May 22, 2011

Monday after the Fourth Sunday after Easter


Morning – Ps. 110, 114, Num. 10:29, Heb 11:32
Evening – Ps. 111, 113, Is. 51:1-11, Eph. 4:1-16


The people of Hebrews 11 did what they did because they believed God.  Following the leadership of God, some were healed of disease, and some died horrible deaths.  It is impossible for us today to say to another, or to ourselves, that God will heal us, or give us whatever we ask for, if we only have faith.  God deals with us according to the counsel of His own will, and promises us that it will work to our good, if we love Him and are called, according to His purpose.  Our task is to trust and obey, no matter where His will takes us, no matter what it brings to us, either blessings or trials.  Verses 36-38 especially make this point.

This roll call of the faithful is intended to show two things.  First, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (11:1).  We see God by faith, not by signs and wonders.  We walk with God by faith, not by religious experiences.  We know God is with us because we have faith, not because we “feel His presence.”  Signs and wonders, religious experiences and feelings are not proof God is working in your life, faith is.

Second, the people of Hebrews 11 lived in the era of promise; we live in the age of fulfillment (11:39-40).  Through faith they followed God according to the light given them by the Old Testament.  But that light only gave shadows of the Promise, which is Christ.  We live in the days of the Promised One.  He has come to earth and accomplished His great work of salvation.  The Old Testament saints saw this only dimly, as shadows on a wall.  Yet they lived in faith.  Yet they followed God, even at great cost.  We have seen the Light.  We see not shadows but the very form of God in Christ.  Let us therefore walk in faith accordingly.

Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Easter

Pursuing Happiness
James 1:17
Fourth Sunday after Easter
May 22, 2011

We all want good things in life.  We want comfortable homes, loving families, friends, enough money, good food, a little fun sometimes, and maybe even a vacation every now and then.  Truly these are good things, and they add quality to life. We also know about the human tendency to over reach and over want things, even good things.  The desire for recreation, for example, leads some to a quiet day at the lake, but others into drug addiction.  Our desire for adequate housing and provisions is easily perverted into a maddening lust for more money, more house, more of everything.  Thus, the quest for happiness can lead us into misery.  So how can we keep ourselves in check?  How can we know when to be content?  More importantly, how can we know what will actually contribute to our quality of life, and what will harm or destroy it?  James deals with this very issue in our Epistle for this morning.    Our cycle of worship and Scripture reading will take us into the book of James in late October, giving us a chance to look at the many themes addressed in this important book.  Our lesson for today touches on the absolute being and perfection of God, and the contrasting imperfection of humanity, coupled with an admonition that, as beings who are imperfect in knowledge and morals, we must conduct ourselves with humility and respect toward others by being swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath (Jas. 1:19). 

Our reading in James also addresses the sufficiency of Scripture as the revelation of the knowledge of God.  I want to dwell on this briefly today because many people, even people who profess to believe the Bible as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice, actually base their faith on religious experiences rather than Scripture.  When attempting to make important decisions in life, they look for signs from God, rather than principles in the Bible.  They look for religious experiences to confirm the reality of God and the truth of their faith.  These people say things like, “I know the Spirit is with us in worship because I can feel Him here.”  The problem is, the Holy Spirit is not a feeling.  These people are feeling emotions, not the Spirit.  How do you know the Spirit is with you in worship?  By faith.  When you do what the Bible teaches you to do in worship, you know God is with you because He said He is.  You don’t need a feeling or an emotion to “prove” it to yourself.  Faith is the substance and evidence that the word of God is true, as we read Friday in Hebrews 11:1.  That is the sufficiency of Scripture.

Now let’s return to that elusive subject, happiness.  Most people have bought the lie that happiness is based on circumstances.  Thus they think if they can land their dream job, marry their dream girl/guy, have their dream house, take their dream vacation, get their dream car, and get their dream bank account, they’ll be happy.  Yet happiness always seems to elude them.  As income increases some people just buy more expensive everything, entering a never ending cycle of buying euphoria followed by the usual return to normal, at which point the seek to re-enter the euphoric state by more buying, and none of it creates real happiness.  In fact, this cycle works against true happiness by making wage slaves of them.  They have to work because they need the money to buy more things, and to pay for the things they bought on credit to make them happy because they don’t like their job.  Isn’t that how it works?

So is it possible to escape this un-merry-go-round?  I’m not telling you to quit your job or move into a tent.  But I can give two hints at how to be happy.  First, be content.  Much of our unhappiness comes from refusing to be content with what God has given us or where God has placed us.  Like George Bailey, we’re always dreaming of far way places rather than enjoying where we are.  Through the magic of Clarence, Angel Second Class, George Bailey was enabled to appreciate his life and be content.  He was able to realize he actually had a wonderful life.  God is not going to send an angel to show you what the world would be like without you.  God has given you His word and His promise that all things work together for your good if you love Him (Rom. 8:28).  So trust God, and be content where He has placed you at this moment in life.  That’s the first secret of happiness.

Second, desire what God wants to give.  Yes, God wants to give many things to us, but the primary thing He wants to give is Himself.  We call His self-giving, salvation, meaning we are forgiven of sin and bound for Heaven, and this is correct as far as it goes.  But we need to see that God forgave our sins, gave us His word and Spirit and Church and sacrament, and will one day take us to Heaven so we could do what the people who wrote the Westminster Shorter Catechism called, “the chief end of man,” which is, “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  The Bible has much to say about this; I will call to mind two well-known verses.

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

Love what God wants to give, and you will be happy.  Let us pray.

“O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou doest promise, that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”