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What Does God Really Require Of Us?

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“What Does God Really Require Of Us?”

June 5, 2005

Third Sunday After Pentecost – Proper 5 – Year A

White Oak Missionary Baptist Church

The Rev. Philip R. Taylor

Lessons:

Hosea 5:15-6:6

15 Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and look to me for help. For as soon as trouble comes, they will search for me.”

A Call to Repentance

6 “Come, let us return to the Lord! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. 2 In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. 3 Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

4 “O Israel* and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the Lord. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. 5 I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces. I have slaughtered you with my words, threatening you with death. My judgment will strike you as surely as day follows night. 6/ I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.[1] /


 

Matthew 9:9-13

9 As Jesus was going down the road, he saw Matthew sitting at his tax-collection booth. “Come, be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.

10 That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. 11 The Pharisees were indignant. “Why does your teacher eat with such scum*?” they asked his disciples.

12 When he heard this, Jesus replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’* For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” [2]

Let us pray:  Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your spirit and we shall be created.  O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit you did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be made truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Welcome – Thanks – Translation

What is it that God really requires of us?

When I was a child, I often misbehaved and did the things that most all children do.  My mother worked as a maid at a motel in Richmond, Virginia and we lived at the motel for a short time. 

One afternoon when she was busy cleaning rooms and making beds, I took the matches I had found in one of the rooms and went out behind one of the motel cottages to see if I could strike those matches like the adults do when they lit their cigarettes. 

Of course mother soon missed me and shortly found me trying to strike those matches.  I can still remember the look I got and the spanking…and the hug I got that night before and after bedtime prayers when Mother told me how much she loved me.

I guess I learned about how God loves us, first from my mother, long before I understood what scripture had to say on the subject.  She loved me, cared for me, and lived a truly sacramental life to try and show me how much she loved me and how important love was.  I loved her back, for sure, but only in small measure to the love she showered on me.

As I grew up she never really told me what she required of me.  She never told me I had to go to church or pick a certain denomination or believe a certain creed about God.  She never told me any of those things; she showed me.  She demonstrated what sacramental life was like; she demonstrated love everyday. 

In the loud voice of her sacramental life she laid out for me to see and experience what she really wanted of me.  What she really desired was to be loved back and for me to learn the power and life giving force that flows from a sacramental life.

Listen to the prophet Hosea as he speaks for God:

6/ I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.[3] /

It’s not that church and worship (the modern versions of sacrifices and burnt offerings) are unimportant; they are important.  They are important for us, they encourage us, teach us, and strengthen us, but they are not an end in themselves.   What is important to God?  To be merciful, beloved, merciful, that we be merciful is important to God.  Worship is not our goal; to be merciful as God is merciful is our goal.

Being merciful means living a sacramental life.  God desires that we live a sacramental life, not necessarily a sacrificial life.  The sacrifice has already been made at Calvary once and for all; the sacrament is ongoing.  The sacramental life is our calling; it is what God really desires of us.

The sacramental life calls us, as Hosea says, to be merciful and to know God.  That’s a tall order.  In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus quotes only the first part of Hosea’s plea.  He leaves out the “to know God” part.  Perhaps Jesus understood that, when we really understand mercy and make it a central part of our lives, we are demonstrating that  we already know God.

What does ‘living a sacramental life’ mean?  What is sacrament?  In my church’s tradition Sacrament is defined as, “The outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  When we Baptize with water, this is the outward and visible sign of the inner spiritual change that has occurred in the new convert.

Our sacramental life, when lived both as recipient and as provider of mercy, is the outward and visible sign of an inner spiritual grace.  This change that we have inside of us, at the deepest core of our being, we call being ‘born again’, being ‘saved’, being ‘one with Christ’.

At our Baptism, whether water is poured over us as a baby or whether we are immersed as a confessing adult, what God is hoping for, what God is waiting for, what God is dreaming about, and what God really wants is that we will change on the inside and that we will begin living a sacramental life.

One of my favorite authors is an African-American woman, Verner Dozier.  She wrote a book that I highly recommend to you; the title is The Dream Of God.  She makes these points in her book:

·        God has a dream.

