October 14 2012 Sermon
Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
He was young, he was rich, he was a ruler of the Jews which means he held a position of authority in the church. Everyone respected him. He was a good man who had lots of friends. He was honest, trustworthy, faithful to his wife and his neighbors. A leader in the community. And he was well educated in the faith and knew his Bible front to back.
He was looking for the kingdom of God to be revealed, and wanted assurance that on the day of the Lord he would be included among those who were saved and would enter into the courts of the Lord forever.
Today came his chance. The great rabbi was coming down the road. An up-and-coming new teacher who was gaining in popularity by the day. Some called him a prophet. Some called him Elijah who was to return. Some called him the Messiah. And like the prophets he did miracles which proved that he was from God. He had the spirit of God on him. So this rich, young, ruler runs up to the teacher with the question that was burning in his mind, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus reviews what he learned in Confirmation class: you know the commandments. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother. This young man had kept all of these commandments since childhood. He was faithful and obedient to God and to his church. He did not sin. At worst maybe a mistake now and then, but no real sins to confess. He was righteous. He had a position of authority in the church, one of the church leaders. He was knowledgeable of the Bible. Perhaps the top of his class in Confirmation. He had it all going for him. He expected Jesus to commend him. He was waiting to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” He is you!
But Jesus responded, “You lack one thing.”
“What? I lack something? That’s not possible!”
“Go, Sell all that you have and give to the poor, then come, follow me.”
But that was the one thing he couldn’t do. He had great possessions, and giving up all that wealth and riches for the poor was over the top. He was willing to do anything for God but that was too much. Jesus was setting the bar too high. He couldn’t possibly give up everything for God. So he went away sorrowful. What a miserable creature. So close, but yet so far. He could not give up what he loved most. He could not give it all to the poor. His wealth was the one thing he loved more than God.
Just like you! You and I don’t love God that much. There is no way we would willingly give up everything to help the poor. No matter how good you are; no matter how learned in the Bible, how much you have studied, no matter how high a position you have in the church or how much authority, you all lack one thing. You don’t love God with all our heart and you don’t love our neighbor as ourselves. We are not ready to give up everything for God. We have all ignored opportunites to help those in need. We have all been less than perfect in our vocation. We have all failed at some time to do good to our neighbor. We have all been stingy with our possessions and unwilling to share them with others, especially if they are outside our family or circle of friends. We all have, in the words of Amos, “trampled on the poor and turned justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth.” You are the rich, young man!
And what was it that he lacked? Our reading from Hebrews tells us to take care, lest there be in any an unbelieving heart. Unbelief! That’s the key word. Lack of faith. What is it that the young man lacked? He lacked faith. His lack of love for others is not the real issue, it is merely the symptom of his true problem. You see, love for one another is the visible form that faith takes. His lack of love meant he lacked faith.
That is the danger we live in, in this enemy-occupied world. We live in danger of losing our faith. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Take care lest there be in any of you an unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God and thus be unable to enter because of unbelief.” He urges us to hold our original confidence firm to the end. We have heard his voice and we have believed in Christ our Savior. But the noise of the world, the temptations of the flesh, the prodding of the devil, continuing to allow sin in our life, even those tiny little sins that we think aren’t really important, little things, like having resentment toward someone, not letting go of the hurt and bitterness we feel toward someone else, cause us to harden our hearts and rebel against God. In fact, it is our very nature, the natural inclination of human beings is to turn away from God. Continually we are turning away, rebelling against God. Turning from God to take the wide and straight road which most people follow. It is the path of least resistance. The road to eternal death. Some “have heard and yet rebelled.” Says Amos. Like the seed that the sower cast on the thorny and rocky soil, the seed sprouted, the word was received with faith and joy, but the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, like the rich, young ruler, choke out the word and cause some to fall away. God tells us, “If you say you love God but do not love your neighbor, then you are not being true. You don’t love God and are not a child of God.” Love for your neighbor is the sign of your love for God. But how hard it is to love your neighbor, especially the one you think of as your enemy. This is where some of you are today. Just like the rich, young man you are going away sadly from Christ. Lack of love means lack of faith and without faith there is no forgiveness. And like the Hebrews because of unbelief you are unable to enter.
