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Sermon for Sunday 18 November 2018

FIRST READING Daniel 12:1-3

{The man in the vision said,} 1“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”


PSALM Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4Their libations of blood I will not offer, nor take the names of their gods upon my lips. 5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage. 7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. 9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. 11You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


SECOND READING Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.


GOSPEL Mark 13:1-13

1As {Jesus} came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”



We’ve all heard the familiar school day’s excuse, “The dog ate my homework.” But that’s all that is–an excuse. It’s an attempt to sidestep responsibility and to a greater extent, avoid taking responsibility for our misdeed. In my experience that excuse has never worked and simply reinforced the old adage, “you play, you pay.” However, there are occasions when punishment doesn’t always automatically follow a misdeed, sin or crime.
Dr. William Barker tells about a story that appeared in the newspapers back in 1972. The story was datelined Sa-lonika, Greece. The city of Sa-lonika had a real problem on its hands. It seems that many pending court trials couldn’t be held as planned, because mice had devoured a number of files in the civil court archives. The evidence against the alleged criminals had totally disappeared. Imagine how those scheduled for trial felt knowing that all records of their crimes had been permanently destroyed. They could never be tried for their misdeeds! For the accused, the destruction of the records would seem like a gift from heaven. The mice had literally chewed up their crimes!
Your favorite furry friend consuming your homework is of course a plea in the hopes to get out of punishment. Mice chewing up the evidence is more akin to a complete pardon from the governor. Today, our lesson from Hebrews carries a similar message. Christ, through His death on the cross, took away our sins as if they had never existed. The Judge of all the universe has declared that in heaven the evidence is gone, and our sins will never again be held against us.
Hundreds of years before this, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:16-18). What an amazing piece of scripture! All that Isaiah prophesied was made possible because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
In Today’s epistle lesson we read, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [referring to Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God . . . For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy . . .” (Heb. 10:11-14)
The first question you may be asking is, who are those who are being made holy, or are being sanctified? The answer is, sanctification comes to those who rightly confess their sins, who love, obey and serve God and in faith turn their lives and past over to the Master. The good news is, for those who are being made holy by the work of Jesus, we can relax. Because Jesus was obedient even to the cross, our sins have been forgiven. Just as those fortunate criminals in Greece could slap each other on the back in celebration because mice had chewed up the records of all their crimes, Christ has taken away our sins, there’s no longer any evidence against us. By His shed blood, He has made us holy in the sight of God. This is reason Jesus came and took on our flesh, to take away the sins of the world. This is why we love John 3:16 so much, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But the following verse is just as wonderful, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (3:17). Isn’t that what we most need to know about God? God didn’t send Jesus to condemn us; He was sent to save us. . . and not only us, but everyone on this planet.
Pastor Leith Anderson tells of visiting Manila in the Philippines several years ago. His hosts took him, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump. This was certainly not the most pleasant place on earth to visit. But what he saw there was something almost beyond belief. He discovered that tens of thousands of people make their homes on that Manila dump site. They’ve constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people’s garbage, so they can have family meals. It’s hard for us to imagine such desperation.
Pastor Anderson saw people who had been born and grew up there on the garbage dump. He reports that these unfortunate people raised their families, had children, built their small shacks, eaten the garbage, finished out their lives, and died there, without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It’s a sad, yet astonishing story. But here’s something even more astonishing!
