23 September 2009

25th Sunday OT 2005: Redux

[from 25th Sunday OT 2005. . .by way of comparison]

25th Sunday OT: Is 55.6-9; Phil 1.20-24, 27; Matt 20.1-16
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

Sounding very much like Mary saying YES to the Lord’s angel at the Annunciation, Paul proclaims without pride: “Christ will be magnified in my body…” Christ will be made larger, brighter, sharper, denser, louder, and more skilled in Paul’s body. Paul adds without fear, “…whether by life or by death.” Christ will be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. Like Mary at the feet of the angel, Paul turns his life and his death over the Lord—and the work of the Lord—and confesses to his brothers and sisters that his life as a worker for the Lord will be larger, brighter, sharper, and more skilled precisely b/c the work he does will be done for the greater glory of the Lord. And this is just the work of his life! Death is no obstacle for Paul b/c “life is Christ, and death is gain.” So choose! Live in Christ and magnify His work on earth. Die in Christ, be with Him eternally, and still magnify His work in His presence. Now that’s commitment.

But here’s what I want you to notice: Paul does not donate his time, talent, and treasure out of his excess. He doesn’t give over to the work of the Lord the overflow of his riches. The leftovers. Paul does not say “Christ will be magnified in my checkbook.” “Christ will be magnified in my volunteer hours.” “Christ will be magnified in my talent.” He says that Christ will be magnified in his BODY. His very flesh. And whether he lives or dies the work he does for the Lord will bear abundant fruit for others. Paul does not parcel his life (or his death!) into neat packages addressed to different and equally worthy recipients: his family, his career, his friends, and, oh, one for the Lord too here on the bottom somewhere. Paul’s whole life—the first fruits, the abundant works, the failures and misgivings, and, finally, his last breath—all, his whole life is given to Christ for the enlargement of Christ.

What does it mean for Christ to be magnified in the body? The idea, I think, is to pull us out of the very human habit of abstraction, the very human temptation to loft our religious obligations to one another into the heavens where we can keep them safe from our duty to perform them on earth. So long as the obligation to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned remain abstracted moral imperatives far, far away, we are tempted to honor them in the abstract, neglect to perform them, and remain confident that the work of the Lord is getting done. Paul’s insistence that Christ will be magnified in his body is the clearest indication we have that the work of the Lord is to be DONE. Not just thought about. Not just written about. Not just preached about. And certainly not abstracted and lofted onto some kind of spiritualized “to do” list. The work is to be done. And done first for God’s greater glory.

Now. I know what you’re thinking! “Wow, Father is wound up tonight. He must think we’re all lazy bums laying around thinking about the good works of mercy, but watching Wheel of Fortune instead!” Not quite. I’ve seen the generosity of this community, and I know what motivates this community to be tools of the Lord in the world. There is a hunger here for others to see and hear what the Lord has done in your lives. There is an eagerness here, a tangible need to draw others to the Lord and to witness to them the power of Christ’s mercy—to forgive, to heal, to bless. I’m not wagging my finger at you tonight, but merely reminding you where you came from, where you are, and where you are going. You came from Christ. You are with Christ. And you will be with Christ.

But there is a temptation waiting for us. An eager little devil waiting to pounce on our witness to the Lord. It is an opportunity for us to sin and delight the Liar. What is this temptation? It is the temptation to believe that we work for the Lord out of our own generosity, out of our own time, out of our own resources, and we are therefore entitled to a greater reward when we outwork our neighbors.

This is exactly the parable of the whiny workers from Matthew, a parable about our salvation and our sanctification.

The whiny workers begrudge the landowner’s generosity in paying full wages to the latecomer laborers. Why? For some reason they feel that their own labor and their own wages are diminished by the largess of the vineyard owner. Somehow their day’s labor is dirtied. Their dollar is devalued. They worked harder and longer under the fiery sun, so they deserve more than those who sauntered in at the last hour and barely broke a sweat!

These guys are upset b/c they are working out of a very human notion of justice, a temptation, I think, to believe that compensation is earned; to get what is owed you, what you deserve. But remember, this is a parable about salvation and holiness not a lesson on capitalist economics.

Is it a human notion of justice you want applied to your eternal life? Do you want forever what you deserve? What you’ve earned in this life? Do you want the Father to give you a just compensation for your life’s work? The whole point of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is that we won’t be given what we deserve; we won’t receive from the Father what is owed to us. As I have said to you many times: we don’t want God’s justice! We want His mercy! And Christ has bought that mercy for us.

Our Final Wage was offered on the Altar of the Cross once for all. Unearned. Free. Whether you came to your salvation as an infant sixty years ago or as a teenager ten years ago or as an adult three hours ago, your Final Wage comes from the bottomless cache of the Father’s generosity. Salvation is free. Holiness—the living out of that salvation morning, afternoon, and night—is work. But even that labor is graced by a loving God Who would see us with Him for eternity. That grace is sufficient to help us magnify the Lord.

Make Christ larger, brighter, louder, sharper, sweeter, stronger, kinder, truer, better, more beautiful, more loving, more faithful, more humble, more generous, and make Christ bigger, and bigger, and bigger in your life. Magnify the Lord til your knees buckle. Magnify the Lord til your back hurts. Magnify the Lord in your body til there is no room for sin. And when the Lord asks, “Are you envious b/c I am generous?” Be able to say, “No, Lord! I am grateful in life and death, and I live and die to magnify you.”

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