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Sermon (2) and Reflections For Ordinary 9 - Proper 4 - Year A
Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19; Psalm 46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22-28; Matthew 7:21-29
"Another Way To Build"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

Ordinary 9 - Proper 4 - Year A
Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19; Psalm 46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22-28; Matthew 7:21-29
"Another Way To Build"

	
     "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the 
     kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my 
     Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, 
     did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out 	demons in your 
     name, and do many deeds of power in your name?" Then I will 
     declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evil-
     doers.'"

I think disguise is the essence of evil," writes Bill Coffin Jr. Not just 
doing something evil, but covering it up.  Calling the evil thing 
something good. That's when the real trouble begins. And what better 
disguise for evil could there be than the cloak of religious piety. 
  
In Canada, to cite just one example, ten Christian Brothers who worked at 
the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland sexually abused dozens of boys 
in their care between 1962 and 1990. Those in a position of religious 
authority over these men knew about the abuses and the abusers and 
attempted to cover both up.

In Ireland, children have been sexually and physically abused by nuns, 
priests and brothers; and religious superiors knowingly transferred 
offenders to other appointments without ever informing the civil 
authorities of their crimes and without ever lifting a finger to help the 
victims.

In the United States, the Bishop of Boston, after finally being arraigned 
in civil court, openly admitted that he had protected known pedophile 
priests in his archdiocese. Then he commented,

"The repeated calls for my resignation are a clear signal that 
many feel that my leadership 	efforts in this area have been 
inadequate."

"Leadership efforts"!? I ask you, what is it going to take before those 
who are guilty of such wickedness and who not only claim the name 
'Christian' in this world but those who also deem themselves 'princes of 
the church' understand that there is no relationship whatsoever between 
what they claim to do in Jesus' name and what in fact they do?

