Year A Proper 4 Wednesday, 3 June 2020
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.
Lord, do not lead me into temptation. In these days, there are a lot of easy shots someone could take with today’s readings. With Ecclesiastes one might say, everything is ordained and be very fatalistic. With Galatians, I could speak to how racism is and always has been a part of the Church. With the Gospel reading I could speak to how dictators are going to abuse their power. All those are very gestalt in their approach, and I cannot reside there. I preach Good News, or I hope I do. I believe in and proclaim Resurrection. I preach the Ascension and believe Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father. I believe that if we follow Jesus not just as our Lord but as our Teacher, Guide, and Mentor we can convert and transform and live life the way it is supposed to be lived. So when I read these texts, I cannot see through a cynical lens despite the fact that I live in a cynical age during especially hard times.
After praying, I feel led to speak to the Galatians passage in today’s short homily. To set the context, St. Paul is calling out the hypocrisy of St. Peter, Cephas, the Rock. In Antioch, he was hanging with all the members of the church there, the Gentiles (non-Jewish) and the Jewish believers both. But when folks came from Jerusalem (from our own James the Less, by the way, who was Bishop of Jerusalem) Cephas only hung out with the Jews. Paul confronted him in his hypocrisy, holding him to task. The racist practices of the Jewish believers maintaining social distancing from anyone not of Jewish descent Paul found anathema. “I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel…” Once he was converted on that Road to Damascus, he made a radical life change and called others to the same.
Once the Spirit led them to open up the Church of Christ to any and all, then Paul maintained that they could not go back. And then he makes it an example for a theological foundation. If you are going to live by the old rules you cannot claim the new reward. If you want the things that come with the New Covenant, you have to live the new and different way, the way Jesus opened up. The way of Grace. Paul argued it this way:
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this. I have to live a changed life, to justify the price Jesus paid. Cheap Grace belittles what Christ did. Costly Grace is worthy of what Jesus did for me, for each and every one of us, out of love.
In these days we are facing, our country is being pulled apart by too many who want to live without change. But notice this! I love how in his frustration over Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul turns that frustration inward to ask the hard questions of himself. What is the log in his own eye, like Jesus taught, instead of fixating on Peter’s splinter. (He did confront him in love as we are called to do, but he maintains love and respect for this most close of Jesus’ apostles).
Friends, in these days of what about this, and why on earth did they do that, of pointing fingers and flinging accusations, I find I must turn inward and search out how I do not live by Grace. Where I don’t extend it, where I do not let it transform ALL OF ME. When I do anything less, I cheapen the love, the Passion, of what Christ did. God forbid “I nullify the grace of God…”
I urge myself, and all of us, to turn today to Christ. That is our hope. And these days it may be our only hope. There might be a time “to every purpose under heaven.” But instead of turning our gaze on these days of conflict, turmoil, rage, and fear, let’s look at the end of the story. Let us keep our eyes on the end prize. There will be good days, and horrible days, but these too shall pass. I want to be my utmost for the highest when the Final Day is here. Live with the end in sight. I close with the final words of the Ecclesiastes passage:
I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.
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