March 2, 2014
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
A few years ago there was a sitcom on TV called “Dharma and Greg.” She was the flighty, spiritual, free spirit, and he was the straight-laced, buttoned-down lawyer. Until one day when he decides to go on a spiritual journey, which he undertakes with the same seriousness as researching a case for a client.
So Dharma comes home and finds him with books open all around him and a legal pad full of notes. She asks how it’s going and he says, “I just finished the Bible: Old Testament, Don’t mess with God; New Testament, Love one another.”
There are times when this understanding seems appropriate. The church has often had difficulties putting our understanding of the Old and New Testaments together. Even in the early church there were Christian understandings of the God of the Old Testament as a wrathful, vengeful God, and some even went so far as to say that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament. I can understand how some might get that, but I think it comes from a shallow reading of one if not both parts of the Bible.
Our psalm this morning sure sounds like it falls into that camp of “Don’t mess with God!”
The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
Sometimes we need a strong declarative statement of praise like this, because the world is constantly offering alternative gods that want our time, our energy, our attention, our resources. From the latest, newest, greatest that will make us happy and healthy and sexy and loved, to the latest threat to our security and health that can only be countered by this product, this system, this pill, this candidate.
The next time you hear a politician, any politician, on either side of the aisle or in between, using God in a campaign speech or a sound bite, ask yourself this: if this person is trying to use God for political advantage, what does that say about who they think is more important: God? Or the ones who think they can use God?
Mighty King, lover of justice,
thou hast established equity;
thou hast executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
God’s worthiness to be praised and the impossibility of truly using God for our own advantage is because:
- God is Strong
- God loves Justice
- God established Equity
- God made justice and righteousness happen.
But more than that, when Moses and Aaron and Samuel cried to God, God heard them and answered them and gave them a covenant and led them. When the slaves in Egypt cried, God heard them.
Jesus takes his executive committee, Peter and James and John his brother, up to the mountain with him. And there we have a scene that has become familiar to us in the church.
Jesus is changed. He is glowing. He is lit up. And there with him are Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, one of the greatest of the prophets. And they talk for a while, and then they are hidden in a cloud, and then it is just Jesus alone. The “law and the prophets” is a set phrase for faith in the God of covenant.
Matthew is telling us something remarkable: Jesus embodies the faith in God that brings people out of slavery in Egypt and out of exile in a foreign land, and into the covenant of God whose love does not fail and whose mercies endure forever. This is the Gospel’s way of claiming a passing of the torch. This is Matthew’s way of telling a bunch of Jewish Christians after the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem that God is still with them, God is still approachable even though they can no longer practice the Temple religion, God is still present and forgiving and strong to save.
And then in echo of Jesus’ baptismal blessing, a voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The voice knocks Peter and James and John to their knees in wonder and awe. They put their faces to the ground in the manner of worship in those days. Like our psalm, they are overwhelmed by God. There is no doubt in their heart or mind or gut that God has spoken and they respond with worship.
But here is why God is worthy. Here is how we know that Jesus embodies the law and the prophets, the exodus from Egypt and the return from exile, the faith in a God strong to save. What does he say to them? Does he lord it over them, or chastise them, or make them ashamed, or tell them it is right to fall in worship?
Rise, and have no fear.
That is the message of the Gospel. That is the good news to the leper and the tax-collector and the sinner and the prostitute and the woman with the issue of blood and the little girl who has died and the blind man and Lazarus. And us.
Rise, and have no fear.
Rise. Get up from hiding yourself as less than you really are, which is a child of God. Get up out of the ashes and sackcloth, for your penance is over. Get up from those places that make you cower in fear or in pain. Rise. Help one another up.
And as you are rising, ask yourself this question: what is it that you do, if you were not afraid? How would you live your faith if you had no fear?
Rise, and have no fear.
Thanks be to God.