Friday, September 01, 2006

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 3, 2006, Psalm 34:9-14

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 3, 2006
St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:9-14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There's phrase in this Psalm that comes up several times. It's "fear the Lord." Of course I'm sure that just like me you learned that this isn't really "fear" as in to be afraid but fear as in respect. I remember being taught that when I was in Confirmation class. "You don't have to be afraid of God because of Jesus." I was told. Now I don't want you to get me wrong, I had a wonderful pastor who confirmed me and taught me the truth of God's Word, but maybe you and I have kind of put the cart before the horse. When I study this Psalm and how this word is used in other places it definatly has a part of it that means "fear" to be afraid. Maybe we've just forgotten why we should be afraid of God. I like to tell it to my confirmation students this way. This fear is like what you have for your father when your mother says, "Just wait till your father gets home!" It's the fear of punishment. You're guilty, you've been caught doing something wrong and punishment is coming. And even though you may love your father you on that day you don't want him to come home, you can wait. The normal happy return of Dad isn't going to be so happy this time. When he comes home, he's going to be angry because things aren't the way they should be. You've broken the rules and father is going to punish you because of it. There is no way to describe that feeling except as fear. Fear of punishment. (Movie Ex. A Christmas Story: Ralphy gets into a fight and lets out a stream of curse words. His mother sends him to his room. He waits in tears for his father to return. The anticipation is of the pending wrath and punishment is terrible) Maybe we've just forgotten how terrible God's punishment can be. Maybe we've just forgotten how God's anger burns against sin. Well, it's not hard to see that, is it? Just look at what is called religion out side of these doors. God is some kind of eternal gray haired grandfather who overlooks our mistakes. We sit on his lap and he whispers in our ears, "It's OK, I know you've done the best you could do. Nobodies perfect. I don't expect you to be perfect." That is, in fact the majority opinion out there. And I think we all have a tendency to think that that's the way God is. He takes our sins, lifts up the carpeting and sweeps it under. "Oh, don't worry about that icky old sin. You can't help yourself. I'll just ignore it." I did a search on the Internet and found such profound quotes as:
  • God doesn't expect us to be perfect, as He knows we're sinners and we're always going to sin. But yes, He does expect us to strive for all those [good] things
  • nobody is perfect..the only perfect person was Jesus , so God doesn't expect us to be perfect (because its impossible) but he does expect us to be good.
  • Now having a friendship with Jesus does require us to do several things: ¢ Being honest with God about our faults and feelings. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but God does expect us to be honest. ¢ Choosing to obey God in faith, whether we completely understand where God is leading or not, we are to obey and be faithful.
  • Isn't it a comfort to know that God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just loves us: weaknesses, warts, secrets, and all.
  • in my opinion God doesn't expect us to be perfect. In my opinion God wants us to simply try and be a good person, which is really the whole point of just about every major religion in existence. Perfect? No. Good people? Yes.
  • Honestly, I don't know, but it seems to me that truly confessing and professing Him must mean that the professing manifests itself in some tangible evidence. Are you really a new creation in Christ? Are you keeping His commandments? Do you love one another? I'm not trying to scare you; God doesn't expect us to be perfect yet, and I know He'll stand for a few spots and blemishes, sins of commission, and sins of omission. I'm only asking you to examine yourself and your profession of faith. If you understand the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection, and if your life generally shows the fruits of the Spirit - even with a few wrinkles and dark places - than I think you're okay. If you don't feel you're okay, God is still ready to make things right. If you are okay, then get to work. I plan to."
Well these examples don't just match up with the God of the bible. God does indeed require perfection! He demands perfection in thought, word and deed. First, all you have to do is look at the 10 commandments. They cover every aspect of life. The first three talk about our relationship to God, and four through ten have to do with our relationship with others. And just in case you think that the commandments are suggestions and not God demand the humans be perfect, Jesus and St. Paul makes it very clear when they speak:
Thought: But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
Word: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (Matthew 12:36, ESV)
Deed: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5, ESV)
And how about Jesus words here in Matthew:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
Those are only a few of the verses that I could list to show that God does indeed expect human beings to be perfect. He created us that way. We should have stayed that way. Now our imperfection deserves God's anger and wrath and punishment.
