Ever since we’ve set the date for this weekend being the installation of our new Christian Life Pastor, I’ve had tucked in my mind these words from 1 John 3.  Jotting down thoughts on sticky notes and my phone.  As I looked at the word, “Greater”, I gave myself the assignment to observe comparisons of everyday life.  Try doing that – it’s crazy.  My wife sends me on an emergency grocery trip to Sentry for Sweetened Condensed Milk.  Do I buy Carnation or the generic?  Compare the cost.   And I think, ‘Ah, there’s a comparison.’ My daughter tells me that the new Meijer gas station is open on Richmond.  Without thinking of this sermon, I ask, “Is it cheaper than Kwik Trip?”  Ah, there’s a comparison.  I was up for an upgrade on my phone.  Looking at all the options on Verizon’s website, what do I do?  I hit, “Compare.”  I stare at my computer, and what do I see in the upper left-hand corner?  These symbols.  I know they mean forward or backward, but they also are the symbol for less than and greater than.  Like I said, it was a crazy exercise to observe just how much of our everyday life is about comparisons.  Something’s either “less than” or “greater than.”

The Bible has two main teachings:  Law and Gospel.  They often get compared.  Law shows our sin.  Gospel shows our Savior.  Law written in our hearts and in the Bible.  Gospel only in the Bible.  Which one is greater?  I pray that we know that the Gospel trumps the Law.  As the preschoolers so beautifully sang, this story has a happy ending.  “All your sins have been forgiven.  Jesus did it all for you.  So that you can go to heaven, that’s the story and it’s true.” That’s the good news that you all can be certain of.  The Gospel doesn’t negate the law, but it’s greater than the Law.  But do we live that way?  That’s where I think we struggle.  That’s where I know I struggle.  And I get why we struggle.  The Law is big.  The Law is great. 

The Law is summarized in the Ten Commandments. Think about how God gave the Ten Commandments.  Just listen to this description of the scene:  “There was thunder and there was lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.  Everyone in the camp trembled… Mt. Sinai was covered with smoke… the smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.  As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”

You can’t see that scene without thinking, ‘Wow!  The law is great.’  That same voice that thundered from the mountain, “Do this,” and “Don’t do that,” also thunders in our hearts.  In response, our conscience billows up and bellows out, “Guilty.”  Rightfully so, our conscience condemns us.  It’s not just an unbelieving world that scoffs, “You Christians are such hypocrites!  You say one thing and do another!”  That’s echoed from within.  As a Christian, how can I say, “Love your neighbor,” when I’m too busy with my life to even know my neighbor’s name, much less his needs.  How can I promise at a baptism, I’m willing to assist in whatever manner possible so that little Roland will remain a child of God, but by the time the sermon comes around, I’ve long forgotten what I just promised?  Next week, our new members will stand up here and promise what many of you have said, “I promise to support the work of the Lord with my prayers, time, talents, and offerings” yet I cringe when my service team is up for an event once a year or I murmur, ‘I’m always volunteering and no one else.’  Just a few verses before our lesson John, who’s been around the block when it comes to people and their faith writes, “This is how you know whether or not you’re a child of God – anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child.”  Ouch.  Cut me out of the will.  How can I call myself God’s child?  How can I call myself a Christian?  My heart condemns me.  If your heart sends you to hell, then to hell with your heart. 

Oooo… got your attention?  I mean that… if I follow my heart, if I follow my feelings, hell is where I’ll end up.  Maybe you read the Time of Grace blog posted twelve days ago.  Pastor Mike wrote, “Please don’t misunderstand – emotions are not evil… Join Jeremiah and weep.  Join Solomon and gush.  Join David and dance.  Enjoy the emotions of life, unexpected laughter, and the butterflies of first love.  Embrace the sorrow of sin and the inexpressible joy of knowing Jesus.  But just remember.  When all is said and done, feelings are not the final word… Emotions are not gospel truth.  The gospel is.”  And the gospel, the good news of Jesus, is greater than the law.

