Pentecost 3

Proper 4  ~  Lectionary Year  A  ~  June 1, 2008

Holy Trinity & St. Anskar

 

A person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law

 

Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven,

but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven

 

 

+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity

 

 

Today’s Epistle and Gospel seem to contradict each other: Paul tells the Romans we are saved by faith, and Jesus says faith is not enough ~ at least not if faith be defined as acknowledging him as Lord.

 

 Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven

 

It would seem that the Kingdom of Heaven is not about saying you believe certain things. Furthermore, not even those who do mighty works in Jesus Name are necessarily in the Kingdom:

 

Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

 

OK, this could be interpreted as saying that those mighty deeds are worthless in themselves, and thus harmonize it with Paul. But it is kind of hard to get around the fact that these evildoers acknowledge Jesus as Lord! At least they SAY they do, in public. Maybe they are lying. Or maybe the kind of works they do are not really good works. They did a lot of stuff in His Name, but maybe they did for their own purposes. I kind of lean toward this view. I find a clue in the word power. They prophesy and cast out demons and do many deeds of power, but maybe these guys were just not really interested in Jesus but in power, and figured that the Name of Jesus was a good way to get it. If that was their motivation, then it doesn’t matter what they did: their works were not the fruit of faith in Jesus.

 

It is not too hard to find examples of this: people who think they can enhance their power by invoking the Name of Jesus, or who use the Holy Name for their own purposes, not for God’s. It may not be hard to identify such people, especially in an election year, but it is perilous. Because it involves judgment of the motivations of other people, and that is a terrible sin. I can never really know whether someone else, who says Lord, Lord, means it or not. The Lord Himself knows; I don’t. The only hypocrisy I can discern is in my own heart. But that doesn’t mean I necessarily have to believe all those who tell me about their relationship to Jesus! And though I won’t condemn someone, that doesn’t mean I have to vote for him.

 

­­­So, who IS in the Kingdom? Only the one who does the will of my .Father in heaven. That’s another tautology: the Kingdom of Heaven IS the will of God done on earth as in heaven. Think of the Lord’s Prayer: your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Your will be done is a description of your Kingdom come. So those who do the will of Jesus’ Father are in the Kingdom of Heaven already.

 

So the question is, how do we do that divine will?

 

Jesus says it is not by works of power or by publicly acknowledging Him as Lord. Paul says it is not by doing what it says in the Law, (The letter of the Law), but by faith in Jesus. I think that Paul is insisting on the commandment in Deuteronomy: You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. The phylactery and mezzuzah are outward signs of the Torah (these words of mine) in the heart and soul. They are worthless in themselves, like the outward protestations of hypocrites, who say they love Jesus.

 

I am pretty sure that the LAST thing Paul wants is to set up some new work that I can do to prove to myself and everybody else that I am saved. I’m talking about turning faith into a work. That is, thinking of faith as belief about Jesus rather than trust in Jesus. In other words, if we are saved (justified ~ made right, in Paul’s vocabulary), it is not the result of performing the work of believing certain things about Jesus ~ not even believing the fact that He saves us! Jesus saves everyone and everything. His very Name MEANS YHWH SAVES. What you say you believe about Him is irrelevant. Just as irrelevant as those phylacteries and mezzuzot. What is important is God’s Word in your heart and soul. The Torah alive in your soul. THAT is faith in Jesus Christ. That is how salvation becomes effective, how salvation has a real effect, the effect of deeds that change the world into the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Both Deuteronomy and Matthew today use the phrase “these words of mine”. Deuteronomy says we must put them into our hearts and souls; Matthew portrays Jesus as insisting that hearing His words is not enough: we have to DO them as well. I think Matthew’s contrast between doing as a result of hearing and hearing only is like Deuteronomy: the words nailed to the doorposts and bound to the arms and foreheads are useful reminders, but worthless without these words of mine living in our hearts and souls.

 

These outward observances, by themselves, do not justify us; they do not bring us into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Reign of God becomes real when we chill out and accept the Good News that YHWH SAVES. And that salvation becomes effective when, as a result of this faith, we begin to do the will of [Jesus’] Father in heaven, Whose will is Tikkun Olam: the repair of the world.

 

AMEN

MARANATHA

COME, LORD JESUS