Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 24, 2010

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11.1)

Our Gospel lesson for this Sunday shifts gears a bit as we heard a passage from St. John’s Gospel. We will return to Matthew for the remaining Sunday mornings in Trinitytide until the Sunday next before Advent when we will hear John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000. We heard a portion of the fourth chapter this morning, which tells the story of the healing of the nobleman’s son.

There are a number of items that aren’t readily accessible when reading this passage and the first comes from the fact that the beginning of our reading doesn’t actually start with the entire forty-sixth verse. The beginning of that verse reads, “So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.” We are back in the very same city where Jesus performed his first sign as recorded in John, and now he is about to do it again. Our lesson this morning follows the long dialogue that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well, and we hear of her faith, and the faith of the people who hear her story, who see and hear Jesus themselves, and believe that He is in fact the long awaited for Messiah.

I also don’t think we fully grasp this term “nobleman.” The word in Greek has its roots in the same word that means “kingdom.” Apparently this nobleman was perhaps a royal official in the court of Herod Antipas because that word literally means, “of or belonging to a king, royal, regal; the officer or minister of a prince, courtier.” We are dealing with someone who possesses an earned rank at the highest levels of government, someone who is used to getting what he wants, when he wants it, in the manner he wants it done. He carries with him the voice of the king, and that means people usually listen to him.

How appropriate, rather, how ironic, that a minister of the king, would humble himself to come to the King of kings, seeking his help that he might come and heal his son. What we have here is the birth of faith – that notion of realizing that we are impotent to do it for ourselves and that we must place ourselves into the care of someone else. It means that we have to place our pride upon a shelf and leave it there for the seeds of this infant faith to take root and begin to grow and sprout.

Most likely since this interaction takes place again in Cana, the nobleman had heard about what Jesus did at the wedding feast. He had prior knowledge that this man had performed a miracle and if he would come with him back to Capernaum he might be able to heal his son. That’s certainly a reasonable request since Jesus was physically present when he performed this first miracle, it should stand to reason that Jesus would need to travel with this nobleman to his town so that he might perhaps do the same. However, the nobleman has unintentionally placed limits on where, when, and how Jesus might work in our lives. It’s certainly logical that his first glimpse at faith in Jesus would require Jesus’ physical presence. As we will see shortly, as the nobleman’s faith matures quickly this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Jesus then responds with what sounds like a sarcastic response to him when he declares, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” However, we have to pay attention to the pronouns here. One of the shortcomings of the English language is the fact that we don’t have a mechanism for distinguishing between “you” in the singular and “you” in the plural. Except of course, here in the South we’ve solved that problem with what might be the best word ever, Y’ALL! The Old English of the King James does help us see this when it uses the word “ye.” That is the second plural of “you,” so he’s actually talking to the crowds here and not singling out the nobleman. If he had been speaking to him individually, it would have been rendered “thou.” See, Elizabethan English is good for something after all.

Why do I mention this? Because so many simply want to see the signs and wonders. So many want the empirical evidence before they commit to belief. So many have to see it for themselves. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” There is also the more grave issue of attempting to separate the miraculous from Source of the miracle. With the miraculous comes the teaching and instruction of the miracles are even there in the first place. The miracles are nice, but if it does not lead to a full surrender of life to Jesus, then all has been lost. This is what begins to move faith from birth toward growth.

Even after the man hears these stinging words, he is not dejected, angry, or despondent. He simply asks again in faith, “Sir, come down ere my child die.” The nobleman again checks his pride in light of the gravity of the situation, and out of desperation asks again for mercy in whatever fashion it might manifest itself.

What happens next is almost hard to comprehend. Jesus says to the nobleman, “Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.” He didn’t ask him, “Are you sure?” He simply turned and walked away.

What has Jesus done here? What is the significance of why he did it this way? I think that Fr. Dunbar explains this wonderfully when he says, “By telling the man to leave, with the assurance that his son will live, he pushes the miraculous event, the wondrous sign, out of the spotlight, where it cannot be seen and cannot become a sensational crowd-pleaser. The miracle is pushed ‘offstage’, and the challenge of faith and obedience in response to Jesus’ word are brought into the spotlight instead. So the question for the royal official becomes not, will Jesus come down and heal my son, but, will I obey his command? And that in turn depends upon the question, will I believe his promise?

Those are the questions for us all, when we bring our hopes and fears to God in prayer. Will we insist on his submitting to our demands? Or will we subordinate our wishes to the purpose of his will? When we rise from our knees, are we still trying to have our way with God, or have we decided to let God have his way with us? Specifically are we ready to trust in his mercy, and obey his will, leaving the outcome to him? Notice also that you can’t believe, but refuse to obey; or obey, without first believing: Christ gives us something to believe, and something to obey, and our faith and obedience are the right and left hands by which the soul receives the blessing he gives.”

His turn toward home is the transition point between hope and faith. Something within his very soul helped him turn away from Jesus, with some type of assurance that what he had hoped for, the healing of his son, was going to happen. He came to Jesus as a nobleman who was used to issuing orders and having them carried out. He came to Jesus with the hope and expectation that he would come with him and perform something miraculous. He left in a spirit of true humility, with the assurance that something miraculous was going to happen.

As the man was on his way home, his servants ran out to meet him and told him that his son was fine. He inquired of the servants as to what time he began to improve and they said about the seventh hour, the same time that Jesus had told him to go his way that his son would live. The man “knew” that it was the Word of God who had spoken but a few words to him was the source of his son’s healing and restoration to health.

The birth and growth of the man’s faith comes to full recognition and fruition when John says that the man, “himself believed, and his whole house.” This is an emphatic statement in the Greek, and has the connotation of saying something like, “He, himself, this one, he believed.” This man went to Jesus as an officer or nobleman in the service of a king. He left as a servant of the true King.
In a few weeks we will hear the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, and the miraculous multiplying of food. This morning, we heard of the miraculous multiplying of faith. We saw the transformation of one man’s faith from birth, to growth, to maturity. The overarching theme that permeates this entire exchange is the posture of the man’s heart. He came in a state of humility, seeking a miracle. It was through that humility that Jesus was able to do more than simply heal a man’s sick son. He was able to heal the souls of an entire household.

The signs that Jesus worked while he was here on earth point to something greater and more glorious. May we have the humility to go in faith, believing in the evidence of things hoped for; and receiving the assurance of those things left unseen!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ummmm, NO!

Dr. Katherine Schori participated in a gathering in Atlanta in which she was a presenter on the topic of "happiness." A copy of her address can be found here. In a cursory glance at the text one paragraph stood out as quite strange.

Jesus’ ministry, his public work, is most essentially focused on feeding, healing, and teaching people – in that order. The goods of this world are essential to happiness and blessing. His contemporaries criticized Jesus for what was perceived as his inattention to the law. They charged him with being a glutton and a drunkard. Most of the alleged ways in which he violated religious law have to do with purity – not paying enough attention to who he eats with or talks to, or healing on the sabbath. His general response is that the law is made for improving human relationships (with God, self, neighbor, and creation) – and by implication, human happiness.

How on earth can she make the claim that Jesus' ministry was about feeding, healing, and teaching people - in that order? Any assertion of Jesus' ministry devoid of the atonement is a complete aberration, and is not the Gospel of the Christian faith. Jesus didn't have to become incarnate, to live and die as one of us, if He were simply a feeding trough, miracle worker, and moral teacher. What a complete and utter sham, and the very fact that she speaks on behalf of The Episcopal Church is a disgrace.

She goes on to say that the "goods of this world are essential to happiness and blessing." WHAT?! I guess that means that all of the monks and ascetics who ever lived, who have intentionally shed the goods of this world experienced no happiness or blessing at all. To read their writings would tell a very different story. Wasn't attachment to the goods of this world what led to the damnation of the rich man who asked Lazarus for a simple drop of water in his torment? Wasn't it the goods of this world that kept the man from selling all he had, giving to the poor, and following Jesus?

Dr. Schori has completely bought into the liberal theology that Reinhold Neibuhr criticized when he said those churches have produced, "a God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." Abp. of Canterbury William Temple once wrote in his Readings in St. John's Gospel, "why anyone would have bothered to crucify the Jesus of liberal protestantism remains a mystery."

It would be so much easier of those of us who still acknowledge we are sinful and in need of a redeemer and saviour, who understand that true happiness comes not from the goods of this world, but the assurance of pardon and forgiveness, if Dr. Schori would simply be quiet and not put her ignorance of the Christian faith on a pedestal for all the world to see.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 17, 2010

Here we go again. We are again presented with a situation in our Lectionary in which we are hearing a similar story from the perspective of two different Gospel writers. On the Third Sunday after Trinity, we heard the Lukan version of the Parable of the Great Banquet, and its nuance in expanding the different excuses that were given by those who were bidden to the banquet, and why they couldn’t attend. This morning we heard the much harder parable told from Matthew’s vantage point that has the additional story at the end about one of the guests who isn’t wearing an appropriate wedding garment.

