Tenth Sunday After Trinity August 3, 1997
Jeremiah 7:8-11; Luke 11:28
480, 408, 467, 462
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.
Our second text comes from Luke, chapter eleven, verse 28:
[And Jesus said], “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it!” This is the Word of God.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who is Himself the reason we gather in this building each week, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“What are you doing here?”—That’s putting the question a little bluntly, but it’s a good question to ask, just the same. Why are YOU here at Sunday services this morning? Oh, I’m sure you know the answer. At least, if I walked down the aisle and asked each one of you that question, I’m sure you could come up with the right words to say: “I’m here to listen to God’s Word,” or, “I came to church this morning to worship and praise my Savior.” But I want you to go deeper than that. I want you to ask yourself that question, and really give yourself an honest answer. “Why DID I come here this morning? What was it, exactly, that got me up and out of the house in time to make it here for the start of services?”
Why the self-examination? Why ask a question when the answer seems so obvious? Because this is the Trinity season, that time of the year when we focus on the one true God—the Triune God—and our worship of Him. But really worshipping the true God is more than a matter of walking through that front door and sitting down in a chair. Just showing up isn’t enough. In fact, did you know that coming to church could actually be a sin?! It could be, if you did it for the wrong reasons! In our first text for today, the Old Testament Israelites show us a very bad reason for going to church. In our second text, Jesus shows us a very good reason. Let’s compare our reasons for worshipping the Triune God, as we consider today’s theme:
There are a lot of people in our day who go to church for the wrong reasons. Some folks attend worship services in order to look good in the eyes of their neighbors. Some people go to a certain church simply because all their relatives belong to it. I once knew a businessman who joined the Presbyterian church because that’s where most of his wealthy clients attended! Well, I know you’re not sitting here today at Ascension Lutheran Church because of how fancy it is, or how many wealthy members we have. But there’s an even worse reason to show up in church on Sunday, and it’s a delusion that a lot of people—sadly—fall prey to. That’s the delusion that church attendance is an excuse for a sinful lifestyle.
At the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, the people of Israel were totally taken up with this delusion. Oh, they were faithful church goers! They showed up for worship services promptly every Sabbath day. They listened to God’s Word. Their lips moved with the prayers, their voices joined in the hymns. For that one day of the week, they were the picture of outward piety. But they were hypocrites at heart. They had tricked themselves into believing a terrible lie: that coming to God’s house once a week gave them an excuse to sin. They thought that as long as they kept up their outward religion, as long as they showed up at the Temple on the Sabbath day, they could freely indulge all their sinful desires the rest of the time.
Well, the Lord exposed their hypocrisy to the light of His terrible Law. In His righteous anger, He said to them, Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?—It was a terrible accusation. The Israelites were using their religion as an excuse for the most awful kinds of sinful behavior.
“How could they be so blind?” you might ask. “How could they be such hypocrites?” But are we in any position to pass judgment on them? Before we do, we’d better take a hard look at our own motivations for attending worship services.
A couple of days ago I was driving through Northwest Landing and I saw a couple of blacktail deer. One of them was a nice buck. Being a hunter, I thought how nice it would be to bag a buck like that. Unfortunately, it’s not deer season; and even if it were, I don’t have that necessary item: a license. A license is a wonderful thing—it gives you permission to do something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. That’s the way it works.
Unfortunately, some people think that that’s the way religion works, too. We’re tempted to think that attending church regularly is like buying a license—a license to sin. “After all, we’re Christians, aren’t we? We come here on Sunday to get forgiveness, don’t we? Why not live it up, as long as we’ll be forgiven next Sunday anyway! In fact, why not sin more, so that God’s grace can shine more brightly!” But it’s not true. The forgiving grace of God is NOT a license to sin! The Apostle Paul cuts down that twisted logic with a few words, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” Rom 6:1-2. And again in Galatians: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Gal 5:13. The message is clear—Sunday worship can never be an excuse for a life of sin.
I’ve found that there’s generally a pretty poor understanding, even among our own members, of what a “church service” is all about. People seem to think that the main reason we come to church is to give something to God. As if we’re really doing the Lord some kind of big favor by showing up here in His house! As if attendance at worship were some kind of arduous, painful duty we had to fulfill! Let me draw a comparison… I think it’s safe to say that, if a local bank handed out free thousand dollar bills every Friday at 10:00 a.m., we’d all be there. None of us would find it too drudging a duty to fulfill. I guarantee nobody would oversleep and miss it. Nobody would be too busy; nobody would be out fishing, or home watching TV. Do you get the point? —The main reason we come to worship services isn’t what we give to God, it’s what we get from God. And what we get from Him each week is worth a lot more than a thousand dollar bill!
What, exactly, can this weekly worship mean for us? Nothing less than this: it can be the basis of a life of blessing. Jesus put it simply in our second text for this morning, “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it!” That word—blessed—literally means, “happy”. To those who regularly hear God’s Word sincerely—and base their lives upon that Word—Jesus is promising a happy life. And there are plenty of people in this world who would give a lot more than that thousand dollars a week to be truly happy!
In the first place, here in God’s house is where you get your most important need fulfilled—your need for salvation. When there’s sin on your conscience, when your soul hungers for the righteousness you know you can’t supply for yourself, here is where you can find food for your soul. Here, in this church, is where you’ll find Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Jn 6:35. There will never be a Sunday when you won’t hear from this pulpit the saving Good News that Jesus died for you. For you, as an individual…the Savior shed His blood. That’s a historical fact that nothing can change, and because of that fact of Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, God has promised you peace and happiness in your Savior. Yes, that happiness will be imperfect in this world. It will be tempered with hardship and trials. The Bible tells us “We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God.” But you also have the promise of perfect happiness in eternity. Today Jesus says to you, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you…and I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Jn 14:2-3.
How free that message makes us! All the things that people all around us are worrying about…no longer need worry us. We don’t have to worry about the future—we know it’s in God’s loving hands. We know He’ll give us strength to bear even the hardest tests we come up against. We don’t have to worry about death—we can simply say with Paul, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” With our loving God providing all our daily needs, we don’t have to worry about where we’ll get our food or how we’ll pay our bills; in fact, Jesus actually forbids us to worry about those things! “‘Therefore,’ He says, ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on… For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.’” Mt 6:25, 32.
These are the promises God’s Word makes to you, and this the message of God’s love that you’ll hear every Sunday here in God’s house. And the more you hear about what God’s done for you, the more you’ll want to reflect His love in your own life, seven days a week. You’ll find yourself asking, “How can I serve this God who has given so much to me?” —And that question will be answered, too. All the “instruction in righteousness” that the Holy Scriptures offer will be laid at your feet. Then, inspired by the Gospel and with the Holy Spirit working in you, you can apply that Gospel in your life in a way that will make God’s Kingdom grow, and do you a power of good besides.
So what’s your excuse? I hope it’s not this church service! I pray that no one ever takes our Sunday worship as an excuse for sin—it can never be that. Rather, let’s take advantage of the wonderful thing it CAN be: the basis of a life of tremendous blessing and happiness. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.