Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sermon for Sunday 19th February - Epiphany 7 - Ordinary time7

 Sermon for Sunday 19th February, 2012
Epiphany 7 / Ordinary 7
Isaiah 43:18-25
Psalm 41
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
   and I will not remember your sins. Is 43:25
God who is the source of all Life – who is Love in his very being – does something utterly extraordinary – something which I think should give us all pause before we say that we know what love is. In Love he inextricably binds himself to a people – he commits himself to them by unbreakable bonds. He promises Never to let them go.

God is the Centre of Everything, Everything comes from Him and to Him Everything must return. God is Love. God is Light, in Him there is no darkness at all and when he takes on flesh for our sake, it is to banish the darkness, for the glory of His Name, that Love may Triumph

When I think of this Love of God, this convenant love, I am reminded of human marriage. I have to say straight away that I am comparing the Great Perfect Love of God with the far lesser, highly imperfect and at times invisible love in a human marriage – but I will deal with the Ideal (if the reality always falls short of this) 

In the Church of England liturgy the words used are these ‘I . . . take you to be my wife’, ‘I . . . take you to be my husband’. As I frequently told couples whom I was preparing for marriage – there is no ‘I will if you will’ – for you are entering into a Covenant relationship, which is the purest form of Love – a commitment to the other which is not dependent upon the Other. God’s Love is not dependent on us, He Is Love. In other words in marriage a couple you enter into a Covenant expression of Love, a Love that expresses how God love us. And of course this metaphor of marriage is used by St Paul when he is talking of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

This Love of God for His people is the theme that runs through the whole of the Old Testament and in some respects comes to its zenith, its peak in these latter chapters of the prophet Isaiah. Here God is rhetorically arguing with his unfaithful people – reminding them of their sins, of their unfaithfulness – but over and over again saying he will do something extraordinary in response – he will save them, he will protect them, he will be a life giver to them
18 Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honour me,
   the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
   rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21   the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

 - These words of the love of God revealed in a time in the History of his people when they were being taken into Exile because they had abandoned the God who had Committed himself to them, Given himself to them, taken them to himself in Covenant Love . When, to use other prophetic language with its roots in marriage, they had been unfaithful – in the midst of this he declares - I am going to do something new – I am going to make life giving waters flow.
Then he re-iterates the argument

22 you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
   but you have been weary of me, O Israel!
23 You have not brought me your sheep for burnt-offerings,
   or honoured me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with offerings,
   or wearied you with frankincense.
 . . .
But you have burdened me with your sins;
   you have wearied me with your iniquities. 

I have not been a burden to you, but you have been a burden to me. I have not wearied you, but you have wearied me . . .
BUT your unfaithfulness will not be the last word

25 I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

 - I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Your unfaithfulness will not have the last word – My Love will – My foregiveness. God had bound himelf utterly to this people – they were His burden – he carried them – He was known as The God of Israel – if you like He was known as their National God – His identity was tied up with theirs – and so was His character - and Israel, the people of this God had besmirched themselves and so had taken God’s name with them into the mud.     
            So what does he do?? Does He cast them off?? NO! Rather he Refuses to let their Word be the Last Word – he will overcome Even Unfaithfulness, the Covenant may have meant little to Israel – but it meant everything to the God who makes Promises – He has made a Covenant – He has bound himself to these people and thus His name is being dragged through the mud? What will he do?? He will make their sins Whiter than snow!! – though they are scarlet – he will blot out their transgressions for His Names sake – He will not stoop down to their level of unfaithfulness – no He will restore them and Life them Up!!!

It is Breathtaking. To Israel’s No – he Thunders His Triumphant YES – and so one comes in whom All God’s Covenant Promises are held – In whom All His Promises are YES!! Which begins to explain what to some might be a strange puzzle in the gospel reading.

Here is Jesus – in this tightly packed house – barely room to breathe and some people bring their paralyzed friend to him – presumably to heal him?? The text is silent. So determined are they to get him to Jesus they go onto the roof and knock a hole in it. And lower him down in front of Him.

And here we see how Different is our reading of this text from those of the time of Jesus – What does Jesus do? He forgives him his sins – and his critics are thinking Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone? And we may be thinking – Hang on a minute!! He’s paralysed – can’t you see?? Why not do That First and forgive the sins later? Surely the Priority is healing him?? – and in this regard it is Very worth noting the following – Jesus heals the man to prove the point about forgiveness. Do you see??

He forgives the man. Then the scribes accuse him of blasphemy – THEN to show that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins he heals the man of his paralysis – to show that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins – Which is it easier to say ‘Son our sins are forgiven you’ Or take up your mat and walk??? Which is most important???

We look out on a world where there is So So much wrong – I used to get JWs coming to my door – I don’t know if they do the same here in NZ but in England they always began by saying- aren’t things in a terrible mess – and we LOOK OUT and have to agree with them – and so we see people with sickness – we see wars  - we see famines – we see all sorts of things. And we think that there are all these problems out there and we’re busy saying – look Here Jesus – all this forgiveness of sins stuff is . . . well of course its important but what about the Real problems . . . except the real problems all stem from sin which we do Not see because we’re all too busy looking out there. The problems are Symptoms – the root dis - ease is sin.

God is Love – he creates the world in Love, through Love, for Love – the Universe is if you like a cathedral of Love – Love holding it all together – its trellises  - its buttresses – its foundations and beautiful windows are Love -  and Sin takes a wrecking ball and smashes it up. If we go around that all that is wrong in the world today is down to sin, we might be thought idiotic – but if God is Love and Everything is an expression of Love – in other words the hard physical matter of our existence is in fact that Energy emanating from the Life of God that we call Love – then before any true healing can begin – those bonds have got to be restored. That is what holds everything together. Just what seems like a minor matter for the religiously minded becomes of literally Fundamental importance. And we might know this surely for ourselves for what is the pain we know like the pain of broken relationships – it is literally as if the fabric of our Lives is torn apart – it is that the fabric of creation is rent – love is torn.

Jesus – the Lamb of God from before all eternity offers himself to atone for the sins of the world. What is God’s Solution to the demolition of Love? More Love – Indestructable Love declared in Glory on Easter Morn and the Way for all who have found new life in Him. What he does for the paralysed man in forgiving him his sins, he literally embodies on the cross. 

Remember last week – this faith of our is bodily and material? God who is Love takes on flesh. Jesus embodies Love and forgiveness on the cross and so the New Creation begins to spring to birth  - one which we are called to step into. This New Life of Christ is one we are all called as Christians to participate in. The Scribes are right – only God can forgive sins – but we are joined to him to become one with Him and thus enter into he work he is doing as Christ was himself one with the Father and only did what he saw the father doing. Forgiving and then healing.

This last couple of weeks I have referred to Peter and John and the healing of the lame man outside the Temple. I suggested that there was something missing in a church that could no longer say ‘Silver and Gold have I none,’ nor could it say ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth get up and walk’ – well if that seems to hard – which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, or ‘take up your mat and walk?’ We are given a simpler yet more Foundational starter. Peter and John having discovered the power of this love which refuses to be overcome even by death enter into this Life being renewed by forgiveness and so in that Life, in the Life of the Risen Christ, the Embodiment of the New Creation they engage in the works that that forgiveness, that restoration of the bonds of Love makes possible.

Forgiveness is the way in which the true ordering of the world is made new, that Love is restored and that Love is the healing of Everything.

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