THE KEY TO HISTORY

In the beginning, God created the world and the universe that surrounds it. He filled the world with plants and animals and then He made man—made man in God’s own image. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

Why did God do this? Why did He create human beings, men and women? It wasn’t because He needed us—it wasn’t because He needed the heavens and the earth. Some people think God was lonely—He wasn’t. God had existed forever in community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Loneliness is something He has never experienced.

When we really think about it, there’s really only one possible explanation: grace. God is so completely and totally filled with love that He wanted to share that love.

God’s grace is so great that He not only created man and woman in His own image, but then He gave them a beautiful world in which to live. A world which He entrusted to their care.

God told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:29).

Then God came and walked with man in the garden—walked with him and talked with him. God was in relationship with His creatures. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what this looked like, but perhaps it was something like the way we find Him later appearing to man in the Bible in human or angelic form.

Did you know this? Did you know that you were created not primarily to make money or build an earthly kingdom—or even just to be happy? You were created primarily for the purpose of being in relationship with God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, many, if not most, of the problems we experience in our daily lives and in our world today are the result of our failure to understand the real reason we exist.

The only thing God did not allow Adam and Eve dominion over was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because, God told them, that if they were to eat from that tree they would die.

God was protecting them. But when the serpent came and told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, their “eyes would be opened, and they would be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), all they heard was that they would be like God.

Being God’s beloved creatures, being abundantly provided for wasn’t enough. And when they ate the fruit, God had to put them out of the garden. The relationship was broken—and God had to put them out of the garden. Still, He didn’t totally abandon them—they still knew Him. The Bible says that they were now east of Eden—away from God. There was still some level of relationship there. And clearly they wanted that relationship. They just didn’t want to have to obey God

When Cain was born, Eve said, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Genesis 4:1). She recognized God’s presence. Eve has another son, Abel, and the two brothers grew up. Abel becomes a shepherd and Cain a farmer. And “in the course of time,” they bring an offering before God.

Abel brings “the firstborn of his flock,” while Cain simply brings “an offering of the fruit of the ground.” We’re not sure exactly what the problem was with Cain’s offering, but nowhere does it indicate that he brought something that he’d actually been involved in producing. It seems that perhaps he thought just bringing something would be good enough. There was some kind of a problem with Cain’s offering and God was not pleased.

God was, however, pleased with Abel’s offering—and this made Cain so angry that he murdered his brother. Jealousy, murder, the idea that God should be happy with whatever we decide to give Him … sin is growing in the world.

And God told Cain that he must be punished—but not killed. And Cain moves to the land of Nod, “east of Eden” (4:16). Further east, further from God’s presence. And in chapter 11, the plain of Shinar where the people have decided to build the tower of Babel up to heaven is still further to the east—even further from God. Despite the fact that they’re descendants of Noah, despite the fact that they surely know about the flood, the problem of sin has continued to increase.  The people no longer want to have any kind of relationship with God—they want to be in charge. And so they’ve decided to just ignore the Lord.

They were a long way from walking with God in the garden.

Thousands of years later, when Peter asks Jesus, “’Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21).

God knows a lot about forgiveness.

So what does He do with these people who have decided they have no need of Him in their lives? In chapter 12, He begins the process of restoring the broken relationship of Eden. He called Abram to follow Him and by the time we get to the book of Exodus, the single man Abraham has become a great nation as God promised. But—and this is important. They’re not just being redeemed from slavery, they’re being redeemed to something. They’re rescued for the purpose of knowing and worshiping the Lord God. The Promised Land is to be the place where God will once again live with His people.

It’s still all about relationship.

We find the promise, “I will be your God and you shall be my people” running throughout the story from Exodus through the prophets. This is the foundation for the Bible’s understanding of prayer.

God has called a people to Himself, but it is not the relationship of the Garden. God is both present and distant, as we see in the building of the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem. His presence is a mediated presence—mediated by symbols. There are the pillars of cloud and fire, the ark of the covenant and the tent of meeting. Later in the temple, there will be curtains and walls and various courtyards to keep the people from the all-consuming presence of God.

And the people are fine with this. They want God to be with them. They want to know He’s there. But they don’t want too much of Him—they want Moses to be their go-between, their mediator.

They want God to be there to take care of them, to provide good things for them—but they want to be able to decide what they’ll offer in return. They don’t want to have to serve God—they want God to serve them.

By the time God sent His only Son Jesus into the world, the Israelite people had convinced themselves that they really were in charge—and that God really did exist to serve them. They made rules—lots of rules, they decided who was included and who wasn’t.  

But God has not given up on them. He sent His only Beloved Son to share the truth—and they hung Him on a cross. Because Jesus was interfering with their authority. Because when Jesus was there, they recognized an authority far beyond anything within their power. And they didn’t like it. They thought that if they could get rid of Him, things go could back to the way they were. They could once again be in charge.

