Friday, March 3, 2017

What is your heart's desire?

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, preached on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

[Jesus said] “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).

What is your heart’s desire?  I’m sure that all of us here tonight could quickly answer this question, because our hearts desire much.  We want a great deal.  But are these desires for the heavenly and godly things that last, or for earthly things that don’t?

More often than not, we want the earthly things.  We want stuff.  Our whole lives are consumed with the desire to consume.  Young children want the fun looking toys.  Teenagers want the name brand clothes and the newest phones.  Adults want the nicest car and the perfect home. 

Now don’t get me wrong, having stuff isn’t bad.  But the constant desire for them, the desire that drives us to do whatever we can to get them, the desire that convinces us that once we have them everything will be right and we’ll be happy, that’s what gets us in trouble, because that’s idolatry.  We idolize our stuff and we expect good things from it instead of looking to God alone for good. 

But don’t begin to think our idolatry limited to our stuff though.  We also idolize people.  I’m not talking about celebrity worship, although this too can be idolatry.  I’m talking about idolizing the approval of others.

We want the approval of others.  We want them to look at us and say good things.  We want to be accepted by them and included in the group. 

Much of what we do is driven by this desire.  Children obey parents, teenagers try to fit in at school, and adults work hard at the office all to get that reassuring nod.  We want others to see what we do and praise us for it.  This may be fine and good in certain things, but it’s dangerous when it comes to our faith, when this desire consumes us. 

This is exactly what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Mt 6:1a).  To be clear, Jesus isn’t saying only be righteous when no one else is around to see it.  We’re always to live righteous lives according to God’s commands.  Our faith will produce good works, and people will notice.  But we don’t do these things to be recognized and praised. 

Christ warns us about practicing our righteousness and piety before others with the hope of impressing them.  We don’t give to the needy to get a pat on the back.  We don’t pray at a restaurant so people will comment on how pious we are.  We don’t put on a show when we fast so that others will take note of our dedication to the faith.  We don’t do any of these things to gain the approval of man, to draw attention to ourselves.  If this is the reason for our righteousness, then it wouldn’t be righteous because our motives are sinful and self-serving. 

Christ says that those who only put their righteousness out there to gain the approval of others have already earned their reward (Mt 6:2b, 5b, 16b).  By practicing our righteousness before others we might gain their approval, and this will be our reward, but it won’t last, because the opinions of men don’t last. 

The approval of others lasts only as long as we continue to do praise worthy things.  The second we do something that others disapprove of, there goes everything we worked for.  The approval of men is fickle, a thing we can’t trust in. 

Likewise, we can’t trust our stuff because our stuff doesn’t last.  It deteriorates and breaks down.  It gets lost and stolen.  Christ said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19).  Our stuff is good only as long as it lasts, only as long as we have it.  Once it’s gone it does us no good, and once we die, it’s completely useless.  Our stuff doesn’t give us life. 

The things of this world: our stuff and the approval of others; can’t provide us with what we truly need.  They can’t provide us with life after death.  Instead of laying up treasures for this life on earth, we need to lay up treasures for our life in heaven.  Our hearts need to have a desire for the things of God, and the only way our hearts can desire these things is for God to give us new hearts. 

We desire the passing things of his earthly life because our hearts our filled with sin and idolatry; and there’s nothing we can do to clean them out.  The Lord must give you a new heart, clean and free from sin, free from idolatry.  This is our prayer during Lent.  This is the prayer we’ll sing during the offering.  With repentance and faith, we return to the Lord our God, confessing our sins, asking Him to give us new hearts that desire the heavenly things that always last, and He does!

God gives you a new heart.  He gave it to you in your Baptism when your old sinful self was drowned and when He raised up your new man, connected to Christ.  Christ’s forgiveness, won on the cross for you, washes away your sin.  It overcomes the idolatry in your heart.  It creates a new heart and the desire for God.

Your new, clean, faith-full, God given heart desires Christ’s forgiveness.  It desires His love and mercy.  It desires the treasures of life and salvation.  It desires the righteousness of God, and it desires to live out this righteousness, not for the approval of others, but for the praise and glory of God. 

The gifts of God always last.  Moth and rust can’t destroy Christ’s cross.  Jesus forgiveness never deteriorates.  No one can steal away your salvation, and God will never change His mind.  The gifts of God you can trust in.  God isn’t fickle, He’s the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and He’s always there with the forgiveness of Christ. 

During Lent, we come before the Lord with repentance and faith.  During these 40 days we pray that God would give us new hearts; hearts clean and free from sin; hearts that desire only God and the good gifts He gives.  And we thank the Lord during these days, and everyday, because He has given us these good gifts, through Christ Jesus, our Savior.  In His name...Amen. 

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