'Get Right with God'
With the East Cooper Episcopalians
The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany
February 2, 2014
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Some interesting and unusual sights appear along the rural roads of the South. One of the most familiar ones in my memory is the four foot high cross, with the words, “Get Right with God”, printed along the upright and cross bars. I remember sensing a message of accusation and of judgment, even as I and my friends would make fun of those signs while driving by them. However, this morning I want to suggest to you that the message might be understood as one of encouragement ... appropriate encouragement. “Get Right with God.”
You see, basic to all sin is the attempt to take the place of God. In theological terms, every sin – big sins, little sins, all sins ... every one of them – involves an attempt to take God’s place in creation. We try to put ourselves at the center of the universe; we attempt to take control of someone else’s responsibility; we exercise power in an inappropriate way. We sin, therefore, as we try to take God’s place.
It seems to me that our readings today encourage us to avoid sin, as we live into a right relationship with God. I need to add that in this sermon and on this day, I will resist the temptation to refer to a “super relationship” with God. Rather, let’s just call it a “right relationship.” In other words, our readings today urge us to “Get Right with God.”
The Old Testament Reading, from Micah, probably includes part of an ancient liturgy for the people of God. In it, the people are reminded of what God has done for them. For instance, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (6:4) Next in this liturgy come questions about how the people should appropriately respond to what God has done. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?” (6:6) Then, the answer about how the people should respond includes very familiar words indeed – words referred to in the Psalms and, later, by Jesus himself. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)
Thus, these ancient words of faith involve a liturgical dialogue which helps the people get right with God. Who God is and what God does is proclaimed first of all. Then, the subsequent questions ask what should we do, in response to God and God’s goodness. And the answer indicates that the people’s obligation is to be and do what they they were created for – “do justice...love kindness... and walk humbly with your God” (6:8). In other words, be in a right relationship with your Creator. “Get Right with God.”
In the Second Reading, St. Paul addresses the relationship of the Christians in Corinth to God – and, in particular, how wisdom plays into that relationship ... the wisdom of human beings and the wisdom of God. St. Paul makes the distinction clear between those two examples of wisdom. At one point, he asks, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor 1:20). Then later, St. Paul affirms that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1:25).
Now, we know that St. Paul cannot be fairly accused of exercising brevity in his writing. In fact, he seldom uses one word when he can say the same thing in three or four words. And this particular passage is no exception. The conclusion of the Reading provides us with his message, though. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:31). True wisdom and strength come from God, he is saying. Thus, our claim to wisdom and strength comes through our relationship with God ... a right relationship. And his encouragement is, again, “Get Right with God.”
Finally, we come to today’s Gospel passage, which includes the “Beatitudes.” And this list of blessings has to do, once again, with a right relationship between human beings and God. Further, in St. Matthew’s version, we have an emphasis on the principles and promises of that relationship, more than on expectations directed to the hearer. Thus, St. Matthew writes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3); while St. Luke’s version includes these words: “Blessed are you who are poor” (6:20). Therefore, here in St. Matthew, we have the principles and promises of blessedness ... or, of a right relationship with God.
We have our responsibilities in this relationship. On the other hand, God has responsibilities in the relationship, too – responsibilities that differ from our own. God’s responsibilities – which God has chosen to accept – have to do with the eternal nature of the relationship. Our responsibilities are more temporary – related specifically to this life on earth. Both God and we have parts to play in our relationship. Further, the parts are distinct from each other. And the relationship is a right one when those distinctions are kept.
In conclusion, then, I have suggested this morning that our readings point us to the value of the messag of that sign on the roadside – “Get Right with God.” The message today is not one of accusation and judgment but, rather, of appropriate encouragement. To the extent that we follow it, the sign points us to fulfillment in this life and to hope for the life to come – “Get Right with God.” Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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