August 26 2012 Sermon B
And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.” 13 And the Lord said: ” Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, 14 therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” 15 Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” 16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? 17 Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? 18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. 19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, one a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector would not lift up his eyes, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner?’ This man went down to his house justified, but the other went home unforgiven.” (Luke 18:9-14).
How do you come to pray? How do you come to worship? Do you come to compare yourself with the person sitting over there? Do you ever just speak the words of the liturgy by rote without thinking about what you are saying? Do you ever say the prayers, and sing the hymns while your mind is wandering? Do you ever wonder how that guy sitting across from you could do the things he does or say the things he says and still call himself a believer? He doesn’t act like a Christian. He doesn’t talk like a Christian. What kind of a Christian is he? He doesn’t pray much. He sleeps through the sermon. He doesn’t come to Bible class. He doesn’t do works like helping the poor. He gets angry and has a terrible attitude. Do you ever think about how much better your worship is because you use the liturgies in the hymnal, while other churches do not? Do you ever brag that we follow all the traditions and customs of the church, but others just do whatever they want? We could go on and on.
If any of these describe you, then you are the one who will go down to your house unforgiven. You are the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. You are the one who God says “draws near with your mouth and honors me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.”
Going through the motions, saying all the right words, praying the right prayers, standing and sitting at the right time, and keeping the traditions and ceremonies is not true worship. External actions, outwardly religious behavior, doing the right things if it does not come from the heart does not honor God. As God says, “these people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Luther says, “You do not have a god if you just call him God outwardly with your lips, or worship him with the knees or bodily gestures.”
Jesus tells us, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” (Mat 9:13). The Pharisee did all the right things, he fasted, he tithed, he offered the sacrifices, kept all the dietary laws, and observed all the holy days, he was not a sinner, but he went home unforgiven. You do all the right things, you pray the right prayers, you sing the right hymns, you use the right liturgies. Could it be that you also go home unforgiven?
Jesus says, “Love [God] with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mat 12:33). God “desires steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos 6:6). He desires love and mercy, not sacrifice. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Ps 51:16017). So confess your sin. Confess your hollow worship, your mindless prayers, your judgmental attitudes toward others in the congregation, and your hard, angry hearts that bear grudges.
True worship is not kneeling and standing and crossing yourself at the right times. True worship is not doing great deeds or acting religious or doing religious service. As St. Paul says: “If I speak in tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Cor 13:1-3). So worship is not just doing all the right things, it is love for God and love for neighbor. True liturgy is forgiving your neighbor when he sins against you. It is caring for your neighbor. It is having compassion. Worship is not doing great and mighty deeds and performing wonders and miracles. It is living in vocation, doing the daily, routine things God has given you, like loving your wife, caring for your children, being honest in business, being a faithful worker on the job. In these daily, routine, and mundane tasks we perform a higher service to the Lord than all “high and might holy people” who try to impress us with their healings and miracles and great deeds of piety put together. “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” (I Sam 15:22-23).
Isaiah tells us, “We turn things upside down. Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” We act as if God, our creator, had no right to judge us. As if God who made us has no right to punish us for our disobedience. As if we were free and independent of him so we can do as we please. But he is the potter, and the potter has every right to toss out the clay and shatter the vessel that doesn’t turn out right.
But he didn’t! He says, “I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder….” He takes the one who honors him only with the lips and by bent knee, the messed up clay and the failed pottery that we are, and he remakes us; reshapes us; molds us into something new, something wonderful, something pleasing to him. He has done something wonderful. If we turned things upside down, he has turned them right side up. This is the liturgy of God. This is the Divine Liturgy. True worship is to repent of sin and seek God. True Liturgy is the Divine liturgy of God, God’s service to mankind. True liturgy is Jesus Christ becoming a man and taking our sin upon himself; absorbing it into his human flesh and paying for it in his body. He has paid your debt. He has suffered and died on a cross to pay for your sin. This is true liturgy. Liturgy is God serving you, his people. He has made you his own through his death and resurrection and claimed you as his child by Baptism. He has taken the broken pottery and the ruined clay and made it new and beautiful, and he is pleased with his work in you. You are pleasing to him on account of the sacrifice of his Son.
So the liturgy of the Divine Service on Sunday morning is not something you do. It is not praying the right prayers and going through the motions, for then it would be your liturgy. But, it is not yours! It is God’s liturgy, and in it, God is serving you. It is God coming down from heaven to be present in this place to give you his mercy and compassion. For he does not desire sacrifice, but mercy. He had mercy on you and sacrificed his very own Son to save you from his punishment. And that is what the liturgy is all about. It is you gathering together in God’s presence in order to seek him, seek his love, seek his compassion, seek his help. It is here in his Word that he gives you those things. For here, in the Divine Liturgy on Sunday the Lord calls out, “Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.” Therefore we come to him, for he is the Lord our God. (Jer 3:22). The liturgy is not honoring God with our lips, or going through the motions of religion, but it is God’s heartfelt desire to heal our wounded lives. That is why we come. And that healing is what we receive.
So come to confess your sins and to seek his grace. The liturgy is God at work in you and for you. It is God giving you his grace and forgiveness. It is God doing wonderful things with his people, wonder upon wonder. It is God opening your ears to hear the words of his Book. It is God taking you out of your gloom and darkness so that the eyes of the blind shall see. “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord.” “The poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” (text). It is in God’s liturgy of the Divine Service that he shapes and forms his broken pottery back into good vessels for his service. Remaking those hard hearts that are cold and far from him. Recreating those bitter hearts that can’t have mercy and compassion on their fellow man. For it is not sacrifices and offerings he desires, but mercy and compassion.
Then your liturgy can begin: the liturgy of your hands serving one another. The liturgy of your mouths speaking peace and forgiving sins. Your liturgy of your lips comforting and encourage. It is a liturgy of your heart loving your neighbor. A liturgy of your feet going the extra mile for someone.
So come! Seek God with your heart. And Go! Serve your neighbor with your hands. Amen.