Sermon from 28th Mar 2021 (Palm/Passion)

Mark 15:15 (EHV)

15 Since he wanted to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. After he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may trust the crucifixion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is all the satisfaction we need. Amen.

Are you satisfied?

I mean, really satisfied?

Most people aren’t. Most of us are always searching for a little more.

If we understand satisfaction to mean we’ve judged that we have enough or that we have sufficient, then we’re not always satisfied. As the Rolling Stones sang so long ago: “I can’t get no satisfaction!”

We know we’re not satisfied because we keep looking through the catalogues, we keep paying attention to those adverts, we keep searching for things over the internet, we keep longing to go on holidays to our dream destinations, and we keep walking through shops wondering how our life might be a little bit happier, a little more fulfilled, or a little easier if only we had the latest gadget, or the latest updated model, or the latest home improvement item, and so on. We keep seeing what other people have and we’re tempted to want what they have. We want something more than what we have.

This means, if any of us are looking to replace or add something to our life, then we’re not satisfied.

But our desire to be satisfied goes beyond just having more things or having more satisfying experiences.

We also want to satisfy people, or we’re looking for people to satisfy us.

We might want to satisfy people around us for a number of reasons.

We want to make people happy, because if we make people happy, then they might like us, accept us, or love us. They might consider we’re worthy and good enough for them if we’re able to satisfy them. For this reason, satisfying people can help our sense of self-worth and can makes us feel accepted and valued by others.

But we also want to make people happy because it might make our own life easier. This is why we have such sayings as “Happy wife, happy life!” We figure our own life is more likely to be trouble free and enjoyable if we keep everyone around us satisfied. For this reason we might try to avoid conflict, disagreements, confrontations and difficult subjects, just to keep everyone else happy. If they’re happy, then we think we’re happy, even if we’re silently fuming inside.

We also don’t like letting people down because we feel as if we’re in debt to someone else. If we’ve let someone down, we feel as if we’re not satisfactory and have to make up for our inadequacy. For this reason we may avoid committing ourselves to volunteer, or help out, or serve on a committee. If we don’t have to satisfy anyone’s expectations, then we’ll feel satisfied.

If we have to satisfy others and then later discover we’ve let someone down, then we may feel insecure and unworthy. We feel our worth is being questioned or threatened. And so we may be tempted to work hard to make up for any of our short-comings just so we might satisfy them and live in peace and contentment.

We might also want people to satisfy us for a number of reasons.

As selfish and self-centred people, we often want people around us to satisfy us and our desires. If they let us down or don’t give us what we want, we question their care, their compassion, their understanding, or their love for us.

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us have high expectations for those around us. We want our children to perform or keep up with certain standards. We want our politicians to perform up to our standard. We want our church leaders to be exemplary and without fault. If any of them let us down, we expect them to try harder or we feel justified in our judgments against them.

Unfortunately, our dissatisfaction in so many areas of our life leads to a big spiritual problem.

The spiritual problem with not being satisfied is that, when we fear not being satisfied in anything or anyone except God, or when we desire to be satisfied in anything or anyone else apart from God, or when we criticise or condemn people who have been made in the image of God, or when we trust we won’t be satisfied with God until we get what we want, then we’ve broken the 1st Commandment (along with a number of others). Our fears and desires to be satisfied (or to satisfy those around us) shows we don’t trust God and we’re not content with what he gives us.

Understanding a little about the spiritual problem we have when we want to satisfy ourselves (or when we want to satisfy others), today we hear how Pontius Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowds. Apart from our Triune God, he’s one of only two people we refer to in our Creeds. The other is the Virgin Mary.

As we listen to the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we’re given the impression Pilate felt under pressure. He wanted to keep the crowds happy. For the sake of his own comfort and happiness and job security he needed to satisfy the crowds.

Just like so many politicians of past, present, and future, he bowed to public pressure for his own sake. He decided a criminal would go free and an innocent person would pay the ultimate price to keep everyone, including himself, happy. Those who shouted the loudest got what they wanted. The crowd was satisfied with the cruel and painful punishment dished out on Jesus.

