September 16, 2018

Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say - Part 1

17th Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Deuteronomy 8:6-11

Second Lesson:  Galatians 5:16-18

Gospel Lesson:  John 8:1-11

Sermon Text:  Galatians 5:16-18

 A couple of things to get us started. Today we begin a new sermon series. Usually we do these in the summer, but lots of people are here one week and gone the next and it is hard to keep any continuity. But most of us are settled from now until Christmas, so it seemed like a good time for a series. The other thing focuses on what we are doing. Our theme for the next few weeks will be, “Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say.” Let’s clear that up a bit. I am not talking about those times a pastor says something really dumb, has a slip of the tongue and offends someone, or uses a word he shouldn’t. Certainly we don’t want to hear a pastor say such things, but that isn’t our focus. What we are talking about is the fact that we have sinful hearts. We don’t always want to hear what God’s Word has to say. We’d rather do what we want instead. And at those times, we need to hear what a pastor is saying as one who is bringing God’s Word and truth to us – all of us.

So, since this is sermon #1 in the series, we should start with a bang, right? Something catchy that will stick in our minds for weeks would be good, right? Absolutely. So what is the 1st thing we never want to hear a pastor say? No. That’s it. N. O. What’s so bad about that? Well, think back to when you were kids. Realize how often each day we asked mom or dad for something. Sometimes the answer was yes. We can have a bowl of ice cream. That made us happy. Sometimes the answer was that they would get to it later. You will go to the store after supper. That annoyed us, but we still got our way.

But how did we feel when mom or dad said no? Very unhappy. Every boy in the class is going to Billy’s sleepover. Your parents inform you that you can’t go because grandma’s 80th birthday is the next day and you have to leave by 6 AM. They say no to your request. Your response? “Mother, father, I greatly appreciate that I was able to talk about this with you. Thank you for hearing me out. I fully understand your position, and I am fine with that. Have an enjoyable evening and I will see you bright and early so we can make Mee Maw’s birthday special.” What likely did happen? Maybe we cried. Or pouted. Or sulked around the house, lip protruding, shoulders slumped. Or hid in our room for hours. We didn’t want to hear “no”. We wanted to hear them tell us, “That sleepover sounds fun. Go and do what you want to do and have a great time.”

Now, don’t take the parent/child analogy too far. But keeping the general idea in mind, hear a story. A young lady attended college in the Columbus area. She didn’t have a car, so Lori got her for church and I’d bring her back. In time, she met a guy. They fell in love. He started new member class. Halfway through class, they asked me, “Would it be OK for us to live together? We can’t afford separate apartments. Plus, we love each other and we’ll get married anyway. So, can we?”

I started my answer by reminding them it wasn’t about what I thought but about what God’s Word said. We read passages about temptation, about not giving a hint of sexual immorality, and about remaining pure. Somehow/way, they still didn’t get it. Finally they asked, “So, can we?” You know my answer: “No.” And, I hope you know, it wasn’t really me saying no. It was God saying no because the situation was contrary to his Word. That answer was not well received. Her parents contacted me and gave me an earful. They quit class and stopped coming to church. In every way, they cut me and the congregation off. If I had only said, “Sure, go ahead and move in. What’s the harm?” there wouldn’t have been a problem. But God’s Word was clear. The only answer to the question was no, though that’s the last thing they wanted me to say.

What happened in that encounter? Paul summarizes it in our text. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.: Walking by the Spirit means walking in line with God's Word and seeking to live out your faith always. In the situation just mentioned, walking by the Spirit meant finding a way to not violate the 6th Commandment and find a God-pleasing resolution. And when Paul talks about desires of the flesh, he means the temptations the sinner in us is drawn to.

And these two desires – the godly and ungodly – couldn’t be more opposite. Paul says, “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” The flesh/sinful nature wanted to move in together. The Spirit wanted them to remain pure. Paul goes on. “They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” That nails it, right? There was what the couple wanted and what God wanted. Sadly, when that conflict arose and they had to be told, “No, based on God’s Word you can’t”, well, that was something they did not want their pastor to say.

That took a while, but I wanted to show the process we go through. We desire something – money, power, this sin, etc. We think about how to get what we want and how great it’ll be. We rationalize as to why we should be allowed to do it or how it makes every bit of sense for us to do whatever it is. But we still have a conscience. It sends up warning flares that all is not well. The sinner in us doesn’t like this, so we try to keep that conscience as quiet as possible so we can do what we want.

