20 August 2013

Sermon: 18 August 2013 (13 Pentecost / Proper 15)

Readings: Jeremiah 23:23-29Psalm 82Luke 12:49-56

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Holy and Loving God, write a message on our hearts.  Bless us, direct us, and send us out, living letters of the Word.  AMEN.

If we took a survey of the best-known Christian songs – hymns, folk songs, chants, etc. – I wonder what would make the list.  Not most popular, mind you, but most familiar by believers and non-believers.  Amazing grace, most certainly.  Jesus loves me, always a favorite with the younger crowd.  But among the top ten must be the camp fire favorite Kumbaya.  We may love Kumbaya, we may hate Kumbaya, we may have heard Kumbaya so many times we want to rip our hair out, or we may have not heard Kumbaya for so long that in the right context it provides just the right balance of familiarity and simplicity and comfort.  But, no matter how we feel about the old summer camp favorite, we must be in agreement that the theology of the lyrics is a spot-on description of the incarnate God.  Someone’s crying Lord, come by here … someone’s laughing Lord, come by here … someone’s praying Lord, come by here.  Shifting gears for a moment, to quote 16th century Christian humanist Erasmus, “called or uncalled, God is present.”

We find understandable comfort in this theological fact, for we believe that our God is not a distant God, a separate God, a standoffish God, but a close God, a personal God, an intimate God.  Our God cries when we cry, laughs when we laugh, celebrates when we celebrate, fears when we fear.  The prophet Jeremiah underlines this, “Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?”  Our God is everywhere and that fact is incredibly comforting, even in the darkest times.

Now, speaking of darkness, you may be asking yourself what these pleasant thoughts have to do with our very dark readings.  Am I avoiding the Gospel this morning?  Yes.  Should we get on with it?  Probably.  Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Fun.

The closeness of God, which offers such great comfort and solace, has a flip side and that flip side encompasses great risk.  Anyone who has ever embarked on a significant relationship – marriage, children, job, etc. – can tell you that, with intimacy comes knowledge and knowledge leads, ultimately, to judgment.  God knows us and that is soothing; but, God is much more than a cosmic pillow.  For since God created us and comforts us, God also knows us and sees all that we do and think.  As the Collect for Purity prays, “to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hid.”  God knows everything.

And when someone else knows everything about you, we can feel very vulnerable.  In the context of human relationships, there comes that moment when you confess something or reveal something, and you become conscious of this reality and wait for judgment.  That moment is agonizing, like those horrifying seconds when you are about to drop something or be in a fender bender.  And after judgment occurs there will be one of two outcomes: you are rejected or you are accepted.

As broken creatures, we expect rejection.  We anticipate rejection.  We may seem confident, self-assured, but deep down inside in those places that God only knows, our default expectation is rejection.  These thoughts are not unwarranted.  All around us we see rejection.  We are rejected for jobs we apply for.  We are rejected from schools we hope to get into.  Our freshman year in high school, we call up that girl we think we might like to ask her to the Fall Homecoming Dance and she hangs up the phone before you even finish saying hello (not that this happened to me, I am just offering a hypothetical example).   Rejection is part of our life and a necessary part of our psychological evolution, but rejection is not the only outcome when we are judged.  For while we expect rejection, more often that not we are accepted.

Our sore souls, pockmarked by our various rejections, have a hard time anticipating acceptance.  Parents offer acceptance, true friends offer acceptance, spouses offer acceptance, and most importantly, God offers such acceptance, even a God knows everything.  Don’t get me wrong – God does judge us.  God sees when we sin and God will name the sin, point out the sin, and God will say, “look what you did!”  When Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth,” he meant it, for the purifying fire of God’s judgment will reveal all that we have done and left undone.

We need not fear or avoid God’s judgment for judgment is not the end of our relationship with God.  Look at what Jesus said right after that remark about fire, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized.”  Water trumps fire and the grace and love of God, made known in Jesus Christ and symbolized by our baptism, stands between us and our judgement.  God judges, but God ultimately accepts.  Judgment is part of our relationship with God, but it is not the end.  Judgment is somewhere in the middle, while the relationship begins and ends with acceptance.  God will accept you and me and all of us, unconditionally.

The Good News, the Grace, the message of hope we can take from these readings is that God, while knowing us better than anyone and better that we know ourselves, and justly judging us in our entirety, miraculously, God still loves us.  

God still love us.  AMEN.

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