As Long As I Live
Topic: Biblical Verse: Psalm 116:1–116:2
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Kick-Off Sunday)
September 12-13, 2015
“As Long As I Live”
Today begins a new year of learning for our congregation, and we call this Kick-Off Sunday as Sunday School and Bible classes for all ages get underway. I’d like to begin with a story about teaching and learning. A Sunday School teacher had worked long and hard on preparing the lesson to be taught. She really wanted to drive home the point to the children that we are not saved through what we can do for God, but that we are saved through what God has done for us in his Son, Jesus Christ. We are saved by God’s grace alone! And so, having everything all planned out, she began: “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all my money to the church, would I get into heaven?” 'NO!' all the children answered. “Okay, she thought. So far, so good.” And she went on: “If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would I get into heaven?” Again the answer was a resounding, “NO!” “Great!” she thought, and kept going. “What if I took care of sick people every day, fed the hungry, and helped those who were in need, would I get into heaven?” Once more, all the children responded, “NO!” “Well,” the teacher said, “then how do I get into heaven?” One eager student shouted: “You gotta be dead!” Hmm… not exactly the answer the teacher was looking for. Sometimes teaching Sunday School can be like that box of chocolates Forrest Gump talks about: “You never know what you’re gonna get.” And yet, what a blessing to teach children, youth, and adults about the amazing grace of God that is found only in Jesus Christ! That is a blessing, a privilege, and a challenge, and we give thanks to God for those who serve in the ministry of teaching in the life of our congregation. With the psalmist we say, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2). “As Long As I Live” – that is the theme for the message on this Kick-Off Sunday. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
It is interesting to note the references to teaching that are found in all of today’s Scripture lessons. In the Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 50:4-10), one of the suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, we are told: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” The one who is taught has to listen. As any good teacher will tell you, if you’re not listening, you’re not learning. So, are we listening? Are we learning? Are we so busy that we no longer have time in our lives to listen to the Lord God as He speaks to us in his Word? If we’re not listening to God as He speaks to us in his Word, then we’re listening to something or someone else. And let me say candidly to you: our learning, our being taught, never stops this side of heaven. Are you spending time with the Lord in his Word – personal devotions, Bible study with others, prayer? If not, why not? When all is said and done, this passage from Isaiah points us to the Lord Jesus, whose word does indeed sustain us when we are weary, whose back bore the lashes of those who struck him with whip and scourge, whose face was disgraced from spitting and abuse, whose bruised and bloody body was nailed to the cross as payment for your sin – all of it. Because of all that Jesus has done for us, our hearts are moved to be taught willingly and gladly by the Lord. We can only say with the psalmist: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).
In today’s Epistle lesson (James 3:1-12), James cautions us: “Not many of you should become teachers… for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Teaching in the church is serious business because it carries on that ministry of the apostles and prophets into our world and our lives today. It is serious because it must always point people to Jesus and what he has done for them. Teaching, as well as preaching, is about both Law and Gospel, the two lenses through which we see Scripture. The Law tells us what we must do for God: “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.” The Law exposes our shortcomings and failures.. The Law is an S.O.S. – it shows our sins, the evil we have done and the good we have failed to do. But the Law is not an end in itself; it must prepare us for the Gospel. Where the Law tells us what we must do for God, the Gospel tell us that in Christ, it is already done. Where the Law exposes our shortcoming and failures, the Gospel clothes us in Christ’s own robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Where the Law is an S.O.S., showing our sin, the Gospel is also an S.O.S., because it shows our Savior. And that is the best news of all! And this is what we preach and teach, Sunday after Sunday, year in and year out. It is the old, old message that is ever new. “It satisfies my longings, as nothing else can do” (“I Love To Tell the Story”). And so we can only say with the psalmist: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).
In today’s Gospel lesson (Mark 9:14-29), Jesus is met by a great crowd with a great need: “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute… I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” Notice how the man addresses Jesus: “Teacher,” which is the meaning of the term “Rabbi.” It is a term of honor and respect. Jesus is our Savior, our Lord, our Master, and he is our Teacher. Think of all that Jesus has taught us: the parables, the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission, to name a few. If Jesus had only taught these things, that would have put Jesus in the same group as other teachers throughout history whose words are still studied today: Confucius, Buddha, Muhammed. But here’s the big difference: Confucius, Buddha, and Muhammed did not give their life for you. Jesus came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: living that perfect life of obedience we could not because of our sin, and dying the death we rightly deserved because of our sin. Jesus teaches not only with his lips, but with his very life. He is both our sacrifice for sin, and our model of the godly life. Truth be told, there are many things about what Jesus has taught us that we may struggle to believe and comprehend. That exchange between Jesus and the boy’s father in the Gospel lesson is also an exchange between Jesus and us. Jesus tells us: “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). The father – and we – cry out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Our learning, our being taught, our growing in faith, never stops this side of heaven. And so we can only say with the psalmist: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1-2).
At the start of this new year of learning, come and sit at the feet of our Savior, our Lord, our Master, our Teacher, Jesus Christ, and learn what he has done for you. And then by the power of the Holy Spirit, live what you have learned as we join Jesus on his Mission. Amen.