Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
They will speak of the glory of your kingdom, and talk about your power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, the glory of the majesty of his kingdom.
I have a love/hate relationship with yard sales. I love picking through other peopleís junk, looking for that perfect thing. I usually go when Iím in search for something in particular, especially those things I canít find in a store. It is so exciting to find that thing desired. It is especially satisfying to find it for a good price. I donít like when I waste my time searching but failing; that happens more often than I like. I like the quest and sometimes I manage find something because another personís junk is my treasure.
Unfortunately they often still think their junk is a treasure and price it a kingís ransom. Those items are not worth that much to me. One day I found a set of starter golf clubs at a yard sale. I often buy golf clubs I find at yard sales to donate them to the First Tee. They wanted $50 for the set; you can get a similar set in the sports store for about the same price. This particular set was well worn with few clubs. They werenít willing to lower their price, so I told the sellers about the First Tee, and suggested that if the clubs did not sell that they could donate them. It is too bad that they werenít flexible because it is doubtful that they would ever get that much for the clubs.
I understand. My love/hate relationship with yard sales is true in my own driveway. I like my junk, too, and want to get as much out of it that I can. I usually find myself stuck with items because no one wants to pay the price I set. Experts tell you that you should price items at about eight percent of original cost, and sometimes even that is too high. I know it is true, but I see so much more value in it. That dress I wore once is still in perfect condition. Shouldnít it be worth more? Those craft items are still in the packages, unopened, with price tags! Canít I sell those for more? People donít go to a yard sale to buy items they can get new in a store. They want a bargain. They want something for nothing just as I do. I want to get every penny I can manage. It would probably be better to just give my things to a charity shop instead of going through all the work to receive a few dollars for my junk.
But alas, I do what I donít want to do and I donít do what I know I should do.
Does that sound familiar? Paul said the same thing in todayís epistle text. I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure. And in doing so, he encourages us to recognize and confess our own failures.
We donít want to admit our failure. We are independent, intelligent adults. We donít want to trust in someone greater than ourselves. We might prefer to think about our faith and the things of God in an intellectual manner, but we have to remember that our answers, our opinions, are often self-centered and selfish. They are based on our own very limited point of view. We can fail. We can make mistakes. We can say and do the wrong things. And, as Paul suggests, it is most likely that weíll do things wrong, especially if we rely on our own power.
We donít want to admit our failure. This is true for institutions and organizations as well as individuals. The Bible tells us that where two or more are gathered in Jesusí name, God will be with them. Unfortunately, there are those who believe that whatever words come out of such a gathering must be absolutely true, as if the words of religious people must be from the mouth of God. Those that stand in leadership positions of those churches are thought to have a closer relationship with God and therefore by His hand must be right. We see this most clearly in those cults with charismatic leaders. None of the followers dare disagree because they do not have the same connection to God. Those leaders forget their imperfection. They forget that they are no different than Paul, unable to control their own flesh.
Paul certainly had much to say about the Gospel message and the Church. We look to him today for guidance about how we live and serve God in this world. We might even think that Paul was perfect, yet Paul did not even think so. Paul knew that he could make mistakes and even that he was likely to do what is wrong. If Paul, who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, could have no control over his own flesh, how do we expect to be any better? This is why we must always remember that while God does call and ordain His Church to do His work in this world, the Church is made of many members all of which are fallible. We donít have control: we do what we want to do which is not always what God would have us do.
Matthew is a brilliant storyteller. He was an accountant (tax collector) so his Gospel is written from a logical, almost mathematical, point of view. He has organized his thoughts in a way that first reports what Jesus has to say and then shows Jesus living in very real and tangible ways the truths He has spoken. Take, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount, chapters five through seven. Matthew has taken the wise words of Jesus, probably spoken throughout His ministry, and put them into a coherent and powerful message about the Kingdom of God and how believers are called to live in it. Any life in Godís kingdom begins with healing, so in chapters eight and nine, Matthew shows Jesus touching the lives of those He is calling to faith in very real ways. There are ten acts of deliverance in those chapters, related to the wisdom spoken in the sermon. We can see this pattern of discourse and then living throughout the book of Matthew, ultimately ending with His revelation that He would die and then His death on the cross. Jesus didnít just talk the talk, He walked the walk. Then He calls us to do the same.
