Monday, March 4, 2024

Where is our zeal?

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, preached on Sunday, March 3, 2024.

It may be hard for us to imagine that David in all his glory found himself alone. Jesus quotes David from Psalm 69: “For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards”

In a world where secret sins are left secret, David’s public demonstration of his repentance for the sin of Bathsheba and Uriah is shocking.  What would possess a king to admit the sin no one knew but God and His prophet?  David was zealous for the Lord even when this zeal cost him dearly.  Sitting in sackcloth and ashes before the nation, David knew that his only future lie with the Lord.  He prayed for God to cleanse his soul from sin and create in him a new and clean heart.  Where everyone else would have let the scandal lie hidden, David wore the ashes of his repentance before the world.  Most of us do not get that kind of zeal.

Jesus comes to the Temple and found it to be cesspool of deception and lies.  The business of God’s House had ceased to be about sin and forgiveness and it had become a marketplace for an easy righteousness in which you paid off God and did what you pleased.  The money changers and market that replaced a people at prayer consumed Jesus.  Even His own disciples did not understand why Jesus was so upset.  Why did it bother Him so?  It was routine, the ordinary business of the Temple as it had been for years.  Everyone had grown accustomed to it and even the faithful were not scandalized by it.  But not Jesus.  He could not allow a market to replace the sacred space where God called sinners to repentance and where God bestowed forgiveness for their sins.

We have no such problem today.  It is not because churches are not marketplaces for just about anything and everything.  They are.  Churches program people to death with all kinds of things that have little or nothing to do with the Gospel.  The problem is not that we no longer grieve God with our hijacking of His house and His purpose.  No, our problem is that we have no zeal for the things of God.  We are not scandalized by what churches have become anymore than we are scandalized by what the Gospel has become.  We just go with the flow.  We live under the radar.  We turn a public confession into a private faith that no one can see. Jesus’ problem was not with the Temple but with what the Temple had become. No one seemed to mind that God’s message had been replaced by voices of the status quo.  Now do you know why we have a problem today?

Look around you.  Christianity has become a feel good faith in which it is not about right or wrong, sin or death, but about feeling better about yourself and squeezing as much as you can out of this mortal life before surrendering to death. The voices that are raised to object to calling sin good and good sin are castigated as hate speakers.  Those who would honor God’s creation of marriage and the gift of family are called narrow minded and judgmental.  Those who insist that God’s Word is not open to individual interpretation or adjustment to better fit into the world today are called antiquated and treated as bigots.  

There is not much zeal for the Lord’s house left.  Even the so-called faithful Christians are regularly absent from worship.  Bible reading and study has become optional to us.  Churches care more about the comfort and approval of people than they do the work of the kingdom and God’s approval.  This is what we wrestle with.  We wear what feels good to us and do not dress up even for God.  We snicker at off color jokes just like everyone else.  We give God what we think we can afford and not what He is due.  We let our kids decide if they want to go to church or be instructed in the faith instead of honoring this as our duty to them and to God.  This is the sad state of affairs in American Christianity today.  Our congregation is better than most but every week half of those who say they belong are absent from the Divine Service and two thirds are not in Sunday school or Bible study.  Zealots are extremists and nobody likes extremists.  We like the Lutheran idea of moderation in all things – even sin.  No, zeal is not our problem.  Who would find us a zealous bunch?  Would the world around us?  Would Jesus?   

The point of this is not simply to make us feel bad – though it would not hurt us to admit the obvious and confess it.  No, the point is this.  God IS zealous.  Zealous for you and for your salvation.  Jesus is offended by the scandal of the Lord’s House not because He feels slighted but because as long as the things of this life are the focus of God’s House and His work, the gift of eternal life will remain hidden and the Gospel will be silent.  The end result of the Temple takeover by business is that not only were the people not ready to receive Jesus when He came but they resented everything He had come to do.  They were ready to exchange His gift of eternal salvation for the things that made them happy in this life.

The true zeal for the Kingdom is not concern for ourselves but for the Kingdom of God.  It is His kingdom and His righteousness that is the beating heart of God’s House.  It is Christ and Him crucified that is our hope.  It is the new and everlasting life that we look for and now our fair share of the good things of this mortal life.  The world may not love the zealot but God does.  He wants us to be zealous about the Gospel lest the cross be obscured and we are left in our sins.  He wants us to be zealous about worship because there is where our Lord continues to distribute the fruits of His redeeming work.  He wants us to be zealous about His Word because that Word bears the fruit of faith and sustains that faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He wants us to be zealous about confessing our sins to one another and forgiving each other in His name so that there is no distance between us.  Matthew 18 is not simply a reconciliation process but a value statement of the importance of forgiveness in building and sustaining us a people together in Christ.  He wants us to be zealous about missions because Christ died not for the few but for all and that He seeks all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Zeal is marked by temple tables overturned and arms stretched out upon the cross.  Zeal is God’s love for us.  Zeal should be the mark of our love for Him.  Amen.

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