June 27, 2011

Sermons I am Proud Of-Pt1

Call me lazy. Or call me boastful. Maybe you can all me lazyful. I don't know. Either way I am one blog behind my normal posting schedule (which is bothering me a lot) and I am looking forward to what will prove to be a long full week. So in that vain I would like to share with you today, Wednesday and Friday some sermons I have done over the years that I have an extra level of fondness for.

Please allow me to introduce you to my sermons on Isaiah 1:10-20 given on March 18th 2007, at West End Baptist.

If you want to make a room of church people anxious all you have to do is mention the names Sodom and Gomorrah. The air gets a little thicker, the tension mounts and we wonder, what’s next? It is hard to blame a people for the chill that they feel. The names Sodom and Gomorrah are etched into our minds and hearts; there is something timeless about these names that make us shudder. After all nothing rosy is ever mentioned in the same breath as Sodom and Gomorrah. We know that no one ever brings up the Sodom food bank, or the ladies sewing circle in Gomorrah. The tree planting mission forgotten, the save the camel spider foundation ignored, the only thing remembered is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God. God was not well please with these cities, we know this, and the kingdom of Judah knew this.

When Isaiah compared the people and leaders to Sodom and Gomorrah every ear in the crowd perked up a little. The names Sodom and Gomorrah say “listen up, we know what happened to them; let’s not go down their road.”

At the end of this passage sits a beautiful promise of God “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” God invites us to reason with him, or as the Hebrew could be rightly translated God tells us to consider our options. It is as if a mighty army arrived at the gates of a city to declare what the terms of surrender are.

I don’t know about you, but when ever God offers salvation my ears perk. I lean in a little closer and listen a little better. I want to know God’s terms of salvation. I want to know what pleases God , and what displeases  God. 

And here sits our passage, on one hand we have threatening words like Sodom and Gomorrah, but on the hand we have words of great comfort, an offer of salvation.

So I ask; do we dare traverse this dangerous passage of scripture? Do we tilt our ear and hear the words of Isaiah? Do we listen to God’s terms? I can promise you two things, first it is not an easy walk. Prophets do not sugarcoat the truth; they give no easy answers, no quick solutions and they do not negotiate. The offer God gives is what the offer is. And second it is a rewarding walk. God’s offers are never substandard, never disappointing and they are always good.

If you are up for the journey, let's go.

This passage from Isaiah rather neatly breaks down into three sections, God’s complaint against Judah, the results of Judah’s disobedience and God’s offer. When we first look at God’s complaint we find something odd. God tells Judah that “The multitude of your sacrifices what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” 

It is important to point out that the description of sacrifices, and burnt offerings give no hint that these were anything but the finest offerings. given by the right people and the right times.. Which leaves us with a question, why than does God tell Judah that he takes no pleasure in the sacrifices being offered?

Let’s leave that question for a moment, and look at God’s second complaint against Judah, in verse 12 God states “When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?” and verse 14 says, “Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” Again we have a seemingly odd statement from God. If he was to say this same thing to us today he might say, “Why do you darken the door of my church so often, who invited you here? I am tired of your bible studies, your prayer meetings, of your communion Sundays and worship services”.

Judah must have been confused after all they were not practicing pagan festivals, or giving substandard offerings. On one hand we have seemingly right sacrifices, and on the other we have Judah supposedly honoring God’s appointed holidays and festivals, everything seems right. Everything looks fine. Yet God is not please, he is so angered by what he sees he brings out the dreaded comparison of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The problem is that while everything looks prefect and everyone seems to be doing everything that God wants their hearts are far from God. Listen to verse 13 “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations I cannot bear your evil assemblies.”

The offerings and the assemblies’are filled with empty gestures. Judah has made the mistake to think that all God wants of them is sacrifices and ceremony, that if they were to give him that they could live their lives as they saw fit. 

This is not the first, or the last time God delivered this message to Judah. King David wrote (Psalm 51:16-17) “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” And the prophet Micah (6-7) tells us “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? … What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

God saw right through their religious pretenses, and he found shallowness, he found hypocrites. Before we cheer too loudly, before we condemn Judah for their hypocrisy, let’s first examine our own hearts. After all, the cry against the religious hypocrisy is not confined to the Old Testament. Jesus blasted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:23) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” And let us not forget what James (1:27) has told us “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

We must always work at being genuine followers of God, we must strive to practice the latter, we must offer up to God pure and faultless religion. Just like Isaiah’s day we are to be just, merciful, and to care for the weak and the powerless. If we lack those things we may not be far from offering meaningless sacrifices, and partaking in evil assemblies.

