Monday, July 20, 2015

Who (or what) is your first love?


O God, who hast prepared for them that love Thee such good things as pass man's understanding, pour into our hearts such love toward Thee that we, loving Thee above all things, may obtain Thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

ONE thing we know for sure is that people always act in their self-interest.  They always do what they perceive to be best for themselves.  This is natural.  The reason we come to God's house is because we believe that He has good things in store for us here; good things that in the words of our Collect, "surpass understanding and exceed all that we can desire."  If we did not believe that we would not be here today; but what are those things and how do we obtain them?  Today's Collect solves the riddle in terms of both Law and Gospel.  There is good news here, but also an implied threat, and we need to hear them both.  We need to hear the threat because Old Adam, if he is not soundly molested by the Law, would bring us to ruin.  We need to hear the promise because only it can defeat all of our enemies and make us strong to travel the road from here to eternity.  For many that journey is just beginning, for others it is nearly complete, so young and old, let us hear the word of the Lord together today.

The threat comes in the words:  so that loving you above all things we may obtain your promises.  Hearing those words strikes fear into our hearts because we know that we are like Elisha and Peter before the word of God enlightened them; that we love the things we can see better than the Lord we cannot; and that we desire present prospects more than God's future promises.

Both of these men had a good life.  Elisha owned land and the tools of production to make it prosper.  Peter owned boats and had customers who bought his fish.  As long as the land produced, and Lake Genessaret did what lakes do, both these men could nicely satisfy their desires.  The prospect of Christ crucified was the farthest thing from their minds, and would have ever remained so except for one thing:  God's call.

We received the same call.  Theirs came by preaching, ours by baptism, but it is the same call:  to receive healing from sin's disease, to leave the things of the world behind and to follow Jesus into death, burial and finally to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

When the word of God raised Elisha from spiritual death he did not only believe in his heart, but he also confessed with his lips and demonstrated his faith by his works.  He burned his bridges so that there was no going back.  He killed the twelve oxen that kept him tied to the land and became Elijah's disciple, but he did not just kill them; he sacrificed them and gave them to the people to eat.  He understood what all people must understand:  that if we want to commune with God we must approach Him with a sacrifice.  Sin precludes the possibility of the immediate holy communion that Adam enjoyed in the Garden before the Fall, but we come to God through Christ crucified, who is the wisdom and power of God.  The oxen that Elisha sacrificed and gave the people to eat were prophetic of the coming Christ.  His flesh too, was torn by thorns and whip, nails and spear.  It is impossible for men to grasp by their own wisdom that this death of the holy Son of God is the balancing of the cosmic books!  The righting of all that is wrong!  The undoing of the devil's stranglehold!  The death of death!  It is the promise of a new creation where all will be well for us.

As Elisha became a predictor of the coming Christ, Peter and his business associates, James and John, left all that they had and became preachers of the same Christ.  They too put their faith into action.  Let us do the same.

Now the lesson for us is that if we wish to gain things eternal, that we must give up the things temporal like Peter and Elisha did, not by selling all that we have and giving it to the poor - that command is no more to be taken literally than the Lord's word to cut off your right hand, or pluck out your eye.  No, it is not a matter of your possessions but a matter of what you love and who you serve.  Jesus says:  seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; all else is idolatry.

Our fist love must be the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for it is the power of God.  It is the single sacrifice that bridges the "Grand Canyon" that divides men from their God, from the source of their life and the satisfaction of their deepest desires.  Without the cross our religion is vain, our liturgy meaningless, our creeds a desperate hope, and our Eucharist the mere bread and wine that blind flesh believes it to be; but with Christ crucified empowering all of these things, and coming to us through them, they become for us the power of God unto salvation.

Yet the cross is not only God's power but also God's wisdom and His perfect justice.  Man's justice is lopsided on its best day, but God's is as perfect as it is poetic.  As humanity fell by a tree, it is saved by a tree.  As we died by eating, we are made alive again by eating the true body of the risen, ascended and glorified Lord.   As we die because of our connection to the First Adam, so we are made alive by our baptismal connection to the Second.  These are the good gifts we obtain from God's house that surpass human understanding and exceed all that we desire.  They are yours.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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