Third Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2018
“All Encompassing Religion”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The church is in trouble. The numbers of folks who are entering full-time church work is dangerously low. In our church body the number of pastors retiring is much greater than those who are entering. Our Lutheran schools search for the diminishing numbers of Synodically trained teachers to fill their classrooms. People in the know worry about staffing the church in the years to come.
But we’re not alone. The Roman Catholic Church has about 50 million members in the United States – about one of every 6 folks in our country are Roman Catholic. But they have a problem in caring for that many folks. The Nuns in the church have always been a main supply of workers in the church. In 1960 there were about 175,000 Nuns in America. That number now is about 50,000 and falling. The Nuns have three areas of mission – matters of education, health and social justice.
But I read in last Sunday’s paper that the Catholics are doing something about their problem. A number of lay people are taking new responsibilities in the church. Here in Littleton the Sisters of Loretto have seen both men and women become co-members with the Nuns. They participate in the mission of the society without taking vows of poverty or celibacy. Locally they have 18 full members of the society – Nuns – and 48 co-members – laypeople.
This is all encompassing religion. They are dedicated to doing a work that demands much from them. Today we read the commandments of God in the Old Testament reading. When you look at this you can say that what God is saying to us is that our religion is all encompassing. It isn’t part-time. It isn’t occasional. It isn’t a matter of picking and choosing some things that we will follow. Our religion demands everything from us. It is full-time. It is every day. It is our life.
All encompassing religion begins with faith. It begins with God taking the first step. The 10 Commandments, the call for our faithfulness, is built on God’s faithfulness. This is how the Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:2-3) You see, it all begins with His hand toward us, reaching to us. Then it demands our full obedience. In the previous chapter God spoke a similar way, “You yourselves have seen what I did in Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all the nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4-6a)
If we are going to be His, which is what these words, these commands are all about, we have to know that He is ours. He is. He is our God. He is our Savior. He sought us. He looked for us. He sent Jesus to make us His people. Peter says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10) Faith in Jesus is where our religion finds its foundation. We trust that our sins are forgiven when He went to the cross for us and rose with might. We believe that we are a new creation in Him. This is what we can expect of God.
And this is what He expects of us. You shall have no other gods. You shall not take My name in vain. You shall remember the Sabbath day. You shall honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet. That is an all encompassing religion. It demands everything from us. God expects this from us. Every day. Every moment. No exceptions.
We can’t let anything take the place of God. We can’t let things, possessions, money, drugs, alcohol become the most important thing in life. God is God and He won’t let anything or anybody take His place.
We can’t live in bitterness and anger. We can’t live with a heart that hates. We can’t live offering constant discouragement to people. When we do such things we are taking life with its joy away from them. We are not the most important person in the world – God has told us that. (I hope someone else has told you that, as well.) Jesus has given us quite a simple command with how we relate to others, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
We can’t live like the rest of the world in regards to marriage and sex. Dirty jokes and filthy language are not acceptable for people of God. Watching pornography and dirty movies, even listening to music that is filled with awful words do not build up the Christian’s heart but destroys the very thing that they were called for. Emotional affairs, physical affairs, sexual affairs are not God’s way. Sexual love is meant for marriage.
I guess all 10 Commandments are about being holy and pure. In Leviticus 19 God says, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) In the late 80’s Homer Rogers in his book, Uncommon Sense: An Introduction to Christian Belief, writes this paragraph, “I need to define the word ‘holy’. It’s a word that exists in every language and is a common term in every religion. In Greek it’s hagios, in German heilig, in Latin sanctus. The Polynesian word is taboo. When the American and British whalers first made landfalls in the South Pacific, they brought back and introduced the word taboo, commonly interpreted as ‘forbidden’. But that’s not what the word means. It means holy. The English sailors would land on some Polynesian island and flirt with all the native girls, and when some man would make a pass at a particular girl, they would all freeze up, become indignant, and say, ‘No, no. Taboo.’ The sailors would go exploring on the islands and the natives would show them around happily until they came to some particular mountain or cave and want to go up it or in it. Then the natives would say, ‘No, no. Taboo.’ So the sailors thought it meant forbidden, but what the natives were really saying was, ‘You can’t go in there. That’s holy. You must let that particular girl alone. She’s holy.’ The primary meaning of holy is ‘to belong to God for His exclusive use.’”
God has spoken about something being taboo – forbidden – ‘thou shalt not’, because something is holy. Your body is holy. Their body is holy. So certain things are forbidden. Life is holy. Taking life, hurting life, despising life, is forbidden, because it is holy. Possessions are holy and so is the reputation of others, so how we treat and respect them in the lives of others follows with the thought that they belong to God for His exclusive use, they are holy.
You may remember the words from Micah about what God requires of His people. Verse 8, chapter 6, “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.” What does God want of us? What is His will for our life? We are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to love others. God. Others. That is what the 10 commandments are all about. They are all about love. They are all about a religion that is not a one day a week thing, but it is 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, every month, every year.
We have an exceptional God. Do you marvel at how great He is? Are you speechless at how wise and good He is? Have you seen that His timing for the things in life that happen, or don’t happen, are just amazing? Our own Pastor Don Ginkel has written a book, over 100 pages in length, now being studied on Wednesday mornings titled, “Our Awesome God.” In every aspect concerning our God, God is awesome and exceptional. He saved Israel and brought them to a promised land. He told them, “I’m your God and you’re My people.”
And we are an exceptional people. We are holy. Set apart. Chosen. Paul says of us, “Who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4b) Our religion is lively and active. It seeks to do the will of God. It desires to follow the commands of God. When God spoke to His people in Exodus they responded, “We will do everything the Lord had said.” (Exodus 19:8a)
Our religion is all encompassing. It lives with a joyful faith in God’s redemption in Jesus. It lives with a faithfulness that has fallen in love with God and with the people in our world. This faith that we have lives to please God everyday. Amen!!