Leith Anderson reports that there are people from the United States there in Manila. These Americans also live on the garbage dump. “They are missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave their own country [to] communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it.” He says that he’s amazed by this; that people would leave what we have, to go and literally live on a dump. Then he says, “Amazing, but not as amazing as the journey from heaven to earth. The Son of God made that journey, and He knew what He was doing. He knew where He was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed from heaven to earth on a mission to save the human race.” This is why Jesus came into the world . . . that our sins, though they be as scarlet, shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool (Isa. 1:18.)
As you’ve probably figured out, I find Garrison Keillor’s radio shows not only entertaining, but also poignant. On one particular Prairie Home Companion broadcast years ago, Garrison told the story about a man in Lake Wobegon who was saved 12 times at the altar of a Lutheran church. For those not familiar with the program, Lake Wobegon Lutheran church is like most Lutheran churches, they never had altar calls. But Larry Sorensen would come to the altar time after time and weep buckets and buckets of tears and come back the next Sunday and do the very same thing. He kept repenting and repenting but somehow, he couldn’t get beyond the repenting stage. Pretty soon even the “fundamentalists got tired of him,” said Keillor.
Larry was obviously a man who couldn’t move on with his life. Even though he had heard the message of God’s endless love and grace, his sense of guilt was too great. Of course, Larry was a fictional character, but he does represent people who are all too real. They are people today who are racked with guilt. This is why this passage from Hebrews is so important for those who are truly repentant: complete forgiveness of our sins is why Christ came into the world. He came to pay the price for sin, once for all. You and I don’t have to hold on to our guilt any longer. We are forgiven. But that fact doesn’t always rid us of our guilt, does it? That’s why we need to talk about it for a moment.
In a survey of 52,000 people several years ago, more than 40 percent indicated that they were often troubled by deep feelings of guilt–forty per cent! That’s almost 21,000 people running around laden with guilt. However, I bet the same can’t be said today. I’m certain that number would be considerably less because we’ve gotten pretty good at deflecting responsibility for our failures. We’ve gotten better at rationalizing our sins and even justifying them by changing the laws against certain behaviors. After all, some people today will even go so far as to boast of sinful behaviors that people would have been ashamed to talk about in an earlier generation. But we can’t kid ourselves. There’s still plenty of guilt to go around.
Maybe it’s a misdeed from your youth that’s been lingering in your consciousness for decades. Or maybe it was an action from a more recent time. Maybe you betrayed someone you love. Maybe you neglected someone who needed you. Whatever it is, whether major or seemingly minor, you regret it now. If only God would remove the guilt, you would be healthier and happier if it would just disappear. But what we need to remember is, while the sin has been forgiven, the remaining guilt does serve a purpose.
Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body. We feel a stab of pain and we know that something is wrong, something that we need to take care of. So it is with guilt and the soul. Guilt helps us see that something is wrong with our life just as pain tells us something is wrong with our body.
Author Philip Yancey tells how his perspective on pain was changed by his work with Dr Paul Brand, the dedicated orthopedic missionary surgeon working among leprosy patients in India. Dr. Brand made the startling discovery that all the terrible visible indicators of leprosy came about as a result of the inability of people suffering from that awful disease to feel pain.
For example, a tiny pain cell makes most people blink every few seconds. But it falls silent in people with leprosy, and the leprosy patient soon goes blind for lack of the lubrication provided by blinking. Patients lose toes and fingers because they experience injuries that go undetected because they feel no pain. Diabetics face a similar danger. With no sensation in their feet, diabetics will sometimes become prone to injuries and infection that often lead to amputation.
Brand and Yancey wrote a book together called The Gift of Pain. Spending time among leprosy patients, Yancey became solidly convinced of the need for pain in a normal life. Yancey began to view pain not as an enemy, but as the language the body uses to alert us when something needs attention. “The very unpleasantness of that language makes it effective: pain sensitive people almost never duplicate the injuries of leprosy patients,” says Yancey. Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body. It tells us that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with. And if we ignore that inner voice that tells us that something is wrong, then we do it at our own peril.
