The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Dear Friends in Christ,
This is of course Labor Day weekend. This of course is ironic, since we don’t normally labor on Labor Day. In fact most of us don’t even know what it’s celebrating other than the end of summer. As a child, of course, I didn’t think the end of summer was much to celebrate. We had to go back to school. Playing baseball in front of the barn was more fun. Labor Day was created by American socialist to celebrate the labor movement in the United States. Considering the desolation organized labor has brought to states like my home state of Michigan, I’m not sure that’s much to celebrate either. Perhaps we’d be better off renaming it entrepreneurs day and celebrate innovation and industry. That would fit nicely with things like the State Fair.
There is another kind of labor that we as Christians are to be about. There is another kind of remembrance that needs to be front and center. The labor we are to be about is the study of God’s Holy Word. The remembrance we must have is the remembrance of what God has done.
The children of Israel were read to cross the Jordan into the promised land. Moses gathered them together and gave them the longest sermon ever recorded. It’s most of the book of Deuteronomy. Our text is climax of that sermon.
To whom was Moses preaching? These were people who were children when they left Egypt
or were born in the wilderness. Remember that the adults who left Egypt, except for Joshua and Caleb, all died in the wilderness because of their sins. They were people who had seen God’s mighty works in Egypt and in the wilderness. But would they remember what God had done for them? The answer is only partially. They remembered and remained faithful for themselves. But they did not see to the instruction of their children. It was not many years hence, that few remembered the mighty works of God. They turned to other gods and their sins multiplied. Faithful who cross the Jordan under Joshua’s leadership, soon became the craven, debauched idolaters of the book of Judges. The book of judges ends with the statement: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. That statement needs some examination. It is not as straight forward as it appears. Why is it eye and not mind? And how would we render it today? The eyes for the Hebrews would have been used much like we use heart. Everyone did what was right in his own heart. Well, what is in the heart? Sin, idolatry, fornication, murder, theft, sexual perversion, and craven unbelief. So when we say that each person did was what was right in his or her own eyes or heart, it is saying that they did evil. They dwelt in their sins. They no longer even understood that they were sins. What would mind has signified? Knowledge. The mind knows. The people at the time of the Judges no longer knew what God had done. So their mind was not involved. They were acting mindlessly.
This leads us to examine for a moment the nature of faith. I caught an episode of The White Horse Inn on Pirate Christian Radio this past week. The regular panel was making the point that in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, faith starts with the mind. Christian preaching in the New Testament starts with a testimony of facts. For example; Jesus Christ who was dead, rose to life again. The heart then follows the mind. It doesn’t always but in most cases it does. Consider for example the life of C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a bitter atheist who studied Christianity in great depth so that he could publically debate against Christians. He became so knowledgeable that he could destroy any argument put forward by his Christian opponents. But within his own mind, his knowledge of the Scriptures, destroyed all his arguments. So Lewis could defeat all his opponents, but he could not refute his own mind. The knowledge he possessed was overwhelming. Thus he became a Christian.
Are we really any different than the people do whom Moses was preaching? Are our hearts, of their nature, filled with anything other than sin? Of course not. We desire our own way, the way of sin and self. If we want Christ at all, it is simply as fire insurance. We don’t really want to live as His child. But what else in our hearts besides sin? Death. So when we choose our own hearts over the knowledge of Christ, we are choosing death, rather than life. One of the ways this culture of death takes over is through fads in the church. So many people and so many congregations are chasing the latest program and the popular gimmick. But these things do not expand our knowledge of Christ. In short, fadishness in the church leads to fatishness in the church - particularly in our minds. And we all know what cholesterol does to our brains. So we could say that fads in the church are spiritual cholesterol. Just remember, fadishness in the church lead to fatishness in the church.
Another point that needs to be made before we depart from this text, is that of choice. Who has a choice and who does not? Scripture never speaks of unbelievers having a choice. It is always believers who are presented as having a choice. Moses is here speaking to believers, or at least people who have the knowledge needed to believe. Okay, you believers in Yahweh, you decide if you are going stay with God or turn from Him. Moses is not giving this choice to the Canaanites. One who is floating in the middle of ocean, miles from any ships cannot decide to get on a ship. That option is not there for them. But a person on a ship can choose to jump off the ship. Coming to faith is not our choice. We are called by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. Faith is created by the Holy Spirit as knowledge is given to the mind and the heart follows. But one can take that God given life and commit spiritual suicide.
Are you going to choose life or are you going to choose death? This is the question Moses poses to the Church. Is it life that flows from the knowledge that Jesus Christ has died for our sins and gives us life as a free gift? Or is it going to be death that flow mindlessly from our hearts? Churches are dying. We hear about church bodies who will probably cease to exist in another decade or so. We’re talking about large and powerful church bodies like the Episcopal Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church and even perhaps the ELCA. And don’t assume that it couldn’t also happen to the Missouri Synod. Many local congregations are closing their doors forever. It is all happening because people have turned from the Word of God and no longer remember the mighty works of God. They no longer remember the Cross of Christ where our the price of our sins was paid. And thus I lay before the labor of the Church on this Labor Day weekend. We remember the mighty works of God by studying His Word. So which is it? Do we choose the death which flows from our own hearts? Or do we choose life and labor in the Word? Amen!