Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 21-22, 2021
“What Does God Want?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I’m reading a book about President Ronald Reagan, I think he was nicknamed “The Great Communicator.” He said that when he gave a speech he would tell his audience one thing. Then he would repeat it. And before he was done he would remind them what he said.
That is what we find in the words of Isaiah and then much later in the words of Jesus. The words that are given is a big word that is used today. It is the word “authentic”. Real. True. Not phony, not fake. Authentic. I live a couple of miles from a large church building that bought their building from a church that closed. They named their church “Authentic Life Church.” On my way to Walmart on Monday I drove past Abiding Hope and the sign on that church had three words to explain what they want to do there – “Experience Authentic Life”.
If you have ever asked the question, “What does God want?” I have an answer for you. He wants an authentic life and an authentic faith. He is not into putting on a show. He isn’t interested in appearances or when someone simply lives for the praise of other people. He wants what is real and true. Authentic. Genuine. Real.
Have you heard the name, Pat Sullivan before? Some of you have. Maybe you followed his story. Just a few months ago Pat Sullivan died. He served as the Arapahoe County Sherriff from 1984 until 2002 – which is a long time for anyone to be elected and reelected. He was known as “Super-Cop” for a number of amazing things he did in law enforcement. They even named the jail in Arapahoe County after him.
But when he became an inmate in that jail they took his name off the cement wall. It was discovered that while he was Sheriff he was using illegal drugs and then he would trade meth to have sex with young men. The more these accusations were investigated the worse the findings became. People were shocked. What they thought of him was shattered. Their trust was destroyed. He wasn’t as authentic as they thought.
In Isaiah 29, our reading from today, this is what God was saying of His people, “These people come near me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13) I think we call that “lip-service”. We say the right things, we make lots of promises, but that is all it is. Just a bunch of hot air. We don’t keep our word. We only say things to appease others. And in this scenario the lip-service is directed to God. In Mark 7 Jesus says that those words applied to the phonies of New Testament times. Can it apply now? To us? To you? To me? One commentator said that this is all about “empty recitations of religious formulas.”
What does God want? Authentic. No games. No empty religion. But the closer God got in His demands the more the defenses were built. “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’” (Isaiah 29:15) Last week I told you that it is only a fool who doesn’t believe in God. But I forgot to tell you that it is only a fool who lives as if God doesn’t know the lies that we can try to hide.
Isaiah doesn’t stop with that word. “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing?’” (Isaiah 29:16) This goes all the way back to Genesis where God is the potter and we are the clay. God takes a bunch of clay, dust, and forms man. He is the creator. We are the creation. Don’t try to turn that around.
Have you ever been called a phony? Hurts, doesn’t it? Sometimes it isn’t true. But then, when it is, we have to take a hard look at ourself. We can find out that we have not been true to God or to self or to others. Sheriff Pat Sullivan after his initial sentence was served, was released, but some years later he went back to jail because he broke his parole. He falsified drug tests and he later admitted that he was addicted to drugs. He struggled with being honest for many years.
What does God want? He wants a true heart. He wants an authentic life. Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Authentic, huh? What does God want? Psalm 51 is pretty straight forward, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Verse 17)
Why does God want this? Why isn’t He happy with mindless, thoughtless religious recitations? Why isn’t He satisfied with us putting on a false front but looking pretty good doing it? Why? Because it isn’t real. Because we would never get to deal with ourself and we never get to know the depth of God’s rescue and salvation. If we would be so dishonest in our souls we would never get to know the truth of God’s deep love. People who are not authentic spend their lives running away from themselves and running away from God.
Authentic people are broken people. But they are people that God puts back together. Authentic people are those who believe in a real God. This real, authentic God has the best in store for us. Our saving God clearly says, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord? Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin shall not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:23, 30-32)
Isn’t it interesting that God uses images, stories and pictures for what He really intends to do for us in the saving work of Jesus Christ? The end of our reading says this about God’s action, “In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest? In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:17-19) How can the blind see? How can the deaf hear? That is a God thing!! How can the one who has been filled with lies have the heart filled with repentance and the joy of a new life? It is a God thing. It is a Jesus thing.
In Matthew 11 John the Baptist is in prison and he sends his followers to Jesus and they ask the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Matthew 11:2-5) Jesus shows by His real actions that He truly saves people who know that they need Him. Trust Jesus. Have faith in Him.
If someone says to you, “I can see right through you” that is not a compliment. They are suggesting that you have a false front and that under the skin is something ugly. God can also say, “I can see right through you.” And this is what God can see and what He wants to do:
- He sees the need for repentance. He demands sorrow over falsehood and desires us to ache for change.
- He sees the gift of grace, forgiveness and hope – all given in Jesus, the Savior, whose true and authentic death and resurrection brings full forgiveness and a new hope.
- He sees what lies ahead. An authentic life does marvelous things when we see the One who made us and redeemed us at work within us. As God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
President Reagan said that when you speak you should tell your audience what you want to say, tell it to them again and before you are done remind them of what you said. That is what God does. What does God want? An authentic life. True in repentance and change. Fully trusting in the work of Jesus. Totally sure that God has the best plans for us in every day to come. Amen? Amen!!