A Catechetical Sermon
March 8, 2023 at Solemn Evensong
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
Two weeks ago we talked about our alienation from God. We are mortal, tending toward death, and we have removed ourselves, through sin, from the Giver of life.
We haven’t talked very directly about sin, but this can be our starting point: sin is whatever separates us from God and separates us from life. Death is not just something that happens to us at the end of our life; it is force that takes possession of our minds and hearts so long as we are not turning back to God.
We usually think of sin in terms of violation and punishment. We sin, God is angry, and God punishes us unless we repent. There is some truth in that; that language does come from the Bible. But it is easy to present it in a way that obscures that, at the heart of it, God’s anger against our violations of the law of life is about relationship.
We’ve said that our relationship to God when we sin is alienation, distance. But what is God’s relationship to us? The best word, which captures both his anger at our offense and his desire to be in relationship with us, is “jealous.”
The Old Testament says that the Lord’s name is “Jealous,” and he “is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). God’s has such great desire for us that he insists on being absolutely supreme in our hearts. But we have given our hearts to other things: to foolish pleasures, and to ridiculous pride. God wants us back. God is jealous.
Is jealousy a negative word? Jealousy which is based on anxiety and suspicion destroys relationships. That is the “bad jealousy,” but that is not what we are talking about. The jealousy of God is about protecting relationship. God, knowing with total clarity the ways in which we have and have not gone astray, still desires us so badly that he will do everything in his power to convince us to come back to him. God’s jealousy is simply his continuing love for us when we go astray.
I’ll illustrate. I have recently been re-reading Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. The title plotline is about an affair: Alexei Karenin’s wife Anna has fallen in love with another man and given herself to him. She confesses what she’s done, not because she is repentant, but because she cannot bear the deception anymore. But Karenin is a cold fish. He doesn’t fly into a rage. He doesn’t plead with her to end the affair. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t shout. He takes steps to protect his reputation, and allows the affair to continue. He has no jealousy, only pride. For Anna and for the reader, this is the perfect proof that her husband never loved her. If he loved her, he would do everything he could to prevent her affair going any further and to win her back. He would be angry. He would be jealous.
God’s jealousy is perfect jealousy. God doesn’t wash his hands of us when we seek other lovers. He doesn’t see us destroying ourselves and say, “Serves them right!” No. He gets angry, and he tries to win us back.
Repentance from sin, to which this season of Lent is devoted, is the process of acknowledging our faults, amending our ways, and turning back to God. It is motivated by God’s anger against sin, not just because we fear punishment, but because that anger shows us God’s burning heart of love for us. Repentance is humbly returning to true husband of one’s soul.