Pentecost 4A                                                  St. John, Galveston 6/28/2020

“To Love God”

Matthew 10:34-42

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Gospel reading for this morning, from Matthew 10, is really a commentary on the first commandment. From the top of Mt. Sinai, God said, “you shall have no other gods before Me.” Martin Luther gave us a concise explanation of what it means to have no other gods. He says, “we should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus takes up the subject of the first commandment, by making a very specific application of it in regard to familial relationships. What does it mean to have no other gods when you examine your priorities and your love for others? 

Well, Jesus says, “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” He also says that divisions, even animosity, may arise in the home because of Him. “I have come (He says) to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

So, where do we begin as we consider what Jesus says to us this morning? How are we to understand His rather harsh statements, and, more importantly, how are we to apply them to our lives? Well, to begin with, it would appear that when God gave us His commandments, all ten of them, including this, where we are to have no other gods before Him, He actually meant it! 

I suspect that idolatry, the love of someone, or, something more than God, is a sin we don’t tend to worry too much about. Perhaps we think of idolatry as a practice, or, a sin steeped in ancient pagan rituals, the setting up of some carved image, or, statute, to pay homage to it. Perhaps we’ve never thought ourselves idolatrous because we can’t think of a time when we didn’t believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. But, in reality, idolatry is simply holding someone, or, something in life as greater, or, more important to us than God. It’s a matter of priorities and commitment. 

And, the truth is, idols come in all sorts of shapes and forms. Money, success, adoration, respect, our love for our spouse, or, for our children. Mind you, it’s not that we shouldn’t love such things. Actually, a part of love is cherishing something and respecting it, even honoring it. So, to receive as from God’s hand and to love the things of this life is good and right. But our love for the blessings and gifts we enjoy cannot exceed our love for the One who gives them. If we end up worshipping the creation, rather than the Creator, Jesus says, “we’re not worthy of Him.” And this, I think, is where these words of Jesus cause us the most difficulty. We know we’re supposed to love God above all things. We know too that we often fail to do so. But, here, in this reading for this morning, Jesus is telling us that, if that is the case, if you’ve ever in your life loved someone more than Him, “you aren’t worthy of Him.”

Those are difficult words to hear. Perhaps you already wrestle with feelings of unworthiness, or, inadequacy in your life. Maybe you learned through signals you gleaned over the years that you’re just flat not good enough and that you don’t measure up to whatever arbitrary standard someone else set for you! Maybe you felt the sting of rejection, or, the contempt of those who considered themselves better than you! Maybe you wrestled through the loneliness and the discouragement of being isolated, shunned and perhaps even abandoned! And, now, as if all of that weren’t bad enough, you turn to God’s word, His authoritative, inspired word, and Jesus says, “if you love your parents, or, your children more than Me, you aren’t worthy of Me either!”

Frankly, these words of Jesus are about as harsh as the Law gets! You look to Jesus for acceptance, to be received with open arms and a loving smile, but, when you turn to Him, He says to you, “you are not worthy of Me!” What does He hope to accomplish by turning you away with such harsh words? 

Well, as is always the case, Jesus says what He does, not to drive you to despair, or, even to drive you away. Rather, He speaks harshly to you to knock out from under you whatever false hope, or, whatever false security you’re relying on in terms of your relationship with Him, that you might find hope, not in yourself, but in Him, in His grace and mercy. Jesus, after all, is the solid foundation on which your faith is built. All other ground, the Scriptures tell us, are shifting sands. 

And so, this morning, if I were to ask all of you who see yourself as worthy of Jesus to move over to the pews on the lectern side, I would hope that all of you who are currently sitting here in this section (point) would scramble to get to the pews on the pulpit side and that those of you who are already on this side, the pulpit side would be content to remain where you are. None of us, none of you, are worthy of Jesus, of His love, of His mercy, or, of His forgiveness and grace! None of you deserve to be accepted and loved by God!

And yet, here you are, the redeemed of God, gathered in His house, receiving fully of His gifts of grace and forgiveness!! God’s acceptance of you is fundamental to the Gospel itself. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (says the Apostle.)” You have been baptized into Christ Jesus, and, as such, the Father says to you today, even as He does every day, the same thing He says to His dear Son, namely, “In you I am well pleased.” 

And, His acceptance of you is not because you have completely and perfectly kept His commands, or, because you are worthy of His favor. To the contrary, you haven’t done what He tells you to do, nor have I. But, Jesus has! It is He who has loved the Father more than any other. It is He who has perfectly kept every commandment. It is He who lived a pure and holy life. And, He did it all in your stead, in your place. Jesus is your substitute, both in life, as well as, in death.

So, in and through the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and by virtue of your baptism into Christ, you are, in fact, worthy of the love and acceptance of God. God’s face does shine upon you, because He sees you as He sees His own dear Son, holy, blameless, spotless, even pleasing in His sight. 

There is parable in Matthew 22 that illustrates our worthiness before God in a graphic and comforting way. There was a wedding feast that took place. The king sent our His servants to invite the guests, but the guests wouldn’t come to the feast. In fact, they seized the king’s servants, they beat them and they treated them shamefully. The king was angry, and He said, “the wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.”

Others were invited to the feast and they came in. But, among them was a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding garment. The king said to the man, “friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.”

The king’s reaction seems harsh, doesn’t it? I mean, the poor man seems to have simply been lacking the proper clothing. Why is he cast into the outer darkness? Is poverty a great sin in the eyes of God? Well, no! The garment the man lacked was the garment we were all given in Holy Baptism, the purity and the righteousness of Christ, that which makes us, which makes you, worthy in the sight of God. 

As the prophet Isaiah declared long ago, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” And so you stand before God, struggling to love Him as you should, and yet, worthy in His sight. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +