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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

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Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Your Righteousness Will Go Before You - February 5, 2017 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Isaiah 58:3-9a

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” (Psalms 122:1). You have no doubt heard these words before. These words declare our excitement and our joy at the prospect of being able to come into the house of the Lord to worship Him and to give Him praise. This morning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will discuss our “gladness” at the prospect of worshiping in the house of the Lord. More specifically we will discuss our worship, especially as we consider our worship compared to that worship described in our Old Testament lesson.
 
Our text actually begins with a bit of a misunderstanding of worship, that is that worship is some outward show. I would suggest this misunderstanding has some cultural ties that is thinking that worship is something we are doing for God, a show of our sincerity or obedience or whatever, as if God needs something from us. Isaiah begins, “3‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (v. 3-4). God through Isaiah reminds the children of Israel and us that our pious activity, fasting and the like, is not something we are to use as a great show, especially as a show to others of how religious we are. That type of outward show leads to all kinds of one-upmanship, quarreling and fighting. An outward pious show truly is not something that is pleasing to God.
 
We continue with verse five, “5Is such the fast that I choose,  a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” (v. 5)  The kind of worship Isaiah is describing is one that has a great outward appearance of true worship. Our first reaction to this verse might be to compare the children of Israel to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and even to some people in our world today. The attitude behind their worship was one of, “look at me, see what good works I do.” Rather than worship being a time to hear God’s Word and even to praise the Lord it had become a time to show off the good things one has done, to show how pious one is and to receive the praise of people for being such a good worshiper.
 
Continuing along these same lines verse six talks about the “bonds of wickedness” and the “straps of the yoke.” These terms bring with it the idea of the person who wants to be praised for their so called “persecution for the Lord,” persecution which is more often than not, persecution which they have brought on themselves in order to say, “look at me, see how I am persecuted.” In other words, a person acts in such a way that brings ridicule by others so they might think and declare they are being persecuted for their outward show. Again, the heart of the matter is not one of praise to the Lord, but is one of look at me, praise me for being such a good Christian.
 
We may remember from catechism class that “fasting and bodily preparation are indeed fine outward training,” but these are not the heart of worship. The heart of true worship is worship that is motivated by our faith. The Lord’s desire is that we worship with a sincere heart. And while true worship is to worship with a sincere heart, we need to remember that it is not sincerity which motivates God to accept our worship, rather He is motivated by His love for us, in Jesus Christ. In other words, because He first loved us, we are motivated to respond to that love and to worship Him as a response to His love.
 
In verses six and seven Isaiah gives us a hint of what the Lord considers as sincere worship, or better stated, how we live our lives as sincere worship to the Lord.  He says, “6Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him,  and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (v. 6, 7). These things are outward evidences of the genuine faith that is in a person. Yes, fasting is one outward sign of repentance, but showing mercy toward others is more of a sign of true repentance. In other words, all outward evidences of repentance and sorrowing and mourning in repentance, mean nothing if the heart and mind are not affected by this repentance.
 
When our true repentance, when our faith shows forth by our actions, then our light will break forth. In simple terms, people can see through one’s facade of being a Christian or simply acting as a Christian. Isaiah describes these events in verse eight and the first part of verse nine, “8Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (v. 8,9a).
 
As sinful human beings we are often described as the people who walk in darkness. In contrast to our darkness shall a “light break forth like the dawn.” The light is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is that light that will break forth like dawn, the light like the Sun that rises in the morning to bring light to the world after the night is gone. Jesus is the light who will bring healing. Jesus is the light that will bring forgiveness and restoration to His people.
 
Jesus, the light of the world, is also our righteousness who will go before us. Satan is alive and well. He is there to tempt us, daily. The good news is that the Light of the world, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ has already gone before us. He has already suffered the temptations of Satan, and has overcome his temptations. Jesus has gone before us and has shown us that with His help we can resist the temptations of the devil.
 
Jesus, the light of the world will bring the glory of the Lord to be your guard. More than likely, Isaiah is here referring to the pillar of cloud and fire in the desert which lead the children of Israel by day and night out of Egypt. In the same way that the Lord was with and was the guardian of the Israelites, He is also with us and is our guardian through life.
 
