19th Sunday in Pentecost B, October 7, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
Each of you who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are promised a seat at our Lord’s banquet table; you’ve even been promised a mansion in heaven. Or like I taught the children in their message this morning, by abiding or resting in Jesus, you’ve been given a ticket on the heavenly train to glory. So, are you going? Will you be there in glory?
God’s Word promises that you will be there if you trust in that promise; it encourages you to trust in Christ alone; He wants you to rest in everything that He has done for you in this life and the life to come. Is that enough for you, or do you need more?
In our epistle reading this morning (Hebrews 2:1-13), God warns His little ones, He warns us, that if we don’t continually grab ahold of His promises about our blessed assurance, we might begin to drift away from our seat at the banquet table; we might begin to want to find another way to our heavenly home. So is that a danger to us; drifting away from God’s precious promises? Well it could be, if we allow ourselves to trust in anything for salvation other than the work and the promises of God!
Why do you think we have times when we feel like our lives lack meaning and purpose? Could it be because we’ve taken our eyes off of God’s promises?! Why is it that when trouble comes our way, often times we become afraid and filled with doubt? Could it be, we’ve lost sight of Jesus and His real presence in our lives? Why is it that when fear and doubt come, we begin to lose that joy in knowing that we really do have a place prepared just for us in heaven? Could it be, we have begun to judge success by what we do and not by what God has done for us!
The truth is we all fall short of God’s will for us here; we all fall short of His perfection, but we still want so badly to please Him; to earn His love and respect. But it’s also true that no matter how hard we try to be good, we will fail. And yet we still try to earn our place in heaven by what we do.
This morning the theme in both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons seems to be marriage and family. In both of these readings, God is showing us His perfect will and how far short we fall from that perfection.
So then why do we still think that on our own we can be a good husband or a good wife, a good parent or child? Because we have a sin problem, and our sinful nature won’t let us see the impossibility of change; it won’t let us see that on our own, we are without hope. And so, even though we know that we fall short of pleasing God, our sinful desire to be independent would have us believe that we can bridge this gap by our own efforts. So we are deceived into thinking that if we just try a little harder, then our marriages will be repaired and our families will be God pleasing.
This kind of thinking is not only dangerous, it is darn right destructive. It’s harmful to ourselves and to those we love. You see, when we think that action and effort are enough to please God and restore joy in our lives and our relationships with others, we have abandoned God’s promises of help and hope. We’ve exchanged the hope of the gospel for the demands of the Law; a Law that will settle for nothing short of perfection!
Now please listen; I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t try harder to be better, what I am saying is that you can’t even try harder in a God pleasing way, if God is not the source of both your strength and your goodness. Without God’s grace, we are just trusting in His Law that demands we do good, but then gives us no power or ability to do that good thing.
People who are trusting in the law are easy to spot. They are the ones who struggle and strive but never really see any lasting improvement in their lives.
Life guards on our San Diego beaches say that the biggest danger to swimmers are the many rip-tides that are present off our shores. They say that swimmers caught in a rip tide are also easy to spot. They are the ones who swim and swim, yet they aren’t moving. They aren’t moving because they aren’t strong enough to defeat the current.
Sadly, each of us can get caught up in the riptides of life. We tell ourselves that if we just try harder, everything will be alright. And when we become exhausted at trying to fix our marriages or our other relationships, we become discouraged and maybe afraid that God is angry at us because we aren’t spiritual enough. So what do we do? We look for another way to maximize our effort; we read another book or take another course. We try new techniques and try to be nicer and more attentive.
Maybe, we hear about a Christian who seems to have everything going for them, so we try to find out their secret or technique to happiness. And if we hear that they get up every morning at 4:00 a.m. to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study, we resolve to do that too, even though we aren’t a morning person. And what do you think the result will be for us? We will probably still be frustrated, but now we’ll also be dazed, confused, groggy and grumpy all day because we didn’t get enough sleep. And now with inadequate sleep, our marriage is worse and the people we love are avoiding us!
Now at this point, you would think that we would admit failure and try things God’s way, right? Nope! Instead, we’ll tell ourselves that because we’re exhausted and miserable, this must be what God wants us to do. It must be spiritual! So we keep it up for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, but eventually our discipline will break down, and we’ll abandon this latest technique towards building a better marriage, and a stronger family. You know what comes next don’t you? Guilt! And after enough guilt we’ll simply move onto the next program or buy another book with 10 easy steps towards fulfillment.
