Sunday, October 23, 2016

A New Perspective

Proper 25 + Year C                                                                           
Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
24, October 2016    + All Saints' Hampton                                                                                  
A New Perspective
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22                                                                                                                  
Psalm 84:1-6        
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-8                                                                                                                     
Luke 18:9-14

Almighty and everlasting 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;… Do you notice anything odd in that collect.  It says faith, hope and charity or as we would call it today: love, are gifts.  Do we think of these as gifts?  In perhaps the favorite text used at weddings (perhaps inappropriately) we read this:And now these three remain: faith hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Cor.  13:13)  In an earlier text we read: God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5) So what is this saying to us this morning? Let's explore it through the gospel reading appointed for today. 

It is all a matter of perspective.  In the 1997 movie Athe Devil=s Advocate@, the devil, played by Al Pacino, opposite his attorney, Keanu Reeves says, A"Vanity is my favorite sin."  A perspective that some might hold, but no one would dare to admit it in public! A retired Bishop friend of mine used to say to the effect that people are fond of condemning and confessing the sins of others, sins to which they are not tempted.  And yet I wonder.  If we are fond of confessing the sins of others, are we not putting ourselves in the Pharisee=s position?  What is the posture in the story that honors God and wins his salvation?  It is the words: AGod, have mercy on me, a sinner.@ 

This morning we read: Jesus said of the tax collector: Athis man went home justified rather
than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will
be exalted.@

What is justification?  Justification is the process by which one becomes a child of
God.  It is a change of standing before God but more, it is a covenant relationship with
God.  It puts us in a different place with Almighty God, it changes God’s perspective.
It is more than an act of work and more than an act of the will, ours and God’s .  It is an
act of grace not originating with us but originating with the Holy Spirit.  It from this
same spirit that come the gifts of faith, hope and love.   

Notice the words of the Luke describing the Pharisee in today=s lesson:The Pharisee stood
up and prayed about  himself (!) : `God, I thank you that I am not like other men‑‑robbers,
evildoers, adulterers‑‑or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I
get.'Do you believe it? He prayed about himself...?  His prayer was more a job report than
a prayer.  He sets himself apart from everyone else and he has contempt for them is
proportionate to all that he believes he has accomplished: I fast twice a week; I give
tenpercent of all that I get;  I read by Bible God and go to Church every Sunday.  (I=m
sure there was more to the list but the gospel writer didn’t want us to lose our
breakfasts!)  Face it though: he was a good, moral, upstanding guy.  Just the kind you
want on your church vestry and supporting the church with his what=s the

It=s all a matter of perspective: his own of courseIt was his attitude. Jesus was
addressing a problem that we probably have all wrestled with if we are seeking to
follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Remember, he told this story to the DISCIPLES,
not to the Pharisees!

What was the state of standing before God of that Pharisee: Aboy aren=t you lucky God
to have such a good servant!=  One commentator said: Athe great danger for people who
attain a personal discipline that enables them to live up to a high standard of behavior is
that they will feel contempt for all who do not observe their standard. So it is with the
Pharisee in this story.  He feels secure in his superiority to robbers, swindlers and
adulterersBand to the tax man he sees in the temple courtBalthough he has no
knowledge of any sin the man may have committed beyond his occupation.@(Synthesis)
He had the perspective of Religious Christianity.  The root of the first is religio.  Religio
speaks of a work we do.  Religious Christianity is the idea that your performance,
devotional practices or morals make you right with God. It premise is that
righteousness is achieved rather than received. (Tyler Speegle , Five Reasons Why I hate
Religious Christianity, Huffington Post, May 9, 2016.).

The Phaisee didn=t need God’s help.  He thought of himself as having accomplished all
That would make him acceptable to God.  All he had to do was , do, do, do, do !  It was
a delusional perspective.

Father Luther discovered in his neurotic pain and guilt, that no one can be justified on his or her own account.  Our efforts without the Holy Spirit living in us do not make us right with God.  It is necessary that God intervene.  We don=t understand the measureless of Divine Love, that grace is no longer grace when we try to earn it.  Yet we too often would rather fall back on the works righteousness model that seems to make more Asense@ to us.  

Three people die and go to heaven: a nurse who has worked with dying cancer patients for 30 years, a teacher who has spent his whole life working with educationally challenged youngsters and the CEO of an HMO. St. Peter meets each and reads the file: to the first he says, Acome on in@Bto the second he says Acome on in!@Bwhen he gets to the CEO he reads his file and says to him: AhmmmByou can come on inBbut only for three days.@  Is that salvation?   Do we want that perspective?  

It’s all a matter of perspective on the source of faith, hope and love. One of the distinguishing marks that Christianity holds differing from all world religions is the understanding of grace.  Paul said clearly, AFor it is by grace you have been saved, through faith‑‑and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God‑‑not by works, so that no one can boast.@
The grace is the receiving of a free gift and entering into a relationship with the Giver.  That is what baptism is about.  That is why at confirmation the question: do you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior?.. Do you promise to follow him as your Lord? are such important questions.

In this sacrament, it is not the parents= perspective, the priest=s perspective, or even your perspective that counts, it=s God=s. The prayer, AGod be merciful to me a sinner@ is the posture of the Christian or the one who would come to Christ.  

What about works?  Martin Luther was very famous for insisting that salvation is by faith alone.  He went so far as to state that he wished the book of James purged from the Bible because if its stress on works.  It is both.  God gives faith.  We enter into relationship with him but as James says: AWhat good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?@  (2:14)

The collect prays that God will increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity, and so that we may obtain what these spiritual gifts promise to our livesBwe pray that God will make us to love what He commands us to do and be.  This is the point of being a part of the Church.  This is the end of baptism.  This is the promise of confirmation.  AGod be merciful to me a sinner@, AI accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior@, AI promise to follow him as my Lord.@  So much guilt can be assuaged by this blood of forgivenessBso much strength and comfort received from the sacraments.  It=s all a matter of perspective: will we take God=s perspective or for some reason choose to follow our own or that of another person.  Our faith is a revealed religion from a personal Father who chose to adopt an unruly race of people, but that adoption requires our participation.  How do we participate?   We receive those gifts that God gives: faith, hope and love and apply those gifts to the world around us, for Jesus sake.  AMEN  

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