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.