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Sermon: "God's Grieving Heart"

Sermon.Ash Wednesday.02.22.23/02.26.23

St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings

Fr. Larry V. Ort

Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103.8-14; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21

God’s Grieving Heart

Have you ever stopped to consider how God must grieve? We grieve personal losses such as friendships, the death of loved ones, the waywardness of our children, the loss of our youth and vitality, etc. We also grieve community losses which result from senseless violence and hatred, drug addiction, child and spousal abuse, murder, etc. We grieve losses on a global scale when we identify with the victims of war , e.g., the thousands dead or displaced by the war in Ukraine to say nothing of the physical and moral injury suffered by so many (whether on the side of the aggressor or the defender). We grieve the thousands dead in Turkey and Syria due recent earthquakes; we grieve with those displaced and homeless by the same. In response, in human solidarity, we open our hearts to appeals from Episcopal Relief and Development, the Red Cross, and the Red Crescent (as it is known in Moslem countries). We open our communities to refugees (though many begrudge our doing so). Such attitudes are another cause for grief.

If we grieve in this manner, think how God, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, grieves. After all, all things were created good. We were created for fellowship with God, yet God granted us free will. In exercising our free will, we have chosen to pursue the idols of wealth, power, and prestige. In exercising and attempting to fulfill our imitative desires, we perpetrate violence on each other, both individually and collectively, whether it be racial violence or war. We also engage in the violent exploitation of creation and the natural order. Yes, God looked at creation, saw that it was good, but now God grieves. St. Paul tells us that creation itself groans in travail (Romans 8.22). God’s people, whether Christians or adherents of some other faith expression, including humanism, also grieve.

Remember, prophets are charged with calling God’s people back into a right relationship with God. After warning the day of the Lord is coming, a day of darkness and gloom (the advance of an army of locusts), the prophet Joel cries out, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,and relenting from punishment” (Joel 2.12-14; NRSVUE). God longs for us to return to fellowship with God, longs for us to rend our thinking (our hearts) rather than our clothes. What God desires is a change of heart, a change of one’s being.

Joel furthers cries out: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; … gather the people; consecrate the congregation” (Joel 2.15-16a; NRSVUE). The people are to be devoted, or set apart, for a holy purpose – worship and fellowship with God. And lest you think the priests are let off easy, Joel says, “Between the vestibule and the altar, let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?”’” (Joel 2.17; NRSVUE).

These words are as applicable today as they were in Joel’s time, for think how God grieves the loss of innocence, the betrayal, as so many young people have suffered at the hands of clergy who have betrayed their vows to God and the Church. In the face of such sin and hypocrisy, is it any wonder so many have chosen to leave the church?

Despite God’s grieving heart, as the psalmist reminds us, our God is a God of compassion: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. God will not always accuse us, nor will God keep God’s anger for ever. God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. … For God knows whereof we are made; God remembers that we are but dust” (Psalm 103.10-11, 14).

St. Paul, writing to the Church of Corinth, observes that they are ambassadors for Christ. He echoes Joel’s call for repentance and righteousness: “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 5.20-6.1; NRSVUE). In God’s grief, God chose to take on human flesh, to become one of us, to show us the possibility of life: “For God so loved the world [God so grieved] that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3.16; NRSVUE).

Paul says he and Timothy live their lives such that they put “no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with their ministry;” to the contrary, thy have acted so as to commend themselves through what they have endured and suffered as well as through their character. And what have they endured and suffered? “Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (2 Corinthians 6.3-6; NRSVUE). And what of their character? “Purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God” – in essence, gifts of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6.6-7; NRSVUE). Did you note the victorious manner of life despite their treatment? “We are treated as impostors and yet are true, as unknown and yet are well known, as dying and look—we are alive, as punished and yet not killed, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6.8-10; NRSVUE).

This week I received an email from Faithful America, “the largest online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice” which is actively opposing white Christian nationalism. As I have mentioned, I’m a member of Faithful America. Here is a sampling of the hate mail they have received for opposing the distortion of Christianity:

  • "You folks call yourselves Christians, but Democrat Communists are servants and worshippers of Satan!"

  • "You people are not Christians, you are tools for Satan to destroy the Republic. May the wrath of God destroy your heretical and apostate movement."

  • "You're not Faithful America - you're anti America and anti-Truth! If you got the vaccine, you may be dying soon."

  • "Your vendetta to fire Franklin Graham and call him blasphemous proves that you are non-Christian but rather an organization of heathens doing the evil deeds of Satan."

Yes, though we are treated as imposters, yet we are true.

Today’s gospel lesson is a continuation of our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is condemning a number of hypocritical actions which grieve God’s heart!

Jesus tells his disciples to beware of practicing their righteousness before others so as to be seen by them, or recognized by them, e.g., when we give alms, we are not to sound a trumpet!

Whenever we pray, we are not to draw attention to ourselves, but are rather to enter our room close the door and pray in secret.

Whenever we fast, we are not to draw attention to ourselves, but are to put on oil, to wash our face, and to appear as normal as possible.

We are not to seek the attention of others, or to draw attention to ourselves. We are not to do these things conspicuously for our own ego; we are to do them in secret so as to honor God.

Last, Jesus cautions us against laying up earthly treasures; to the contrary, we are to lay up treasures in heaven, for “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6.21; NRSVUE). Even then, we must be careful that our intent, our aim, our desire is not to lay up treasure in heaven out of pride for the sake of accumulating treasure in heaven. We lay up treasure in heaven by assuring we stand in a loving relationship to God and our neighbor. And in doing so, we gladden God’s heart!

In this time of Lent, will we grieve God or will we give God cause for rejoicing? Think about it and choose wisely!


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