And what about you and me. Well, I think we do a lot to build up the perception that God just sweeps sin aside as if it didn't matter. Lots of the time we live our lives as if God doesn't require us to keep His commandments. We live and work and play and pretend that God doesn't hate my sin and your sin. What we usually like to do is give the impression that what God really hates is the ills of society, you know, what goes on out there, the injustice of the world. We like pointing the finger out there in general but we don't like it when it lands on us. Just because Jesus died to take the punishment of our sin, doesn't mean we should just continue to do it. St. Paul talks about this a lot. In his letter to the Romans he ask them if Jesus death on the cross means the should intentionally sin so that God can give mercy. "By no means!" he says, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2, ESV) And yet here we are continuing in our sin. And we're not talking about the big stuff here either. Sin is sin in God's eyes. For example, some of you have spoken to me about other members of the congregation in less than glowing terms. You have muttered "you fool" or worse under your breath about that person you just don't like. Lots of you have opened your mouths in the coffee shop and said what you know you shouldn't have said. You know when it happens, but you also know that once you speak something you can't take it back. And you've seen how much destruction it can do. And you know how you have wanted what other people have, and turned green with envy wondering why they should have it so good when you have to work so hard for what you have. And don't think I'm letting myself off the hook either. Whatever sins you are guilty of I am guilty of, a not just a Pastor, I'm a sinful person, too. We are all the same we are all sinful people. And if you think that's not a reason to "fear" God remember what He says.
The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20, ESV)
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Now, when you hear all this you understand what it means to "fear" God. You understand why we should be afraid of God and His just punishment. It's because God is good and just and holy. Justice isn't sweeping sin away and ignoring the punishment that is due. God is perfect and just that means that He must punish sin. That's what we deserve. The worst part is that we can't do anything about, we can't change ourselves, we can't stop sinning. We deserve what God has for us when we sin... punishment, eternal punishment.
Still think God isn't serious about sin? Still think he just shoves it under the rug or simply ignores it? I've got the best example of all that God is serious about sin. I've got the best example of all that we should be afraid of God's punishment. Just look at what He did to Jesus.
He was turned over to a brutal bunch of men who whipped him to next to death. He was forced to drag his own execution device up a high hill. He hung naked up there on the cross with nails driven through his hands and feet. And that's just the physical part of what he got. He shouted out in terror and pain, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" God, the Father, let it all happen. God wanted it to happen. He ignored Jesus. He turned his head away. Not to ignore sin, but to allow the full punishment for it to be done completely and fully and eternally. Jesus takes what sin deserves. Jesus suffers God's just anger. Jesus suffers God's just punishment. He suffers eternal rejection from God. That's exactly what those passages mean when they say "the wages of sin" and "the soul that sins." That's exactly what we should be afraid of. The punishment that we see given to Jesus is the punishment that we should have.
But the Psalm says something else about "the fear of the Lord." It's illustrated very nicely on the cover of the bulletin. It says Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! There's a little boy intently studying God's Word. That's what the Psalm is talking about. Did you notice it says fear the Lord, you his saints. It's talking to those who have faith, the saints of God, the ones who have faith in Jesus perfect sacrifice for their sin. The fear of the Lord in this Psalm is talking about more than just terror over sin, it's also talking about the faith that clings to the promise that that sin has been washed away with the blood of Jesus. That's why it can say the those who fear have no lack. Luther makes this point in the Small Catechism when he gives this meaning for the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. That's the big picture that the Psalm is talking about. Lacking nothing starts where we started earlier this morning. We confess our sins to God, knowing exactly what they deserve. "We are not perfect... We are sinful and unclean... We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone..." (LW, p. 158) Our Godly fear comes in when we tell God what He says we deserve for that sin, "Your present and eternal punishment." (LW, p. 158) But God doesn't dole out to us what we deserve. Instead He gives us forgiveness. It is the best news we could ever hear. God has endured the punishment of hell for us. He's bled and died on the cross so that we don't have to face that terrible punishment for our sin. He speaks the words right into your ears so that you are in no doubt about it. Your Pastor speaks the very words of Jesus for you, "I forgive you your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In the Lord's Supper that God will give to us next week, we'll have that forgiveness put right into us through the very body and blood of Jesus, in, with, and under the bread and wine. This God that forgives in this way can be fully loved. This God that forgives for the sake of His sacrifice on the cross can be fully trusted.
Now for that "have no lack" part. God's forgiveness opens the door to much much more. It sets the stage for a new full and rich life, lacking nothing. Of course we still have sin. But God gives us a way to really take care of it, not by sweeping it under the rug so that it has to be dealt with later, but putting it on Jesus on the cross and really getting rid of it. So when the Psalm says Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it, we really do want to do just that. Becuase it's what God wants of us.
The God who has done everything for you so that you don't have to depend on yourself for salvation gives everything. Those who fear, love and trust in God lack no good thing. The Psalm says. My fellow Christians, you have a God who gives you that much and more. He has given Jesus perfect life for you. What more could you possibly need that He wouldn't be happy to give? In fact, in faith, that is fear, love and trust in God, means that even when He allows stuff into your life that doesn't seem so good, like illness, suffering and even death, you can be sure that it part of the good things that we have. Jesus, your God, your Savior, has bled and died and rose again for you. He promises only good things for you now. You can be sure that no matter what you recieve from him is exactly what you truly need. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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