They thought they could control God.

Are we really so different?

Before Jesus returned to sit at the right hand of His Father in heaven, He commissioned a group of  disciples to go and make disciples of the whole world. This was their mission. He called them His Body—He said that they were to be an extension of Jesus Himself. And that every single one of His followers, His disciples, in all the years to come would also be a part of His Body—quite literally, extensions of Jesus. And that as part of His body, He would continue to nourish and strengthen them.

It’s still all about relationship. It’s going back to that Garden where God was present with His people. No more curtains or walls. That’s why the massive curtain in the temple was ripped in two at the moment Jesus died on that wooden cross. He had destroyed the barriers that stood between us and God. We no longer needed anyone to mediate.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s why we gather together each week. We don’t gather to be entertained or to be fed or to have our expectations met. We don’t gather so that we can go away feeling better about ourselves. We gather to worship the God who created us, the God who refuses ever to abandon us, the God who loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die a horrible death so that we wouldn’t have to. So that through His Son we could be saved. So that relationship could be restored between God and His people.

So often we assume that God is pleased just by the fact that we show up to worship. The Bible tells a different story. Since the beginning of time, there has been worship God loves and worship He rejects. In Amos 5:21-24, God says, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your … offerings, I will not accept them. … Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

And in Revelation, when Jesus talks to the churches, He says to the church at Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. … So, because you are lukewarm, and neither not nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

What about us? Are we hot? Are we on fire for Jesus? Are we unable to even imagine what it might be like not to be able to gather to worship Him here on Sunday mornings?

Or are we lukewarm? Come when we can, come when there’s nothing else that we’d rather be doing?

Are we taking God’s presence and work in our lives for granted? Perhaps even with the idea that somehow He owes us something? Are we so different from those ancient Israelite people who thought that as long as they continued to do something—anything—for God, that He’ll be happy with us?

Our gospel reading tells a very different story. Jesus is talking to thousands of people, so many people, we’re told in 12:1 that “they were trampling one another.” He tells them that they need to “be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast.” Now weddings in Jesus’ day could last for as long as a week, so when the master goes off to a wedding, his servants aren’t sure when he’ll return. But they know that while the master’s gone, they’re still expected to continue their work. And their work is specific—they’re not just there to do whatever they think they should do.

Peter than asks Jesus, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” Is this just for those of us that you’re training for leadership? Or are all these thousands of people included in what you’re saying?   And the Lord said, ”Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (12:41-43).

Jesus is saying that we’re here to serve Him until He returns. And the serving is primarily about caring for one another. He’s saying that until He returns again, every single one of us is tasked with the job of caring for one another.

This is the purpose of His Body, the Church.

So here we are—a part of the Church in 21st century America, in a country that’s falling apart all around us. A country where we hear continual talk about what’s moral and what’s immoral, about values. We hear this talk even in the church.

And could it be that a large part of the problem is that we’ve forgotten where we come from? That we’ve forgotten our history? Not just our history as Americans, but our history going all the way back to creation?

Could it be that we’ve moved so far east of Eden that we’ve completely forgotten who God is? And that even in the church, when we think of God, we’re thinking of the god of our own creation? A god who loves us not matter what we do, a god who would never really send any of us to hell, a god who just wants us all to be happy?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the God of Scripture. It may be the god of much of what we think of as the American church, but it’s not the Almighty God of Creation, the Triune God that we are here this morning to worship.

And while God will not ever force us to turn back to Him, Scripture is very clear that there will be consequences for continuing to think that we’re here to do whatever we want to do. Even when we, like those Pharisees in ancient Israel, continue to pretend that we’re faithful to God because we come to church on Sunday mornings.

Churches all over this nation who have become lukewarm, or even cold, are ignoring God’s Word, are calling for it to be rewritten or even for the removal of portions that don’t say what we want it to say.

Because we want to be in charge.

But “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” John 1:1. The written Word of God, the Bible, is God’s voice speaking to us. Speaking truth. Every single word—even the ones we don’t like or don’t want to hear.

And it’s because the church has not been willing to stand up and show the world the God of the Bible that our nation is floundering.

Morality is defined in the dictionary as “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or between good and bad behavior.” Who decides? There are three options available to us: God, a sovereign dictator, or the will of the people.

When our political leaders call an action immoral, they’re basing their definition on what they believe is the will of the people. If the people don’t want it—or at least if they think it might be unpopular—it becomes immoral.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, does this sound familiar to you?

In the OT, we read over and over again that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” And every single time we read this, we know that very bad things are about to happen.

