June 26, 2011

Monday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, Num 22:2-14, Luke 2:21-40
Evening - Ps. 31, Ezra 5:1-2, 6-17, Acts 9:1-19

Commentary

As noted in the commentary for Monday after Trinity Sunday, the first seven chapters of the book of Ezra give a brief history of the Jews who returned from Babylon in 536 B.C. Forced by military action to stop work on the new Temple, the work languished, as did the zeal of the Jewish people (4:23-24). The Lord raised up prophets to call them back to their work. It is important to note here that their work was not to simply build a new Temple or re-instate the sacrificial system. Their work was to be the Covenant People of God, and to love Him above all else. The Temple was a symbol of this. It was the symbol of His presence with them. The sacrifices offered there were symbols of their devotion to Him. They also symbolised the coming of the Messiah, whose sacrifice would actually take away their sins. It was the place where God met His people, where He made them whole and clean, where He forgave their sins, and where they came to be in the presence of God. So the Temple was an important place and it served an important function in Jerusalem. It was the focal point of the Covenant, and to be forced to stop rebuilding it was a serious blow to the Jewish people.

Chapter 5 records the ministries of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, which we have been reading for the past few days. The result of their ministry was the renewed determination of the governor and the High Priest to build the Temple (5:2). Chapter 5:6-17 is a copy of the letter sent by the Jews in Jerusalem to the king of Persia explaining their loyalty to him and asking him to search his records for the decree of Cyrus allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

If the Temple was the focal point and primary symbol of the Covenant of God, the zeal to rebuild it was the zeal to be God's Covenant People. The objective was not simply to rebuild an object of national pride, or to build a religious building where they could do religious things. The intention, on their part was to return to their calling to be the people of God. It was this intention that God wanted to keep alive in their collective hearts. It was their departure from the Covenant that brought the wrath of God upon them in 586. It was their dilution of the faith, along with their lack of sincerity that led them into other sins and caused God to allow the Babylonians to conquer them. The Babylonian Captivity was punishment for breaking the Covenant and rebelling against God. Now that they were back in Jerusalem, God wanted them to return to the Covenant again. Thus, the Temple, as the focal point of their Covenant keeping, must be rebuilt.

Sermon for First Sunday after Trinity

The Cost of Not Following Christ
Luke 16:19
First Sunday after Trinity
June 26, 2011

Why don't people live for God? Because it costs too much. I'm not talking about money. Living for Christ costs something much more valuable than money. I'm talking about time, interest, and devotion. I'm talking about a way of life that can be described as dwelling in Christ, and most people simply aren't willing to pay the price for that kind of life. They know it means they will have to sacrifice some things, and do other things, which they also consider a sacrifice, to live the way they know they should. They are right about one thing, it costs a lot to follow Christ, but it costs a lot more not to.

This entire creation was made for one purpose to show the glory of God. It was created for His glory. It exists for His glory. It will end for His glory. It was not created for our benefit. It does not exist for our pleasure. It, and we, exist for God. The Bible tells us the purpose for which God created it, and the goal toward which He is directing it. There are many statements of this purpose in the Bible, and one that I quote often is found in Ephesians 1:9-10:

"Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself; that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him."

God created all things to bring them together in Christ. He created them to be a Kingdom for Christ. He created us to love Him with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength. That's why we exist. Our purpose is to glorify God. From the very beginning, God was moving His creation toward this goal. But something happened along the way. Something went wrong. Man lost his first love. I don't mean we have lost all feelings for God. Obviously many have great feelings for Him, but feelings are not the same as love. Just as it is possible to have great knowledge about God, yet not love Him, it is also possible to have great feelings about God and for God, and yet not love Him. I say with much sadness that many who attend worship services have great feelings for God, but no love for Him. In sin we have lost our first love, we have lost our love for God. And in His place we have loved ourselves. We have loved our own pleasures, and interests, and comforts, and lives and selves above God. God created all things to bring them together under Christ, but in sin we attempt to bring as much as we can together under ourselves.

The rich man of our reading in Luke is an example of this. In a very real way, this rich man is all of us, each one of us. He is a living picture of a person in love with himself. He is wildly self indulgent. He caters to his fleshly lusts. He knows nothing of self-discipline, or compassion, of stewardship in time or resources or life itself. He knows nothing of God. He knows about God., but he does not know God. The rich man is his own god, and, like the true God, he is a jealous god and will not share his glory with another. In a day when most people wore uncolored clothing, he wore clothing dyed with a particularly expensive purple coloring. In a day when most people wore plain woolen clothing, he wore fine linen. In a day when most people went to bed hungry he fared sumptuously and expensively every day. This man indulged himself. His life was all about himself.

The Bible tells us that in death there was a great gulf between the rich man and Abraham's bosom, which is a symbol for Heaven and the presence of God. But that gulf was there long before the man died and went to hell. That gulf was there all through the man's life, and he built it. He chose it. Every day he dug it a little deeper. Every time he refused God and chose himself he made it a little wider. Every time he ignored the fellowship of the Church, every time he rejected the testimony of Scripture, and every time he quenched the urging of the Holy Spirit, he made the gulf bigger and deeper and harder to cross.

Listen please because this is important. There is a time of opportunity when the Spirit of God knocks on your door and calls you to come to Him, and calls you to trust in Christ as your Lord and Saviour and invites you to become His sons and daughters and citizens of Heaven and live in the comfort of the presence of God forever. But there is a day when a heart can grow so calloused it cannot turn to God. We all know that hearing a sound repeatedly can reduce our ability to hear it at all. That can happen to our spiritual ears as well as our physical ears. I do not mean that God stops calling. There is a general call of God that goes out to all people and continues until the end of time. This call is a general invitation to come to Christ, to let Him wash away your sins, and to return you to your first love and purpose in life, the only one that can satisfy your heart because it is what you were made for. God won't stop calling, but you can stop listening, and eventually, you won't hear it anymore. I think the man in our reading stopped listening, and just didn't hear the call anymore. There was a time when he did hear it, but he was unwilling to heed it because he was afraid it might cost him something. And he ignored it so long he just stopped hearing it.

The Bible tells the story of another rich man, who came to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life. He was not asking how to live forever, but how to live in God's plan and be a part of God's purpose now and forever. Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Him. It is important to know Jesus is not telling us to sell everything and give the money away. The Church in Jerusalem tried that and the result was poverty. Jesus means we are to love God much more than we love things. Jesus means our hearts belong to Him, and we are to trust Him in all things, sickness, health, poverty, riches, life, or death. But this man would not do it. He loved his possession more than God, which means he loved himself and his desires more than he loved God. And he went away from Christ and never came back.

I think there are people in the same situation today. They hear the call of God, but they resist it, because they're afraid it might cost too much to heed it. It might require a different use of time, a wiser use of money, a different way of thinking about things. They may have to give up some things, and they may have to take up some other things, and they just don't want to do it. But most of all, they rightly fear, it will cost them their "deity." They are afraid that heeding the call of God will require them to stop being their own gods. They are afraid it will require them to enthrone the Living God as God of them. And they are right.

So this thing about being a Christian is not just about being forgiven and going to Heaven. It's not even just about living a religious life and doing religious things. It is about being restored to your first love. It is about being restored to God's purpose for your life. It is about living to the praise and glory of God. The rich man in our text found out it costs a lot to follow Christ, but it costs a lot more not to.