Now, though, Christ has taken your sin to the cross. He has died and paid for your sin. He has risen from the dead to proclaim his victory over sin and death. And he has returned to his Father in heaven. He has received dominion over us by which he has won us and become our Lord through his birth, death, resurrection and so on. The work of redemption is done and accomplished. Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by his suffering, death and resurrection. And now it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to Christ so that we receive this good which he has earned for us. So that the forgiveness of your sins earned and paid for on the cross might come to you personally. It is the Holy Spirit who makes you holy by giving you faith and preserving that faith.
Therefore, as you wait and yearn for Christ to come, hold fast to your original faith. Take care that you do not fall away from faith. You must be active and hold fast to your faith. By nature you turn from God every day. By nature your own actions are opposed to God your maker. You are constantly being pulled away from God by your own sinful flesh, by the temptations of others and your love for this world, and by Satan himself. Your enemy works hard to pull you away from God’s Word, to make you not want to read and study the Bible, to keep you from worship and the sacrament, and to pull you back into sinful behavior. This is his tactic to separate you from Christ.
And he is at work in others as well. As you wait in faith you can’t just sit around and wait, but must be busy and active in love for one another. Therefore, as our text from Hebrews tells us, “Exhort one another” that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Be alert! Do not fall asleep! Be busy doing God’s work! Be busy in Word and Sacrament! And be busy exhorting each other! Stop your quarreling and bickering and start encouraging each other to remain faithful. Hold up your brothers and sisters when they are week, when they stumble. Encourage each other to be faithful in worship where God’s word and Sacraments are found. In the hostile world where the enemies of faith are constantly at work against God’s church, you cannot sleep but must be awake and active to fight against temptation and sin and to exhort, encourage, and support each other so you do not fall away.
Where and how is this done? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Luther asks: But how does he accomplish this, or what are his method and means to this end?” Answer: “By the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Hear the words you confess every day: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” “You see,” says Luther, “the Spirit has his own congregation in the world, which is the mother that conceives and bears every Christian through God’s word.” Through the Word he reveals and preaches, he illumines and enkindles hearts, so that they understand, accept, cling to, and persevere in the Word.”
There is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head. This group is called together by the Holy Spirit who brings us to it and incorporates us into it through having heard and continuing to hear God’s Word. Through this congregation he brings us to Christ and he teaches and preaches the Word to us. By the Word he works and promotes sanctification, causing this congregation daily to grow and to become strong in the faith and its fruit. In this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution. God’s grace is secured through Christ and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian church.”
Exhort one another. Encourage one another. Carry the burdens of one another. In the confession of sins at the beginning of the worship service, we confess our sins as a community together. That is fellowship. At the creed we confess our faith together as a community of believers. At the Lord’s Table we partake of the same body and blood as a community of sinners. And here, at the communion rail, we lay down our sufferings and sins at Jesus’ feet and take up the burdens and sufferings of each other and thus, as a community, we bear one another’s burdens.
We have received the gifts of the cross; we have been redeemed and we have Christ as our Savior who defeated sin, God’s word and means of grace are given to the church. God’s Spirit works through the church to bring us to faith and to sustain us in faith. Apart from the means of grace which the Spirit gives to the church there can be no faith and hence no forgiveness of sins or eternal salvation. On the journey home, we are busy exhorting one another to remain in the church. When you see someone falling away encourage, exhort, admonish and warn them to overcome their flesh and remain faithful to God.
That is what believers are busy doing as we wait for the Lord to come back, so that when Christ returns he will find faith upon the earth and in this congregation and in your hearts. Amen.