Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity 11/8/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity 25 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
So, what’d I miss?
I suppose I don’t really need to ask, do I? I can see it for myself. I have only been gone for 47 days, and I come back to this:
The people have made their voices heard. They have chipped in and done their part. They have shown to whom their trust really belongs.
This is approximately what Moses was thinking upon his return from Mt. Sinai. He was gone for a week with the elders, plus 40 more days by himself. And when he came back, it was exactly as the Lord had told him.
The people had contributed their treasure and their praise, and they had chosen a god for themselves – a golden calf. Though, I suppose an elephant or a donkey would have done the trick, too.
But what does all that even mean? What does it mean to have a god? Pastor Luther provides an answer with these opening words from the Large Catechism:
A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
So, what’d I miss? As pure coincidence would have it, I, too, have been gone for 47 days and nights. And I come back to see that we have not improved as much as we might have hoped.
Once God’s people took off their jewelry and chipped in to make a new god; and despite the correction, they never quite got out of the habit.
It’s important that I be clear so you don’t get the wrong idea. Democracy itself isn’t the problem, and neither is voting. Really, for you and me it ought to be quite the opposite. And it’s not just that this participation is permissible; we can acknowledge that it does matter. It would be an abuse of your God-given reason to pretend that who is in charge of the most powerful nation on earth is of no consequence whatsoever simply because you are Christians.
What matters in this context is your motives. Your sincere concerns, born out of love for your neighbor, are good and God-pleasing. But I have great difficulty saying that sincere concern, born out of love for the neighbor is what I have observed.
This is what I have observed: selfishness and self-preservation; hate and anger; defamation and slander; and anxiety so high it is flirting with despair…
All of it, lightly sprinkled with trace amounts of sincere concern and love for the neighbor, shining like gold flakes in the excrement of God’s people after Moses made them drink the water.
Right now is a good time to say that there’s some chance this doesn’t specifically apply to you. If you truly aren’t guilty of the specific things I’m dealing with here, God be praised! I won’t twist God’s Word to convict you of something you’re not genuinely not guilty of. It’s a lie to say that we’re acutely guilty of every single sin at every single moment.
Of course, that doesn’t get us off the hook. Moses brought down ten commandments from Sinai, after all; he just happened to find that the people couldn’t get past the first one before blowing it all up.
And so, like those people who commanded Aaron to cast a god for them, we, too, are worthy of God’s wrath and punishment. If not for flirtations with temporal idolatry, then for a host of other sins. But what is more astonishing than our lack of progress in sanctification is this: that despite all of the above, God holds firm to His promises.
This is what Moses was banking on. When God invited him to stand aside while He destroyed the people, Moses remembered that this could not be what God ultimately desires.
He remembered God’s Word. And so, there, upon the pulpit of Mt. Sinai, Moses found himself preaching to God:
Didn’t You deliver this people?
Didn’t You bring them out of Egypt?
Why should the Egyptians mock You for their sin?
Moses was calling God out in His Word; which is precisely where God wants to be called out. He concluded: remember Your promises – to Abraham, to Isaac, to Israel, Your servants.
And the Lord relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on his people. verse 14
What that means is that God did not utterly destroy them; though He did discipline them. And we can expect discipline as well, if for no other reason than the fact that God loves us.
That discipline is a reminder to be on to stay alert, and to guard our hearts. We do not know when the Son of Man will return. It is enough to know that He will.
And when He does, it will be without warning; it will be like most any other day. It will be like in the days of Noah, when people were eating and drinking and getting married. It will be like the days of Lot, when people were doing business and planting gardens. It will be like the days of Moses, when the figure of Egypt began to fade in the rearview mirror, and people sat down to drink and rose to play and make offerings to idols.
So will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. verse 30
But first, the Son of Man was to suffer many things and be rejected by His generation. First, before Jesus returns in judgment, Jesus had to be judged Himself.
For when Moses preached to God and called Him on His promises, he made his plea on account of Christ and His atoning sacrifice; that promise made first to Adam and Eve, passed down to Abraham and Isaac, to Israel and to you.
As Moses pleaded on behalf of God’s people for the sake of Christ, so Christ intercedes for you now. He has put Himself into the breach for you.
Whatever ill you have thought of your neighbors or your leaders; whatever despair you have given into; whatever trust you have misplaced; it is forgiven for the sake of Christ and His atoning sacrifice.
The Church is called to be a lamp on a hill; not the hill. As God’s own people, redeemed and sanctified, you are called to reflect God’s glory in this world and in this country.
Let your conduct be blameless among the peoples. Speak well of your neighbors and be merciful to them. Put the best construction on your leaders’ actions: past, present, and future. That’s not a call to naiveté, negligence of your citizenship, or reluctant acceptance of what is. But it is an admonition to live a respectful and godly life in this world.
You are not American Christians. You are Christians in America. And we have more than enough degrees in this room to appreciate the difference. You are to show yourselves as dutiful servants in this land, but subjects to God, who is King over all.
And this is the best news. You have a God who has come to you in weakness; who has willingly suffered and died in your place for your offences; who has baptized you, and covered you in His own righteousness; who visits you this day in mercy, feeding you with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.