Monday, March 12, 2012

Sermon on Exodus 20:1-17, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, "A Sinner's Prayer and Hope"

Intro: This sermon is a reflection on how we might examine our lives according to the Ten Commandments. Not every sin may be your own, or my own, but as Luther reminds us: it is not hurtful to acknowledge and confess our sin, but rather we should say from our hearts “O Lord God! I’ve done this sin.” Although you may not have committed a certain sin that another has done, neither have they committed the same sins as you. Any cry of superiority from one to another is cancelled out. So as you hear this sermon, reflect thoughtfully on your own sin, acknowledge and confess it before God, gladly welcoming His forgiveness, knowing that in Christ your sin is no longer counted against you. But don’t be deceived to think God won’t know if you harbor sin in your heart. Self-righteousness has no place before God. Also reflect on the goodness of each commandment—and the yet-still-greater goodness of our Savior Jesus Christ, who nailed our every debt to the tree of His cross, that we might be forgiven before God.
1st Commandment: “I AM the Lord your God...You shall have no other gods before me.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment my need to fully acknowledge You, and You alone as the One, True God. So often my greatest blindness is to the idols that I put in your place. Anything that I set before you or even alongside of you is an idol that I must cast down. I confess that I’ve made an idol of my money and possessions—desperate for what I don’t have, or desperate to keep what I do have. I’ve forgotten that it all is yours, and that you bless according to your pleasure and will. I confess that I’ve made an idol of popularity. I’ve been unwilling to stand by you and confess you as Lord, when it might cause others to laugh at me. I’ve sacrificed my integrity when I thought it could gain me the temporary admiration of others. I’ve sought what pleases me, and not what pleases you. I’ve fallen down and served the idols of my heart, and for all this I am sincerely sorry and beg your mercy, on me, a poor, miserable sinner. Topple all the idols in my heart and before my eyes, that I know that you alone are my Lord and master, that my heart, mind, and strength might be undivided for you. Teach me to fear, love, and trust in you above all things, that I might be committed to willing and joyful obedience.
2nd Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that your Name is Highest and Holiest above all things. It is more precious and valuable than anything. And yet I’ve treated it lightly and carelessly, thrown it in among common dirty language to express my anger and frustration. I used it to make promises that I didn’t intend or wasn’t able to keep—as though you would vouch for me that I always keep my word. Lord, I realize it’s been far too rare for me to take your Blessed and Holy Name on my lips in prayer, for blessing on a friend, neighbor, or even an enemy, and for praise and thanksgiving. For all the times I’ve treated your name lightly, I confess my guilt, and plead for your mercy. Fill my lips with the worshipful praise of your name that you deserve above all else. Let me honor and glorify your name, and may my life reflect the privilege and honor of bearing it.
3rd Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that all worship is due to you alone. I also recognize your great love for me, that you’ve desired that I not exhaust myself in endless work, but commanded a day of rest. An ordered break from my work, that I might be refreshed to again praise and glorify you. It is in vain that I rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; (Ps 127:2), for I try to build and provide without you—the Maker and Provider of all things. I’ve forgotten to acknowledge you. Your Word is precious and teaches me the Way of Life, your Son sets before me a Table that overflows with your goodness. Too little have I sought and glorified you in worship, and too often has my work become my all-consuming passion, instead of you. Grant me your mercy Lord, and bless me with your rest and refreshment, and awaken my heart to worship you for all that you are worth.
4th Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that you’ve given authority for the preserving of order and peace, beginning first with my parents. I confess that all too often I’ve despised my parents and other authorities. I’ve laughed at the wisdom of my elders, and listened to my irresponsible friends instead. Instead of making their leadership a joy, I’ve filled it with groaning (Heb. 13:17). I’ve not been ready to listen and obey, but have been quick to “mouth off.” As a parent or leader, I’ve been unnecessarily harsh or even abused my authority. I forgot this great trust that you’ve given for the good of others, and not for my own pride or power. Oh Lord, have mercy. Thank you for providing for our order and protection. Teach me to listen and obey willingly and without complaint, knowing it pleases you. Help me to honor and support authority, except when it contradicts your Word and command.