Our text from Matthew for this Sunday shows us that Jesus does not send us out in the world alone. It is a moment of comfort in the midst of the frightening reality: He has chosen us, and because He has chosen us, He will ensure that we have everything we need. The work He is calling us to do might seem hard. After all, we live in a world that demands exactly the opposite of what Jesus expects. We live in a world that is self-centered; people are encouraged to follow their own hearts and do what feels right to them. We live in a world that has rejected God, His Word and even the reality of our human sinfulness. The people in this world do not believe we need a Savior; they have nothing for which to be forgiven or even healed. We will be rejected because the message we bring calls for repentance, humility and self-denial.
Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a film called ďKindergarten Cop.Ē His character was a policeman named John Kimball who was trying to arrest a dangerous professional criminal. The only witness that could put him away was his ex-wife who was in hiding in Oregon. In an attempt to find her, Arnold Schwarzeneggerís character had to go into a Kindergarten classroom to teach. The son of the woman was one of those students. If he found him, he would find her and would be able to finish his quest to put the criminal in prison. He is not the obvious choice to be a kindergarten teacher; after all he is extremely big and scary, even for the bravest people. Unfortunately his partner, who was supposed to go undercover as the teacher, got very ill and she could not do the job. The school principal was very unhappy about the change. She did not trust that John could properly supervise the children in the classroom. She was also afraid that his presence might put her students in danger.
His time in the classroom started out very bad. He lost control very quickly and he couldnít get those five and six year olds to calm down. He tried using his bulk and his voice, but they just wouldnít hear him. He eventually screamed so loud that they all stopped cold and looked at him with frightened faces. Then they began to cry. He realized that he needed something to get their attention, something that will interest them. He just happened to have a pet ferret in his car. When he came in the classroom with the animal, the children quickly and quietly gathered around to see it. By showing a gentle side, John managed to calm the children and get control.
Yelling does little good when things are chaotic and out of control. I learned in my preschool classroom that yelling only makes the children get louder and more out of control. It is necessary to find something to get their attention, to give them something that will bring calm and order to the room. We normally think that bulk and brawn will give us order, but that is not always true. In the case of Mr. Kimballís classroom, it was not his large frightening appearance that gained control of the children, but it was his gentle encouragement. In the end, Mr. Kimball became one of the best Kindergarten teachers that the principal had ever seen. He even left his job as a policeman to continue teaching at that school in Oregon.
Zechariah writes that Israel should rejoice because her king will come riding in on a donkey. This does not seem to be an image to bring much hope or peace. After all, how can there be peace with a king who humbly rides a donkey rather than coming in with power and authority on a magnificent horse? This picture of a Messiah is not at all what the people expected. In Jesusí day they were still looking for someone to fight, to overcome the oppressors with power. Yet, God sent Jesus who rode a donkey as He entered victoriously into Jerusalem just days before His death. Jesus got the peopleís attention not with a loud voice and awesome military power, but with words of hope and miraculous deeds that changed the lives of those who met.
Our work, as Christians, is not to rule the world with power and might. The world will see Godís lovingkindness through the compassion given by those who have experienced it. Lovingkindness is proactive. Godís lovingkindness is proactive, coming to us long before we even knew we needed it. The Lord God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, has shown the most incredible compassion to all. Christ died for sinners even before we knew we were sinners. He died for us even before we were born. Even now there are many in our world who do not know they need the mercy and grace of God. They do not accept the forgiveness that comes from faith because they do not believe they have anything to be forgiven. But Godís Kingdom has come for them, too. By Godís grace, we have become the manifestation of His lovingkindness, as we take His Word into the world. Christians who have heard the Word and have seen the light are Godís instruments of His grace and compassion. Through us, the world will see and hear of Godís mighty acts, the splendor of His kingdom.
