The Sermon for Sunday, August 20th, 2023, the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Isaiah 56:1-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:13-24; St. Matthew 15:21-28
The Text: Isaiah 56:1-8
A pastor was walking down the street one day when he noticed a small boy across the street struggling to ring a doorbell.
After watching the boy’s efforts for some time, the pastor walked across the street and placed his hand kindly on the child’s shoulder before leaning over to give the doorbell a solid ring.
Crouching down to the child’s level, the pastor smiled benevolently and asked, “And now what, my little man?” To which the boy replied, “Now we run.”
– p. 25, The Big Book of Church Jokes published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
Let us not follow bad examples, but good ones!
GOD’S INVITATION TO LIFE REQUIRES OUR OBEDIENCE
“Do what is right and just,” the Lord commands his people at the beginning of Isaiah 56. In our Old Testament Lesson, the Lord promises joy in His house of prayer for people of all nations who enter into covenant with Him, to love Him and serve Him. The invitation to come to the waters, to partake of bread, wine, and milk, which we find in Isaiah 55:1, an invitation to come to the Lord and receive His life and presence freely, is not just an invitation to the Jewish people, but also to people of all nations.
But though the invitation is given freely, all who come must enter into covenant with the Lord God and obey His laws and teachings throughout their lives. A specific reference is made to keep the sabbath (v. 6) and to take hold of the covenant. Before the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, taking hold of the covenant for a Gentile, non-Jew, would have entailed becoming a proselyte, receiving circumcision if a male, and attending weekly sabbath services and observing Jewish festivals and holy days. It would have required discarding pagan, polytheistic religion, and culture, and adopting the Jewish religion with its unique culture and way of life. At no time would it simply have meant continuing to lead the life of a pagan while paying lip-service to Judaism.
THE REQUIREMENTS OF LIVING ACCORDING TO THE NEW COVENANT
Applying the truths of our Old Testament Lesson to the Christian religion, we affirm the truth that God also calls the community of the new Covenant to live rightly and act justly, serving and worshiping the Lord throughout their lives. The call to show righteousness by our actions and justice in our way of life has not been replaced by a gospel according to which God accounts us righteous, but simply allows us to sin as much as we like since we are saved by grace. Just as the Old Covenant carried penalties for rebellion and sin, so does the New. If we do not repent of sin, we are still accountable for it, a fact which is clear from the New Testament.
Not only from the fact of our Baptism must it be obvious that we are Christians, but from our lifestyle, and from our words and actions. Anyone inquiring about the Christian faith must be able to see from our lives that we have joined ourselves to the Lord in the New Covenant, that we love Him, serve Him, follow Him, honor Him, and that we obey His commands and teachings. It must be obvious that we “have taken hold of his covenant” (v. 6), that we are the Lord’s “covenant partners” in a true, Biblical sense. This means that we are accountable to God, and that we subject our lives to His guidance and rule. Our lives then must show the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in them (p. 83, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928), which are the fruit of our faith, as Article XII of The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion testifies:
XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
Our Old Testament Lesson today is concerned about the evidence of changed lifestyle shown by Gentiles that join the community of the people of God. They must show that they love and serve the Lord, observing His commandments and taking hold of His covenant.
In a book that I have read, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, the author complains that churches have been taken over by secularism to the extent that essential Christianity is no longer taught, but only a philosophy called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD), according to sociologist researchers Smith and Denton (2005). This philosophy has five basic beliefs:
- God exists and he created and orders the universe, watching over human life on earth
- God expects people to be good, nice and fair to one another, as taught in the Bible and most world religions
- The main goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself
- God doesn’t need to involve himself in anyone’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem
- Good people enter heaven when they die.
(p. 10, Rod Dreher: The Benedict Option)
In a brief exposition of the history of western philosophy, Dreher shows how the West has arrived at this point, most recently through the philosophy of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment with their focus on the centrality of the human being and his reasoning ability, to the neglect of the centrality of God.
In the face of a post-Christian culture, all Christians have a responsibility to ensure that they are living according to the commands and teachings of God has given us in the moral law of the Old Testament and mediated through the Lord Jesus Christ in His commands and teachings in the Gospel accounts and writings of the Apostles. God’s call to live righteously and act justly has not become irrelevant because we are living in the twenty-first century.
THE PROMISE OF JOY IN THE HOUSE OF PRAYER
All people who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and have lived their lives in accordance with His commandments and teachings, showing by the evidence of their lives that they are truly in covenant with the Lord, receive the joy of being together in the house of prayer. For the Jews, this was the Temple at Jerusalem, and after the destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C., the restored, rebuilt Temple, and after the destruction of the rebuilt Temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, the Temple that would one day be rebuilt forever. We can interpret this today as the heavenly Temple and the New Jerusalem of the Messianic Age, when God will live with His people forever. Every house of prayer, or church building, represents and points forward to this New Jerusalem and to the everlasting Temple of the people of God. The joy that we Christians have in every house of prayer comes from God’s acceptance first of the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the cross and our reconciliation to God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Then, in Christ, since we are in Christ by repentance and faith, through entering into the New Covenant by Holy Baptism, the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving that we offer to God daily, together with our faith in Christ and obedience, are acceptable to Him.
In terms of our daily lives, the house of prayer represents the times that we deliberately engage in prayer and worship, whether privately or publicly at church with others. Our joy in these times flows from Christ, and from the Holy Spirit given by Him to us, as we yield ourselves to Him more and more in obedience to His word.
What should our response be to the crisis of faith in the world today, and to the growing ignorance of the Bible and the Christian way of life?
- We ourselves must know, apply, and obey the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s word, the Bible
- We must hold fast to the New Covenant we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord and joyfully worship God
- We must know and be able to account for our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
- Our lives must show evidence of a Christian lifestyle, including the righteousness to which we are called, wholehearted love for God, and love for others.