A teacher once told each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. Then the teacher instructed them to write on each of those potatoes any wrong, any shameful deed that they might be carrying in their hearts. They were then told to carry this bag with them everywhere for one week, putting it beside their bed at night; on the car seat when driving; next to their desk at work . . . Some of their bags were quite heavy. The hassle of lugging this bag of potatoes around with them made it clear what a weight they were carrying spiritually, and how they had to pay attention all the time to not forget and keep leaving it in embarrassing places. Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty slime. That’s how guilt works.
If guilt is allowed to sit in our hearts, it deteriorates to a nasty slime . . . and who wants to carry that around with them? Guilt motivates us to make changes in our lives to get rid of that slime forever. Guilt tells us that there’s something in our life that needs to be taken care of. But here’s the most profound purpose of guilt. Guilt points us in the direction of God.
What can I do with my guilt? Can I act out some kind of penitence? Can I say I’m sorry? Can I contribute to some good cause? Well certainly, those things do no harm and can sometimes be good. But there’s only one way we can blot out our sin as if it had never happened; turn it over to God. Confess what we’ve done wrong and pray for strength of character so that sin never gains hold of us again.
Martin Luther’s great discovery that did so much to initiate the Protestant reformation was this: He discovered that righteousness is a gift from God and not a human achievement. God is the only one who can cleanse us of our sins; we can’t earn salvation. Salvation is a free gift from God that we accept in faith. God has promised that because of what Christ has done in our behalf, He will write His law upon our hearts and He will remember our sins and iniquities no more. “There is a fountain filled with blood” goes an old hymn, “drawn from Immanuel’s veins and sinners plunged beneath that flood loose all their guilty stains.”
Nikos Kazant-zakis, years ago, wrote a book titled, Letters to Grecco. In it an old man lies dying. He’s filled with remorse for his sins. At his death he goes trembling before the Lord for judgment. A big bowl of aromatic oil is placed at Jesus’ fingertips. Jesus dips a sponge into that bowl and begins washing this remorseful man clean of his grime and shame. Then Jesus says to him, “Don’t bother me with that stuff anymore. Go over and play.” That’s the grace offered through Jesus Christ. “Don’t bother me with that stuff anymore. Go over and play.” That is the only hope for our guilt.
Today can be the dawning of a new day. Because Jesus came and paid the price for our sin, we can come boldly to the throne of grace with a contrite heart, and the past becomes the past. Our sin is put away as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12.) Today, we can make a new start. If guilt is saying that something is wrong in your life, if guilt is saying that you need to make some changes, if guilt is pointing us to God, we need to listen to that voice. Confess your sins and unload your burden in His presence this day.
In Decision magazine, Mark Strand tells of an experience that occurred following his first year of college. His dad and mom had left for vacation, and Mark wrecked their pickup truck, crumpling the passenger side door. Returning home, he parked the truck. When his dad returned home and saw the damage, Mark acted surprised and denied any knowledge of the accident. Mr. Strand then asked the hired man who worked on their farm about it, and to Mark’s delight, the man suggested he was responsible. He had heard a loud noise while passing the truck with the wings of the cultivator up, and now he assumed he had caused the damage.
But the weeks that followed were torturous as Mark struggled with his guilty conscience. He repeatedly considered telling the truth, but he was afraid. Finally, one day he impulsively blurted it out. “Dad, there’s something I need to tell you.” “Yes?” his dad asked. “You know that pickup door?” said Mark. “I was the one who did it.” Mark says his dad looked at him and Mark looked back at his dad. For the first time in weeks Mark was able to look his father in the eyes as the topic was broached. To his utter disbelief, his dad calmly replied, “I know.” Silent seconds, which seemed like hours, passed. Then his dad said, “Let’s go eat.” He put his arm around Mark’s shoulder, and they walked to the house, not saying another word about it. Not then, not ever.
You and I have a heavenly Father with more love and forgiveness than Mark’s dad. All we have to do is confess our sin and believe that we are forgiven. The writer of Hebrews says, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [our great high priest Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God . . . For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever, those who are being made holy . . .” Those who truly repent and believe are in the company of all who are being made holy. What great comfort and peace this passage brings for those with hope, because there’s no greater feeling in the world than knowing our sins have all been forgiven, forever.

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