We might feel justified on judging or criticising Pilate. He seemed weak and spineless. He did what the outspoken people wanted. Maybe we think we would have done differently if we were in his shoes, but we fail to realise how easily we also bow to the need to satisfy those around us or how much we’re willing to sacrifice things and people just to satisfy ourselves.

In the end, despite the fact these words describe how Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd seems to criticise Pilate’s decision, there’s an ironic and divine twist to these few words.

You see, someone else was also satisfied. He’s not mentioned in the text, but the implication of Jesus’ crucifixion, and what it means for us and our eternal relationship with God, meant that he also needed to be satisfied.

If we understand satisfaction in this case to mean the crucifixion and death of Jesus is enough and what he did for us is sufficient, then God the Father is satisfied. If he’s satisfied, then there’s nothing more for us to pay. There’s nothing more for us to do. What Jesus did for us is enough. There’s no longer the need for any more animal or human sacrifices. There’s no longer any need for us to make up for what we’ve done. Jesus is the last and all-sufficient sacrifice for the forgiveness of all our sins. The need for God to punish our sins was fully satisfied by the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So yes, in an ironic twist, through Pilate’s decision the crowds were satisfied by the crucifixion of Jesus, we are satisfied that we’re forgiven and go free through faith in the crucifixion of Jesus, and God is satisfied with the obedient death of Jesus. He has paid the full price of death for you and me and his death is all sufficient.

In a sense, Barabbas wasn’t the only criminal set free that day. Through faith in the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins we were also set free. We’re set free from the bondage to sin, death and the devil. We receive the benefits of his death and the forgiveness of our sins through faith trusting his death is all sufficient.

Our Lutheran Confessions confirm this and teach that we no longer need to satisfy God by making up for our sin. As Article IV of the Augsburg Confession says:

‘It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.

So, while we might be tempted to criticise Pilate’s decision, God’s work of forgiveness, life and salvation was being done through him. You and I are satisfied as we receive the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

But you might be wondering then how does this affect our own need to be satisfied?

Well, in regards to us feeling we’re not good enough for those around us, and our fears that we can’t satisfy them, we believe and trust we’re forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ death. His payment of blood is enough. His forgiveness is enough. His adoption of us as God’s children is enough. His cleansing of our hearts is enough. His promise of eternal life is enough. We’re secure in our identity through faith in Christ and gladly believe his promises and receive holy gifts.

In regards to us feeling we’re not satisfied by those around us, we believe that since Jesus’ death is enough for us, then it’s also enough for those around us. Through faith we can let go of our own need to be satisfied and forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Our forgiveness of those around us is a powerful witness that we believe the death of Jesus is enough and is sufficient.

In regards to the temptations all around us and the feeling we don’t have enough belongings or experiences or health or strength and so on, how might we feel satisfied with what we have? Well, the antidote here is thankfulness. When we’re thankful for what we have, then we’re also satisfied with what God has provided us. What God gives us is enough.

So, coming back to the question I asked earlier, are you satisfied, I mean, really satisfied?

And more specifically, are you really satisfied with what Jesus did for you?

If so, may…

… the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 21st Mar 2021 (Lent 5)

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (EHV)

31 Yes, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt.

They broke that covenant of mine, although I was a husband to them, declares the Lord.

33 But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord.

I will put my law in their minds, and I will write it on their hearts.

I will be their God, and they will be my people.

34 No longer will each one teach his neighbor, or each one teach his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord, for I will forgive their guilt, and I will remember their sins no more.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may learn how to forgive like you forgive us for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever heard or said something like this: “Oh sure, I can forgive him, but I’m not going to forget what he’s done to me!”?

Or you may have heard or said something like: “Well, if you can’t forget what he’s done, then maybe you haven’t forgiven him!”

Is this common?

While it’s true we often link forgiving and forgetting, we don’t always understand what it means to ‘forgive’, what it means to ‘not remember’, and what the relationship is between the two, at least not from a biblical perspective.

