Good works – we are to do them!
Since I, your Pastor, am a Chaplain with the Norwalk Police Dept., you might wonder: can I help you if you get into trouble with the Police? Well… yes! I’ll give you a specific example. Here’s how to not get pulled over at a drunk or impaired driver checkpoint and end up with an expensive ticket, and maybe even lose your license.
- Scan the paper and regularly check the NPD website. You see, notice of drunk and impaired driver checkpoints must be posted in advance. It’s the law. If you know when and where they will be, you can take a different road and avoid them!
- If you do happen to come across a checkpoint, don’t pull up to where cars are being stopped. Look around carefully. You see, checkpoints must have an escape lane, a way to get around them. This is the law in CT. Look for that escape lane!
See what I have learned as a Police Chaplain? If you know the laws in CT… you can get around the laws in CT! “Now, wait a minute Pastor. You’re a Pastor, a servant of God!” Ok, I suppose, then, that I should tell you that God expects more of you than just learning how to dodge impaired driver checkpoints. He expects you to not drink to excess, or take drugs or medicine that will impair you, and then drive!
Laws exist for a good purpose, don’t they? Of course… which doesn’t always seem to be the case with our laws. Lawyers wrote CT’s drunk driving laws, and so it’s no surprise that they made ways to get around it. There’s no getting around God’s Law, however, for His Law reflects Him. God is holy and just, and so His Law is always just and good. This is why Jesus says (Matt. 5), “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” God expects us to do what He says… to do what is good. Good works: they are what today’s readings are all about.
So: do we have to do good works? Of course we do! You don’t light a lamp and then put it under a basket, Jesus says. Lamps are created to give light. And God has created you to do good works. Of course you have to be good and do what is good!
Since Jesus used a lamp as an example, I brought one in. It’s different from lamps in Jesus’ day, of course. Lamps then used oil and a wick, like our altar candles. But, the lesson is the same. Which comes first: the light, or the lamp? The lamp, of course. The light doesn’t create the bulb from which it shines… or the socket into which the bulb is inserted… or the arm and base of the lamp… or the electricity which the lamp’s wires conduct to the bulb. The lamp was created to receive electricity and give forth light!
And you have been created in Christ – made God’s beloved child in Him – so that you might receive God and shine forth with His light. Your good works do not cover the darkness of your sins and make you a child of God who is deserving of heaven because of how brightly you shine. To think this is an offense to God; a denial of Him as your Father who loves you freely, before you could do anything, and gives you life! St. Paul puts things in the right order in our reading from 1 Cor. 2: “We have received the Spirit who is from God,” – this comes first; God fills us with His Holy Spirit in baptism and makes us His children – “that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” That we might understand who our God is… what we receive from Him… and then show it, shine it forth! Shine Him forth. That is what we are doing when we do what is good.
When we do what is good… ah, there’s the difficulty. What is good is an elusive, uncertain thing in our sin-filled, and so confused, world. We judge what is good by things like results. What is good is what helps the most people; or makes the most money; or gets the most positive responses. (Or, negative responses from those you don’t like.) Far too often, good is determined by what feels good and what seems right.
Be thankful that God does not leave us to such uncertainty! He lays out for us what is good, just as a lamp has a design to enable it to shine forth light in the most useful way. My lamp has a cone around the bulb that helps to focus and direct the light, and an arm holding it that can bend and turn so that the light can be shined where it is needed. God’s Law – His Ten Commandments – is the structure that shapes and directs our lives so that we know what is good and how to do it. “Whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says. God will boast of your works – will boast of you – just as proud parents boast of their kids.
Just don’t tell Him how He must do so. God’s people in the days of the prophet Isaiah were saying, “Why have we fasted, and You, God, do not see it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You take no knowledge of it?” (Is. 58) They expected certain results, certain blessings for doing what God had commanded. This poisoned what they did. Their works were not acts of faith, of trust. And so, God warned the people, “[Works] like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” God would not listen to them, would not hear their prayers or answer their cries for help. If you learn and do God’s Commandments with the expectation that He will then do good things for you, He will not listen to you, either. Just do what God says because it is good, and don’t worry about what will happen. Trust Him!
We live in a very confused and troubled time. More and more, people are ignoring, and outright opposing, the law. Respect and common decency is ignored as people shout at each other and even refuse to let those they disagree with to speak. Many churches and pastors are rejecting teachings of God that are clear in the Bible and have guided His people for centuries. The apostle Paul warned of this long ago. He told Timothy, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4) Jesus also warned of false teachers. “Wolves in sheep’s clothing,” He called them. Really, it’s becoming today much like it was when the first Christians lived.
But we have the same Lord and Savior with us as they had. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for us, obeying it completely with His actions and in His heart, and by so doing He confirmed it as God’s good will for our lives. He paid for our every disobedience by bearing our sins and dying for us. In Him we are forgiven, and His loving Father is our loving Father! He hears you, and is glorified when you do the works He has laid out for you to do, even if some reject those works and call them evil. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Your heavenly Father sees them, even if no one else does. The life you live in accordance with God’s commandments is pleasing to Him always! You will see this in heaven. Trusting in Him, pray:
With my whole heart I seek you, Lord; let me not wander from your commandments! Blessèd are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
In the name of Jesus, our Savior, the fulfiller of God’s good Law. Amen.
(Ps. 119:10, 12)