The Darkness Around Us Part 3 - Lenten Vespers
March 7, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
THE DARKNESS AROUND US III, Choices and Consumers
So far in examining the darkness around us we have looked at the Pagans, who worship nature, and the materialists, who see nothing as sacred and thus try to dominate everything. The consumer does not care one way or the other. He only knows what he likes and dislikes. His ego is always engaged in his favorite activity – making choices. The human ego is always pleased to find himself in the driver’s seat. So it grabs discretionary time, discretionary income, even discretionary authority. St. Paul says a consumer’s god is his gut. This evening we want to explore what that means.
As you walk down the aisle of the supermarket, the drugstore, the convenient store how do you decide among eight brands of toothpaste, ten brands of dishwashing liquid, twelve brands of shampoo, or fourteen brands of shaving cream? Does this tell us that our world looks at everything from false perspective? When churches have to replace their furnaces on the installment plan, when suburban schools have to charge a fee for music instruction, when charity houses have to tell the homeless that they’re full, and hospitals have to share a laundry, yet every time we go shopping we have unlimited choices, do you see a problem with what we have become? How many television channels give us Shakespeare, or C. S. Lewis, or Beethoven? Only what the market will bear. So anything that makes people think will be guaranteed a very small market share. Now our point this evening is not to lament the eclipse of intellect in our time. That’s only an example. The point is that we can and do make choices all the time. As Christians we must consider all of our choices in terms of sin and grace. We know that sin and grace are real. They are part of the framework in which we make our choices, but unfortunately they are a part we frequently ignore. And we ignore them at the peril of our souls.
It’s easy to think of our choices in such shallow terms as preferences, or practicality, or even feelings. Does anyone think his choices are simply a matter of pleasing himself? How far do you take an attitude like that? Perhaps you have been in a restaurant where you asked for a coke, then the waitress asked you if a pepsi was okay. Well suppose you ask for a Lutheran school and have the secretary ask you if Nondenominational is okay? O ask for a New International Version Bible and have the clerk ask you if a Living Bible is okay? In case you forgot, the Living Bible isn’t a Bible at all, it’s what American Evangelicals think the Bible should have said so it fits in with their teaching. Not everyone can notice the difference. The whole profession of commercial advertising exists to persuade people to choose one cola rather than another, whether they can tell the difference or not. So television evangelists use the mass media to convince millions of people that true religion is just another consumer choice, that salvation is something they can decide to have. That is not light. That is the darkness around us. The light comes from God’s revelation, which points us to sin and grace. So this is where we come in. We must look at our choices under that light. Even our :”choice” of religion must be in terms of sin and grace. The choices of the soul are tempted by the same ego as those of the body.
St. Paul refers to such choosing as thinking with our gut. He says their god is the belly. The New International Version says, “the stomach,” which is too limited. Other modern translations say “the emotions,” because in St. Paul’s time people thought the gut was the seat of the emotions. Here Paul is contrasting the citizen of heaven with the consumer. The consumer’s mind is set on earthly things. He is not attacking the sin of gluttony so much as the desire for good feelings. Gluttony for good feelings can destroy a soul just as certainly as gluttony for good steaks. All of our choices must take into account the will of God. We must stand in the light of God’s revelation. In the light of His Law we evaluate our choices in reference to sin. Then look to the cross of Jesus to evaluate them in reference to grace.
We need to begin by looking at what Jesus taught about prayer. Among other things He taught us to say give us this day our daily bread. Shine that spotlight on your choices. We acknowledge that all of our possessions are gifts. For all of our talk of “earning a living,” we must admit that without Our Father we have nothing. Then we say “our” bread, pulling away from the idea of taking anybody else’s. Then comes “daily,” which some think is the hard part. We don’t say, “Give us a fortune to retire on,” or Give us a year’s supply.” We are to take one day at a time. Some say that by choosing the word “bread” Jesus was advocating a simple diet. That was not His practice, however. He ate well and kept the wine flowing. It isn’t what we eat, but how we eat it that holds potential for sin. By receiving it thankfully, aware of Jesus who is spiritually present, we also share in His grace.
He told us to say Thy will be done. How unconsumerish can you get! Of all the choices we make, only those that do the Father’s will pass the test. All others are sin. Not just mistakes, not just unfortunate choices, but sin. There ism no petition in the Lord’s Prayer that asks, “Father, let us feel good.” When we choose to feel good instead of doing God’s will that is sin. In Gethsemane we see the Lord saying, not my will but Thine be done. Jesus put His feelings down in their place and did His duty. He did not say it was a sin to feel good. When Mary anointed His feet with very expensive oil, notice who complained – Judas Iscariot. It might seem like a luxury to us, but Jesus accepted this as part of His daily bread. The Bible does not say all luxuries cause guilt. On the other hand, if you make getting them the goal of your life, you fall into a trap. Jesus didn’t ask Mary for the oil, she brought it freely.
Jesus also taught us to pray for forgiveness. When the bright light of the Word shows us the darkness of our choices, look at the choice Jesus made to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sins. We admit we have sinned, so we pray for forgiveness. This is also the will of God. If looking at our choices in terms of sin scares us, then repent and look again in terms of grace. Under grace we see that God loves us in spite of all, enough to send Jesus on His mission to conquer death by dying, and that all of His true obedience, faithful goodness, and self-offering is to be transferred to our account. That gives us the opportunity to truly do good as He did. In terms of grace we can choose the right things for the right reasons. The pressure is off. God is pleased with us; we are free to please Him.
Finally, as we pray Thy kingdom come, we see that our true citizenship is not in this world of consumer choices, but in heaven. There will be good feelings in heaven.
God had reasons for making us want them. They might be out of place here because of sin, but where sin is no more, we will be truly free. All of our choices will please God.