Monday, July 18, 2011

Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)


Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In 1972 a psychologist by the name of Walter Mischel conducted a study at Stanford University that has come to be known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In the experiment a child between the ages of four and six was seated at a table alone in a room while a tray was placed before him containing one marshmallow. The child was instructed that he could eat the marshmallow immediately if he wanted to or he could wait until the researcher returned and then he could have two marshmallows. The researcher then left the room and the child was videotaped as he sat and pondered his decision.

As you can perhaps imagine, the behavior of the children was often humorous and sometimes torturous. Some children would cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they could not see the tray, others started kicking the desk, or tugging on their pigtails, or stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal, while a few would simply eat the marshmallow as soon as the researcher left. The Marshmallow Experiment has been repeated several times and recently a video has made its way around the internet and has become viral (extremely popular) because of the near torturous facial expressions and the humorous behaviors the children in the study exhibited as they attempted to resist temptation and forgo immediate gratification for the promise of a reward after a period of waiting. While a few children would eat the marshmallow immediately, of the over 600 who took part in the experiment, only one third could defer gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

It can be hard to wait, even torturous, and the devil and our own flesh, desires, and passions continually war against us so that we give in to temptation and reach for immediate gratification rather than wait for the promised reward. This is why we are in debt, we give in to the temptation to charge what we want and take it home today rather than save up our money over time to buy it later. When we are children we cannot wait to grow up and to be adults, and so we give in to the temptation to do adult things before we are ready, or legal, and we find ourselves in trouble. And, when we are treated unjustly by others, when bad things happen to us and to those that we love, when we see poverty and hunger, war, and pestilence in our cities, our nation, and our world, we become impatient with God’s timeline and we curse Him for not acting quicker or we take action ourselves, even against His Word and His will to right our perceived wrongs, often causing greater suffering and affliction for ourselves and for our neighbors.

Waiting is a test of our faith. In fact, the Holy Scriptures speak of faith in terms of waiting. The Psalmist David sings, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” And he exhorts you, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” And the Sage Solomon warns, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.” And the Prophet Jeremiah comforts you saying, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

For, so much more than the promise of man do we have the promise of God: “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.” “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And we have the promise of our Lord Jesus, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." And, so much more than the promise of a marshmallow, or a new TV, or even physical health or peace in this world do we have the promise of True and eternal life, peace, and fulfillment in communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel lesson our Lord Jesus exhorts you to be merciful, just as God your Father is merciful. Jesus exhorts you to not judge your brother and your neighbor but always to forgive them and give to them what they need. To be sure, this is often hard to do, and sometimes it seems impossible. Indeed, it is impossible to be merciful, to refrain from judging, but forgive, give to, and love your brother and neighbor unless you first have received mercy, forgiveness, and love from God your Father through Jesus Christ.

And, in our Old Testament lesson you heard how Joseph forgave his brothers all the evil they had done to him. In his mercy and forgiveness Joseph served as an example, even an icon, of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love in Jesus Christ. Joseph even confessed that, though his brothers meant it for evil, God used their evil and his own suffering for good. So too does God use the evil and the suffering that you and your loved ones experience for good. So too does God use all the evil and suffering in the world for good according to His mysterious and holy wisdom and will. Joseph knew God’s love for him, and with God’s love he loved his brothers who meant him harm. So too you, knowing God’s love for you in Jesus Christ, can love your brothers and neighbors, even when they mean you harm, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.

And this is how mercy, reserving judgment, forgiving, and giving are related to patience and faith, hope, and trust. These are all the fruits of ἀγάπη, God’s divine, selfless and sacrificial love. We love God because He first loved us, and we love one another because we are loved by God. And because God has loved us, we trust Him to be faithful and to keep His promises, knowing that He works all things for the good of those He has called in Jesus Christ. This is why St. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” for God has promised that He will see us through all sufferings, crosses, and persecutions, even death, to the resurrection to eternal life. He has given His own Son unto death and has raised Him to life and seated Him at His right hand in power and glory as living proof of the trustworthiness of His promises.

So, for now, we live our lives to God and to His glory in selfless and sacrificial love for our brothers and our neighbors in faith, hope, and trust in our gracious God and LORD for a glory yet to be revealed. And while we wait patiently for the redemption of our bodies, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh war against us, tempting us to judge and to condemn our brothers and neighbors, to seek revenge, and to satisfy the desires and the passions of the flesh. When we resist these temptations we make a sacrifice and we experience suffering, but these sacrifices and sufferings are precious to God and they are sanctified in the sacrifice and sufferings of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And, with the measure that you give it will be measured back to you. For, what you give consists of what God your Father has given you. When you are merciful, it is God’s mercy that you show to your brother and neighbor. When you refrain from judging, it is because you have not been judged by God for your trespasses and sin. When you refrain from condemning, it is because you are not condemned. And, when you forgive, it is because you have been forgiven and it is with God’s forgiveness that you forgive your brother and neighbor. For, you are a manager and a steward of God your Father’s mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love, and with the measure you use of your Father’s gifts will it be measured back to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.

And, your Father is ready here today to pour these gifts into your ears and your mouths and your hearts that you may be filled with His mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love so that not only are you filled to the brim with His love, but your hearts will overflow in abundance as you serve your brother and neighbor in love to the glory of God the Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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