We come to another place where we might ask ourselves the question again, why don’t we just hear one of the two parables, and then have the preacher bring in the necessary bits about why Luke’s version is different from Matthew’s or vice versa? Shouldn’t we be able to get the point if we only heard one of these stories each year? The framers of the Lectionary certainly didn’t think so, and our Gospel lessons for Trinitytide have a central theme and focus that speaks to the issue of discipleship, and what being a follower and disciple of Jesus really looks like. They believed that it was important enough for us to hear shortly after Eastertide, and then again shortly before Advent to hear both of these parables, and not exchange one for the other. These two stories tell, each in their own way, what we are to anticipate, and the demise of those who shrug off the Master’s invitation.

If you notice from the heading, you can see that this passage is situated toward the end of Jesus’ ministry as recorded by Matthew. Jesus is making his final journey to Jerusalem and he knows that his time on earth is quickly drawing to a close. His criticism of the religious authorities, the Scribes, the Pharisees becomes even more direct and more pointed. In this parable though, his intended audience is everyone. So many times, Jesus’ words have a stinging tone directed at those who intentionally placed obstacles in the paths of those who would come and follow him. Jesus called out the religiosity more often than not. This morning’s story hits us all, and no one can stand back and say, “Oh, I don’t see where this applies to me.”

In much the same way as the version from St. Luke begins, Jesus tells the story of a man who throws a party. We hear these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.” This parable comes at things differently as Matthew opens with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” Eleven different times, Matthew begins a teaching of Jesus with these words as a point of comparison. The kingdom of heaven is like unto “a man who sowed good seed in his field,” “a mustard seed,” “yeast that a woman mixes,” “treasure hidden in a field,” “a merchant in search of pearls,” “a net,” “a king.” Many of the people who have been following Jesus have most likely heard some of these stories before, and therefore, would be attuned to what he was preparing to say when he begins with that familiar clause.

As we heard in Luke’s account, those who had received invitations made excuses as to why they could not come. Some of the folks who were bidden went so far as to take the very servants of the king who brought their invitation to the banquet, and “treated them spitefully and slew them.” When the news reached the king, he was infuriated with those who killed his servants and retaliated – utterly destroying them and their cities.

One commentator who holds to a late 1st Century date of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel asserts that the verse about the burning of the city was a historical account of the sacking of Jerusalem between 66 – 70 AD. If in fact Matthew’s Gospel was written after the Jerusalem destruction that would certainly make sense.

We have here the direct condemnation of the religious authorities of the day when Jesus says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, by they which were bidden were not worthy.” The very people who were charged with the instruction of the people, and the leadership of corporate worship of God were said to be unworthy. St. Paul echoes that same sentiment when he says to the Ephesian Church and to us as well to, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness….” Lowliness and meekness would not have been attributes that we could readily ascribe to the Pharisees, priests, and scribes of the day.

Then in a gesture of inclusion and openness Jesus then says that the king throws wide the doors of the “palace” and instructs his servants to search far and wide and extend an invitation to anyone who will come to feast at his wedding banquet table. It’s almost hard to comprehend what that would look like. How can we fathom the size and scope of that much generosity?

We can’t, and that’s a critical part of the story!

That’s why the second half of this parable is included, and also why it seems to sting so much. There are many who would like somehow to soften the expulsion of the guest who fails to put on a wedding garment. You can’t explain this away. Our Lord is most explicit here in saying that those who will come and dine with him must be properly attired for the event. Some would like to say, oh that’s not fair, he was just brought in from off the street, how could he have put on a wedding garment? He was probably too poor to have been able to afford one, that’s an affront to the plight of the poor.

Those who would assert something like that don’t understand what’s going on here. Not only does the king go everywhere to open up his home, he had an antechamber full of wedding garments for the guests to put on if he’d only asked for one. Instead, he thought that he could just march on in, sit down, dine at the king’s table, and bring all of his old ways with him.

The king says to him, why have you come in here without first putting on the very best? Why have you not received the garment that I would have readily provided you? He, of course, is speechless.

The man has failed to put on the Lord Jesus. He has refused to strive to be Holy as the King who invited him to the banquet is Holy. He wanted to hold onto what he brought into the feast, when the King intends for us all to shed those things, and be a new creation and begin to look the part.

For those who were at the Basics class this past Tuesday, this will be a repeat, but I think that the example the Fr. Cantrell gives explains quite well what putting on the wedding garment looks like, and why Matthew makes sure that we hear these words of Jesus.

