************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 3-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 27, 2010
Q & A 3-5
I Misery and Exile
A We were on the plane a few months ago. A little baby was a few seats in front of us. You didn't have to tell any of us that the little baby was in misery. It was more than obvious: she cried and screamed the whole trip but was especially loud when we took off and landed.
Go to the Hospital Emergency Room. Again, it is obvious when someone is in misery: their leg is broken, their hand is bleeding, their face is green, they are throwing up.
I made a visit after the death of someone's closest friend. Again, misery was obvious: there was nose blowing and lots of tears.
In our Bible reading, it is obvious that Cain is in misery. "My punishment is more than I can bear," he says (Gen 4:13).
Now, along comes the Catechism and asks, "How do you come to know your misery?" The answer: "The law of God tells me." Doesn't that sound strange? We need to be told we are miserable?! Isn't misery obvious? Isn't misery something that is apparent to everyone? We don't need something or someone to tell us we are miserable. Or do we?
B The Catechism's question and answer doesn't make sense unless you realize "misery" is a theological word with a theological meaning. In the original edition of the Catechism, the word we translate as "misery" is the German word "elend." The best English translation of this word is "alien" or "exile."
You all know what an alien or exile is – it is someone who is out of place, someone who as been banished from their homeland, someone who longs to return home. Consider Israel's exile to Babylon. Consider present-day Somalia. I don't know if you realize this, but Somalia is the world's worst humanitarian disaster. There are approximately 1.5 million people in Somalia who have fled their home for other parts of the country; and, over 500,000 Somalis have fled to neighboring countries. Every one of them a refugee. Every one of them an alien. Likewise, there are scores of refugees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – again, people have become aliens because of war. The most famous alien of all time is probably E.T. You know, the cute/ugly little creature whose spacecraft crash-landed on planet earth. The rest of the movie is about his attempt to return home.
Again, consider Cain in our Bible reading. He was the world's first exile once man was removed from the Garden. Listen to what he says to God:
(Gen 4:14) "Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."Do you hear the language of exile and alienation here?
Because of sin, every member of the human race is an exile or an alien. We are in a state of misery. It started when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden – where they walked with God and talked with God. God threw them out of His presence in the Garden. They emerged from under the flaming sword into an alien land of tears and pain and death. Ever since then we all have been alienated and exiled from God.
This says something about where mankind belongs. Our home, our homeland, the place where we belong, is with God. That is where God created us to be. Like Cain, like Israel in Babylon, like E.T., like too many people in Somalia and Afghanistan and Iraq, we all are aliens and exiles.
C "How do you come to know your misery?" "The law of God tells me." As I already indicated, something outside of us needs to tell us we are in misery. Why do we need to be told, why do we need to be shown, what appears so obvious? After all, can there be any doubt there is something wrong with us humans? Read the newspaper, watch the TV, go online to Yahoo – most of what we see is bad news. On it goes, day after day, year after year, across every continent: murder, war, drugs, theft, rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse; greed, lust, covetousness, cursing, disobedience. All of this is part of everyday life on our planet. So why do we need to be shown our misery?
Because we humans are liars. We lie to ourselves. We lie about ourselves. We lie to others. Listen to how Paul puts this in his letter to the Romans:
(Rom 1:18,25,32) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness ... (25) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised ... (32) Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.We know the truth about ourselves but we suppress it.
This is where the law of God steps in. The law of God does what our sinful consciences refuse to do. The law of God leaves no doubt in anyone's mind. The law of God show us, in a very unflattering way, that we are sinners, that we are alienated and exiled and separated from God.
Notice how often I repeat the phrase "of God"? Why this emphasis?
When we have car problems, we go to the auto mechanic. We describe the problem, the noise, the rattle; he takes it on a test drive or plugs it into a computer; and, then he tells us what is wrong and what should be done about it. We go through the same routine at the Emergency Room. We describe the symptoms, we are poked and probed and X-rayed, and then we are told a diagnosis and a cure. It is only when the auto mechanic and the doctor correctly diagnose the problem that a solution can be found.
