St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Highland Park)
“Unconditional AcceptanceàHostility UndoneàPurpose”
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here with you in your beautiful building this morning. And while it is noble and very Christian of you to welcome a complete strange into your midst, it probably wasn’t very wise giving him the pulpit. With that said, have no fear, your valiant rector will return next week to undo any of the damage that Tim, Philip, and I most certainly have done or—in this case—will do.
But in all seriousness, I am very excited to be here this morning, not only because I have the chance to meet new people, but also because I get to talk about my favorite thing in the world—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What one theologian refers to as the one-way love of God for suffering sinners like you and me. What NT scholar F.F. Bruce summarized using in these words, “Christ died [not for the healthy but] for the ungodly.”
It’s been offending self-righteous people like myself for two thousand years now. For just like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, some of us find it downright upsetting that the wayward son is just as acceptable to the Father as us—the diligent, hard-working, rule-keeping—older brother (or sister) types. We’ve been trying to earn his love for some time, how dare he accept these reprobates who turn to him at the last minute?
Yet when we internalize the truth of the Gospel even we begin to realize that this unfair reality—this message that is too good to be true—is, in fact, what we’ve wanted all along. A love from the praiseworthy that is truly unconditional—a love, that as the great hymn says, will never let us go.
This Gospel, while found throughout both Old and New Testaments, is most explicitly stated in what has come to be known as the Pauline Corpus—and that just means the collection of letters traditionally attributed to St. Paul. Unfortunately, for many of us Episcopalians, we have picked up the notion somewhere that Paul somehow complicated what Jesus made simple.
This truly is an unfortunate reality, and we would do well to learn from our Lutheran brothers and sisters that, rather than complicating Jesus’ teaching, Paul makes explicit what is left implicit in the Gospel narratives. And I’m going to say that again because that was profound for me the first time I heard it. What Jesus left implicit, Paul makes explicit.
And hopefully this will become evident as we take a look at the actual passage read just a moment ago.