Sermon: Goodness

12.1.2013     Preaching Text: “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42)

When I was young, I didn’t always agree with my parents, especially my father. In general, I guess you could say he was strict. Then again, it’s perhaps more apt to describe him simply as a person of character and strength. He demanded a lot from himself and those around him. He was moral and, naturally, insisted on similar behavior from his four children.

He also had a clear sense of what it takes to succeed in life, and strove to teach us the importance of discipline and hard work. I still remember him telling me sometime after I’d turned 13 that I was now old enough to go to work. That summer, I began my illustrious career as a caddy at one of the local country clubs. To say I was not pleased is a bit of an understatement.

Also, growing up, I was keenly aware that my father didn’t always share an interest in, much less approve of, some of the things that seemed most important to me.

Consider our taste in music, for instance. I remember clearly one afternoon as my two brothers and I were listening to a song – loudly – in their room. The lyrics mostly consisted of the same phrase repeated over and over again: “I’m so glad…I’m so glad…I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad…”

Passing by, with his characteristic dry wit, he uttered softly, “Great lyrics.” On one level we all thought it was pretty funny. After all, the words were pretty dumb. But on another level, we all agreed he just didn’t get it, that he obviously couldn’t appreciate good music when he heard it.

On a more serious note, he used to issues warnings about certain things in life. He’d advise us to take care to do some things, like study, because later in life we’d come to realize its value.

At one point he made what at the time seemed a completely absurd statement. When you get older, he said, girls will appreciate boys who do well in school. Who was he kidding? we all thought!

In these and other life lessons, he would warn, cajole, and even insist. Only much later did it make sense to me. Just last Sunday, in fact, I was talking to one of our members and telling him how much I appreciate today the fact that he didn’t buy into my often misguided thinking, but remained true to his convictions.

I was especially aware of this when he died a few years ago. At that time, I recognized from deep within how grateful I am that he didn’t waver in his convictions and that he toughed it out with the four of us. It is, in retrospect, a gift he gave us, the gift of truth, character, and love. It’s a legacy I greatly cherish today.

The reason I mention all of this is because I tend to think of biblical faith the same way. It’s not always popular, and doesn’t always fit easily into contemporary ways of thinking. It cajoles, makes demands, warns, disciplines, and insists. And it offends, in the same way my father’s ways sometimes offended my siblings and me.

In today’s scripture readings we hear a bit of this. In both cases warnings are issued, warnings that speak of a day to come that will demand much of us. We are urged to live our lives accordingly, tending to the tasks of character-building and faith-building. The reasons, in many instances, shall become apparent only later, sometime down the road.

The message refers to Christ’s Second Coming, when, according to biblical thinking, the world as we know it will end, and the truth of life will finally be sorted out, in accordance with God’s justice. It is a day of reckoning, one we would do well to prepare for. Even look forward to!

One of the things I keep hearing time and again is how judgmental the church is, that it is perceived by the wider culture to be spirit-killing, harsh, and, perhaps worst of all, old fashioned. It’s the strict father who’s hopelessly out of touch.

What’s curious, though, is that the Bible, for one, has been described as “the good book” and the Christian gospel as “the good news.” But increasingly neither seems to live up to those respective designations.

Among the things generally missed, however, is the fact that the Bible and the gospel both seek to direct all of life toward the good. For biblical faith understands, as did the ancients, that the world is filled with brokenness and, more importantly, human suffering.

Thus the God of the Bible (and thus the church, looks at the suffering of this world, a world created for good, and is not content to let it be. Rather, this same God uses every means possible to redirect the energies of the human race toward effecting the good.

As I’ve said before, the biblical worldview assumes the world is under the power of Satan. Therefore, the whole trajectory of the biblical witness is to defeat evil and, perhaps most importantly, to save all human beings from it.

This explains the witness of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as the all the prophets and saints throughout the Old Testament. Jesus, then, is but the summation and finalization of this “sacred history,” of God intervening in time to bring about salvation, to reconnect all of life back to its creator.

In Bible Study this past week, we talked, as we’ve done many times before, about how none of us would want a God content with the sufferings of innocent life. None of us! No, we yearn for righteousness and justice and goodness, all subsumed within the rubric of God’s holy love.

More often than not we look at the harsher, “judgmental” portions of the Bible and feel personally accused. Yet we rarely seem to step back and applaud God for his unswerving attempt to right wrongs and return the world to a place of charity and goodness.

All of us are familiar with literature and movies that dramatize the forces of evil being confronted by the forces of good. Such a theme dates back to the dawn of humankind. It’s not just something found in the Westerns I grew up on, or its modern day equivalent. It is hardwired into our very being.

Children know intuitively that certain things in this world simply should not be. They know it in their bones. Deep down every human heart yearns for the same thing – to be liberated from injustice, inhumanity, and the very real suffering that goes along with it.

Advent is the time within the liturgical year when we anticipate not only the birth of the Christ-Child, the hope of the world, but the consummation of life, a just, equitable consummation that is the logical outgrowth of God’s fierce and holy love.

This is something we Christian not only anticipate, but should yearn for. Because the heart is never at peace when any form of injustice, sin, or evil is allowed to exist unchecked.

During this holy time, as always, we thank God for his fiercely unyielding, unfailing love, the kind we can both trust and in which we rejoice. Amen.