I've been writing a series of sermons on the Sunday propers for Morning and Evening Prayer, intended for the use of layreaders. The link to that site is elsewhere on this blog. This one I felt needed to be shared a bit more widely.
A sermon for Evening Prayer on Trinity 17
First Lesson: Mal 2:1-10
Second Lesson: Luke 13:10-17
The Prophet Malachi and Our Lord Himself had some harsh things to say, at different times and in different places, to some powerful and respected people. These are not polite and respectful sayings that we heard today, are they?
And who were these powerful and respected people? Malachi spoke to the priests, the descendants of Levi, who had been chosen by God to offer sacrifice,. to lead worship, and to teach the Law to the people. Jesus spoke to the ruler of the synagogue, and also, we can assume, to the other leaders of the house of prayer and study. These were the experts in the Scripture, the ones Jesus said sat "in Moses’ seat". In both cases it was the respected religious leaders, the clergy, we might now say, the ones one was supposed to listen to, whose word should ordinarily be obeyed. They knew the Scriptures. They quoted the Scriptures. They interpreted the Scriptures. And that was what they were supposed to do.
For the most part, they seem to have done it fairly well. Jesus, after all, told his followers to hear them, but …
There was a problem in what they did with the truth they had. In their hands the truth became a weapon, a tool for excluding those of whom they did not approve, for judging and battering down those whom they judged to be sinners, for dividing men from men, and for labeling themselves better than others.
But God is love. He desireth not the death of a sinner, but that all men should live. He came not to confine His people in a crowded and crabbed little corner, but to give life, and to give it more abundantly. He came not to condemn sinners, but to call them to repentance, to invite them to sit with Him at a heavenly banquet.
But they took this precious gift of truth and used it as a club to beat down those who did not conform, to exclude them and declare them unclean, and even rejoiced that the wicked (so they thought) could not be saved.
And why do we have this message? What instruction does it contain for those of us who believe we have truth, who have sometimes left much behind for the sake of that truth?
Is the Lord Christ saying something in these passages that we need to hear? Are we perhaps somewhat less than perfect in our handling of the words of life? Is there perhaps truth in the criticism we hear from outside?
Let’s ask ourselves a big question: What is it that we show most clearly about ourselves to those around us? What are we loudest about in public?
Are we known by the beauties of what we believe? Do the truths of the Creeds come alive to those who watch and hear us? Is it an invitation to the wonders of salvation, and to a truly abundant life that they perceive in our words and actions? Do we convey our love for the Lord Jesus, and His love for us, and for them? Do we raise up a hunger for what God can do in the Sacraments He has given us?
Or does it appear that what is most important is the things that we oppose? Yes, it is well known that we are against the ordination of women, that we condemn sex outside of marriage, that we oppose so-called "gay marriage", that we are fiercely opposed to abortion, that we dislike much of what is known as ‘contemporary’ worship style, and most of modern ‘liberal’ theology.
Yes , we do oppose these things, and should.
But is that who we really are? Is that what we present ourselves to be? As an angry and oppositional group of people that just won’t be satisified? Is that the message we have to offer the world? Sometimes it appears that way. Sometimes even we ourselves seem to see it that way. But that is no different from the Pharisees, from the ruler of that synagogue, from those narrow-minded priests, and what sinner is going to be drawn by that?
We have a treasure. We have a message. We have a promise and an invitation.
How beautiful on the mountaintops are the feet of them that bring good news, said Isaiah..
but how ugly is a message of condemnation without Good News.
Let us pray.
Open our mouths, O Lord, to speak the wonders of thy grace. Help us to show sinners thy promise. Give us the words of peace and invitation, and help us so to live that they love be shown. Deliver us, heavenly Father, from bitterness and anger,
that our opposition to what is wrong may become an invitation to what is right, and beautiful, and saving, the Cross of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.