Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 2, 2018
“Hear and Listen! Believe and Thank! Share and Spread!”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
From August 13 until this past Monday I called Tybee Island, Georgia my home. Tybee is one of the barrier islands on the Georgia coast, 12 miles from Savannah and a stone’s throw (or so) from Hilton Head, South Carolina. It gets hot and humid during the day, but there is nothing like seeing the sun rise out of the ocean early in the morning.
When we arrived on that first Monday, the 13th, we settled into our condo and we noticed helicopters that were flying over the ocean and then into the bay just south of us. They did that for a number of hours. We found out they were looking for a couple of swimmers who hadn’t come back from their swim. Tybee’s neighbor island is called “Little Tybee”. In low tide you can walk on the sandbar the half mile or so that is between the two islands. Little Tybee is not inhabited except by some wild boars and some alligators and a few other interesting species, so it presents some interest to the most adventurous. (Not me!!)
But when you go to the southern beach closest to Little Tybee there are signs in big red letters, “DANGER!! YOU MAY DROWN IN THESE WATERS!!” When the tide changes the sandbar disappears and the quiet water suddenly becomes 10 feet deeper. The currents become challenging. Almost every year that quiet little bay between the two islands takes the life of a swimmer. That Monday night it took two. Both from Atlanta. One 32 and the other 35.
They were warned, but they didn’t pay attention. People take some daring risks every day. I bet you do something dumb every once in a while!! And some do it with their heart and soul. God, in speaking to what is eternal about us says, “Hear and Listen!” Our reading from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy begins, “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 4:1)
Hear and listen. The whole context of these chapters is about God giving His law to His people. No stealing!! No cursing!! No sexual sins!! No injuring another or taking their life!! Hear and listen. He says, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2) Those words about adding and subtracting were used by St. John in the last chapter of his revelation. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. But is anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
Hear and listen to what God says. His word warns us of forgetting Him and what He says. How quickly we can forget God’s ways. When I came back to the office on Tuesday morning I walked into the church and I couldn’t remember my code to turn off the alarm system. I tried one and then another and soon heard the terrible alarm that tells everyone that someone is inside the building who has no right to be here. I quickly called the alarm company and begged them not to send the police!!
Hear and listen. God warns us against sin and how it will damage us and how we can damage the lives of others and our relationship with Him. He goes on to “Believe and Thank” in the coming verses. “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8)
God took the step to make those people His people. Who was Abraham? Who were the people of Israel? Nomads. No home. Wanderers. A bunch of slaves that were stubborn and didn’t follow very well. But God sought them. He came to them and said, “You’re My people and I am your God.” In amazement Moses would tell them, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”
Bob Tasler was a pastor to a number of you in his years at Shepherd of the Hills in Centennial and then at Epiphany in Castle Rock. Bob, in his retirement, loves to write, and recently has begun a weekly devotion. This Monday he wrote about the opening of an NBA playoff game in April of 2003 between the Portland Trailblazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. A very talented 13 year-old girl stepped up to sing the National Anthem at Portland’s Rose Garden. She started well, but then began to falter, and horror of horrors, she forgot the words. She stood there for a few seconds, embarrassed, unsure what to do, when a large man in a dark suit came beside her to help.
He placed his hand on her shoulder, took her microphone and together they sang where she had left off with his strong and somewhat off-key voice. Others joined them and by the end, twenty thousand NBA players, officials and audience members had joined together to sing our country’s National Anthem, amid cheers, smiles and a few tears.
Natalie Gilbert, who would become a successful Broadway singer, was the teenager. The man who helped her was Maurice Cheeks, the head coach of the Trailblazers. The incident has been called “The Maurice Cheeks Moment”, and even now you can see it on “You Tube”. He came to her side. He rescued a terrified 13 year-old.
Jesus, the one that we call Immanuel, “God-with-us”, has come right to our side. When we haven’t done a very good job of hearing, listening or following God’s ways, when at times we’ve added or, more likely, subtracted, from His very words to us, He came to us and called us His own and cleansed us from our sin and forgave us with His own blood. When we were speechless, not knowing what to do next, He came and put His hand on our shoulder and made us strong and hopeful once again.
I don’t think there are many Lutherans in Georgia. When I gave my email to one of the folks sending me a receipt for a purchase (my email is email@example.com) she asked what church I pastored. When I said Lutheran, her response was “oh”. (I think she hadn’t heard about us!!) With no Lutheran Churches around I went to my first Catholic Mass on a Sunday morning last Sunday. The priest had a strong sermon that had a bunch of convicting law. At the end he looked at his flock and said, “Who am I to speak such words? I am a sinner just like you. And I too hold to Jesus.” “Believe and Thank.” We have a great Savior who stands with us in love and mercy.
First, Hear and Listen. God is clear about what our ears and hearts and lives need to do. Then, Believe and Thank. Trust and praise is our hope and response. Finally? Share and Spread. This is what Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Did you read the opening paragraph in our bulletin? It says this, “It has been said, ‘The Church is never more than one generation away from extinction.’” That’s true. Following God’s ways, doing His will, loving God and loving others is for you and me. Trusting in Jesus for our eternal salvation, believing that His death and resurrection forgives us all sin and gives us eternal hope is true for you and for me. Every Sunday, unless I’m on one of my vacations, I hope to tell you about God’s place in our lives and the joy of living in the confidence of Jesus. But this truth isn’t just ours. If you have kids it is for them. Grandchildren? Great-grandchildren? It is for your friends and your enemies, the people who are good and the people who are bad. Don’t forget that this truth is yours, but don’t forget that this truth is theirs.
“Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” This cannot be the last generation that knows the ways of God. This cannot be the last generation that has a living faith in Jesus. “Share and Spread” God’s truth and love.
When I was gone my heart hurt for you. You suffered the loss of Larry Ruggera, Kevin Mills and May Bible, three of this assembly who died within 4 days of each other – Kevin and May unexpectedly. But our God didn’t leave them alone, nor did He leave you alone. He gave you Jesus. Everyday hear and listen; believe and thank, share and spread that hope and life. Amen!!