“Reform Your Ways”
Goal: To help the hearer to see the sinfulness of life and the outcome of that sin, to be moved by the Spirit to reform life under the Gospel.
Malady: Our lives are sinful. We are content in sin. We get upset when our sin is pointed out.
Means: by showing the life of the Israelites, we hear the call to reform our ways.
Luke 13:34 Jesus’ sorrow over Jerusalem. “I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing.”
Philippians 3:18 “For as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
:19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
(The following did not appear in the sermon, they are merely thoughts that preceded the writing of the sermon.)
As I read this I think of Mardi Gras. We celebrate this time as a time of debauchery and excess. People travel long distances to be a part of such an event. For what? Good food? No. Peaceful, family-oriented entertainment? No. It is for the party, the drinking, the wild times – debauchery. Glory in shame. We revel in our shame. It is seen as a good time, a time to long for. Why/ Because our god is our stomach/party/drinking/wild time. We long for it. Why? Sin is the pattern of our life.
But who can preach against such excess/ A pastor is called by God to present the word plainly. It is plain that such activity is sinful. Yes, it is sinful. To drink to the excess is a sin, but is not that which takes place at the St. Louis Mardi Gras in St. Louis? It led to the police cutting off beer sales at 8”00 p.m. so that the drinking would come to an end early and the problems would be cut down on.
There is the excess of pagan sensuality in New Orleans. How do women get beads? By exposing their breasts to others. How is this godly? How is this the way that God wants us to act? Our body is meant to be private – for our spouse only. Yet we brag about how many beads we got – only after drinking too much. Our shame is seen as good!
(Thoughts begin to move towards the sermon at this point.)
It is wrong. Yet we do not need to go so far to see such excess. Look around. Hustler Club has a billboard on the interstate as you leave St. Louis. Pornography is no longer seen as the depraved person’s area of life. It comes right into the house – not just on the internet – but on TV. Popular TV shows expose sexuality in a less than God-pleasing way. And many people, many Christians eat it up. We find ourselves living in a life of sinful desire or regular neglect of the Lord.
I figure that we are shocked at that thought. We are God’s people. We love the Lord with all our heart, our life and our soul. We follow the Lord regularly. After all, we are the ones at church right now. We are the ones who regularly put something in the plate, willingly give our time and use our talents in whatever way we are needed. Don’t we?
I was once asked, “What is your idol?” that seemed like such a strange question. After all, I love the Lord. I am a child of God. More than that, I am a professional church worker – a pastor nonetheless. I don’t have any idols, do I?
What about you? What is yoru idol? I would imagine that you would respond much the same way I did. You are a child of God, You love the Lord. You don’t have an idol, do you?
I would imagine the people of Jeremiah’s day felt that way. In fact, when Jeremiah brought the word of the Lord to them, how did they respond? They were appalled that Jeremiah would even say such things. they were amazed at his audacity. And then they were angry, even furious, with him. They could not imagine that anyone would say such things. They were the people of God (the prophets, the priests were the religious leaders!). They did not have any idols. So angry were they that they wanted to kill Jeremiah for ever suggesting that they were not the people God wanted them to be.
Jesus approaches Jerusalem and is overwhelmed with sorrow, “How I would have gathered you into my arms…but you were not willing.” Can you imagine such a terrible statement to hear from Jesus? “I longed for you, but you would not have Me.” They had idols? Jesus seemed to say so – but this infuriated them. How could He say such things? They were the people of God! Kill Him! Get rid of Him!
What are your idols/ what do you put before God in your life? Nothing? Really? It is a struggle to be honest with yourself. It would be easy to say nothing comes before God. But is that the truth/ It doesn’t have to be some sinful, despicable act (such as at Mardi Gras). It might be work, reading, sports, another person, animals, food, money, sleep, friendship, etc. Name your idol. What are you holding onto? Jesus says to the rich young man, “Get rid of your idol.” He doesn’t want to – his wealth had become his idol. What is yours?
Jeremiah comes out and says, “Now reform your ways, and your actions and obey the Lord your God.”
Now? Not by trying harder for that doesn’t work. There is a plethora of books and videos to help you>>> “5 Steps to a better life.” “How to pray effectively.” “Forty day to a better life.” “How to have the husband you want by Friday.” Why do we continue to write these books? Because to try harder, to follow a prescription to a “better” life doesn’t work. You will fail. You will fall short. You will only find despair.
How then? Through the power of Christ – the One who came for us, to suffer and die. He gives Himself as the perfect sacrifice for you and me – because we fail, we are unable to live the way we are called to live.
Israel found out how – by rending their hearts, not their garments, by returning to the Lord with all their heart, by turning back to the timeless Word of God. Hezekiah followed the Lord and sought His glory – repented of his sins, led the nation to repent >>>by letting the Spirit guide them to reform their lives.
To reform yoru ways is to take your life, cut our what is not from God, and live as He would have you live. It is different for each person (though it is the same Spirit working through the same word). One person may be a glutton, another a drunkard, still another addicted to gambling, while another is addicted to porn. Each one have something to reform>>>a sinful behavior. While at the same time, it isn’t sinful “behavior” itself that you need to reform>>>>it is the place where you put God (1st, 2nd, 3rd…) each is just as wrong, for it is a 1st Commandment issue. What is your idol? That is what must be reformed. Your heart needs reformed. It all starts by turning to the very place yoru life in faith began – to Christ.
He is the One to turn to. He is the One who reforms you>>>>and in Christ, not in your actions>>>found in the cross, found in the Passion, found in His death ----not in us, it isn’t ‘found’ in your. He reforms you.
Is it easy? No. It is painful. For it will call for us to be honest, with ourselves and with God. Then it calls for a housecleaning – our hearts and lives>>>we may not like it. No, that isn’t true. We will not like it>>>we must deny ourselves>>>NO! I don’t want to! I want to follow my own desires! That, is the challenge.
Do I allow the Spirit to reform me? Or do I continue to hold to my idol? That is the tough challenge we face today.
The priests, prophets and people of Jeremiah’s day didn’t want to reform.
Many of the scribes, Pharisees and people of Jesus’ day didn’t want to reform.
Many of us today don’t want to reform.
What about you? When you leave here today, will your life become one of reform? Or will you continue as before?
That is the challenge.
Walk with myself <<<<>>>>> walk with Jesus
Follow my heart <<<<<>>>>>> Follow the Lord’s heart
Desire sinfulness<<<<<>>>>>desire what Christ desires
Live for self <<<<>>>>live for Christ
This truly the challenge that we have as we hear these three readings. To reform or not to reform, that is the question.