In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ, our Passover Lamb, is sacrificed. Let us keep the feast. We are prepared to celebrate the feast because we know that Christ was crucified and raised for us. He has cleansed our hearts, joining us to His own pure heart in Holy Baptism. We are prepared not only to celebrate the feast of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is that resurrection that prepares us for our own resurrection.
We are prepared to celebrate the feast, but how shall we celebrate it? In sincerity and truth. The opposite of sincerity is hypocrisy, and the opposite of truth is falsehood. We cannot come to the feast of the resurrection and truly celebrate it if our celebration is hypocritical and false. But a lack of hypocrisy and falsehood is not so much about being true to ourselves as it is being sincere and truthful toward God and what He has done. Joy is not something that can be manufactured by us. We might be able to muster a smile when we don’t feel like it, but joy is something far more solid and bracing than mere happiness. Joy comes from the certainty of knowing that there is nothing happening to us, nothing that we feel, nothing that we experience, that can possibly alter or affect what Christ has promised. It is the joy of knowing that, no matter how you feel on Easter, Jesus is still risen from the dead! Whether your inner feeling matches your outer appearance is not the sincerity that Paul is talking about. And maybe that’s why he doesn’t talk about “the old leaven of hypocrisy and falsehood;” he says, “not with the old leaven of malice and evil.”
So Joshua says to the people as they are about to enter the Land of Promise after Moses’ death. “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15). Idolatry is the thing that stands in the way of sincerity and faithfulness and truth. It is not a matter of being true to yourself, and forcing your face to match your heart, or vice-versa. It is a matter of not pretending before God, which is impossible anyway.
When you come before God, will it be in worship of Him outwardly, but holding on to idols inwardly? Is it begrudging God the worship due Him, because it interferes with what we would rather be doing? Is it the pretense of being a “good Christian,” whatever that means, instead of acknowledging our sin and hearing His word of mercy with joy? Remember the context of 1 Corinthians 5 from last week? The problem is that the Corinthians are allowing open and unrepentant sin to go on among them as if that weren’t preventing their communion with God and with each other. A little leaven of sin—in that case, sexual immorality “of a kind not even tolerated among the pagans”—leavens the whole lump of dough. It spreads, almost unseen and unnoticed. But it influences the whole congregation. Paul does not think that if it’s only a little sin, it’s ok, but since this is a “big sin,” it’s not. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
The yeast that causes bread to rise is the image of sin, and unleavened bread is the image of sincerity and truth. Israel ate unleavened bread when they were about to go out of Egypt, covered by a blood that was not their own. Jesus took that unleavened bread and said, “This is My body.” And we are covered by a blood that is not our own, and we drink the blood of eternal life. But that eating and drinking is only for sinners. If you don’t need the blood of Jesus to cover you anymore, you don’t need His Supper to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. But if you confess your sin, He is faithful to His own word of forgiveness on the cross.
That is the Word that you will find in this House. There are all sorts of other words, other gods from other nations. They surround us and infiltrate us. And people will choose those gods more often than not; the way is broad and easy that leads to death. But as for us, in this House, we will serve the Lord. And the response of the faithful is “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God” (Joshua 24:16-18).
It is the Lord our God who brought us out of the slavery of sin with the great signs of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He has preserved us all the way we have gone, and He will preserve us still, even in the midst of the idolater and the evil, as we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. He drives out the evil from us—from within us. Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord, who is the Way and the Truth, to serve other gods, who are dead-ends and false! He will bring us to the joyful celebration, not only next week, but the eternal celebration which has no end.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/9/19