So, let’s firstly consider what it means to ‘remember’ something or someone.

In this case, ‘remembering’ isn’t normally just a mental exercise because it can also include emotional and physical reactions.

For example, you may have seen a child hurt themselves by touching something hot. The next time they reach for something hot, and they remember what happened previously, they might reach for it but then pull back their hand quickly (or even point to it) and say ‘ouch!’. Their mind, and body, remembers the important lesson learnt about not touching hot things.

Even as adults, it’s common that we might hear a song from the past, smell a certain aroma, see a photo, or are reunited with a favourite toy from our childhood, and we can begin to re-live our memories from the past which might evoke emotional, and even physical responses.

‘Remembering’ then can have the power to bring a past historic event into the present to the point you may re-live some of that older experience. This is why we find it so hard to forgive people when they hurt us, and why we find it so hard to forget. We don’t want to be hurt again, and so we use our mental, emotional and physical memories to teach us how to avoid future pain.

But, because we want to learn from that past event and keep remembering it this way, we end up re-living it over, and over again, because our ‘remembering’ causes our minds and bodies to react in such a way that historic event is still very much with us in the present tense.

This is why you still get those shivers down the spine, those sweats of fear, those nightmarish recollections, and those unexplainable reactions whenever someone, or something, reminds you of a painful memory. This is why a name, a word, a sight, a movie scene, a song, or a smell can evoke such emotional and physical reactions for you. This is why some of you are still hurting over past events. Those memories are still very real, very much present, and very powerful.

The problem is that, while your memories still cause you to respond in these ways, the past event still has power over you. Whenever you ‘remember’ in such a way that you re-live your natural responses of flight or fight, then your fears have become your controlling force which take over your mind, emotions and body. When you ‘remember’ in such a way that you despair of your current or future relationships, then your fears have taken hostage of your hope and joy and peace. Your fears will want to stop you from forgiving and reconciling with your enemies.

But you might wonder how you can possibly forget what’s happened to you. How might you truly move on from that past event so that it no longer evokes such a powerful response for you? What has to happen to your memories of the past so they don’t affect you still today without losing the important lessons you learned from them?

Well, this is where forgiveness comes in. And since the only true source of forgiveness is from God, we need to learn what forgiveness from God looks like before we can apply it to our own situations.

In God’s case, he doesn’t say he’s forgotten your sins. God doesn’t forgive and forget. He says he forgives and doesn’t remember, which is a significant difference. After all, God doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. He’s not like a forgetful person who keeps forgetting where he’s left his car keys or even where he’s recorded your sins. Instead, he says he won’t remember.

When he says he will ‘not remember’, this means he’s chosen to no longer dwell on anything you’ve done which has hurt him, he’s not going to recall how you’ve damaged your relationship with him, and he’s not going to remind himself of how you neglected or caused offence to those who are important to him. He chooses to no longer re-live or re-experience the pain or heartache of what you’ve done. He can do this because his love for you is more powerful than his anger toward you.

This means, once you’re forgiven by him, those sins will never be recalled again to bother him, trouble you, or hinder your relationship with him. He doesn’t hold a list of all your sins to flash in front of you to make you feel guilty or ashamed. They’re no longer recalled to mind, and so he won’t use them against you.

So, while you may remember what you’ve done (which may still bother your conscience), God doesn’t. He’s forgiven you and chooses to no longer remember what you’ve done or failed to do. Whatever happened between you and him has been wiped clean.

Now, as to you not remembering, well, you can’t do that, and he hasn’t commanded you to. There’s no command in the bible which says you have to forget what anyone has done to you. You don’t have to forgive and forget. But that doesn’t mean God wants your memories to have so much power over you.

The answer for your powerful memories is forgiveness, but not in the way most people understand forgiveness.

You see, when most people talk about forgiveness, they talk as if it’s up to them to forgive, as if the power and authority to forgive has to come from inside ourselves. But the simple fact is, you and I simply don’t have the power and authority to forgive, because only God has the power and authority to forgive.

