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The Rev. Johann Vanderbijl: “Divine Disparity” (Psalm 72)

October 19, 2009

This week’s sermon by the Rev. Johann Vanderbijl of the Anglican Church of St. George the Martyr in South Carolina is titled “Divine Disparity” and is largely based on Psalm 72:

Psalm 72    Ephesians 4:17-32    St. Matthew 9:1-8

Divine Disparity

One day this past week, while making our bed, I found a Bible Memory verse card under the covers.  How it got there I have no idea, but after Chip’s talks last week I decided that I had better pay attention and meditate on the verse on that card.  This is what was written on that card:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”  2 Corinthians 5:17.

Now, I thought about that verse a lot…what exactly does it mean for me, or for anyone else for that matter?  It is such an emphatic statement.  “If anyone is in Christ he IS a new creation; old things HAVE passed away; behold ALL things HAVE become NEW.”  Now, just stop and think about it for a moment.  I think most of us sitting here today would venture to say that we are in Christ.  I believe I am in Christ and I certainly strive to abide in Him…remember Chip’s “Peter Pan, Cotton Candy, Double-Dip, M&M’s”?  Practice His Presence, constantly connected, desperately dependent, moment by moment, abide…I am in Jesus and Jesus is in me because He promised that if I believe in Him, He and the Father would come to make their home inside of me and that they would pour out the Holy Spirit upon me and He would dwell within me.  I am in Christ and Christ is in me.  I’m sure you would all say the same.

But…and this is a huge but…what about the rest of that emphatic statement?  I am in Christ…but where’s the evidence that I am a new creation?  If all the old things have passed away, why is it so easy for them to pop in for a visit ever so often?  If all things have become new, why am I not more like the One Who lives in me?  I am in Christ…but am I a new creation?  Have all the old things passed away?  Are all things new in me?  Or is there a disparity between this ideal and my reality?  Like Kelley Sue saying she loved God with all her heart and her neighbors with all her heart, but was never willing to give up anything for either one of them.  There is a contradiction here…a gulf between what ought to be and what is.

Now, the same can be said about our Psalm for today, Psalm 72.  As Dr. McCann says, “Perhaps the most obvious observation to make about Psalm 72 is the disparity between the portrayal of the king (in the Psalm) and the actual behavior of the kings of Israel and Judah.”  [and one queen – Athaliah] (J. Clinton McCann, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 4, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Introduction to Hebrew Poetry, Job, Psalms, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1996, 964.)  Because of this, some commentators have endeavored to interpret the Psalm in terms of a prayer for the king rather than a statement about the king…that God may give the king His judgments and His righteousness so that the king might judge God’s people with righteousness and God’s poor with justice.  John Calvin believed it was the dying King David’s prayer for his son, Solomon.  Here he was following the Septuagint (LXX – the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) which stated in the superscription that this was a prayer FOR Solomon, not a prayer OF Solomon as others have thought it was Solomon’s prayer for his own reign…and remember here that in those days the Psalms were used in very much the same way as they are used in our services today…as responsive prayers…so if Solomon was the principle speaker, his prayers would be echoed by the people in worship.  Others have seen this Psalm as referring only to the Messiah, and Christians, in particular, see this as referring to Jesus.

Of course, judging from some of the descriptions in the Psalm itself, such as His kingdom being eternal and universal, and the fact that it continued to be used even after the final failure and disappearance of the Monarchy, this Psalm should be understood as a Messianic Psalm, even though it is never quoted in the New Testament as such.  But, nevertheless, we should not be too quick to overlook this disparity between what the Psalm says about the Monarchy and the real lives of the kings and queen of Israel and Judah because, in many ways, this disparity addresses that “disparity that always exists between the will of God and every attempt to implement the will of God concretely in space and time.  The same disparity is evident, for instance, when we call the church the “body of Christ” and then observe the actual behavior of the church.”  (McCann, 965)

It is true that if we are in Christ we are new creations.  But it is true, not because we think it is true…nor is it true because we observe it to be true…no, it is true because God said it is true.  Nevertheless, the fact that the disparity between our being new creations and our actual behavior exists invites us to some serious reevaluation of our lives.  The most obvious question to ask would of course be: “Am I truly in Christ?”  It is a fair question because some people who have attended church for most of their lives have testified to a day when they realized that they simply did not know Jesus at all.  You know the old saying: I can hang out in a banana tree all my life, but I will never be a banana…although some people might be tempted to think I’m a nut.