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That is the disturbing message of the gospel in this week's text from Matthew. It is a passage that comes at the end of Matthew's sermon on the mount, which refers to that lengthy series of sayings Matthew puts in the mouth of Jesus beginning in chapter five. Not that Jesus didn't originate many of the sayings because in many cases he probably did. It's just that he was not that long-winded. Maybe a story or two at a time or a pithy rejoinder, but not a three-chapter sermon. Matthew is editorializing, as he normally does, to pass on instructions to an early Christian congregation; and this latter part of 'the sermon' is an anticipation of the coming judgment for those who do not take his instructions seriously. In short, the sharp words we find in this part of Matthew are words of warning to one group or another who choose to live hypocritically or lawlessly. That is whom Matthew has in his sights in this week's text. What makes his words even more unsettling is that the group being warned is a group of insiders. You see, Matthew is addressing these words to active followers of Jesus. Not the people who never darken the door of a church, but the people who practically live there. The people who expect to be commended for their commitment and extraordinary accomplishments. The ones to whom that verse - "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,...” refers are precisely those who profess the most orthodox faith in Christ, the ones who utter the most profound prophesies, who claim to demonstrate control even over demonic forces, who even work miracles. These are the ones within the church itself who are being singled out for judgment precisely because they fail to do what God wills. With absolutely devastating words, Matthew tells us what Jesus' response is to such evil- doers. “I never knew you; go away from me...” Let me underline three things Matthew is telling us. In the first place, the people being talked about here are, for once, not outsiders. He is not talking about the enemies of the church, which in most instances meant members of the Jewish leadership who did persecute the early Christians. Matthew is not talking about the people we normally associate with "the bad guys". He is talking about "the good guys", the people who really did affirm the basic creed of the church ("Jesus is Lord!"). He is talking about the people who really did preach powerful sermons. He is talking about people who really did do extraordinary deeds of exorcism and healing - and all in Jesus' name. Matthew is making it painstakingly clear for us. Not only does he mean people who are in the church, he is talking about people who were amazingly successful in it. These are the people who are so decisively renounced by Jesus. Judgment begins, not in the four corners of the world where they have never heard of Jesus, but with the people of God, and in particular those who have no excuse for not knowing what it means to be the people of God. Secondly, the judge who pronounces this harsh verdict is none other than Jesus himself. That's right. The same Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners (9.10-11), the same Jesus who laid his hands on little children (19.15), the same Jesus who fretted over Jerusalem like a mother hen caring for her chicks (23.37), and the same Jesus who came to save his people from their sins (1.21). This is the one who utters these condemning words. Because in Matthew judgment and grace are not separated. They are both dimensions of what happens when God acts in the world. Jesus is what God's relentlessly pursuing love looks like in this world. He is also a reminder of what happens when people presume upon such love. The words of judgment in this text are aimed at those who say they believe in such a love but who are not willing to act on the implications of such a love. Thirdly, what is it that these people whom Matthew singles out fail to do? What is the reason for their downfall? Because something was wrong with their theology? No, says Matthew. Because they didn't know how to preach? Not at all, says Matthew. Because their involvement with the church was somehow inadequate? No, says Matthew. The text makes perfectly clear that those being singled out for judgment have been both scrupulous and accomplished in their participation in the church. The problem is that they have not done God's will. Matthew doesn't spell it out for us, does he? What he means by doing God's will? Does he need to do that for us? Or have you really understand what being in the church is all about in the final analysis, what matters most of all to God? Is it how impressive our list of church activities is? How well thought of we are by peers and admirers? How articulate we are at witnessing to our faith? How well we can pray? How favorably the church views our record? How successfully we have maneuvered the quagmires of ecclesiastical politics? Not that any of those things are anything to sneeze at, but if not any of these, then what? What is it that God has been trying to get through to us all this time? “He has told you, O mortal, what is good” said the prophet Micah. And what was that, what does God want? “...to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (6:8) Because if we don't do that for all our brothers and sisters, if that is not the way we are prepared to be in the final analysis, if that is not what we are, then we have not only missed the message, we have desecrated it by saying that we do. Those within the household of faith who demonstrate by their actions that they do not understand that will receive the severest sentence.
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We live in a day, dear friends, when judgment is being pronounced upon the church in every corner of the earth. Not by the bad guys. Not by the enemy. But by Jesus himself because of those within the body of Christ who have demonstrated such an absolute disdain for what God really wants. A house built on sand. The church is falling because some have built it that way. Of course, there is, as Jesus said, another way to build. Do you remember Cardinal Emil Léger? At one time he was one of the most powerful men in Canada and within the Roman Catholic Church. He was a man of deep conviction and humility. Then one day he laid aside his red vestments and stately hat, the office in Montreal and Quebec City and disappeared. Years later he was found living among the lepers and disabled, the outcasts of a small African village. When the Canadian journalist asked him, "Why?" he said, “It will be the great scandal of the history of our century that 600 million people are eating well and living luxuriously and three billion people starve and every year millions of children are dying of hunger. I am too old to change all that. The only thing I can do which makes sense is to be present. I must simply be in the midst of them. So, just tell people in Canada that you met an old priest. I am a priest who is happy to be old and still a priest and among those who suffer. I am happy to be here and to take them into my heart."
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Genesis 6:9-22; 7.24; 8.14-19 - What we have is a synopsis of the lengthy story of the flood. While the story seems to lay the corruption of the earth at the feet of "the sons of God" (6.1-4), there is not one of us who does not have firsthand knowledge of human corruption. "Sons of god" simply reminds us of something of which we are deeply aware. The use of the word "covenant" signals a new start in the relationship between God and creation. It is a covenant that becomes operative with the obedience of Noah. What is different in this relationship is that God promises never to punish the world with complete destruction. 1. What do you suppose God feels when he views the world now? 2. Why doesn't she destroy it? 3. Where in the world do we find a faithful remnant today? Why? Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-28 - It is a well-known passage that has been well- worn in the pulpit. The question is whether we can learn anything new from it. Verse 22 has usually been translated "through faith in Jesus Christ" (v. 22). A growing number of scholars argue that it means "through the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ". In other words, it is Jesus' faithful acts of obedience that reveal God's righteousness, which encompasses all people. This interpretation makes more sense in trying to unravel verse 25. What is striking about Paul's contention is that he links God's revelation of his righteousness directly to Jesus' death - not to his teachings, his exemplary life, or even his resurrection. This is a difficult, even challenging implication for many Christians and puts them dangerously close to feeling like the elder brother in Jesus' parable. 1. If this alternate translation is correct, who is it that brings about faith? 2. What does that do to the argument that we must "earn" God's love? Matthew 7.21-29 - It is a difficult passage to read. Matthew offers sharp words of warning on the lips of Jesus to all those within the church who live hypocritically and lawlessly. Matthew is careful about whom he means: those who have the most prominent places within the church. What people do within the church cannot be taken at face value. Another standard of judgment will be used, that of doing God's will. Only on such a foundation is a house of faith securely built. 1. Is this kind of judgment taking place today? How? 2. Why did they say that Jesus spoke with "authority"? 3. Who speaks authoritatively for Jesus today? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - If evil is a soul hiding from itself, if the primary motive of evil is disguise, then we should not be surprised to find evil people in the churches. For what better way to disguise evil from oneself and from others than to wrap it all up in piety and to become a highly visible Christian - a preacher, let's say, or a deacon or trustee? - William Sloan Coffin Jr. HYMN: What Does the Lord Require of You? (Voices United 701)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2005
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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