THE LOVE OF CHRIST CONTROLS US

Sermon delivered on the 4th Sunday in Lent the 6th March 2016 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Joshua 5:9-12     2 Corinthians 5: 16-21     S. Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

2 Cor 5: 16 “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer.”

S. Luke 15:23f In Jesus’ story of the two sons, the father says “Let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

All the Scriptures today show us the importance of the point of view with which one looks at the world. Educators have known from time immemorial that the outlook with which a student perceives and approaches a learning task will radically affect his result or performance. Illusionists or magicians too know that what is seen is governed not merely by the object itself, but also by the perspective, both optical and mental, from which it is viewed. Perhaps at times we may fall to wondering what the perspective is with which a man who harms or even kills someone in his own home looks upon the world. A few verses before the beginning of our New Testament lesson today, St. Paul says, “The love of Christ controls us”. What Paul is saying is that the love of Christ who died for all and was raised, must give us an entirely new perspective with which to look out upon the world, upon our friends, our enemies and all human beings, as well as upon the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

CHANGED VIEWS OF THE WORLD
Indeed the views and assumptions we hold about all sorts of things can turn out to be more changeable than we realise. If you begin to look at the world from a new perspective, the world itself seems to change; but it’s not actually the world that has changed, but yourself. You have begun to see it in a new light. Somebody who begins to develop into a tyrant, like Stalin or Hitler, or a terrorist suicide bomber or a home-grown petty gunman, or just has grown bitter about his prospects, sees a world that is a warped version of reality. The converse of this is true too. If a warped version of reality becomes the accepted social dogma, such as what may be becoming accepted by mainstream views all over the West, tyranny will be the result, and that should be a great concern to us and the Church in general. On the other hand, somebody who is growing in the grace of God sees a world that is closer to the reality that God Himself sees.

ISRAEL’S CHANGED SPIRIT
Our Old Testament lesson today marks the transition for Israel from being people of the wilderness to being people of the Promised Land of Canaan. In the wilderness they ate the manna. Then on the other side of the Jordan after their collective circumcision and their Passover commemoration they ate the produce of the land of Canaan; and immediately the manna ceased. It must have been like a person being let out of prison after years of incarceration. Their view of their destiny would have undergone a change. There may be the suggestion in the account that while in the wilderness, the Egyptians were decrying and belittling them. They had escaped from Egypt only for this! these had taunted. But now the taunt was rolled away. Or perhaps what had been rolled away was the guilt of all their unfaithfulness in the wilderness. God had been displeased with them, but now at last He was revealing His continuing love for them: and that restored their perspective and their call.

THE TWO SONS
So in the Old Testament too God is revealed as reconciler and restorer. This is revealed in its fulness in Christ, and explicitly stated in the New Testament. According to St Luke’s Gospel, the Lord told three parables to those Pharisees and Scribes who criticised Him for receiving those classed as sinners and eating with them. The three parables are the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son. In our Gospel today we have the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the son that had squandered his inheritance returned, the limits of his expectations were that his father, while remaining personally estranged from him on account of what he had done, might hire him as a servant. Perhaps this was the expectation of the elder brother too. Neither of them expected the father to be wholeheartedly forgiving and openly restore him to his sonship. But the returned son, the younger brother, clearly accepted the offered reconciliation, as did all the family and servants of the property. The love of the father changed everything for them. They relinquished the perspective they might have had about the matter before, and entered into the father’s perspective. “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to make merry. All that is, except one. The older brother was not prepared to let go of his previous perspective or view of the world. He was angry at what was going on, just like those who were criticising Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them. Why did he not relent when he saw his father’s forgiveness for his younger brother? All he could see was how he had served his father for all the years that the other son was away. He did not allow the father’s love to change his outlook, just as those Pharisees and Scribes had not allowed the love of God in Jesus to begin to affect their outlook. Like the older brother in the parable they could only think about their own position.

THE LOVE OF THE FATHER CHANGES EVERYTHING
Jesus’ parable reminds us then that there is no validity in loveless Christianity. We cannot be saved by a doctrine alone: we are saved by the love of God that the doctrine describes. There can be such a thing as loveless evangelism; but that cannot portray the depth or perspective of God’s reconciliation which He holds out to the world. According to St Paul in our second lesson today, God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. We too are called to appeal to men and women to be reconciled to God. And yes, we are called to appeal to hardened individuals and all those we encounter who are misled by warped views of reality of all sorts. In order to convey this message with power we must be swept off our feet, so to speak, by God’s love in Christ. We must have a perspective about God, about life, about the world and about our neighbours that has been completely changed by the extraordinary reality of the love of God for us, and we must be prepared to lay down our prior perspectives in favour of this one. We could not have been reconciled to God without His loving us, just like the father in the parable, and neither can we convey the message of reconciliation without also conveying the love with which it is offered.

FOUND BY HIS LOVE
If our Lenten disciplines are teaching and training us in the love of God and in its ways, that will be truly pleasing to God. Then when we have that love, we who were dying and being lost, are truly brought to life and are found. Thanks be to God through Jesus, whose love must control us and direct our ways.

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. Think of some of your perspectives of the world as a young child. How have they changed, and are they apparently happier now or less happy? How do the changes in the way you see the world reflect changes in yourself?
  2. Why did the elder brother in Jesus’ parable not begin to see the world in the way his father and the rest of the household did?
  3. Why is the reality of the love of God for us “extraordinary”? How will this affect our Christian ministry?