I mean, if it were up to us, we don’t want to forgive because we want the ones who hurt us to suffer for what they’ve done. And so, we attempt to use our hurt and pain as a bargaining chip for them to make up for what they’ve done. This means, as long as we still consider ourselves as the victim, we can justify all sorts of cruel responses until we feel they’ve paid for their crimes against us (which may never happen).

But what’s really going on here is this: our unforgiveness is an attempt to place ourselves above God and tell him that the other person doesn’t deserve, and shouldn’t receive any forgiveness.

Even when we say we have trouble forgiving ourselves for what we’ve done, it’s because we refuse to believe God could, or would, forgive us. It’s also because we want to have the last word and the final say about who deserves or doesn’t deserve any forgiveness.

Similarly, if we can’t forgive someone else, it’s because we’ve judged them as ‘guilty’ and refuse to believe that even God could possibly forgive them, which means we reckon they deserve any punishment we might come up with and won’t let them off the hook, even if they confess their sins to us. We won’t forgive them, even if God says he forgives them, because we want to have the last word.

The problem is that, if we want to have the last word on forgiving ourselves or forgiving those around us, then we want to be the god who decides who should and shouldn’t be forgiven. This means our refusal to forgive (or be forgiven) is because we’re disobeying the first commandment on having no other gods!

But we forget that forgiveness can only truly come from God who pays the price for our forgiveness through his Son’s willing sacrifice for us. We don’t have the last word. God does!

So, where does this leave us if we don’t really have the power or authority to forgive (even though we think we do)? Where does this leave us if we’re refusing to believe God’s forgiveness of ourselves or those around us? Well, the Lord’s Prayer gives us an important hint about forgiveness.

We pray ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. Similarly, elsewhere in the bible we’re told to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

This means the starting point for your forgiveness toward others is God’s forgiveness toward you. When you believe and rejoice in God’s forgiveness, which includes the fact he no longer remembers what you’ve said or done or thought (or even should have said or done or thought), then you can ask God to help you forgive those who have hurt you like he’s already forgiven you.

This is because forgiveness is a miracle of God which humans can only truly do with the help of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is a gift of faith and a by-product of you believing you’ve been forgiven by God.

When you’re able to forgive as you’ve been forgiven, it doesn’t mean you no longer ‘remember’ what happened, but your memories no longer have such power over you. This is because, by forgiving them, you’ve let go of your need for revenge and your need to see them punished, which releases the destructive power of those memories. Jesus has paid the blood price so that you, and they, don’t have to. Your remembering of what Jesus has done for you for the forgiveness of your sins will replace your remembering of what they did to you.

This means you can forgive those who have hurt you and yet still know your forgiveness doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to hurt you again. Similarly, with dangerous, abusive, or toxic relationships, your forgiveness also doesn’t mean you have to be fully restored to that relationship.

Forgiveness means trusting God’s love and mercy and forgiveness so much that you no longer need to cling to your anger, your fears, your pain, and your heartaches. You let them go, after all, they’re hurting you more than they’re hurting the other person.

You don’t have to forgive and forget. But, with God’s help, you can forgive and ‘no longer remember’ in such a way that your memories will no longer have power to make you keep on re-living the suffering you currently experience.

When you forgive as God has forgiven you, you’ll even be able to talk about those past events as memories which have been wiped clean by God because they don’t threaten you any longer. You’ve learnt from them, but they no longer bear that sting or those shudders or those sweats.

Instead, they’re times and places and people who may have crushed or broken you in the past, only for you to be restored, renewed, and made whole again through faith in Jesus. They’re people and moments and places where the redemptive power of God came into your life to forgive you, heal you and restore your hope.

