January 6, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The inclusive character of the Church is almost taken for granted by us. It seems as obvious as the fact that democracy is better than tyranny. Of course, Gentiles are welcome.
This was not the case with St. Paul. He speaks of it frequently and with great joy and surprise. He says the fact that we Gentiles are “fellow heirs” with the Jews is not just a mystery but is THE mystery of Christ. The mystery is that we are “of the same body” with the children of Abraham and that we partake of the same promise in Christ as was their heritage. Elsewhere Paul says that “Christ in you” is “the hope of glory” which was hidden for generations even from the Jews but which God has now revealed in us Gentiles. “We preach Christ,” Paul says, “warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man (Jew or Gentile, man or woman, child or adult) perfect in Christ Jesus.” And again: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female.” Every man in Christ Jesus is perfect in Him.
This is the mystery of Christ. He is a Son of Adam as much as He is a Son of David. He unites humanity, undoing the curse of Babel and the divisions of men. He even saves Gentiles and brings them into His Kingdom as equals.
It is shocking that we could, in our selfish flesh, corrupt this good news into self-righteousness but we can and we do. We do so when we fail to marvel and humble ourselves before this undeserved gift and act or think that it is a right. If you have ever considered the fate of a baby born to pagans, who never heard the Gospel, who died apart from God’s Word, and thought that such a baby could not and should not be damned, that God should not be like that and couldn’t be because if He was then He wasn’t worth your worship, then you have blasphemed and mocked His grace as though it were not grace but were a right. And which of us hasn’t done this? Who doesn’t chafe at the mystery that Christ died for all and reconciled all to His Father for free but that some never get a chance? It is easy to accept that Hitler is in Hell, but the possibility that he might be there with Socrates or the children that are aborted in China is much more difficult.
Now, it isn’t our place to say where anyone is. We leave it in God’s hands. But that reality cuts both ways. If it isn’t our place to say they are damned, neither is it our place to say they must be saved. It isn’t actually leaving it in God’s hands, if we tell Him what He must do.
Your eye should not be evil because God is good. He can do what He wants with what is His own. He can overpay workers. He can give away His vineyard to those who killed His servants and Son. He can receive Gomer back. But just because He does does not mean that He has to. I understand that this is painful. But it is the truth. God doesn’t owe anyone anything. He doesn’t owe us salvation. He doesn’t owe us an answer. He doesn’t owe us or anyone a chance. He is God. We are sinners. We are without excuse, all of us, no matter how innocent or evil we seem.
Rather than chafing because God has not acted according to our sensibilities, we ought to repent and weep in joy that we are saved, that we have heard and believed, that someone somewhere along the way witnessed to us or brought us to be baptized or prayed for us or dared to invite and encourage us or, most likely, all of the above and by more than one person. Most of us can probably thank our parents and elderly family members and probably a pastor or two along the way. Some of us have probably also had some friends that loved us enough to hold us accountable and keep us moving in the right direction or some teachers that took a little extra time or a neighbor or a child or a Sunday School teacher or even a book that was written hundreds of years ago. We ought to look to those things and see God’s providence, the working of His Spirit, and recognize that it worked, insofar as we are here tonight, despite us, and we ought to marvel that God went to such extremes to have us.
That should not fill us with rage or angst or survivor’s guilt. Instead it ought to cause us to rejoice and thank God at the entire unlikeliness and unmerited reality of the whole thing. We were “lucky” enough, if we can use that term, to be born in the right place and time to the right family or to live or work in the right place or to have someone recommend the right book and so forth. It could have easily gone so many other ways but it didn’t. The Shepherd called and we heard His Voice. When we tried to block our ears or look the other way, He persisted and brought us to this place.
This is the mystery of Christ – not simply that He is good and that He desires to forgive or that He was willing to die for us, but that He wants us and seeks us like a Shepherd looking all night for a single lost sheep. This is a kind of miracle, a mystery of Christ, something falls outside of the laws of gravity and the stubborn but limited experience of men. Thus, by grace, we are fellow heirs with heroes of the faith and partake of the same promise of grace.
We ought to look too, this Epiphany, at how God is present for us and binds us to one another in Him and sustains us in the mystery of Holy Communion. There more precisely than anywhere else on earth we partake of Him and of His promise and become one with Him and fellow heirs with one another.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.