Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | September 19, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:30

Downloadable version

Faith Pays Attention to God’s Plans

Lessons:  Joshua 6:2-21, Revelation 19:11-21, Matthew 28:1-10

Hymns (from Christian Worship): 537, 588, 474, 157

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Israel’s tactics must have confused the commanders of Jericho.  They’re not digging trenches to protect the soldiers inching towards the walls.  They’re not digging tunnels to undermine the wall.  They’re not carrying ladders to scale the walls.  They’re not building any siege engines at all.  They’re…just…marching.

Imagine their surprise when after seven days of this marching, with one shout, the powerful walls that protected this city came tumbling down.  The strategy worked.

The Christian’s tactics confuse people as well.  What must people think when we battle Islam not by burning their Korans – like some Evangelical pastors chose to do or threatened to do this past 9/11 – but by preaching about Jesus?  What must people think when we entrust children into the care of God by pouring water upon them and saying words from the Bible?  What must people think when we feed ourselves with morsels of bread and sips of wine and call it the Body and Blood of Christ?

Or how about when, instead of taking the bull by the horns, instead of pressing lawsuits, yelling, screaming, waving our arms, and taking action, we pray to a God we’ve never seen, and say, Your will be done?  Or instead of justifying all our behaviors by the ends we can achieve, we search out the will of God, and refrain from doing things that everybody knows is easier or “better” from the world’s point of view?

Well, we know what people think.  People think it’s just words, and water, and bits of food.  People think prayer is fine for psychological comfort, but you’ve got to pick yourself up by the bootstraps if you want to get anything done.  People think a moral code is fine, but we live in the real world, and sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do.  People think that the tactics we employ as Christians are, frankly, foolish and naïve.  There’s no way what we do can make any walls come tumbling down.

And they’re right.  Nothing Israel did made the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.  And nothing that I do brings the walls down either.  It’s what God does.  He’s the master planner, tactician, and strategist.  And faith, the Christian faith, your faith, pays attention to God’s plans.

I have delivered Jericho into your hands. With those words, the LORD gave Joshua his mission.  The strategy?  “March around the city for six days.  On the seventh day march around the city seven times.  After you’ve marched, give a loud shout, and it’ll be all over.”

What if Joshua, after getting his orders, thought about it and decided to start by building siege engines, digging tunnels, and sending in negotiating teams?  Failure.  Just like forty years before. The first time Israel approached the Promised Land, with Moses at their head, they sent in spies.  Upon returning, they all agreed that it was a great place to live, but ten spies said, “We can’t do it, they’re too powerful.”  Two spies, Caleb and Joshua said, We should go up and take the land, for we can certainly do it. Despite what the LORD had previously promised, that He had brought them out of Egypt for the purpose of returning to the Promised Land, meaning that He would give it to them, the people rebelled.  They talked of stoning Moses.  And then the LORD talked of eradicating Israel and building a new nation out of Moses.  But Moses interceded.  The ten spies were put to death and the people mourned bitterly.  Then they said, “Now we’ll go and take the land!”  But Moses said, “Don’t do this, the LORD isn’t with you.”  They went and were slaughtered.  They didn’t pay attention to God’s plan.  They trust His weapons and His wisdom.

Sometimes we hear God’s commands, and do the same thing.  We tuck them away as a last resort, something to try only when all else fails.  Or, we try them first, and we don’t see immediate success (or the success we want), so we abandon them for something better.  God says preach the Word, administer the Sacraments, teach your children everything I have commanded them, watch your life and doctrine closely, persevere, and you will save yourself and your hearers.  But that just doesn’t seem to be getting the results we want.  We aren’t growing, we aren’t succeeding.  Who are we really saving by being so picky about what we preach and teach and excluding people from Holy Communion?  So, we’ll try some other things…. We’ll lower our doctrinal standards, we’ll open our communion rails, we’ll focus on good, moral ethical training, not this esoteric doctrine stuff, we’ll make sure we’ve got all kinds of great community events and activities, and a comfortable, enjoyable, entertaining atmosphere with really cool music….

Or, we try to live according to Jesus’ commands in the Sermon on the Mount, loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc. etc., but it just isn’t getting us anywhere.  We’re getting trampled upon at work or school, passed over, taken advantage of, so….

Or, we try to ask, seek, and knock for everything, but God just isn’t responding fast enough, or generously enough, or with the right answers, so we’ll just put that prayer thing aside for a while….

Or…the list could go on.  It all boils down to one thing.  God’s tactics and strategies don’t satisfy us.  We have no faith in God.  We don’t believe that His “weapons” are powerful and effective.  Word and Sacraments change hearts?  Bah!  Prayer is powerful!  Bah!  March around the walls of Jericho and they’ll come tumbling down?  Bah!  Or did you forget that the God who says those things is the God who also said, Let there be…. and there was?  He could do that, but not these other things.  O, you of little faith!

There’s a fascinating connection here to a number of Jesus’ miracles.  Throughout the Gospels, we hear these words:  Daughter, your faith has healed you; everything is possible for him who believes; go, it will be done just as you believed it would; “Do you believe that I can do this?”  “Yes, Lord.”  “According to your faith it will be done for you.” The point isn’t that Pentecostal faith healers are right: “Just believe enough and you can cure cancer,” nor is it to say that faith “makes” things happen, that is, the Word changes hearts because I believe that it does, this Baptism worked because I believe it does, this is Christ’s body and blood because I believe it is, the walls tumbled down, healings happened, or Jesus rose from the dead because I believed it.  Rather, it was faith that put people into these positions.  Without faith, no blind or sick person would have come to Christ for healing.  Without faith, Israel would not have marched around Jericho.  Without faith, we would not preach, baptize, and commune.  Without faith in the resurrected Christ, we would be condemned to hell eternally.  Without faith, none of the great results of those things would happen.

Most of these things are nonsensical, when it comes down to it.  “March around a city and the walls will come down.”  “Put water on a baby and they’re saved.”  “Go to the Jordan, bathe seven times and your leprosy will be gone.”  The marching itself and the water itself had nothing, on their own, to do with what happened.  It was the powerful Word of God attached to those things that healed Naaman’s leprosy, washes away the sins of the Baptized, brought down the walls of Jericho.  God’s Word does the work.

And God’s Word is wise!  God knew that Israel needed a miraculous first victory – to put their confidence in He Who Tears Down Walls.  For us it’s no different.  We’re always more ready to trust in ourselves than in God.  So everything He does He does to build our confidence and put our confidence in Him.   When it comes to coming to faith, it’s a matter of saying, “I believe that I cannot believe” and then hearing that the Holy Spirit comes and overwhelms that unbelief with the message of forgiveness in Christ.  When it comes to the object of that faith, it’s being shown our Joshua, our Jesus, marching around the gates of death and hell after doing the silliest of things, giving Himself over to death.  But then we see the walls come tumbling down, sin, death, and hell destroyed, our sins forgiven, as He comes out of the wreckage of the tomb alive.  And that same Joshua, our Jesus, says that that first victory is but the prelude to the eternal victory, when our Rider, Faithful and True, returns at the end of time to conquer the seemingly unconquerable devil who runs rough-shod over our world.  When that great battle of Armageddon lines up, it won’t even happen.  Christ will gather up the enemies and throw them into the lake of burning sulfur.  And our Joshua, our Jesus, says that in Him, we are more than conquerors. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. By faith, we, like Israel, pay attention to God’s plans.  Because His weapons are powerful and His plans are wise.  Wise for our salvation!  Amen!

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