I swear if I hear one more Church figure use that word, I’m gonna scream. It’s become a buzz word over the past several years in Church circles and it’s making me crazy.
“Come and worship with us and hear messages that are relevant for today.”
“You need to be relevant in your preaching.”
Or other such nonsense as that.
It’s as though Christ isn’t relevant enough. I mean, that’s basically what is being said. The Gospel isn’t enough. No, we need relevance, whatever that means.
Therein lies the problem. Relevance means whatever you want it to mean. The whole premise behind the shift in the Church over the last 50-60 years just makes my head hurt. The thought that we need to adapt our worship or presentation of the gospel to “modern man” is just asinine. Modern man, in his lost state, wants nothing whatsoever to do with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here’s the thing. The only thing that is relevant to our lives today is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only relevant thing in life. Everything else is either a means to get us closer to Him or farther away. There’s a couple of things we need to consider:
The preaching of Jesus Himself
The reality of eternity
Let’s start with the preaching of our Lord Jesus. If you’ve read the Gospels at all, you will know that Jesus’ preaching and teaching was not exactly popular with the establishment of the day. Actually, it wasn’t exactly popular with most people of the day, period. He told people to repent. He told people to stop sinning. He told people that they were going to have to choose between loved ones and Him. He told people that they would have to carry their cross and be persecuted. He told people that allegiance to Him meant dying to the world. He told people that the Kingdom had come and it looked radically different than their idea of power. He told people to pray for their enemies and give away all their goods. He preached a gospel of radical self-denial and absolute surrender to God’s will. He told people that disobedience to what God (and He) said meant eternal damnation.
Now, let’s consider the “relevant gospel” that we so often hear today, from all denominational entities.
Be nice to each other. Be racially and socially woke. You don’t actually have to die for Jesus because He came to make you happy and healthy and have a great life. Don’t worry about sin and hell and damnation, ‘cause Jesus is nice now and He won’t condemn you. Enjoy all the comforts of life, ‘cause Jesus doesn’t want you to be uncomfortable. Just come as you are (that’s code for don’t worry about repentance). Be a good person. You get to keep your life just as it is. We don’t have to hear truth; I’ll just tell jokes. Heck, sometimes people even dress up as movie characters. We can re-think the way the Church has always done things. Our music is modern and we have relevant teaching for your children (that’s code for your kids get the warm fuzzies and get to play with toys). We’re gonna sing love songs to Jesus.
Do you see the difference? If Jesus were preaching today, very few would listen to Him…kinda like what happened in His day. If Jesus were preaching today, people would condemn Him as harsh and unloving because He told them to repent. He certainly wouldn’t be preaching a gospel of environmentalism (I’m looking at you, Pope Francis). If Jesus were preaching today, He would be utterly rejected by modern man and many who claim to be Christian.
Now, let us consider the reality of eternity. Aside from our society just straight up being a bunch of whiny babies, we really don’t seem to want to think too much about eternity. Here’s what I mean. If this life is all there is, then the “relevant” gospel makes perfect sense. If this life is all there is, then you better be nice and have fun activities and dress up like movie characters and tell jokes in your sermons and be woke. If this life is all there is, eat drink and be merry and don’t worry about those depressing things like repentance and the Cross.
But, if there is an eternity, if there is a Heaven and Hell (and Jesus said there was), then His gospel becomes supremely relevant. If our eternal destiny is either being in His presence and the fulness of joy versus an eternity of flames and anguish that never dies, relevance takes on a whole new meaning. If your gospel revolves around making yourself appealing to the culture, you are damning people to Hell.
Jesus didn’t seem too concerned with how people felt about what He said. He seemed far more concerned with how they lived their lives, whether they were obedient to what He said, lived righteously and how they loved others. The Apostles and Fathers and holy martyrs of the Church didn’t seem too concerned with being popular or relevant. They seemed concerned about fidelity to the person and message of Jesus Christ, no matter the cost.
There is only one thing that is relevant. Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything else is irrelevant and ultimately leads to the road to Hell. Our preaching, our worship, our cool and hip songs, and joke telling is utterly worthless if we don’t say first and foremost:
Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me ask you something. Actually several somethings.
What do you think salvation means?
What is the point of salvation?
Are we “saved” simply to go to heaven when we die?
What does the “kingdom of heaven” refer to?
These are all questions that are brought to my mind when I look at this week’s readings. I must admit that I had not really thought a lot about all this until just a few years ago. I began to read Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers together and some things immediately became clear to me.
