Pentecost 10—Aug. 9/10, 2020
A man is lying in bed on a Sunday morning and his wife says, “Hurry up, otherwise we are going to be late for church!” But he says, “I don’t want to go. The services are boring, the music is dull, and the sermons are irrelevant.” His wife heaves an exasperated sigh and says, “You have to go! You’re the pastor!”
That is an old story but not an autobiographical one. But, in all candor, I can relate. I do find worship boring at times. In my devotional life, sometimes I can read an entire page of Scripture and one minute later not remember a single thing I just read. Isn’t that terrible? I hope you are better than I and this never happens to you. But if it ever does, do you know what to do? Let’s let Jesus show us what to do when worship, sermons, your devotions seem boring or irrelevant.
1) Get real with the W/S, treasure awaits you
First thing to do–get real with the Word/Sacraments, because treasure awaits you. Literally tell yourself, this is real. Like when the pastor says in the liturgy, “God invites us into his presence…”, silently remind yourself, “He really has! Invited me! Right now! Into his presence! And I’m about to confess my sins to him, a God who hates sin, for real! Oh no! But he, for real, is about to speak, for real, through the pastor his word of forgiveness, for real! What a relief! What an incredibly real and valuable three minutes of words!”
Which is what the person in the first parable discovered as well. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it (when the valuableness of the field was suddenly real to him because it had treasure), he hid it again (not to keep it a secret, but to keep it safe), and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” “All he had”—notice what happens to your commitment level to Christ, his Word, and his church when you treat what you hear in this place as real.
There’s a story of a teenager, let’s call him Joe, kind of a nervous kid, who did an experiment with this. The experiment was actually a challenge from his youth group leader—he said, I challenge you to, this week, act as if Jesus is really with you, for real, all the time, just like he promised in Matthew 28:20. Make a video about your experience. Joe ended up making a three-hour long video. Three hours. And the last thing on the video was Joe, his hair kind of messy, like he’s really been through something, but his face is peaceful, he’s looking to the upper left of the camera and he says, “You know the funny thing about this? I expected that I was going to be kind of stressed all week, thinking that Jesus is watching me all the time so I have to try harder to be good. And I did try harder. But the funny thing is, I wasn’t more stressed. I was actually way less stressed this week than I ever remember being. And that felt really good.”
This rings true because the Jesus who was really with Joe all week is the Jesus who says to us in the middle of our stress and despair and Covid-concerns, “Don’t sweat it. Because I know the end from the beginning.” And what he knows is that it always turns out well for his children. Just like it did for him in his own work. As painful as the process of paying for our sins would be, he knew it would turn out well. In fact, have you ever noticed in the gospels that whenever Christ talked about his impending death on the cross, he almost always mentioned his resurrection as well. Because he knew it would turn out well. So it is, like Christ, we too may have to go through some painful processes, but the Jesus who is really with you will really make sure things turn out really well for the believer. Just look at how well it turned out with Christ’s crucifixion—he was raised glorious, beautiful, and with the name that is above every name, the name that actually, for real, saves sinners and makes peace with God forever.
Get real with the Word/Sacraments, because treasure awaits you. Regularly remind yourself that Jesus is real, he is really with you, what his Word says is real even if your eyes say otherwise. Get real with the Word / Sacraments because treasure awaits you, that’s the first thing.
2) Get curious with the W/S, treasure awaits you
Second thing to do when worship, sermons, your devotions seem boring or irrelevant is, get curious with the Word/Sacraments, because treasure awaits you. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls (in other words, like a person looking for truth, beauty, hope, meaning; the guy in the first parable just kind of stumbled across it and got lucky, this one is looking for it). When he found one of great value (that is, he found in the Word of God truth, beauty, hope, meaning), he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” ‘Sold all he had”—notice what happens to your commitment level to Christ, his Word, and his church when you discover how beautiful the truth of the Word and Sacraments is.
Curiosity about the Word. Switch to curious-mode when you come here, when you open your Bible. That, too, is something the Holy Spirit can make use of. Ask questions of what you read. Maybe starting with, what could possibly be so important that God would go through all kinds of trouble to make sure I have a church, pastors, a Bible? Get curious with the Word / Sacraments, because treasure awaits you.
Now, what happens to sinners who do not get real with the Word / Sacraments? What happens to sinners who do not get curious with the Word / Sacraments? Let’s let Jesus explain. “Once again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish (that is, lots of different kinds of people end up coming to Good Shepherd, or any church). Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away (or in other words, not everyone who is a member of a church is a good fish/genuine Christian). This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Do you know what makes a church member a bad fish? A church member becomes a bad fish when the Word and Sacraments are not real to them; they imagine that what happens during the week is “real life” and what happens in here is, well, just church. They are bad fish. Bad fish also stop being curious about the Word / Sacraments, they just go through the motions. Bad fish imagine that looking like a Christian is the same thing as actually being one. The fiery furnace awaits them. And if they will be sentenced to the fiery furnace, what will happen to those who didn’t even bother coming to a church at all?
This is one the things that makes the Word/Sacraments such a valuable treasure for believers. For through them we are promised that because of Christ the angels will gather us and take us to heaven. And as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession puts it (that’s one of our Lutheran Confessions of Faith), “Who would not joyfully die in the confession of these articles, that we receive the forgiveness of sins freely for Christ’s sake….?” (Article XX) “Joyful” and “die” are not words that we usually put together—but for those who trust in Christ, we can. And do. This is most certainly true.
3) Get teaching the W/S, treasure awaits you
And one last word from our Savior. “’Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked. ‘Yes,’ the disciples replied. He said to them, ‘Therefore, every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures (that is, new insights and understanding of the Bible and how it applies to life), as well as old (that is, the things you already know).’”
You who teach the Bible–from Sunday School teachers, to moms and dads who teach their children, to our LES and ECC teachers, to Pastor Johnson and myself–one of the blessings that comes to you as you teach the Word is that you get even more insights and understanding. Which is yet another reason to say “yes” when Pastor Johnson asks you to teach Sunday School or for our young people to think about becoming a pastor or teacher. Get teaching the Word / Sacraments, treasure awaits you.
In the world of children’s literature, everyone knows that non-fiction books, like about history or science, which are good for you to read just like stinky broccoli is good for you to eat, are not nearly as popular as works of fiction, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which are like the chocolate cake of literature because they are fun to read. Everybody knows this. Except that in recent years, sales of non-fiction books has soared, growing 39% since 2014. What the children’s literature community so often called “broccoli”, many kids have been viewing as “chocolate cake.” When worship or your devotions become “broccoli-like”, you know, good for you but you don’t really enjoy them, then get real with the Word/Sacraments, get curious with the Word/Sacraments, and even consider saying “yes” to teaching the Word/Sacraments, because by the power of the Holy Spirit “chocolate cake”, or more precisely, treasure, awaits you. Amen.