Sermon for Pentecost 6

Proper  7  “a” 

Holy Trinity/St. Anskar

 

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your Holy Name…

 

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

 

What is it to love the holy Name of Jesus? What does it mean to “acknowledge Him before others.” And what is it that is so offensive about this witness that it enrages the authorities and splits up families?

[By the way, I cannot forbear to set this passage next to all the prattle about “Christian family values.” The prattlers should be referred to Matthew 10: 21,

Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.]

 

But what incites all this betrayal and persecution? Saying that Jesus is the Messiah? Proclaiming that He rose from the dead? I don’t think so. Oh I suppose that kind of thing can get you into trouble, but only rarely. Jesus wasn’t talking about the Nicene Creed! (Although even that was risky for a certain period in the Fourth Century.) But the authorities don’t usually care much about orthodox opinion. When he said that the disciples would be hauled into court and flogged and put to death, He wasn’t talking about the dangers of right belief. And Paul didn’t lose his head in Rome because of the content of his preaching: that we are justified by the free gift of God! This is not the kind of acknowledgement before others that will almost ever get you into trouble. So what was it?

     I think it goes back to last week’s Gospel, and Krister Stendahl’s observation that while the message of the Church is Jesus: His Person and His work, the message of Jesus was the Kingdom of God. And that WILL get you into trouble. To acknowledge Jesus before others is to challenge to the established order – both the political order and the religious order – in the name of the Kingdom of God. That’s crazy, which is why Jesus’s opponents called Him Beelzebub? To acknowledge Jesus is to take His to enlist on His side, to take up His cause. THAT is what it means to love and revere His Name, as we pray in the Collect. His Name is His public reputation: what He stands for. Loving His name is not merely loving Him, it’s loving His cause. Acknowledging Him before others is not merely saying that He is my Savior and Lord, it is speaking and acting for His cause.

     Jesus’ cause was the inauguration of the Kingdom of God: beginning to take back His Father’s creation from what our Prayerbook calls the spiritual forces of wickedness “that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” That’s what He sent the Apostles and the Church to do: heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons – in other words, to assault the powers that be.

     Later Christians have tended to see this work as a sign of His authority to forgive our sins and to justify us. That seems to have been Paul’s main concern. Or at least it was what Paul wanted to say to the Romans on this particular occasion. Maybe Paul thought the people to whom he wrote were hung up on sin/ righteousness and they needed to break out of that mind-set, that paradigm. “So O.K.”, he says, “Adam sinned and we all died, as you know. But then Jesus Christ died and negated our sin. The sin of the old Adam brings death; the death of the New Adam brings un-sin, or justification.” It’s neat, balanced, symmetrical. But maybe it’s not a whole theory of atonement, as we later came to think of it. It certainly doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus Christ “paid for” our sin in some way, as Anslem of Canterbury thought – and following him the whole Western Church, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. In fact, maybe this whole Adam/Christ symmetry is Paul’s way of getting the Romans to think outside the box – to stop worrying altogether about guilt and sin and punishment and the wrath of God.

     God is mad alright, but He’s not mad at us, He’s mad at our sin – at our human structures of injustice and cruelty, and at all the inhuman disfigurations that mysteriously infect His creation. God is mad at Guantánamo, and torture, and war for oil, and imperial systems of acquisition and greed that give a handful of people a billion dollars a year and lower their taxes and then cut off funding for shelter and medical care for the poor. That kind of thing is the object of the dread wrath of God.

     This is the message of the Kingdom of God, and the powerful stop their ears and gnash their teeth and drag its messengers into court. “What are you? Unpatriotic? A terrorist sympathizer? [50 years ago it was “communist” now it’s “terrorist”.] Or they try –  often with horrible success – to coöpt the Kingdom of God movement, to pervert it into supporting the very sin it is sent to destroy. And so we get a Nashtrash song called “God, Family, and Country.” Red, White, and Blue Jesus on a new crusade. And anyone who says different is not only a terrorist, but a depraved, immoral Jesus-hater to boot!

     The malice that opposes the Kingdom of God will stop at nothing. Jesus had to die to defeat it. And the “disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.” Jesus  does not promise to protect his real disciples from the rage of earthly powers – those wolves among whom he sends us as sheep. They WILL flog us and malign and imprison us, if we are really faithful to the proclamation of the Kingdom, if our proclamation is not mere words, but actions: curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. In other words, proclaiming the Gospel is a direct assault on the powers that enslave the world.

     Our bodies may well perish in the process. But they will perish anyway. The annihilation of soul as well as body is all that we really have to fear. Soul here means, I think, not a kind of ghost inhabiting our flesh, but life itself: the redeemed life of union with Christ in His Church. Hell is the Jerusalem city dump, smoldering as the trash burns. We can choose to go and “live” there by siding with the opposition, forgetting the Kingdom of God. We can choose to waste our lives in greed and acquisition and the Godless oppression they require. But if we do, we have lost our life – our soul – as well as our body. We have turned it into a piece of filth, and taken up residence in the city dump.

     But if we really love the Holy Name of Jesus and really devote ourselves to His cause –  the Kingdom of His Heavenly Father – we have nothing to fear. The hairs of our head are numbered. The death of the body means nothing. And, as Jeremiah said five hundred years before Christ:

the LORD is with me like a dread warrior;

therefore my persecutors will stumble,

and they will not prevail.

They will be greatly shamed,

for they will not succeed.

Their eternal dishonor

will never be forgotten.

O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous,

you see the heart and the mind;

let me see your retribution upon them,

for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD;

praise the LORD!

For he has delivered the life of the needy

AMEN

MARANATHA

COME, LORD JESUS!