Resolved to Change
A sermon based on Hebrews 13:1-8
Saturday, December 31, 2011 – New Year's Eve
"How many WELS Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?" I'm sure most of you already know the punch line: "Change?! We've always had that light bulb!" We Lutherans are sometimes known for our resistance to change. But, of course, it's not just Lutherans. We humans are resistant to change because change brings something new, something unknown, something uncertain and scary.
But the truth is, whether we resist it, or welcome it, we all go through change. We can't avoid it. Just think of the changes you've gone through in 2011. Some of you have moved and changed your location and your home. Others have changed the size of your families with new additions by birth or subtractions through death. Others have changed jobs, changed your budgets, changed your diets, changed your medications, changed your daily routines. Change is inevitable. Everything is subject to change at any given time.
Everything that is, but Jesus. Jesus is always the same. He is the immovable, unchanging rock. So when life whips us around like a ship tossed by the sea, we have the certain anchor of Jesus. No matter what life throws at us, we always have forgiveness. We always have our salvation. We always have heaven to look forward to. We always have peace. Those things will never change. And in thanks to God for giving us this unchanging certainty we can resolve to change the way we live and live for him in thanks. Listen to the word of encouragement that the author to the Hebrews gives us in chapter 13 of his epistle…
1 Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. 4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
So, have you all made your resolutions? What have you resolved to do? Quit smoking? Lose a few pounds? Become more organized? Procrastinate less? (Or are you waiting to make that resolution later tonight when you get around to it.) I'm not sure where the custom of making resolutions began or why, but I like the custom. I think we should all resolve to improve the way we live. In fact, I think we should all make such resolutions, not just once a year, but one a week or even once a day. And in fact, we do. Every time you hear those wonderful words proclaimed in worship, "God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins," or "Take and eat or drink, this is the body or blood of Jesus Christ given for you, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins," ...I hope that when you hear those words you resolve to quit doing the sins you've just been forgiven of.
But perhaps a more probing question is not "Have you made your resolutions?" but "Have you kept your resolutions?" You know, the ones you made a year ago? Have you quit smoking? Lost the pounds? Become organized? Have you kept your resolutions to quit sinning? To be more loving to one another... and to complete strangers? Have you remembered those who are imprisoned and mistreated? Even in your prayers? Have you honored marriage and kept the marriage bed pure? How about in your words? In your thoughts? Have you kept your resolve to be content with what you have?
How resistant to change we are! We resolve to change... to do better next time! But we don't keep our resolutions. The next time comes around and we change our minds and don't change our attitudes or behaviors at all. In fact, the truth is, that if it were only up to us, to our will power, to our commitment to do better, to our strength and our resolve, well... we'd never change at all. And we would deserve to have God change his mind about loving us and say, "I don't want to save you anymore. You don't even appreciate it. I don't want to love you. I've changed my mind. I'll love you when you love me first. And I change my mind about giving you heaven for free. You abuse my gifts. Instead I'll give you the hell you deserve." Then we would remain damned sinners incapable of changing our thoughts and actions, incapable of changing our fate and would spend an eternity in hell where our torment would never change.
But thank God that his love for you never changes! "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." God's love for you was so great that he resolved to fix your problem of sin. In fact, as much as it seems like an oxymoron, his love for you is so changeless that he was willing to change for you. How did he change? The God of the universe took on flesh and blood and became fully human so he could be under his own law to live a perfect life in your place! And when he resolved not to sin, he kept his resolution!
He changed to become fully human that he might die for us. And when he resolved to go to the cross he "set his face like flint" (cf. Isaiah 50:7) so determined was that resolve! And thank God he didn't break that resolution! There, on the cross, God took the hell that we deserve to take away every one of our broken resolutions and every one of our sins. When no amount of resolve on our part ever could ever change us, God made a resolution to change us from the hell-bound sinners that we were to the sinless and perfect saints that we have become, and he kept his resolution.
That truth kept us grounded in 2011 and it will give us the strength and courage we need to face the changes that we'll meet in 2012 and beyond. Because that assurance of forgiveness, of peace with God, of the assurance of heaven will not—cannot! ever!—change. God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." That line is sort of a motto God has.
When Jacob, Isaac's son, was relocating and changing his position (running for his life from his murderous brother) God promised him in Genesis 28:15, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." As the children of Israel were terrified by the powerful enemies that occupied the land they were about to enter as they changed jobs from nomads to soldiers, God promised in Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." When Moses' aid, Joshua, got an unexpected promotion and was now in charge of this rebellious group of Israelites, God promised him in Joshua 1:5, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you." When King Solomon was intimidated by the thought of taking over his father's kingdom and all the changes that would take place, God promised him (through David) in 1 Chronicles 28:20, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished."
The author to the Hebrews told them to remember these spiritual ancestors who lead the way for them, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Why? Because the God who promised never to leave those leaders made the same promise to them: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." And through the author to the Hebrews, he promises the same to you and me.
God's grace to you will never change—never! No matter what life throws at you, a change of jobs, a change of family, a change of health... you always have the forgiveness of sins. You always have salvation. You always have heaven to look forward to. And you always have peace. Those things will not and cannot ever change no matter what! You can always recite Psalm 118:6 with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" That will never change!
And so I can predict (with absolute certainty) that even if you lose your job, your health fails, your wealth is stripped away and all your friends and family all leave you, if God should allow you to suffer like Job, you will still have a great 2012! Because, in the words of Job (cf. 19:25-27 paraphrased), you know that your "Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after [your] skin has been destroyed, yet in [your] flesh [you] will see God; [You yourself] will see him with [your] own eyes!"
So how do we respond to God's unchanging grace and his immovable promises? We resolve to change the way we live! We, "Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…"
We resolve to thank God by continuing to show brotherly love to one another. While a brother or sister may have a quirk or two that drives you nuts, you still love your sibling. It's the same way in God's family. Resolve to love each other and express that brotherly love in your actions.
Then resolve to love not just your friends. The heathen do that. Resolve to love and serve even those you don't know. Resolve to treat strangers, those imprisoned, and those mistreated, as if they were angels in disguise, as if they were God himself! Show them hospitality. Show them kindness. Show them Jesus' love.
Resolve to uphold God's good gift of marriage. Resolve to put away impure thoughts. Resolve to love your spouse, not just in words, but in actions. The emotions will follow. Resolve to be content with the countless blessings God has showered on you and to keep your life free from the love of money.
And by God's grace, we can keep these resolutions. We can find contentment, not in our wealth, but in our changeless Savior. Because no matter what changes for you in 2012, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, in 2012 and forever. Yesterday, in days past, he took care of our salvation when he died on the cross and removed our every sin. Today he remains with us always and gives us his Word, his body and his blood. And he will be with us forever in this life and in the eternal glory of heaven that's ours through him. Rejoice in what God has resolved to do for us! And in thanks resolve to live for him. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.