Matthew 7:21-23-May 29, 2005

Pastor Jo Grossheim
Guest Preacher

When I was preparing for today, I forgot it is Memorial Day weekend so my sermon does not reflect that. Therefore, before I begin, I'd like to take a moment for recognition.

My late husband was a career military man. I would like to honor him, all the veterans in the congregation, and any active duty service people who might be present this morning by having them stand and giving them a big round of applause. Please, will all you all stand? ( Applause) May God bless you each and every one and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. You may be seated.

The title of my sermon is GIGGLE. That is an acronym for GOD IS GOOD, GOD LOVES EVERYONE. This is actually the title of the curriculum for this summer's On Eagles Wings Bible School. Marcia Baker and I will be traveling to the Northwest Territories in July to teach GIGGLE. You will note that there is more information about that on the yellow insert in your bulletin. However, that has nothing to do with my sermon other than that the acronym really fits what I want to talk about this morning. GIGGLE--God Is Good, God Loves Everyone. Yet sometimes when we read scripture, it seems as though that is not always true.

I have chosen to talk about the first part of today's Gospel lesson because it is one of those passages that is confusing or easily misunderstood and might make one question if God does always love everyone all of the time, right up to the end. This comes from our Gospel lesson, Matthew 7: verses 21-23. Jesus is speaking:

Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will answer them plainly, I never knew you, away from me you evildoers.

Jesus uses this or a similar phrase several times such as in the parable of the ten virgins, he ends with, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." Yet, are we not taught that we can be forgiven and receive eternal life even on our deathbed? Did not Jesus tell one of the two criminals who were crucified beside him that he would be with him that very day in paradise? What about "The last shall be first and the first shall be last?" Matthew, Mark, and Luke all write about that, meaning that even those who come to Christ at the very last moment may enter into the Kingdom. Again there are the parables of the lost coin and the one lost sheep out of 100 where Jesus gives us examples that God is not willing to lose even one soul. We also know that Jesus seemed to enjoy the company of so called sinners and even of women-both cultural taboos.

So what can we make of today's Gospel where Jesus is saying, "I never knew you, get away from me you evildoers," even though they claimed to do many good works in Jesus name?

In ancient biblical days a greater part of the education of priests concerned magic, fortunetelling, and psychism of all sorts. These men were not interested in the enlightenment of the people but they took great pride in the wonders they could perform. During Jesus' day, healers, wonder workers, and those who practiced magic deluded the general public. Jesus knows that in the future, some would boast of the great powers given to them by the Christ. Jesus always placed great emphasis on the works of love, justice, and compassion rather than on prophesying and performing wonders. He also taught visitation of the sick, giving to the poor, and feeding the hungry. There would be many so-called prophets who would make predictions in Jesus' name but they did not represent the true teachings of Christ. They were false prophets and teachers who would mislead many of the faithful.

Jesus knew that in years to come, even some of His followers would neglect to minister the truth of his message, would not meet the needs of the people, and would glory in their own positions of power. These would become workers of iniquity and de-part from the teaching of Jesus. So it would be they who separated themselves from God, not the other way around. We always do it to ourselves.

When reading and interpreting scripture, there is one hard and fast rule to always remember. That is: God is LOVE. There are no exceptions to this, either in the Old or the New Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus embodies God's love in human form. He does not moralize or condemn. Jesus is always about love. When the scriptures seem to read differently, it is time to seek another interpretation. It is time to remember GIGGLE-God is Good and God loves everyone.

If Jesus were walking the earth today he might have said it a bit differently. He could use familiar idioms such as, "Put your money where your mouth is." He might say, "Actions speak louder than words," or "Put up or shut up." "Practice what you preach," is another one. He is speaking to and of those who speak and perform in the name of Jesus but who actually live sinful lives. Christ says, "Entrance into the Kingdom is only for those who do the will of the Father."

A couple of weeks ago a man came to me and asked for prayers for himself and his family. They are a church going family. Not members of Trinity. There are three teen-age children who are very involved in the youth of the church. In fact the oldest of the three wants to be a pastor. Sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? The problem is that at home there is no respect for the parents. The three teens do not follow family rules; they sass and talk back to the father, calling him fowl names. The mother does nothing to sup-port the father. Clearly this is a family out of control and you may say the parents are at fault-perhaps rightly so. That is not the point here. This is just one example of how people can be ardent church goers and workers, read the Bible, hear the Word, even evangelize, and yet, live completely apart from Christ's teachings. Where is the love in that family?

As a widow living alone, I have twice had contractors who wanted to work for me, and tried to get the contract by witnessing to me about their faith in Jesus. They assured me of their honesty and credibility. One of them even had a cross on his business card. Both times when their bid came in it was an obvious scam.

All of us can think of examples that are much worse than this. Think of all the clergy members, those who preach the word, who are proven sex offenders. Although in the past few years we have heard of this mostly among the Roman Catholic Priests, it is not uncommon among Protestants. The latest issue of "The Lutheran" has an article about a Lutheran pastor who has been indicted for soliciting sex from a fourteen year old plus other related charges. What about the Bible thumping fanatic who beats up his wife or girlfriend because she doesn't obey his interpretation of the Bible? What about the religious leaders at the Air Force Academy who recently fired a chaplain and ruined her career because she spoke out against proselytizing? What about bombing abortion clinics in the name of God? How about slandering and beating, or even killing homosexuals in God's name? Even those who exploit the environment must be included. The list goes on and on. These are the ones of whom Jesus is speaking. Those who come bragging about the deeds they have done in His name.

We Christians can be pretty strange. I grew up in Iowa about 30 minutes away from Parson's college in Fairfield, Iowa which later became the home of the Maharishi University. Those people suffered real religious persecution when they moved in. I don't remember any killings, but the verbal abuse must have been terrible. We all poked fun at them for meditating and worst of all-running about talking about love! I'm sure as any-thing that there were Iowans who told St. Peter that they did their best to get those love crazed heathens out of town!!

So is all lost for evildoers? Absolutely not! First we have to confess and repent and then, just as the passage says, do the will of the Father.

If you are like me, you struggle with this one. What does God want me to do, what am I here for? I believe we all have our individual mission, but they all come under one big heading and that is love and compassion to one another and all of God's creation. It has to be done in humility, not to make ourselves important in the eyes of the world. We are to be righteous, not self-righteous. That means to have a right relationship with God rather than to be full of ourselves.

So, yes, we can receive salvation on our deathbed but why wait? Start today so as to not miss out on the joyful journey and, if you ever think that God has forsaken you-remember GIGGLE.

Read more sermons by Pastor Brie