When I am baptized and confirmed, the Holy Ghost knocks on the door of my life. I answer the door. There he is in his top hat and cut-away coat standing on my doorstep. He says, “Hello, I’m the Holy Ghost, and I have come to live with you. May I come in?” And I say, “Oh, of course! I’m so glad to have you in my life. Please come in and make yourself at home.”

So he comes in and sits down. After he has looked around the parlor for a few minutes, he says, “Say, I notice that your furniture looks pretty run-down. Now, it just happens that I have all my fine antiques in storage. If you would like, I would be happy to move them in so we both could enjoy them.”

Of course, I reply at once, “Why that would be wonderful!”

So the Holy Ghost stands up and says, “Well there’s no time like the present.” And he turns around and starts to pick up the chair he has been sitting in.

Then I ask, “What are you doing? Why are you picking up that chair?”

The Holy Ghost replies, “Well, if I am going to bring in my good things, we will have to move out your old stuff in order to have room for mine.”

Now I get alarmed. I say, “Well, that chair was given to me by my grandparents. Can’t you start with something else?”

And he answers, “All right, if you prefer.” And he starts to pick up another piece of furniture.

But I object to that one also. And before long, it is clear that I am not willing to give up any of my old things. I am just too attached to them.

Finally, he tells me that I will have to choose whether I really want his things in my life or not.

Our life as Christians and disciples is one filled with the constant shedding of layers of our old clothing with the joyful experience of having the Lord dress us in his finest garments, garments fit for a King and a wedding banquet. Our fervent prayers and desires are to allow God to free us from our attachment to these worldly things, and gladly exchange them for things heavenly. Then, and only then, can we enjoy the fullness of our Lord’s banquet, and can go out into the highways and byways inviting others in to partake of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that has been prepared for us to enjoy in the presence of the King. And, let us not forget to ask the Master for the clothing fit for the occasion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Light Shining in the Darkness

The Diocese of South Carolina reconvened and passed a number of powerful resolutions which helps to anchor its autonomy, and attempts to stave off the unwanted and inappropriate incursions by the National Church into diocesan affairs. The convention also went about its business in addressing the very troubling Title IV National Canon changes that go into effect next summer.

I read Bp. Mark Lawrence's convention speech tonight, and I continue to be amazed at the calm spirit with which Bp. Lawrence speaks in the face of such rabid persecution from 815 and most notably, Katherine Jefferts Schori. Would that others within the House of Bishops spoke with such clarity of conviction. Instead, the House issues position papers on immigration devoid of any substance whatsoever.

At the end of his address, Bp. Lawrence stated that he received a phone call from a fellow bishop stating that he and five other bishops had been sent e-mails from Ms. Schori discussing South Carolina's upcoming convention and the problems that it presented for the diocese and the bishop. Ms. Schori encouraged the six bishops to speak with Bp. Lawrence because, "'the apparent focus of this diocesan gathering does not bode will for [Mark's] status as a bishop who has sworn to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church.'" The mere fact that she would stoop to levels such as this is almost beyond belief. The only word that frankly comes to mind is evil. She is doing her best to make sure that the faithful, orthodox voice is stamped out wherever it is uttered so that TEC can go about its business of being the ecclesiastical arm of the United Nations.

May God continue to bless Bp. Mark Lawrence, the Standing Committee, the clergy, and faithful churchmen of the Diocese of South Carolina. I'm proud to have worked there as an intern in the summer of 2006.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 10, 2010

In response to discussions at the Basics in Christianity class from a few weeks ago, this sermon was an attempt to clarify the questions that were raised regarding the Jewish people, and those of other faiths, in light of the statement that the Church is the New Israel.

Who then will be saved?

