+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: Matthew 21:32
Theme: The Way of Righteousness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The authority of Jesus was often questioned. That should not surprise us. Christ came to overturn some of the most deeply held beliefs of human society. He came to shatter the understanding of how humans are reconciled to God. He did it not through coercion but through sacrifice. He challenged the power structures of the world but not on their terms. Pilate, the civil authority, allowed a miscarriage of justice. But it was the religious rulers who sought Jesus’ demise. It could be no other way because Jesus came to show the way of righteousness, a way diametrically opposed to the one they were determined to follow. The gospel is not a new program of human achievement. It is pure grace and true freedom from sin’s condemnation.
The problem of sin is underestimated when guilt is only associated with outward actions. Most people can readily agree with just condemnation for obvious sins, even when they themselves are implicated. The spouse that is violated because of unfaithfulness, the family that is ruined because of addiction, the life that is terminated because of abortion, the countless numbers who are wronged by deceit, dishonesty and calculated crimes people perpetrate against one another; these all cry out for justice. When these are no longer recognized for what they are then we are just playing games and risk swift judgment from God. Sin and sinners must be dealt with. And thank God that Christ came to die lest we all be without hope.
But a great danger lies in confining our understanding of sin to particular actions or circumstances. This is especially true for Christians. Refraining from participating in such open sins does not thereby absolve us. The problem is much deeper. Do the words of our confession “I have deeply displeased you and deserve your punishment in time and eternity” pass quickly over our lips and prick neither our hearts nor our consciences? The law-abiding Christian can easily be lulled into thinking personal guilt before God is no longer a serious problem. After all, we go to church. Soon our outward righteousness is confidently held up for God to examine. Save for giving formal lip service to the fact of our sinful nature, we assume all is covered.
But dear friends, to put it starkly, we are damnable not because we sin, but because we are sinners. And to believe that this is what Christ came to address is the core of the issue. The way of righteousness is the way of repentance. Repent and you will live. God resurrects those who are spiritually helpless. The teaching of Christianity, the doctrine of Jesus Christ, is counterintuitive to the wisdom of the world because it reverses things. In Christ, the wise are foolish, the strong are weak, the exalted are humbled. In Christ, the humble are lifted up, the frail are strengthened, the disenfranchised are empowered.
The god of Islam rewards those who are strong. The gods of Hinduism favour those who are persistent. All religions of the law, including all misguided interpretations of Christianity offer hope only to those who exhibit some human capacity to achieve spiritual benchmarks. Our God attends to the weak, the frail, the helpless, and those on the brink of losing hope. The true God is worshipped not by proudly presenting Him with our credentials, but humbling receiving His gifts. Before God we are always beggars before a king, penitents before a judge, beneficiaries before a sovereign, and finally revelers before a Saviour.
Repentance is the way of Christianity. It is not a starting point or an occasional activity. It is a continual way of relating to God. It is to be cultivated as a mindset, a habit, a way of thinking and acting. Repentance relates not to a single point in time, but a continuum of existence. It is not as though we have turned away from sin and are now finished with that. We are always turning away from sin. It is not as though we had believed in Christ’s forgiveness, but then moved past that necessity. We are always believing; yearning, and aching for Christ’s forgiveness.
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of a man who had two sons. He asked them both to go and work in the vineyard. “‘I will not,’ [the first] answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.”1 Which son’s relationship most closely resembles your relationship with the heavenly Father? The first son had his heart convicted and repented. The second son, despite his words, was hardened in heart. What mattered was not what was said, but what was done. Repentance is evidenced by the integrity of its actions.
The biblical understanding of repentance involves turning. It involves a rejection of the former way and turning to a new direction. Now it must be made clear that the Bible’s understanding of repentance it not merely a matter human decision or the opportunity to choose from valid options. The rejection of the former way entails recognition it was the wrong way. It means sorrow and acceptance of guilt over disobedience towards God’s will. This is worked only by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the new direction entails trust that Christ is the only hope for deliverance. This too is the work of the Holy Spirit involving the gift of faith.
If the Holy Spirit did not turn us around and keep us on the right path human ability could never accomplish it. But the gospel can and does change things. Consider the magnitude of how Jesus concludes today, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.”2 Here we have remarkable words; stinging in their condemnation of the self-righteous but full of hope for the humble. There is no darkness in your life that is so deep that Christ’s light cannot penetrate it.
Dear friends, the way of righteousness is not a program for self-improvement or a scheme to boost our morality. The way of righteousness is the way of Christ. In complete humility He became a human being and “became obedient to death- even death on a cross.”3
You have been redeemed by His sacrifice- a price sufficient to cover the sins of the world. In His resurrection you have present and future life. You are washed by baptismal waters and fed with sacred food. The baptismal promise is never revoked. The menu at His sacramental table never says “no longer available.” Jesus’ authority will continue to be contested, believers will be refined in the crucible, but these are just temporary trials and travels in darkness that will quickly fade at the dawn of the resurrection. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Matthew 21:29-30 2 Matthew 21:31-32 3 Philippians 2:8
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
28 September 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt