Be blameless and innocent

Proper 26, 31 October 2021

We’ve learned many things during the past year and a half.  We’ve never prayed so much in our lives.  As a young Christian, I learned to pray only when I needed God; but we need to pray all the time, even when we don’t need anything.

We’ve been reminded to wash our hands, as our parents taught us.  Surgeons wash their hands when they enter an operating room.  But washing hands is also in Psalm 26:6.  This is why the celebrant washes his hands before the Eucharist: beyond hygiene and symbolism, there’s a moral and spiritual message.  As Christians, we’re encouraged to live with a measure of innocence: don’t get involved in something that’s not godly or not of God, so we can say, “I didn’t do anything wrong”.  Saint Paul encourages us to live a “blameless and harmless” life “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation”, and to be shining lights to the world we live in.[1]  

Learning to love

Paul is specifically saying we should never get involved in any conflict, strife, disunity or division in the church.[2]  Gathering together with people of different backgrounds, mentalities and dispositions isn’t easy.  It’s like putting together a man and woman in marriage.  Sometimes people say, “This isn’t the person I knew before we got married.  How did they change overnight?”  When you’re dating someone, you try to show them your best; but living with them is a completely different story.  In the church, we’re building a relationship, but we’re all different.  We learn how to bear with one another, and that in spite of our imperfections, we need to love one another.  The church is where we learn to love those who don’t deserve to be loved; and it’s where we’re loved in spite of our imperfections.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”  He recited Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”.  Loving God is learning to love Him more than anything else.  If you want to be sure you’ll enter God’s Kingdom, learn to love Him more than the world or anything it can offer.  If you learn to love God, you’re not far from the Kingdom.  I want to be near the Kingdom, not far from it.  This means loving Jesus more than self.  We love our families, but we shouldn’t love people more than God – He’s the one we should love.  It’s not that God is desperate to be loved, but only in loving God can we truly know Him; and if we’re going to be with God forever in eternity, we need to learn how to love Him now.  This is our journey.  Sometimes people say, “I don’t want to go to church – that’s where my enemy is.  There’s someone I don’t like in the church, so I don’t go to church.”  You come to church not because of people but because of God. 

Washed by Jesus

In a deeper sense, Christian innocence and blamelessness before God cannot be attained by human conduct.  Blamelessness and innocence are not what we have done, but what God has done.  On Holy Thursday we commemorate Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.  Because Jesus was a Servant and God served the disciples, we need to serve one another.  But Peter said to Jesus, “Over my dead body – I won’t let you wash my feet”.  Jesus was stooping down to the lowest of the lowest, breaking a social rule: it wasn’t something a master, much less the King of the universe, would do.  Peter said, “No, you cannot do that.”  And what did Jesus say? “If you don’t let Me wash your feet, you don’t have any part with Me.”  The reason we’re innocent morally or spiritually isn’t because we did or didn’t do something.  The reason we can stand blameless before God is that we were washed by the blood of Christ on the cross.

Sometimes we hear a church bell ringing, calling the faithful to come to church.  If you were very busy last night and overslept, when you heard the bell, you rushed to prepare yourself and arrived panting and sweating; then you want to rush to the altar and receive the Eucharist.  But an angel was standing there, saying, “Time out – too fast!  You cannot just enter.”  People think they can come into God’s presence and leave whenever they want. That doesn’t happen with a king or president – you make an appointment and follow the protocol.  Security will scrutinise your character to make sure you’re not a terrorist or someone who wants to harm the President.  Yet we can come and go in and out of the presence of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  So the angel says, “Not too fast”; and we realise the reason we can enter God’s presence is because of the merits of Jesus.  

You and I are not blameless.  Sometimes when you pray, something says, “Why would God answer your prayers?  You weren’t a good person this week – you sinned, you didn’t live as you professed as a Christian.”  But we’re reminded of God’s promise: we have a High Priest in heaven.  When we come before God, even though we don’t deserve that God would answer our prayers or even receive us into His presence, Jesus tells the angels, “I died for that person – let them come in”.  So we come and say, “Lord, I have sinned against You”; and because of what Christ has done, you and I can eat from the table of the Lord.  Not everyone can eat from His table – only those who are baptised Christians.  Everyone is invited, but not everyone is ready to come to God.  It’s because we have a High Priest in heaven who died on the cross for you and me.  

Responding to God’s love

In Christianity there’s no entitlement – “I serve the Lord every Sunday, I pray every day, I was good this week… so, God, You have to answer my prayers”.  The reason God answers our prayers is not because we’re good – it’s because God is good; more than anything, God is love.  Let’s not come into God’s presence with a sense of entitlement and say, “I paid my tithe, I gave an offering, I helped someone…”  Serving God is a privilege, not a duty; because Jesus served us on the cross, you and I should serve God with everything we have. 

We need to guard and strive to live in innocence: don’t get involved in anything God doesn’t want you to, especially anything evil, don’t be part of it.  One reason why we should strive to live in blamelessness is that God doesn’t have another Son in heaven to send and save humanity.  He gave His only beloved Son, so if we continue to sin, God doesn’t have another Son to send for our salvation.[3]

God says, “I am high and transcendent, and I inhabit eternity; My name is holy.  But I dwell with those who have a humble and contrite heart.”[4]  God has humbled us during the pandemic, and we need to accept it.  God wasn’t punishing us; He’s showed us how humanity is so much in need of God – that which the world can’t give.  God is in heaven, but He’s also with those who are humble and repentant in their lives.  I don’t come to church because I’m a good person, but because I’m a sinner and I realise I need God.  To enter God’s Kingdom, we need to be baptised and born again; but the first person who went with Jesus to paradise was the thief by His side.  He didn’t respond to an altar call, and wasn’t baptised, but he acknowledged he was a sinner and thanked Jesus for forgiving his sins.  

Next Sunday, don’t miss the opportunity to meet Jesus again; and then the next Sunday.  If you don’t keep that schedule, the devil will make appointments for you – “I can’t come: I’m busy; I have an appointment; I have to talk to someone in the Philippines…”  Don’t let the devil become your secretary.  Sunday is blocked – I have an appointment with Jesus.  He’s inviting me to eat at His table.  It’s more than duty – it’s meeting God and meeting Christ in the Eucharist.

[1] Philippians 2:15

[2] Philippians 2:14; see 2:2-4, 4:2

[3] Hebrews 6:4-6

[4] Isaiah 57:15

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