Sermon – July 5, 2020 Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Love, Compassion and Hospitality … by Nathaniel Athian Deng Mayen

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Welcome to the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. 

Dear brothers and sisters, Apostle Peter invites us to be “hospitable to one another” and “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:9-10)This apostolic and prophetic request for love, compassionate, hospitality and generosity portrays a familiar scene to most of us.

As a nation, we welcome the refugees and asylum seekers to feel comfortable as they integrate into the Canadian society. As individuals, we invite friends and family members, throwing up parties for remembering significant life events, such as birthdays and anniversaries for marriage.

In the gospel reading today, John the Baptist and Jesus represent the two guests who have visited ‘this generation’. Jesus, the narrator of the unfolding story, is disappointed with ‘this generation’ because all ‘this generation’ do is to turn their attention to the eating behaviours of the guests they have rejected rather than appreciating the love the visiting guests brought to ‘this generation’.

In using the phrase, ‘this generation,’ St. Matthew takes us back to the birth of Jesus Christ, whose coming to the world signifies an exceptional love for humanity: “all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:17)

The reference ‘this generation,’ therefore, represents the generation into whom Christ has been born, the generation that have witnessed the truth that has been told about God to different generations before, beginning with Abraham. Hasn’t John, the beloved disciple of the Lord, revealed to us this truth when he said, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ?” (John 1:16-17)

It hurts that ‘this generation’ have not been keen to the visible signs of the true kingdom, and have instead resorted to sin, rebellion and unfaithfulness. It hurts that ‘this generation’ continues to dwell on the petty issues when the truth that demands that undivided attention is among them.

Another possible interpretation of ‘this generation’ are those who, because of ungodliness and wickedness, “suppress the truth,” (Romans 1:18) whose thoughts and minds have distracted from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ because of the deceit of the devil. (2 Corinthians 11:3) It is ‘this generation’ that Paul describes as follows: “though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” (Romans 1: 21-23)

It hurts that ‘this generation’ takes pride in the empty treasures in which they have invested and for which they have invited and fed the guests. It hurts that ‘this generation’ forgets the provider of the precious feast is our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, unfaithful generation, will you pass your blessing to the dogs, to the slaves, to the outcast, to the tax collectors, and to the sinners? 

Surely, Christ has come to heal those who put their trust in the truth that has been revealed to them. Christ is a friend to the tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19) because He is the physician that heals our souls and His truth is the remedy of division, discrimination, and oppression in our society.

A third possible explanation for ‘this generation’ relates to our identity in Christ. Christ can call us his ‘friends’ if we honour and glorify God, giving Him thanks for the love shown to us. We likewise identify with ‘this generation’ because, at least, we have made an effort to invite Christ into our lives, to the table of the feast. What are we waiting for? The truth already dwells among us and, therefore, we should not be deceived to believe in our own creative imagination.

While we were immature in faith, our Lord visited us, and we are now engulfed in His love. If you read with the Spirit-inspired eyes the following statement, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants,” (Matthew 11:25) you will realize that infancy is the chosen identity for those whom God has revealed the divine truth. This means that Jesus is talking about the truth of our spiritual maturity and its distinctive realization in those who are humble, those who give room to the Word of God to live in them. Spiritual transformation is our dream, our silent resting place for the souls that have embraced the love of Christ. This is our delightful, honest call by Christ: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28)

What kind of rest? It is the freedom achieved through the practice of love, generosity, hospitality and compassion: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 34-36)

I began this sermon with the call for love and compassion for others and appreciate the hospitality of our nation and communities because I believe the encounter of Christ and John the Baptist and ‘this generation’ teaches us about caring for and giving to the needy. This is a central teaching of the Scriptures that we also affirm in our baptismal vows. Like the short Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke, we have sinned in one way or the other by exploiting or using others. Surely, we ought, at least, to feel guilty for our sins and repent before God, and extend such regret to others through almsgiving and sharing with them whatever resources and gifts we have. 

You see! The invocation of infancy in the story is a reminder that many generations have passed before the truth of the incarnation becomes a reality and that we have the opportunity to show love to and compassion for others, repent of our sins and welcome Christ in our hearts. Let us not lose sight of the truth like those other generations. We should rather seek forgiveness for being blind to the truth, for such a grave sin, for suppressing the truth, and rejecting the Saviour, whose divine arrival into human flesh has kindled our guilt and revealed the emptiness of our hearts?

While I understand the tone and context of this sermon are different from other sermons we have had in the past—because ‘this generation’ may sound shaming to some of you, and I apologize if I hurt your feelings—, I believe we should read the Scriptures charitably and sympathetically in the light of the whole salvation history. We should tell the truth of the gospel, especially when it relates to repentance, which is a matter of death and life. The more we compromise on the significant teachings of the Scriptures the more the devil wins more souls to hell! I feel sad and frustrated when our Anglican calendar or lectionary is being highly policed by the cultural and political issues of the day to the extent that we are losing grip of our faithful convictions for what the Scriptures teach at the expenses of what the culture wants from the Christians. For example, if you check out our gospel reading today, that is, Matthew 11: 16-19; 25-30, you will notice that the verses that have been left out talk about repentance and its consequences. Why do we shy away from telling the truth about the theological, doctrinal realities pertaining to our salvation?

Let us remember where we have turned away from the Lord and return to the truth and glorify Christ, who is God among us (Romans 1:21-23) who intercedes for us, those who were once foolish and have become wise again. Those who were once weak in faith and have become strong again through the power of the Spirit, joining together with Paul in declaring allegiance to God for the gift of Christ: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25) This is a great testimony to the truth, love and grace of God. Jesus’ frustration with “this generation” and gratitude towards God for revealing the truth to “infants,” culminate in the “comfortable word”, the invitation to find rest for our souls that is enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer Communion service. 

To Christ belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen!