|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 26, 2014||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 19, 2014||Second Sunday after the Epiphany||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 12, 2014||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17|
|The Epiphany, Year A||January 6, 2014||Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 2:1-12|
|Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A||January 5, 2014||Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A||Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23|
|Christmas Eve||December 24, 2013||Christmas Eve, 2013||Luke 2:1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 15, 2013||Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year||December 1, 2013||Advent 1, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C||November 24, 2013||Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C||Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 17, 2013||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-10|
|Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 10, 2013||Proper 27, Year C||Job 19:23-27a, Luke 20:27-38|
|Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 20, 2013||Proper 24C||Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8|
|Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 13, 2013||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 6, 2013||Proper 22, Year C||Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10|
|Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 29, 2013||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:September 15, 2013
Scripture: Exodus 32:7-14, Luke 15: 1-10
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 19, Year C
The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.”
“So that my wrath may burn hot against them…”
In his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which he preached in the 1740’s, during the Great Awakening in this country, Jonathan Edwards makes the following points.
We human beings are always exposed to a fall, because we walk in slippery places, our destruction will be sudden and unexpected, we will slip on our own—we don’t need anyone to push us—and the reason we have not already fallen is simply because God’s appointed time has not yet come.
“In short,” Edwards rages, “we have no refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves us every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and the uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God….
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”
Edwards didn’t make up the fact that God is a God of wrath. Throughout the Old Testament, and in Revelation, that great summary of the story of salvation that comes at the end of Holy Scripture, God’s wrath pours off the page, stopping us in our tracks.
Yes, God is a God of wrath.
If God weren’t a God of wrath, then God’s mercy would be meaningless.
Now I think our tendency as human beings is either to embrace this God of wrath wholeheartedly, or to want to run the other way.
The group of people who embrace wholeheartedly this God of wrath are the people who end up understanding the crucifixion of Jesus as an offering to a wrathful and angry God, the only thing that will appease this God’s anger.
And then there’s the “run the other way” group, and I’ll freely admit that I’m in this category. Our tendency is to dismiss these wrathful scriptures as being only an early interpretation of God, or simply to ignore them altogether.
When I went to seminary, I realized that I could no longer take the option of running from the aspects of God I didn’t find comforting or didn’t like, so I spent part of my first year there doing an independent study on divine wrath.
The writing of theologian John Sanders is particularly helpful. He points out that God is in a covenant relationship with us, and that God’s relationship with us holds within it passionate ebb and flow, as do all deep relationships.
Sanders goes on to say that God is anything but apathetic toward us. God’s passionate love for us includes distaste and displeasure with all of the ways in which we stretch the boundaries or even break our covenant relationship with God, and that’s when wrath becomes an instrument in God’s hands, God’s anger at particular situations in history. (Sanders, 65)
I want you to hear that loud and clear-wrath is an instrument in God’s hands– not an attribute of God.
So, with the help of John Sanders, let’s take a look at how wrath works in the Bible.
Love is behind God’s pouring out of wrath. God cares deeply about us. God can’t stand to see us ruin ourselves, so “God actively seeks our renewal.” When we reject God’s efforts to renew us, then God becomes angry and grieved because we’ve broken our relationship with God.
Punishment is an attempt to bring the people back into relationship with God—a call for us to return and to be saved. And once this mission is accomplished, then God’s anger vanishes in the twinkling of an eye.
As Abraham Heschel, a Jewish theologian says, “The Lord is long-suffering, compassionate, loving and faithful, but the Lord is also demanding, insistent, terrible, and dangerous.” (Sanders, 66)
Within the wrath of God lies the mercy of God.
Over and over in the Old Testament, as soon as the people repent, God’s mercy shines through and takes over.
Here’s one last thought of Sanders on this subject.
“Divine wrath exists and it can be terrible, but it serves a purpose: bringing the people back from a life of death.” (Sanders, 68)
Now we come to today’s gospel.