            5th Commandment: “You shall not murder.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment that all human life is precious in your sight. You’ve said that we must not shed the blood of others, because we’re made in your image. I’ve only begun to grasp the depth of value that gives to each human life, that your own imprint is traced on each of us. Truly we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. Your Son has taught that even anger and hatred in our hearts is an assault on your image, and a breaking of this command. My thoughts have been soiled with bitter anger and jealousy toward others. I confess that there are times when I’ve been so angry with others or so depressed with myself, that I’ve counted our lives as not worthy of living. I’ve given little thought to the unborn neighbor who still lives in the womb, and written them off as disposable, inconvenient, or even as a disease. I shudder to think that my own thoughts have grown so dark that the plague of human deaths around me leaves me careless and untouched. Oh Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! Teach me your paths Oh Lord and guide me in your truths! Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Ps. 51:10). Help me to see the goodness of life, to rejoice in my own life and the life of my neighbor, and do whatever is in my power to help and protect their bodily good. Help me to be a voice for the voiceless, and to speak for the weak and the vulnerable. As you’ve guarded my life, help me to guard that of others, and teach them of our sacred value and humanity.
6th Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment the goodness of the gift of sexuality, and where you’ve given it to be used—within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. I recognize the goodness of family for our well-being and society, and how you’ve planned that husband and wife should remain in our vows for life. Yet I confess that I’ve not honored marriage as I should. I’ve looked with lustful intent on my neighbor’s spouse, or another not pledged to me in marriage. I’ve thought to take the gift you’ve given without the responsibility that is attached, and have placed my personal enjoyment before the commitment of marriage. I’ve delighted in impure images and laughed at jokes that make your plan seem quaint or backward—while doing nothing to stand up for the worth of marriage, which should be cherished and honored by all. There are those whom I’ve hurt with my words or my deeds, and my own sin makes my conscience ache. Oh Lord, have mercy on me! Fill my heart with godly sorrow so that you might empty me of sin and fill me again with the joy and gladness of your salvation! Teach me self-control that I might honor you with my body and keep the marriage bed pure. Teach me to love your commandment and to live faithfully in my calling, whether in chastity as a single person, or in faithfulness as a married person.
7th Commandment: “You shall not steal.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment the good of earthly possessions, and how you’ve designed to guard and protect them against theft. Yet I confess that I’ve casually turned a blind eye while someone stole from my neighbor, the store, or my employer. I was only concerned to protect what was mine. I’ve cheated and taken what I didn’t rightfully pay for. I’ve stolen from my employer by laziness and idleness. I’ve dishonestly turned my own loss and fault into someone else’s loss, by taking advantage of them. Lord, I humbly ask your forgiveness. I never considered myself to be a thief, but confronted by my own actions, I admit that it is true. Help me to defend and protect what belongs to my neighbor, and grant that they’d do the same for me. Teach me integrity to do what is right even when I think I can get away with things. Help me to be honorable in how I treat other’s property, and generous with what you’ve given me.
8th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Oh Lord, I recognize in this commandment the goodness and value of our reputation. I recognize that a reputation is too easily destroyed, yet takes great effort, time, and integrity to build. As I would not want my reputation hurt through a careless or unfounded rumor or gossip, so also I would not want to slander another. Yet I confess I’ve freely spread what I don’t know to be true, or heard from someone else. What I did know to be true was often not my place to say, and often I didn’t speak to that person first, or attempt to explain things in the kindest way. Often their motives laid completely hidden from me, yet I portrayed them maliciously or hurtfully, without knowing the full story. I confess that I too have damaged someone’s reputation. Lord, I know I cannot take my words back into my mouth—but I pray that you would give me the humility to seek the forgiveness of those whom I’ve wronged. Grant me boldness to stand up and oppose lies or harmful gossip. Give me the silence to bite my tongue when it’s tantalized by a tasty bit of gossip. Lord, let me use my words for the building up and encouragement of my friends, family, neighbors, and even my enemies. Enable me to defend and speak well of them, even when it might seem more satisfying to let out a “piece of our mind.” Let truth always be on my lips, and to answer in kindness and love to those who speak harm against me.
9th & 10th Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Oh Lord, I recognize in these commandments that your commands not to steal or commit adultery extend also into my heart. My heart is the source of those sinful desires, and only you, O God, can create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me (Ps. 51:10). I confess that I’ve coveted or sinfully desired much that isn’t mine. I’ve schemed how to get something in a way that only appears right, when in my heart I knew it was dishonest. I’ve been satisfied to cover my actions with the appearance of goodness while deceitfully manipulating things to my own advantage. I confess that I’ve looked with lustful intent on my neighbor’s spouse, imagining unfaithfulness to my own spouse. I admit that I’ve tried to sow distrust or dissatisfaction among my neighbor’s employees, hoping to draw them to my own business. I confess that I’ve tried the shortcuts of politics and manipulation to advance myself, rather than by honest hard work and dependability. I’ve not found satisfaction in what is my own. For all this Lord, I humbly beg your mercy. Help me to rejoice my neighbor’s goods and blessings. Help me to encourage my neighbor’s spouse and workers to remain faithful, as I also intend to be faithful to my own spouse and employees.
Oh Lord God, as I look over the whole of your commandments I see and acknowledge that they are holy, righteous, and good. They promote undivided love for you, and unselfish love and service to my neighbor. They guard what is precious to you and me. Yet these commands also reflect my own sin and failing. I see that I’ve justly deserved your present and eternal punishment. In myself there is only sin and death. But Lord, you’ve shined an even brighter light into my life. You’ve shown the light of your Son Jesus Christ.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, I plead for the forgiveness of all my sins, even as I am assured that it is so because of His blood shed on the cross. Lord I cling to this solemn promise, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Ti 1:15). Truly you are for sinners. All my guilt and shame has become yours in the cross, and I am forgiven and free! In Jesus I see obedience to the last detail—He loved you with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who loved each neighbor as Himself. Lord Jesus, your obedience is deep, full and perfect enough, that the Father has counted it for me. Your sacrifice encompasses all my sin, and of the whole world, taking that full and awful penalty to your grave. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul! (LSB 543) What is left but to thank and praise you, for you’ve done wondrous things for me? What is left but a song and life of service to you, who have left nothing undone for me—but did it all out of your pure and unchanging love. Truly you are compassionate, forgiving, slow to anger and merciful. Morning by morning you reveal your mercy and faithfulness to me. Great are you Lord! Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The Ten Commandments begin with God’s announcement that He is the Lord God who delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. How does God’s deliverance of us form the foundation for our obedience? What slavery have we been delivered from? John 8:31-35
  2. See Martin Luther’s explanation of the commandments in his Small Catechism (instruction booklet) (pg. 321 in the hymnal). How is each commandment connected back to the first—that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Why is disobedience to the other commandments first of all a rejection of God and His authority?
  3. How do the first three commandments direct our relationship between us and God? How do the remaining commandments direct our relationship to our neighbor? What good things are guarded and protected through each command?
  4. Conduct your own meditation and reflection on each command. What sins of thought, word, or deed have you committed? What is the wrong that you’ve done? What is the good that you’ve left undone? Knowing this, what good should you commit to doing?
  5. The latter commandments draw concentric circles of protection around our life/the life of our neighbor; our spouse and family; our possessions; our reputation; and against schemes to undermine or deprive us of those blessings. How are God’s commands “holy, righteous, and good?” Romans 7:12. How does Jesus’ teaching on the commands show their inward focus as well? Matthew 5
  6. How does the sinner “die” to the accusation of the law against us? Rom. 6:1-4; Gal. 2:19-21. How do we then live again? How has Jesus perfectly fulfilled and obeyed each commandment for us? Heb. 4:15; Rom. 5:19-21. How has He taken away the penalty of all our guilt? Rom. 6:23

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