Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Passionate Tough Love of God

Proper 25+A            26 October, 2014       The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Preached at All Saints' Parish, Hampton, SC
Deuteronomy 34:1-12                                                                                                    Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                                                                                                       Matthew 22:34-46
In the collect, we prayed: "God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command."  Is this not a convoluted statement or request, quite reflective of the seemingly contradictory nature of our human condition and God's relationship to us.

Today is Reformation Sunday.  On this day near to the Eve of All Hallows or All Saints, an innocent, sincere, meticulous monk in Wittenberg, Germany posted 95 Theses or topics for debate on the public bulletin boardCthe door of the parish church in Wittenberg.  This simple act unleashed a fire storm that had been building for generations and "protestantism" was born. This Sunday is "Reformation Sunday" for the Lutheran Church and an important point for all of the "protestant" bodies. Protestant does not mean to oppose, but rather to stand up for something from the Latin prōtestantēs, plural of present participle of prōtestārī to bear public witness." This Sunday let us remember that our witness is a testimony for our Lord Jesus Christ!  Beginning here and flowing out to the Mission Field for each of us.  Where we go, Jesus goes.  Our lives are an unending mission for the sake of Jesus.

From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22 , we read these words, AAnd one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.  >Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?= And he said to him, >You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.@

What is it anyway to Alove the Lord Your God?@ What is our natural inclination toward God and neighbor? I believe that most of us don=t think of ourselves as Ahateful@ individuals.  We may even say things like AI love everybody@.  I did however once hear a corollary to that statement from an evangelist: AI love everybody, it=s just people I can=t stand.@  We usually love people because of our experience with them. Sort of like we love our pets. But let one of our pets destroy our new genuine Persian rug, chew up our 100 dollar dress shoes, gnaw off the irreplaceable carvings on a table leg, and we like our pets less at least for a while.  Let them hurt us physically and we usually get rid of them.  This is often how we treat our neighbor.  We like our friends because of positive experiences with them. But let them use us, abuse us, lie to us, whatever, often a friendship is ruined.  We might even become enemies!  I sometimes wonder if we love God this way. I think too often we presume his love (unlike other world religions) and we presume his grace.  If God does what we think is good for us and others, we love him, maybe even like him, but let God do, or allow something that we think he ought not and I hear things like: Ahow could a God of love  allow that@? And the blaming of God for whatever happens whereby Aour@ will was not done.  And yet we are commanded to love God! 

Jesus and the gospels challenge us beyond this completely natural and fleshly understanding of love.  We are to love neighbor as self.   It is interesting how we humans love - even we Christians.  The scripture presumes self-love and Jesus affirms it.   He  accepts it as a measure of love for our neighbors. We sometimes love them a little less than we love ourselves.  this helps us get our own way.   Sometimes we love them a little more than we love ourselves. It can make the person who sacrifices his or her own interests for the sake of another look like a saint or martyr.  But to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves?  This is a determined and non-heroic act and one that does not call attention to itself.  We ask God to help us so love.  Many tacitly assume that they observe the first commandment simply by coming to church.  They also naively assume that they need not take the second too seriously, not realizing that the two are intricately linked together. In other words, we all too often do not understand that the first and greatest cannot stand on its own.  It requires a balance.  That is why St. John wrote in his first letter: A If anyone says, >I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. A (I Jn. 4:20 & 21)  We show God we love him by loving the others: the unlovely, the unlovable, those who refuse to love us in return or for whom there is no personal benefit to us.  We must allow God to love others through us.  We must let the mystery of love unfold by grace and not by self-assertion or manipulation.  We are to love God with our Ahearts@ - with emotion because we are in a relationship with him as a person AOur Father@.We are to love God with our Asouls@: from the whole being that is in us that will last forever; our material selves, possessions and our own personal legacy. We are to love God with all our Aminds@ : that we lead our thoughts to dwell upon him as Creator, Father, & Lord and to make our reason take account of his ways and intentionally seek to walk, live and follow them.  We are to be in awe of him. Loving God with the "mind" is a departure from the Jewish Law that commanded love with all of our might.  All true love must include awe theologian Peter Kreeft said.  It is one of the great truths about love and marriage that our age has forgotten.  Do we really understand about love?  I think that again the confusion comes to us far too often.  Remember what I said before about our pets and God and others?  What I was really speaking about was Alike@.  We often confuse love and like. Those who have experienced a difficult child know about this: they may love their child to the point of ultimate sacrifice, but not like them very much or approve of them.  Love for the Christian is difficult love.  It is unconditional. It is God's love. Perhaps you have heard the old Lutheran hymn: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" but do you know the verse that that chorus comes from?  Lamentations 3: 22 & 23 ""Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  great is your faithfulness"  Why does God delay judgment?  His great love.  Why did Jesus die?  God's great love.  Paul wrote "in him we live and move and have our being."  (Acts 17:28)  When we receive Christ Jesus, we become beings of love, working toward perfection in love.

