< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 18 October 2015

FIRST READING Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

10 The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of laborers, whether they eat little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let them sleep. 13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment. 18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil — this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

PSALM Psalm 119:9-16

9 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me. 10 How shall the young keep their way clean? By keeping to your word. 11 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. 12 I treasure your promise in my heart, that I may not sin against you. 13 Blessed are you, O Lord; instruct me in your statutes. 14 With my lips I recite all the judgments of your mouth. 15 I take greater delight in the way of your decrees than in all manner of riches. 16 I will meditate on your commandments and give attention to your ways.


SECOND READING Hebrews 4:1-16

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
“As in my anger I swore, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'”
though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. 4 For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows,
“And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.”
6 Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day — “today” — saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. 9 So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. 14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


GOSPEL Mark 10:23-31

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”


In the book of Genesis, the first chapter, we read that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And throughout the first and second chapters we’re told of how God carefully and wonderfully made not only us, but everything seen and unseen. For six days God worked at His creation and then on the seventh day we’re told that He rested. After seeing and declaring that everything was good, He blessed the seventh day and made it holy.
God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. In our current 24/7 society I’m not so sure we even understand what this means anymore. Now for those who have been in my Bible study meetings or in my Confirmation classes, they will quickly tell you that holy means set apart, treated differently, respected, honored, sacred or consecrated. The word holy is used for things related to God. Our cemetery, for example, is considered holy ground because we have designated it as the resting place for our saints.
We treat the land between our two church buildings with respect. It’s not used as a playground, we don’t set out tables and have picnics nor do we play games around the monuments. It’s land set aside for a purpose, a place of rest for those who have gone before us. Likewise, the word blessed is misunderstood.
If you were to search the internet for the definition of blessed, it would come back as also meaning holy, set aside, consecrated. Now hear in the South, we us the word blessed or bless all the time. However, we use it in a slightly different way. Sometimes it’s an expression of empathy. Something tragic happens and we’ll say, “bless their heart.” Or some child does something cute and makes us smile and again we say, bless their heart. Someone does something we don’t like and we try to soften their actions by saying something like, “bless their heart, they just can’t seem to get it right.” Or, and much more common than we’d like to admit, we use the phrase in a sarcastic manner, “they’re just to stupid to breathe, bless their hearts.” I think you get the picture. We’ve misused the word blessed until we fail to recognize it’s true meaning. God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.
But this blessing and consecrating goes beyond a passive act of the Divine Creator; the Sabbath was created for our benefit. In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God made the seventh day for our benefit. It’s a day for us to do something different. In Exodus 20 verses 8-11 we find the Third Commandment God gave through Moses. Starting in verse 8 we read, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were admonished to refrain from working or treating the Sabbath as any other day of the week. So clearly we too are to think differently about how we should act and what we should do on the first day of the week. Concerning the Third Commandment, Luther in the Small Catechism, wrote, “We should fear and love God that we may not despise the preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” Sunday is not only a day when we should refrain from our regular labors and rest but it’s also a day set aside, consecrated in order that we might worship God, hear His word and receive of His bountiful gifts for us.
Psalm 150 begins with, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary…” Then in Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And in the 10th chapter of Hebrews the author instructs us in this manner, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not 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.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) The Day the author is referring to is of course the return of Jesus. Praise God, sing hymns, giving thanks, teaching and hearing God’s word and encouraging each other. To accomplish all this, we need to gather in God’s house on Sunday.
There’s an old saying that I’ve seen on church signs as well as bumper stickers that says, “7 days without prayer makes one weak, spelled WEAK. Let me ask you this. How often do you pray? How often do you read, let alone study the Bible? Do you regularly sing songs and hymns of praise to God? What about encouraging each other and stirring each other to up to love and good works? This is why gathering here each Sunday is so important. Sunday services is where we have the opportunity to lift our voices in prayer and praise, to hear God’s word, to receive of His body and blood and to support each other in our Christian lives. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t being doing this every day. Sunday is the day that we gather together and do this as members of the Body of Christ. Now I know this isn’t a popular subject. And I know many would say that this is old fashion. And when you compare this subject to the much weightier issues that we also consider, church attendance may be down on many people’s list of what’s important.
So let me ask you why is it that people seem to find a hundred excuses for not coming to church on Sunday? Gathering on Sunday affords us the opportunity to feed the soul. What would happen if we neglected to feed the body? What would our overall health be like if we only ate once a month? How long would it take before our health would deteriorate? Why is tending to the needs of the soul, feeding the soul, any different than taking care of our physical and emotional needs? As unique creatures made in the image of God, we have three distinct areas that need to be cared for; our mental, physical and spiritual health. And if we want to lead a well-balanced life we need to keep these three areas healthy.
