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Third Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, January 24, 2021

Behold We Come to You Our God

Text: Jeremiah 3:19–4:2

This past week many of us received The Mid-Atlantic Messenger, which is our Diocesan monthly newsletter. You can find it on the Light of Christ webpage. I found an article about our response to the political situation helpful.

I want to read a small portion of the letter from John Guernsey, our Bishop.

Christians follow Jesus, and his Gospel transcends and critiques all cultures and all political ideologies. The Church is not a political party and there will inevitably be political disagreements among godly, faithful Christians. But we must all acknowledge that there have arisen in our society violent extremes on both ends of the political spectrum that are incompatible with the way of Christ. We may be more sympathetic to one end of that spectrum and so we try to see its members as well-intentioned and motivated by justifiable frustrations. But we must not allow our sympathies to cause us to be silent about such public wrongdoing. In fact, we should be quickest to speak out when those of our political persuasion publicly misrepresent Christ.

We must be on guard against this dehumanizing polarization that infects both extremes in our culture. We are being bombarded with messages that relentlessly tell us that all those who disagree with us are just like those radical extremists we see on the other side.

One of the reasons I found it so helpful is that we are bombarded with news reports and analyses that can easily tie up our time and move our focus from the Lord, who is the King, to articles and reports that weigh heavy on us and leave us frustrated and angry.

Those who really are seeking to know Jesus Christ more deeply find that they are transformed by the word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I have found that it means that my daily, hourly, minute by minute focus must be on Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean that I can’t think about anything else, but I must strive to see everything else through the lens of God’s word and Spirit. I have found I must be intentional about that. This is especially important when circumstances around us are so far from what we believe they should be.

Years ago, my father had a friend that loved bumper stickers and bought them by the thousands. I’ve never liked bumper stickers that much and that’s just a personal preference not an evaluation on their value or purpose. I enjoy reading them on other people’s bumpers. The man wanted me to take a couple hundred bumper stickers that read, “Jesus is the answer,” but I shook my head and politely said, “No thank you.” He was not to be put off, so he asked me, “Don’t you believe that Jesus is the answer?” To which I replied, “It depends on the question. If I were to ask you your name would you say ‘Jesus,’ or what about a math problem? Is Jesus ever the answer.” He shook his head and walked off. I was so proud of my quick wit, but it made me consider the statement, “Jesus is the answer.”

In a recent article from Christianity Today I was reminded of a cute story,

A senior pastor is visiting a young Sunday School class. In an effort to build rapport with the children, he asks them this simple question, “What is brown and furry with a big bushy tail?”  The children just sit there staring at him.

He sits quietly for a few minutes waiting for one of them to answer. Sheepishly a child in the back raises their hand and the pastor calls on them. The child replies, “I know the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”

The truth is that Jesus is the answer for every area of our lives because every area of our lives is affected by our sin nature. Only Jesus can bring us new life that literally transforms how we think, how we speak to others, our moral values, and the purpose for why we live. Without Jesus speaking into and transforming every area of our lives we will be left trying to live a godly life apart from God.

 Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for well-meaning church goers to strive to act the part of a Christian through good works and religious activity without focusing on becoming like Jesus in the power of his Word and Spirit. They become actors and actresses in the Christian drama without the benefit of the relationship with God that would make the part become a reality.

For many years I tried my best to live up to the moral and ethical standards that I read in the Bible but found that time and again I failed miserably. For the first 1/3 of my life as a professing Christian there was no joy in my life because I was missing the one ingredient that would change my role from an actor to a son of God and that was the power of Jesus Christ. I was a student of the word of God and knew what the law of God said about how I should be living but I lacked the power or ability to live that way. I knew that I was a poser and I hated myself for it. I wanted the reality of Jesus Christ that I saw in others, but I had no idea how to get there until I grew so desperate that I cried out to God for help and mercy. As it ended up, Jesus was the answer after all.

When you come into a relationship with God through his son, Jesus Christ, it changes everything, including how you view stories in the Bible. I began to see the failure of Israel to follow God faithfully through the lens of one who had failed miserably for many years, but I also began to see through the Holy Spirit those same stories from the perspective of God’s response. We are allowed to see the heart of God for his people and his longing and frustration at their rejection. It reminds me of how I lived for many years.

