The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Proper 22, Year A, October 8, 2017[1]

God loves us as He loved and still loves Israel 


In love we come to you and pray your beauty to enlighten our eyes.

AMEN 

Have you ever had someone so angry at you that you knew this was the end of the relationship? I have had this happen once. It was a really scary event. I was so frightened to imagine that I could have been so far off base. When I finally understood my failing I did everything I could to make restoration, to make amends, but alas it was not to be forgiven. I paid money due for my mistake without any acknowledgement from the offended party. I apologized in writing without any acknowledgement, from the offended party. I felt a deep sense of shame, regret, and sadness. I have never heard from them again. 

Has this ever happened to you? Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah is a story like the one I just told on myself, except for a couple of differences. God was not sensing any remorse or guilt from the Israelites and they did not seem to be ready to make amends for their mistakes. Thus, God is ready to tear down his vineyard, tear down its hedge, break down its wall, and bring a drought on the vineyard which is a metaphor for Israel in this story. 

We know how much God loved Israel because He says: “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill” (Isaiah 5:1). Why did God love Israel so much? Answering that question demands some research and this is what I found.

6 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors… Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, … (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

What we know from this reading is that God chose the Israelites because he loved them but why he loved them is not clear. If we go back to Genesis and read the story of creation of Adam and Eve we learn that God created Adam and Eve around whom the story of God’s love for a people began and even in those early stories we learn of God’s disappointment in his creation. 

 His first punishment was to send them out of the Garden of Eden to till the ground and live by hard work. The next disappointment is when Cain killed Abel. As it says in Genesis: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6). And thus, we have the next punishment – The great flood. 

And so it goes, throughout thousands of years; God loves his chosen people, they disappoint him, he punishes them, eventually they are restored in his sight until the next time when the cycle is repeated again and again and again.

It becomes clearer to us as we study this history why God sent Jesus to the Israelites; and this is where our Gospel reading becomes relevant. Jesus says: let me tell you another story. Another man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower: does this story sound familiar, yes, that’s right many of the details are the same from our Isaiah reading. The man went on a trip and sent his servants to collect his profits but the evil farmhands murdered one of them, stoned another, and beat up another servant; so, he sent his son. The son in this parable of course represents Jesus; the farmhands represent evil Israelites, and the owner is God. What is the response of the owner? Unlike my so-called friends that I told you about earlier, from whom there has never been a word, God does not remain silent in our lives. He always wants us to return to Him. He is always ready to take us back. How wonderful is that!!! 

As our Scriptures say: God’s kingdom will be taken back from the Israelites and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life by which he means the Gentiles, you and I and lots of other people. What is God looking for? Real believers like you and me. He has a lot to tell about what he expects from us as we will see in the Philippians reading.

Paul lays out his credentials, and very impressive credentials they are. He is an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin, a strict and devout adherent to God’s laws, all 631 of them, and a fiery defender of the purity of his Judaic religion. Yet Paul has given them up and he regards them as rubbish. Why? Because of Christ. He says the things he once thought of as important are nothing compared to the high privilege of knowing Jesus Christ as His Savior (Philippians 3:2-6).

I ask myself how long has it been since I felt that way? It has been a while. In the busyness of life, the stresses of daily life take over, the grief of current events overwhelms me, and I forget the glory of the high privilege of knowing Jesus Christ. I quote Paul: “I want to know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself…I’ve got my eyes on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward-to-Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (Philippians 3:10-11 The Message).

This particular passage from Philippians tells us of the great honor we have to know Jesus, to experience his power in our lives as we share the story of salvation with others. We also share in his power when we are called to serve those who need our help such as the poor who are often the hungry because they can’t afford food, the lonely and often the elderly who find themselves isolated and unable to help themselves, and homeless who often find, through no fault of their own, that they and their children are living on the streets. With such good news, gifts and abilities, why would we keep it to ourselves? Why not help those who cannot help themselves?

We, of course, are not perfect and Paul is not talking about becoming perfect. Instead he writes about: whatever gains he had, he came to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, he regarded everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. For Jesus’ sake Paul suffered the loss of all things, and he regarded them as rubbish, in order to gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 

 None of us have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but we press on to make it our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own. 13 Beloved, we have not made it our own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 we press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:7-14).

The results of our pressing on are:

the sense of the closeness of Jesus to each of us,

the sense of the rightness of what he gives us to do in his name,

the knowledge that we are not perfect, but still we press on,

the deep knowledge of how forgiven we are; and the sure knowledge of our eternal life in Christ and the power of his resurrection.  AMEN


[1] Isaiah 5: 1-7

  Philippians 3:4b-14

  Matthew 21:33-46





Sermon, Proper 10, Year A, September 10, 2017...Making Things Right

Beloved Savior, may we continue to make things right in your eyes. Amen

I have a dear friend, many of you know her because she has co-guided our Advent Retreat for several years. Elaine is a Jewish Christian, having been raised Jewish and converting to
Christianity as an adult. I think Elaine is a genius, she would deny this quickly but my experience with her is that she sometimes sees things that I don’t see in Biblical readings. When I was struggling with this sermon, she happened to call and I told her what I was doing and she said read the readings to me. I read them and she immediately saw the theme of “making things right” in the readings. The story of Passover is God making the Israelites right in terms of the Egyptians. For Elaine, the Passover is a story of making her right in the eyes of God.

She as an adult, saw the story of Jesus in the Passover. In her own words: “A combination of circumstances and people helped to lead me to Christ, but seeing Christ in the Passover was a key element. I am of Jewish heritage, so this was very important to me. In 1974, my husband, his mother, and I had our own Passover Seder, just the three of us. We used a standard Jewish prayer book (Haggadah) containing the Passover ceremony. During this traditional Seder, I kept seeing Christ. For example, when we read how the Hebrew people put the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses so that the angel of death would pass over them, I saw a parallel to the blood of Christ, and how through that blood the angel of death passes over us – giving us eternal life. And there is a Seder plate upon which with three matzos are placed under one cover. The middle matzo is broken and a piece of it is hidden, to be found before the end of the Seder. This plate of three matzos under one cover spoke of the trinity to me, and the broken matzo spoke to me of Christ’s broken body. During that Seder, I felt that Christ was hidden right in the Passover, for Jewish people to find. Soon after that time, I gave my heart and my life to Christ. I knew I would never be the same. This was a serious commitment” (Personal communication, Dr. Elaine Lux, September 9, 2017).

A story like Elaine’s is such a good example of making things right. Her life in Christ has been and continues to be a wonderful example to me of living life in Christ.

So how does the Exodus reading play out our theme of making things right? You remember the story, I’m sure, but just in case you have forgotten the details, let me remind you of them. We have been leading up to this part of the story for several weeks. We learned about Joseph’s brother’s jealousy of him and how they sold him as a slave to Egyptian traders. Pharaoh discovered him and made him second in command. When a great famine threatened the land, Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to find food and they found Joseph who told them to move to Egypt and he would take care of them.

 

After many years, a new pharaoh ruled Egypt who did not know Joseph. He despised the Israelis and made them into slaves and then tried to kill all Israeli male babies because there were too many of them. Moses appears in the picture and was saved from death by Pharaoh’s daughter. God calls Moses to set his people free and he is afraid and tries to argue with God. What follows then is the series of plagues imposed upon the Egyptians and they do not grant freedom to the Israelites.

 

Finally, there is the 10th plague in which the firstborn children and animals of the Egyptians die and to avoid being caught in this plague the Israelites are commanded by God to put blood on their doors and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. They are also commanded to remember this event every year and this is how Passover was established. This looks like the freedom of the Israelites is guaranteed…or is it? To be continued next week.

 

In today’s reading, we see this is the opportunity to make things right with the Israelis so they may be free of the oppressive Egyptian bondage and Moses is the leader of this effort. If they mark their doors, the angel of death will bypass their homes and if they are ready: sandals on their feet, staff in their hands, loins girded, food made in haste, bread made without yeast because there is no time for it to rise, they will flee Egypt for the Promised Land.

There are symbols in this story that mirror our experiences as Christians. The first symbol is the symbol of Christ’s blood by which we are saved and by which we will see the angel of death bypass us as well. Yes, we physically die, but for us there is life after death, eternal life with our Lord. The symbolism of readiness, sandals on our feet, staff in our hands, prepared for what is to come are also strong Christian symbols. Jesus expects us to be ready to do his work on earth and to be ready for his return.

 

 I see so much readiness in this congregation when it comes to fighting Human Slavery and supporting Family Promise and other projects that serve humankind. Some of you ask me when we are going to have our turn bringing food and staying overnight for Family Promise. You are ready to the work of Jesus on earth, setting things right with people who have suffered having a lot go wrong in their lives.

 

We can take this theme of setting things right into our reading from the Epistle to the Romans where we are told to love one another. Paul says all the commandments are rolled up into the concept of loving one another. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Motivated by love, it is very difficult to do wrong. Love one another, help one another, whatever we do, we do it in love.

Again, we see the reference to time, we are to wake up from sleep, night is far gone, the day is near. We are to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. The armor of Christ is His love shining out from us. Be up and awake to how God is perfecting us to accomplish the work of his Kingdom. As Paul says: “Don’t be overwhelmed and exhausted by taking care of our day-to-day obligations. Be ready to do Kingdom work, not wasting our time in bickering and grabbing everything in sight…Dress yourself in Christ and be up and about” (Matthew 13:8-14, The Message). 

Making things right as a theme fits here too. Our work as Christians includes: leading others to belief in Jesus’ work of salvation, loving and taking care of the church and fellow believers, and doing all we can to make this world as right as we can whether our work is with believers or not. Whoever is bound to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit and our love, will be bound in heaven. Let us go forth and make things right with the world as best as we can. Remember what God told the Israelites: be fully dressed, sandals on your feet, staff in your hand and having eaten hurriedly, be ready. Dress yourselves in Christ and be up and about!!  AMEN