This is because God loves you so much that he sent his own Son Jesus to suffer and die in your place so that you might be forgiven. This is because he calls you to believe he chooses to no longer remember what you’ve done against him and those around you. This is because he invites you to replace your memories of past sins with new memories of what Jesus has done for you as you ‘do this in memory of me’ as that historic moment in history becomes a present action where you receive your Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

And by the grace of God, may he also help you to forgive as you’ve been forgiven so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in the forgiveness established by Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 14th Mar 2021 (Lent 4)

John 3:14-21 (EHV)

14 Jesus said: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. 19 This is the basis for the judgment: The light has come into the world, yet people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20 In fact, everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, or else his deeds would be exposed. 21 But the one who does what is true comes toward the light, in order that his deeds may be seen as having been done in connection with God.”

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may believe in the One who was lifted up for us and so receive eternal life for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The following may be real or imagined situations:

A man lies in intensive care in hospital. He’s had emergency surgery and now fights for his life. His wife sits alongside holding his hand. She’s been there with him for the whole time; watching, sitting, thinking, praying, and crying. She looks for any sign of hope on the monitors and in his face, but the broken man in front of her doesn’t offer her much hope. There’s an occasional good sign, but it’s usually followed by other signs that strip away that hope from her once again. She feels the darkness of grief building in her. As her hope fades, she hangs her head in despair.

A young woman cries herself to sleep. Well, at least she’s hoping sleep will come. She’s been abused and picked on by people she thought were friends. Her parents weren’t able to protect her, in fact, her parents have also hurt her. When she told them, they didn’t seem to care. No one seems to care. All she wants is to be loved, but the attention she received was anything but loving. As a result, she feels unloved, lonely, filthy, and ugly. Her hope for a life filled with joy and love seems futile. She feels she’s not worth anything to anyone, and any hope of friendship and love she was looking for from others is just a sham. As her hope diminishes, she curls up into a ball with her face tucked into her body and sobs.

A man sits in his car late at night. Clothes are strewn in crumpled piles all through the car. He and his wife had fought again, but this time she threw him out. There’s been so many fights; too many arguments, and so little love and forgiveness. Images of his distraught and horrified children looking through the windows now haunt him. He knows it’s not all his fault, but he also knows much of it is his fault. He worked so hard, perhaps on the wrong priorities, but the result is loneliness, guilt, and shame. He feels powerless, lost, and terribly isolated. Even though he sits alone, it’s almost as if the fight goes on as the arguments echo around in his head. He feels there’s no hope of love and joy and peace anymore, and he hangs his head in disgrace and despair.

A mother wails long into the night while her husband sits with a blank yet tortured face beside her. One of their children has died in a car accident. The dreams they had for their child’s future have been dashed. Instead of planning weddings and celebrations, they need to arrange a funeral. They feel angry. They feel numb. They feel as if, when they bury their child, they’re also burying their hopes and dreams. They both lean toward each other, and hang their heads on each other’s shoulders, and pour out their grief in their own ways.

These are just a few examples of how so many feel the brokenness of sinful humanity. So many are in trouble. So many strained or shattered relationships. So many stung by the inevitability of death. So many are without hope. Sooner or later, they all hang their heads. Their faces point toward their belly buttons, but there’s no hope there. Despite what they say in books and movies and TV shows, hope never comes from within.

You see, that place within is where we hide all our secrets, shame, and guilt. There’s darkness and selfishness and hidden secrets within. Within is where we attempt to hide the darkness of sins committed by us as well as those sins committed against us. These hidden shames and guilts don’t like to remain hidden as they leach out through our nightmares and memories to cripple our hearts and minds and relationships.

What’s so unfortunate for many of us is that we don’t always let the light of Christ shine on much of the darkness we’ve hidden within. We think it’s better left there, ignored, overlooked, or disregarded, but while it sits there within, it leaks like a poison to steal our self-worth, our peace, our joy, and our hope. If hope is to be found anywhere in this troubled world, it’s not going to be found within us. It needs to come from outside of ourselves.

Today we hear part of a conversation happening in the dark night hours between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. In this conversation Jesus refers to the Old Testament reading we had today where the Israelites had been grumbling again, and this time God sent them something to really grumble about. He sent them snakes. They had a particularly painful bite and many people died. In response they confessed their sin and asked God to take the snakes away. Like many of us, their hope was in the disappearance of all their troubles.

But what happened next wasn’t what we expected. We might expect our patient and loving God to take away the snakes, but he didn’t. Instead, he asked for one more snake to enter the camp. In this case, the snake was made of bronze. If anyone took their gaze away from their own belly button and pains and instead looked up to the snake fixed on a pole, they would live.

This meant that, while the source of all their pain and misery wasn’t taken away, they were given hope. All they had to do was shift their gaze to their promised hope. By looking to this snake lifted up on the pole while trusting God’s promise, they would be saved.

What Jesus says to Nicodemus is, like the snake on the pole was lifted up to give the Israelites hope, the Son of Man would also be lifted up to give all people hope. Anyone who believes in him will have eternal life, no matter what troubles or pains or sorrows they’re facing. Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish, as long as people take their gaze away from their own misery, sorrow, grief, and pain, and look instead to Jesus Christ who was lifted up on the cross, and trust in him, they will live. The source of their pain and misery won’t disappear, but now they’ll have hope.

Now, perhaps we want all the bad things in this world to go away. We pray for healing, but sometimes it doesn’t come. We pray for miracle cancer cures, but sometimes people still die. We pray God will protect our young on the roads, but accidents still happen. We pray for those who are married, but some marriages still break down. We pray for our world to get back to some normality in response to the Coronavirus, but it will remain with us.

When God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to, we might feel angry toward him and accuse him of injustice. This is natural. But the fact he doesn’t take all the bad and evil away from us doesn’t mean he’s against us. It’s just the reality of living in a world tainted by the ugliness and destructiveness of sin, but our troubles also force us to look for hope. Our true and lasting hope isn’t found within us, or found in the troubles which continue to encircle us, but our hope is in the One who suffered, died, and was raised to new life for us.

God’s miracle cure on the cross of Christ wasn’t to make our lives perfect in this broken world because we still live in bodies infected by sin. But the hope we’re to look to is the fact that there on the cross Jesus offers forgiveness for all our sins through his loving sacrifice. There on the cross everything necessary for our salvation has been finished, which we accept by faith. There on the cross (and later in the empty grave) he gives us hope of life eternal in a new creation untainted by sin and its ugly effects. When we look to Jesus on the cross we see he was lifted there to assure us of God’s love and mercy, which gives us hope as we face our own suffering and death.

When you’re troubled by the scars of sin in this world, don’t look for hope in those scars, but look for hope in the One who still bears the scars of sinful human beings for you.

When you’re beaten and abused by others in this world, don’t look for hope in the bruises on your bodies or hearts, but look for hope in the One beaten and bruised for you.

When relationships break down and you feel betrayed, don’t look for hope in the arguments or the separations, but look for hope in the One who was betrayed, denied and forsaken for you.

When you’re struggling with guilt or shame, don’t look for hope in your regrets, but look for hope in the forgiveness of your sins by the One who paid the penalty of all your sins for you.

When you’re struggling to forgive others for the way they hurt you, don’t look for hope in your own demands for justice, but see the radical justice of God displayed on the cross as Jesus suffers and dies for them too so that they might be forgiven.

When your loved ones die, don’t look for hope in their death, but look for hope in the death and resurrection of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who died and rose again for you.

We lift up the crosses in our churches to remind us not to look at, or within, ourselves for hope, joy, peace or life, but we’re to lift our gaze from our own bellies and look to Jesus Christ alone for our hope, our joy, our forgiveness, our cleansing, our peace, and our life.

As we look to the cross, which is lifted up, we’re reminded God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn us, but he sent his Son into the world in order to save us through him who was lifted up for all people.

Just like hope is likened to a light shining on a dark and stormy night, Jesus is your light of hope and life who now shines in your own darkened lives. Don’t look to the darkness, because there’s no hope there, but look instead to the Light of the world. Raise your eyes to look to your Lord and Saviour and trust him. He is your only hope in a world filled with so much darkness and despair.

