Sermon for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany

Rebellion is healed by forgiving Refuge that fosters Respect and Reverence. We continue our Epiphany series on life in Christ as a commuter Church. As we read at the start of the Epiphany season in Ephesians 3, we as Gentiles are fellow-heirs of God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In such, we are called to be holy and are declared holy through Christ. In this holiness, we are called as the Church to exhort each other to endure through encouragement. In this holy life in Christ, we increase through the inheritance by incorporation on a world scale. This week, we will look at the letter R in Heirs to dig a bit deeper into viewing our responsibilities as Christians in the Church; to call those in rebellion to the repentance and the forgiving refuge of Christ’s Church that fosters respect and reverence in all relationships.

Rebellion. Psalm 36:1-4

            The common issue with all humanity is rebellion. What does this have to do with our status as a commuter Church? We are all sinners in need of each other in terms of exhortation and admonition. Yes, God’s Word teaches us the Law and our need for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Yet, often when we are in some sort of rebellion, we close ourselves off to the parts of the Word that convict in those areas. These are the times where we need loving brothers and sisters in the Lord to do as described in our Old Testament lesson, to give warnings and to confront with love when necessary.

            Psalm 36:1-4 provides a sobering picture of human rebellion. All rebellion stems from sin. Essentially, it means to turn actively away from God and His Word. I Samuel 15:23 states in the context of King Saul’s behavior against God and His Commandments, “For rebellion is as the sin of divination.” Further, Proverbs 17:11 states, “An evil man seeks only rebellion.” All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. We constantly deal with the temptation to rebel; whether against parents to break the Ten Commandments or against civil leaders as written in our Epistle today from Romans 13.

            Psalm 36 speaks to the point that rebellion is a heart issue. Such comes from the very deepest parts of human beings. The first four verses speak of our inherent ills. Transgression speaks to the wicked as we read “deep in his heart.” The result of this is that there is no fear of God before his eyes. Rebellion against God blinds us to whether actions or words are right or wrong. In other words, when confronted about something being wrong, the wicked from their hearts simply do not care. Rebellion causes the person to flatter “himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.” As verse 3 continues, “The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.” The rebellious person as verse 4 states sets on a path that is “not good.” He plots trouble while on his bed. Even at rest, evil is ever on his mind. The rebellious do not reject evil. Rather, they embrace it and reject righteousness. Such is the plight of all humanity without Jesus Christ, without exception.

Rebellion is sinful behavior that justifies the sinful rebellion as necessary in order to achieve man made safety and refuge. Such only ends in further misery. Rebellion is humanity’s way of telling God we do not like the way He is doing things and that we can do better. Rebellion is to say we do not like the way our parent’s do things and thus we have the right to dishonor them through sin. Rebellion is to say we do not like the way our governing rulers are doing things and thus we have the right to dishonor and disobey them through sin. Rebellion is to say we can create our own refuge and that we do not need God for our refuge.

Reasoned debate and disobedience of man’s sinful laws that force the Christian to deny Christ are not rebellion. If we look to the early years of Christianity, we see examples of men and women disobeying laws that forbid preaching Christ yet submitting to the unjust penalties for disobeying the ungodly laws. We do not read of St. Stephen or any of the other martyrs for the faith taking to the streets to commit acts of sinful rebellion. The only things they took to the streets for were to continue to preach the Gospel, heal and take care of the sick and destitute, and so forth. When rebellion is justified, we must turn to Christ in repentance. When rebellion is justified to try to seek a worldly safe haven or refuge of our own making, we must turn to Christ in repentance and to what only He can give us.

Refuge. Psalm 36:5-12

            In God’s grace, we are called to repent of our rebellion. In repentance, we are forgiven by the blood of Christ and are granted refuge in Him, His Body the Church. Verses 5-12 of our Psalm outline this refuge. We can find refuge in God due to His perfect love that is not found with sinful human attempts at creating refuge. Human refuge never lasts. God’s refuge is eternal. We see why God gives us refuge in verses 5-6 of our Psalm. We read that His steadfast love extends to the heavens. Human love extends only to the end of one’s nose. His faithfulness extends to the clouds. Human faithfulness extends to only self. God righteousness is like the mountains of God. His judgments are like the great deep as we read. Human righteousness is more like the large human-made mountains one sees in a landfill. Yes, they may look pretty if grass has been allowed to grow over them. Yet, if you dig a few inches, you will find garbage of every sort and that righteousness was a mirage. Human judgments are shallow and full of selfish ambition for whatever faction has control. We need God.

            Verse 7 describes what God provides, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” He heals us of the penalty rebellion mandates. He heals us from suffering eternal death by Jesus Christ taking the penalty so that we could live. As we read in the Gospel today in Matthew 8, Jesus went throughout the Promised Land to heal all manners of sickness in part to convey to us how God heals the ravages of sin for all eternity, ultimately through the promised resurrection of our bodies into glorified bodies as Jesus was raised.

