The fall season is a great time to take a walk in nature. When going on a hike, it is crucial to know which path you are on. A deep dark forest is an easy place to get off track. Hopefully you are on the right path. If you realize you are on the wrong path it may take a lot of time an effort to get back on track. God tells us to take time and look at the spiritual path we are going down, saying: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.”
At the time of Jeremiah, the prophet, the people were on a path to destruction because of coveting and false teaching. They feared, loved and trusted money above all things. The path of a covetous life is old too and well worn but is not good but sin. Is the path of worldly gain sometimes the path you have sought? Most make it their life’s goal to get lots of money and things and enjoy themselves as much as they can. God says: “Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness;” Coveting is sin in the heart that longs and loves something or someone God has not given us. The 9th commandment is: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. The 10th is:: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his. Even our evil desires for what is not to be ours is sin. God hates sin. God punishes sin. Stop and look at the way you are going—look around. So often we are transgressing—going over to paths that God demands we never traverse.
Besides coveting, the religious leaders are false at the time of Jeremiah. The people and leaders want to covet so they modify their religious instruction to avoid calling such lust for more a sin. They do not call the sinner to repentance. They even put their approval on sin. We may be tempted to ignore sin to keep a kind of false peace. We find it easy to see sins of other but assure ourselves that our own sin is not so grievous. God warns: And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace.
100 years ago the far majority of the Norwegian Lutherans of America wanted to all merge into one big denomination. Many were coveting a large church body even if it meant denying part of God’s Word. They would have to allow the teaching that there is something a person must do to earn heaven. Through smooth talk and deceptive doctrinal statements that faked agreement, most did go into the merger. Whether it be the people in the days of Jeremiah or the bulk of the American Norwegians 100 years ago or we ourselves who frequent the path of coveting—we all find very comfortable and easy going—the path of destruction. God sees our sin and says: They were not at all ashamed; Nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time I punish them, They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
God has led you to a cross roads this morning. Pause and rest for a moment and come to see where you are in this forest of your life: Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, Are you repentant for your sinful paths you have taken? If you are sorry to God, He has good news for you. God has the path of life for you: Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it;
In 1918, a century ago, a minority of the Norwegian pastors and people refused to join the huge merger because of the coveting of a large church by means of accepting false teaching. They met at the Lime Creek church (near Lake Mills—not too far from us) and stood and looked at the paths and took the old path of the pure Word of God. Today we are here because of faithful fore-bearers who have kept this congregation on that path of God’s pure Word. We today now can have rest for our souls.
The rest four our hearts and souls comes from Jesus. Jesus walked the path of his Father sent him upon. That road took him from his throne in heaven to a manger on earth. Jesus never veered off as his Father’s path laid out for him and Jesus went to the cross, to death, to the grave. Oh, He was tempted to leave it. It was hard to stay on it—but He did it for you. He stayed the course of a perfectly holy life. His holiness is place upon you to cover all of your sins. You were baptized into Him and this garment of holiness is yours! Jesus also died and rose for you. You have forgiveness of sins, a clean heart, a body that will live in the resurrection is by his blood shed for you, his death, his resurrection. The Word of Christ to you is: “Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven you!”
The teaching that our forefathers would not compromise on is the doctrine of election which is in the Bible. For you who believe in Jesus as your Savior, this doctrine assures you that it was accomplished because God called you by name in eternity, worked faith in Jesus in you in your life so that you believe his promises to you. God has used your years here to bring you to saving faith and to keep you on the path to heaven by his preaching of the Gospel and serving you with his promises in the Sacraments.. Rejoice you have faith in Christ and peace for your soul in Christ! You are placed upon the path of life!
The good path you are on is, to be sure, very old. Old does not always mean better but when it is the old timeless truth of Holy Scripture it not just better but the only way! The path is so old that it is the path given to Adam and Eve when God promised them the child that would be born of the woman. And since then, the Word of God never changes. Doctrine never needs updating to our modern ideas. This is good! For you can alway grasp ahold of God’ s promises to you with confidence. God says: “For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob…..the Scripture cannot be broken.
It is true that the good path is narrow and thus few people are on it . Jesus does describe this path saying: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” 100 year ago, only 13 pastors stayed faithful among so very many. Today our church body may be small but all that matters is that we are on the good path even if it is narrow and few find are taking it, for the narrow path offers real rest for our souls in Jesus.
The good path will have persecution and conflict. The world will mock you, you will be assailed by the devil, and your own flesh question your path. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Jesus is on our path with us as we follow him to heaven, as his cross is what gives us the gift of salvation.
I have often gotten myself lost on a hike. Somehow I have found my way home by getting on the right path. We all want to be on the trail that is going to heaven. . On this 100th Anniversary of the ELS, we thank God as He continues to proclaim to you the good way, the old way, the narrow way and yes the persecuted, for the path is where we can say: we preach Christ crucified. For: Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.” Amen.