Sunday, July 31, 2011

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

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

Text: Matthew 14:20
Theme: Limitless Compassion

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

How can we fathom the compassion of Christ? We dare not compare His mercy to our feeble attempts at pity or sympathy. The nails were not driven through our hands. The spear was not into thrust into our sides. The blood did not flow from our wounds. The Father does not leave us in the hour of utmost need. In a way it seems that Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 today is a woefully inadequate expression of His divine compassion. It seems almost trivial to concern oneself with empty stomachs when lost souls are on the precipice of darkness. But Christ does not neglect the one at the expense of the other. The provider of food for the body and place of refuge for the soul are one in the same.

But does humanity really require the assistance or benevolence of God to feed itself physically and spiritually? Do we believe this? Isn’t God being rendered obsolete? Many will stand up and assert (as they have in nearly every age) that humanity’s achievements have reached new heights. We can send probes to the edge of the solar system. We can manipulate the genes of an unborn infant. We can transmit data instantly across the face of the globe. But no achievement is immune from arrogance and abuse. The builders of Babel also triumphed in human achievement. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”1 Their motive was pride. It was a display of arrogance. But God scrambled their logistics.

The humble too have accomplished great feats. Noah built an ark; a mammoth vessel that contained all the organisms that would repopulate the earth. But what was the difference between the builder of the ark and the builders of Babel? One had the command and countenance of God and the others did not. Noah served God in faith. The builders of Babel served themselves in defiance. Do we use the gifts of God to serve our neighbour in love and defend the truth of God in Christ? Or do they primarily become tools of manipulation, selfishness and the attainment of power and pleasure?

Quoting the Scripture Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”2 But He wasn’t denigrating physical food and its purpose. Food is more than a bodily necessity. It is one of humanity’s greatest sources of pleasure. Remember Jesus turned the water into wine at the Cana wedding feast. Jesus deliberately used meals for social contact, social connection, and social inclusion. In doing so He often transgressed the religious customs of the time. His rules for table fellowship usually angered the Pharisees.

John tells us that after everyone was fed Jesus said, “Let nothing be wasted.”3 These words ring out as a stinging indictment against society today. Yet, God still provides abundantly for His creation. He prefers to cajole us into appreciation rather than shock us into such recognition through His judgments. The Scripture says, “Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?”4 But the track record for people being led to repentance through God’s kindness is not too stellar. Of course there must be a place for the law to function. True spiritual hunger must be created. Only then can people be fed with the fruit of the cross and roused by the power of the resurrection.

Dear friends, the assumptions taken for granted in the past- for example that the average person will see the value of Christianity for society- no longer hold true, if they ever really did. Without making the effort to do justice to the complexities, certain general observations can be made. Historically recognized or tolerated tenets are now breaking down. The incumbency of a Christian framework as the world view of the culture is not a given. Darwinism rules the scientific arena and claims supremacy in regards to all living systems. Relativism rules the arena of truth and objectivity and rejects all claims of absolute authority. Ironically, Darwinism and relativism are incompatible but manage to coexist. In the realm of ethics and morality Western society is driven largely by a practical approach, the same relativism (what’s true or good for you isn’t necessarily true or good for me) and a fierce individualism. The feeling and right of the individual usually reigns supreme.

None of these philosophies or ideals is new. The Christian cannot be exempt from the burdensome task of critiquing the prevailing falsehoods of the time. It does not suffice to bury one’s head in the sand. The church’s response has for a long time now involved a sustained effort to find common ground. As the average parishioner adopts more of a secular mindset the appeal and value of the faith weakens. Are the pious promises of God more important than what the world has on offer? Increasingly the answer is no. The competition for allegiance becomes fierce. Jacob wrestled with God. Faith wrestles with temptation and truth.

Where does the restless human soul find comfort? It’s no good occupying ourselves with an endless number of distractions. Idols are easily made. They are not so easily deconstructed. The gospel is never abundantly obvious to human reason. Common sense does not automatically lead to an understanding of the gospel. The sinner can appreciate Christ as a martyr but cannot own Him as a Saviour. It is beyond human ability. Grace must be defined in this way or it is forfeited. The gift of repentance is the gift of God’s forbearance in Christ. The Holy Spirit’s endowment of contrition, sorrow for sins; and His concomitant bequest of faith, trust in Christ for the forgiveness of those sins, reconciles the previously estranged believer to the heavenly Father.

The gospel announces that this reality is both constituted and consummated in Christ. Baptism is the power and locality of this action. The eternal Son of God who becomes Immanuel, God-With-Us in the flesh of Jesus nevertheless remains chronologically distant until the command of baptism is enacted. When faith exists before baptism, as it certainly can, it still looks forward to baptism’s completion.

We rightly pray for our daily bread. Christ provides what we need, not always what we want. Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”5 Holy Communion is the true manna from heaven. It is nurture for the body and food for the soul. It is the only meal consumed with and consisting of the crucified and living Christ. Through it forgiveness is ingested for the benefit of the soul. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
31th July, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Genesis 11:4
2 Matthew 4:4
3 John 6:12
4 Romans 2:4
5 John 6:51