Love is expressed in loving action.  How did the Jews express love for God in the Older Testament?  By seeking to be Aholy@ that is Aset apart, dedicated to God@  .  Our job as Christians is to become better lovers of God and humanity. 

Will we risk loving God by trusting him with all that we are?  If not, why bother to trust him at all?  We manifest what we love by where we put our time and treasure.  And we must always remember that we are storing up treasure for eternity, not doing so by our works, but how delicately, genuinely and passionately we love and by our giving of treasure, time and talents to God.  As the collect said how can God increase in us the GIFTS of FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY or love!  By our receiving of God's unconditional, accepting and un-buyable love and letting it flow through us to others.

Paul reflects this in his letter this morning.  He was not trying to "get" anything from the Thessalonian Christians.  He was about giving.  Until we understand that our mission in Christ is not about us, but about those who are not a part of us, the gospel will not be good news to us or anyone else.   This is further illustrated by Moses.  What did he EVER get out of his service to God other than God's love to him and the "gifts" of the complaining, griping, backstabbing Israelites???  On your web page you state that your mission is: To Love, Serve, and Grow through Jesus Christ.  This collect then is perfect for you as well of the rest of Christendom.  Emmanuel, God with us, is in us both to will and do God's will, if we will let Him.   You mean God's cares about our will???  As Fr. Terry Fullam, one of my mentors, used to say: "God is a perfect gentleman, he will not MAKE you ANYTHING".


Monday, October 20, 2014

From Glory to Glory

Proper 24 + Year A + 2014                 The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+
October 19, 2014 + Holy Baptism      Trinity Parish, Stoughton, MA
Exodus 33:12-23                                                     Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10                                            Matthew 22:15-22

A man suffered a serious heart attack and had an open heart bypass surgery. He woke up from the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns at a Catholic Hospital.
As he was recovering, a nun asked him questions regarding how he was going to pay for his treatment. “Do you have health insurance?”
"No,” the man croaked. “No health insurance."
“Do you have any money in the bank?”
"No money in the bank."
"Do you have a relative who could help you?" asked the nun.
"I only have a spinster sister. She is a nun."
The nun bristled. "Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to God."
“Alright, already!” croaked the patient. "Send the bill to my brother-in-law."

In the collect we prayed: "Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations:  The glory of God, the light of God's holiness is called in scripture: "the shekinah"   In Greek this word is "kabod", 'glory' as in Icabod Crane of New England lore whose name means "the glory has departed."  If you have seen my Facebook page, you will see this verse from 2 Corinthians: " For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6  NIV  Today we see God's glory revealed in Moses and in Jesus Christ. Today we baptize into that glory, two children of this parish. Let us begin with the gospel.  First comes the smooth talk...@teacher, we know that you are sincere and what you profess to be and that you teach the way of God truthfully, regardless of the consequences and being afraid of no man for you are impartial and do not regard with the person or the position of anyone.@ (Amph)

Do you believe those lines?  Is this buttering up or what?  But Jesus knew the hearts of these slimy religious politicians.In our days, astute people usually respond to such a preface with: AOk, what do you want?@Of course what these wanted was no less than Jesus= destruction.

Have you ever noticed how much the Jewish leaders tried to use the government (that they themselves claimed to hate) against Jesus?  Of course, it did keep them in power! We=ll that=s another sermon.  They have made the double entendre Bfaux pas of mixing both politics and religion!  Then the deadly bait comes: AIs it lawful to pay tribute levied on individuals and to be paid yearly to Caesar or not?@ (Amph)

This is not a simple question about paying taxes, it is one about ethnic and spiritual loyalty and could be considered seditious and cause his arrest by Rome or cause all of his Jewish followers to label him a pretender and leave him. 

