He that is of God heareth God’s words…
Last week you and I were meditating upon the freedom or liberation that comes to us in Lent through the life of Jesus Christ. You will remember that our Gospel lection for the day presented the miracle of the five thousand. Five thousand men with their wives and children had been following Jesus- behold we go up to Jerusalem, listening to His words and observing the miracles that He performed on many- blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. (St. Luke xi. 28) In Jesus, they came to see God’s power at work in the world, and so were arrested with curiosity. But they were seekers. Only the restless and unsatisfied are seekers, searchers, knockers, and askers. A woman cannot cure her daughter of a vexing demon, and so she searches for the cure. The people in last week’s Gospel are hungry for the Word of God that Jesus proclaims. They follow Jesus and once their souls are fed so too are their bodies. They are fed doubly- in the body and the soul as we plead in today’s Collect.
The five thousand-plus people who followed Jesus showed us that true freedom comes when the soul seeks out spiritual and heavenly things first. True freedom is found when the soul searches for spiritual joy and happiness. True liberation is found when man can be united to that which does not perish and is not corrupted. St. Paul likens true freedom to the generation or birth of God’s promises in the world. True liberation is found when we are born again in the spirit. After that, the body’s needs can be met. But only after that. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matt. vi. 33)
Lent is about freedom. Freedom is found when we walk with Jesus, follow Him, hear His words, and allow them to sink into the depths of our souls. To live in the freedom that Christ brings, we must be searching for God as what is other than anything that we find in the creation. If we have all the answers and have figured it all out, this is not the journey for us. If we spend our time in cynicism, suspecting all others of sinful motives, and judging them, mostly to protect us from facing ourselves, this is no journey for us. If we live well and are unthankful, this is not the journey for us. To embark on this journey, to find Christ’s freedom, we must open to God’s Grace- that power, wisdom, and love that we neither desire nor deserve. To find Christ and His freedom you and I must be open to the power of God that is not constrained by and limited to the conditions that we place upon Him. For if we subject God to our own constrictive rules for what, where, and when of His presence, we become like Christ’s enemies in today’s Gospel.
We follow Christ to find our freedom. Today we learn that Christ’s enemies accuse Him of being a sinner. Christ tells them and us that he that is of God hears God’s words. (St. John viii. 48) Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. (Idem) One who hears the Word of God is not only searching but finding what is other than himself. Christ longs for us to hear and embrace what He receives from the Father. In His openness, He embraces Absolute Goodness and Truth. If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me? (Ibid, 46) Jesus hears the Father and keeps His Word. Jesus keeps it and shares it. But His enemies say are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon? (Ibid, 48) Jesus’ enemies accuse Him of being a Samaritan- an outsider, a product of mixed racial parentage, an alien. And they are correct. Jesus is an alien and an outsider. He is, in a way, of mixed parentage; His Father is Divine and His mother is Human. But it does not follow that He has a demon. For Jesus is what He hears, what he keeps, and what he tells. He receives and imparts God’s Word. His enemies cannot abide this because they fear His intimacy with God. They cannot bear Him because they believe that God’s Word is theirs by right and appointment through the priestly ministration of their religion.
Jesus tells us this morning that He does not have a demon but has God. He receives God so completely that God’s will is His life. He honors what is coming to Him as the Other, the Only Other who alone creates and redeems human life. Jesus Himself seeks, in His humanity, the Divinity of God. He seeks not His own glory but rather what His Father’s Wisdom and Love can show of the Father’s glory through Him. Jesus hears God’s Word and imparts it to all. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. (Ibid, 51) He who keeps the word that I receive and AM will not see death because God’s ever-approaching and present Word is not death but life, it is not sin but goodness, it is not error but truth.
