What the Love of God Drives Us To
A Homily for Trinity XI
August 23, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 23:13-31
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
There are parts of scripture that are uncomfortable, and don’t fit our preconceived notions of what a kind and loving God should be. Instead, we read them and think that we would really rather not read that part again, and then in the future we find ourselves tempted to skip over those sections.
But, if we want to grow in knowing God, if we want to grow in intimacy with Him, we can’t dismiss the parts that make us uncomfortable. We can’t simply skim over the sections that don’t meet our preconceived notions of who God should be.
The Christian musician, Rich Mullins, wrote a song in the 90s which was a recitation of the Apostles Creed with some meditations upon the creed. Part way through the song he sings “I did not make it (that is he did not make up the faith), but it is making me.”
We are not called to create a novel and more palatable faith – but rather to let the ancient catholic faith, revealed in scripture and expounded upon in the creeds, form us, we are called to let that faith mold our hearts and souls, that we become transformed, that we would live as Christians that glorify our heavenly father.
Our goal as Christians is not to dismiss the parts of scripture that make us squeamish, it is not to pretend that they do not exist, but earnestly ask – how do these parts form our view of God, how do they show us His love, his justice, his mercy?
If we find ourselves getting uncomfortable with passages such as the gospel reading this morning, it is because it shatters this concept of a warm and fuzzy God that is ambivalent to what we do. It shatters our concept of a God who is like a doddering old man who loves everyone and lets things slide. But, this passage expands our understanding of God’s love for us. It expands our understanding of how God forms his people and calls us to holiness.
Those of you who know me reasonably well, know that I am a pretty mellow person. I don’t, generally speaking, get visibly angry, I don’t tend to yell, in fact, I rather dislike yelling. When I’m visiting friends and they yell from the other room to ask me a question, I generally walk into the room that they are in and talk to them.
I have some dear friends’ whose kids I love to hang out with. These children know that I enjoy biking, and they’ve reached the point where they can all bike. One day, my friends needed someone to hangout with their kids for a couple hours while they did some things, and asked if I wanted to have a bike party with the children, which I agreed to. We spent some time riding around their relatively quiet neighborhood.
That afternoon I learned that trying to corral four kids at various levels of bike riding proficiency is kind of like trying to heard gnats. At one point a car was coming and I also discovered that children are not always as situationally aware as we might like them to be. As the car got closer, I told them get out of the road, once, and then again, finally I yelled, “Get out of the road!”
And they did.
Later, I was reflecting to my friend, I was surprised how easy it is to yell at his children. He laughed. In my yelling at them, I wasn’t upset, I simply had a deep desire to protect them from on coming danger. When I do get angry I feel that tightening of the chest, and in that I get snippy with whoever I am frustrated with. But, when my friends kids were in the road and not paying any attention, there was no anger, no tight chest, simply a desire to protect those whom I love.
As we read this lesson from the gospel according to St. Matthew, do we read it as Christ being seething with the pharisees? Do we see the second person of the trinity as having lost control of his emotions as we so often do when we’re angry? Or do we see a man who loves His people deeply? Who desires that his people would be saved from judgment, and would trust their God? Who is leaving a final warning for them?
First – our gospel lesson reveals to us that God loves us deeply.
I know that not everyone is even tempered, I know that some people are far better at confrontation, while others wrestle with being level headed when things aren’t going the way that they would like. I suspect that we have all wrestled with our emotions on this front, so I want you to think about the times that you verbalize your frustration: Are you more likely to verbalize it if you care about the person or if you don’t? Are you more likely to express pain, anger, or frustrations with your best friends, your spouse, or your children? Or with a stranger you hardly know?
For a vast majority of us, we might grumble at a driver doing something foolish, but we are more likely to be willing to confront those whom we care about, we are apt to say what we really think with those whom we love.
Christ confronts the pharisees over their sin – not because he’s seething mad, not because he just wants to scream at them, but because he cares deeply for them, because it is his last time to drive them to repentance, it is his last opportunity before being taken to the cross to drive them back to God. Drive them to true internal personal holiness.
Think for a moment about the character of Christ – he had healed the desperate, he had been incredibly merciful to sinners, sinners caught in the act, he did not drive away children but invited them to himself. We see Jesus as profoundly tender to the repentant sinner, and to the innocent. And here we must make a conclusion – does God’s love extend only to some sinners or all sinners?
We love stories of conversion, we love stories of the reprobate who delighted deeply in the tragic passions of life – but what about the sinner who knew better? What about the older brother? Does God’s mercy extend to him as well?
Scripture shows us that God’s love extends to all sinners, extends to the acceptable sinners and the unacceptable ones, God’s love extends to the prostitute, the grizzled fisherman, and proud and refined pharisee who had no love in his heart.
Think for a moment about Nicodemus, we met him earlier this year as he came to Christ at night. He appears three times in the Gospel According to St. John. First, we learn that he is a ruler of the Pharisee party. He undoubtedly, at least outwardly was like all the other pharisees, judgmental, holier than thou – a white washed tomb. After the first encounter, he seems to leave perplexed but unconverted.
