The familiar Gospel from St. Luke 15 has been known to generations of English-speaking Christians as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Some contemporary readers or hearers may think the "prodigal" is an old word for "sinful" or perhaps "ungrateful." Now certainly the younger son in the story was both sinful and ungrateful, but prodigal really means "wasteful" or "irresponsible" (especially financially). Many sermons (including some of mine) have focused on this son. And his story is dramatic. He is self-centered and selfish. He doesn't appreciate the grace of his father. He is determined to have his inheritance and do his own thing. In the process, he sinks about as low as a respectable Jew could imagine- in a pagan land, hungry, broke, dirty, in a pg pen, envying pig food. Then he remembers all the love, care and grace of his father. So he repents and heads home, trusting in the mercy of the father.
There is also another son who has stayed home and done his duty. Yet, he hasn't really appreciated the graciousness of his father. He has taken the good things for granted. And he resents his father forgiving his prodigal brother. He thinks that he has earned more consideration from the father.He is self-righteous, and in a different way, the responsible but resentful son is as self-centered and selfish as his brother. He too is a sinner who needs to repent and learn to be grateful for his father's unmerited love and grace.
This parable is really teaching us about what St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:5, "...by grace ye are saved." Almost every human being has had times when we have been irresponsible prodigals who have wasted our heavenly Father's gifts and fallen into bad ways of living. In such circumstances, we need to come to ourselves, repent, return to our Father and depend on His loving grace.
However, sometimes we may have avoided the most obvious forms of sin. We may have tried to be good and responsible sons and daughters of God. We have done our duties. We may have been outwardly obedient in most moral and spiritual matters. Yet, we still have a natural tendency as fallen beings to trust in our merits rather than God's grace. So we too need to repent, be more thankful and learn to depend upon divine grace. No matter what sort of son or daughter of God we may be, we must realize that it is only by grace that we are saved.
Monday, July 30, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018
Trinity VIII Matthew 7:15, 21 22 July 2018
Sermon Notes by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.
How do you react when religion, faith or beliefs are mentioned- especially outside a church building? There are two common responses. Some people become nervous or uncomfortable because they don’t like religious discussion. Other people of differing persuasions are well disposed to discussions of religion. They assume that professing some faith, especially a Judeo-Christian one, is basically good.
In fact, there are drawbacks to each of these responses to religion. Those who are skeptical about all religion ignore the spiritual dimensions of the universe and misunderstand some basic human traits. The opposite response is also has problematic. Assuming that all or most religion is good also ignores biblical truth. For while the religious impulse is natural, not all religion is the same. There is bad religion as well as good.
In today’s gospel, Christ warns us about bad religion. In St. Matthew 7:15, He begins, “Beware of false prophets…” Then in Matt. 7:21 He concludes, “not everyone who saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven….:
During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ exposed a great deal of bad religion. Some religious people opposed Him strongly. Some others claimed to support Him at times, but they were not really committed to Jesus.
The false prophets purported to be religious leaders. They claimed to serve goodness, and they would often appear harmless (they were in sheep’s clothing). But inwardly, they were like hungry wolves in the midst of a flock of sheep. They were really selfish, out for themselves, and destructive.
False disciples honored Jesus and used some religious words without meaning anything. They might give lip service to high principles, but they did not really care about God’s will. Their hearts, minds and souls were not really committed to Christ’s Gospel, and they would not produce good fruit.
The problems caused by false prophets and false disciples have not been confined to New Testament times. Bad religion has been a recurring danger in church history, and it is a serious problem for Christianity in our day.
One might argue that false prophets and false disciples are the most serious threat to Christianity in our time. Of course, the challenges of Islam, neo-Marxism and atheism are significant and endanger many Christians, body and soul. But fake Christians do great damage to Christian faith, community and witness- from within.
There is still a lot of bad religion making a false show of piety. And it can come from any branch of Christianity. There are people who call themselves charismatic, evangelical and catholic or Anglo-Catholic who are selfish and insincere and use Christian labels for their own bad purposes.
There is also a lot of contemporary churchmanship that is more concerned with secular standards and political correctness than with eternal Christian truth. There are false Christians who are more interested in organization or denomination than in Biblical Faith. There are people more dedicated to social respectability or worldly acceptance than to Christian morality.
Such false Christianity sometimes manages to appear good for a while, but in the long run, this kind of religion does not produce the lasting good fruit. Such false Christianity actually tends to hinder the true spread of the Gospel and give all religion a bad reputation.
So what do Christ’s warnings about bad religion mean for us? This is a deep and complicated issue, but today I would briefly suggest two points. First, we need to take Christ’s warnings seriously. We must remain aware that all religion is not good. We should not become complacent or gullible in religious matters. Some things wrapped in a Christian label do not deserve our acceptance. Thus, we must be on our guard against false prophets and false disciples. We must make practical judgments based on our loyalty to the Scriptures, the Creeds and the basic commandments.
Secondly, besides warning about bad religion, our Gospel today encourages us to grow deeper in our commitments to Jesus Christ. Pious words can be a start, but our Lord asks for more than a few pious words. He asks His followers for a living and true faith in Him and His message. He wants His Gospel to permeate our whole approach to life. He asks us to care for and cultivate the tree of faith so that it can produce much good fruit. So let us sincerely profess and live out our loyalty to Christ and keep Him at the center of all that we say and do.