Tag Archives: perfection

Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us compare our nation with another great nation. In biblical times, this nation was given a great promise and covenant from God. This is the nation of Israel. Today, both of these nations are in a great struggle.

The founding fathers of these two nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates, who signed the Declaration of Independence, took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause, greater than any personal gain they might achieve. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of this Declaration, they made a pledge:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing the danger this pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers of the Declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Perhaps, without realizing it, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendants. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him personally. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would follow him. Those who followed endured great hardships as well. From Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a reason. God had chosen Israel for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

Over the years, God had been shaping Israel. It has not yet become a holy nation or a royal priesthood.  Nonetheless, what is impossible for humankind is possible with God. Nonetheless, we are indebted to Israel for our faith which leads to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that one nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. Nor or we the great missionary nation which God has called us to be. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who wish to destroy America as we know it in order to build their Utopia. While they strive to tear down our institutions, erase our history, and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us, promising peace without the Prince of Peace. The Apostle Paul write:

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!   (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before that perfection fully comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. God is for us and with us. He has extended his grace once more for the purpose of a last great revival to usher in lost souls. Are we with him?

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Leave a comment

Filed under Declaration of Independence, Feast Day, Fourth of July, Gospel, Holy Day, Independence Day, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, sermon, sermon development, Year A

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Pointing of the Finger

God asked the Prophet Isaiah to confront his people. It was a reality check for them. They thought they were being religious and could not understand why God seemed distant to them. They were, in fact, religious and that was the problem. God wanted more, much more. Reading from Isaiah:

Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.   (Isaiah 58:1-4)

Let us examine our churches and our own lives to see if this word applies to us today. How are we keeping God’s commandments? That is the question. It has to do with more than our religious observances..

One of the characteristics of religious people is a tendency to grade themselves with regard to the level of righteousness they believe they have achieved. How would we measure such a property?  We instinctively know that none us have not actually achieved anything near perfection. The fall back position then often becomes: How do we compare to others?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-10)

The pointing of the finger leads to bondage, even in the body of Christ. This is what the Pharisees did. This is what the religious leaders did during the time of Christ. This practice kept them from receiving the Gospel. Not only that, they were the gatekeepers that kept many other people from receiving Christ.

Jesus came to correct the religious thinking of the day. In his Sermon on the Mount, he made it clear that God does not grade us on a curve. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”   (Matthew 5:17-20)

Our righteousness must exceed the level of the Pharisees, who were very judgmental. In fact, it must exceed any level that anyone may have achieved. What Jesus was saying that the law of God requires each one of us to be perfect, standing on our own before God, irrespective of anyone else.

The Gospel is the good news we need to hear and believe. Unfortunately, a judgmental heart is not an open heart. God needs a softened heart that has been broken and made contrite by the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. He has stood in for us and taken the punishment for our sins. From Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Let us not look at ourselves or at anyone else. Let us see Jesus, high and lifted up. Jesus said:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.   (John 3:13-15).

We do not have to keep score on anyone. Jesus is our judge. He is also the redeemer for those who put their trust in him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Epiphany, Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A