Who is qualified to diagnose man's problem? Not man – because man makes himself blind and deaf and dumb. Who is qualified to diagnose man's problem? How about our Maker? How about the God Who made us and fashions us in His image? If there is anyone qualified to diagnose man's problem, it is God. And, He does so through the law.
For the law of God to do its job of showing us our sin and misery, it needs to be heard and we need to know what it says. If we don't know or hear or listen to the law of God, we don't know our misery.
How carefully do you listen to the law of God, congregation? Do you know what I see from this pulpit when the law of God is read? I see glazed eyes, wandering minds, and people focusing on the smallest of distractions. One time I even skipped one of the commandments to see if anyone would notice – only one person said anything.
II Misery and Love
A What is it about the law of God that shows us our misery? How does the law of God show us we are aliens?
In Matthew 22, Jesus gets to the heart of the law. "What does God's law require of us?" What is the law in a nut-shell? A simple one-word answer will do: LOVE. The law of God requires us to LOVE. We are to love God and neighbor. We are to love God completely and perfectly. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I am sure you all realize that the two loves go hand-in-hand. If we love God, really love Him, we will also love our neighbor. It isn't enough for us to simply love our neighbor in a general, humanitarian sense; our love for others must flow out of our love for God.
In this light, consider Cain. Cain and his offering were not acceptable to God. There was something deficient in his love and service of God. It should not surprise us, then, that Cain ended up killing his brother. A Cain who does not love God is not able to love his brother either.
B "Can you live up to all this perfectly?" Can you love God and neighbor? "No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor."
We hate. This is as natural for sinful man as is breathing, sleeping, or eating. We hate. We can no more stop our hating than can we stop our heart from beating or our intestines from digesting. It is our natural, sinful tendency.
I thought about some of the things that happened this past week. Every one of them illustrates man's natural tendency to hate:
-General McChrystal's disparaging remarks about administration officials
-BP's continued lies about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico
-Germany's approval of assisted suicide
-or, closer to home, armed suspects forced their way into a home in Dinuba
As you probably realize, these are just a few of the things I can point to. Man's capacity and tendency to hate is virtually limitless.
C Here we get to the heart of our misery. God says, "Love Me. Love your neighbor." But we can't. We won't. We are unable to. We hate instead of love. That's why we are exiles from God. When we fell into sin we lost our ability to show the love God wants us to show. Instead, we hate. So, we have exiled and alienated ourselves from God.
Remember Cain's statement: "Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence" (Gen 4:14)? Cain knew he was supposed to love God and Abel. But he didn't. He couldn't. His failure to love instead of hate turned him into an exile and alien.
III Misery and Grace
A Remember Q & A 2? We looked at it last week. According to this question and answer, we need to know our misery. To live and die in the joy of belonging to Jesus, to be happy, I need to know my misery. Knowing my misery is part of living and dying in the joy of the Christian's comfort.
B We were originally created to walk with God and talk with God and live with God. But now we are aliens and exiles because we cannot love the way God wants us to love.
However, if we believe in Jesus, if we are born-again by the Spirit of God, then we are able to love instead of hate. We do not do this perfectly. We do not always succeed. But, by grace, we can make a beginning in living up to all and not just some of God's commandments. By grace, we begin to hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right. In other words, if you are in Christ you may have sin in you but you are no longer totally alienated and exiled from God.
C We may be aliens and exiles right now, but we need to remember we are also pilgrims. A pilgrim to another place, a better place, a place where we are not aliens and exiles. Listen to how the Revelation describes our home-coming:
(Rev 21:3-4) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (4) He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Every member of the human race is an alien, an exile. Every member of the human race is in a state of misery. All of us hate instead of love. But in and with and by the cross and grave of Christ we start our journey back to God. Someday, that journey will end and we will return to the bliss and joy Adam and Eve experienced with God in the Garden.
I invite you, congregation, to believe in Jesus. I invite you to end your life of exile from God. I invite you to stop your hate and to make a beginning in showing love. Come to Jesus and, by grace, you are coming home to God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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