October 9, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Introit today we prayed: “We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O / Gôd,
in the midst / of thy temple.”
“Lovingkindness” is how the King James takes the Hebrew word Hesed. The ESV goes with “steadfast love” and the NIV has “unfailing love.” The Greek Old Testament calls it Eleison, as in, Kyrie Eleison. So why don’t the modern translations just go with “mercy?” Because the Hesed of the Lord is what endures forever and in English mercy might be a one time event: “I had mercy on the man who robbed me the first time, but I hope he is learned his lesson because I won’t do it again.” That is not mercy that endures, that is rooted in patience, that is long-suffering and unfailing – but Hesed is, thus, lovingkindness or steadfast love.
Hesed is one of the great Divine attributes. Two others stand out, particularly in the Psalter: Holiness and Goodness. The Lord is Holy means more than that He is sinless. It means that He is fully autonomous. He belongs to Himself and is no respecter of persons. He has set Himself apart from His creatures. When we call things holy we mean do not mean that they are without sin or that they are autonomous, but that they belong to God, that He has set them aside for Himself. Thus Holy people are those who belong to God, who bear His Name, who are baptized. Holy Communion is His communion, Holy Baptism is His Baptism, and the Holy Bible is His Bible. This is the attribute that pagans can understand. To say that God is holy is to say that He is God, that He is the Almighty, all knowing, and omnipresent Creator and Ruler. It is used in the Psalms 65 times. If He isn’t Holy, He isn’t God, so He must be holy, but His holiness doesn’t draw us near or give us access. Because in ourselves, left to ourselves, we aren’t holy, we are sinful.
The other great attribute is His goodness. “Only God is good,” says Jesus. He is objectively good, having no wickedness in Himself and having no selfish desires. His Word and decrees then are good. They establish what is right, what is healthy, what is good. This is also necessary, for if God were not good then we could not trust Him and we might have been made simply to be His play things. This word is used in the Psalter 59 times. But His goodness doesn’t draw us either, for in ourselves, left to ourselves, we aren’t good. We are evil, full of covetousness and self-concern.
And then there is Hesed, mercy, steadfast love, lovingkindness. Hesed appears in the Psalter 127 times. It is in more than half the Psalms. That is because it is what enables Israel to pray, to approach God’s good holiness and not be destroyed: God is merciful. He does not hate us because of our sins. He loves us for the sake of His Son. In the Old Testament He established the Temple so that the people would have the means and the place to be cleansed, restored again to God’s favor, that they would be declared, through Blood, to be good and holy, to be His. In God’s mercy His goodness and His holiness are not a threat or a judgement against us but a promise and a pledge.
This mercy, that which is found in the Temple of sacrifice and promise and prayer, drives all of Psalm 48.
A Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah.
1 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.
2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion,
On the sides of the north, the city of the great King.
3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge.
4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together.
5 They saw it, and so they marvelled;
They were troubled, and hasted away.
6 Fear took hold upon them there,
And pain, as of a woman in travail.
7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen
In the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God:
God will establish it for ever. Selah.
9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God,
In the midst of thy temple.
10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth:
Thy right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let mount Zion rejoice,
Let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Because of thy judgments.
12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.
13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces;
That ye may tell it to the generation following.
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever:
He will be our guide even unto death.
No one shows up at the Temple pure, worthy. They come there to be cleansed, to receive forgiveness, to be declared holy, made worthy.
It is much the same with the wedding banquet in today’s parable. Those who were invited were not worthy: no one is. The servants go out looking for anyone, not just affluent soccer moms in wealthy suburbs, not just token homeless people, but literally anyone. They go looking for anyone, any sinner, anybody still walking, the good and the bad. Just as there isn’t anyone worthy so also there isn’t anyone without need.
They all need wedding garments. No one comes ready, worthy. They need to be washed and covered. They bring nothing to the banquet but the are loved in Christ. They are dressed as though they were the bride. This is a banquet of grace, of mercy, of the Lord’s Hesed. For He Himself is the Temple built without hands. He is the House of Prayer for all people, the priest and the sacrifice, the mercy seat and the altar. He is torn down to fulfill the Law’s accusations against us and then He rebuilds Himself for us.
And that is what makes the fellow who stumbles in and refuses the garment so horrible. He was welcomed as more than a guest, allowed a place even though he was not worthy, but he would not repent. He insisted on his own way. He kept his own garments. He dared the Lord of the banquet to notice and complain.
The Lord of the banquet did notice and He did complain. He has the man cast out. The banquet is for the unworthy, but not the impenitent, it is for those whose sins are covered by Christ, not for those who want to stay in their sins.
Thus the Introit’s line is most appropriate for us as we gather in this holy place, preparing to receive the Lord’s risen Body and Blood:
We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God,
In the midst of thy temple.
Let us think on, contemplate, rejoice in the Lord’s Hesed, His steadfast and enduring mercy in the midst of the Lord’s gifts. He is good and He is Holy. He is risen and He is living. And in all this He is merciful, forgiving, eager to clothe us, to restore us, to love us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.