First, our Lord is quite clear, and the Christian faith has always taught that salvation comes through person of Jesus Christ, and Him alone. That is a dogmatic assertion of Christianity, and one that must be believed if one is going to claim to be a Christian. That inevitably leads to the follow-up question, what about those who do not believe? The Universalist side of the house would say that all paths ultimately lead to God, and therefore, belief and confession of Jesus Christ is not a pre-requisite to salvation. God is too loving, too merciful, too just to allow anyone to fall outside of His grace and that in the end, all will be saved. That position is completely unbiblical. As the Creeds assert and we believe, there will be a judgment of both the quick and the dead, and that judgment will have everlasting consequences, either salvation or damnation. The main point to make here is that judgment and the state of one’s soul rests completely under the mercy and authority of Almighty God. Period! Each and every one of us stands convicted before God as sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We possess no right to make presumptions regarding the salvation or damnation of another person. We have enough on our own plate to worry about, let alone attempting to judge someone else. I realize that sounds callous and harsh. However, who do we think we are to presume to tell God His business about whom to save and not to save? In perfect justice He could condemn the entire world; but He is and always has been a God who wants to help. And that's why He comes to sinners: to save them. Now, those who need no savior (because they have it through their keeping of the Decalogue or their Koranic life or their attempt to achieve Nirvana) don't, apparently, need God, because God is a God who, in Christ, justifies the sinner; while they want to justify, that is, account for, themselves, before Him (or whatever) on their own. Fine. Then in that case, Jesus’ words, “Physician, heal thyself!” become the words that they must then live by. But to whoever is stung by that rebuke--and who can't be?--God offers grace, mercy, compassion, pity, and every blessing and eternal life in His Son, who has borne the sins of the world in our place, removed them as far as East is from West, and opened the door to everlasting life. And that's the only way you'll ever know God as gracious; otherwise He will always be a demanding, fearsome, exacting judge whom you must hate.

I made the statement the other night that the Old Covenant was not “undone” or “negated” or “eliminated” through Jesus and the institution of the New Covenant. I stand behind those words, but wish to elaborate upon them a bit more. The New Covenant is the perfect fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Jesus’ own words, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matt. 5:17), should give us a glimpse as to how he viewed the Old Covenant. The difference between the two is how they manifest themselves. The markers of the Old Covenant were the Law or Torah, circumcision, the family or being part of the Chosen People, and the Promised Land that God was to give them. Jesus does not throw out the Law or Torah, he goes to the very heart of it; circumcision was not to be seen as simply an outward marker of who someone was, but as St. Paul exhorts, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-9), so that the sign of being part of the New Covenant is a change on the inside that manifests itself in the fruit we bear, not just something physical. As the General Thanksgiving states we are to show forth God’s grace and mercy, “not only with our lips, but in our lives.” Jesus’ message about the Law deals not in the rote keeping of all of the commandments, but that followers of God look different, live different, worship different, love different, than our pagan neighbors. Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, or usher in something called Christianity. He came to show what being the Chosen People, what being the Covenant People, what the true Israel was supposed to look like. He grafted into the Old Covenant all who would come to Him in faith, recognizing that He was long-awaited Messiah who is God in the flesh, who came to make the atoning sacrifice of His own Body to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. He also came to teach the people of his day and us as well that the land of the Covenant is not simply a tract of dirt on this earth, but eternity in His nearer presence. God’s gift of the Promised Land is yet to come.
So where does that leave the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and any other group that does not proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord? It quite frankly leaves them in a state of peril. In previous Prayer Books, one of the Collects for Good Friday reads as follows:

O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor desirest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics; and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.”

Strong words, I think you would agree. However, look at the words carefully, and look at what they truly say. It does not explicitly condemn them, rather, it is an appeal to God’s grace and mercy. It seeks for them the same thing it does for us, “all ignorance, hardness of heart, contempt of [His] Word.” I believe I stand convicted on all three of the above mentioned counts. Then it acknowledges the reality of Jesus as the Door, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Good Shepherd who will always leave the 99 and look for the 1 that is lost; the one who says that He has other sheep not of this fold, but is going to fetch and bring home.
This certainly leaves us with work to do. This leaves us with the Gospel mandate to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Some will say that this is a most uncharitable position to take. They will argue that there is an air of superiority and smugness that we’ve got the inside track, and others had better get on board. I believe the truly uncharitable thing is to shirk our responsibility to tell others about the Good News of Jesus Christ for fear of rejection. Jesus said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” There will be those who reject these words, and reject us in the process. However, they do so to their everlasting peril.

The only way that love works is if it is free and carries with it no conditions. Part of our humanity rests in the belief that we are free to make choices. It is just as easy to accept this gift as it is to reject it. Our calling is to live a life that makes our Lord’s gift of eternal salvation something that no one would want to live, or die without.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 3, 2010

Some of you may be wondering if I read the wrong Gospel lesson this morning. You might be thinking, didn’t we hear just a few weeks ago the re-telling of the Summary of the Law? Why are we hearing it again? If you thought that or asked those questions, I think you’ve hit on something important. You’re asking a very good question.