Which is why the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 7th Mar 2021 (Lent 3)

Exodus 20:1-6 (ISV) 

1God spoke all these words: 

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt— from the house of slavery. 3 You are to have no other gods as a substitute for me. 

4 “You are not to craft for yourselves an idol or anything resembling what is in the skies above, or on earth beneath, or in the water sources under the earth. 5 You are not to bow down to them in worship or serve them, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the guilt of parents on children, to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing gracious love to the thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not place our trust in anything or anyone else but our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. 

If I asked if you’ve ever made an idol for yourself, most likely you’d say ‘no’. 

You’d probably say ‘no’ because most people think an idol is like a little statue of a god, like a little ‘Buddha’ or ‘Golden Calf’. And while some of you may even have little statues or figurines in your gardens or homes, you’ve probably never thought of them as a god or offered sacrifices to them! 

For this reason you might figure you don’t worship an idol. 

But what if I were to challenge you by saying it’s not just your hands that can make an idol. What if your heart can also make an idol? 

An idol could then be anything your heart relies on, desires to get, or trusts in, which isn’t the one true God. Martin Luther agrees, and said, ‘Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.’ (Large Catechism I, 3)  

So then, it seems your heart can both trust in the one true God, but it can also make an idol, especially if you understand an idol is anything your heart is clinging to, relying on, or desiring over, which is not God. 

In this case, one test to see if you have an idol or not, is to consider anything you might have (or want to have) which you can’t do without. The test becomes real when you consider how you react when something or someone you’re relying on is taken away. 

Now, in this case I’m not talking about the essentials of life, such as air or food or water. I’m talking about the things your heart clings to. This could be an object, a person, or even a concept. 

For example, let’s say someone smashes into your car. Now, no matter how precious you might think your car is, no-one here would think their car is an idol which they worship. You may also figure if something ever happened to your car, you have insurance to fix or replace it, so there shouldn’t be any problem there. 

But what would it mean for you if you couldn’t use your car? Would it be an inconvenience, or a major catastrophe? If you couldn’t use your car to get around in, it might be a big pain in the behind, but most of you would survive. But for some it might be different, and in this case it’s not so much about the car, but what it represents.  

What if your car represented your independence, your freedom, your status, or something else? For instance, you might really struggle having to rely on others and be a bother to them. This might upset you a lot. You don’t want to inconvenience anyone, and you don’t want to be inconvenienced. It could be your heart has learnt to rely on yourself and your access to a car. 

So, if you couldn’t use your car, for whatever reason, you may grieve the loss of your car more than you first realised. It’s not that your car was so important, or that it was an idol in itself, but your reliance on it in order to maintain your independence, your freedom, or even your identity as a person who is willing to be there for others in order to help out so that you feel valued and appreciated, could become a form of an idol. 

Now, of course you’re not relying on your car for salvation, but your dependence and reliance on having your car could result in a very strong reaction if it, or your ability to use it, is taken away.  

When you have strong reactions to losing something, it means your heart felt it needed it for some reason. If your heart feels it needs something, then it could be that God isn’t the only good thing you’re relying on. In this case, God becomes jealous because you’re flirting with someone or something else to supply your perceived needs. 

Now you may want to argue with me by saying God loves to give us many good things and blesses us with many possessions, and yes, I’d agree. If God didn’t want you to own anything, then there’d be no need for the seventh commandment about stealing, and no need for the ninth and tenth commandments about not coveting, because no one would have anything to steal or covet. 

God also created all things for our good. He wants us to enjoy his many wonderful blessings through his gifts to us, but if we start to rely on them so much that our heart grieves terribly if they’re taken away or threatened, then they could represent an idol for us.  

It may not be because they themselves are an idol, but they represent something which we’re relying on for our own good. We may be relying on what God creates and gives us, rather than on God himself. 

Now, maybe you’re not yet convinced, so let’s consider another example – this time a concept. 

Let’s say you desire to have a good sense of self-worth. This is a bit more intangible which doesn’t rely on you having to have any particular object. For this reason, you’ll rarely find a little statuette representing your ‘self-worth’ in your homes, but that doesn’t mean your heart isn’t set on it. 

