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Proper 28: The Second Sunday before Advent, Year A, Track 2 (C of E
provision), St Markís, 17.11.02
Zeph 1.7, 12-18: the day of the Lordís wrath
Ps 90.1-8, (9-11), 12: Lord, you have been our refuge, satisfy us with your loving-kindness
1 Thess 5.1-11: keep awake; destined not for wrath but for obtaining salvation
Matt 25.14-30: Parable of talents: he who has shall have more. - weeping & gnashing of teeth.
Summary:In the OT 'the wrath' (of God) is the "natural" consequence of going against God's positive will, and brings Israel to repentance; Paul, overwhelmed by God's love, instead speaks of his 'kindness' as bringing us to repentance, so the more we share God's love, the more loving we become.
Todayís propers are getting us ready for judgement, with wrath being mentioned in our reading from Zephaniah, our psalm, and the reading from 1 Thessalonians. Even the gospel reading from Matthew end up with someone committed to outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Throughout the Old Testament the wrath of God is used to bring Israel to repentance. Now, the writers of the OT do not distinguish between primary and secondary causation, that is between what God positively wills, which is primary causation, and what he merely lets happen, which is secondary causation. This is why, for example, in the book of Exodus Yahweh is presented as saying, "I will harden Pharaohís heart so that he will not let you go", and this is then followed by Yahweh clobbering the Egyptians because they did not let the Israelites go. Now if this were meant in the way that we normally think, this would make God out to be highly immoral, but that is because we distinguish between what we actively intend and what we merely allow to happen. However, the writers of the Old Testament generally did not do so when speaking of God. So when they speak of the wrath of God, although it is expressed as being the active will of God, there is some element of its being what we might call the natural result of going against Godís will.
As an example of what I mean, let us take the case of children who play with matches and burn themselves. If we provided the opportunity for this to happen because we did not lock the matches away so that they could not get to them, then at the secondary level, we are responsible for the children being burnt. But if we always kept our children in cotton wool, so to speak, they would never grow up to be mature, responsible adults. In the same way, God has given us freedom to respond to his love, and to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.
When we come to the New Testament I believe that St Paul, when he speaks of God, distinguishes between primary and secondary causation. There are thirteen letters that bear Paulís name, but only five of them are ones that he wrote himself, namely, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Philemon. All the rest, including 1 Thessalonians, from which we read today, are written by his associates or other members of the churches that he founded. They are written to meet various needs in the churches in ways that the writers thought, rightly or wrongly, that Paul himself would do if he were in their shoes, and two of these, namely, Colossians (2.6) and Ephesians (5.6), speak explicitly of "the wrath of God".
But when we turn to the letters that are by Paul himself, it is only in Romans that Paul ever uses the word "wrath". He does so eleven times, but he only speaks of "wrath" or "the wrath", and never of "the wrath of God". On the contrary, he speaks repeatedly in Romans of "the kindness of God" (2.4;8.12;11.22[3x]), and he says, "Do you not realise that Godís kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (2.4). Why this apparent shift from "wrath" to "kindness"? I believe it is because what he has experienced in Christ is an overwhelming sense of Godís love as made known in and through Jesus by the Spirit of God. For Paul it is Godís love that melts our hardened hearts, not wrath. God loves us and gives us freedom to love him and our neighbour. If we turn away from his love and his loving ways, then there will be consequences, and a code word for those consequences is "wrath", or in Matthewís terms, "outer darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth".
When we look at todayís gospel with Matthewís parable of the talents, we hear of people being entrusted with talents, and those who make use of the talents are given more, but those who make no use of what is given them lose even that, and their latter state is worse than their first, for they are to be thrown into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There is an evident truth in this parable, for we have been entrusted with the love of God. If we make the habit of sharing it, then with time it becomes even easier to show and to share, and it will grow both within us and in others, like the good servants made the talents grow. But if we do not seek opportunities to share it, then, it will wither and die, and our latter state will be worse than the first. So let us all seek opportunities to share Godís love with all whom we meet, in big ways and little ways, even if it is only a smile as we meet others in the street, for you and I are called to work in Godís vineyard, helping to raise up a bountiful crop of love in every corner where we find ourselves, that when the ingathering comes, we may hear the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your lord."