Sermon for Second Sunday before Lent OT7 YrC 2019
‘The Goal of Christian Existence’
Three weeks ago, we heard ‘God does nothing because he needs to. There is no deficiency in God. He is complete in and of himself. He needs nothing, there is nothing he has to do. There is nothing you can give to him, nothing he needs from you or I.’ Thus God is radically Free. God does nothing because he has to – nor does he do anything because he needs to – and what is more he does nothing because he chooses to . . .
Put simply, God purely does God. His Being, His Existence and what he does are one and the same.
‘Why does God love?’ we might ask, as if he needed a reason, but this is to seek to understand God in our terms, in the way we like to go about things. Sovereignly deciding whom we will and will not love, or indeed ‘choosing to love’.
This is the deeper import of Jesus words to us ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?’
Jesus’ words point us to the inadequacy of our language ‘If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.’ And we say, but that is what ‘lending’ means! After all, this or that or the other is mine! You can’t go lending with no expectation of receiving in return!
We look always for a return.
We learn from the world around us that if we love others we might receive love in return – if we do good to others, also, and if we lend of course we will get paid back . . . and so we restrict ourselves to those circumstances where nothing flows out from us
We might hear these words of Jesus and think that we might Choose to do otherwise . . . but that is not the nature of God. We might choose to give without seeking a return. We might choose to love those who hate . . . Again we retain our sovereignty – it is about Our Life and what we choose to do with it . . . but God does not Choose to Love – God Is Love.
Jesus says ‘he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked’ – it is not his choice, it is His nature . . .
The idea that ‘there must be something in it for us’ is woven deeply into our hearts and minds as it is ‘the way of the world’. We imagine for example that if we behave in a certain way, we shall ‘go to heaven’. Or indeed ‘believe in a certain way’ . . . It is down we think to our choice – we retain control . . .
So when I ask a group of young people ‘What is the point of being a Christian, they all respond along the lines of ‘well I get this of that or the other out of it . . .’ – ‘Knowing that there is someone there for me’ is an answer I commonly hear and indeed it is an underlying account of how we often think of Christian life. So we might say ‘I don’t know how people cope who don’t have a faith’ How prevalent are such thoughts – except of course that a very substantial number of folk indeed seem to get on perfectly well without a faith.
Of course, in an age where we know less and less that there are people there for us – our lives more disconnected by the day, fewer deep acquaintances etc. etc. The Knowledge of God, Knowing God is a huge consolation – but this is not the point, or better the goal of being Christian. Indeed it might even help if we got rid of such a way of speaking about the matter. For our faith is not fundamentally a set of beliefs, or ideas – it is a form of existence in the world – it is nothing less than the very life of God in us.
Over the last few weeks we have considered first how ‘those who discover that there is nothing better to do than to follow Jesus, are the ones who discover that there is nothing better to do than follow Jesus’ Indeed it is a Life the like of which we can only begin to know as we leave our lives behind, and follow him, who Is Life. Jesus is not about fixing our lives, he is about giving us a new life. Only those who in the world’s terms do not have much of a life find it easy to accept a replacement life. Blessed are you who are poor . . . but woe to you who have the life you want . . . how can we receive the life of God if we are comforted by the life we have?
The word for comfort, is the same root word for The Comforter – the Holy Spirit! So it is the desolate poor who on the day of Pentecost with ‘nothing better to do than to pray’ receive the paraclete – the Comforter. – the Holy Spirit – the very Life and Being of God
We need to remember here that the image is not a blanket 🙂 Rather it is the one who strengthens – enlivens. Brings to Life and action. The poor receive the Life of God – the Kingdom of heaven.
(I’ll return briefly to last week’s sermon in a moment for it raised a not unexpected question for some folk about the poor and the rich. )
It is only when we recognise this that we begin to make any sense at all of Jesus’ teaching – indeed Jesus makes it quite clear, but perhaps we are so taken aback that we do not hear his explanation.
‘Love your enemies . . . that is do good to those who hate you’
‘bless those who curse you . . . that is, pray for those who abuse you.’
‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you;
and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Now, one brief caveat – although I am very wary of giving caveats as we will try anything and everything to rationalise away the simple teaching of Jesus in this regard – but regarding turning the other cheek, I do not think for a moment that what Jesus envisages here is where someone is trapped in an abusive relationship. Jesus himself walks through a crowd threatening to kill him. What is in view here is someone who in their weakness is fully in command of themselves – who are truly themselves in a most extraordinary way.
We must remember that Jesus is not speaking here of a moral code, a set of behaviours! They may be understood as such by someone who observes them, but Jesus does not die to make bad people good, to give them a new ‘way of life’, a new code to live by – Jesus dies to make dead people live. Not merely a life beyond death – rather a new life now
Jesus tells us ‘But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.
This is the goal of Christian Life – that we become children of God. What does John say in the prologue to his gospel? ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.’ This is what that elusive phrase ‘born again means – that we are reborn with the very life of God – and we thought that the talk of loving those who hate you, giving to everyone who begs of you’ was challenging!
This is how God Is! It is His very being! God is we might say pure act – He is Love – Love is his essence, as much as we are flesh and blood.
So God gives and gives and gives his very Life – which is revealed to us in His Son given to us and for us. The Son proceeds from the Father and so to the Spirit – the Life of God – just pouring out. And so God is utterly free. He has no code by which he lives, he doesn’t think ‘i must keep the 10 commandments’
Those who live in that way are not free. For they are confronted by choice, they must make judgements, their lives are lives of careful calculation and to quote Henry Thoreau, quiet desperation. No one who has to choose – who has choice is at all free. For they have as it were come to themselves.
Are we free? Jesus says ‘Give to everyone who asks of you . . .’ if our hearts and minds rapidly fill with a thousand qualifications then we are not yet children of God – our life is not yet the life that comes from God. We do not know in the words of St Paul ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’
I was asked regarding ‘Blessed are you poor . . . Woe to you who are rich’ “How poor is poor, how rich is rich?’ And of course if this is a matter of calculation these things matter to us – but there is no calculation in God. No desiring something in return for his love and kindness – it is his very self.
We might better say, if we simply give freely and gladly to all who ask of us, without a moments thought or consideration, if we love without discrimination, – if we do it because of who we have become – then our poverty or riches in terms the world judge is immaterial! We are becoming what we were created to be, children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Not calculating whether to love, not even choosing, indeed having made the final choice – to relinquish our choice and thus know true freedom
May we, with Jesus, only do what we see our beloved Father doing. May we know His Life in and amongst us