Sunday, July 20, 2014
Homily for The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)
Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the repeated themes at the Higher Things youth conference we attended two weeks ago was that there is nothing particularly attractive or exciting about Christianity when you get down to its nuts and bolts. After all, as Americans, we extol freedom – and, by freedom we mean the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, so long as it doesn’t hurt or harm or interfere with someone else’s freedom, for the most part. However, Christianity actually inhibits that kind of freedom. There are explicit things that Christians are commanded to not do. Christianity goes against the grain of our permissive culture and even our own flesh.
Moreover, the doctrines and beliefs of Christianity are, well, quite simply, absurd to human reason. We worship a God whom we confess to be one, but also three. And, for a God who is supposedly all-powerful and good, He sure doesn’t seem to do much to prevent evil and suffering in the world. And, where is He anyway? Why doesn’t He make Himself visible and demonstrate His power for all to see? Then we’d believe in Him, right? Of course, Christianity teaches that He did make Himself visible once. But, consider the circumstances: He was born of a virgin mother who had never had sexual relations with a man. Yeah, right. He spent His time hanging around the low-life and the riff-raff of society – prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, and the diseased. He kept talking about a kingdom that He was ushering in. Oh, they crowned Him king alright; they put a purple robe on Him, beat Him, crowned Him with thorns, then stripped Him naked and nailed Him to a cross for all to see. Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.
And, the same goes for so-called Christians themselves. They preach about meekness and humility, being charitable and forgiving, and loving their enemies, but look at how so many of them live. They chase after wealth and possessions, power and prestige just like everyone else, except they are hypocrites about it, play-acting like they’re so noble and pious and it’s everyone else that is selfish, self-serving, ambitious, and cut-throat. What’s worse, though, is how they are so quick to judge and condemn others when they lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, when their marriages end in divorce at the same rate as non-Christians, when they give in to their passions, desires, and lusts for drug and drink, food, sex, power, money, and whatever else. Then, they are so quick to judge what’s right and wrong, good and evil, and to make rules and laws that limit or take away the freedoms of others, all the while crying that their own precious religious freedoms are being threatened and attacked. Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.
Satan knows this about you, and he uses it as a lure and as a weapon to get you to take his bait and to choose to listen to a voice and a word other than God’s. That’s what he did to Eve in the garden: “Did God really say?” “Hmmm? Now that you ask the question, I know what God said, but somehow, now it just doesn’t sound right.” That’s what he tried to do to Jesus in the desert: “Go ahead! Throw yourself down from the temple spire. God’s angels will catch your fall.” “Yeah, well, you kind of left out that part about walking in God’s ways and not putting Him to the test.” The question, the doubt, exposing the absurdity – that’s the lure. When you choose to listen to a voice and a word other than God’s – And, I ask you, whose voice and word would that then be? – you take Satan’s bait, hook, line, and sinker, and you choose to act upon your will – which means that you are not acting upon God’s will – and you break the First Commandment: You worship a false god before or in place of the true God; you worship yourself, and by worshipping yourself you worship Satan.
Alright, so maybe that sounds a bit dramatic. I just want you to think about the seriousness of those sins that you like to think of as “little,” “minor,” or “white.” While the only un-forgivable sin is unbelief – the outright rejection and refusal of the Holy Spirit’s work in you – there are no little, minor, or white sins. Sin is sin, period, and a single sin of thought, word, or deed merits you eternal death and damnation. This is why St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, quoting the Psalmist, “There is none righteous, not one.” Indeed, the purpose of God’s good and holy Law is to show you just that – that you are a sinner, curved in upon yourself, whose every thought, word, and deed before God’s grace is corrupted by evil, unholy, and unclean. The Law is meant to break you, to crush you, to kill you so that you stop trying to justify yourself, stop trying to make God’s ways fit according to your ways, stop trying to force His wisdom to submit to your fallen and corrupt wisdom. For, only then can you receive the Gospel – the Good News God loves you anyway and that He forgives you and restores you to holiness, not because of anything good, or evil, that you do, but because of the perfect and holy good that He has done for you in His Son’s selfless, sacrificial suffering and death upon the cross.