But what often happens in this place? Whatever the issue, the believer and the sinner in you is wrestling with is addressed. Time and again people mention to me that we speak directly to a struggle a person is going through that very moment. And let’s be honest. Doesn’t our sinful heart want to hear that what we are planning/doing is OK? Some specifics examples…

Say you’re at a party, and things get a bit out of hand. Doesn’t a part of us want to hear this? “Hey, you were just enjoying a little fellowship with other Christians. Don’t beat yourself up about it.” What really happened was the 5th Commandment was broken as we harmed our own bodies. Let’s say someone sinned against you and it really hurt. Wouldn’t a part of you want to hear a sermon in which the pastor says, “Some people do things so nasty you just can’t forgive them. That is understandable.” Let’s say a couple is contemplating a divorce but not one that has grounds in the Bible. Wouldn’t it be easier for them to hear this… “Sometimes a marriage just can’t be saved and divorce is the only option”?

Get the point? We could list 100s of examples because we face 100s such dilemmas each day. Parents are overbearing so we want to hear it is OK to give it back to them sometimes. Boss is a jerk so we want to hear being lazy at work is fine. This pet sin won't hurt anyone, so there's no harm in doing it. In all these our two natures are fighting a battle. We pray the Christian in us wins out, but too often that doesn't happen. Too often our sinful nature, which desires all that is contrary to what the Spirit desires, wins out. To soothe our consciences, we want someone to tell us that things are OK, that all is well.

But I, or any other Christian for that matter, can’t do that. Back to the young couple. Let’s say I told them moving in before marriage was fine. Would that spiritually benefit them? No. It’s a sin. Would it spiritually harm them? Yes – all sin does. Could that sin lead to another sin, and another, and another, and in time lead them away from church, faith, and their Lord? Too often I’ve seen these happen. And too often I’ve found myself more than a few steps down that same road. What the couple needed, what I at times need, and what you at times need, is someone to say the word we don’t want to hear: No.

And understand this. Sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do. A mom doesn’t say no to a bowl of ice cream before dinner because she hates her son. She does it because she loves him and only wants what is best for him. I didn’t say no to the couple out of anger. It came from a heart of love. And during every sermon when I call you and myself out for the garbage we try to pull, for the times we try to find a loophole so we can do what is sinful, and for the times we just want someone to rubber stamp what we want to do, that is done in love. That is done so we either don’t start down that path away from God or that our steps down that path are halted and our course is reversed. Saying no these days in so many areas is deemed unloving. But when your heart is in the right place – in line with God’s Word and Spirit – there are times when there is no greater way to show love than to say no (even if we don’t want to hear it).

And to prove that, think about our Gospel lesson. A woman was caught in adultery. Leaders wanted to get rid of her. Surely they considered themselves better than her. Then Jesus spoke those famous words: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” What was he really saying? No. That wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted him to say, “Toss me a rock and we’ll let her have it!” But no was what they needed to hear, a no that would cause them to search their own hearts and come clean about their sins. And think about the woman. Jesus could have OK’d what she was doing. “Hey, lady – be more discreet next time, OK?” What did he say? “Go and sin no more.” Again, he basically said no, and he did so because he loved her, because he only wanted what was best for her. In both cases, his no came from a heart of love.

That heart has not changed one bit. That heart was beating in his chest when he went to the cross for all the times we gave in to our sinful nature, sought to excuse our sin, or found people to tell us what we want to hear so we wouldn’t feel bad. That heart and the love overflowing it was on display as he paid the ultimate price to win our forgiveness for these sins. That heart is best summarized by a few of his words while on that cross: “Father, forgive them.” The “them”” is us. Not only did he pray for our forgiveness, but by the work he was doing at that second, he made forgiveness a reality for us all.

And that heart, that love, is still evident today. Does Jesus, in his Word, say no to gossiping because he is annoyed with you? No. He does it to protect the good name of others and your own good name. Does he say no to pre-marital stuff to stop you from having fun? No. He does it so you won’t be loaded with the guilt and shame that comes from such actions, that you won’t be put in a spot to raise a child without a spouse, or so that you won’t have to deal with some medical and emotional issues that are often part of such activity. Does he say no to cheating on your taxes because he doesn’t care about your livelihood? No. He does it so you can learn contentment, so you can see some of the blessings he provides through the government, and so you can stay out of jail and keep living your life as a model of Christian faith.

I know it isn’t easy to be called out, to be told no. We didn’t like it as kids. We still don’t. But we need to remember is all this is for our good, and it comes from the loving heart of our Savior who only wants what is best for us. And what is best for us is to fight that sinful nature tooth and nail, humbly understand our limitations, and find in our Savior, his Word, and his Supper the strength to keep fighting the good fight, to keep walking in line with God’s will, to be, as Paul says, “Led by the Spirit.”

Yes, our theme is “Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say.” But I hope you see that it really isn’t about what the pastor, or a family member, or a concerned Christian is saying. It is about what our Savior is saying. And what he says, even when he says no, comes from a heart that could not love us more. May we draw from that love that more and more we say no to the pull of our sinful hearts, and yes to following the lead of our Lord. Amen.