Jesus loves to tell parables to make his theological points to those most theological of thinkers—the grumbling Pharisees, the judgmental ones who in this passage are looking askance at Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. My guess is that the Pharisees probably regarded the tax collectors and sinners with a wrathful eye.
Why did Jesus use parables to make his theological points?
Kenneth Bailey, a scholar who focuses on the time and culture in which Jesus lived in order to understand the theology of Jesus, says this about parables.
“A parable is a house in which a reader/listener is invited to take up residence—to look on the world through the windows of that residence.”
And so Jesus invites the Pharisees, and us, into the wilderness world of a shepherd and his sheep, and into the home of a poor woman whose most valuable possessions are ten silver coins, so that we can see through different windows, and get a different perspective on the nature of God.
And although we don’t hear this passage read today, these two parables are followed by the famous parable of the prodigal son.
Jesus hopes that the Pharisees, by hearing these parables and entering into these worlds, may find a broader and wider understanding of God than the exclusive, judgmental understanding that they currently hold.
So first, let’s enter into the wilderness world of the shepherd.
The shepherd, considered a rather rough and unsavory character in Jewish society at the time, is in the wilderness with his flock of one hundred sheep. One of them gets lost.
And so the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness and goes off to look for the one missing sheep.
The Pharisees would not have been surprised that the shepherd would have gone to look for the missing sheep. After all, God pursues the Israelites who have chosen to wander away—this is the story of our salvation history.
But what is surprising is that God’s wrath does not figure at all in this parable that Jesus tells. Nothing is said about the shepherd’s anger at this lost sheep for having left the flock.
Jesus says only this, that when the shepherd finds the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
The shepherd doesn’t hook the sheep around the neck with his staff, and drag it back to the others in angry, wrathful state. Instead, the shepherd lays the sheep on his shoulders and rejoices.
This image radiates love and compassion—and love, unlike wrath, is an attribute of God.
Now in the gospel according to John, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.”
God is the one, when we’re lost, and no one else knows or even cares that we’re lost—God is the one who sets aside everything else in the cosmos and comes to find us—searches for us until we’re found.
The psalmist David knew this about God—“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in hell, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the furthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
In the second of these parables, we enter into the house of the woman whose most valuable possessions are her ten silver coins, perhaps her dowry, and one of the coins is missing.
All of us know how frustrating it is to lose something, and how the loss eats away at us until we find what we’ve lost. And so the woman sets about her search.
She lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds that missing coin. Not only is she persistent, but she is methodical.
And the woman lights a lamp—
Jesus said, (again in the gospel according to John), “ I am the light of the world.”
When we enter into the darkest places in our lives, God comes searching for us. It’s as if we’re lost deep in a cave somewhere, in absolute darkness, helpless, and then we glimpse the smallest flicker of light coming toward us, and that light gets brighter and brighter, and finally we’re rescued and safe, bathed in the light of Christ.
No wonder that on Easter morning, we light the Paschal fire and sing, “The light of Christ, thanks be to God.” This light of Christ is the light by which we’re found, the light of our salvation.
At the end of these two parables, and also at the end of the story of the prodigal son, big parties take place.
The shepherd calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
The woman calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
And the father of the prodigal son says to the wrathful older brother who is furious over the party for his sinful younger brother, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
Celebration and rejoicing, banquets, feasting—God not only invites us into this utter joy, but will also come in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to seek us out when we get lost on the way to the party.
The grumbling Pharisees knew and understood God’s use of wrath.
But Jesus wanted them to know the very nature of God—love.
Jonathan Edwards ended his famous sermon with these words.
“Therefore, let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of the Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let everyone fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”
But Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. When you are lost, I will come and find you, and lay you on my shoulders, and rejoice and bring you home.”
Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, revised edition. IVP Academic: Downers Grove, IL. 2007.
Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. IVP Academic: Downers Grove, IL. 2008.