What is it about children that make them so receptive to the Gospel? For one thing, children are innocent. I donít mean that in the legal sense as in they are innocent of crime or even sin. After all, we know that all flesh, even babies, have inherited a nature that is separated from God. We all, from the smallest to the oldest, need Godís forgiveness made available by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Children are innocent in the sense that they have not yet experienced the world in a way that would lead them to doubt or to cynicism. This isnít a lack of understanding between goodness and badness; as a matter of fact, children tend to be much more discerning than most adults. Children still see the good in people. They see the cup as half full. They find joy in places where adults canít seem to see it. They trust those who are given charge over them. They believe in things that are beyond belief to most intellectual, thinking adults.
It is their innocence, their trust, which allows them to see that which is hidden. We intellectuals tend to think about things to the point of confusing ourselves with details that simply donít matter. We want answers. We want to know the meaning of life. We want to know our purpose so that we can go out there and do it. We want to understand the mysteries of faith. We debate and argue over the meaning of the eucharist and baptism and the parables, but in doing so we often lose sight of the love of God. Iíve often joked about how I canít wait to get to heaven so that Jesus and I can sit together over a glass of sweet tea and discuss all the questions I have. I want Him to answer everything that I havenít been able to answer with my mind.
Hereís the thing: we donít always need those answers. Children donít. Children simply believe. Who doesnít love the child in worship who blurts out ďAmenĒ with passion and enthusiasm in the middle of worship? Who hasnít chuckled with joy when that little voice begins singing ďJesus loves meĒ in the back pew during the prayers? What youth minister doesnít know that the correct answer to every question in the childrenís sermon is ďJesus?Ē Children donít need to know that Jonahís whale was probably a big fish or that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was probably not an apple. They know that Jesus loves them, and thatís what matters.
If only weíd live our life with such simple faith.
We burden ourselves with this intellectual quest for understanding, when God is always willing to reveal everything to the one who will trust in Him. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. As we trust in Him we discover that we do not have to carry it alone; as a matter of fact, Jesus carries it for us. In His yoke, we find rest.
We are saved by the grace of Christ. While our salvation is a future promise of eternal life, we are saved in this life to be transformed for the sake of the Gospel and for the glory of God. We are saved and are sanctified so that the world will see Christ in our life and in our deeds. Unfortunately, we are still living in the flesh, the flesh which is weak. We fail. We say things we know we shouldnít but the words come out of our mouths even before we realize we are thinking about them. We do what is wrong even before we realize we are doing it. We donít do what is right and do not even realize it until the moment has passed. We fail because our flesh still holds the sin which Christ has overcome.
There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther, ďsimul justus et peccatorĒ which means ďsimultaneously saint and sinner.Ē We are saved and are assured of the hope of eternal life. We are being transformed into the saints which God has created and redeemed us to be. But it is a process that takes a lifetime. While we still live in these bodies of flesh we will fail.
The psalm for today is an acrostic, a poem in which each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet. It is interesting to think about the importance of this literary technique. The psalmist found a way to praise God from literally ďA to Z.Ē Do you think you could write a poem about Godís grace using every letter of our alphabet? The psalmist praised the lovingkindness of God so that others might hear of the acts of Him from whom we receive the unmerited favor of His blessings. We, His saints, are called to sing His praise, to speak of the glory of His kingdom. We speak these words not only to praise God, but so that others might hear and believe.
We are frail. We will fail. But we can live in praise and thanksgiving to God because He is merciful. We do not need power, might or a loud voice. We need only to recognize our imperfection and let God continue His work in our lives. Today we are saints and sinners simultaneously. One day weíll know the fullness of Godís promise of perfection.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light. So, let us be as little children with simple faith, casting off the burdens that we have tried to carry on our own and taking the yoke of Jesus. He does not burden us with anything He has not first accomplished for us. As we walk with Him, He will teach us all we need to know about the Kingdom of God. There in His presence, we will find rest.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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