“9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” (v. 9a).  Isaiah tells us, “then.” When is this then? This then is when we respond to the working of faith in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This then is when Jesus work of salvation becomes our work of salvation. This then is when we worship the Lord in sincerity, truth, and purity.
 
And so we worship. Our desire is to be in worship. As I have said before the desire of one having faith is to be in worship where one might be strengthened and kept in faith. And so we come and we worship. We worship the Lord in sincerity, truth, and purity, not just in church on Sunday morning but everyday. We worship the Lord in sincerity, truth and purity when we live our lives, at work and at home, as a worship to the Lord. We worship the Lord when His love for us produces in us a response to love Him in return. We worship the Lord when His love moves us to live our lives according to His good and gracious will.
 
We worship the Lord when we join others in cooperate worship, which again, is our desire as faithful Christians. Cooperate worship is the gathering of believers to sing praises to God, to hear His Word, and to be strengthening in our faith through the sacraments. Cooperate worship is the gathering of believers to passively be given the good gifts and blessing our Lord has to give to us. Cooperate worship is God doing the acting and believers being given the benefits of those actions.
 
The word “worship” has come to mean many different things in our world and society today and that is so unfortunate. Perhaps as you have been listening this morning you may have had different images come to mind when you heard the word “worship.” Hopefully over the past number of years you have heard from me a more distinct and Biblical understanding of what is true worship.
 
What we believe, teach and confess is that true worship is God work. Our Lutheran Service Book, takes us back to Dr. Luther’s day and reminds us what true worship is by not calling it the “Order of Morning Service, with or without Communion,” but by calling the worship service orders, “Divine Service.” This is translated from the German “Gottesdienft” meaning “God service,” and reminds us that worship is not our service, but is first and foremost God’s work. Worship is God’s work of giving us forgiveness through confession and absolution and His work of strengthening us in our faith through the means of grace, through the Word and the sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thus, we worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say and as you look at our liturgy what you see is that it is permeated with the Word of God that we say back to Him. Just as a side note, I have done some reading on the history of Christian liturgy and the liturgies we use in Divine Service can be traced back to many parts of the world since the first century. Also, as I read through the book of Leviticus and the giving of the ceremonial laws, by God, what I have read seems to indicate that the liturgies we use today have their roots in these ceremonial laws, except that today we have them in their fulfilled form. All this study makes me wonder why people think we have the right to change what has been handed down to us, a divine service that transcends time, language, and culture.
 
Paul gives us a good example of what is worship in our epistle lesson when he explains that he came, not in eloquence or superior wisdom, but when he came proclaiming the testimony of God. True worship lies below the outward trappings, the vestments, the liturgy, the formality. True worship is knowing only Christ. True worship is hearing God’s Word. It is the reading of the lessons, the receiving of the sacraments, and as far as the Word is properly proclaimed, the preaching of the sermon.
 
In our Gospel lesson we have another example of worship, this time from Matthew. True worship is more than merely hearing the Word. True worship is living our lives as a worship to the Lord. Indeed, true worship is living our lives, in our vocations, letting our light shine so that all who see might know that we are Christians because God has made us so, not that we do so only in a showy manner, but in humbleness and always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ.
 
Thus, we worship our Lord privately and publicly, and so I would encourage you to do the same, to worship the Lord both privately and publicly. I would encourage you in your own private worship to daily remember your baptism, to daily read the Word, to daily have private and family devotions, and to daily go to the Lord in prayer. Pray for yourself as well as for the needs of our church, community and nation.
 
I would encourage you in your public or corporate worship as well and perhaps even more so. I would encourage you to continue in your faithful every Sunday attendance as well as in your attendance of the Lord’s Supper. Your faithful every Sunday attendance speaks loudly to others of the faith that is in you. Most especially, most especially, I would encourage you, reminding you that with the Lord’s help, when you call, the Lord will answer and He will say, “Here am I.” “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD (Psalms 122:1).” Praise the name of the Lord and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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