Thursday, March 12, 2015

What offends YOU?

Sermon preached for Lent 3B, on Sunday, March 8, 2015.

    So what makes you angry?  People get angry over many things.  We get angry when people disrespect us, disagree with us, who cut in line, who cut us off in traffic... You name it.  We are easily wounded and angered by personal insult or personal slight.  Listen to the tone of our voices and the string of vulgarities that we erupt from our lips.
    Most of our anger is protective of ourselves, our feelings, and our loved ones.  But what offends Jesus?  Jesus seems to care little about the personal slights or irritants that offend us.  What offends Jesus is when the Word of God is silenced, when the things of God are made trivial or casual, and when the Gospel is turned into Law.  How does that compare with what bothers YOU?
    Jesus is not just angry.  He is indignant.  We saw His zeal for the House of God when leaders exploited it for their own purpose and ignored why God gave sacred space.  Churches that do everything but worship God, churches that are businesses instead of places of prayer and worship, and people who use church for their own ends and purposes.  When we forget the purpose for which God comes to our Sunday space, that offends God.  Does it make us angry as well?
    When the child, the stranger, or the sinner is turned away, that offends Jesus.  When God's people hoard the message of salvation or remain unchanged by its voice of welcome, love, and forgiveness.  This is what bothers Jesus.  When the cross is rejected or replaced with something that cheapens Christ's sacrifice for our sin, this is what offends Jesus.  Are we also offended by these things?
    God's anger is not some temper tantrum.  God's anger is a wounded heart over those whom He seeks to save and redeem who refuse His gracious favor or treat the message of salvation casually as if there were nothing special in the love that saved us by dying on a cross.  We spend too much time angry over personal insults or hurts but we lack zeal for the Lord's house, for the Lord's Word, and for the Lord's saving purpose.  That is what we see in Jesus – zeal not for some geography but for the place where God’s deliverance is proclaimed to the lost and dying.
    Scripture says "be angry but sin not..."  In other words, God does not excuse our anger because people really did offend or hurt us.  No, the call of faith is to learn to be offended by what offends God.  In other words, do we hate sin.  Do sin and evil offend us?  Do we despise the weakness of our flesh and the evil that comes from our hearts to our heads and mouths?  Does sin offend us enough to desire righteousness?  To seek forgiveness?  This is the fire in the heart of Jesus.  This is His zeal for you and me, the lost who deserved to be lost, condemned, and suffer.
    Are we angry enough over our sin that it moves us to repent of our sins and to hide in the refuge of God's forgiving love?  We are angry over many things but do we look into the mirror of our hearts and are offended at our guilt, at the shame of our sins?  To anger and sin not is to be moved to repentance by our anger of our own sin before we point out the sins of others.
    Are we offended by the way the poor are treated or have we become immune to their need?  The poor you will always have with you, Jesus reminded us. But have we grown so comfortable with the needy that we no longer love them as Christ loved us in our need or serve them as Christ served us?
    I have never read the book Fifty Shades of Grey or seen the movie but I have read enough about it to wonder why something so salacious and so dark can capture the imagination of so many? Even Christians!  How can we glorify such things like this while at the same time claiming to know what love is and to value this love highly?  Where is our zeal for righteousness?
    We presume we are important enough that we deserve to be treated better and maybe we do.  But we cannot afford to save our anger for personal insult or offense and have no room to care if God's Word is preached accurately, whether sin is hated and righteousness loved, whether the poor, the needy, and the children are loved as God has loved us? 
    Where is our conscience?  Faith calls us to a higher way of life – not to better morality but to a higher way of live in which we wear the cross and live our lives under it.  We are called to love what is good and right and true and to reject what is evil and wrong.  It calls us to protect life from conception to death, to protect those least able to protect themselves, to love the poor... It calls us to be offended by that which distorts or silences the Gospel and keeps the sinner from knowing God's hope and gift.
    Jesus' anger is a righteous anger – it is not directed against those who insult or slight Him but for the sake of those for whom He died.  To those who crucified Him, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness but to those who had so screwed up the Word of God that they did not see Jesus in it, our Lord had nothing but contempt.  The call of the Gospel is this – to love what God loves and to be offended by what offends God.  God reserves His hate for sins, not people.  We love sins and hate people.  What did we miss?  What did we get wrong?
    People thought Jesus was a little crazy to take God's house and sin and the poor so seriously.  Maybe we do, too.  And that is the problem.  We love the Gospel that protects, forgives, and loves us, but we are not so sure about the rest of those for whom Christ died.  This is a call to righteous anger of faith.  Amen.

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