Joy in Heaven
  • Sunday, September 15, 2013

17 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Jer. 4:11-12, 22-28 • Ps. 14

Alternate: Ex. 32:7-14 • Ps. 51:1-11 • 1 Tim. 1:12-17 • Luke 15:1-10

This is a long repentance, and it is well that we should go on and on in admitting our fault and failings — not to abuse what is good in us, but to see with new eyes the corruption that cuts through every human heart. “They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good” (Jer. 4:22). “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely” (Ex. 32:7). “The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. Everyone has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one” (Ps. 14:2-3). Behold the man walking about, carrying the witness of his own mortality, dragging the weight of his sin, the testimony that God resists the proud (Augustine, Confessio, Ii). This man, or his sister, this woman, is awakened to a desperate truth.

Now, in this desperation, draw the breath in deep and then allow words to come out, words which you have waited to say for so long. Do not stiffen the neck; keep the muscles soft, let a light breath say from the center of your being, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses” (Ps. 51:1). God draws out these good words, and hears them. And God comes in the Spirit of his beloved Son to the blasphemer, the persecutor, the man of violence, thus showing that God will wait and wait with utmost patience (1 Tim. 1:13,16).

From this desperate cry for mercy comes something unexpected, a gift exceeding pardon. Imputed innocence is not the point. The point is joy in heaven that spills all over the earth. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). While heaven is happy, the earthbound sinner, set free, sees his own life as something new and astounding. He is lighter; his mortality is swallowed by immortality; his sin purged by a pristine river of dark blood. He steps into Christ as Christ walks into him. He ceases to know himself as only in the flesh, but in the Lord.

Like a hiker on a long trail, he stops, finds his footing, and then looks at the world. It isn’t the same; it isn’t what it once was. Christ awakens every sense and reveals the world again as the object of God’s creating, redeeming, and exalting love. Surprised by joy, the sinner sings a new song for he is a new being.

Just as God must often remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Ex. 32:13), the sinner must often remember that he is simul iustus et peccator, at the same time justified and a sinner. The sinner stands ever before the one Christ who died for the unrighteous. God’s grace is a perpetual cleansing, but the river is also cool and jubilant; nature sings, as do the angels in heaven, because one sinner is shining with happiness. God wants this.

God looks down from heaven upon us all. Sin is in full view, and yet his property is always to have mercy and his goal your joy on earth as in heaven, for the glory of God is a human being fully alive (Ireneaus).

Look It Up
Read Ps. 51:11. You are clean. Take notice of how it feels to be clean.

Think About It
Zeal is often a mask for anger. Let love rule in your heart.

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