But then in our second encounter with him, it would seem that he had at least softened to Christ, sympathetic to His mission. Finally, in the third encounter, when most of Jesus’ closes disciples had scattered, as their Lord was dying on the cross, Nicodemus was there to take the body, Nicodemus was there to lay Christ in the tomb, it seems by the third time we see him, Nicodemus was a converted man.
Yes, my friends, there is hope – even for the self-righteous and proud man, there is hope for every sinner. God’s love extends to him in Christ. But – the call of that love is to accept it and to be transformation by it. When we come to know Christ, we are called to repentance, called to completely turning away from our sin, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, He starts the process of changing our heart.
But our gospel reading this morning doesn’t just reveal the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, but it also reveals to us God’s judgment, and his justice. Let us first attend to this false notion that a loving God, cannot also be the God who will stand in judgment of the world at the end of time. Time and time again throughout scripture we see that God is concerned with the plight of those who are denied justice. In fact, a loving God must also be just – a loving God must care about the plight of the poor and the oppressed, the wounded and the lost.
This is perhaps the greatest promise of scripture – that on the last day – not only will those who are in Christ receive mercy for their numerous sins, not only will those who are in Christ receive re-creation, restoration, and experience the creation made new, made how it was meant to be. But on that last day – those who cried out for justice – those who saw injustices go unattended to – will see justice role down.
Sin – leads to death – leads to oppression – leads to a world that is out of alignment. But when things are remade – God will make straight all that we have made crooked.
Take some time to read through the prophets. The two of biggest judgments laid upon Israel by the prophets were their failure to perform right worship – that is worship that stemmed from heart, and that glorified God, worship that transforms hearts, that instills a deep love for God and neighbor and because of that failure in right worship they failed to do justice for the poor.
Instead of caring for the least, they tolerated the stealing of land, and the oppression of those who most needed to be cared for by the leaders of Israel. In the Old Testament we see a God who loves justice. But – we also see this in the New Testament as well.
I remember before I was a Christian there was a sitcom I rather enjoyed. One time the husband went on a journey to find truth. The wife, who was sort of new agey, said something along this lines “Oh, I’ll save you time with the Bible – Old Testament God angry, New Testament God loving.”
For whatever reason that scene stuck with me for a long time – it was a strange false dichotomy. Last year we explored the Old Testament, meeting Jesus in it, and seeing, that yes, God’s justice is revealed in the pages of the Old Testament, but so is his love and his mercy.
We should not be surprised when Christ pronounces judgment against the pharisees, and we should expect to consistently experience and see God in the same way under both the Abrahamic covenant as under the covenant which was sealed in Christ.
It does not, therefore surprise us when Jesus levels eight charges against the scribes and the Pharisees, he says to them that: they prevent the propagation of the gospel by shutting up the kingdom of heaven, by turning away from Him. They are covetous and self-aggrandizing. They pushed for partisanship, trying to get people to join their party and sect. By prioritizing certain types of oaths they overrate the value of alms to their own profit. They exult the minor things in religion while neglecting the important things, They seek outward purity over inward purity, and they were completely unaware of their own sin.
I wonder as we read this list – do you feel a sense of conviction?
Over the last six months or so, I have been growing in my own conviction that first – I must be concerned with what is going on in my heart. It is much easier to say “ahh, look at what this other party, these other people, or that other person is doing, thank God I am not like him.” It is much easier to be the pharisee in the temple, informing God of how amazing you are, than it is to be the tax collector, bewailing your sin before a mighty and merciful Lord.
The first thing we are called to do when we experience these sin lists is not to sneer at the pharisees or the ancient church, or Israel, but to examine our hearts. Are our priorities out of alignment with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we puff ourselves up, unaware of our own sin? Do we think we are the best or part of something bigger? Does our faith reveal the plight of the widow or put more pressure on her? Do we exult the unimportant things, while neglecting the matter of the heart? Are we letting Christ transform our hearts? Is he resurrecting the dry bones within us or are we more concerned with how we appear? Are we aware of our sins? Are we fleeing them? My friends, these questions can be hard, they can be painful. But let us attend to the good news when that comes when they are revealed to us.
This past week, I was talking to a friend of mine, and he made a statement, I had heard a hundred times before – but it hit me – the law is crushing but the gospel frees us. The law crushes us – but the gospel of Jesus Christ sets us free. When we look in the mirror of the law – whether it be natural law or the law of the Old Testament, we see our failures, we see our mire, we see our desperate need for a redeemer. But then, when we gaze upon Christ, when we come to know Him, we find that redeemer. The law – the lists of sins – the charges brought against those who have come before us can crush us – but Christ comes to us in the mire of our sin, takes our hand, and walks with us out of it.
