Friday, September 14, 2012

Human judgment or Divine...

Sermon preached for Pentecost 15, Proper 18B, on Sunday, September 9, 2012.

    We all have our ideas about what a Christian should look like or who fits into the kingdom of God.  Today Jesus stretches the imagination of those images and holds up two very unlikely characters as worthy of the Kingdom of God by grace.  It is the story of two Gentiles, of two outsiders who have no lineage or claim but to whom God showed His rich mercy.  One is a Syrophoenecian woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon and the other a deaf mute..  Neither seems a good candidate for God's grace.  At best they were both dogs sniffing after the leftovers of God's grace that was meant for the children of Israel.  Yet the kingdom of God is never about what you deserve and is always about the grace of God for the unworthy and the undeserving.
    Grace is always gift – those who receive grace are always unworthy.  It does not matter how they appear on the outside.  Some folks do look good on the outside but the grace of God is reserved for sinners.  Our external righteousness may impress the world but God sees the heart.  We may think that God has come for the good, for those who deserve His favor, but Scripture tells us God is no respecter of person’s lineage or address or accomplishments.  Here lineage certainly matters.  It matters who your ancestors were, where they came from, and what they accomplished.  Though we have no real monarchy in America, we still have dynasties where the same family figures prominently into politics or the boardroom or finance.  Last names open doors and family connections count.  But not in the kingdom of God.  We can lay no claim to be sons of Abraham for God can make stones into His sons if He wishes.
    If lineage counts for part of it, another part of what counts is location.  The power of an address.  Who can forget the contrast of Green Acres with Park Avenue or the little bit country versus the little bit rock and roll?  I recall being impressed when the District Office where I first served had the address of 360 Park Avenue South. We all make judgements on the basis of where you live or where you come from – but not God.  We have all made our dream drives through the neighborhoods with the big new houses or the tree lined boulevards of the old estates.  We know the score.  We know the power of an address to say you are somebody or you are nobody but God counts none of these.  Instead He seeks repentance.
     If lineage or location are important, the final thing that matters is what have you done?  It is not merely in mountains of money that lives matter but in accomplishment.  The age old definition of worth has something to do with what you have accomplished or what you have accumulated.  Our age is no better.  As I like to remind folks, the golden rule is that he who has the most gold rules.  In the same way, stature makes a difference.  In terms of lineage, location, and life, the two folks who came to Jesus had nothing to approve them before God.  They came with only the hope that God’s grace would be given to undeserving and the unworthy.
    Divine judgment does not mirror human judgment.  God is not swayed by lineage.  God can turn stones into sons of Abraham.  God is not impressed with location.  Israel had everything and yet suffered exile over and over again because their everything did not translate into faith.  Life accomplishments and what you accumulate does not move God.  God is not impressed with our stuff or our accomplishments.  In divine judgment, grace alone matters.
    Grace is accessed of confession and faith.  The woman who came to plead with her daughter did not argue with Jesus.  "I am not a dog."  Instead she admitted that she was unworthy but in this unworthiness was also the faith that was content with the leftovers and crumbs of God's grace and favor.  We come before God not to argue how bad a sinner we might be but to confess that we are sinful, unclean, and unworthy of His grace.  When we admit in humble confession that we come as the unworthy and undeserving, the heart of God is always moved to mercy. 
    Confession is not simply something we do to get it out of the way but the repentant attitude of the heart that shapes and defines the whole of our Christian faith.  The worst of sins is when we act as if confession was for beginners in the faith and maturity moves us beyond humble confession.
    Faith is so often defined in human terms – what we know and how well we understand it and our choice or decision to abide by it.  This is a terrible definition of faith, about as good as the political promises we have already tired of hearing because we know they are not worth much.  Faith is trust, trust not in yourself but in God.  Trust that Jesus can and will do as He has promised.  Trust that what Jesus says is truth.  That water saves, that this bread is His body and this cup His blood, that we are forgiven by His blood...
    The woman who came pleading for her daughter came in faith asking Jesus to do what she believed He could and would do.  The people who brought the deaf man to Jesus brought him there not because they believed might do something but because they trusted that He would do something for this man in need.  Trust is what a child knows better than an adult and trust is what the Spirit works in our fearful and stubborn hearts.  Trust is the currency of the realm of God's kingdom – trust in the Lord and not in rulers or princes or this world’s treasures.
    Finally, note the response to God’s mercy.  The people zealously proclaimed what God had done.  They were astonished by the fact that Jesus' actions lived up to His words.  He has DONE all things well.  Tragically we talk to the world more about us than about God.  We talk about what we think or what we like or what we want.  Faith proclaims what God has done, lifting high the cross before the world, so that God can draw all people unto Himself.  If our witness is not working, could it be that our words are more about us than the Word of the Lord made flesh?
    The fatal flaw of Judaism was that it attempted to define the kingdom of God by lineage, location, or life.  God defines His kingdom as grace given to the unworthy and undeserving.  James says the danger of forgetting this fact and treating people differently here on earth.  We might also point to the danger of presuming God judges as we do – merely by what we see.  To the poor and rich alike, the call is repentance and the joyous claim is to grace.  Jesus has not come for good people but for sinners.  He seeks not to be impressed but the humility of faith that confesses sin and trusts in the mercy already make known by the cross.  Where Jesus finds this humble heart of faith, grace is without limit to forgive sin, to restore the fallen, to equip the sinner with righteousness.  God grant it.  Amen.

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