Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 8A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, June 29, 2020.
This morning we prayed, Almighty God, grant that we may gladly hear Your Word proclaimed among us and follow its directing. This prayer asks to be led by the Spirit so that we’d keep the 3rd Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. But what does that mean? It means that we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it. But is that something we regularly do? Do we consider preaching a sacred thing, or something we’re forced to sit through on Sunday morning? Do we gladly hear the Word of God?
If it’s pleasant sounding, then yes we’ll gladly hear it. We like to hear the promises of God. We like to receive His Word of blessing. Who wouldn’t want to hear these good things? But maybe we’re too glad and too eager to hear these words, willing to only hear these pleasant sounding words.
It’s a great temptation for us to only hear what we want to hear, to seek out preachers and teachers who will say only what we want them to say. We having itching ears (2 Tim 2:4), and the only thing that will satisfy them are the words we want to hear: words that promise earthly success; words that say we can live the life we want if we just imagine ourselves in it; words that assure us that God accepts us the way we are, sins and all; words that convince us that even though we give in to sin’s temptations sometimes, we’re not sinners and deep down we're really good people; words that say if we just try our best, that’s good enough; words that promise we can build heaven on earth, ending all of the turmoil in the world. But these words are contrary to God’s Word. They’re false Gospels. What we need to hear is God’s true Word, His full Word, His Law and Gospel.
But we don’t like to hear the Law, do we? We don’t like to hear the words that Jesus spoke in our Gospel reading today, and last Sunday, and the Sunday before that. We don’t like to hear that there’ll always be division on earth, division between father and son, mother and daughter. We don’t like to hear that we’ll be hated for bearing Jesus’ name. We don’t like to hear that we ARE sinners, that we’re not good people, that we deserve condemnation and death. We don’t like to hear that God doesn’t accept us the way we are, that He has righteous wrath because of our sin. We don’t like to hear that God commands us to be holy just as He is holy (1 Pt 1:16; Lev 11:44).
I must admit that at times I struggle with wording my sermons. I’m concerned with how I preach the Law because I don’t want to offend you. And yet, that’s exactly what we. We need to hear the Law, to be offended, because the Law reveals our sin, and sin is offensive. It’s offensive to God. We need to hear this, and it’s good to hear.
We call God’s Law bad because we hear Paul talking about how we’re free from it in Christ, and therefore it must be bad. But that’s not the case. Listen again to what Paul actually says: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. … So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:7, 12).
We think the Law is the problem, but it isn’t the problem, our sin is the problem. The Law doesn’t bring about our sin, it reveals it. It shows us what is evil and rebellious. It shows us that we deserve death. The Law doesn’t put sin and evilness in our hearts, it’s already there.
God’s Law is holy, it’s righteous and good. It shows us our sin and our need for Christ to save us. And so, with faith, we do gladly hear the Word of the Law, not because it sounds sweet and pleasant, but because we need to be convicted of our sin and called back to repentance. We need to be offended by our sinfulness so that we can receive the good news Gospel of our Savior, who suffered the righteous wrath of God on the cross in your place. We need to hear what is holy, righteous, and good so that we can respond to the forgiveness we’ve received and live holy lives according to God’s Law.
When we hear God’s Law with faith, we rightly understand that it’s for our benefit. We can see the blessings in it and the rewards for living by it.
That’s not something we often talk about. We shy away from talking about rewards because we don’t want to give the impression that we can earn heaven by our works; and we can’t. The reward of heaven isn’t yours because of what you’ve done, but because of what Christ has done. And yet, Christ Himself promises rewards for those who received His prophets.
There are inherent blessings in following God’s Law, for doing what God has commanded. When we honor our father and mother, when we obey the authorities the Lord has placed over us, we enjoy a peaceful life. When we love our neighbors as ourselves, when we help them in their needs, when we speak well of them, we often receive these in turn. When we remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, we receive rest from the crazy world around us, we receive God’s forgiving word and refreshment through the Lord’s Supper. It’s good to follow the Law of the Lord. It’s good to obey His commands; for in this, the Lord gives blessings.
We say we love the Word of the Lord, but what we really mean is we love the pleasant sounding words. We don’t like to hear the Law. But God’s Law is holy and righteous and good. It shows us our sin, so that we might receive our Savior. It shows us what a godly life looks like. And so, as God’s children, we gladly hear God’s full Word, His Law and His Gospel. We hear it with repentance and with faith. We hear it and receive the blessings He gives through it. In Jesus’ name...Amen.