Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sermon October 17, 2010

October 17, 2010 P24 C RCL
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jeremiah 31:27-34

Psalm 119:97-104,

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18:1-8

        “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.” Thus begins “the Hound of Heaven” a poem written in 1893 by English Roman Catholic doctor Francis Thompson. The poem tells of God’s desire for a relationship of faith with God’s people. It influenced writers J.R.R. Tolkein, Madeline L’engle, and a whole generation born about 100 years ago – including my parents.
            The Bible teaches that God is personal and seeks a personal relationship with his creation. We are made in the image of God, made by God for relationship with God. 
            Christian faith has always been counter-cultural. When the dominant ideology has been collectivist -- as in the early centuries of the church under the Roman Empire or in our own time under Nazi or Communist governments, the church has stressed individual conscience and individual rights. In our own time when atheist philosophy makes an idol of individual autonomy we need to be firm and clear on the  human need for relationships. 
                    Relationship not total autonomy is our individual destiny. We are born into families. The relationship of parent and child is fundamental. Exodus 20:12, the commandment with a promise is, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” And Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  The relationship of husband and wife is also fundamental. Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ “nourishes and tenderly cares for the church, because we are members of his body.” We know from experience the spiritual importance of the marriage relationship and the opportunities for spiritual intimacy marriage affords. 
            Family relationships are God-given natural relationships that witness in our space and time to the eternal spiritual relationship of love between our personal creator, redeemer, and sanctifier and his loved creatures and spiritual children.
            South African Pentecostal David duPlessis used to say, “God has no grandchildren.” God  wants a personal relationship with each person. Jeremiah makes that clear. Jeremiah writes in the last days of the independent kingdom of Judah, the remnant of the kingdom of David and Solomon – about 600 years before Jesus.  Jeremiah heard, “I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD. In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.’  But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Looking from the outside people had good reason to be depressed. The kingdom was about to fall to Babylon, the Temple of God destroyed, the leaders sent into exile. But Jeremiah proclaims the counter-cultural message of redemption and new life in a new covenant.  Jeremiah has received from the Lord the good news that children need no longer suffer for the sins of their fathers. We are henceforth to die only for our own sins. What a weight to take off the shoulders of the exiles and their descendants! 

          The old covenant was written on stone and sanctified by the sacrifice of the best cattle. But the people broke that covenant. They worshipped false gods; they indulged in social, financial, and sexual immorality. They broke the covenant and the state was conquered, the Temple destroyed, and the people exiled. But Jeremiah says God will establish a new covenant. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
            As Christians understand the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah the new covenant came into effect 500 years later. It was written on the hearts of disciples and church in Jesus’ teaching and in his the life, death, and resurrection. It was sanctified by the sacrifice not of cattle but of the incarnate son of God on the cross. By his death our sins are forgiven, and by his resurrection we receive the gift of new life in the truth and power of the Holy Spirit. A new relationship with God is opened to us. All we do is to open ourselves heart, soul, and mind, to receive.

          Jesus asks in today’s gospel reading, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.We receive the eternal justice and the eternal love of God as we receive the sacramental body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.

Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” We can answer with confidence, “Yes, he will as we continue in his grace to celebrate the sacraments, and continue to read and study the Holy Scriptures. The letter to Timothy guides us, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

            Francis Thompson ends “the Hound of Heaven,” with this: “His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest! Thou drawest love from thee, who drawest Me.”

          God is personal and seeks a personal relationship with all his creation. We enter into that personal relationship by faith and baptism and continue the relationship in prayer and  sacraments, in reading and  studying Holy Scripture, and in doing the good works to which the Holy Spirit leads us. Thanks be to God!

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