it fights that grace and demands a god who didn’t die on a cross and then invite us to die with Him!  Instead of a graceful and loving God of mercy, it wants a god that accepts good intentions and overlooks failures, foolishness, and perversions.

It isn’t hard to imagine Jesus, in our gospel reading, just throwing His arms up in the air and saying to the Pharisees, saying to the hypocrites, “You just don’t get it!”  They didn’t get and many times, neither do we.  We forget that our lives aren’t about what we say or about what we do, instead they’re centered on who we are, or who we are solely because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

We too, many times don’t get it.  What we do get is paying our own way.  We understand that earning the right to speak is expected and accepted.  We understand if someone tells us that we need to clean up our act before we ever think of coming to God.  And to that God says, “You just don’t get it!”

But we do understand that our outward show of religion is expected if we are to be accepted by those who are considered religious.  We are willing to offer everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), while leaving nothing to care for the needs of our parents.  We will gladly put them away in nursing homes and let the government take care of them.

It’s true, many times we don’t get it, and that’s why we don’t like to look inside ourselves where only hollowness and rotting death can be found.  Those things like selfishness, envy, pride, slander, and foolishness are too painful to look at, because they remind us that on our own we are very, very far from God!  They remind us that we have nothing to offer God accept our sin.  Do you get it now?  Outside of God’s grace, we are nothing and we have nothing that can give us hope.  And this condition of hopelessness is exactly where God wants us this morning so that He can speak hope into us; so that He can open our ears to hear and our eyes to see.

In our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 5:22-33), God’s Word shows us Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.  Like the potter and clay illustration in our Old Testament lesson, Paul gives us another illustration; he shows us that we are the bride, and Jesus the Son of God is our groom; He is our head and heart.  He shows us that in our baptisms, in the washing of the water and Word we have been recreated and cleansed so that He might present each of us to His Father as a part of His body, holy and without blemish. [Vs. 26]  In this new baptismal nature of ours, God is showing us who we are because of Jesus, but He is also asking us to look honestly within ourselves and see the things that don’t belong to our new nature, and allow God to remove them.  St. Paul illustrates this beautifully for us within the context of a marriage.

You dear baptized friends are not under judgment, you are under grace. Your marriage or future marriage has now been compared to Christ and His church. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that His bride, the church could live, and now He asks us to do the same!

What wife would not happily honor and submit to a husband who loves her more than himself?  What wife would not honor her man as he is living out his baptism, and struggling every day to put to death his old sinful nature?  If a man will do that to please the Lord, he will certainly sacrifice himself and his own selfish needs for his wife’s happiness!

And what husband would not want a woman who willingly allows her husband to be the spiritual leader, provider, and protector of his family? Any Christian husband would love to have a wife who humbly worships her God and puts the needs of her husband above her own.

And yet who of us can honestly say that we are that kind of man or that kind of woman?  If we are honest, we will admit that we all fall short.  And because of our struggle to put to death our sinful flesh, the world may see this an call us hypocrites.  But we are not hypocrites like the Pharisees or those who have no faith.  No, we know that our hope is found only in Jesus and His sacrifice upon the cross for us.  His victory has become ours, and because of this wonderful truth we submit and we sacrifice for each other just as our Lord has done for us!  Through Jesus Christ, we are assured that one day we will have complete victory over our sin, because God’s Spirit is within us; fighting for us.

In our baptism, we have been given a new identity; we are the Lord’s beloved.  On the day of our baptism we were washed clean and set apart as holy!  And now, each day we are reminded that Jesus and His cross, the source of God’s forgiving love are always with us; we are reminded that not only will God always love us, but He is continually reshaping us into a new image; a holy vessel. Each day, we are reminded that He indeed is the Potter and we are His clay!

Dear friends, because of God’s continued work in our lives, we are taught every day to die to our selfish and sinful desires. We are being taught to die to selfish needs and live to serve God and our neighbor. We do this as we remember our baptism. We do this by remembering that Jesus loved us and the whole church, and He proved it by giving Himself up for us upon the cross, so that He might sanctify us through the cleansing of the waters of our baptisms. Through simple water and God’s Word he saved us, so that He might present us to Himself as holy and perfect, without a single blemish. Jesus did this for us… He did this for you. He suffered and died so that you would know the forgiveness of God, and then be able to rest in that forgiveness and reflect it to others!

Are we hypocrites?  We are if we deny God’s continued work of recreation and forgiveness; we are if we pretend that God either doesn’t see or doesn’t care.  But because we confess our sin to Him, He is always faithful to forgive it and continue His work of recreation.  May He who began this good work within you complete it in the day of Jesus Christ!  AMEN.

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