Eventually, we will just give up; we simply won’t have the energy to try anymore. And then what? We learn to fake it. We think that we can bridge the gap to heaven by acting like we’re alright, even though everything within us and around us is screaming in our ears that we aren’t ok. But we keep up the image; we speak as if we had deeper spiritual experiences than we really have. Our hearts become cold, and we speak as though our sin bothers us more than it really does. We pray as though our voice is throbbing with deep emotion that isn’t really there. Why we might even join in a game of spiritual musical chairs, always searching for a different church or ministry that will provide the magic key. Some people go from one movement to another, continually rededicating their lives to the Lord, only to fall away again and again. And if this continues, God is warning us that eventually we will secretly give up. Oh, we’ll still hope that there’s a place for us in heaven, but between now and the day we die, we’ll spend the rest of our lives disappointed and not even trying to change.
So what’s the answer? Where is the hope? What is it that can break us free from these riptides of life? It certainly isn’t greater resolve or another program; no I think that we need to follow the example of the mothers and babies in our gospel lesson to get our answer!
We need to let go and let God’s power take over our lives; we need to get to Jesus! Listen: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
The Pharisees didn’t really see a need to hear from Jesus. Instead, they wanted Jesus to sit around with them simply talking about the best technique, the most God pleasing program that would free people from the condemnation of the law; in this case they were arguing about divorce. But Jesus wouldn’t let them do that; instead He told them that they didn’t have a problem in choosing the best strategy, they had a problem with their hearts. They were sinful. They needed a new heart, and that was something only Jesus could give them.
The apostles didn’t have the problem of being with Jesus; they had constant access to God’s recreating presence; they were with Jesus all of the time. No, their problem was their desire to control Jesus; they wanted to limit His audience, and the people who also got to be with Him. They really wanted Jesus to themselves and they wanted Him to minister to others in a way they thought was best. So they forbid the mothers from bringing their children to Jesus. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that. He was angry and He let it show! He told them that not only should they quit standing in the way of these little ones getting to Him, but that if they did not become like one of those babies, they would never get into heaven! In other words, they too needed a new heart; they needed to turn to God confessing their helplessness, sin, and total dependence on His care!
The truth is, eventually all of us finally figure out that we can’t break free of the rip tide of our sins; we can’t ever bridge the gap to eternal life by our own efforts. We discover that we can never earn God’s love and forgiveness. We discover that God will always work the way He desires and not the way we want Him to work; we discover that we must become like a child and realize that this kind of love can only come by grace. A child knows that salvation is a gift; it’s simply something that is given to him; it’s something that he trusts in because it comes from Jesus. That is why Jesus loves to use little children as his teaching aids.
What is God’s plan for you, your marriage, family, and life? Well try this on for size; He doesn’t want you to trust in your own abilities or your self-improvement plans, but instead learn to rest and trust in what He has done for you through Jesus Christ. In Jesus, concerning your forgiveness, there is no place for self-improvement because that would negate the need for the cross. In the cross, God takes you away from your plan of salvation and He shows you His. He shows you His Son who suffered and died for every sinner that ever lived. But He also makes it very personal by taking you to the waters of your baptism. In your baptism He promises that you have been recreated and restored; He promises that in His Word, in His promises you can grab ahold of them, trust them and then watch as He continually renews you and changes you. In His promises, He tells you of a Paradise restored that is waiting for you on the day the Lord calls you home.
The mothers in our gospel reading knew what you also know but often forget. If you can just get to Jesus and stay with Him, there is new life and hope in abundance! In the Word of God, Jesus speaks to you, to your marriages, to your families; He speaks Words of forgiveness and hope. Even if you have been marked by divorce or a family tragedy, Jesus promises that this is not what defines you or condemns you; instead, He speaks forgiveness and new life as He continually invites you into His plan of salvation for you; and in this plan, He promises to give you a new and abundant life. In the middle of the riptides of life, Jesus promises that if you simply quit struggling and let Him take over, He will pull you through.
Listen friends, God doesn’t want you to just be saved by grace but to live by it as well! God’s plan is for your daily life to be guided, guarded, and energized by Jesus suffering and death for you! He wants you to live in grace and then watch as it flows out of you and into your families, your relationships and even into our community. In essence, God wants you to be amazed at how His Spirit will transform your life, your family, and our community.
In a few minutes you will hear me welcome you to the Lord’s Table. Most of you will respond to receive Jesus body and blood, in with and under the bread and wine, simply because He invites you to be filled with His forgiveness of your many sins. And one day, maybe sooner than you think the Lord’s eternal Banquet Table in Paradise will be the only table we are invited to sit at, because this earth bound altar will cease to exist.
So, will you be there, at the banquet in heaven? Yes by grace alone! But listen, God doesn’t want you to be satisfied with just your seat or just your mansion in heaven, He also wants you to go out and invite others to join you. You can do that as you let His forgiving love live in you and pass through you. You can do that as you invite others to come with you to this place of worship so that they too can experience the very same thing. I pray that you will do this very thing… in Jesus name… AMEN!