Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 3, 2018
“Duties Next Step”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
A pastor and a bus driver entered heaven on the same day, about the same time. St. Peter is there to welcome both in. They both looked at the glory of heaven and were amazed. But they both noticed that there are different types of houses. All nice, but some a little better than others. The preacher notices the difference and is pretty sure that the nicer place, the mansion, is probably for him. After all – he is a preacher.
But that wasn’t the case. The bus driver was given the keys for the mansion. The preacher got the more humble home. The preacher pulled St. Peter aside and asked him if he had gotten it wrong. Peter said, “Oh, no. We got it right. You see, when he drove that bus people prayed. When you preached your sermons people slept.”
Today I’m going to preach about going to church. Now, you’re not the people that I should be preaching to, right? I should be preaching to everyone who didn’t come today, or who have never come. But you’re here – so you get it. The Old Testament reading is about keeping the third commandment. The gospel is about the Sabbath laws.
The third commandment is about duty. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” No work is to be done on that day. Duty is a great word. I imagine that you are responsible people. You’re responsible – most of you showed up on time for church. You take this whole thing about coming to church seriously. Some of you just don’t miss a Sunday. It is habit. The week would not feel right, or even go right, if you didn’t start this day in your assigned pew. I imagine that in many things, not just in Sunday worship. you are responsible people.
But not everyone is that way. Loren Otte, now in heaven for 5 years, in his latter days worked at Lowe’s just off Santa Fe on Belleview. Loren would get frustrated with those who just wouldn’t do their duty. He managed a department and in order for it to run well he needed the other employees to show up and work. But that wasn’t the case. No shows. Arriving quite late. Not even calling in when they couldn’t get there or were going to be late. Loren didn’t do very well with that irresponsibility of others.
In the commands of God, God called for responsibility. Rest is necessary. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” No work. None. In the place of work came the call to worship. Going to church, worshiping, Sunday School, Bible Class, and eating donuts between services, was the new rule. That was the duty. It was all part of that greater commandment – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
I have heard from many people about their disdain about coming to church. They tell me that when they were younger they were forced to go to church and Sunday School. Every Sunday, mom and dad would wake them up and drag them to church and force them to sit in Sunday School. For 16 or 18 years, until they were finally emancipated, they were forced to such slavery. Now they are free. They aren’t coming back. And they aren’t going to be like their parents – they don’t make their kids come.
You know what they missed? They missed duties next step. There is nothing wrong with duty. In fact we need a whole bunch more of it in our world. But it can’t end there. There is a step after duty.
In the reading from Mark 2 and 3 the Pharisees had trouble with Jesus about the things that He did, or allowed on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and while walking through the grain fields picked some of the grain and ate it. They broke the law!! Later that day Jesus saw a man who had a hand that was shriveled. I imagine that limited this man’s life. So Jesus healed him. That day. On the Sabbath. Jesus had a duty to rest and do nothing. But he got busy and healed.
Do you know what duties next step is? It is delight. Delight. We have so many “have to’s” and “ought-to’s” and “must’s” in life, even in relation to what God is asking of us. But what if we can combine the “have to’s” with a “want to” and a yearning to do something good and right?
I remember being present for a sermon on Easter where the preacher laid into the CEO’s present (Christmas, Easter, Only). He told them that breaking the third commandment was a serious sin. He was right. God tells us to come to worship. But there is more than duty. It has to come with delight.
If the only reason you came today is because it is your duty or that it is a habit or it just doesn’t feel right if you’re home on a Sunday morning, I want to give you a better reason. I want to give all those kids who were forced to attend worship for 16-18 years something more than a guilt trip if they miss church.
And so does Jesus. When the Pharisees complained about Jesus’ disciples picking the grain on the Sabbath though they were hungry, He puts it in perspective, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) This day was created for us, for our good, for what He would do on our behalf. When he brought in the man with the deformed hand He asked those who only knew about duty the question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4) That’s a no brainer, right? Save life. Do good. But they wouldn’t answer him. They kept silent. The reaction of Jesus is quite emotional. “”He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” (Mark 3:5) Jesus, on the Sabbath, on the day of duty, brought delight. Saving life and doing good is what He does on the Sabbath.
God calls for much much than duty. Hosea 6: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, the acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Verse 6) The kid that is forced to go to church, so that the third commandment would be kept, I pray would realize and receive the truth that God wants to do great things for them here. Here God wants to show mercy, give a living faith; here God wants to take the wounded heart and make it whole. Here Jesus forgives mistakes and sins and takes loving control of life. Now you are here not because you have to, but because you want to!! You have taken duties next step – pure delight in the worship of God!!
Jesus had a lot of duties. “I must go to Jerusalem…” “Father, should I pray ‘save me from this hour…no this is why I have come…’” “Father, not my will, but yours be done…” He could have fallen to Satan’s temptations and lies and left us without redemption, but He didn’t. He had a duty. But more than duty He took the next step. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
I wonder, all of you who have so much on your plate, duties, responsibilities, “must’s”, “have to’s”, “ought’s”, way too much to handle – can you, do you, also have delight? Jesus has that for you. Jesus lived that way. Can that be our deeper way, as well?
On Memorial Day I was listening to a radio program about a mother whose son was killed in Iraq and she wrecked her car, no, HIS car, and was devastated with what happened. The police officer who came on the scene was a veteran, as well, and his father had been killed in Vietnam. They both were “Gold Star” families.
The officer watched the vehicle being towed, knowing that being a little older, it would probably be totaled, never to be seen again. But he also knew that this was more than a car, it was this women’s son’s car, who had died for his country, and he felt something had to be done. He called the insurance company to find out their decision. Yes, it was a total loss. The check had already been sent. He explained to them about the situation and what the car meant to her. Could he buy it back? Repair it? Present it to her?
The insurance company said they would simply give it to him. But then he had to find folks to do the work, he had to raise a bunch of money. This was a huge task. But he knew what it was to lose a family member for one’s country. He felt for the mother and the loss of her son. When he told the story to body shops, paint places, all the folks that would be involved, he found a bunch of willing workers. They contributed their services, working after hours and on weekends to do this job – gratis. A few months later he presented that car, beautifully restored to her.
He assumed a duty that was far beyond what his job called him to do. And it became much more than a duty, it took another step. It was a pure delight.
God gave us this day, this Lord’s Day, our Sabbath, to delight us with the gifts and the love of Jesus and His direction and His joy. Live your life in duties next step – God’s delight. Amen!!