Sunday, September 18, 2011
Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 18, 2011)
This word from Isaiah this morning is addressed to the people of Judah who would soon be taken off into exile in Babylon because they had turned their backs on God. It is also addressed to us today who in any way may have turned our backs on God. And by nature, we daily turn our backs on God when we do what we know we should not do, and when we neglect to do what we ought to do. You remember those old catechism definitions of “sins of commission” and “sins of omission.” Both make us guilty before God.
But the prophet addresses this situation. He invites us to seek the Lord, turn from our sin, and be forgiven. Our limited human minds may think that all this is impossible, yet through the prophet the Lord says it is not. His ways are higher than our ways.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found,” Isaiah says, “call upon him while he is near.” The problem is, we naturally do not seek after God. Our sinful hearts and our selfish will keep getting in the way. In fact, St. Paul says in Romans 3 that there is “no one seeks for God.” We would rather be seeking after what we want, not what God wants.
A number of years ago there was a bumper sticker that said, “I found it!” I don’t really know what the people in the cars found. I assume they were proclaiming to the world that they had found faith in God. The truth of the matter is that we have not found God. He has found us! Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). And towards the end of the book of Isaiah, the Lord declares, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me” (Is. 65:1).
So how do we seek the Lord and find Him? How do know He is near so that we might call on Him? We find God in Christ Jesus. He is near to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:13 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” It is only through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins that we draw near to God. And He draws near to us as He gives us His blood to drink and His body to eat for the forgiveness of sins in His Holy Supper.
The author of Hebrews calls Jesus’ work at the cross a “better hope.” It is a better hope than the attempts at drawing near to Him by obeying God’s perfect, holy Law. That’s impossible for us. It’s hopeless. And so, Hebrews 7:19 says “a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” That “better hope” is trusting in Jesus’ completed work at the cross for our forgiveness.
David knew about this “better hope.” Oh, sure, he may not have known exactly how God was going to work everything out. But He knew a Savior was coming, and He knew that by turning to God in repentance he would be forgiven. He said in Ps 32, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found” (Ps. 32:5).
The implication in both Isaiah’s and David’s words is that there will come a time when God will not be found. There will come a day when He will not be near. That time … that day … is Hell. Hell might possibly be described as the complete absence of God. His comfort and peace and mercy are not found there. His love is absent. The Bible describes it as a place of unimaginable agony, sorrow, and torment because it is the complete opposite of the joy and peace that God freely offers in Christ but was rejected by those who will spend eternity there.
And so Isaiah urges, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Don’t wait until it is too late. In 2 Corinthians 6, St. Paul says, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2 NIV).
Our God is merciful. He is “patient toward you, not wanting that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). For Jesus’ sake He has mercy on us and freely pardons our wicked ways as well as our evil thoughts. He declares us clean from our head to our toes, from the inside to the outside. Now is the day when we may find Him. Now is the day when He is near to us. He is close to us when His Words touch our ears. He is near to us when water is poured over our heads and the Holy Spirit is given to create faith. He is present for us when bread and wine touch our lips and our tongues and deliver to us Christ’s very own body and blood.
These are truly amazing things. They are unfathomable. Our human minds have a hard time accepting them. The Lord speaks the truth through the prophet when he says in our text, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
You and I have a tendency to put “God in a box.” We try to package him in ways that we can grasp, ways that we can understand. But when we do that, we end up with false doctrine and a God that is only a shadow of the God who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible.
Besides, how many of you, if you were God, would have come up with a plan like he did to save us?
Assuming that you are a Triune God … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … how many of you would have sent your Son whom you love to take on human flesh in First Century Palestine, to carry the weight of every single sin ever committed upon himself, and to willingly die a horrible death on a cross, and three days later rise to life again?
How many of you would have chosen a rag-tag band of 12 men to preach about you … a few fisherman, an IRS agent, a fanatical freedom fighter, and a treasurer who you knew was eventually going to hand you over to the authorities?
How many of you would tell a story like Jesus did in today’s Gospel lesson, where every worker receives the same wages, no matter what time of day he went to work … which is a picture of God’s gracious gift of salvation being the same for all no matter at what point in their life they began to trust in Him?
How many of you would have chosen to connect your saving power to simple water?
How many of you would have given your followers a meal of bread and wine, telling them that it is your body and blood, and that it is given for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins?
I don’t know about you, but if I were God, I would have done things a lot differently. To begin with, I probably would have wiped out Adam and Eve and started all over again until somebody got it right!
But that’s not the kind of God we have. We have a gracious and merciful God. We have a God who doesn’t want robots but who wants people to be in a relationship with Him. We have a God who has given us His very own plan to rescue us from being separated and far from Him for eternity. We have a God who draws near to us so that we can draw near to Him, as we sing in the hymn
Chief of sinners though I be
Jesus shed his blood for me.
Died that I might live on high
Lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine,
I am his and he is mine.
Oh, the height of Jesus’ love,
Higher than the heavens above,
Deeper than the depths of sea,
Lasting to eternity!
Love that found me—wondrous thought!
Found me when I sought him not.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Our God is near to us today. He is found right here in Word and Sacrament. Turn to Him, and He will have mercy on you and freely pardon all your ways and all your thoughts, because of His own thoughts and ways that are so much higher than our own.