Draft of the sermon for Sunday 18th August.
When Kathy was practising the hymns for today, she said to me, “It sounds like Advent. These are hymns for Advent.” And, of course, they are. I chose them because today we are thinking about the judgement of God and the coming of God’s kingdom.
The prophet Isaiah is comparing the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He does so because Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the wickedness of their inhabitants. He wants Israel and Judah to know that unless they show themselves to be more righteous than Sodom and Gomorrah, they will perish miserably and their cities will be laid waste.
In Jerusalem and Samariah the priests and people are worshipping God just as Moses told them to. The sacrifices and celebrations, the harvest festivals and new moon services are being carefully observed.
But God does not want ceremony and ritual, because, without right behaviour, the smoke of the sacrifices stinks of death, and the processions of the worshippers trample underfoot the poor and needy.
God wants His people to cease to do evil and learn to do good; to seek justice, to rescue the oppressed, to defend the orphan and plead for the widow.
No religion ever followed by human beings is worth anything unless those who profess the faith also live the life. Those who claim the Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour must live lives of justice and mercy worthy of their saviour, or their faith is a lie. Those who share the bread and wine at the Lord ’s Table with no intention of sharing Christ’s life, eat and drink their own destruction, as St Paul says.
Now let us turn to the words of Jesus himself, in the gospel according to Luke. Jesus says, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What a relief! Isaiah threatened Israel and Judah with the rain of fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; and St Paul warns us that our own unworthiness will lead to our destruction. And now Jesus comes with a word of reassurance. “Do not be a afraid, little flock,” he says. “Do not be anxious.” How many times he says this! In chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
We are not to worry because God our Father has already promised to give us the Kingdom. Jesus tells us not to be anxious about getting into the Kingdom of God or going to Heaven or living in the presence of God. God has promised this to us and will not be unfaithful. We are to be thankful for this free gift, this grace. That is all that God asks of us, thankfulness.
We are not to worry about the coming of the Lord, the day of judgement, it will come when God decides, like a thief in the night, and like the householder Jesus describes, it is pointless to sit up all night every night worrying about the burglar who might come. It’s going to be a surprise, just as Kathy was surprised by the advent hymns.
Jesus says, sell your possessions and give alms. In other words, don’t worry about your possessions, just be generous to those in need. Hang on to what you need, not what you want or what you think you need. Love is a treasure which only exists if you give it to someone else. There’s a song from my youth which goes, “Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.”