Let’s Get Small
Fr. Dale Matson
The title for my homily “Let’s Get Small” actually comes from a 1977 comedy album by Steve Martin. He was one of my favorite comedians in his many roles of the clueless jerk. The title of the album came from one of his comedy routines he did for the album. It seems Steve in his fantasy got so small he climbed into a vacuum cleaner bag. I thought it was very funny then but for the last 20 years I have thought of getting small for me as the process of Sanctification. Isn’t Sanctification all about getting small?
My homily today is based on our opening Collect, the Ten Commandments and our Epistle lesson.
Our collect states, “O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us.”
It seems to me that as our Collect states that there is an assurance through faith that God is in control of all things. Things don’t just happen. They happen for a reason. They happen for God’s reasons not necessarily our reasons. We will never on this earth understand why bad things happen to good people.
When we ask God to put hurtful things away from us, it could be things in our path the enemy has put there, obstacles to misdirect us. But it could also be things we see as good, as entertaining, or stimulating. How often have we been shopping at Costco and said to ourselves, If I bring that huge bag of Kettle Chips home, I will probably eat the whole bag. In this sense, those things that are hurtful for us are something we would enjoy…something that would give us pleasure…for the moment at least.
In the same token, some things that are profitable for us may not mean getting a lot of money or gaining a lot of possessions. Profitable things could be hardships which we would not choose for ourselves. Learning that I had ulcers was profitable for me. It was a way of getting smaller. It meant that I was not bullet proof, that I had limitations, that the pride I had was obstructing taking on godly humility. I didn’t just have pride. Pride had me.
So, when we pray this Collect, keep in mind that hurtful things may be things we see as good and profitable things may be things we see as bad. It is not how we see things that counts. It is how God sees things. In Hebrews St. Paul states “He [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:10b-11
If we look at the 10 Commandments in our reading from Deuteronomy, do you think of those commandments as things that are hurtful or things that profit us? As Martin Luther once said about the 10 Commandments,” God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.”
You see, ultimately, honoring the 10 Commandments is something that profits us.
Today we see in the prosperity gospel churches and increasingly even in mainline churches that the 10 Commandments are seen not as absolute but as optional or even obsolete. This is not new but it is false teaching. This false teaching is called Marcionism. Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144. Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.
Some of you may have heard of Joseph Prince a world-famous pastor and preacher who is an advocate of the Prosperity Gospel. Prince is so willing to dismiss the Law and to say that mixing the Law with grace is not balancing but perverting the Gospel of Christ. In my rebuttal of his teaching on our Diocesan Blog “Soundings”, I have had almost 37,000-page views and had to eventually shut off comments that both supported my view and attacked me personally.
First of all, Jesus said in Matthew, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:17-19)
Some would counter this with St. Paul’s statement that those who are led by the spirit are not under the Law from Galatians (5:18). I would not argue against this for one second but I would ask, “Are you continually led by the Spirit?" "Are you led by the Spirit 24/7?" "What about your dreams?" "Are they Spirit led also?" I didn’t think so! I haven’t smoked cigarettes for 35 years but once in a while I dream I am smoking. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is giving me those dreams.
So, for those times we are not led by the Spirit, we have the law. For those times we are led by the Spirit, we will automatically honor the Law. Never let someone tell you that the Law is not necessary or obsolete. If you throw out the Commandments and the Old Testament, you have also thrown out all of the prophesies about Jesus the Christ. If you throw out the Old Testament, you also throw out Original Sin. If you throw out Original Sin what is the need for baptism? If you throw out the Old Testament, you will never understand that we are not just children of God by faith, we are children of Abraham by faith. Folks, there is no “Easy Button” for Christianity.
For those of you that think there is an easy button please read “The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. After reading this book many years ago, I said to myself, “This is too hard”.
In our Epistle Lesson from 2nd Corinthians Chapter 4, we hear this from St. Paul. I believe he speaks not only for himself but for all clergy when he says the following. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.” As clergy, we are not just servants of Christ, we are servants of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We know that one sinful act or a few unkind words could destroy our entire ministry to you. Don’t you think the evil one would just love that too.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” With each week that passes, I am reminded how much I am only a fragile jar of clay. I have learned to live with constant pain. More and more I depend on God and others to help me with even the activities of daily living. From time to time Sharon will have to say to me as I am about to cross Friant on our daily walks, “Dale, wait, the light is not green yet.”
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
I used to talk with Bishop Schofield about his illnesses. It seemed to me that at the end he was very frail. I remember when he could not even step up on a curb. I believe he died prematurely for the sake of the Gospel. The Episcopal Church leadership took Bishop Schofield’s stand against them very personally and directed their lawsuit against John David. He had the last laugh. He was already in our Lord’s arms before the lawsuit was settled.
He had terrible sores on his legs that needed daily attention. I asked him if it concerned him. He laughed and said, “heck no, I have at least five other problems any one of which could kill me at any time.” I asked him why he had so many problems the last few years. He said, “Because of my stand for the Gospel of Christ, the evil one persecuted my sister until she eventually died and after she died, he came after me.”
“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So, death is at work in us, but life in you.” If you were to ask Fr. Carlos or myself about our health, I think both would say, “I’ve been better.” Please continue to pray for us. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)Let’s all get small. Amen