Our forefathers in this country put their trust in God and used His Word as their guide in creating the founding documents of this nation. Today, however, much of our leadership has abandoned God—many of our history books have been rewritten to try to remove God’s guidance and providence. We have become like the people at Babel who think that we’ve risen to a place where we no longer need God. Oh, it’s all right to believe in Him—if you must—but don’t expect to bring Him into policy decisions.

We’re headed for disaster—and there’s only one solution. God is the answer, the only answer. Mankind has been searching for some way to live successfully without God for all of human history—with absolutely no success.

And the church is the only place where the knowledge of God can be found.

Earlier in Luke 12, Jesus calls the man who has accumulated much wealth and thinks that now he can just enjoy life and not worry about anything or anyone a fool. In Luke 13, Jesus says that we must repent or perish. Turn back to God. Cry out to Him in repentance, listen to Him—obey Him. In everything.

I Peter 4:17  “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter is saying that we must look first to ourselves, to the church—are we serving God as we should? Are we showing the rest of the world what a difference it makes to rely on God? To be in relationship with our God?

Thousands of years ago, Moses on Mt. Sinai saw the Lord descend in a cloud and pass by him, saying, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7).

This is the same God who is with us today. The same God desiring to be in relationship with His people. With the Body of Christ, the Church.

Is that what we desire? Is that why we come here? What are our expectations for the church? As we approach the annual meeting next week, I think that this might be a good time to consider this question? What do you expect of this church?

I’ve had people complain to me that the bulletin boards should be more attractive, that the sermon should be shorter, that the sermon should be longer; I’ve had people tell me that the service should be shorter—or longer—yes, there really are some of you who would like it be longer. I’ve had people tell me that they’d like different music. I’ve heard that we should have screens or we shouldn’t have screens. I’ve heard that we shouldn’t be spending church money on a daycare. Some of you are very concerned about worship interfering with Sunday School. I’ve heard that if someone is threatening to leave, we should find out why and do whatever we need to do to keep them happy.

Then I look at Scripture and I see, in John 15:12, that Jesus commanded His followers to “love one another as I have loved you.” In Matthew 28, He tells His Body, the Church, to “make disciples of all nations.”  In Galatians 6:2, Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his letter that we are to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (1:27).

And I wonder: what is it that we find more upsetting? Is it when the church doesn’t give us just the right length of worship service with just the right music, or when we fail to love one another and reach out to help bear one another’s burdens?

Are we more concerned about being obedient to God’s commands or about falling short of expectations that we ourselves have created? Is our purpose to please people or to please God?

In our gospel reading, Jesus, in His parable, says the master leaves his servants with specific tasks. He doesn’t say, “Just do something.” He tells them what they need to do and when He returns, he says that he will expect to see the assigned tasks accomplished. When his commands are neglected, he says the servants will be punished harshly.

Perhaps the mess that this country we’re living in is a part of our punishment for neglecting to do the things God calls us to do.

In the OT, God gave clear commands to the Israelite people (613 rules, to be exact). As time went on, the people added additional things that God never actually told them to do, but that they thought were good ideas. Eventually they got to a point where the things they added were more important to them than God’s original commands.

Haven’t we done the same thing?

And isn’t our nation suffering as a result of our making what we think will be appealing to people more important than God’s Word?

I’m not saying these things to condemn. I’m guilty of this, too. As I look at my own life, I see how often I failed to put God first, how often I’ve embraced the cultural message that my life belongs to me and that I’m entitled to do with it as I wish. My intentions weren’t evil; it wasn’t that I didn’t love Christ. I think it had more to do with the fact that I just wasn’t really thinking.

I didn’t stop to consult the Lord God. And sometimes I was more interested in knowing what God would tolerate than I was in knowing what He desired for me. Because we’ve long been taught a kind of minimum standard Christianity—what’s the least I have to do to get into heaven when I die?

This is not what Christ intended for His church.

The first church was focused on doing the things that were most pleasing to God—and this was what made them so attractive. They were a community that people wanted to be part of. They loved Jesus and they loved one another. They focused on fellowship with one another, on reading God’s Word and listening to the apostles’ teaching about that Word. They prayed together and they helped one another when they were in need. They celebrated communion together.

Why did they do these things? Because this is how we experience God—it’s how we grow our relationship with God.

And relationship with God is our purpose. It is to love God and to love one another. Even those broken, messed up people out there who don’t know Him yet. Our job with them is to go and tell them what they’re missing by not knowing God.

This is the reason we were created—to boldly make disciples. Not to be comfortable. So as we prepare to meet next week, let’s pray about this. Let’s ask God to show us specifically what He has planned for us in the coming year. And let’s pray that He’ll help us to let go of any plans that are not His idea.

Let’s stop complaining about how bad things are and let’s let God start to do something about it. Through us. Through His hands and feet and mouth in this world.

Let us pray.

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