A Sermon for Series A 4th Sunday in Lent 2017 “Tough Love”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 42:14-21

Second Lesson  Ephesians 5:8-14

Gospel Lesson  John 9:1-41 

Grace, mercy, and peace; from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Old Testament Lesson just read.  [Isaiah 42:14-21]

This is your child, and you’ve told them that you loved them and you want only the best for them.  You taught them, you warned them that there would be consequences and the consequences would be severe.  But they just don’t listen.  They’ve turned away from you and they’re walking … no, running … away from you as fast as they can.

You love them, and you’re patient.  In fact your patience is something you’re known for … and your love too.  It could be that your child is counting on that patience as they run; or it could be that they’ll come to their senses and come running back to you.  At some point you have to make a decision.  Do you let them run; and let them find out the hard way what their poor decision making brings; or do you intervene?

I mean, you know you want to intervene, but something’s holding you back.  You know yourself and you know that you’ll lose your temper with the very one you love because your heart is jealous for them and they ignored your promise and the plan you had for their life.  But in the end, love overcomes patience and you do intervene.  You intervene with tough love.

You don’t want the children you love straying from the straight and narrow in order to feed their self-indulgent satisfaction.  You don’t want them straying from their safe haven with you just because someone planted false fears in them and those fears are growing into doubt about the truth of your love.

Their desertion hurts so much it’s enough to make you want to scream like a mother giving birth to a child.  And so you step in to save them through tough love.  That scream of yours, like a woman in labor, not only echoes from the mountains; it destroys them.  Your breath, which gives life, in this case takes water away, the very stuff of life. You’re serious about the failure of your child to trust in you.  You see this mistrust as a sign of unfaithfulness and you feel betrayed; but your love overshadows your frustration and you find delight and pleasure in restoring your child.

And God said: For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.  I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. Israel had run to other gods.

In Exodus chapter twenty, God tells us not to have other gods.  In our Old Testament reading today, the other gods are plain to see, as God says: They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, “You are our gods.” And in Luther’s Small Catechism, people are said to have other gods when they regard and worship any creature or thing as God; when they believe in a god who is not the triune God that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed; when they fear, love, or trust in any person or thing as they should fear, love, and trust in God alone; or when they join in the worship of one who is not the triune God.

Again, it sounds pretty clear what having other gods means.  But the world is much more subtle in providing it’s definitions of other gods.  These other worldly gods aren’t necessarily carved idols or metal images.  And worship of these other worldly gods is a lot more subtle too.  The world lays before us so many opportunities to blindly trust in men and their inventions that it’s easy to fall unfaithfully into the worship of other gods.

It’s no wonder your child, the one you loved and taught, finds it so acceptable to turn and run.  Your child is only following your example.  We’re tempted to think that we’ve changed.  We know better than to worship idols and metal images. We’re tempted to think that we’re superior to those who worship other gods.

Times change, situations change, but people don’t change.  Israel worshiped other gods, openly; and they sacrificed to them openly; we convince ourselves that we don’t worship other gods; that we don’t sacrifice to other gods; but we do.  We may not worship openly, but we worship them inwardly, privately. The graven images may not be carved from stone or wood anymore, but our worship hasn’t stopped.

And we sacrifice.  In our society we idolize luxury homes that demand sacrifices of copious hours of overtime to feed a hungry mortgage.  We kneel before the almighty stock market as we watch the Dow Jones soar. Some in our society idolize liquor and addictive drugs that demand sacrifices of money, health, and dignity.

In our society we idolize obsessive hobbies that demand sacrifices of time away from our families.  Who says we don’t have other gods?  The longer we go without the truth, the easier it is for us to stop listening, to stop looking, becoming deaf and blind.

The one true God knows this about us. His words to Israel are words he says to us today: Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see!  Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send?  Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord?  He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear

God doesn’t wait for us to get up and seek him.  He doesn’t wait for us to find him.  He doesn’t wait for us to decide to choose him.  He comes to us; preparing the way with his tough love!  Preparing the Royal Highway for his Son.  He sends us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  The King of kings who came to serve us; the only God who, unlike other gods, is truly alive.

The God who came to die for us; our Lord and Savior who alone can restore our sight and make us hear again.  On the cross he suffered and died in our place.  On the cross he bought us with his precious blood.  On the cross he secured the forgiveness of all our sins.

This is the good news that the Holy Spirit reveals to us as he calls us through the gospel.  This is the Word that creates saving faith in us, radically changing us, totally recreating us; freeing us from the other gods that lay hold of us, and making us alive, truly alive; truly hearing, truly seeing for the first time.

Now that we’re alive, now that we’re free, the Spirit sends us out to those who are still dead like the idols they worship; He sends us out, sharing the love that Christ first gave us, sharing the life giving Word that opens ears that have become deaf, that brings faith and life eternal; sharing the truth that creates change, the truth that we have a living God.

The other gods people worship aren’t alive and yet people sacrifice to them, but our God, whose tough love brings us to repentance, is alive and yet he requires no sacrifice from us.  The only sacrifice our salvation required was provided by our God.  Our God is alive, yet he comes to us while we’re still dead to him, sacrificing himself, giving himself up unto death that we might be made alive like him.  The other gods of this world are dead and yet they take and take and take from us; our God is alive, and he comes to us giving and giving and giving himself to us, his own body and blood to strengthen us and to keep us unto life everlasting.

We have a God who’s passionate about us.  We have a God who loves us with a tough love that won’t stand by and let our fear and doubt take us away from him. We have a God; the one and only true God, who was willing to use his law, to magnify his law, to make his law glorious in the person of his Son who took our place in life, as he lived the perfect life for us, and took our place in death as he conquered death for us.

We have a God who never gives up on us, but intervenes in our blind and sightless life; opening our eyes to see his Son saving us and restoring us, so that we might be his own, now and forever.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle