Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trinity 18 (Deuteronomy 10:12-21)

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and no longer be stubborn.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the tenth chapter of Deuteronomy. Dear friends in Christ, the First Commandment is the commandment of faith, the commandment that can only be fulfilled by faith. “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” This commandment cares little for the outward show, for going through the motions, for empty ritual without faith; circumcise your hearts, God says, for without repentance and faith, the circumcision of the flesh matters little. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” This long list all comes down to the First Commandment: fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is faith, without which none of the commandments can be kept. That is faith, apart from which any amount of good works, any amount of keeping the Law, is completely and utterly worthless. The good works of those who do not believe in the true God are simply a show and a mask, they are empty, hollow, hiding an uncircumcised heart.

They do not impress God, for He shows none of the partiality that we find in the world; He cares little for anything done outside of faith. The philanthropist, the benevolent ruler, the pious pagan receive none of His favor if they do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Nor does He show favor to one with power, or riches, or worldly influence. It’s ridiculous, utter foolishness, to think that the things that impress men will ever impress God. “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” All things belong to Him—all things. All riches, all power, all influence. All things belong to Him, and so He is not impressed by the little we possess. He shows no partiality; He bestows His grace not to those who are great in the eyes of the world, but to those whom He chooses. And know this, dear friends in Christ—He chose you. All things belong to Him, yet He chose you to be His child, He chose you, and in that choosing, He gave you faith.

“Yet the Lord set His heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” He chose Israel, selected her out from the nations, and gave to her the commandment that is also a promise: “You shall have no other gods.” They have no need of other gods, for the only true God, the Creator of the universe, is their God. He promised to be their God, and He promised that they would be His people. He chose them despite their lack of power, despite the sin they would commit, He chose them even though at their greatest glory they would only occupy a spit of land in a dusty corner of the world. In love He chose them, love for them and love for the world, He chose them in His love for you.

He to whom all things belong chooses the downtrodden, the weak, the insignificant; He shows no partiality, He does not operate as the world does. He chose a nation insignificant on the world’s stage to restore the cosmos, to even defeat death. He chose a peasant girl to bear in her virgin womb His Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And in Christ, by His blood and merit, by His death and resurrection, He chooses the weak, those battered by their sins, those who despair of any aid, who are meek and mourning, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He shows no partiality. He does not give life to the rich, but to those who are poor in spirit; He does not give forgiveness to the powerful, but to the helpless; salvation He gives not to the one who believes anything sincerely, but to the one who believes in Him, who holds fast to His promises.

He chooses you. He chooses you in Christ, His Son, crucified and risen for the poor and downtrodden, crucified and risen for you. He saved you when you were poor in spirit, trampled upon by this cruel world. He saved you when you had nothing to give to Him; you may have worldly power, riches, or influence, but none of that means anything before Him, none of that can pay for your sin or earn you salvation. He died for you even though you had nothing to give Him, when you had nothing that He needed. So if you are a fool, a despairing and despised sinner, or if you have been judged and condemned—so what? Here is the God of gods, who does not regard persons or care for their gifts. He cares for you, a sinner and a fool. What could happen that might sadden you? What sin could oppress you, what could cause you to despair? Yes, what height, what depth, what present thing, what creature could either puff you up or humble you?

“God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God chose you in Christ; He chose you at the baptismal font, He chose you in the call of His Word, He chose you when you had nothing to give Him in return. He does not operate as the world operates, He doesn’t follow the pattern we set. “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” He doesn’t defer to the mighty, He doesn’t show His grace only to those who can afford it. He is no respecter of persons, even those who ‘live a good life’ in obedience to His Law. Without obedience to the First Commandment, without faith, such things have no effect upon Him. We cannot bribe our Creator with our good works; He can only be clung to in faith. “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” If you are hoping that your church attendance, or your offering totals, or your church offices held will make the difference on Judgment Day, you will be sorely mistaken, as mistaken as if you trusted in your wealth, your power, or your influence among men. The only thing that matters on Judgment Day is Christ, and His love to the downtrodden, His love to you, received only by faith.

God will not be bribed; He shows no partiality. He loved you when you were weak and helpless, sentenced to death by your sin. He loved you and He chose you, claiming you as His very own child by pouring water upon your head. You had nothing to give Him, and He gave you everything; He to whom belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it gave to you forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is not the God of the rich and mighty, but of the downtrodden and the stranger. “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving Him food and clothing.” Not only the spiritually poor does He provide for, but also the physically poor. The God who chose His people Israel when they were insignificant, the God who chose you when you were insignificant, sends forth His people to provide for the insignificant around us.

God is consistent throughout both the Old and New Testaments: His people are called upon to care for the fatherless and the widow, the poor and the stranger. Why? Because they too were once outcast and they were chosen in grace, delivered in mercy by the God who loves strangers. “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Love the downtrodden, for you were downtrodden by your sins. Love the stranger, for you were estranged from your God. Love the poor, for you were poor in spirit. Love the fatherless, for you had no father before your baptism into Christ. Love the outcast, for you were an outcast. It is for this very reason that God gives you riches or influence; not to impress Him, but to serve the less fortunate around you.

Too long have we let politics distract us from our responsibility to the downtrodden, either letting the government take care of this task or forgetting our command from God to care for the poor as we argue against the welfare state. Christians who are political conservatives or progressives forget that whatever the government’s role might be in providing for the needy, the Church has a role given by God Himself. Too long have we let bad theology by others keep us from caring for others. Too long have we abandoned the poor, leaving the needy to shiver in the cold, too long has what was such a large part of the early church’s work been reduced to a small line-item in the congregational budget, if it appears at all. The Church is not only the place of welcome for the spiritually downtrodden, but it should also be a place of welcome for the physically downtrodden People should not leave this place with full ears but an empty stomach. “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

It all comes back to the First Commandment, the identity of your God. “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.” What kind of God do you have? Your God is the God of the poor and downtrodden, the meek and humble. Your God is the God who saved you, who delivered you when you were beaten down by your sins and condemned to death, when you had nothing at all to give Him but your corruption. Your obedience to the Law, even your service to the poor, means nothing to God without faith. The downtrodden are served in many places, but there is only one place where this service flows from faith: the Church. Only in the Church are the poor served by good works that are not hollow and empty, but filled with faith. The world simply points the finger, or makes more laws, when people fail to serve the downtrodden; the Church gives forgiveness, saying to those, to you and me, who are humbled by our sins of commission and omission: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That is our God, a God of forgiveness for the sake of His Son’s shed blood, who has done great and terrifying things, even dying and rising again for His poor, downtrodden people, even for you and me. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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