For years while I was in the Air Force, the military pushed us to be physically healthy. Annually we would have to undergo tests to ensure we met weight standards, Body Mass Index standards as well as physical fitness standards. Each year we were weighed, taped and tested to ensure we could physically meet the demanding challenges associated with defending our country in all environments. The standards now days are rigid. They have to be. I’ve had to work in 130-degree heat, wearing body armor while carrying a gas mask, in case Chemical or Biological agents were used against us. I’ve packed equipment for deployment when the temperature outside was -35F degrees taking into account the wind chill factor. At times the environment we had to work in was brutal. But it was more than just physically challenging; the military also understood the toll these kinds of stresses can have on an individual.
In addition to our physical fitness standards, the Air Force was constantly monitoring our mental health. We attended annual training to help us cope with a variety of situations. As supervisors we were taught to look for signs of stress, anxiety and depression. We were afforded services thorough Behavioral Medicine in order to deal with emotional difficulties. These services included, substance abuse treatment, anger management classes, stress reduction counseling for about every need and psychiatric services if needed. For decades, when it came to the physical and mental well-being of the troops, the Air Force had it covered. But it wasn’t until the final few years of my career that the military finally realized that there was something missing from their program. The Air Force finally realized that to have well-balanced members, they also needed to recognize and provide for the spiritual well-being of the airmen as well.
In the final few years of my military service, the Air Force began to recognize the need to add emphasis to this human need as well. For the first time, religious services were no long mentioned in passing when talking about base amenities. In the past, at base welcoming briefings, representatives from the Moral, Welfare and Recreation services were brought in and given ample time to discuss their programs. Discounts were given for many of the services and even classes given to learn many do-it-yourself facilities. However, when it came to chapel services, a Chaplin might have been invited, but he was only afforded a few minutes to share chapel service times and programs. Sometime in the early-2000’s this changed. Individual Chaplains were assigned to each unit. Chaplain offices were established in or close to each group and the chaplains were encouraged to work among the various squadrons.
During exercises and deployments, in addition to regular chapel services, the chaplains could be seen delivering water, Gatorade and snacks to maintenance workers out on the flightline, along the perimeter of the base and around the housing areas. Their goal was to meet with the people and afford them an opportunity for spiritual counseling. The military had finally recognized the need to provide for all three aspects of an individual. They finally realized that to have a well-balance airman they needed to provide for all three areas, physical, mental and spiritual. They realized that for a person to be able to function in a stress-filled environment, the needs of the whole person needed to be met.
It might have taken decades for the military to figure this out, but they finally recognized the need. In this 24/7/365 world we live in here in the U.S., it seems something has to give. Materialism has us living in duel income households in order to keep up with the Jones’. Technological advances in all aspects of life has us working longer, harder and more intensely than ever before. Computers, while being a blessing, have been a burden as well. We are constantly bombarded with information. The need for information continues to control how we work and play. Anytime I think about how computers has changes our lives I can’t help but recall how things changed from 1981 to 2007 when I retired.
In 1981 I was station at Kunsan, Korea for my first duty station. Each morning at 5:30 I would take an 8 ½ x 11” laminated sheet of paper to the colonel to provide him with the most current Pave Spike pod and repair equipment status. 1 sheet of paper with the Wing’s entire pod and equipment status recorded with a grease pencil. When I retired in 2007, that same report, the morning report, required 8 Power Point slides. Now that doesn’t sound like much of a change, but to complete those 8 slides, I needed multiple reports from 3 different databases that average more than 100 pages of printed documentation each day in order to have the complete histories on each piece of equipment that went through any of the 7 repair sections in Avionics. I say all this to recognize that our world has gotten much more complex and with that the need to work harder and longer hours. To compensate for this much more complex world we surround ourselves with more material goods.
We obtain more stuff to improve our lives and make our leisure time more effective. Not that this is a bad thing, except what we find is that all this stuff requires time to enjoy. This means we plan and fill our weekends with activities in order to let off steam, to unwind, to let go. And our kids are not immune to this heavier pace, they too are feeling the pressure to step it up.
Today our kids are encouraged to fill their out-of-school time with sports, scouts, clubs and activities. These events take place in the evenings and on weekends as well. Travel ball, tournaments, playoffs and such are now taking place on Sundays keeping our families and children out of church. We’re at the same place the military was in for years. We’re focusing on the physical and mental but we’re failing to recognize the deep need for our spiritual well-being. Isn’t it time we stop and realize the situation we’ve gotten ourselves into?
Here in the U.S. we live in a land of prosperity. Our material needs and physical needs are met and people are overall thriving. Most people have disposable income to spend on leisure activities and we enjoy many luxuries. But we, as a nation, are becoming spiritually bankrupt. Like the children of Israel, the more prosperous we become the less we feel a need for God. And like the children of Israel, we fill our lives with idols. God is clear in the First Commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me.” Are we destined to go down the same path as the Hebrew people who God finally had to punish by sending them into slavery? Or will we finally wake up and see our need for God?
Sunday affords us the opportunity to nourish ourselves spiritually by gathering, studying, worshiping and being fed by the Holy Supper. We need balance in our lives. This is why God set aside the Sabbath and blessed it. He knows our needs for spiritual renewal and through the church He provides for that need. We are the Body of Christ and we need to gather in order to uplift, strengthen and encourage each other. Recall again the words found in Hebrews chapter 10, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not 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.”

< back to Sermon archive