·        God’s dream involves us and we are the central characters in God’s dream. 

·        God’s dream is that we will learn from His Son, Jesus, and that we will be bold enough to follow Jesus, to go where He goes, and do what He does.

Five hundred years ago a small, frail Spanish Nun, Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now but ours, no eyes, no feet, no hands but ours.”  That’s a scary thought isn’t it?  We are what God has to work with here.  It is true that God sends His Holy Spirit but He sends that Spirit to us.  (Repeat the Holy Spirit Prayer) We are it!

We are not only in God’s dream, we are God’s dream.  We are the fulfillment of God’s dream.  You and I and all of the faith community are those who will make God’s dream come true or not.

I participate in a prison ministry at Central Prison in Raleigh, NC called KAIROS.  The KAIROS team is made up of 35-40 men from several different denominations.  During a KAIROS weekend, we spend 3 ½ days with about 40 prisoners; we call them residents.  One of the first things we are expected to learn is that we do not carry Christ into the prison; we go into the prison to meet Christ; Christ is already in the prison.  He sits in His cell lost, and alone, waiting for someone to visit Him.

When we show mercy to the prisoner sitting next to us at lunch, we are showing mercy to Christ.  When we laugh, and cry, and sing, and listen to the men at Central Prison, we are laughing, crying, singing, and listening to Jesus, the Christ.

In the Gospel lesson from Matthew that I read a few moments ago, Jesus is being challenged.  His entire ministry is being challenged.

10 That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. 11 The Pharisees were indignant. “Why does your teacher eat with such scum*?” they asked his disciples.

 The expectation of the people of Israel and the expectation of the religious leaders of that day was for a messiah who would overthrow the Roman oppressors and reign from the throne of David, rewarding the righteous and punishing the sinners. 

What they got from God was a messiah who said that it was more important for them to change than for the government to change.  What they got was a messiah who called for the righteous to exercise mercy.  What they got was a messiah who gave hope to the lost and offered forgiveness to the sinner.

The expectation of Israel was for a religious leader who would lead them in their sacrificial worship in the temple.  What they got from God was a messiah who overturned the tables in the temple, who called His followers to lead sacramental lives, and who gave His life willingly for the sins of the whole world.

The expectation was for a strong leader who would right all wrongs.  What they got was a messiah who preached peace, who said they should turn the other cheek, who said they must not only love their neighbor but love their enemy as well and who cried out even from the cross, “Father, forgive them...”

They expected someone whom they could serve, even worship.  What they got was a messiah who washed their feet, even the feet of Judas, who worshipped them, and who died for them. 

Beloved, our expectations are no less wrong headed today than were those of the congregation of Israel, 2000 years ago.  We want God to overthrow our oppressors.  We want our enemies dead; we certainly don’t want to have to love them.  We don’t want to turn the other cheek; we want vengeance. We want a messiah whom we can worship and not have to follow.  Because worshipping Jesus is so much easier than following Jesus.   But, beloved, the plea of Jesus is the same to us today as it was 2000 years ago to His friends and the Pharisees.

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’* For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.”

Yes, He still calls to us, as he called to Matthew the tax collector, “Come, be my disciple.”  Yes, He still calls to us as he called to the indignant Pharisees, “I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.”

If there are any here who are willing to make a public confession of faith and who are willing to begin a sacramental life journey with Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I invite you to come forward as we sing a hymn of commitment.  Pastor Bynum and some of your deacons will pray with you here at the altar.

If you wish to reaffirm the commitments you made at your Baptism, I invite you to come forward and share those commitments in prayer with your Pastor and your deacons as we sing the commitment hymn.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory, this day and forevermore.  Amen.


----

*

Hosea 6:4

Hebrew Ephraim, referring to the northern kingdom of Israel.

[1]Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 1997 (Ho 5:14). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

*

Matthew 9:11

Greek with tax collectors and sinners.

*

Matthew 9:13

Hos 6:6.

[2]Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 1997 (Mt 9:8). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

[3]Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 1997 (Ho 5:14). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

*

Matthew 9:11

Greek with tax collectors and sinners.

*

Matthew 9:13

Hos 6:6.

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