One of those passages is this morning’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 3:19–4:2. The Book of Jeremiah was written as a warning to Judah that their idolatrous worship of foreign gods would lead to the judgment of God and the exile of the people of Israel and Judah. In the first part of the book God sent the prophet to declare the sin of Judah’s treachery and rejection of God. God was assuring them that if they would not repent and turn back to him in covenant faithfulness, he would remove his hand of blessing and send them into exile. All the land that had been given to them and the special relationship with the creator that they had enjoyed would be lost. In chapter 2:11–13 God speaks of the foolishness of their rejection,

“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Chapter 3 begins with the charge of adultery against Judah and gives King Josiah as an example of one who had been faithful to God and destroyed pagan worship in Jerusalem and throughout all of Judah. He was a very righteous king “who walked in all the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2). The reading of the law of God had opened his heart to the God of the house of Israel and he rid the nation of anything that was an affront to God. Why, because he saw him for who he was, and he loved him faithfully. God, through the prophet, is asking his people to turn from their sin and like Josiah see him for who he is. That brings us to our passage for this morning. Let’s read Jeremiah 3:19–21,

I said, ‘How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel’, declares the Lord. A voice on the bare heights is heard, the weeping and pleading of Israel's sons because they have perverted their way; they have forgotten the Lord their God.

Have you ever known anyone who had been betrayed by someone that they loved and trusted? Your reaction is probably to comfort and console that person in the hope that your love will somehow make their loss a little easier to bear. In this passage we read of God’s reaction to the rejection and treachery of those whom he desired to pour out his blessings. He wanted them to understand him for who he really was, “My Father”. A term of intimacy, trust and love that conveyed the truth of who God really is but also showed the position that he was offering to those upon whom he had lavished his love and affection. He was offering them family status. He was their Father, and they would be his children and all that he had would be theirs for the asking.

Dp you know what’s hard for me to understand about this? Why would the Creator God, the Sovereign Lord of the universe place himself in such a vulnerable position? Why were they ever allowed to be in a position to reject him? Do you know what God wants us to see this morning? He wants us to clearly understand his Father’s heart.

Over the past three months we have been studying who God really is according to his word in the “Behold Your God” series. Through the scriptures we have seen that often our perception of God is way too small and because of that our perception of ourselves is way too big. I’ve found myself humbled that God would want me to know him and pay such a heavy price so that I could. He wants me to respond with my love and devotion to him. I think in the past I would have found that weird and unusual, because God the Father is the Lord of Heaven and Earth and the King of the Universe. Why would he care about my love for him? What possible difference would it make to God whether or not I loved him? What do I offer that he needs?

Nothing whatsoever, but the fact that I would ask that question showed a complete lack of understanding of the heart of God and of the depth of his love for us. Now, every day I tell God how much I love him and that I delight to call him my Father and the Lord Jesus my Savior and King. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the terrible political nightmare and the sadness of friends leaving us, what feels like too soon, I’ve had a peace and joy come over me and I think it’s because I have found that Jesus is indeed the answer given by the Father and he wanted those he was pursuing to know how wonderful the love of God can be. It was so simple and yet so revealing. It’s when we come to understand the depth of the love of God as Father that everything else falls into place. Sin becomes an odious thing because it displeases and grieves our Father and the Holy Spirit, and I don’t want that. Not because of the possibility of judgment but because of love. God had longed for Israel to follow him out of love, but if not, his love for them would bring judgment in the hope that they would repent.

The love for the Father causes the invitation of the gospel to make more sense than ever before. Our Gospel reading from Mark 1:14–20 comes into sharper focus when seen through the lens of the Fathers love for us. Mark 1:14–15 points us to the time where God was fulfilling his promise to restore his creation and those who would long for his love,

… Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus came at the request of the Father and the Good News (Gospel) was that God was coming to the rescue in spite of the fact that he had been rejected over and over again. The Kingdom was at hand and God was going to make a way for those who had walked away to return to him that they might say to him, “My Father”. 1 John 4:14–15,

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Jesus’ mission was to be “the way, the truth and the life” and the only way to the Father (John 14:6), that is the goal. He wanted us to see that the greatest treasure was that we might be with the Father and know him with the same intimacy that Jesus did. Jesus longed that the disciples would see the truth about the Father’s love through him. This is the one truth that Israel never could understand. The Father was offering them relationship with himself and that was an even greater gift than all of creation. Jesus made it clear that if you come to him you get the Father and the Holy Spirit because this was the Father’s desire and will.

For those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, everything must be seen through the light of the love of the Father. Our goal is not simply Heaven or the new Heavens and the New Earth but union and unrestrained fellowship with God. In our gospel passage from Mark 1, Jesus invites the disciples to follow him and he will make them fishers of men. That doesn’t sound compelling at all unless it is seen as Jesus inviting them on the adventure of accomplishing the will of the Father with the reward of knowing him intimately.