It became clear to me that I had no idea what Jesus meant by a lot of what He said. It also became clear than my hermeneutic (the way I interpret Holy Scripture) was very different than the way the Fathers did. I had been trained to use historical critical methodology whereas the Fathers seemed to be much more “spiritual” and typological in their interpretation of Holy Scripture.
So I began to look at Holy Scripture a little differently. Specifically, I began to read Holy Scripture in a Christological way. Right about now you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about so let me get into these texts a bit.
I was told as a boy growing up in the home of a pastor that the point of being “saved” was to go to heaven. While that sounds really good, I have to say that does not square at all with what Holy Scriptures seem to give us. Rather than messages of “we’re going to heaven when we die,” the Bible seems to indicate that something even more radical will happen.
God will come here.
Look at our OT text for today: Isaiah 25:6-10. I’m going to be working from the KJV and Douay-Rheims today. Read that text slowly and look for the images it conjures in your mind. First, there is an image of a great feast; “a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lee, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”
This is a great feast of great abundance. This is the good stuff, as the saying goes. We see this image somewhere else, don’t we? We see it in the Gospel reading today but we see it again in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) chapters 19-21. But we’ll come back to that.
Keep reading the Isaiah text. The prophet tells us that the Lord of hosts will destroy the “veil” that covers all people, indicating that there is something that is covering us, blinding us to reality. He will swallow up death, He will wipe away tears, He will take away the “rebuke” of the people. Verse 9 tells us that He will “save us” and that, on this “mountain” we will “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” In verse 10 he tells us that “the hand of the Lord shall rest in this mountain (Douay-Rheims).”
Look at these images. These are images of wholeness, abundance and peace that are all linked with salvation.
Looks a little different than “we’re gonna get outta here and go to heaven.” Looks and sounds way better to me!
Now let’s consider our Gospel reading: Matthew 22:1-14. Here we have Jesus doing what He does and giving us a parable to explain things. Look at this text and the imagery we see. What jumps out? The word marriage or wedding is used eight times in both the KJV and Douay-Rheims. What imagery does this convey to us? It’s kind of echoing our Isaiah text in imagery. When we attend a wedding, the food is usually abundant and good, right? The wine (or other drinks) are typically flowing, people are dancing, laughing. It is a place and time of great joy! Jesus is telling us that this is what the Kingdom is like. This is what salvation is like!
The King Himself has set the banquet…and for what reason? The Son is getting married! Once again, this hearkens us to Revelation 19-21 and the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this wedding feast, these nuptials are open to all.
Look at the text. Some were invited but they chose not to go. Some who chose not to go also chose to murder the servants that invited them (the prophets). So what does the King say? “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage.” (KJV) All are invited to the marriage feast of the Son!
But just because you are invited doesn’t mean you can just “come as you are.” We see the stern warning in verses 11-14. Dress appropriately. What does that mean?
St. Augustine, and other Fathers, took this wedding garment to be charity. What does that mean? It means that our wedding garment is how we have lived our lives according to the virtues given to us by grace as we have obeyed the commands of God. Yes, you are welcome to the feast out of a free gift of grace, but you must be clothed in the garments given to us by living a virtuous life. When the King comes, you better be dressed appropriately.
St. John Chrysostom puts it this way,
“To enter with unclean garments, is to depart out of this life in the guilt of sin. For those are no less guilty of manifesting a contempt for the Deity, who presume to sit down in the filth of an unclean conscience, than those who neglected to answer the invitations of the Almighty. He is said to be silent, because having nothing to advance in his own defence, he remains self-condemned, and is hurried away to torments; the horrors of which words can never express.”
Let’s go back to our questions we started with. What do we think salvation means? What is the point of salvation?
King David tells us what salvation means. He tells us what the point of salvation is in our Psalm reading/chant today. Psalm 23 tells us,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Brothers and sisters, what a gift we’ve been given! Look at our readings today and see what God has given us.
He has given us all we need in the Son; we have no other wants.
He gives us the peace of green pastures and still waters in His love.
He restores our soul and leads us in the paths of righteousness.
He calms our fears by granting us the presence of His Spirit.
He prepares for us a feast of good things that we will partake of both now and finally at His great marriage supper when our cup will overflow and His love will dwell with us forever.
He will dwell with us, in His world, His house, forever and we shall have the goodness and mercy of God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit forever and ever, world without end!
Thanks be to God!