Do we, with Christ, search out and seek after what the Only Other, God, offers to us? Have we even begun this journey? Have we admitted that there is something to find, something to encounter outside of our sinful and sorry selves? Perhaps we are content with Christ’s enemies to cynically judge and condemn, to question motives, and find demons. Our God is a distant God, we claim. Our God is a curious concept or idea. For us to find true freedom in Christ, we must see that the Father expresses Himself to us in His Son. Christ comes into the world to present to us Who He always is. Before Abraham was, I am. (Ibid, 58) The everlasting Son, the Word without beginning, articulates in Himself the Father’s will and way. But we must give ourselves to Him. It is of no use to rely upon ourselves any longer. It is futile for us to think that our earthly offerings---the blood of goats and calves in olden times, money and status in our own, can save us and help us. It is only the life of Christ, a life perfectly open to the Father, that can save us. Christ The Son of God in the flesh perfectly translates the Word of God into human life and becomes the tabernacle in which we can begin to hear the Word of God and keep it. (Idem)
CHRIST being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews, ix. 11)
The journey into freedom that we make in the tabernacle of Christ is neither easy nor always pleasant. Being open to God means dying to the self. The Son of God made flesh dies to all -the world, the flesh, the devil. God’s Word is always embraced by Jesus and now will be expressed in suffering and passion. We go up to endure the Word of God communicated to us through passion and crucifixion. Passion means to suffer, to endure, to take on, and to withstand. Because Christ insists upon hearing the Word of God and keeping it, He will be rejected and killed. He is determined to fight God’s battle against sin, death, and Satan, come what may! He fights it even in death. Death will take on new meaning in Jesus. We go up to Jerusalem and the bloody sacrifice and death of Jesus will express God’s Word of love to our hearts and souls from His Cross.
Under the tabernacle of Christ’s Passion, we shall begin to experience the fact that somehow in Christ all false gods and our delusional pleasures will die a hard death. In Christ, their powerlessness will be revealed, and their hold on us will be demolished. They will be silenced. For they are, in the end, meaningless. He is not open to them but to God. They will try to stop Him, and Christ-as-man will die. But He will turn the tables on them that resist His Omnipotent Love; they will perish. In Christ, under His tabernacle, we will be put to death also, not forcibly, but as we open our hearts freely to Him. In us, our sins must be put to death also so that the Word heard might be kept and articulated in our lives. Richard Hooker says this about the effect of Christ’s unbreakable bond with the Father even in death:
The Creator of the World…the Wisdom of God [has] become such a Spectacle, as neither Men nor Angels can behold without a kind of Heavenly astonishment, we may hereby perceive there is cause sufficient, why Divine Nature should assume Human, that so God might be in Christ, reconciling to himself the World. (Hooker’s Laws, Book V…)
We travel with Christ, under his tabernacle up to the Cross. This spectacle of the dying Son of God in the flesh fills us with heavenly astonishment. It seems all wrong, but Christ insists it must be Right. It appears utterly evil, but Christ insists it must be Good. It strikes us as an unclean oblation and Christ says that it is pure and spotless. This heavenly spectacle is the doorway to God’s Kingdom. We enter through Christ’s death. We begin to die in and through Him. Behold, I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5) Our selfish objections will be felt as nothing compared with the Love of God made flesh. Our religious pretensions will seem vain and fruitless. The life of man without God is over. The horizon of new freedom is opening before us in the death of our Saviour.
Before Abraham was, I am. Therefore, took they up stones to cast at Him: But Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the Temple. (St. John viii. 59 We discover that the Creator of the Universe is unmasked as the Redeemer. St. Augustine says, But Jesus acts as a man, as one in the form of a servant, as lowly, as about to suffer, about to die, about to redeem us with His Blood; as He who is the Word in the beginning, and the Word with God. (St. Augustine: Tractates xlii, xliii) The Spectacle of God’s Omnipotent Love in death will undo us. God’s love persists. Love never dies. (1 Cor. Xiii. 10) God in Jesus embraces patience against earthly power. Patience is revealed as God’s Power of Passion. With patience Christ exhibits God’s Passion for us -the Heavenly Spectacle of irresistible freedom that reconciles the world to Himself.
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