When you continue reading the gospel account you eventually see it dawning on the disciples that what Jesus is offering wasn’t anything like what they were looking for or what Israel had been expecting, but it was exactly what God had been offering all along, intimate relationship. What was being offered was inconceivable and seemed impossible. How could the God who was so holy that they wouldn’t even speak his name be interested in knowing them intimately? It wasn’t until the disciples finally saw what God in Christ was willing to do on their behalf at the cross and then seeing the resurrected Savior, that the love of God came into sharp focus for the first time.

Sometimes I think that we speak of the sacrifice of the cross with such familiarity that we lose the intensity, the wonder and power of the love of God revealed in it. It should never fail to leave us awe struck, and with humility cause us to commit the entirety of our lives to the loving service of the one who gave all for us. Our prayer should be that God would open our hearts to the depth of his love for us and that we would bask in the joy of his delight.

In our Epistle reading this morning from 1 Corinthians 7:17–24 Paul is encouraging those who had come to faith in Christ to not become tangled up with trying to figure out the changes they needed to make in their lifestyles now that they were Christ followers. Certainly, sinful practices should cease but changes in status didn’t really matter. In the first part of the chapter, he encouraged those who were married to stay that way, even though they may have unbelieving spouses. If they were single, they should feel free to stay that way or to get married if they wanted.

Paul’s point is that God’s calling was not in reference to their social position but that conversion from death to life had taken place. They had moved in status from being enemies of God to children of God. Whatever their position whether it be marital status, economic, or social it didn’t matter. Paul’s point was that they weren’t called because of their position but because of the love of God for them. The response to that love was to keep the commands of God out of love and devotion to the one whom they now could call, “My Father.” Paul even makes the point that if they were a slave or servant when God called them, then it was fine to stay in that position, although if they were offered freedom by all means take it. Either way they had been set free from what had really enslaved them and now they were free to know and experience the love of God.

Each of our passages this morning points us to the motivation for our relationship with God and the reason for covenant faithfulness, love. Psalm 130 begins with, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” There is in that opening statement the deep-seated need for a response from God. Psalm 130 is seen as a penitential Psalm, a cry for forgiveness. The Psalmist is acknowledging that there is forgiveness with God and the absolute only way that there will be peace within his heart, and things made right, is by God showing up in love. There is simply no greater joy that encountering God and being assured of his love.

Long ago I discovered how easy it is to act the part of a Christian. I could go to church and pretend that everything was fine between me and God but in truth I was empty on the inside. I would read of Jesus chastising the Pharisees for being “whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but full of corruption on the inside”and I would inwardly cringe. I knew that was a great description of me, too. It was when I cried out to God from the depths of my misery that I found the love of the Father through the cross of the Son. The gift of a relationship with God had been mine for the asking all along and the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit sealed the deal. It was wonderful, and it changed everything.

However, our relationship with God is like our relationship with our spouses, you don’t just get married and then stop working on the relationship unless you want it to grow stale. Coming to faith in God is the beginning and we must build and develop the relationship daily. God can pour out upon us the gifts of the Holy Spirit but unless we pursue Christ daily, they can become idols instead of tools for his glory. We can let life get in the way and the joy and freshness of the relationship can begin to wane and before long it seems like only a memory and we find ourselves telling stories from long ago about the way things used to be.

I’m afraid that too often that is what happens in the lives of many who call themselves Christians. The idea that God is Father becomes something that is acknowledged as true but there is no longer that joy and passion that was once there. As I said last Sunday, if you no longer hear from God it is probably a sign that this has happened. If the passionate desire for God’s word and for daily times of prayer and praise are gone, then perhaps it’s time to join with the Psalmist and cry out from the depths of your soul, “O Lord, renew my passion and desire for you. Help me to once again find joy and delight in calling you, my Father.”

I like the analogy of the grape and the raisin. When you eat a juicy grape, it is a delight and even satisfies thirst. I’m embarrassed to say that it was a long time before I knew that a raisin was a dried-up grape. You know why? Because a raisin doesn’t look anything like a grape, even though nutritionally they are much the same. It has never been more important that we as the children of God live like it.

Whether our citizens are willing to admit or not, our country is in shock because good is called evil and evil is called good. We could stand here for hours thinking of examples of that, or we can spend hours crying out to God to use us to bring the Good news of the gospel to those who have lost hope. Proclaiming that Jesus is the answer in word and deed is what a Christ follower looks like.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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