Sunday, February 23, 2014

Epiphany 7 + A + 2014

Epiphany  VII+A       February 23,2014          The Rev. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18                                                                                 Psalm 119:33-40
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23                                                                      Matthew 5:38-48

After getting all Pope John Paul II's luggage loaded in the limo (and His Holiness doesn't travel light) in NYC, the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb. "Excuse me, Your Holiness." says the driver, "Would you please take your seat so we can leave?" "Well, to tell you the truth," says the Pope, "They never let me drive at the Vatican, and I'd really like to drive today." "I'm sorry but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?" protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning
."There might be something extra in it for you," says the Pope. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Supreme Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105mph."Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!," pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. "Oh, my God, I'm gonna lose my license," moans the driver.
The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the patrolman approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio. "I need to talk to the Chief," he says to the dispatch. The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five."So bust him," said the Chief."I think the guy's a big shot," said the cop."All the more reason.""No, I mean really a big shot," said the cop."
What'd ya got there, the Mayor?""Bigger.""Governor.""Bigger.""Well," said the Chief, "Who is it?"
"I don't know", said the cop, "but he's got the Pope driving for him."
We just prayed:  "O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:"  Our culture teaches us that "actions speak louder than words."   Most of us want to be judged on our good "intentions" even if the outcome of a situation is a disaster.   However people can rarely see our "intentions", but our actions are self evident.
I.                   Today our texts seem to convey a common theme.  They are a call to the mission and ministry God has called the church to undertake. What then is the Church?  If this building were not here, would this still St Thomas' Church? I would suggest that the unbelieving world would think so. I would also suggest that too many over the centuries may also have defined this in such terms.  When enemies of Christ have tried to stamp out the faith, they first seem to outlaw the gathering of Christians together. 
A.                That is the heart of the matter.  When we gather together, we are the Church.  The Church IS the people.  Do we realize that? The earliest Christians under persecution met in the Catacombs,  one of the "graveyards" of the population of the time.
B.                 The edifices we build are not the "church" (a word that means "assembly") but like a picture of a loved one.  They remind us of God and his people.  
1.                  We ARE God's people and are BECOMING God's people.  The Christian life is a journey of progress and regress.  It is only possible by the indwelling of God's Spirit who transforms us into the image of Christ.
C.                 If you have been confirmed in the years since 1979, you may have been taught the following in the Catechism.  It's in the Prayerbook, if you may not have noticed. On page 852 of the Book of Common prayer we are asked this question:
1.                  Q. What is the Church?  A. The Church is the community of the New Covenant…then
2.                   Q. How is the Church described in the Bible?  A. The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.
D.                We are a Community, a Common unity engaged in Mission!  That is supposed to be US!!  We are the children who have inherited the family business: the business of God and His Kingdom. We internalize a new way of thinking, a new way of acting proactively rather than reactively.
1.                  In 1 Peter 2:9 we read: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. "
2.                  Sometimes the gospel "good news" is tough news, gospel is seemingly hurtful news!  This is not the simple love of the gospel but the response of what the Bible calls the "world, the flesh and the devil."  
a)                  Have you ever noticed how angry, how much in denial and how pretended in virtue are those as it were, "caught in the act?"  Jesus speaks of this in context of the LIGHT.  John speaks of this in chapter 3 of his gospel:
E.                  " For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son."  but then, the lesser heard verses that follow tell us: " 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God."
1.                 Have you ever noticed when someone is trying to get away with something they shouldn't do, they get angry and defensive when they get caught.  They cast blame everywhere but on themselves.  Maybe even you have been there.  I am sure that I have.
II.                We are leaving the season of Epiphany, a season of the Light, of manifestation and witness. We are coming up to a season we call the "holy season of Lent, of self-examination and revival." 
A.                I usually refer to Lent as "Spiritual Boot camp." The word merely means "spring".  What happens in Spring?  Things that appeared dead are starting to come back alive. It is a time of Spiritual Self-Examination as to where we are in our walk with God in Christ

B.                 Do we take advantage of opportunities that we have?  We don't need  more time for God, we need to MAKE TIME for God. How many of you know that we make time for things that are important to us? 

1.                  Faith is upward moving, vertical to God.  Love on the other hand is outward moving, horizontal to our neighbor known or unknown. What is the Great Commandment from the prayerbook?  On page 321 we read: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.   Matthew 22:37-40   Familiar words…difficult words at times but they define our love to God and neighbor. Returning to the Catechism we read:

2.                  Q. What is the mission of the Church?

3.                  A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

4.                  Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?

5.                  A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

6.                   Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

7.                  A.The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

III.             Pastor Tullian Tchividjian of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft Lauderdale says this :  

A.                " Faith is vertical (it’s upward)—it’s trusting that everything I need and long for, I already have because of what Jesus has accomplished for me. Love, on the other hand, is horizontal (it’s outward)—because Jesus has done everything for me (faith) I can now do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me (love)." You could put it this way: love is faith worked out by us for our neighbor horizontally; faith is love worked into us from God vertically."

B.                 Paul describes what this looks like in the Christian life saying to the Church in Galatia:

1.                  " But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.." (Galatians 5:22-23) Are we actively seeking to nurture those fruits in our daily lives?   

2.                  It has well been said that "you may be the only Jesus that someone will ever see." What would Jesus do?  I would suggest that this is one of the most difficult passages in the gospels.  Our flesh resists it.  It takes God in us by the Holy Spirit to walk such a road.  It is "tough love" for every Christian.

C.                 It is not a natural impulse to LOVE your enemies!  It is unnatural to turn the other                               cheek. 

1.                  Jesus closes this section of the gospel in this way: " For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the unbelievers do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

2.                  Well, he does have a point! Unnatural? Incidentally our Lord recalled for his audience what is written in modern case law, as it spoke about retaliation   

a)                  But Jesus' point is this: the Holy Spirit is living in you, the urge to 'get even', self-justify, return  evil with good is natural to the flesh.  But it is unnatural as the Spirit gains more and more control in us as we "walk in the Spirit" 
b)                  Paul says our foundation, the basis upon which everything in the Christian life stands is Jesus Christ. You are God's temple.  I shudder to think how I have defiled my temple since I received the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 
(1)               He writes: in I Corinthians 3  "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."  Who is in the driver's seat of our lives?  I admit that I often want God to move over and let me drive. 
(2)               One problem: I don't have a map to the specific destination!  As the fruits of the Spirit are more manifest in our daily living, we will move gradually into the Spirit of God and he into us. We must do more than speak, but our speaking must be reflected in our lives. 
 
Let us return to the petition of the Collect:  "Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you…."  The LOVE of God is all in all.  As we hear with our ears, may be receive in our hearts the Spirit of God each day that we may as one of our confessions say: "we may delight in his will and walk in his way to the glory of your Name."  AMEN