Sunday’s Sermon: Responding to God’s Word

  • When I was a really little kid – probably about 2 or 3 years old – I was playing with one of those little wheeled riding toys.
    • Small, silver Goodyear blimp
    • Mom was pushing me down driveway
    • Hit large rock or bump –> started to tip over
    • Mom’s automatic response: do everything she could to keep me from getting hurt
      • Reached out
      • Took a digger herself
      • Scraped up her own knee pretty badly –> left a scar
    • Her gut reaction was to protect her child – a response that came from a place of love and motivated her to act before she really even thought about what she was doing.
    • Now, over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how we are called to gather as a community to worship God in praise and in prayer, and we’ve discussed how it important it is to encounter God’s Word in our worship services. The third phase of the worship service – what we’re talking about this week – is what happens after we’ve heard God’s Word. This week, we’re talking about being inspired to respond.
      • Notice: “inspire” to respond, not “obligated,” not “required,” not “guilted into” … inspired to respond. Our response to God’s Word should be a gut reaction – something that we feel we want to do and need to do because God has touched our hearts, not something that we feel like we have to do because it’s expected of us or because everyone around us is doing it, too.
  • 2 facets of responding – individually and as a community
    • OT passage speaks mostly to responding individually
      • First, touches on how we find protection in responding
        • Protection for us by way of the word – text: If you will only heed [God’s] every commandment that I am commanding you today – loving the Lord your God, and serving him with all your hearts and with all your soul – then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill.[1] –> We are promised provision. We are promised care and God’s sustaining presence if only we would respond to hearing God’s word by following that word … loving the Lord our God, and serving God with all our hearts and with all our souls in every part of our lives.
        • Also important to note that our response actually acts as protection for our hearts – text: Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them[2]
          • Heb in passage is revealing – “seduced into turning away” = literally being “fooled into opening your heart” –> We’ve spoken about how we need to be open to God’s Word – open to letting it work in our lives and in our hearts. But we also have to take care, to be on guard, to watch and make sure we don’t open our hearts to worshiping other things as well.
            • See very similar warning in NT passage as well: Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
              • Gr “take care” translates same as Heb “take care” (“take care, or you will be seduced into turning away”) = watch, guard, beware of, discover –> God isn’t trying to scare us into responding here, but God does want us to be informed. There are things out there that can distract us. There are things out there that, if we take them into our hearts, can quickly attain a God-like prominence, occupying our thoughts, our desires, and our dreams. But when we hear God’s word in worship and respond by take that into our hearts instead – when we give God’s word that place of prominence in our lives – then there will be less opportunity for distractions to take hold.
      • Deut. also makes it clear that Word marks us in response to being heard – text: You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.[3] –> speaks to intimate nature of our individual response to God’s word
        • Something we must choose on our own – “you shall put these words of mine on your heart …”, not “I’ll do it for you”
        • Involves heart, soul and body
        • Not easily undone – Heb “bind” = connotations of one person’s life being bound up with another’s
          • Like a contract – can’t easily or hastily get out of it
      • Finally, Deut. gives us responsibility in our individual response = pass it on – text: Teach [these words of mine] to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates[4] –> responsibility to testify to …
        • Importance of faith
        • Strength of faith
        • Tradition of faith
        • Also responsibility to make our faith known – bind [these words of mine] on your hand … fix them on your forehead. … Write them on your house and on your gates.[5] –> speaks to a visible faith, a faith that we share with the people in our lives. If we are so moved and so marked by God’s word as we say we are – as the writer of Deuteronomy seems to think we are – then our words and actions should reflect that.
          • Like scar on Mom’s knee – doesn’t easily fade
    • This idea leads to responding as a community
      • First, Heb passage references Israelites’ journey out of slavery in Egypt and 40 yrs. wandering in the desert –> All that time, God was just waiting for a genuine, faithful response from the people of Israel. And many times, they came close. But every time they did, their hearts would stray.
        • Following false gods/idols
        • Losing trust in God
        • Letting greed and jealousy override their faith
        • See this in passage – text (God): your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation.[6]
          • Gr. “angry” = offended, provoked –> So we see that God isn’t angry with the Israelites just because God is fickle, just because God felt like being angry. Words like “offended” and “provoked” imply cause behind the anger, something that God was driven to, not something that God arbitrarily chose. God’s response is contingent on the response of the people.
          • And so instead of getting caught in this age-old cycle of disobedience and inadequate response, the passage from Hebrews urges us to encourage one another in our faith.
            • Text: But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.[7] –> introduces element of accountability to our faith
              • Now, I think the concept of accountability in faith circles has acquired an uncomfortable connotation. For a lot of Christian, it’s come to be associated mostly with the act of bearing our sins to someone else so that they can keep an eye on us, sort of a roundabout form of confession. But that’s not all that accountability is. At its core, accountability in faith is helping one another respond to God.
              • In passage from Hebs, Gr. “exhort” = summon, invite, comfort, encourage –> Think about it. These are all ways that we hold one another up in faith. We get to know each other as members of the same family of faith, and so when one of us is struggling, we extend a hand to help. We extend a prayer for strength and God’s peace. We bring a casserole or we watch the kids or we do whatever is necessary to remind each other of God’s goodness in the midst of difficult times. In this way, we let the Word of God that we have heard in Scripture and sermons and prayer and song be passed on to those in need. We respond to the needs of our community, and we respond to God’s desire for us to be the priesthood of all believers.
      • Respond by giving of our time, our talents, and our resources
        • Very recent perfect e.g.s – church coming together for …
          • [O] – luncheons
          • [Z] – Country store
          • 2 major worship elements included in this = offering & sacraments
            • Offering
              • Prayer of Dedication
              • Hymn of praise
                • Used to be doxology, this month’s e.g. – Let Every Christian Pray
                • Sacraments
                  • Lord’s Supper
                  • Baptism
                • Also includes ordination/installation – ways that we respond to the call of God placed on our lives
                  • Often a call heard through Scripture – e.g. solidifying my call through words of Ps 139
                • Scholar points out elements (offering & sacraments) are actually historically tied together: The Offering did not originate as a way of raising revenue or exerting monetary pressure on people to give when they supposedly were in a heightened state of spiritual sensitivity. In early centuries, Christians brought … gifts of bread and wine from their own tables. A place to receive such gifts was designated near the entrance to the room where the congregation assembled for worship. During the service, deacons would set apart the amount of bread and wine needed for the Lord’s Supper, and after the service of the Word, bring them forward to the Holy Table. The gifts of bread and wine represented the people’s offering of their own lives in the service of Jesus Christ.[8]
  • Often, this “responding to God’s Word” is where we find ourselves in danger of simply going through the motions – doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. It’s also the part of the worship service that we tend to gloss over the most, especially when it comes to the offering. We don’t like talking about money, and we don’t like the idea of tying our faith to money, so we quickly pass the offering plate along and move on to the next hymn. But responding to God’s Word – in our worship service and in our daily lives – is about so much more than just what we tangibly pull out of our wallets. It’s about putting feet to our faith. It’s about letting the Word that we’ve heard inspire us to act. God’s Word is full of love and peace, forgiveness and grace – all things that I think this world could use more of … and so we respond! Amen.

[1] Deut 11:13-15.

[2] Deut 11:16

[3] Deut 11:18.

[4] Deut 11:19-20.

[5] Deut 11:18, 20.

[6] Heb 3:9b-10a.

[7] Heb 3:13-14.

[8] Peter C. Bower, ed. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003), 33-34.

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