I can also say seeking to have a good sense of self-worth isn’t a bad thing in itself, in fact you might agree God wants you to have a good sense of self-worth and doesn’t want you to feel worthless or stupid or inferior or foolish.  

But what do you do if you don’t feel worthy enough for God, or for those around you? How do you react when you feel your own sense of self-worth is being challenged because of health issues, a change in circumstances, or because of something you, or someone else, has done which threatens your feelings of self-worth? 

For example, do you ‘beat yourself up’? Do you criticise, judge, or want to punish others for suggesting you’re not as good as you thought you were? Do you experience bouts of hopelessness or depression? Do you wonder how people could possibly love you? In response to your doubts of self-worth, do you try to do things, such as lie or cheat or manipulate others through emotional outbursts so that they might consider you worthy of their attention? Do you doubt God’s love for you and so, in order to feel worthy of his love, you promise to do things for him, hoping you could make up or earn his love? 

Could it be that your need for a feeling of self-worth has become so important that you no longer look to God in order to feel complete and worthy? Could it be what others think or say about you, or even what you think about yourself, has become more important to you than what God says about you? Could it be Christ’s covering of his holy, innocent, and perfect blood, which makes you worthy and righteous and pure in God’s eyes, is no longer enough for you? Could it be your status as a holy and precious child of God isn’t sufficient or adequate for you? 

When our heart clings to anything else than God himself and what he supplies through the words and work of Jesus Christ, it’s most likely making an idol, even if there’s no little golden ornament to prove it. Our jealous, selfish, and self-centred actions and reactions alone prove our hearts are trusting idols! 

Our hearts are idol factories which not only love to crave what God has forbidden for us, but our hearts also love to turn the good things of God (which he loves to give us by grace), into essential things we have to have in order to feel whole and complete and happy and fulfilled.  

Even our desire to be good little Christians who figure God loves us because of our goodness and faithfulness can become an idol because our heart often wants to cling to self-righteousness rather than the objective righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is given as a free and undeserved gift through faith alone. 

In this way our hearts learn to rely on the gifts more than the Giver. The created things become more essential than the One who created themOur words and works become more holy and virtuous than the words and work of Jesus Christ. Our hearts become clogged with worthless idols, and it shows in the way we treat each other and the way we relate to God. 

For this reason, Jesus wants to come to the temples of our hearts and clean them out. He’s rightly angry about the idols we gather and cling to in our hearts. The more idols our hearts make and rely on, the less room there is for the words and work of Christ alone. 

In this case the answer for our idol-making hearts is repentance and faith.  

We repent of everything we’ve learnt to rely on or desire which isn’t God himself.  

We repent of the way we treat each other because they didn’t give us our hearts desires.  

We repent of the way we didn’t fear, love or trust God above all things. 

But the other part of the answer is looking to God in faith.  

We trust Jesus is able to cleanse our hearts from the idols which lead us to sin, and so he can create pure and clean hearts which look to him alone to satisfy all our deepest needs.  

We trust Jesus’ work of obedience is all-sufficient to make up for all the times we fail to keep God’s commands, because only Jesus alone is truly able to love God and keep his commands for us.  

We trust Jesus took the guilt of all our idolatry and paid the full punishment for our sins.  

We trust his suffering and death on the cross paid for the full propitiation for all the ways we hurt God and those around us because they got in the way of what we desired. 

We trust in the forgiveness of God who shows his gracious love to thousands of those who, because they’ve received the righteousness of Christ through faith, love him and keep his commands.  

We trust God alone is our hope, our joy, our strength, our shelter, our solitude, our redeemer, our defender, our comforter, and the One who promises us wholeness, completeness, and health, especially in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our hearts are idol factories which don’t want to fear, love and trust God above all things, but the antidote for our idolatrous hearts is repentance and faith in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who supplies everything we need for our forgiveness, life and salvation through his Word and Holy Sacraments. 

As we fear, love and trust God above all things, may… 

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.