Saturday, September 30, 2017

Year A, Proper 21, Philipians 2.1-13, Matt 21.23-32, According to your steadfast love

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.  (Psalm 25.6)
So David wrote, and for good reason.
If judged by his own actions, he was both an adulterer and a murderer.  Not to mention his warlike manner that expanded Israel to its greatest geographical area in history.
The name David means “beloved”, and more specifically, beloved of God.
And this was David’s prayer, that he would be remembered by God, not for his sins, but for the sake of the goodness of the Lord, and according to God’s love.
Today’s lessons speak a harsh word of judgment.
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.”
And then, in our Gospel lesson Jesus declares:
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
Hard words for the devout religious people to hear.
Even the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
The most notorious of sinners have an advantage.
Did you ever consider that?
They have an advantage in that they recognize their need for forgiveness.
The righteous, on the other hand, are often far too comfortable in their own skin, and do not realize that they too need forgiveness.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
Lots of memories are flooding through my mind this week following my father’s death.
Some good, some not so good.
I am the middle child.  And growing up, I was sort of the black sheep of our family.  Growing up, even my siblings will tell you that my oldest brother could do no wrong and that my youngest brother was given a somewhat favored status, but I was the one who was branded.
Part of this stems from an incident during the summer in between fourth and fifth grade when we lived in Irene, SD.
I had gone to Yankton, SD to go shopping with our neighbors, my best friend Jimmy Flynn and his mother.
And I had something to prove.  I was new to the town and wanted to prove that I was not some goody two shoes son of a preacher man.
So while we were in White Drug I determined that I would steal something, anything, just to prove that I could.  It ended up being a birthday card for my brother.
I stealthily put it in my coat, and we proceeded to walk out of the store.
“Young man”, the manager of the store called out, “I need to talk with you.  You have something to show me?”
I quickly offered to pay for the item, was told that it was too late for that, and in short order was loaded into the back of a police cruiser for the ride downtown, during which they even read me  my Miranda Rights.
My mom was called to come get me.
She was not a happy camper.  And by the time she had driven the thirty miles to Yankton, she was livid. 
All the way home I heard about what a disgrace I had become to my family, including her fears that because of what I had done, my father’s job as a pastor would be compromised and we’d have to move.  On and on she went.
My dad waited to react.
A few days later, when the summons to appear in court arrived, he called me up to church for a talking to.
“David”, he began, “how long would it take for me to drive a nail into the top of this desk,” as he pointed to his brand new walnut desk.
“A minute or so.”
“And how long would it take to repair the damage done?”
“Oh, maybe an hour,” Was my response.
“But it would never be like new, again, would it?” he continued.
He went on to say that in that moment in White Drug I had done irreparable harm to my character, that from that point forward I would always be a criminal.
Years later, after I had grown up, I tried to talk with him about how hard those words were to hear as a young boy, and all he had to say was “At least you remembered them.”
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
And then, when I was beginning my ministry in Thompson Falls another incident happened.
Dad and I hunted together during those years.
Like so many hunters, we had an attitude that what happened in the woods, stayed in the woods.  If we had the opportunity to shoot a deer, we would, even if it meant the other person had to tag it.  Our goal was simply to fill each tag, however that might happen.
That year, the previous week, we had a hunting companion, Chris, who had shot a deer even though he had already filled his tag, and so Dad tagged it.
The next week, Dad was out hunting by himself, as I worked in the office, and he came across a couple of nice bucks.  He said he thought they were elk, claiming he couldn’t see the antlers.  At any rate he shot one.
When he showed up at my office, he told me “He had Chris’s problem.”  I agreed to go out and tag the buck and bring it home.
What Dad didn’t tell me was that he had stopped at the check station on the way in and they had inquired quite extensively about whether he had shot anything.  Turns out he had a couple of specks of blood on his face.
So when the two of us returned to town with a nice buck in the back, the game warden was ready.
I told the game warden that I had “got” the buck shortly after noon.  “But did you “shoot” the buck?”
To make a long story short, later that evening, after we had hung the buck out back, both game wardens showed up at our house to ticket us for cross tagging the animal. 
When we appeared before the judge, Dad had a well rehearsed explanation ready to offer, but the judge cut him short.  “The fine is $125 a piece.  Are you going to pay it or not?”
Dad paid both of our fines.
Ironically I too worried about how this crime would affect my ministry.  Turns out we had more deer to eat that year than any other as members of the congregation were so sympathetic to our getting caught doing what they all did, that they donated meat to us.
At any rate, Dad, the score is even.  We both needed forgiveness.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
This is our prayer.
If we are honest, we all have sinned and are subject to God’s judgment.
And in the end there is no sin that is worse than another.  Disobedience is disobedience.
And there was only one who was obedient.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
What we are asking here, is for God to look upon us, and not see us for the sinners that we are, but rather that he look upon us and see in us the Christ.
This is the marvel of God’s grace and the saving work of Christ Jesus.
That when we stand before God, before the throne of judgment, he will see us as his children, and more specifically, he will look into  our eyes and see the eyes of Jesus, the obedient one.
Jesus own righteousness will be ours.
This is what it means to say that we are ‘in Christ’.
It means that the love that the Father has for the Son is a love that is also for us.
It means that Jesus’ righteousness has become our own.
The Orthodox Church remembers the teaching of St Irenaeus in this regard.
Irenaeus’ taught that ‘God became man, that man might become God’.
Though that sounds strange to us, even blasphemous, what it means is that we are so united with Christ that we become one with him, even as he is one with the Father.
I think that the purest proclamation of the Gospel is simply this:
that because you are in Christ, you no longer need forgiveness, for you are judged as Christ, who was found to be obedient even unto death.
Think about that.
Every week we gather for worship, and begin with the confession and forgiveness.  We are reminded of our sinfulness and the need for forgiveness.
And yet, as we live in Christ, we need only remember that.  In Christ, the forgiveness is already granted, there is no more judgment.
You are righteous, because Christ is righteous.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus, according to whom you will be judged.


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