Monday, September 1, 2014

Proper 14 + A + 2014 "Love is not an 'Option'."

Proper XVII+A     31 August, 2014      Father  Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Jeremiah 15:15-21                                                                                         Psalm 105:1-6, 23-2645c Romans 12:9-21                                                                                                        Matthew 16:21-28

An atheist was taking a walk through the woods, admiring all that the "accident of evolution" had created. What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he said to himself. As he was walking alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in. He ran even faster, so scared that tears were coming to his eyes His heart was pumping frantically. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw the bear right on top of him reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him. At that instant the atheist cried out "Oh my God!". Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky, "You deny my existence for all of these years; teach others I don't exist; and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?" The atheist looked directly into the light. "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhapsY. could you make the bear a Christian?" Very well," said the voice. The light went out. The river ran again. The sounds of the forest resumed. And then the bear dropped his right paw. Brought both paws together, bowed his head and spoke: "Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful."
Would you look carefully at the collect this morning: "Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; "
You may or may not know that Anglican theology is very much wedded to the collects.   The Lutherans have a Confession of Faith, even the Baptists have a Confession of faith.  We do not have a confession of faith. Our faith is found in the 39 Articles, the Creeds, the ancient counsels and the  and we have the collects.  This collect sets up an interesting question.  "How do love God's Name", what is to increase "true religion" to be nourished with goodness" and bring forth "good works."  This sort of encompasses the whole of our Christian faith and life.  Jesus' final charge to us on the Mt of the Ascension was this: He said to tHis disciple and therefore tro us.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18b-20)

There can be no more pertinent reading to our current day.  For though you may still think of American situation as a Christian nation., I want you to know that the Enemy has made great gains in "stuffing" the ears of people lest they hear and should believe..

The first thing I want to draw to your attention is that we, "we" go forth in the authority of Jesus.  This is not our endeavor, but God's endeavor. Do you not remember that we are "ambassadors for Christ.  We represent Him, We re-present Him.  I am not suggesting that you get up on a soapbox in downtown Savannah.  I am suggesting that you begin to take seriously the fact that you are God's Emissary.  Whoever's lives you touch it may be very well that God is touching them through you!  We are so often distracted by the Deceiver.  We don't want to offend anyone.  Isn't God a "personal matter."  Did you read the same Bible I did? Faith is personal but it is not private!  
I know that this is not so called "politically correct" but it is "religiously correct".  If the early church were as cowed in fear as the contemporary Church.  The message would never have made it out of the upper room on Pentecost! And before you think it's someone else's job, like a priest or preacher or even a missionary for example, you would be terribly wrong. And before you think  that this is the job of the clergy and those who wear vestments, I want to ask you "have you read the baptismal covenant lately?"Before I get off my soapbox let me give you a startling statistic. A majority of unchurched people say they attended a church for the first time because someone asked them.  "Oh my! So intimidating!"You can understand that!  If you ask someone who already knows and trusts you, they are less intimidated at the thought.. So I want to ask you, have you invited anyone to church? EVER? Pray on it!  But let me return to my initial question.

 "How do love God's Name", what is to increase "true religion" to be nourished with goodness" and bring forth "good works."   Our Bible speaks a lot about God's love. That differentiates Christianity from every other faith tradition except to some extent Judaism.For instance we read in first John: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (I Jn 4}

This is unique to us!  You do not hear a Moslem saying "Allah is love".  Now an Arabic Christian would but not an adherent of Islam! How do we love God? Why love God?   We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.  Love is a matter of the will.  What we see portrayed in Hollywood is not the love of which Paul or Jesus speaks.  I have gone over this dozens of times in pre-marital counseling.  Love is a matter of the will!

How many of you know that our spouses are not always that loveable? So let me differentiate for a moment.  There is love and there is like.  How many of you know that you can love a person even if you do not like what they are doing?  Love values the integrity of the person. Remember the covenant?  "Respect the dignity of every human being?"  Love is unconditional if you are a Christian.  That is difficult, but that is God's love and God's Spirit in our hearts will love others through us if we will let him. How many of you know that we offend God every day with our thoughts and words and deeds? Or did you think that was just in the Prayerbook so you read it?

God's love is unconditional.  I am quite sure that God does not like some of us some of the time, but he still loves us. Much as a parent will make excuses for a child, but still love them even if they do not love the behavior.  In Peter's Epistle we read:  "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." I Peter 4:8 How do I know this?  Because the Bible says: " But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8  Not after he cleaned us up, but while we were yet sinners.
Jesus brought a revolutionary idea into the world. That God is love, lover, and loved.  Love begins in the blessed Trinity as that love is given and received, then shared that love with us.  Jesus has grafted us into the Family of God.  That family which begins with the mutual love in the Trinity and through Jesus is now shared with us! Which brings us to Paul's writing from the letter to the Romans.  

:Paul writes: "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is God; love one another with mutual affection;"  Earlier in this chapter in verse one Paul writes: " Love must be sincere." (12:1)  You may say:  "why of course it must be! After all what is insincere love?  I don't know but it sure isn't love and I believe it will eventually show itself not to be so.  That is why we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  Don't let your love be some pretense of veneer of Christianity, a shallow façade. Seek to treat everyone as you would treat the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Let me share with you something I've learned from the original language, and we'll let it inform the text." The word “sincere” comes from the Latin words sine cera, which means “without wax”.  The phrase comes from a practice where people would hide the cracks in cheap pottery with wax in order to pass the pottery off as being worth more than it actually was.  Quality products were often stamped with the words sine cera to show it had not be doctored. It would be similar to those products today that are stamped, “all natural” or “100% pure”.  Paul is telling us to love in a way that is pure and genuine." In a day when they would cook in pottery, when they would heat up the ceramic, the wax would melt out.  Then you would know you had been had.

Interestingly enough, that word sincere and genuine are the same word and it is the translation of the Greek word: "Anu-pokritos" which literally sounds like the word we use today: "hypocrisy." As for the other questions that the collect begs, I would like to suggest that they are answered in the rest of Paul's writing for today.  "How do love God's Name", what is to increase "true religion" to be nourished with goodness" and bring forth "good works."   

We love God's Name by reflecting God's love towards others. That is the only way we show God that we love him.  How do we show others that we love him?  By what we do towards them.  It is the same.  When others see us and if they know we ae Christians, then we have to behave!  We must because if we do not, we bring dishonor on the name of the Lord Jesus and the glory of God.  Have you heard the expression "and they call themselves a Christian?"  I know if you live in the South, you have heard that expression!  

We show ourselves to be "hypocrites!"  When we call ourselves "Christians" that means "little Christ". We show God's love to others and that is how we show God we love Him!

What is true religio, true religion?  In the writings of a fourth century Christian Lactantius, opted for the word religare, a verb meaning “to fasten or bind.”  He said that this signifies we are “tied to God and bound to him by the bond of loving kindness." 

Goodness comes from "god-ness", God-likeness from the Old English, following God doing and good works are the only way we can show God, we love him or show others that we love God!  We do not do good works so God will "like" us.   We do good works because God dwells in our hearts and we cannot help ourselves.

So we are left with a question as God always seems to leave us.  Will we?  Jesus says: "I will". Jesus said: "I will go to the cross", and let me assure you that was not a pleasant experience!  We believe Him.  Will we say "I will" in return.  God is asking.  Now we are back to that matter of the "will". Only you can answer.  We may not "feel" like loving God today or "being a good example", but where we go, Jesus Christ goes.  I pray that you will say AMEN, that is "let it be so."  to God's question this morning. AMEN

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