August 28, 2011

Monday after the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 40:1-16, 1 Sam. 18:1-9, Lk. 19:29-40
Evening - Ps. 37:1-24, Micah 4:1-8 Rom. 4:13-29

Commentary
Romans 4:13-29

Is human will bound or free? Is absolute free will possible in a human being? Are our decisions and choices affected by factors outside of ourselves? Almost everyone agrees we are affected by factors outside of ourselves, such as friends, personal history, and family background. There are also things within us that influence our choices. Interests, personality, and genetics are obvious examples. My family has always loved music. Is that genetic or is it just from being exposed to it? We sometimes hear people say things like, "She got her musical talent from her mother." "He got his sunny disposition from his grandmother." "She got her musical talent from her grandfather." Is there any truth in those statements? Why are some people melancholy while others have "sunny" dispositions? Why do some love history while others hate it? Why do some people want to be artists while others want to be dentists, and others want to be race car drivers? Is there something in our make up that moves us in these directions?

What about sin? Anyone who is not a sinner should stop reading this. It will not help you. If you are still reading, I gather that you understand that you have chosen sin at some point in your life. Allow me to make a point, emphasised in the Bible, everyone has chosen sin at many points in life. No one is perfect. And this brings up the question, why did you choose sin? Why haven't you chosen to do good all of your life, 100% of the time? Are there factors outside of you that influence you to choose sin? If yes, what are some of these factors? What about what we used to call, "peer pressure?" Are there factors inside of you that influence you to choose sin? What are selfishness, greed, pride, and anger? Where do these things come from? Are they things we learn or are they things we are born with?

This is very important. If you say we are born with these things in our nature you are saying there is a tendency in us to choose sin, and that tendency is part of our natural make up. If you say we are born with these tendencies you are saying there is some kind of limitation to our free will, because these things influence us to think and act in certain ways.

What does it mean about us if we have an inborn tendency to sin? It means we are by nature pre-disposed toward sin. Our hearts are "inclined" toward sin, and we will naturally move in the direction we are incline toward, just as water will always follow an incline. It also means we are not righteous by nature, and never have been. Some people believe we are morally neutral at conception, meaning, we are neither good nor evil. We become good or evil (or to use more biblical language, righteous or sinners) when, at the age of discretion, we know right from wrong and willingly choose wrong. But my question is; why do we choose wrong? Could it be that we choose evil because we are born with a natural tendency to do so? If so, we are not innocent at conception or at any time of life. We are unrighteous from the very moment of conception. Babies are not born innocent or neutral. Sin is a part of their make up from the very instant of conception (Psalm 51:5). It is very important that we understand this; we do not become sinners by committing sins, we commit sin because we are sinners. Horses eat grass because they are horses. They don't become horses by eating grass. To put it another way; we are naturally self-centered rather than God-centered. Therefore, we naturally choose our own will over God's will. We can only choose what we want, and we want our own way. How did we become sinners by nature? We inherited it from our parents, who inherited it from their parents, back through the generations to the very beginning. We, having this inborn sinfulness in us, cannot pass on innocence to our children. I cannot pass purple hair to my children because I don't have purple hair in my genetic make up. I cannot pass innocence, or righteousness to them because I do not have that in my make up. I can only pass what is in my nature, and my nature is sin. The only way any of us can ever become righteous is to receive it as the free gift of God's grace through Jesus Christ. We can never create it in ourselves or give it to another.

This is why we are all under God's wrath. This is why we choose sin. This is why we need a Saviour. If this were the only word from God we would live in absolute despair and fear. We would know that our only future is a broken world and an eternity in hell. But this is only Part I of the Gospel message. This is the "Bad News." Part II is the "Good News," which is well stated in Rom. 4:24 -25. Righteousness is imputed to us who believe through Christ, "who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification."

Abraham had the same sinful inclinations we have. Abraham was a unable to make himself right with God as we are. The entire point of chapter 4 is that Abraham was justified by faith. It was not his good works, not his obedience, and not his fidelity to the law that made him right with God. It was faith. Abraham believed God, and on the basis of that faith, God counted him as righteous (4:3). Tonight's reading states this in the very first verse; the promise was not through the law, that is, given on the basis of Abraham earning it by keeping the law. It was given on the basis of faith. Long before the law was given, long before circumcision, long before Abraham could have earned anything by good works, the promise was given to him, and Abrahams received it by faith. The obedience, the keeping the law, the worship of God, and all the other things we normally think of as characterising the people of God came after the promise was given by grace and received by faith.

Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Trinity

When God Weeps
Luke 19:41
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity

There are no tears in Heaven, but on earth even God weeps. There is something particularly touching about this. The idea that God is moved to sadness and tears for us is something that captures our attention, and our imagination. Numerous works of literature, art, and music draw upon that theme. But why does God weep? What is it about this world that moves the God of all Creation to tears?

Let us make it clear at the start that He does not weep for Himself. Our Gospel Reading finds our Lord in Jerusalem during what He knows are the final days before His crucifixion. He is well aware of what lies ahead of Him. He has come to Jerusalem to die, and die He will. Nothing can turn Him aside from this mission. Yet, it is not the scourge, or the nails, or the cross or the grave that moves Him to tears. He will bear them with all the courage and dignity of the Son of God.

He knows also that His own people will not receive Him. He knows they will reject Him and kill Him. They will curse Him and spit upon Him, and beat Him as He passes them on the way to Golgotha. But He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. It is not the rejection that moves Him to weep.

He knows that an even greater terror awaits Him; a terror far worse than any suffering mere men can inflict upon Him. He knows that on the cross He will bear all the hurt and anguish, and anger of God, for the sins of His people. I have no way to even imagine what that must be like. I know on one hand it is to bear the active wrath of God, and that is unimaginably horrible in itself. But even worse is the complete severance of His essential fellowship with the Father and Spirit; to be removed from that sweet and pervading Divine Love and cast into the fiery hate of God's consuming wrath. I do not wonder that He cried out on the cross, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But even this does not move Him to tears. He weeps for none of these things because He weeps not for Himself. He weeps for us.

Christ weeps for Jerusalem, the Holy City; Jerusalem, the city of peace. As He looks down upon the city from the Mount of Olives, He sees the Temple, symbol of faith, symbol of the presence of God, symbol of Christ. Everything about the Temple is a symbol of Christ. He is the Lamb, slain upon the altar. He is the Great High Priest who offers the sacrifice. He is the altar upon which the sacrifice is offered. He is the Temple, the place where God dwells with man. But the Temple and its ministers have failed Him. They are full of pride and corruption. They have left the true faith to follow the vain imaginations of their own hearts. And God weeps.

He looks at the palace where the king rules the city and the country. This too is a symbol of Christ, the Great King and Shepherd of Israel who rules in justice and mercy. But the human king is nothing like the Great Shepherd of Israel. The human king is corrupt and faithless. Justice is just a word and a joke in his court, and the ability to rule Israel has been taken away from him and given into the hands of the Roman, Pilate. What little power the king does possess is not used to promote true religion and virtue. It is used to promote his own security and wealth. And God weeps.

Our Lord sees the wall around the city, strong and massive, designed to defend Israel from her enemies. The wall is a symbol of Christ. He surrounds His people with safety. He stands between them and their enemies. "A Mighty Fortress Is our God." But the people of Jerusalem do not want protection from their real enemies. Their real enemies, which are world, the flesh, and the devil, are far more dangerous to Israel than the Romans could ever hope to be, yet they pass freely into the city by the consent and invitation of the people; and God weeps.

Christ sees the people of Jerusalem "throwing away happiness with both hands," completely ignorant of the things which belong to their peace. He is their peace. He is their joy. He is their prosperity. He is their hope. But they have rejected Him and sought their peace in wealth and worldly pleasures, though in His Name they "bless" their misguided values and the self-destructive means by which they chase their dreams. He sees them as sheep without a Shepherd, and He would gladly gather them to Himself as a hen gathers her chicks, but they "would not" (Mt. 23:37). They won't have it, and God weeps.

From His position on the Mount of Olives, Christ looks over the Jerusalem of that time, but He also sees it forty years in the future. He sees the city in A.D. 70, surrounded by the Roman army, under siege that will last for years. He sees the wall destroyed. He sees unimaginable suffering. He sees millions of Jews dead in the streets of Jerusalem and in other cities of the Roman Empire, and God weeps.

As Christ looks down on Jerusalem He also sees us. He sees billions of people, just like the Jews, but people of every nation and every era rejecting Christ and chasing the rainbows of sin that will never give them anything but a momentary diversion, while He offers everlasting treasure. He sees people ruining their own lives and bringing untold pain and suffering into the lives of others, and, finally, bringing themselves into the eternal sorrows of hell forever. He knows the joy and blessings He offers, and He sees the destruction and suffering they choose, and God weeps.

If only the things we desire were the things God made us to enjoy. If only we would learn to love the things He promises. If only the things that please God would also please us, how much sorrow we would save ourselves. O, let us learn to love what God loves, and to seek what God wants to give.

O, God, "Let thy merciful ears... be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."