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Proper 6, Year A Trinity 3, Track 2, 12/06/05
Exodus 19.2-8a: chosen out of all peoples to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.
Ps 100: Be joyful, all you lands... he has made us and we are his
Rom 5.1-8: justified by faith ... God proves his love for us ... while sinners Christ died for us
Mt 9.38-120,8, (9-23): proclaiming the good news of the kingdom ... harvest plenty, labourers few.
Collect: ... that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God
Post Com: curious mishmash: show us your glory [but] shield us from knowing more than we can bear until we may look upon you without fear. (1020-117=903)
Summary: We come to church to be free.
Why do we bother to come to Church? The answer that I would share with you is that we come to be free. What started me on this theme was my desire to say ‘No!’ to today’s post-communion prayer, which I will get to in due course.
When I was a child many times in the summer my father drove us from our home in Oak Park, Illinois, to Benton Harbour, Michigan where our friends, the Richards, had a wooden cottage set on a hillside in the dunes within easy walking distance of Lake Michigan. And among the things I especially remember were the uncoiled strips of exceedingly sticky flypaper hanging down in the cottage. Any fly that landed on the flypaper never flew away again. It was trapped, and it could never again be free. Keep that image in mind.
Now let me make up a sentence that picks up four biblical
phrases, three of them from today’s readings, from Matthew, from Romans and
from Exodus, and the fourth, prompted by the post-communion prayer, is from John’s
Gospel. Here goes: ‘The good news of the kingdom’ is that we have ‘been
justified by faith’, so now, as a ‘priestly kingdom and a holy nation’,
the Spirit will guide us into all truth (Jn 16.13).
Having put this sentence together, let us now take it apart again.
In today’s gospel Jesus comes proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Now, the kingdom means God’s reign in our life.
We can see what this reign signifies if we look at what Paul means in our passage from Romans by being justified by faith. What Paul understands the human problem to be is that on our own we have given our attention to that which is less than God, as, e.g., in the list at the end of Romans 8 of all the things that are now unable to separate us from the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. Once we have centred ourselves on anything less than God, then we are like that fly caught on the flypaper: having flown to it, it can never really fly away again. It is this mis-orientation that leads Paul to say, for example, that although the Law was good and holy, yet it led to sin. This is because it was being mis-used to score points rather than simply as a guide to thankful response to God.
So our own efforts cannot free us. But when we, so to speak, let go and let God, that is, when we totally trust God and stop all our efforts at self-justification and self-preservation, then we are placed within the arena of God’s righteousness, which is his love. Thus, in Paul’s understanding, what is changed in Christ is not the situation that we face, but rather our capacity for facing it. We have been freed from all our old, ultimately fearful 'need' to look out for No. 1. Having been freed by the depth of God's love made known in Christ, we are now truly enabled to reach out to our neighbour and thereby fulfil the law of Christ, for, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, we have been 'en-lawed of Christ', that is, Christ’s orientation has been placed in our hearts by God's Spirit. And now we are enfolded within God’s loving arms in order that we may be loving. This is the reign, this is God’s Kingdom. This is the freedom that he gives us in Christ: the freedom of his love, the freedom from fear, the freedom to be loving.
And now, as a royal priesthood, a holy nation, we are to offer everything to God’s loving will and for his will. This freedom enables us to look at all things in a new light, in the light of the Spirit. We are freed to seek the truth; we are freed to seek all truth. And it is for this reason that I disagree with the petition in our post communion prayer, which asks God to "shield us from knowing more than we can bear." This prayer is based on the story in Exodus chapter 33 where God places Moses in a cleft of a rock with his hand over him so that when God passes by in his glory, Moses can only see his backside. This may be a nice pious prayer, but to my mind it is a cosy shrinking away from the full freedom of the gospel. It can all too easily be used to excuse the attitude of: ‘My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts."
We have too many major issues, ethical and otherwise, facing us today, to shy away from confronting them. We do not come to Church to be comforted in the sense of being wrapped in a cosy blanket, but rather, as, the word "comfort" basically means, to be filled with strength in order that we may face the challenges that concern God’s righteousness, his love and his justice, that have been placed before us. The freedom he has given us frees us to listen, to learn, and to reach out, and to seek all truth. Ultimately we come to church for real ‘comfort’, to be filled with strength to go out with renewed vigour and marching orders, and sent out in the fullness of the freedom that God gives us in Christ.