I know. Your flesh, your reason, your wisdom, and the so-called reason and wisdom of the world cries out, “Foul! It can’t be that easy! It doesn’t make any sense! That’s ridiculous! That’s absurd! That’s not fair! That’s not how justice works!” Indeed, thanks be to God! All that thinking and offense, all that scandal – that’s the way of your fallen sinful flesh which, at once, hates the Law of God, but also seeks to justify itself according to the Law. That’s why the flesh seeks out any other gospel but the Gospel of Jesus Christ – not that there is any other gospel. That’s why most of the denominations of Christianity other than confessional, orthodox Lutheran doctrine, work in just a little bit (or a lotta bit!) of your own work, your own choice, your own merit, your own decision, and your cooperation with God in your justification and salvation. But these are the teachings of demons, says St. Paul. They are the lies, deceptions, and temptations of Satan to lead you back into the bondage of sin and the Law and to keep you in chains there forever.
By nature, man is a theologian of glory, because Satan is a theologian of glory. “But, I thought glory was a good thing? What’s a theologian of glory, and why is that a bad thing?” Good question! A theologian of glory refuses to accept things and believe things the way there truly are, the way God has ordained them to be. To use Luther’s words to Erasmus in the Heidelberg Disputation, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.” Thus, a theologian of glory looks at the Trinity, which is good, and calls it preposterous, ridiculous, foolishness. Likewise, a theologian of glory hears God’s command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and says that God’s command is unfair, unjust, even evil. And, worst of all, a theologian of glory looks at God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ crucified and dead upon the cross and exclaims, “Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolishness.”
All of you, according to your fallen and sinful flesh are, by nature, theologians of glory. In contrast, God calls you to be theologians of the cross who do not call evil good and good evil, but who call a thing what it is. The fall into sin was rebellion, apostasy, and real and damning sin. Jesus’ crucifixion and death was Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and Satan, and the glory of God. The kingdom of God is not powerful and glorious according to the wisdom, reason, and reckoning of the theologian of glory, but to the theologian of the cross it is a glorious kingdom and reign of grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
The theology of the cross does not come easily to us theologians of glory. Indeed, when Jesus began His ministry and called His first disciples, they were theologians of glory too. They vied for positions of honor, power, and glory in Jesus’ kingdom and they asked when Jesus was going to restore glory to Israel. Yet, even His disciples were not honorable and glorious in the eyes of their contemporaries, but they were fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and others of common, ordinary, and even low estate. Still, the Lord worked through them and with them to establish His kingdom and reign of grace and mercy and to establish His Church, which remains to this day and will remain until the day of His return. They often stumbled over Jesus’ ways, trying to send away the children, the women, and others in need who were drawn to Jesus. They refused to believe Jesus when He taught them about His Passion and resurrection. They all abandoned Him when He was arrested and crucified. And, when He died and was buried, they were despondent and without hope, believing that they had made a great mistake in following Him. They were theologians of glory, calling good evil and evil good. But, at Pentecost, Jesus made them to be fishers of men and theologians of the cross when He poured out His Holy Spirit upon them and His Church.
There isn’t much that is attractive or exciting about you, O Christian, or this little outpost of Christ’s Church in Pawling, NY to which you belong and worship. However, you have been given a new mind, new reason, new eyes, ears, mouth, and soul to know the kingdom of God for what it is, the power of the God for the salvation of all who believe. Your fallen reason and wisdom, the world’s ungodly theology of glory, looks at Christ’s Church and cries, “Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.” But you, O theologian of the cross, call a thing what it is, God’s kingdom of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness breaking in and spreading throughout this world, reclaiming it for God in Christ Jesus.
Do not be afraid or dismayed. The Lord is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.