July 10, 2011: The Road to Hell is Paved with Superficial Good Intentions

Let us pray: Dear Savior, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in moments of euphoria and then to make promises we cannot keep. The result is: we get frustrated when we fail and think of ourselves as worthless human beings who cannot keep our word. Today, remind us that You always keep Your Word to us.—Both when it comes to Your commands, but also when it comes to Your Word of grace and forgiveness. Focus us especially on the later and also cause us to revel in such grace. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO ALWAYS KEEPS HIS WORD OF PROMISE TO US!

TEXT: Exodus 19: 2-8

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We’ve all heard that phrase. And it’s often true—with a few twists and turns. Any of you with aging parents have probably spoken to them about adding your name to their bank signature card. This makes a lot of sense. It’s well-intentioned. If something happens to them, at least someone can pay the bills. And yet, if you’re not careful about it and don’t sign the exact paperwork, they can become liable for your debts. Suddenly their assets get included in your assets and if someone sues you, your parent’s money is on the line, too. It may not become hell, but it’s close.

Paying attention to details is why we hire lawyers. Thinking things through carefully and doing our research saves a whole lot of hassle later on. Good intentions are fine. But, the hellish devil is always in the details, isn’t he?

Today we meet the Children of Israel after they have been delivered by God from the Egyptian army upon their crossing of the Red Sea. Now, the plagues are behind them. Slavery is behind them. They’ve seen the miracles of God and are grateful. They arrive at Mt. Sinai full of hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. They are euphoric! Moses goes up on the mountain to talk to God and this is what our Lord tells him: “You yourselves have seen what I did in Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’ So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.'”

As we ponder that exchange, let us consider this theme:

THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH SUPERFICIAL GOOD INTENTIONS

I

Soon after this euphoric moment of national unity, God summons Moses to go up that mountain again in order to receive the covenant of the Law, or the 10 commandments. I think most of you will recall what happens next. He’s gone a long time. The people grow restless. Finally they convince Aaron to make them a golden calf to worship much like they were surrounded by in Egypt. In short, they go back on their well-intentioned words, break their promise, and judgment arrives when Moses comes down. They never thought through their promise. They never thought about the hard edge of the commandments and what it would entail in trying to keep them. And most importantly, they never gave a thought to the Gospel, or the necessity of mercy by God for their failures. They were superficial in their good intentions.

In one of our liturgies during the confession of sins God asks you to amend, change, and revamp your life according to His perfect Law. He wants you to conform your whole self to His Divine will. Recall the response?—”Yes with the help of God.” Those six little words hold a boatload of meaning. You’re saying: “I’ll try Lord. I know I’ll fail on my own. I know that I’m an imperfect sinner. I know I’ll need Your forgiveness and help every step of the way. I know I’ll need the perfection won by Christ via His perfect life and innocent death for me to take away Your anger for my failings. But, I also know that since “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” You’ll get me through it and make it happen.” All this was ignored by the Israelites when they made their promise; hence they fell. Yes, the Road to Hell is Paved with Superficial Good Intentions.

II

Let’s do a quick review of the 10 commandments. 1. Honoring God is your highest priority. It comes before family, friends, work, or play. There are no exceptions. For without His blessing the rest of life cannot be blest. 2. Honoring God’s name and using any reference to Him in a holy way is all important. So, every time you absently utter: “O my God” you disrespect Him. 3. Worshiping God is not an option. You are to arrange your schedule around God instead of thinking He’ll arrange His schedule around you. 4. Respecting parents, adults, and people in special offices is vital. Once respect is gone chaos ensues and everyone is hurt. 5. Human life is sacred because God made it in a special way and gave only humans eternal souls. Embittering another’s life, or your own, mocks God’s wisdom and compassion. 6. Human sexuality is to be expressed only within the confines of formal marriage. Marriage means commitment. Sex without that commitment may be called “love” but really it’s only selfishness. And the true beauty of sex is unselfishness. 7. Taking advantage of others and acquiring their property outside of work, a gift, or an inheritance is just as bad as going into a convenience store with a gun. It also says: “God’s a fool and doesn’t know what I truly need to be happy in life.” 8. Running down someone’s reputation via gossip, or using blogs today to denigrate via innuendo really is: “high tech lynching.” 9. Being greedy for someone’s house, or not being ethical in dealing with mortgage brokers and banks because: “They all just take advantage of me anyway” does not excuse you from culpability before God. And 10. Possessing a greedy nature when it comes to all else in life and never being satisfied with the blessings you do have mocks God’s gifts to you. Or, as Christ says: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. So, having food and clothing, let us be content with that.”

Every one of those commandments should make each of us squirm. We have good intentions about them. We try to obey them. We love our Lord and don’t want to hurt or disappoint Him. And yet, how many times this week have we violated our oath of Christianity? All on their own, the commandments, the Law, will elicit one of two responses the human heart.—Either you will become overbearing and terribly self-righteous (think Pharisees) because you’ll view the commandments superficially and conclude: “I didn’t do that (forgetting your thoughts and the feelings of your heart in the matter”—Or, you’ll conclude: “It’s all impossible to obey. I’m crushed before I even start, so why even try?” My friends, the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Superficial Intentions. So, unlike these superficial Israelites, direct your mind to the narrow road. That narrow road is Christ. It is His mercy, His love, His compassion, His sacrifice on the cross which makes you holy when you grasp hold of it by faith.

There are times in our lives when just like the Israelites before Sinai, we find ourselves on a Christian faith high. Maybe it is when a child is born, when the cancer surgery was a success, when Aunt Sally left you an inheritance out of the blue, or maybe a special Easter or Reformation service. You feel in control. You feel invincible. You tell God: “I’ll follow You anywhere. I’ll renounce my booze addiction, I’ll renounce my various affairs, I’ll always be clean and holy for You, dear Lord.” Then when the euphoria wears off, you backtrack and end up wallowing in self-pity or just downright despair. Folks, we may be superficial but Christ never is! So, always look to Him for strength and help. Plead His mercy. And go forward in the humility of faith that only He can bring. Amen