Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost A (2011)

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

Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Theme: Parables

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The work of God is comprehensive. “Fish of every kind”1 will be gathered by the net at the end of the age. The analogy compares fish to people and certainly means that all people will stand before God. No one will fall between the cracks. No one will deceptively, or politely, or forcefully be able to avoid the gathering of all humanity before the Almighty’s throne. We are wise not to push this pending reality to the back burner. Life can end suddenly and Christ also promises to return without prior warning. In present perspective, God is always speaking to you through His word- and in the here and now.

Today Jesus again teaches about the kingdom of God with various parables. The parable of the treasure buried in the field illustrates the incomparable value of eternal life with God. The parable of the pearl of great price is in the same vein. It seems as though in ancient times there were money lenders, but there were no banks. It was common practice to bury valuables in the ground for safe-keeping. These treasures could easily be lost track of, especially in times of war or upheaval. When these stashes of riches were found it could be quite a momentous occasion. Still today such archeological treasures of this type are unearthed.

Though the parable is commonly interpreted as showing that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure of great worth- something that we should acquire above all else- we should understand Christ as the key to the interpretation. Christ considers humanity so exceedingly ‘valuable’ that He sacrificed His own life to acquire our presence in eternity. The parables should never be understood as mere moralisms. A moralism requires a human resolution to a problem insofar as it teaches right from wrong and expects the hearer to learn and obey the lesson. The parables primarily teach the nature of Christ’s activities within and on behalf of the world.

But certainly Christ’s parables teach us to take very seriously His warnings about the temptations of the world and how easily they can shipwreck faith and lead someone down the broad road to destruction. The question maybe asked why the church is not more forceful or heavy-handed when it comes to marginal, lapsed, or inactive members. Why isn’t there more of an ultimatum to be involved? It is a valid question that deserves some discussion. Living according to the truth and bearing the cross are serious matters. But the Holy Spirit must do the heavy lifting. We can speak words, and we must learn to speak them clearly and truthfully; and we can follow through with consistent actions, but only God can change the heart and motivate from within. Until faith germinates and begins to grow it will do no good to coerce the individual.

You see, if someone doesn’t believe, then to force some external participation in church life from them is essentially pointless. It can easily cause bitterness and resentment. Furthermore it is likely to give the false impression that God’s favour can be earned through such efforts. If one just keeps up a nominal connection then the thought is that the religious box is ticked for another season or another year. Then faith in the gospel is hindered even more.

No, the Holy Spirit must block off every avenue of escape. As long as there remains even one emergency exit the sinful human nature will always run for that rather than face the truth. This is how God’s law functions: It finally blocks off all the exits. You cannot really repent while at the same time searching for an excuse or an escape. Repentance involves recognition that you can’t have Christ (or His help) on your own terms. He is outside your control and He applies righteousness to you from without.

What does this righteousness applied to you from without mean? It means that believers are justified before God not by any virtue or rectitude that can be discovered or nurtured from within. The blood of Christ protects you from the judgment of God. It means that any uncertainty about whether the favour of God depends on your strength, your holiness, your knowledge, or your efforts is completely laid to rest. You are in God’s good graces- and remain there- solely by the worth and work of Christ. Even though the Holy Spirit changes the believer from within, the saving benefits of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are always credited to us from without- as it were. The Scripture says, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”2 For this we should be very grateful.

We would of course like to clearly understand how God can be a God of infinite compassion and unconditional love while at the same time being a God of justice who often appears to threaten us with His judgments. But if we could comprehend this paradox then there would be no purpose for faith. The mystery of why God acts as He does towards us in any particular circumstance would be revealed. It would in effect mean that sin no longer had any consequences worth worrying about. If we could reconcile God’s mercy and His justice there would be no need for Christ, no need for His atonement, no need for sacrifice, no need for a crucifixion. There would be no need for the forgiveness of sins. There would be no need for you to partake of this gift of His body and blood for that forgiveness. The sacrament would truly become nothing more than a hollow ritual of remembrance.

But that is not the way of God. Maturity of faith involves coming to terms with such truths. Reality doesn’t operate according to our preferences and there is a very good reason it doesn’t. The very organic nature of the parables reminds us that God is present and active in the common events of life. That doesn’t make the parables simple. It means life is vested with more depth of meaning than we normally think of. Christ is with us in the fray.

What does St. Paul say today in his dramatic and comforting conclusion to Romans chapter eight? “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?3. No power or evil that believers face- physical persecution, spiritual assault, angels, demons, even death itself- can overcome the work of Christ. None of these things can separate us- through violence, deception, or subtlety- from Christ’s redeeming and eternal love? What evidence do we have? Christ died. He was raised to life. He now intercedes at God’s right hand. There He prepares our eternal home. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
24th July, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 13:47
2 Galatians 3:27
3 Romans 8:32