We have heard God’s charge against Judah now let’s take a look at the consequences. Isaiah 1:15-16 says “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight!” The consequences of Judah’s sins were that God would neither look at nor listen to them. God was telling Judah that if they continue their religious hypocrisy that he would turn his face away from them.

But what does that mean? What does having God’s face turned away from you imply? We can be assured that it is negative. In a time of trouble David prayed (Psalm 22:8-9) “My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me; do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.” The thought that God may have turned his face away terrified David. David knew that if God had turned his face away from him, his prayers are futile.

Another way for us to understand what it means to have God turn his face away is to know what it means to have God’s face turn towards you. In another Psalm of David he says (Psalms 31:16) “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” Just as having God’s face turned away terrified David, having God’s face shining on him was a source of great comfort it allowed David to know that everything was going to be alright.

This is what God told Judah they would lose if they persisted in their hypocrisy. God would not listen to Judah’s prayers; he would not watch over them, he would remove his presence from them. God does not accompany those for are not genuine in their faith. What does that mean for us? Do we as Christians also have to worry about God turning his face away from us, do we have to worry about God taking his presence away from us?

God offers us a far closer communion with him then he offered in the Old Testament. Christ promised us that if two or more gather in his name he would be in our presence. Paul reminded the church in Corinth that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, we become the temple to the Holy Spirit. So I ask again, do we have to worry about God turning his face away from us? Can we ever be separated from Jesus Christ?

Romans 8:38 is such a wonderful assurance that nothing can ever or will ever separate us from the Love of God. If we have placed our faith and trust in Jesus God will never abandon us. Or as Paul puts it; “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” But what happens when we do something that displeases God? Will we still bask in the closeness and warmth of his Spirit? While we are not under the same threat of total abandonment that Judah was under, our fellowship with God can be, and will be deeply affected by the sincerity of our devotion to him. God still is no more inclined to have deep fellowship with those who are not genuine in their faith today then he was when Isaiah delivered this message to Judah.

In 2 Corinthians( 6:14b) Paul tells us, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” We know simply by turning on our kitchen light that light and darkness have no fellowship. There are no potluck dinners when light brings the ham and darkness brings the potato salad. It is not possible the two can not be in harmony. Light dispels darkness everywhere we find light we also find a lack of darkness the two can not be in the same place at the same time. This is also true with our fellowship with God. We can not be in close fellowship with God without taking on Christ’s heart. We cannot be content with ritual and ceremonies’ giving no thought to what pleases God and still have God’s face richly shining on us.

When two or more gather in Jesus’ name he will be there. But if two or more gather for any other reason then to glorify God, through Jesus, there will be no fellowship that day. No matter how ferverent our prayers are, be them with out stretched hands heads looking towards the heavens, or quite bowed heads if our prayers are self-serving, God will not hear them. He will not look at our gatherings; he will not hear our prayers without genuine devotion. .

I enjoy Isaiah 1:18, the New International Version and the King James Version among others reads “Come now, let us reason together,” the New Living Translation reads “Come now, let’s settle this.” The Holman Christian Standard reads ““Come, let us discuss this,” while the New English Translation reads “Come, let’s consider your options.” God here is using the language of the court room. God is sitting on his set of judgment staring down at an offender about to be convicted, and instead of slamming down the gavel and shouting guilty for all to hear, he invites the offender to consider their options.

Their options are simple, red or white? Red dye was not only vibrant, but it was deep. Something that was stained with these colors was not going to ever be clean again. They were permanent blemishes, easily recognizable spots; no one could miss seeing red dye where it didn’t belong. The red stains had less to do with the notion that red symbolizes evil, but it is the permanent nature of the dye that is important. Once something is stained with red dye it stays red. White on the other hand is indeed a symbol of purity, and cleanliness. God was offering to take something that was dirty and stained and to make it brand new. If I were to put a tag on this verse it would be “For the toughest of stains, get God.”

Our sins run deep. They stain everything we do. Isaiah (64:6) tells us that, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” In an almost eerie echo Paul tells us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Stained; this one word can wrap up all of the good things we do without God cleansing us. All of our rituals and ceremonies’ no matter how perfectly executed no matter how steeped in religious posturing are useless and stained without God removing our impurities.

God still sits on his judgment seat, he still holds the gavel in his hand ready to slam it down and declare “Guilty” for all to hear. But, God’s offer of cleansing is still on the table. He still is responding to genuine faith, he is still planting and growing the fruits of the Spirit in those hearts. But now this promise of being cleansed is now extended to the whole world. In Ephesians (5:25-27) Paul tells us that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing  her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” God’s offer is still on the table. Can you hear God’s voice, is he leaning in closer to you and whispering, “I’m not happy with ceremony; let’s consider your options. Though your sins are like scarlet they can be as white as snow.”