Monday, September 22, 2014

Sermon: Put on Christ

Putting on Christ
A Sermon for Sunday, September 7th, 2014
By Father John R. Smith

Lesson: Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm: Psalm 149
Epistle: Romans 13:8-14
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Last week at coffee hour someone said they had trouble understanding my sermon.  (This is not too surprising for me, because I have trouble with my sermons too!) Her question:  What are we to do about the violence in the world?  Are we supposed to sit back and let violent people kill others and us?  Is this what God wants?

I was truly thankful for the questions, and, given the person's discomfort, caused by me, I thought coffee hour was as good a place as any to begin to address them! 

Here goes:  God is Sovereign over all life:  Only God gives life and only God can take life away.  God does not want us to have our lives or the lives of our loved ones taken away by violence, or, for us to do violence to anyone else, including the violent.  Like the Passover story from the Exodus reading today, God loves his chosen people, they have been suffering as slaves at the hands of the Egyptians, so before the final and tenth plague, God gives them directions for a meal of a perfect lamb and the smearing of the blood of that lamb on the door posts and lintels of their homes, so that, when the Angel of Death sweeps over Egypt it will “Passover” the houses of the Israelites and they will live.  Christians have been given a meal where Christ, the Lamb of God, saves us by his Blood.  “Alleluia, Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.”  God has a plan for saving the world, and is working this plan right this minute, but it helps so much if we choose to seek and follow it.

What is “it?” God has invested one hundred percent of this plan in Jesus, his Son's life, death, and resurrection.  For us, the most operative part is Resurrection.  As St. Paul put it:  If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.  Period.  When we, as followers of Christ, contemplate death, whether natural, from disease, or from violence, we have to keep the hope of Resurrection foremost in our mind.  This is what I prayed most recently in the dramatic beheading of James and Scott.

With whatever faith we have, even a mustard seed's worth, it will always comes down to this:  Do I believe that Jesus was truly raised from the dead and that I too, believing in him, will be raised from the dead as well?

Coffee hour conversations go all over the place.  But as we pursued this difficult subject of violence I think we both came to the realization that it did all come down to firm belief in the Resurrection.  That Christ rose from the dead, and promised that those who believe in Him will also conquer death, becomes the great equalizer when someone has a gun pointed at your head or a knife on your throat.  “Don't be afraid of those who can kill the body, but can't kill the soul,” scripture says [Matthew 10:28].

Put on the Lord Jesus ChristTruth is, I said to my friend, if I faced that trial I  probably would be afraid and even XXXX in my pants,  but in that moment of testing, I hope I could persevere in my faith in Jesus and his resurrection.  I hope that I had, like Romans says today, “Put on Christ.”

“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” [Matthew 18:20]

I don't think it would work if my coffee hour companion and I agreed to ask that we win the lottery and give the money to the church, but what we did ask for:   an ever-deepening faith in Jesus' resurrection and the ability to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” doing no wrong to a neighbor far away or near.  I think the Father will answer that prayer.  Nothing could be clearer in these confusing and violent times than the admonition to “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Of course this is Jesus' “agape” love that lays down one's life for another and not the “sweet-nothing” variety.

Let's end these thoughts with a prayer by St. John Chrysostom that often concludes Morning Prayer each day:

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.