Sunday, October 13, 2013

God can’t be bribed, but can be thanked

         Did you hear that one about St. Peter standing at the pearly gates?
         Three men came by to enter into heaven.
         The first said, “Oh, you can let me right in, I’m from America and God has a special relationship with America.”
And Saint Peter let him right in.
         The second one coughed, and kept winking at St. Peter, and passed an envelope filled with 100-dollar bills to that Old Staint.
And Peter let him right in.
         And the third said, “I did all the right rituals, and I did some amazingly hard things, like climbing Mt. Everest and I also…”
Before this man could finish his sentence St. Peter waved him on through.
         I’m getting blank stares—you’ve never heard this one? Well, that’s because it’s not how God works.
         I want you to know this, God can not, in any way, shape, or form, be bribed, but God can be thanked.
God can’t be bribed, but God can be thanked.

         God can’t be bribed.
         God can’t be bribed by national allegiances.
         Where you’re born, what country you are a citizen of, has no bearing on God’s love for you.
         Look at Naaman. He is the military commander of the nation of Aram, a nation at war with Israel, and yet it is said, “Because of him the LORD had given victory to Aram.”
         God’s the God of all the earth, not just Israel.
         Not only has God entered into Naaman’s actions, but as we read Naaman is healed by God.
         So too, the Samaritan—healed by Jesus along with 9 other lepers.
         In both cases, the national origin of these men do not goad God into action.
         And just so you know, there has been, quite often, in the history of Christianity a mistake made, that ties national identity—patriotism even—tightly to faith and even to God. Since the earliest days of Pagan Rome “Deo et Patria” “God and Country” get entangled again and again.
         In fact, one of the most important non-biblical books ever written, St. Augustine’s City of God, was written in response to a crisis. Christianity had clung too close to the Roman Empire, and when its capital city was sacked, people genuinely wondered,
“Can Faith continue?
Has God abandoned us?
Is it Jesus’ Kingdom of God which lies in ruined rubble there in Rome?”
         For that matter, in England, where there is a State Church, there are people who have never been baptized, never set foot in a church, never even opened a Bible, but assume they are upstanding members of the Church of England, because they are English after all.
         And I would quickly add there are people here in America who make those same assumptions.
         But let it be known, God is not bribed by our allegiance to country.
         Neither is God bribed by our wealth.
         This is after all one of the founding assumptions of the Lutheran Reformation. In order to pay for St. Peter’s Cathedral people were commissioned to sell get out of purgatory free cards—even for sins not yet committed. And Luther saw this, and looked at his Bible and his church history, and said to this practice loudly and clearly, “No.”
         So too, if we read verses 4-6, in 2nd Kings, we see that Naaman tried to bribe God, or at least God’s prophet, and fails. Because God is not bribed by our wealth.

         Finally, we read about what Naaman
hopes will happen to help his healing.
He expects waving of hands or some great quest or task, in order to cure him of his leprosy. Instead, he is simply told, “Wash, and be clean.”
         He hopes that some great or magical act will move God. Will make it clear that he will be healed, that God will show loving kindness to him.
         And we do the same sometimes, we look for signs, strain to grasp meaning and earn attention, yearn for easy, even magical, answers.
         But again, we find that neither good work nor ritual is an adequate or appropriate bribe for God.

         Yes, if Grace is true, if Grace abounds. If God really is for us and not against us,
then no amount of bribery, will make God for us and not against us,
No amount of bribery, will cause grace to abound
No amount of bribery, will make grace true
because it is already true, grace already abounds, God already is for us!

         Further, if a bribery scheme is needed, we know that Jesus has already bought us through his life, death, and resurrection.
         Our pittance of bribe to God or to the Devil, to father figures or to societal norms is cheap.
         But Christ’s gift to us, is both expensive—even the gift of his life—and is at the same time free—freely given.

         God cannot be bribed, but God can be thanked.
         As we read today of the Samaritan leper who returns to thank Jesus, we can notices that all 10 lepers are made clean, but only one is made well.
         Here thanksgiving is seeing what God has done… stopping, and being stunned by the magnificence of it.
         It is also speaking about the good thing God has done—letting people know how the good news of Jesus has become good news for you right now, concretely.
         Yes, thanksgiving involves seeing and speaking.
         And we humans might even be hardwired to do so.
         A study was recently conducted in which subjects were asked to reflect on, and then write about, someone they were thankful for, and why.
         Then they were connected with that person via Telephone and they read why they were thankful for that person.
         And the results were astonishing. The people who did this, the people who expressed their thankfulness, were less likely to be depressed for a whole month after. Likewise they were happier for a whopping six months after having thanked this person.
         But it’s not just realization and remembrance—seeing and speaking, that is thanksgiving, it is service of neighbor as well.
         In a sense, we can’t thank God for God’s goodness in any concrete way—but we can pass on those gracious gifts of God to our neighbors.
         For example, St. Stephen’s renewed interest in stocking the local food pantry in its time of need, is wonderful. It is a witness to our thankfulness—it is our recognition of where our daily bread comes from. We’re showing forth God’s grace through our gracious action.

         God can’t be bribed, but God can be thanked.
         Our nationality means nothing to God/ our recognition of His goodness does.
         Our money means nothing to God/ our telling people what God has done for us does.
         Our ritual and our struggle for His approval means nothing to God/ our service of our neighbor in need does.

         Have you heard the one about St. Peter standing at the pearly gates?
         Three men arrive at the gate. The first says “You won’t let me in, I was American.”
The second says, “You won’t let me in, I was rich.”
And the third says, “You won’t let me in, I was overly scrupulous and fixated on working my way into heaven.”
         And Jesus comes to the gate, and ushers them in, not on their merits, but because he loved them. And they rejoiced,
because God can’t be bribed, but God can be thanked. A+A