06 December 2012

Yesterday I heard two fine homilies...

...here's one. By Pastor James Lee, Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Worden:

In the Name ✠ of Jesus.

In the history of the Church, particularly in the early and medieval periods, we see Christians who spurned the contours and comforts of every day life. They went without having family and friends, refusing to get married, or have children, choosing to lead a life of celibacy. They didn't have jobs, or watch sports. They didn't take vacations or mess with their DVR. They didn't invest or prepare for retirement.  They fled the cities, not to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of work, but to live a life of isolation, to escape the confines of daily existence. Many lived a harsh and austere life: fasting relentlessly, praying for hours, going without sleep, and when they would sleep, it would be on the floor. They would discipline and chastise their own bodies, aware of the sinful desires that resided there.

What motivated these Christians to live, what we would estimate to be, a ridiculous and an overly-harsh life? They sought to follow Christ. To be his disciples. To take up their crosses, to deny themselves, and to follow in the path of their Lord. They recognized that, to follow Christ, requires everything.  All of you. Nothing is left. No part of you remains to be given over to something else.

But surely, we think, these Christians over did it. They were overzealous. They didn't realize that being a Christian doesn't require you to change your life or give anything up. It was easier for them. They did not understand how demanding life can be. How many things I have to attend to. It was so easy for them to give up everything, but life is different now. Christ doesn't ask this much from us.

REPENT. For in the life of these Christians, those whom we label "radicals" and "extremists," we see a love, a desire, a willingness to be with Christ, that we on our best days, don't even begin to approach.
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [...] And of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."

What do you do when Jesus says this to you? Do you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you uneasy? We attempt to comfort ourselves by saying that he is speaking in hyperbole. But what if Jesus is serious? And what he says is true. And so, with these words, Jesus is opening up your heart and revealing where your true treasure is.  His words cut to the heart, because where we place our heart, there is our god.

Christ's words are extreme, radical, exclusive. And so, in them, we see that: to follow Christ, to be a Christian, demands our entirety. Even our death. And that we take things in this life, the gifts given us from God, and rather than receiving them from God as gift, we elevate them over God, and turn them into idols. We give our hearts to them, rather than to God, and in so doing, we make these our gods.
The great Christian lie that you hear people say all when faced with this crisis is that "you need to do a better job at making God a priority in your life. You have to make God number one." God: the creator of heaven and earth, who dwells not in temples made of hands; the redeemer of the world, by his own life and death—a priority? Exercise and reading, spending more time with your family—these are priorities. But our attempt to assign God a number and stand Him in line next to all our other priorities, is absolutely ridiculous—the creature imposing upon the Creator a number of value and worth; more than this, it's idolatry.

Christ unmasks us for who we are: worshippers of false gods; ungrateful children, unwilling to leave behind our beloved things—which we did not even make, or have a claim to—in order to follow Christ. How fallen are we: God gives gifts, and in gratitude, we cherish them more than the giver. We are baptized into his death, we make vows at our confirmation to be faithful, even to the point of our death, just don't ask us give up the things in life that bring us comfort and happiness. No matter who you are, be you rich or poor, whether you own much or little, you have things in this life, people, possessions, even  your own self-love, before whom you kneel and adore as your god.    

Mourn your sins my friends. Flee from you idolatry. But have courage and take heart: For you have a God whose love knows no bounds. Who is willing to do that which we are unable: to give Himself over entirely, completely. To give himself to you. He is like a man, who when planning to build a tower, saw what it would take, what it would it cost, and his desire for this tower was so great, that he would give everything to have it, even his life.  

This is the heart of the mystery of the Gospel. When blessed St. John sees in a vision the lamb on his throne, that was slain from the foundation of the world: before creation, God had purposed to give himself for you, entirely, completely, into death, that He might have you as His possession, as his children. To have you means to give Himself for you. And so God does. Such is the utterly profound depth of the Triune God's love for you: that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose love for each other is pure, perfect, complete, lacking nothing—deigns to have you live with them, the one true God. And to love you as the members of the Trinity love themselves. A love willing to endure, separation, hatred, scorn, death, and even divine wrath, to have you forever, to bring you into the life of God.

Tonight we find ourselves, again, at the cusp of Advent, in which we prepare for our Lord's return, His coming to judge the living and the dead, to bring us to Himself; and His weekly advent here, in His word of forgiveness, in His body and blood. Let us then examine our hearts, and see where they are divided. Let us  flee from our idols, and take refuge in Christ. He has freed you from your slavery to idols and false gods. Let us then not fall back to our former ways of our corruption. Our Lord has renewed our heart, freed it to love Him, to be united with His. Let us fight against our old Adam, who desires our bondage, our servitude to our false gods.

You are Chris's beloved. He has created you, redeemed  you, made you His disciple, brought you into His body, the Church. He has held nothing back. Your Lord gives to you abundantly. You are His. And what you still lack now, Christ completes it. All of it.

God knows your weaknesses. Your heart that wanders where it ought not. A love that is fickle; that fades. And He dies for it. He forgives it with His own life-giving blood and innocent suffering and death. Where we are faithless, He is faithful. We who have hearts that wander, have a Lord, whose heart is steadfast and resolute. He does not turn from us, even when we turn from Him. When we reject Him and deny Him, He does not forsake us to our idols. He calls you, He goes after you. Is born of flesh and blood: He becomes like you, so that you might become like Him.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.

In the Name ✠ of Jesus.

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