In fact, we did hear the re-telling of the Summary of the Law just five weeks ago on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity. It was within the context of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from St. Luke’s Gospel. If you remember that account, it is not Jesus who recites the Summary, but rather, the lawyer who posed the question to Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In this morning’s Gospel from St. Matthew, the situation is somewhat different, but in actuality, it’s quite similar. A group of people who simply want the easy way out ask Jesus a question in attempt to catch him in a trap.

I’m not really sure what type of answer they were searching for, hoping he’d give in order to trap Him in His words, but we know that this was their ulterior motive for doing what they did. In somewhat atypical Jesus fashion, he actually answers their question, and does so by appealing to the only logical place he could, Sacred Scripture. He recounts for them the words from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, and those same words are proclaimed each and every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. So why do we seemingly hear the same story that we heard five weeks ago again this morning? Unfortunately, if we ask that question, I’m afraid we’ve missed the point.

After all, it’s not the same story at all. It’s quite different on so many fronts.

First of all, we never hear the same stories twice. We never hear the same stories twice because we are never the same when we hear them for the second, third, forty-fifth, or any number of times. We are never the same, and therefore, the story affects us differently each time we hear it. It may not be something we are conscious of at the time, but the gospel is new and fresh even if we are hearing a familiar passage.

This does not mean that the Truth behind it is different. As St. Paul regularly said, God Forbid! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If, as we proclaim, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, there is no variation in the message. It is the recipient of that message that is different, and with God’s grace, different for the better.

If we were to have cut off the second part of these two pericopes, then we would miss out on the critical points that Matthew and Luke are trying to bring to light.

If you remember back to the Gospel from St. Luke from a few weeks ago, the second half of the story centered around the retort from the lawyer when he asks Jesus, “so who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus then tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and thus exegetes the second portion of the Summary, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

In this morning’s Gospel from St. Matthew, we again hear those familiar words, but then Jesus wants to focus on the first half of the Summary, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” He does this by asking a circular question that completely befuddles the Pharisees and those who were listening to Him.

Jesus quotes the first verse of the 110th Psalm, and does so in a manner that, “no man was able to answer him a word,” and actually puts the crowd to silence. He says to the crowds, “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” To which the Pharisees give the expected response. Why of course, he’s the Son of David. We’ve been waiting patiently when a descendent of King David might again sit on God’s throne, and rule his people, and we might no longer live as slaves. We are the sons of Abraham, to whom all of the promises of the covenant were given, and we’ve followed the Law of Moses ever since. What kind of question are you asking us here? Of course, he’s the Son of David.

Jesus then very carefully asks them this question, “How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?”

Here again, the Bible fails us! No, I don’t mean in what it says, but by what it doesn’t say. Golly I wish I could have seen the expressions of utter dismay, confusion, and frustration that must have been written large across their faces. I’m sure that the prevalent thought running through their heads was, “I sure didn’t see that one coming.” For anyone who has seen The Simpsons, the only fair reaction is that of Homer, “DOH!”

What Jesus has just done in one swoop is give them a glimpse into the first half of the Summary, that they needed to realize and understand that the God who spoke all things into Creation, who made the Covenant with Abraham, who was with Moses on Mt. Sinai, who was praised as LORD by King David, who was spoken of and proclaimed by the prophets was standing right in front of them. They were given the gift of seeing God in his Incarnate form, and they walked off dumbfounded and silent. In many ways they were simply predecessors of Pontius Pilate who when the Truth was standing right in front of him, he asks the question, “What is truth?” No, they weren’t like the lawyer from the Lukan version of this story when he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Instead their actions spoke louder than any words could, “And no man was able to answer him a word; neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” They truly had no idea who Jesus was talking about when he told them, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God.”

The confusion didn’t stop 2,000 years ago in Palestine. Many are just as confused today even within the church about who God is, who Jesus is, and who we are in light of that revelation. As disciples of Jesus Christ our mission, our mandate, our calling is the worship and love the LORD our God with every fiber of our being, and to love our fellow man as ourselves. The two questions that we must be able to answer and show to others is “Who is God?” and “Who is my neighbor?” In the parable of the Good Samaritan we get a very good picture of who our neighbor is. In this morning’s Gospel we see who God is. As we sang in our hymn just few moments ago, we worship, “the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son!” We worship the one who embodies all of the promises of the Covenant made to Abraham, who is not the God of the dead, but of the living. We worship the one who has left us with His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and who was revealed to those apostles on the road to Emmaus in the Breaking of the Bread. He is truly present with us today in the celebration of His Blessed Sacrament – to whom we ascribe all honour, might, majesty, and dominion this day and evermore. Amen.