PENTECOST 6, C – June 30, 2013

SCRIPTURES – 1 Kings 19:9-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62; Ps. 85

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. (Psalm 85:10)

This is one of those weeks in which I have really struggled with today’s Scripture readings. The Old Testament reading is rather odd and disconnected from our experiences. Elijah hiding in a cave, and God speaking in a whisper? It all sounds very strange. Then there’s Jesus, refusing to allow a man to bury his father. Having recently buried my father that sounds incredibly harsh! He also tells another man who will follow Him but first wants to say goodbye to his family that he cannot do so. Really? Elisha was allowed to do so! How I was tempted to ignore these readings and preach on another, one more familiar and easier to understand and accept.

But, you know, if I struggle with these readings, then you probably do, also. We could all benefit from a serious consideration of them. They are also God’s words, inspired and given by Him for our learning. We should wrestle with them, then, and not dodge them! So, I have wrestled this week. And, I have come to realize that the words of Ps. 85:10, our Introit, are a good summary and explanation of the teaching of today’s readings. “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” What do these words mean?

Picture a wedding. The bride and the groom stand facing one another. Holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes, each promises the other a love that will be steadfast and enduring “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death parts us.” Steadfast love and faithfulness meet. Faithfulness is the response to steadfast love. The bride and groom then seal their promised faithfulness with a kiss; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

God’s love for us in Christ is certainly steadfast, unwavering. It begins when we are infants and are brought to Him in Baptism. At that point we don’t know Him, don’t love Him, and have nothing to offer Him but many present and future sins and the need for years of teaching and discipline. Still, He gladly receives us, embraces us in the arms of His love, and puts His holy name upon us, welcoming us into His family as His own dear children. This steadfast love of God for you then continues.
  • In Baptism He fills you with His Holy Spirit that as you grow you might learn and understand His words, and so know Him as your good and loving Father and gladly follow His will for your life. 
  • Throughout your life He is with you to heal your diseases and injuries, or give you the strength to bear them.
  • Week after week, by His spoken Word and Absolution and the Sacramental touch of His loving presence in Holy Communion, He forgives your sins and assures you of His love. But, He will also discipline you with consequences for your sins that you might learn to not give into temptations.
  • He puts the peace of His love and favor into your heart and mind when you are made fun of or spoken evil of because you follow Jesus and His words direct what you believe and how you live. 
  • And, when death approaches, Christ’s death and resurrection for you and His living presence with you strengthens you to face it with confidence in your own resurrection to eternal life with God.
How faithfully the Lord shows us His steadfast love and grants us His salvation!

Should we not respond to such steadfast love with our own faithfulness? Of course, just as a spouse to the steadfast love that is received! The apostle Paul put it this way: “You were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of living a life of faithfulness to your God and Savior!

But, how? God doesn’t need anything from us. He needs no food or clothing. He does not need kind words of forgiveness for wrongs done to you, or of comfort and support in a time of need. He doesn’t need a ride anywhere, or help with the shopping, or cash to help Him out. He doesn’t need a visit to pick Him up. God has no needs and only desires to give!

But, there are many others who have needs: children; parents and grandparents; friends; neighbors; co-workers; fellow students; and, people you don’t even know. In them you will have no lack of opportunity to respond to God’s steadfast love with faithful service. It is as we show love to others that “[God’s] steadfast love and [our] faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

As you look around our world today you will find many examples of steadfast love not being met with faithfulness. Instead, there is much self-love, and many sins and sorrows because of it. 2,000 years ago Paul wrote to the Galatians of the works of the flesh that were evident in their society: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” They are abundantly evident in our day, also; and, as people are more and more turning away from God’s teaching to follow what they think is good and right, the sinful works of the flesh are increasingly evident. They must not be evident among us! “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” Christ’s apostle warns. You cannot remain in God’s love in Christ if you put yourself before others! You are not being faithful to your loving God if you are not loving and serving and sacrificing for the sake of others: your children; your parents and grandparents; your friends; your neighbors; your co-workers, and bosses; your fellow students; and, people you don’t even know. Christ is a Savior who endures scorn and anger and rejection and does not respond in kind, but gives love and sacrifices for others. To follow Him is to do the same. His heaven is a place of giving love. Hell is for those who love self first and so, as Paul says (Gal. 5), “bite and devour and consume one another.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These fruits are seen above all in Christ. He has given His Spirit to us, His baptized people, and so will also bring forth these fruits from us as we live in Him. Live in His steadfast love, receive His steadfast love, and pray for His Spirit of steadfast love to fill you and make new your mind, your heart, and your life. For then, “Steadfast love and faithfulness [will] meet; righteousness and peace [will] kiss each other. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.” (Ps. 85:10, 13)