Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Greatest Sermon I Never Heard

The greatest sermon I never heard is The Weight of Glory , by C.S. Lewis. Lewis was invited to preach at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin by the Vicar of St. Mary's, Canon Milford. The sermon was given on 8 June 1941, in the thick of WWII, which adds to it's poignancy.

Not long ago, I was assigned to give a devotional on a favorite scripture. Well, exactly how does one choose one scripture to be one's favorite? I guess there are some who are up to the task, but it is not one I find easy. There is a passage though, that I find both reassuring and exhilarating, and so it is what I chose. It is I John 2:28-3:10 ESV

1 John 2

28And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

1 John 3

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

There are three points I'd like to pull out of this passage.

1. Our Father's great love

I've been a Christian basically all of my life, though at times I have lived out that calling more imperfectly than others. Even so, I continue to be amazed that I am God's child - that he is my Father. When I think of how much I love my daughters, the great affection and pride I have for them, and quite frankly the depths to which I would sacrifice myself for them, I cannot help but be blown away realizing how much more perfectly and deeply our Father's love for us must be. Only then can the cross start to make any sense.

2. We will be like Him

Okay, this is the exhilarating part. We will be like Jesus. We know some of what Christ's resurrected body was like. He was able to walk through walls - yet be touched, he was able to eat - yet vanish in a moment. The most exciting aspect of our transformation to me, though, is being sinless. It seems that every thought I have and every action I take is tinged with some sort of sin residue. Some sort of selfishness. What will it be like to self forgetful, to truly put others interests ahead of my own, to put God's interests ahead of my own? This is a thought, anticipation and desire which I yearn for, but alas being a sinner on this side of the veil, I don't yearn for it enough.

3. Abiding in Him

How do we abide in Jesus? John's answer is to stop making a practice of sinning and start making a practice of righteousness. Impossible! Yes it is quite impossible, but we are not to despair because we have been clothed in Christ and live in His strength, even as we continue to die to ourselves.

So, what does any of this have to do with Lewis's sermon? There is a passage, at the end of his sermon which brings to light how these scriptures should affect how we live our lives with one another. I quote:

"You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the live of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner - no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat - the glorifier and the glorified. Glory Himself, is truly hidden."


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