I will never forget what happened in a Church of England in Southern Africa parish in the early 1990’s.  St. James was a large church built upon the principles of Evangelism Explosion.  Many of their members had come to faith through their door-to-door ministry.  On top of that, they had heard the Gospel preached Sunday after Sunday as their Rector, Bishop Frank Retief, firmly believed in evangelistic style preaching…and he made an altar call every single Sunday.  He even had the word ETERNITY printed in bold capitals on the inside of his pulpit to remind him that there may be people in the congregation who need to hear the Gospel news.  But then at one service, a group of terrorists burst through the doors and randomly opened fire on the unsuspecting congregation…they hurled hand-grenades into the crowd…and if one parishioner had not shot back at them they would surely have slaughtered everyone present.

But no one could have predicted what happened the next Sunday.  People who had been members of this church for years suddenly realized that they did not know Jesus…even staff members and ushers came forward at the invitation to confess that even though they had been part and parcel of the church, this attack had shown them that they did not have a real personal, relationship with the One they had professed to believe in.  The reality of death suddenly exposed the disparity between what they said they were and what they really were.  So, “Am I truly in Jesus” is a good question to ask…and answer honestly…Mary Poplin, in her book “Finding Calcutta” said that for years she avoided Christianity because she knew that if Christ were real, He would not have approved of her life and she would have had to change.  If only those who claim to know Jesus would be as honest!

However, if you can answer ‘yes’ to that question with a clear conscience before the One to Whom your heart is as an open book, then you need to ask some different questions.  If you are in Christ, but your life demonstrates that all old things have certainly not passed away and that all things are certainly not as new as they ought to be, then you may have to ask whether you have learned the practice of the putting on and putting off exercise St. Paul speaks about in our Epistle reading for today…that we put off, concerning our former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and that we put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.  In other words, throughout our lives here on earth, we need to continue putting off the old things that have passed away while we continue to put on the new creations that we have become in Jesus.  It is a process…a growth towards the ideal…a movement towards what we really already are in Christ.  In Him we are new creations…but we still have to grow into the fullness of that reality, very much like a little boy or a little girl has to grow up to be that which he or she actually is…a man or a woman.

But why say we are new creations as if it is something already past?  Why not say we shall be new creations when we finally get our act together?  Well, because in Jesus we really are new creations.  This is because of what He has done, and not what we will do.  Because of what He did on the cross, He will bring to completion that work which He began in us when we submitted to Him as Lord and Savior.  Because of His FINISHED work at Calvary He will keep us from stumbling and He will present us faultless before His presence in glory with exceeding great joy.  We, dearest brethren, we who are in Jesus are His workmanship.  He has recreated us in Christ Jesus for the good works He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.  We are the clay…He is the Potter.  He knows what He is making because He is the Divine Designer.  So, in Him we are new creations because He sees that which we simply cannot see…He sees the final product.

And then also, we must remember the image of the Vine and the branches…and the message Chip brought home to us during the Missions Conference.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we were grafted into Him, the one True Vine.  And the way to grow as a branch and the way to produce fruit as a branch is through remaining connected to the Vine…abiding in Him.  Remember:  practicing His presence, constantly connected, desperately dependent, moment by moment, abide.  Once we grasp this we will no longer be bothered by the disparity between us being new creations and our struggle with the old things that keep bobbing up to the surface.  Rather this self same disturbing disparity will become a clarion call for us to remind ourselves to assume our responsibility to put off that which does not resemble our Divine Parent…that which does not match the reality of our new situation in Jesus…to put off all lying, corrupt words, bitterness, anger, quarrelsomeness, evil speech and malice…and to put on…or to re-clothe ourselves with kindness, compassion, righteousness, justice, forgiveness and mercy.  In short, we are to consciously remain so close to Jesus that we become just like Him…that we become the new creation He has made us in Him.

And as we come to the place where we are reminded of where that new creation actually came into being, let us ask Him to help us to view the disparity between what we are in Him and what we seem to be in ourselves as a challenge to be met head on in the power of His life giving and life changing Spirit.  And let us ask Him to grant us the ability to so abide in Him, that the gap between the two may be narrowed more and more each passing day.

©  Johann W. Vanderbijl III    2009

This really is a helpful sermon, because I had been thinking about salvation in terms of what already has happened (our justification), what we are currently living now (our sanctification), and what the future holds for us (our glorification)- the three tenses, so to speak, of salvation.  And the disparity between our title (as children of the King) and how we actually sometimes live – well, as we grow in sanctification, that disparity will grow smaller and smaller.  As Fr. Johann says, let us “ask Him to grant us the ability to so abide in Him, that the gap between the two may be narrowed more and more each passing day.”

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