XIV Pentecost 15 September 2019
Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
There’s this great gag in one of the more recent Spider-Man movies. Peter Parker is staying in a very nice hotel in Germany by the invitation of one of the other Marvel super heroes. Having grown up humbly in Queens, NY, he’s not used to his elaborate accommodations and when his handler asks him if he’s put on his new upgraded Spider-Man gear, Peter says he hadn’t seen it. Incredulously, his friend opens a door to a much larger part of his hotel room; Peter gasps that he thought the door was just a closet as he hurriedly runs into this huge opulent hotel room to don the now classic red and blue Spider-Man uniform. It’s barely more than a line in the script, but it’s a great way to show how much Peter has to learn about the world he’s stepping into, and my favorite part is his enthusiasm to step into the big room (which is no doubt emblematic of the bigger world around him) to take his place in the crazy adventures to come.
I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that when it comes to how so many of us consider who God is and what He’s like, we really end up like Peter Parker in the smaller part of the room; naive to what full potential is available to us in God in Christ. And I bring up my old pal Spider-Man because I think that our Scripture lessons this morning are meant to open a door to a greater place for our hearts to dwell by confronting our confusions, our wrong headed notions about God, and maybe some misplaced fear about Him.
The thing is, we all come to Him with a slapped together, provisional view of what he’s like. Even the wisest spiritual masters and theologians would admit something like that. I think we, humans in the broadest sense, tend to view God in a way that isn’t unlike how we view each other as human beings; not in the best way, mind you, but in the ways that makes humanity kind of a drag. How many of us sit and think of God kind of like a bigger, better Zeus? Ready to hurl thunder bolts at a whim? How many of us get stuck in the idea that God is a puppet master, pulling our strings and making bad stuff happen to and around us? How many of us wouldn’t know what to do with real divine mercy if it came up and kissed us?
Put yourself in that place when you consider what we read this morning from Exodus, for example. God called Moses out for what the Israelites were up to as they did one of the things that God told them not to do when he rescued them from bondage in Egypt. For context, things had gotten hard as they wandered in the desert and Moses had gone up the mountain to conference with God. In what amounts to 5 minutes in Biblical Text time, the wandering Israelites had gone from being totally aware of their salvation and who had worked it out, to making the the decision to use Egyptian gold to make a golden idol, a calf-god, to pray to instead of God. God was not pleased. Like I said, they did the main thing that ALWAYS gets a strongly worded note from the Almighty, which is idolatry. So, God had a chat with Moses. And there, on the mountain, Moses intercedes on the Israelites’ behalf, recalling the promises made by God, and pleading that God would turn away from vaporizing them or whatever calamity they had coming.
Now, it’s a little hard for us to think like this as 21st Century American Christians, but in the ancient world an audience would probably be more inclined to see God’s justice and honor as having been rejected and besmirched. Given that, the expected result by the end of the passage would be different. We read:
And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
The Hebrews’ neighbors would have expected to hear:
And God, being just and right and having said not to do the thing while the people did the thing, zapped them from the desert and went about his business.
Israel’s God, our God, did something different. He showed mercy at Moses’ intercession. God preferred faithfulness, forbearance, patience even, rather than smiting.
We see God’s merciful character show itself again in the way that the Psalmist engages with is own sinfulness in the face of God’s justice and holiness. But here again, the psalmist trusts in God to blot out all his iniquities, to create in him a clean heart, to and renew a right spirit within him. We see St. Paul recall how much he had some wraith coming his way when he refers to himself as a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” But again, Paul received the overflow of mercy from God in Christ, partaking most sweetly in the love and faith of Jesus. Because in Jesus Christ, we have the correction to all of our shortsighted ungodly fear about meeting God. Weren’t we reminded this morning that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners?” This is who God is. This is how we meet his justice and righteousness. We meet it in the merciful hands of our savior, who came to be among us, to heal us, to teach us, to love us even unto his death and resurrection.
And when we hear from him today in Luke’s account of the Gospel, we really get an idea about what God is really like. This is a God whose heavens are built to party at the repentance of a sinner. The entire fifteenth chapter is built around heaven’s rejoicing at the sinner who has come to find God and His love. This is not a God who is overly concerned with staying aloof in our affairs. He is not one to wind the clock of the universe and let it ride, distantly observing our peril. He is just, He is righteous, and he can by all rights punish; but God chose instead to draw humanity back to himself by loving us and showing us the great mercy of Christ’s salvation for us.
To me, this is one of the reason why the Gospel hits us like a ton of bricks. A God whose heaven rocks with the sounds of Angelic Joy at the repentance of a sinner is a God that we don’t necessarily expect to meet unless we’re told about Him because it’s so different from what we see around us, what we expect while we are stuck in the small room of ignorance like our old pal, Peter Parker.
But God wants to bring us into the big room of his presence in Christ, surprising us with the depths of his power, in his love, patience, and forgiveness. And, if nothing else, the Church are the people who are truly alive to that fact, who are enlivened BY that fact. It seems to me that when we meet people who have a view of God that looks more like a tyrant, a bad boss, a terrible parent, or a dishonest friend, we have a chance to represent God and his love by being different. Because if you think about it, if our view of God is so often kind of limited and even self-centered, it’s pretty likely that our view of what humanity is supposed to be like is similarly clouded. But just as it turns out that God is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in great kindness, his image bearers in the world can be like that by the grace of Christ. In so doing, we might provide the lost and confused out there a beacon of hope to the God that loves them very much. And when that confusion turns to repentance, I pray that we would have ears to hear the party in heaven so that our rejoicing may be complete as it is in the throne room of God.
So this morning, rejoice that God has come to be among us even here in this place, showing Himself present in mercy to our repentance rather than distant in his wraith. In that promise, I pray we take the sacrament to our great comfort.
To Him be all Glory, From age to age. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church