Text: Deuteronomy 7:6-9
Date: Pentecost VII Proper 12 + 7/27/14
God loves you. Do you know how much God loves you? Do you know that He loved you even before you were you? St. Paul says today, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).
You think you are too insignificant amid the gazillions of God’s creation? Out of all the people of the earth, with even less of a chance than of winning the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, God chose a man named Abraham and made of him a great nation. He made a covenant with Abraham promising that by his descendents all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through the ages, even when it seemed impossible, God kept His word. By God’s choice He made a covenant in love to bless the whole world.
He chose his people Israel to bring His ultimate blessing to the world. He chose them not because of anything special in themselves. God chose them for the same reason He has chosen you, namely, solely because of his love. This is the meaning of Jesus’ parables today. The hidden treasure and the pearl of great price is not telling you to find Jesus. Rather, in the first, you are the hidden treasure the object of God’s love. Jesus Christ purchased you, redeemed you by selling/giving all he had, His holy life, His flesh and blood. In the second parable you are the pearl of great value and Christ the merchant who sought you out. The third parable is a picture of the result of God’s love, the gathering of each and every believer in the net of His loving purpose.
The love of God brings blessing. Moses said, “it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out [of Egypt] with a mighty hand and redeemed you” (Dt 7:8). To redeem means to set you free from bondage by paying the ransom price to the captor. In the Old Testament God redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt, then again from the Babylonian captivity as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing” (Isaiah 35:10).
Those events of deliverance from the outward, physical captivities or enslavements of history are pictures of the spiritual enslavement from which God ransoms the whole world with the price of Christ’s blood. Psalm 130 says, “And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:8). Then, as the wages of sin is death that is to say God redeems us also from death.
As to His people of old so also is God faithful to us who, through the ransom of Christ’s blood, we are redeemed from sin, death and the devil. We believe in the forgiveness of sins. We believe in the resurrection of the body. But how about that deliverance from the devil?
The Christian whose eyes have been enlightened to see and to be able to identify the chief enemy will not hesitate to call evil what it is and to recognize the tactics and reign of confusion and death caused by the devil in the world today. What is the cause, for instance, of the continuing war between the modern state of Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas? As an Islamic movement that has taken over the government of the Palestinian Parliament, its record and character of hatred and violence can only be described as demonic. It is amazingly similar to the Nazi movement of the last century. Nevertheless, people in the public square laugh at the suggestion of a spiritual cause or battle.
But Israel and the Jews are not the only targets. This past Wednesday it was reported, “There is a mass exodus of Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The Muslim fanatics who have taken over the city, calling themselves the Islamic State, issued an ultimatum to the city’s Christians earlier this month, saying that if they did not leave by Saturday, July 19, they ‘must convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face “death by the sword.”’ As of Tuesday, most of the city’s estimated 3,000 Christians had fled [many leaving with only the clothes on their backs]. Further, the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, had marked homes and businesses owned by Christians with a red, painted ‘nun’, the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet and the equivalent to the Roman letter N. The ‘nun’ stands for Nasara or Nazarenes, a pejorative Arabic word for Christians…. Mosul has played a role in Christian history since the first and second centuries, when the Assyrians in the city converted to Christianity.”
I recently heard someone who didn’t even know that the first people of God were the Jews, that the Bible was written first in their language of Hebrew, and that Christianity came directly out of Israel, and finally that Islam didn’t come along until later as a creation of a man named Mohammed with no relation to either historic religion other than imitation. Satan is good at imitation. Such ignorance is rampant and not helpful to the operations of the world today. Which makes me wonder how many of our political leaders these days even know these spiritual, historical facts behind the current conflicts?
But on a personal level the devil desires to, as I say, “take down as many with him as he can.” St. Paul lists these tactics and temptations of the Evil One in Galatians 5. Part of that list is spiritual in nature (idolatry and sorcery), part of it personal animosity (enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions). He begins with idolatry. And while we haven’t lately set up dumb statues and called them our gods, still idolatry includes all manner of superstitions that draw us away from God.
Surely you remember learning, don’t you, the Second Commandment from the catechism that includes the prohibition of “satanic arts”? This includes casting spells, calling up a spirit, fortune telling, consulting the dead, and other occult practices (ouija boards for instance), depending on horoscopes or similar ways to foretell the future, not to mention outright devil worship! The devil can torment you by manipulating your dreams and your conscience. There are records, however, of Christians being redeemed from literal demon possession by God’s grace. Today we take comfort in St. Paul’s confident words, “nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The love of God brings blessing because He has reached out to redeem you from anything and everything that would enslave you to sin, death and the devil. You have His Word on it, that is, His covenant. The oath He swore to Abraham He has kept with the blessing of the ransom of Jesus Christ that is credited to all believers, the heirs of Abraham and the Gentiles grafted into the vine of the Church.
The love of God brings the blessing of redemption. So we sing in thanksgiving as with John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed His people…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” (Benedictus, Luke 1:68-79).
The blessing of God’s love is redemption, salvation from the captivity of sin, the threat of death, and the power of the devil. In Christ you can and you will overcome all three now and forever.
 Christine Sisto, “A Christian Genocide Symbolized by One Letter,” NationalReview.com, July 23, 2014.