In the same the story setting here and in the gospel of Mark  the term "image" ("eikon') is used, referring to the image struck on the coin.   By using this object, they have put Caesar's and God's Kingdoms  in conflict with one another. 

The coins, showing Caesar as a God and inscribed "Caesar, Augustus@ AKing and Son of God" broke two commandments at once. The temple authorities would not even allow the use of Roman money to pay the yearly temple tax, required of all Jewish citizens. . 

Notice how Jesus chooses to deal with the set up. First he asks for a coin. Presumably one of them was carrying such a coin and offers it to Jesus.  What was one of them doing carrying a coin that called Caesar God?  Doesn't= the use of such money imply worship according to the 10 commandments?  But no matter, we never see our own hypocrisies only those of others.  Now it gets dicey for both the Pharisees and for us.AWhose likeness and title are these?@ Jesus asks.Of course they were Caesar=s.  Then Jesus makes a startling statement:ASurrender therefore to Caesar the things that are due to Caesar and surrender to God the things that are due to God@.

Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and give to God the things that are due God. Do you see what Jesus just did? Rather than give them an answer to the question, he turns it back upon they themselves.  Who will answer the question?  They will!

Now fellow Christians as we are addressed by this Word of God this morning who will answer the question for us?  We will, one by one as individuals.

The flip side of the question even tightens the arena we have to squirm in.  Where is God=s likeness to be found?  Genesis 1:27 says@ So God created man in His own image in the image and likeness of God He created him: male and female He created them.@


It is  we who are created in God=s image.  It is he whose image we bear. You bear the image of GOD! In a few moments, we will bring two children to the baptismal font,  a font where many a child or adult have come before them.  After the baptism, I will take "chrism" anointing oil used in several sacraments, and I will say these words: "you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked
as Christ's own forever. Amen."  To quote one of my mentors, Fr Terry
Fullam, now with the Lord, "when we anoint the forehead it is like a sign on our foreheads saying 'under new management'."  We enter into a new relationship with God.  He knows us by name.  A name is the most important thing to all of us.

US government currency bears an image that indicates  that it is tender of , property of the United States Government.  That is why Alan Greenspan can tell you how much it is worth!  You bear God=s image.  And God has turned the issue back on us as well  - APay therefore to Caesar the things that are due to Caesar and pay to God the things that are due to God@.  Who is your Caesar?  How do you determine what is Caesars?  Your loyalties?  Your bottom line?  That which you value most?

We must begin with the presumption that if we are Christians all that we have is God=s and comes from God.  Certainly it can be said of material possessions and of money as well as its use, our position and our place in society and family….One stewardship seminar instructor once stated that he always makes it a point to give more to his church through his offerings than he gives to the government through his taxes. That was a way he could indicate the place of his greater allegiance -- who has the greater authority over him.  So todayBwhose Lordship are you under? Are you experiencing the light and life that Jesus brings?  If we do not engage him, we will not.

This morning we will use the names of the baptismal candidates. Dale Carnegie said that our names are the sweetest sounds to our ears.  We read this morning that God said to Moses: "`I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.'"To whom do you belong?  What is your worth?  Does  God personally call you by name. as a friend , does God know you by name?  Only  you can answer those questions. In the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer, there is a rubric or instructions to the priest for baptism. It reads: " Then the Minister shall take the Child into his hands".  There's a problem.  There is no instruction to give the child back to anyone!   Notice this:  this morning these children are being offered back to the God who gave them to their parents till such time as they profess faith in Jesus Christ for themselves. St Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: " You are not your own;  you were bought at a price." (I Cor 6}  So do each of us "buy" into this from God?  We began this sermon with a story of a man who needed to pay a hospital bill.  In a very real sense, each of us has that same bill to pay.  We have been injured by our own sin and need a hospital.  The hospital is grace and the one who can pay the bill is not our brother in law, but our brother, our Savior and his Name is Jesus.  the receipt for the debt we owe.   But we must send him the bill.  That is in our hands.  The old hymn says:"Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe…."

God wants each of us to bathe in the Light of Eternal Life, to let that Light remake us in our daily lives, in our relationships, in our living out God's glory every day in everything we do.  So let Him in, open the doors of your hearts: Christians and non-Christians, and let Jesus shine in.  Then your lives will be changed into Light.