Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 5:44
Theme: Evil Disarmed

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Part and parcel with Christ’s payment for the world’s sin was His conquering of evil. The two go hand in hand. Satan, the arch perpetrator of falsehood and wickedness was rendered powerless to condemn human beings once sin was atoned for. Hell, too, loses its power to terrorize. In today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of the practical implications of these truths for our lives each day. Some well-known words are uttered by Jesus. “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”1

So what does it mean to “turn the other cheek”? It doesn’t mean to senselessly submit yourself to abuse; but to intentionally respond to evil with good intentions. Jesus doesn’t teach concession, but a forbearance that opens that way for repentance. Paul says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”2

If there was any question about where Jesus was going in this discourse it becomes unmistakably clear now: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”3 Shattered now is the whole Pharisaic understanding of love. The entire system, carefully constructed, refined, and guarded is condemned by this prophet of Galilee. These words of Jesus must have seemed radical, even insane. How could society function in this way?

Now this doesn’t mean for a minute that the legal system should be abandoned and criminals left unpunished. God has appointed systems of government for peace and stability in human society. This kingdom of the “left” does not contradict God’s kingdom of grace, but serves it. But it does mean that Christian mission work intends to transform the heart, not simply outward activity. Our transgressions do not make us sinners. Selfish and evil intent already do that and themselves spring from original sin. Repentance should be mindful of these realities.

Christian love is not merely reciprocation towards those whose gestures are appealing to us. It is not the loving of the loveable or even the likeable. If God recognized or commended such love then He would have to do the same even for unbelievers. But it is clear that He does not. Christians have no monopoly on civility, kindness, or generosity. But what is uniquely Christian is the conviction that Christ in His unconditional love allows us to unconditionally love others. Unbelievers can be very amicable philanthropists. But their intentions are an end in themselves. People’s lives can be made more comfortable- in the here and now- through such efforts. But Christian love sees eternal issues at stake. For believers truth should trump comfort every time and spiritual well-being should be a higher priority than earthly needs. If Jesus said last week to cut off the body part that causes sin rather than risk being thrown into hell how could Christian love be concerned only with the earthly needs of people!

And how easily our earthly needs dominate us! When we struggle our immediate desire is for resolution or release. We want to minimize the pain and heartache. We often use all available means to do this. But God has something more important in mind. God is teaching us to trust in nothing but Him alone; not even His gifts, blessings or the promise of His eternal kingdom. You see faith cannot rest on the gifts and goodness that come from God, not even the hope of deliverance. Faith is a naked trust in God as He is revealed to us. Faith is taking God at His word and not judging His credibility by our own standards. The crucifixion was God’s way of rescuing sinners and there is no other way to assess God’s intentions. We can never judge by how smoothly we’re traveling along in life at the time. The work of the Spirit excels all tangible evidence. Baptism confirms this.

Dear friends, it is not God’s priority to bring you to the end of your life as a person of means, of wealth, or of reputation in society. Neither is it His top priority for you to arrive at that last hour free from all illness or trial. God intends firstly that you arrive as a soul still clinging to His grace; a Child of God eager to be delivered from this fallen world. He intends that on your last earthly day you would be a penitent sinner keen to enjoy the full benefits of His forgiveness. He desires that you completely abandon all human resource and have supreme comfort in His promise. This can only be a struggle because our human nature so violently opposes such things.

Christ, in the truest expression of His manhood prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from Me.”4 In the tenderness and vulnerability of His human nature He desired that the Father reveal another way for the world’s sin to be atoned for. We too would like another entrance to heaven rather than through death. But Jesus continued in true humility, “Yet not My will, but yours be done.”5 Was the will of the Son at this juncture out of sync with the will of the Father? Was there a crack in the unity of the Godhead? Here at the hour of sacrifice the moment of truth arrives. Here is the apex of the scheme of redemption planned since the foundation of the world.

The love of Christ doesn’t run out, get used up or expire. He is the inexhaustible source of grace. He is the resurrected and living Lord. He never wearies of carrying your burdens. He never tires of hearing your confession. He never turns away the truly repentant soul. He is living water for the thirsty soul. He is pardon for those who long for forgiveness. He is light for those who grope in darkness. He is peace for the troubled and rest for those exhausted by the world. He is food for those who hunger. Soon we will receive that food. It nourishes the soul. Jesus says, “My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink.”6 One of the ancients called it the medicine of immortality. Here we have contact with the crucified and risen Christ in a manner not possible in any other way. Here is both a token and the distribution of His love.

All of the words of Jesus would mean little had they not been fulfilled in deed and truth. This is what the Scripture says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”7 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany
20 February 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 5:39 2 Romans 12:19-21
3 Matthew 5:46-47 4, 5 Luke 22:42
6 John 6:55 7 1 John 4:10