Sermons That Work

Hear These Comfortable Words…, Proper 7 (A) – 1996

June 23, 1996

Hear these comfortable words:

From Isaiah –
“Enter into the rock
and hide in the dust
From the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty.”
“The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
and the pride of everyone shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day”
From Matthew –
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves (their) father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves (their) son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it..”

Now…don’t you feel better!!!

Not comfort here…but…confrontation.

Exaltation – not a bad experience. Not bad to be the head kid at a six year old’s birthday party. Not bad to be the winner of an election, be it student council, cheer leader, homecoming queen, or President of the United States. Not bad to be a winning team, whether it is Little League or the Chicago Bulls. Not bad (is) the gold pocket watch at the end of fifty years of faithful service or the Employee of the Year dinner at the end of the fiscal year who now gets 365 days of perfect parking place.

Exaltation in the eyes of the world and one’s peers. Pride of Place for being the very best at something..something earned or unearned. Exaltation which lasts until someone better, younger, prettier, or abler comes along…and gets the parking place.

Come on, God, make my day!!! I’m ready for some exaltation. The lottery ticket I could win, my kid could be first in class, I could finish spring cleaning and feel really good about myself. I could get a promotion, get a new car for a song. I could sleep in on Sunday morning.

Some exaltation doesn’t ask for much; a grandmother on mother’s day with five plaster of paris hand prints from five young grandchildren, a teacher who hears gratitude from a student of years ago, and with a bit more whimsy, the cocker spaniel whose family returns home at the end of the day.

Exaltation is to be, if only for the Andy Warhol fifteen minutes, the center of the universe. Here placed one is above all others.

Who is the fussy God in these passages – the God who insists on being the big number 1?

What an image in Isaiah! People scurrying about in a wild place of dust and rocks. People outside the safety of the city walls. People at the mercy of the hear and elements. Hide there, men and women! Drag yourselves into the shade of the rocks which still bear enough hear to make them painful to touch. Bury your faces in the dust and tuck your bodies into the position they knew in the wombs of your mothers.

God is about!

The Lord of hosts walks against all that is proud and high. He comes to bring down the tall trees, the mountains, and the walls and towers of the cities. The fleets shall not remain on the waters and the opulence of the ships will count for nothing.

“…the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.”

Not our winsome God of love for Isaiah. This is a mighty king against whom even nature cannot stand. This center of the universe sweeps away all in its path. And all for its own sake. Anything which challenges the center or which erodes away at that position is destroyed.

“Don’t make me come up there!” “Don’t make me tell you again.” Those of us with children have used these phrases. All of have heard them in some form or another. This is the God of Isaiah. This is the God who says, “You will pay attention to me. You will reject all SELF – all self gratification, all self-interest, all self-indulgence and pay attention to me. You will immerse self in me.”

The gentle man says, “Don’t love anyone or anything better than me, not parent, not household, not life itself.” This gentle man will be exalted. He will claim for his own only those who will do the exalting. They must turn away from old lives and relationships in favor of the new.

We are called. There is to be no doubt. We are confronted by the Scriptures and our lives are being challenged. God will be exalted and the only way we can do that if through the way we live our lives. Not to exalt is to bring low. Is this what we do to the Creator? Every “yes” implies a “no.” When do we say, “no” to God? When do we willfully cling to self instead of the hem of the garment of Christ?

The answers are to be found in the words of the Baptismal questions.

“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”

This rebellion is pride, the original sin the commission of which sought to set humankind as equals with God. Pride with its arrogance, apathy, sloth turns self upon self and away from other members of the species as well as from the Creator. Pride thinks it deserves the cattle, the wife, the land of the neighbor. Pride teaches its children that which will bring success in this world rather than in the next. Pride teeters on the precipice which come before the fall.

“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

The rain forests are burning. Species of animals are disappearing from creation. The waters of the world are being polluted and the layers of atmosphere which protect us from the rays of the sun are being injured. These are the works of evil powers. There are human beings without food or homes. There are children suffering from abuse in their own homes. These are the works of evil powers.

“Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

Which would you rather do – go to church on Sunday morning or play golf? Which would you rather you child do – attend a swim meet on Sunday morning or go to church? Which would you rather buy – steaks for dinner tonight or cans of beef for the food bank? Where would you rather be – coffee hour or Bible study? How easy is it for the world to intrude into your spiritual life? These aren’t difficult questions to answer. The practicing of the answer is the hard part.

“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”

Is it possible to consider the lilies of the field and use that as an answer to life? Can we trust Christ to love, succor, and heal us daily, over and over until our final going home? It is even more difficult to put the lives of those we love into Christ’s hands. Turn to Christ. Turn away from all worldly impediments.

“Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

This trust business is a hard game. Caring for oneself has been a battle cry for the twentieth century. The loss of the extended family and sense of community has helped to make this happen. All the more reason to turn away from the world and to the grace and love of God. It is easier to lean on something seen rather than on an ephemeral “grace.” But, only grace is lasting and forever.

“Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”

It is possible that we don’t quite understand the concept of obedience. This is a quality which, when practiced, makes the involved relationship easier because the boundaries are easily recognized. God alone knows where following Christ will lead one. There is one Lord to follow. This is exaltation in a different guise. We are being told to focus on the one goal and reject all others.

So…how does this play in real life? To play it in a championship class is to join the ranks of saints. To attempt the task honestly and with constant evaluation is to live a Christian life which is Christ centered. This is the exaltation which God asks of us. We are to use our talents, our intellect, our hearts, our treasure to keep God in the center – in the proper perspective. We are to bring those that follow us in the next generation to the same place.

We never left alone in the wild to scramble for a hiding place in the dust. The same God who inspires awe and fear reminds us in Word and Sacrament of love and grace as free gifts. Christ himself gave us access to those gifts. We walk in “newness of life” beside and with a gracious God as sons and daughters. And, in the ultimate exaltation, we will meet God face to face. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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