            On this side of eternity, we experience the glimmers of the future of resurrection through life in the Church, the Body of Christ. We are called in forgiveness to a life of love rather than rebellion. In such, we feast on the abundance of His house. He gives us drink from the river of His delights. In His light do we see light. We are no longer blind to grope about in rebellion. Rather, we see with the eyes of faith, patiently waiting upon the Lord for all things. In Christ, we experience the continued steadfast love of God and His righteousness to free us from our slavery to sin and death. In Christ, in His refuge He provides, we pray confidently as the end of Psalm 36 outlines to let not the foot of arrogance come upon us or the hand of the wicked to drive us away. Part of living in the refuge of Christ’s Church is to know we live in a fallen world. It is to know our limitations as we fulfill the Gospel to preach the Gospel in the world. It is to pray for His grace of protection as we preach.

Respect. Romans 13:1-7

            Prayer teaches humility and respect. It is to realize our limitations and to live in awe of God and in RESPECT of Him and all He provides. Forgiving refuge fosters godly respect in all aspects of life. When one is in a false system of refuge, respect is lacking. Rather, what often is found in false systems of refuge are DEMANDS for respect.

            We must look to Jesus for the perfect example of respect. Even though He was spitefully treated, He never caved into the sin of rebellious speech or instigation. Yes, even His disciples at times wanted Him to act as any worldly leader would act in similar circumstances, especially with the miracles they had witnessed. They thought that Jesus should use His powers to rise to the stature of King David. Instead, Jesus in humility and meekness for our sakes defeated our propensity to rebel and disrespect all authority through His death.

            In humility, we are called as we read in Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” To be subject is to do so through Jesus Christ, not in blind obedience, but in sacrificial and loving obedience. Verse 7 of our Epistle calls us to this, “respect to whom respect is owed.” The point to all of this is obedience first to God and His Word. From obedience comes the grace to wait on the Lord to alleviate all our needs and adversities. Often, rebellion seeps in through discontent in God’s promises through impatience. Our call in respect is to be watchful in the items God commands us under His refuge; prayer, worship, fellowship, and His love. Too often when rebellion seeps in, it is a sign we lack in prayer, worship, fellowship, and love.

Reverence. Nehemiah 13:15-22

            God brings us through His forgiving refuge to respect and lastly to reverence. Respect and reverence are linked. If one lacks in respect for the civil authorities, one will also lack in reverence for God. Looking at the Ten Commandments, we are called to reverence God with respect for the name of God and for the respect for our fellow human beings made in God’s image. We are called to reverence God in terms of our time, the Sabbath.

            The lack of reverence for God and the time He set aside for us to observe was covered in our lesson from Nehemiah 13. The people were actively breaking the Sabbath restrictions on trade. People were working as if the day was normal. People were selling and buying as if the day was normal. There was a wholesale lack of reverence for God. Instead, they lived in open rebellion. Moreover, in the context of Nehemiah, this was especially sad due to the people in Jerusalem that had recently returned from 70 years of exile due to Judah habitually committing the same sorts of sins. God in His love as seen through Nehemiah warned and confronted the people. They stopped the irreverent practices.

            Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is our Sabbath Rest. See, we cannot attain perfect rest without God. We need Jesus that fulfilled the Law perfectly for us to secure our peace, our eternal refuge that we could never earn. In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees went about puffing their chests out in pride that they had the corner on the market of holiness, on following the Sabbath to perfection. Yet, they still missed the mark even though they looked like they hit the mark perfectly. Their reverence was forced and artificial. Their artificial reverence was rather an excuse for hatred. The reverence God brings to us through Jesus Christ is the reverence for Him and for human life. The true following of the Sabbath is how Jesus communicated such to us; that acts of love are actually acts of rest. In Christ, we find reverence is not stifling, but liberating to allow us to love God, our neighbors, and our enemies.

Conclusion

            In our commuter context, we must be praying for each other and willing to love each other enough to warn, exhort, and even confront in a respectful manner when rebellion comes to light. See, the issue here is that living in the refuge of God that fosters loving respect and reverence is that we will not go about looking for rebellion in each other like agents of the Spanish Inquisition. Rather, the light of Christ exposes darkness in the time God deems fit for us to respond with respect and reverence. When the focus is constantly to look for the specks in the eyes of each other, we will be a place of man-made refuge that lacks in respect and reverence. Rather, through living in gratitude that God has saved us from our rebellious ways through repentance and His forgiveness to grant us entrance into the refuge of His Church, we will find God gives us the grace of His patience so that we will be respectful and reverential. Let us submit to His forgiveness that heals us in His refuge from our propensity to rebel. “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Amen.