No, our call is not to stay in the place of sloth, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, to stay in the place of misconstrued priorities, but to let Christ grab hold of us and walk with us out of that pit. The call is, that by the Holy Spirit, we would experience sanctification, that the old self would die while the new would come alive. The call is to be like Nicodemus – who was once to ashamed to meet Jesus by day, and was transformed to be one of the few standing by the cross of Christ, ready to receive his savior and Lord’s body. Our call is to be changed men and women, unashamed of Christ, unashamed of what He is doing.
And this is the third thing that our gospel lesson reveals to us – it is a call to true – internal – personal holiness. It is a call to know Jesus. And what does it mean to know someone? It is not simply knowing about someone. Our church is small enough that I can tell you things about almost all of you. I know many of your hobbies, your simply delights, I know many of yours past and present vocations. And I suspect that you can say the same of me, and the people sitting in the pews near you.
I know about you, but do I know you? You know about your neighbor, but do you know them?
I know some of you quite well, I know what makes you happy, and what makes you sad. But, for those of you who are married – your spouses know you better. I know, for example, many of my friends quite well, and share with the things of the heart with them – but their wives know them better.
Knowing someone is more than knowing about them, it is more than a collection facts. Knowing someone is knowing what they delight in, knowing what makes them happy, what makes them sad. Knowing someone, is knowing their heart, it is having a genuine relationship with them. And this is what God invites us into – to know him, and in knowing him to be converted, to have our hearts and minds changed. Knowing God, is more than having a collection of facts about Him – but having a relationship that reveals His heart to us and reveals our hearts to Him.
A verse that has come to be of great encouragement recently, that has driven me to the heart of God again, and again comes from the prophet Micah. The prophet asks what God would want – does He want the show of sacrifice? Does he want religious people who are outwardly obedient but inwardly dead?
Not at all, Micah tells all who would hear:“(God) has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God.”
What is good: Doing justice, Loving kindness, Walking – humbly – with God.
My friends – this is the key to personal holiness – this is the key that the pharisees missed – this is the key which we are called to. We are called to do good – to love goodness – to live lives that are transformed by the Holy Spirit, so while the world clamors around us – while the world puffs itself up we walk humbly with God.
And the goodness we are called to is this: Do justice – care for the least among us – to live lives that are consistent – that our attitude is the same to the beggar on the street corner and our richest of friends. Live lives that are lives transformed by grace, that recognizes as John Bradford was known for saying “save but for the grace of God, there go I.”
We are called to live lives that extend grace to the sinner, and that also call for repentance, that cry out for justice for the weakest, and that care for their plight.
Christians have long fought for the least amongst us – one example of this is that our church works with a missions organization that strives to give Dalit children in India an education, and a leg up. This organization reaches out to families, especially of young girls who would otherwise go into cultic prostitution in the local Hindu temple, and gives them and education, healthcare, and food.
Each October we have an ingathering of funds for these schools, in hopes that we can sponsor as many children as possible.
I mention this not to give ourselves a pat on the back, but to plant a seed. Perhaps, you are feeling convicted that you need to grow in this area, and this is a simple way to start. This is but one example of doing justice in our calling to live lives that care deeply for the least among us.
And the goodness we are called to is this: to love kindness.
There is a difference between niceness and kindness. Niceness is simply having pleasantries. It is smiling, it is asking how someone’s day is. Kindness is deeper – it is listening to someone share how terrible their day has been, and genuinely caring for them. It is being willing to confront someone over an issue that has arose – not to crush that precious soul – but out of love – to grow closer – – to make your relationship better.
Kindness – is caring deeply for those around you. Kindness – is saying woe to you, scribes and pharisees. Kindness is giving one last warning. Kindness is bearing with someone in their sin, but not being afraid to call that sin what it is – sin. Kindness cares not simply for not hurting someone else, but tenderly and genuinely loving the other and helping the other grow with you.
And the goodness we are called to is this:
To walk humbly with our God.
This is twofold – we are called to walk with God and we are called to walk with Him humbly. Although, you cannot walk with God and be arrogant. So – we must humble ourselves – we must recognize that God calls us not to being proud but to see our total dependence upon him. Once we see that we cannot save ourselves, that we cannot justify ourselves, and that we cannot sanctify ourselves – we see that we must come before our God with total humility. And it is in humility that we can walk with God. And this call to humility is important.
Think for a moment about the great stories of Israel – when they went out to war humbly with their God, they were victorious, but when they went out in pride, depending on God’s gifts, thinking “we are God’s people, we needn’t concern God with this,” they were humiliated, they were destroyed.
Time and again, throughout scripture, we are reminded that it is in humility that God is glorified, and God uses the humble to do great things.
Humble yourself before the Lord and walk faithfully with Him day in and day out, and the Lord will use you to bless the nations – to bless your neighbors – to bless your spouse and your friends. Walk humbly with your God – and God will be glorified in ways you cannot imagine.
My friends – this morning Jesus condemns the scribes and the pharisees and in that we see his heart – we see his love for His people – and we see his coming justice.
We are also reminded of our simple call to personal holiness –
“to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God.”
And so my friends – I invite you to do the just thing, to love kindness, and to seek the humble and good life of walking with our God.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.