ECUC Lenten Sermon 04-10-2019


ECUC Lenten Sermon 04-10-2019

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Micah 6:6-8, Romans 12:1-10, Luke 18:9-14

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Our Old Testament is full of stories of division; God’s people, it seems, are intent on splitting themselves off from the one who called them into unity; leaders seeking to maintain or gain power and wealth are constantly dividing, one against another; and, with the tension between the leaders, even the common people are divided, one faction against another. Sadly, it doesn’t take much careful reading and analysis to see that such division never has a good outcome and, more often than not, God either steps back and allows the tragic consequences to play out or, when the people let things get really out-of-control, steps in with a heavy hand to straighten things out.

Such is the situation in the life and time of the prophet Micah; the powerful leaders and the wealthy have separated themselves from the rule of God’s law, Israel has been divided into two kingdoms, the gap between the rich and the poor has progressed from ungodly to intolerable in God’s sight, and God is transitioning from stepping back and letting it go to stepping in and putting an end to it. Things are bad, and they’re about to get worse.

Yet, intermingled with Micah’s words of warning and condemnation, he also offers those who will hear words of hope and encouragement; basically saying ‘yes, things are bad; yes, it will get worse before it gets better; but the way to make it better really isn’t that hard’. Paraphrasing his message from this evenings reading we hear: ‘what do we have to do for God to withdraw his heavy hand and make things better? That’s easy; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God’.

Things did get worse, The Assyrians soon overrun Israel and Judah falls under their rule. Some more time passes and Babylonia takes over and exiles many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem and Judah.

But then the hope Micah spoke of comes alive when the Persians take over and allow the exiles to return to their home land and rebuild their society; the second Temple is built; Life isn’t as good as in some of the ancient times, but it is getting better.

It’s not surprising then, that a few hundred years later, when things are going badly under Roman rule, the religious leaders look back at the history to see what they, and the people, need to do to please God and entice God to intervene on their behalf once more. Something must be displeasing God that he is not attending to his people and we must figure out what it is and fix it. Again they are asking “With what shall [we] come before the LORD…”

These leaders soon took on the identities of “scribes” and “Pharisees”; they studied the Law and the writings of the prophets; they knew the scriptures inside and out and they were certain that they could get God to come to their aid once again.

It all sounds very logical; if we understand God’s Law perfectly, perform our rituals perfectly, and we can get everyone to be perfect like us, surely God will look upon us favorably and deliver us from the oppression of foreign, heathen powers.

But these are the same scribes and Pharisees that Jesus had so much conflict with. It’s not that Jesus had anything against the Law and the lessons of the Prophets; in fact he declares that he “has come, not to abolish the Law, but to make it full”!

Jesus’ problem with the likes of these was that they were creating division. The title “Pharisee” in fact comes from a root word meaning “separate”, or “set apart” and their demands, as well as their levying of fines and punishments on those who couldn’t measure up, were doing just that; separating the humanly  defined notion of the righteous apart from all others.

It seems, with all their study of the scriptures searching for the answer to “With what shall [we] come before the LORD…”, they didn’t pay enough attention to Micah’s provided answer “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

And so Jesus told the “parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt”. In it he holds a haughty, boldly self righteous, finger-pointing Pharisee against a humble, self recognized sinner.

This message, along with all the other times Jesus contradicted the likes of the Pharisees, didn’t go over very well with the religious leaders and things got really bad for him. Yet in his teaching, and especially in his resurrection, Jesus gives a message of hope and encouragement. Yes, things are bad; yes, they may get worse, but stick with me and they will get better!

After Jesus, division continues; sadly, it even enters the Church that Christ and the Apostles worked so hard to establish with unity. Reading Paul’s letters we find an almost constant struggle for him in keeping those he gathered into the faith from tearing themselves apart. There were those who thought more highly of themselves than others, some who wished to exclude anyone and everyone who disagreed, and those who were sure that some members just weren’t measuring up to their humanly conceived notion of righteousness.

But time and time again, Paul pulls them off their pedestal with words like “do not to think of yourself more highly than you ought”; “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect”; and that beautiful metaphor connecting each member of the Church as a member of the body of Christ! Things were bad, they would get worse; yet Paul always maintained a message of hope and encouragement for his congregations.

Today, in our time, we still face the problem of division; not only in the world around us but, as has been seen throughout history, even within the faith that should be uniting us. With all the different denominations and the vast numbers of independent Churches, Christ’s body has been divided into more unrecognizable parts than can be counted while the numbers of believers are dropping dramatically and the idea of life being lived on earth as it is in heaven seems more and more unrealistic. Once again, things are bad, and they will get worse before they get better.

Yet there is hope! Hope that can be seen, and heard, and felt right now, right here in this room where we, of the East Coventry Union of Churches, don’t argue over particular religious practices but gather in Christian love; strengthening ourselves in unity to better serve each other and our communities; pulling together without regarding each other as higher or lower but lifting each one up as equal members of the body of Christ; and recognizing every-one; Brethren, Baptist, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, any other denomination, or even the un-churched off the street, as God’s Child, God’s Beloved, God’s Creation, Wonderfully Made…

 

It brings me great joy to be a part of this union; to be joined with each Pastor and with each member of every congregation; ultimately, joined with Christ and God where our greatest goal is making life on earth as it is in heaven and our only competition is “outdoing one another in showing honor”.

It really is that easy to make our lives, everyone’s life, and the world better here on earth as it is in Heaven and you’re already a part of making it happen; “…doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God”!

Keep up the good work!

Amen

 

Micah 6:6-8

6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Romans 12:1-10

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,

5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;

7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;

8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

 

Luke 18:9-14
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”