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THE FUTILITY OF TURNING AWAY FROM GOD

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

By Frank L. Hoffman

3 SEPTEMBER 1995

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Psalm 139:7-12
Jeremiah 2:1-13
Luke 14:5
Hebrews 13:12-17

Most people look at religion as some formal way of acknowledging God.

And for the most part, they are correct; for that is what people have made of religion.

But religion is really to be a gathering of the faithful who come together to acknowledge and worship God, and then leave with a renewed spirit that will carry each one until the next gathering.

But God isn't like this.

He is with us always.

He doesn't come and go, the way we come to church and leave.

But because we don't visually see the person of God, most people need to be refreshed in their belief and faith.

However, a person can never be truly and wholly faithful unless he or she learns to recognize God's presence at all times.

And coupled with this is the understanding that we can never really hide from God, or go where He is not, or even really turn away from Him and not be accountable for our actions.

Such actions are exercises in futility.

Let’s take a look at a few examples in Scripture.

Our preparation verse for this morning, Luke 14:5, gives us one example.

5. And He [Jesus] said to them, "Which one of you shall have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?"

Now, on the surface, one might say, "What does this have to do with turning away from God?"

Well, the Law says that we are to do no work on the Sabbath, and it does take work to pull a person or an ox out of a dug well.

So, in order to be compassionate, on the surface, according to the letter of the Law, one would have to break the Law; but to be loving and compassionate is the ultimate in fulfilling the Law.

Thus, if our religious practices prevent us from being loving and compassionate, then we have turned away from God, even in the name of religion.

And Jesus says something else to let us know how really far love and compassion have to go in order to be of God's liking.

Jesus equates our concern for a son with that of an ox.

This doesn't mean that we are to love the ox more than our sons or daughters, but that we are to place no limits on our love and compassion.

We are to see the presence of God in the creation of both son and ox; thus, to honor and love God, we must love His creation as well.

Furthermore, we cannot pretend not to see the need for our expression of unconditional love and compassion.

David recognized this, even if sometimes after the fact, but he understood God’s ever-presence, and expressed it in Psalm 139:7-12.

7. Where can I go from Thy Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Thy presence?

8. If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.

9. If I take the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

10. Even there Thy hand will lead me,

And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.

11. If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,

And the light around me will be night,"

12. Even the darkness is not dark to Thee,

And the night is as bright as the day.

Darkness and light are alike to Thee.

There is nothing hidden from God, and we are only fooling ourselves when we think God doesn't know what we're doing.

After David, the Israelites, in their hearts and souls, began to move further and further from God; or we could say that they falsely believed that God wasn't there in their presence, and they could carelessly do anything they pleased.

The ten Northern tribes followed this thinking and were led away into captivity in foreign lands; and Judah only seemed to be thankful it wasn't she, for Judah never changed her erring ways.

So God has Jeremiah proclaim His word to them concerning their futility (Jeremiah 2:1-13).

1. Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

2. “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord,

“I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth,

The love of your betrothals,

Your following after Me in the wilderness,

Through a land not sown.

3. “Israel was holy to the Lord,

The first of His harvest;

All who ate of it became guilty;

Evil came upon them,” declares the Lord.’ ”

When Israel followed God, they were a witness to the rest of the world that there was indeed a living God in the land, the One and only God, and that all other gods were false, and thus following them was an exercise in futility.

But Israel changed and forsook her first love; thus the world saw their God as similar to all other gods.

Christian, this applies to us as well.

We have a responsibility.

We are to love our non-Christian neighbors by showing them the power of God's love and compassion in our own lives, so that they, too, would come to believe and live by faith.

But Israel didn't do this, so God reminds her of her sin:

4. Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.

5. Thus says the Lord,

“What injustice did your fathers find in Me,

That they went far from Me

And walked after emptiness and became empty?

6. “And they did not say, ‘Where is the Lord

Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,

Who led us through the wilderness,

Through a land of deserts and of pits,

Through a land of drought and of deep darkness,

Through a land that no one crossed

And where no man dwelt?’

7. “And I brought you into the fruitful land,

To eat its fruit and its good things.

But you came and defiled My land,

And My inheritance you made an abomination.

This same thing is happening all around the world and even in our own back yards, and perhaps in some of our own homes.

And we, as the Church, and more importantly, the people of the church, are responsible for it by not being a stronger example of God’s way of life.

We have to go back to our roots and grow again from there, pruning away what is bad in the process.

8. "The priests did not say, 'Where is the Lord?'

And those who handle the law did not know Me;

The rulers also transgressed against Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And walked after things that did not profit.

9. "Therefore I will yet contend with you," declares the Lord,

"And with your sons' sons I will contend.

10. "For cross to the coastlands of Kittim and see,

And send to Kedar and observe closely,

And see if there has been such a thing as this!

11. "Has a nation changed gods,

When they were not gods?

But My people have changed their glory

For that which does not profit.

12. "Be appalled, O heavens, at this,

And shudder, be very desolate," declares the Lord.

13. "For My people have committed two evils:

They have forsaken Me,

The fountain of living waters,

To hew for themselves cisterns,

Broken cisterns,

That can hold no water.

Isn't this what's happening today?

Don't we accept sins against God as being all right, because “everyone is doing it”?

We have made a mockery of most marriages and consider it acceptable to live together out of wedlock, have children apart from marriage, to have extra-marital affairs and trade partners as if they were household appliances.

People, we have lost our vision.

And this is what the writer to the Hebrews is reminding us about in Hebrews 13:12-17.

12. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.

13. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

This is our problem: we think we can hide our sins from God and not bear the pain and suffering they caused Him.

We don't think we're responsible for our neighbors and to help bear their crosses, too.

We have the false impression that the world is the here and now, and that this is all that counts.

We who know the Lord must look beyond our present situations and help others do the same.

14. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

We are to look towards heaven.

15. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

16. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

To not do this is to turn away from God.

17. Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

We're talking about leaders who also follow God and don't turn away from Him.

And remember that our political leaders also reflect our society.

We get what we deserve.

If we want something better, we must begin to live like it now.

It is only futile to turn away from God.

Seek Him with all your heart and soul, and we will have a better world.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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