Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oculi Sermon - 3/3/2013

Given a couple conversations I had this week, this past Sunday's sermon for Oculi seems appropriate to post here. 

Set Apart
Exodus 8:16-24

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 Whenever we read anything from Exodus, I cannot help but think of Charlton Heston as Moses.   I have a picture of him in my mind going before Pharaoh and telling him that God is going to send a plague of flies as the fourth plague.  I see him before Pharaoh with his red, black, and white striped robe explain that with this particular plague, Egypt will be afflicted, but the Israelites will be spared.  God’s people will be set apart, and no swarm of flies will afflict them.  And so it was, throughout the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.  But where the Israelites were, where God’s people were, there were no flies.

While I text doesn’t go any further, it does not end there. The 5th plagues is upon the livestock of Egypt, but the Israelites were set apart, and their livestock was untouched.  Then the plague of boils fell upon the Egyptians, and again the Israelites were set apart and unafflicted. 7th was the destructive hail upon the Egyptians, and yes, you guessed it, being set apart by God, the land of Goshen was not touched by the hail.

God set apart His people.  God showed there was a distinction between the Egyptians and the people he had chosen.  Was it because God knew the Israelites were better people than the Egyptians?  Was it because the Israelites were faithful to God?

No!  When the Israelites were finally freed from Egyptian rule, how long did it take for them to doubt God?  They had seen how they were set apart.  The destroyer had killed all the first born were there was no lamb’s blood on the door post and lintels.  They had gone out by God’s mighty hand, but when Pharaoh’s army was seen following them, the Israelites complained against God – and against Moses.  They thought God would allow them to die.  They doubted God, sinning against Him by breaking the first commandment.

God set them apart as His people, because He chose to set them apart to be His people. It had nothing to do with who they were or what they had done.

Throughout the history of the Israelites before the coming of God’s Christ, God should have abandoned the Israelites.  Beside the Red sea they complained against God.  In the wilderness, as God was going to take them into the Promised Land, they complained against God and disbelieved that He could protect them and provide for them.  After they finally were in the Promised Land, the Israelites rebelled and disobeyed God time and time again. 

Yes, God allowed nations to defeat Israel and to take them into captivity, but He did so to lead them to repentance. God never turned His back on them, nor did He ever say, “I am done with you.”

Time and again, God likened the unfaithfulness of the Israelites to adultery.  He was to be their God and they were to be His people, His bride.  And so, when they worshipped Him in a manner that He had not prescribed, it was adultery.  When they worshipped other gods, it was adultery.  When they tried to blend worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods, or blended the style of Yahweh with the style of worship used toward other gods, it was called adultery.

The Israelites were an unfaithful bride, committing spiritual adultery against their bridegroom, God.  They sinned against Him again, and again, and again.  Despite the fact that they did so, God remained faithful to them.  He did not divorce them, but continued to keep them as His people.

You and I have been set apart.  By the waters of  baptism, you have been united to Christ.  What exactly does that mean?  Peter explains that for us very well when he writes, (1 Peter 2:9-12)      But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
    Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

You are to be different, as Paul tells us, you are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom. 12:2)  You are to set yourselves apart by your life as a living witness to the fact that you are God’s.

 That is what our Epistle lesson tell us too, that we are to be imitators of God.  We are to walk in love.  We are to abstain from all sins. In fact, according to our Epistle lesson, we are not even to associate with anybody who lives in any sort of sin.  Why?  Because we have been set apart!

But as we look around, we live in the world.  We like the things of the world.  How many churches even want the world to influence their worship, they want to do as the Israelites did when they allowed a blending of Yahweh’s worship by adding some of the styles of worship done by those who worshiped other Gods.  And God called that adultery.

We like what the world has to say as it entices us and so we follow along with the world’s enticements.  While we cannot help that we live in the world, we are not to be of the world.  We are to be set apart.  We are to be without sin.

There is much about being set apart that is interesting. 

Mary was a virgin when the Holy Spirit came upon her and did marvelous things to her.  She was set apart from the rest of humanity to bear a holy child, the very Son of God.  Her Son was set apart, for He was the Word of God which brought all that is into existence, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.

Christ is further set apart as well, for from the moment of His conception He was without sin.  He set Himself apart even further, for although He created the world, He lived in that world as one of His creatures, but without sin.  He did this for He was set apart for a purpose, to fulfill God’s will, to redeem all mankind.  those whom He set apart to be His children. 

Caiaphas said it well when he proclaimed that is was better for one man to die than the whole nation perish.  God set apart Jesus to be that One man to die in order that all would not perish eternally.  And He chose those whom He set apart that they might not perish, but have eternal life.

It is wonderful to be set apart.  I love the Old Testament that I am reading again with those of you who have taken the challenge.  There are no great men in the Bible, only sinners, only those set apart by God who fail again, and again, and again.  But it is God who is faithful and just to forgive all their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness.  They were set apart to show the marvelous mercy and grace of God. 

You and I dear friends have been set apart for that same purpose – to show the marvelous mercy and grace of God.  You are set apart to receive from God’s hand forgiveness and life that you might be His children.

Neither you nor I was chosen because of something special about us.  In fact, I think God chose me just to show that He can take the most vile, putrid, trash and make it into His special creation – one of His holy people – one of His forgiven and redeemed children.

You are set apart to hear a word of forgiveness and life.

You are set apart to eat holy food that strengthens faith for eternity.

You are set apart to be God’s holy ones, His nation, for eternity.

 Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord who has set us apart as His.  Amen.

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