That’s John’s point here.  If our hearts condemn us, if our hearts need to be set at rest in God’s presence – which they do, forget your feelings and figure on the facts.  We teach our little ones, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Not, “Jesus loves me this I know, for in my heart I feel it so.”  “We know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”  He knows how we let our calendars shut the door on a relationship with our neighbor.  He knows how we neglect our responsibility to be there for one another in the church, neglecting parts of the very body of Christ of which we’re a part of.  He knows how our time and talents are so often teetered our way instead of tottered his way.  And he knows how that tatters our hearts up inside.  And he knows that’s why he sent his Son.  To take that guilt and pin it to a cross.  To take that blame and bury it a tomb, where it stays today.  I so appreciate how a principal friend of mine puts it.  Immanuel members, forgive the repetitiveness of this quote as it’s one of my favorite quotes.  Whenever his students ask him, “Mr. Foley, did you ever get in trouble when you were in school?” He answers, “My sins are buried with Christ and that’s where they’re going to stay.”  Your hearts cannot condemn you because Christ has cleared you.

And that opens up a whole new realm.  John goes on to say, “If our hearts do not condemn us” – which they don’t because of Jesus – “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask.”  Anything.  Or as most other translations put it, we receive “whatever” we ask from him.  Over the last month in a half, I have fallen in love with God’s indefinite pronouns.  It goes back to when I preached on John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.”  We considered how we can have definite confidence because of God’s indefinite pronoun.  I’m a “whoever.”  And so are you.  Or I look at the passage on the back wall.  Don’t be afraid.  Be courageous.  Why?  Because the Lord will be with “wherever” you go.  And then you look at this verse.  “Whenever” our heart condemns us, remember that God is greater than our hearts, so you can be confident that you will receive “whatever” you ask.  Isn’t that awesome?  Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Whatever.  Seems like we’re only missing a “whyever.”

John addresses that, here, too.  More often than not, it’s the “whyever” that trips me up.  If I wonder, “Whyever” am I one of God’s “whoevers” that will receive eternal life, whyever will God be with me wherever I go, whyever will God give me whatever I ask, whenever I ask it, where does my head and heart go?  Back to me.  There must be something inside of me or something that I do that makes God say, “Ahhh, that’s my child!”  And if you only read 1 John 3:22, that’s what it sounds like.  “We receive anything from him we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.”  See, it’s what I do.   But what’s this command that brings all these blessings.  It’s not the commands thundered down from Mt. Sinai or the one imprinted in our hearts.  Those we could never keep.  This is his command:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Faith in Jesus is what allows you to keep all of God’s commands, because Jesus did it for you.  He lives in you and you get to live in him.  And just in case we still are tempted to think it’s something I do – if we think or feel – I gotta believe in order to receive all this, again, forget your feelings and figure on the facts.  “This is how we know that he lives in us:  We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” He gave us.  His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, gives us faith.  And his Spirit is greater than our spirit.  God is greater than our heart.

Sunday only –

Mattek family, that’s also comforting in so many other aspects. Today, the comparisons begin.  Actually, the comparisons began January 14, the day you answered a phone call from Immanuel President Chad Borns, informing you that we were extending you a divine call to serve as our Christian Life Pastor.  From that point on, either physically or mentally, you made your comparison charts.  Even though, after prayerful consideration and conversation with your family and friends, you decided to accept that call, don’t think the comparisons stop as soon as Pastor Q says, “I now install you as Christian Life Pastor.”  You will cry (if not outwardly, at least inwardly), frustrated because you know how to be a pastor, you just don’t know how to be a pastor at Immanuel.  You’ll cry (if not outwardly, at least inwardly) as you compare the relationships you had with your brothers and sisters at Garden Homes, relationships that blossomed after growing for 14 years, and the relationships here are just seeds in the ground.  You can’t see them yet.  Karen you might compare your home on 107th with your house on Julius, and your heart might hurt when you feel like a stranger going to the wrong drawer for silverware.  Kelsey and Chloe, your comparisons might not start until next fall, when you step foot into FVL and quickly realize, “This isn’t Wisco.”  Aidan, Carson, and Sydney – your comparisons might start sooner, as you cram in songs for a musical next week or have to pick out clothes from a whole wardrobe instead of wearing school uniforms.  You’ll soon realize, things aren’t the same.  Even Luna might have an adjustment period.  Your hearts may lead you to ask, “Why did we do this?”

It’s then, that I’d ask you to go back to this verse and know that God is greater than your heart.  He’ll know your hurts.  He’ll know your joys.  He’ll know your sins.  But he’ll continue to give you his Spirit so that you know your Savior and his care for you.  Because you know him, you can have confidence before God.  You can have confidence as you step into this new life, and we can have confidence as we step into this new life with you, knowing we will receive from him anything we ask.  There’s nothing greater than that.  AMEN.