Sunday, September 11, 2016

the greatness of God's love for us

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today contains the well-known parables of the Lost Sheep and the Missing Coin. Each remind us of the great love that God has for his children – so great that when one is lost he will go to great lengths to bring that lost soul back to him. And we know, of course, what those great lengths consists of. The Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, took flesh and was born of a Virgin so that he might save us from our sins – dying on the Cross so that he might do so. There are no limits to which God will not go in order to bring the lost back to him.

Why was it necessary that Christ should die for us? That is something that all should know the answer to, for it is basic Christian doctrine. It was because in the sin of our first parents relationship was God was damaged and needed to be restored. And we have some examples of that break in our readings today. Consider the words that we heard speaking through the prophet Jeremiah: 'Now it is I who speak in judgement upon them. For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.' Because of the Fall we became skilled in doing evil and did not know how to do good; but the Father loved his children anyway and sent the Son into the world to save them.

Or consider the words of today's psalm: 'The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Corrupt are they, and abominable in their wickedness; there is no one that does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the children of earth, to see if there is anyone who is wise and seeks after God. But every one has turned back; all alike have become corrupt: there is none that does good; no, not one.' And when the psalmist speaks of people saying there is no God, he is not talking about atheists – there were no atheists in the ancient world. He's talking about those who are denying the One, True God who had revealed himself to them and going off to worship idols and carry out the abominations demanded by those false religions.

And, of course, idol worship was not then and is not now limited to bowing down to figures made of stone, wood, or metal. As St Paul reminds us through gluttony we can, for example, make an idol of our stomachs. Anything in our lives that we put before God is an idol – whether it be a false religion, a false understanding of religion, or some ideology that places man's wishes and whims over and above the right worship of God and right relationship with him. That is what the psalmist was speaking of; and the result is that people become corrupt and do not do good. And still God sent Christ into the world to suffer and die on the Cross for us. So that each and every one of those lost sheep might be brought back to the fold.

And when you think of the lost sheep, who do you imagine it might be? Someone other than yourself? No - it is each and everyone of us; we are all lost sheep. We are all sinners in need of salvation whom Christ came into the world to save. Never make the mistake of thinking that you are doing well and it is the other person, someone you think worse than you, who is the lost sheep. That is to fall into the error of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Remember that it is the Publican who stands at the back of the synagogue, beats his breast, and says 'Lord, have mercy on me for I am a sinner' who goes home justified, not the Pharisee who thinks he is a fine upright fellow.

We must always keep in mind the words of someone who was a former Pharisee, St Paul, whom we hear say today: 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners.' Note that he is not speaking merely of his former life, during which he had done terrible things, and committed many great sins in his persecution of the Church. No, even though at the time of writing he had left that all behind he says 'I am the foremost of sinners' – present tense. He realises that despite all he has done to spread the gospel, he remains a sinner, in need of Christ's salvation. And he is not unusual in this – great saints always recognise that that are also sinful men and women. Perhaps that is why they are great saints. And if such as they recognise how much they need to repent, how much they are in need of God's mercy because of their sins, how much more must we recognise it, we who are far from being anywhere near as holy as they were during their lives?

And yet, despite our sins, despite our lack of holiness, God reaches out to us. He reaches out to us as the shepherd searches for his lost sheep. He reaches out to us as the woman searches for her lost coin. He reaches out to us as the Son upon the Cross, dying for our sins. I pray that all hear will enter into the embrace of the one whose arms are opened wide for us upon the Cross and be saved; and I most especially ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

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