"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you."
Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity 10/29/06
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Why settle for second best? It's a great advertizing slogan. One might say it is almost divine, since God came up with it first. He doesn't say it in quite those words, but the idea is there. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? You see, God came up with it first. And that is our theme this morning, Why Settle for Second-Best?
I think some of us do just that with our religion. We settle. We take what we can get easily and run. We seem to be unwilling to do the hard work of digging into God's Word, or to take the chance of really trusting God. It is like it is too risky, or something. So we settle for something less than what God offers.
Problem with that approach is that you either take what God offers, or you don't. Second best is counterfeit. You cannot "kinda have God" or be 'more-or-less' Christian. You either have the true God or the great fraud, and either you are a Christian, full blown and pedal to the metal, or you are no Christian at all. I understand that this is not the way you have often heard it presented in the past, but those who try to sell you a watered down Gospel are peddling a counterfeit just like those guys who sell the twenty-nine dollar 'Rolex's. God is God, not a "God-flavored" substitute. You can get away with a cheap substitute for a colander or knock-off of a designer's dress, but you cannot get by with an imitation, second-rate, not-really-but-almost-nearly God.
We have two ways of stating the message in our text. One is a delightful invitation, and the other an urgent exhortation. "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." God isn't actually offering dinner, but the wedding feast of salvation! He is inviting you to come and get what is most urgently needed -- forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is telling you just how much it will cost you. Nothing. You see, you have no money that will serve in this realm. You do not have the coin of eternal life. God is simply giving it away to those who hear the invitation and come to the living waters and receive the gift offered as a gift.
Problem is that most people want to earn it and deserve it. Most of us want to make it our own and control it and shape it and take some of the credit and glory for it. You want to do that because, if you can, you can feel secure and certain. If you cannot nail down your piece, then you have to trust God for something - something you cannot feel - and cannot see - and cannot really test, except by faith. You want the Gospel where it feels right. You want the religion that works the way you think it should, and not necessarily the way God says it is.
God has won for us full forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. Why would you want to spend yourself on something that is not salvation? That is what you do when you try to make your righteousness depend on you. How do you do that, you ask? You do it by trying to find the feeling that makes it all seem right and true. You do it by following the religion-fad that everyone else is following; and yes, there are fads in religion, in the way people talk, and in what they will listen to or believe. You do it by judging the world around you, or your part in it, by what you can see and feel, rather than by the Word of God.
But Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? The truth is what you need to hear, and sound doctrine. When you hear that preached - the truth - That means you are getting the real thing, and not some empty imitation! And you don't want something that tickles you ear and makes you feel all warm and squishy while it leads you nowhere. You want the truth - and not one you have to sell yourself for. You want it for free, as the gift of God! And the truth that you need to hear is that you are a sinner, and that you are not able to save yourself. I preach the law to make you see it, and to help you despair of yourself and give up any hope that you are decent and worthy of being saved. I do that because it is then, and only then, that you can really hear the Gospel.
"That's not true!" some of you may be thinking. "I can hear the Gospel. Just preach it to me. You don't have to be so negative!" But I preach the Gospel every week. I preach it as sweetly as I know how. I tell you of the payment Christ made, and of the full and free forgiveness of sins, and of the resurrection and eternal life which God just gives to those who trust in Him to do so - and yet some of you may be settling for second best. You hear the Law, and you don't necessarily reject it, you just may think I am being unnecessarily negative when I preach that sin stuff. It's not even that you don't believe it, or that it applies to you, but it may be that it is just that "Sunday stuff". You know what I mean? It is less powerful or real for you from Monday to Saturday than work and bills and your social life. If that is you, then you cannot - you do not hear the Gospel when it is preached. You hear it alright, but it becomes a part of that "Sunday stuff" too. You cannot actually apply it to yourself or to your sins and find comfort and sweet hope and peace there, because you aren't actually applying the need for the sweetness of the Gospel. In other words, on one level or another, you don't really believe that you need it.
This - Law and Gospel and sound doctrine - is the feast that God provides, however. The stuff which does not help you to notice your sins is among the bread which does not satisfy, and the stuff that isn't even bread. The banquet of salvation is the one God lays out, not another. We are trained by our culture to want cotton candy, and God wants to feed us meat. Everything other than the things of God seems more real and urgent to us by nature, but God wants us to receive His gifts and to live in glory everlasting. Why Settle for Second Best?
"Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." You need to seek the Lord, the One that exists, and not another. You want to call upon Him now, in the day that He calls the day of salvation - today. Of course, to do that, you must repent. That is what the prophet means when he say, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." That is repentance, to turn away from sins and seek the forgiveness of God. It isn't far, and it isn't hard to find. It is right here, in the Gospel, in the absolution you heard already, in the Holy Supper which lies before you today.
Turn to the Lord. It is as simple as hearing the truth of your sins, and saying in your heart, "It's true. I have sinned. I need God's forgiveness." When you "return to the Lord," and that is the way Isaiah puts it here, you return, you were with Him before, and then you sinned, you forgot that you were the sinner and unworthy and that God was all grace and forgiveness. You began to think of yourself as wholesome and wise and good. But when you return to the Lord, "He will have compassion on [you] and He will pardon abundantly."
He has already. Jesus took your sins, and He died on account of them. He paid the penalty on the cross. God raised Jesus from the dead to tell you that it is all forgiven. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!" It is that simple, and that hard. It is bread and wine without money and without cost. It is what you need most, and it is free, to you - although God paid a tremendous price for it.
I mean, which one of us would set aside our own child for the welfare and blessing of someone who hated us and worked against us as an enemy? But that is what God has done! It is hard for us to imagine that sin is so deadly and serious, and that salvation is God's free gift to us. It is hard to keep it straight that we have all these blessings from God without being worthy of them, simply because of His great love for us
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
God's ways are just different. They are wonderful, but nothing like we would expect - and nothing like we would do. Even as Christians, and life-long Lutherans, it is easy to forget who we are and what God has really done. We want to make ourselves something, take some credit, be able to fix our hope on some anchor in our life, or our behavior, or our thinking - but it is gift, grace, free, and all from God. It is His way, entirely, or it is not real at all.
It seems strange to us that we have such a place in the plan of God for our salvation. We don't earn it. We don't deserve even a piece of it. We don't make it happen, and we don't measure up even as believers! We simply receive, like beggars. It isn't the way we worship, or the frequency with which we come to church that makes the difference. It is possessing the gifts of God. It is God and what He tells us that brings us to worship the way we do. His work in us causes us to come here frequently. You may find the pastor to be exciting - or dull, his sermons can thrill you - or bore you. It doesn't matter as long as the pastor preaches the Word of God faithfully. If he tells you about your need - which is the law that makes you uncomfortable - and then tells you about God's grace in Jesus Christ, and of your forgiveness and salvation as His gift, then the pastor has delivered the real deal, the stuff God has given to him to give to you.
It is not supposed to be fun. It is not supposed to be thrilling or exciting to do. The thrill is in the realization that we are forgiven! The excitement is in knowing that we possess what we cannot sense and what we do not deserve, but what we need - redemption, and everlasting life right now! It is by grace - meaning that we do not deserve it - and it is through faith, received by trusting God to do what He has promised, and believing Him when He tells you that you really need it, and you really want it. But it is real, and it is right now.
How? God knows. His ways and His thoughts are as different from ours as the clouds are high above the dirt. We only know what He tells us about it. But what He tells us is true, and it is what it is. If we change the Gospel to suit our tastes, or our preferences at this moment in history, or our egos, it stops being the Gospel and it becomes a story, a fiction, and not the truth. The Gospel is what God gives us, and God, who gives it, is who He is - and not any caricature of a deity that we might invent in our minds to make Him easier to deal with.
But why settle for second-best? The salvation that you can earn or merit or take credit for is an illusion, not a reality. The God who wants you to have it your way works at Burger King, and does not have the power to save. The religion that is what you enjoy at every moment, and can be shaped by your feelings, and changed to suit your mood of the day is a religion that flows out of you, not the one that flows to you with forgiveness and life and grace.
God is giving forgiveness away. You can't buy it. You gotta receive it as pure gift.
He isn't saving the righteous - that is, those who think that they are righteous. He is saving the sinners - that is those who know that they are sinners.
You can labor hard at the religion of works and self-esteem, but that is not bread, and it does not satisfy. The true bread is on the altar, and concealed beneath it is the body of Christ. There is where He abundantly pardons. He doesn't wait for you to earn it or do something special. He doesn't care about your self-esteem, or lose sight of the goal of eternal life over your desire for pleasure in the moment. He cares about your real need - the thirst that only Christ can quench, the hunger that only the Word of God can satisfy. "Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you."
"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat." . . . "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near." . . . "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Why settle for second-best?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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