+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 11:19
Theme: In The Company of Sinners
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Jesus keeps company with sinners. It was true in the beginning. Thankfully it is still true today. If Christ were to receive us on our own merits we would be forever shut out of the presence of God. But the Holy Spirit gathers God’s people and welcomes them with divine gifts unavailable anywhere else. That is why we are here.
Today Jesus addresses His opponents with this rhetorical question: “To what can I compare this generation?”1 It was a means of conviction implying the prevalence of unbelief. “They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”2 What on earth does this mean?
Music and dancing marked joyous celebrations such as weddings. Dirges struck the tone of grief at funerals. Each statement is directed symbolically against John the Baptist and Jesus respectively. John was accused of being too serious in His preaching of repentance leaving little room for joy. Christ, on the other hand, was accused of hob-knobbing with sinners, eating, drinking, and celebrating with them and thus not practicing sobriety in the holy things of God. Yet both personified the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into the world through the person of His Son as foretold by the prophets. This is exactly what the authorities of the day would not tolerate.
There was no pleasing the religious leaders of the time? The phrase we still use is: “There’s just no pleasing some people.” Dear friends, in the broadest sense, we’re those people. But in the context here it refers to all who resist the truth and mission of Christ. John the Baptist was martyred by beheading; Jesus was crucified. Today too, bold proclaimers of the truth are marginalized, ridiculed, and even silenced. The threat to the autonomy of the human will is too great. As long as the sun rises and sets upon the earth this reality will never change. People prefer to direct their own destiny, make their own decisions, moving to the next life being no exception.
Of course this rash foolishness will one day be frighteningly exposed. We cannot control God, much less usurp His authority. This is the height of self-righteousness. Ignoring Him won’t help either. So why is it so common? Firstly, that is the nature of sin and we are all sinners. Secondly, there is strength in numbers and we can be overwhelmed by the sentiment of the masses. Of course with the disproportional influence of the modern media those masses may not be nearly as large as they are made to appear. But fear is a powerful motivator. The Lord warned the prophet Isaiah not to follow the way of the people saying, “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”3 All the combined gloom and doom and desperate fatalism of humanity could never dampen the spirit of hope embodied in Christ. He lives and even death cannot undo what He has done.
If the church seems out of sync with the prevailing ideals of society there is a probably a very good reason for it. The world is never eager to hear or live by truth that isn’t transparently beneficial to the individual. Forgiveness, unconditional compassion, and self-sacrifice have never been the mottos of secular society. They never will be. But if the church is out of touch with peoples’ needs, their pains, their hardships, their struggles then that indicates a problem. The church doesn’t exist for its own sake. It is the salt and leaven of Christ in the world. The church is the beacon of light and truth. It is to mirror Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation.
These things- truth and forgiveness- are not merely attendant circumstances; they constitute the church and maintain it. People may be drawn into a fellowship through hospitality and mutual interests. But they are not likely to remain unless anchored by something deeper. What anchors people to the church is the forgiveness of sins present and offered through the crucified and risen Jesus. The sacrament of Holy Communion is not under private jurisdiction. Christ offers His sacrificial body and blood in the public gathering. What must anchor people is the objective and unchanging promises of the ancient Spirit working through the creating and redeeming Word. We are new creations in Christ because ancient covenants have been honoured and are still kept.
If you were to come to God’s house as the only attendee and the pastor proclaimed to you alone the remission of all your sins, you would still have the assurance of knowing you are in fellowship with the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church. You are not baptized into a ritual membership or religious organization. In your baptism you become a co-heir with Christ of the eternal inheritance. You are in fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the entire company of saints. This is of greater worth than any circle of friends or assembly of support you have in this life that is estranged from or ignorant of the wisdom of God in Christ. Indeed, we are to make the most of worldly friendships, but without becoming friends of the world.4
Each day of bearing the cross is a reminder of our temporary, mortal existence. There is no let up from Satan and even the temptations of the sinful nature change as we mature. Paul expresses the struggle well in His famous words today, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!”5
Yes, we are nothing in and of ourselves. We are everything in Christ. Our self-image maybe constantly over-inflated, habitually under-stated, or sporadically lurching and tossing everywhere in between; but is has no basis, no grounding, no legitimacy apart from our identity as redeemed servants of the Crucified. It has no sense of bearing apart from reference to the cross. Like a compass that always faithfully pointing north, the cross always gives us our bearings. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”6
So relax here in the company of sinners. Christ became the greatest sinner of all. He did it for you and your salvation. Enjoy this company of sinners, who in God’s sight are already saints by faith. You are in good company. You are in God’s company.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday After Pentecost
3rd July, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 11:16
2 Matthew 11:17
3 Isaiah 8:12-13
4 See 1 John 2:15
5 Romans 7:18-19, 24-25
6 Matthew 11:28-29