Sermon for 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, Oct. 21, 2012
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Hebrews 4:1-13
Sermon Theme: From the Beginning, God Gave Us the Promise of Rest
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; Believers Commentary; original ideas and examples; Andersons Workbook, Cycle B)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Back in Dime Box when I was 7 or 8 years old, I used to pick cotton with my grandparents from sunrise to sundown, and I cant tell you how exhausted I was by the time we quit. But even more exhausted were the black field workers my grandfather hired to help us pick, as we picked by hand, putting the cotton in long, canvas cotton-picking sacks. They picked ten times as much cotton as I could.
I would go with Grandpa on the flatbed trailer pulled by a work horse to pick the black workers up in Beat Five. Many were descendants of former slaves and the government gave them that land after the Civil War. They worked their own farms but didn’t make enough money on them so they hired out to farmers like my grandfather. They worked harder than just about anybody I knew.
When we picked them up at sunrise, they would sing and clap on the way to the cotton field, but when we took them home at sundown, they were bent over and silent, completely exhausted from a very long, very hot day picking cotton in the blistering Texas sun. But rest would be short, because we would pick them up again at sunrise to repeat the same back-breaking labor.
So on the 7th day God rested from all his work. And God blessed the 7th day . . . Genesis 2:2. Note that at the very beginning, God gave us the promise of rest.
We still have that promise of rest today. Rest can be found on many levels. The highest form of rest for us is eternal rest in heaven. Our sermon text says, For we who have believed enter that rest . . ., the meaning here being Gods final rest in glory. Even though in Gods eternal rest, we stop our labors down here, it doesnt mean we will be drowsy-frowsy sleepyheads in heaven. No, we will still worship and serve Him, but there will be no fatigue, distress, persecution, anxiety, or afflictions.
For the Israelites, the promise for rest was for rest in Canaan, the promised land. The Book of Exodus is full of the hardships, the frustrations, the hunger, the thirst, the fears, and the endless tramping through the desert wilderness of the Israelites. For many, the good news promise of rest was not fulfilled.
There are two possible reasons why they failed to receive the wonderful rest promised by God. One is that the message was not mixed with faith in those who heard it. In other words, they did not believe it or act upon it.
The other reason was they were not united by faith with those who believed the promise and heeded it. The leaders, Caleb and Joshua, believed the promise of God, but the majority of the Israelites were not united in faith with these two faithful leaders.
During the Exodus, the Israelites were rebellious and often did not listen to nor heed the Word of God. And yet in the letter to the Hebrews, a letter written to descendants of the Israelites, the word of God is identified as the sharpest of all swords. At the time our text was written, there were short swords and long swords, single-edged swords and double-edged swords, curved swords with a cutting edge on the outside of the curve. There were one-handed swords and two-handed swords.
But the most commonly used sword in those days, which is probably the one the writer to the Hebrews has in mind was the Roman variety. It was about 22 inches long, made of iron, single grip and in the hands of a trained soldier, a potent weapon, cutting both ways, with a pointed tip also capable of inflicting a wound.
The continued imagery, even beyond where our text ends, would naturally cause a modern reader to think in terms of a scalpel or even a laser. Such is the penetrating sharpness and precision of the Word of God. And any one of us who has allowed ourselves to go under that scalpel knows its probing capacity and its potent effect.
This truth about Gods word is something of a two-way street. On the one hand, it should give us great confidence that there is less burden on us to try to be spectacular or insightful or relevant because we may trust that His word is all of those things. On the other hand, the power of this word should give us pause lest we mishandle it or bungle its use in peoples lives. As you witness to others, keep in mind that a sharp scalpel in the hand of a careless surgeon is no blessing.
During their trek through the desert wilderness, Moses and Aaron had use of this living and active two-edged sword, but many Israelites took Gods promises lightly. Many were not able to accept these promises by faith, and as a result, they never reached Canaan. This could be a warning for us in reaching our Canaan.
Yet, those Israelites who did finally enter Canaan with Joshua did not find the final rest they had longed for. No, there was conflict in Canaan, — sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering and death,
But you know something, Gods promises of rest were not exhausted. If they had been exhausted, he wouldn’t have offered them again in the time of David. But He did.
But of course, when God sent Jesus and let Him suffer and die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and for our reconciliation with God, that was the ultimate promise fulfilled. With our friend, brother, and Savior Jesus, we fully understand the extent of this promise.
As we think about what this text means to us, we realize there are several levels of rest. Im sure that each one of us without too much effort could come up with areas in our life that are anything but rest, — where we feel pressured, where we feel compromised, deserted, sick and lonely, anxious and frightened. This promise of rest covers that, too. Not only does the two-edged sword cut out your sin and poor faith, but also it cuts out the diseases of your life, whether its a sickness or an addiction or a bucket of bad thinking.
You see, because of Christ, we are completely forgiven, totally loved, fully redeemed and restored, and we can believe Gods promises not only of eternal life but of help here and now.
The year I graduated from high school was an extremely difficult one for me; I just couldnt cope with the changes that were about to happen. Much of that summer was filled with agony and indecision and enormous stress, I felt like running away. But even as a teenager I had faith, and I prayed and God gave me rest until I could make the decision for fall, because no decision can be made in unrest.
God promises us rest. Believe the promise. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.