Sunday, February 2, 2014

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 5:3
Theme: True Poverty and Wealth

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is rich. We are poor. But these truths are not fundamentally financial or economic statements. Only the poor will receive God’s riches. That is what Jesus says today. What does He mean? Have you ever considered yourself to be poor in spirit? You cannot fake a true sense of poverty of soul. Lip service will get you nowhere. The Holy Spirit must drive you to it. And He will do this only through the word. “This is the one I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”1

In these beatitudes today Christ is not demanding the adoption of a set of virtues or principles; He is describing the condition and status of the repentant sinner before God. He is giving hope to those normally devalued by in the world’s eyes. Christ teaches what it really means to be blessed. Material prosperity is no substitute for spiritual rewards. But we must be careful about ignoring the connection between physical and spiritual things. Jesus rebuked demons. He rebuked bodily fever. He rebuked the tempestuous sea. His release from the bondage to sin was holistic. Evil spirits, physical ailments, and the forces of nature were subject to Him. Christ is not a spiritual specialist who has no real impact on the physical realm. He is not a mystical guru who seeks to deny or annul the material creation. He is the flesh and blood Redeemer who promises to resurrect our bodies. We will see Him with our own eyes.2

Yet this promise can presently be embraced only in faith. The deception of salvation by proxy is a persistent challenge for those who want the benefits of Christianity without the relationship it involves. Such desire is nothing new. The Israelites were condemned for it on a regular basis. The modern church must also assess this criticism. You cannot maintain your spiritual life through the faith of another. The religious devotion of your ancestors will not save you. Nor can Christian faith be only an intellectual or ideological exercise. Our opinions cannot foster or sustain spiritual life.

Christianity involves incorporation not surrogacy. Altruism cannot be a proxy for faith. A dispassionate believer is an oxymoron. Yes, believers can and do get down, become temporarily apathetic, even become depressed, as Luther himself did. Yet Christians always have a concern for the well-being of God’s people and the spiritual state of the world alike. Such concern is evidenced by more than just lip-service. Faith is never static, it is active in love.

On this day, February 2nd, many Christians have historically celebrated the Presentation of our Lord. This festival commemorates the presentation in the temple of the infant Jesus 40 days after His birth. Luke records the reason for the event, “When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.”3 Mary and Joseph were God-fearing believers who honoured the Law of Moses.

Significantly, the presentation in the temple has an important connection with the church’s liturgy. And so it has had an enduring impact even if the direct correlation is often unknown. In the temple the holy family was greeted by a man named Simeon who had been waiting to see the Messiah. When Simeon held the baby Jesus he said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people…”4 It’s these words of Simeon that we sing and confess after we too have held the Saviour in the receiving of His body and blood. Like Simeon we can go in peace because we have been assured of our salvation.

Mary offered a pair of doves or young pigeons5 as a sacrifice for her purification. It was evidence of Mary and Joseph’s relative poverty. But like the widow who offered her mites it was an esteemed offering. Christianity is never the beneficiary of a ‘left-overs’ mentality. The thinking goes like this, “I will utilize every means to resource my goals and my agenda and if there is some excess left-over (time or money) the church might be helped by it.” I can feel good about donating my time or money and the church should be grateful too! Dear friends, far from reflecting positively on the vitality of the church this mindset actually exposes a church in decline. That is not to say the resources of the church are not benefitted by charitable generosity. But the key is the motivation. The church has never thrived on the excesses of the ambivalent but on the passion of the purposeful.

Christians are purposeful even (and we might say especially) in the midst of struggle. God never promises to immediately relieve you of all your adversities. If you demand God prove Himself to you by alleviating some difficult circumstance upon your request, your relationship with God has slipped from that of faith to that of pagan negotiation. Idols are given sacrifices in return for favours. Plea-bargaining was a standard part of idol worship. But our God is no idol. You may not be relieved of your adversities, but rest assured Christ Himself is privy to the full-range of human distress. He has measured it. He has embraced it. He will resolve it. He hung upon the cross; He walked out of the tomb for this very purpose.

The minor detail that causes us so much angst is the timing. Our egos and agendas struggle in time. Faith embraces eternity. God will resolve those things which appear to us to be tangled beyond sorting out. Where human capacity fails and hope fades, God accomplishes the seemingly impossible. Your greatest adversity- you know what it is; betrayal, infidelity, treachery, committed by you or against you or both: These offences characterize your poverty, your complete and utter destitution, your beggarly status before God. They are proof that you are both a sinner and the victim of sin. But that grace prevails now and in eternity because Christ forgives every transgression proves how extravagant His love is.

Dear friends, the cry of the impoverished soul never falls on deaf ears. Christ hears the contrite. He knows that we have nothing to offer. God desires nothing more than to free what is bound, reconcile what is separated, heal what is sick, restore what is broken, order what is chaotic, illumine those in darkness, inform those in ignorance, calm those in fear, secure the ones in danger, find those who are lost, and bequeath to those who are poor. As sinners we face an insurmountable debt. It demands either perfection or the forfeiture of our life. The penalty is hell. Yet Christ meets the obligation, frees us from our liability and even endures our sentence. He lays down His own life. He opens heaven. He endows us with unspeakable riches. We are the beloved children of the Father. We are blessed. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Isaiah 66:2
2 See Job 19:27
3 Luke 2:22
4 Luke 2:29-31
5 See Luke 2:24
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Presentation of our Lord
2 February 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

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