“Is being good, good enough?”

Sermon by The Rev’d Wendy Morecroft

The Feast of the Transfiguration Evensong

Sunday 5 August 2018

Psalm 89:5-18, 1 Kings 19:1-16, John 12:20-33


In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’ve titled my sermon “Is being good, good enough?” in honour of all those people outside of church who tell me that all that is important in life, is that we are good. The pursuit of good works is most certainly a noble quest but is it really all that is important and why?

If their hope is that heaven awaits them, then the why is really important. I recently heard the results of a survey in the UK that said 20% of people would welcome a conversation about God. I interpret this as meaning that 20% of people have a sense of God calling them. It may be in the sound of sheer silence like Elijah heard in tonight’s OT reading. This morning’s Gospel had God speaking from a cloud when Jesus was transfigured and tonight’s Gospel reading had God’s voice coming from heaven. God speaks to each of us in different ways. It may be through the voice of a friend, or we may experience God’s presence in a time of grief or despair, or in a time of great joy. Why would God call us in the first place?

Let’s start at the beginning when God was in full relationship with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Once they had sinned, humans were separated from God and the Old Testament is full of stories of attempts at reconciliation, but humans kept failing. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God gave Moses 10 commandments for us to live by, but 16th century Christian reformist Martin Luther wrote that the commandments were intended not because we were capable of fulfilling them, but for us to recognize our inability to be truly good.[1]

God then became human in order to be reconciled with us. God paid the ultimate price of our sin by sacrificing Godself on the cross. The significance of this salvific act is lost on those of us who may consider that we are perfectly capable of being good without God. For those of us who accept our shortcomings, this is significant indeed.

As Christians who follow the Anglican Prayer Book for Australia liturgy, we freely admit each and every Sunday morning that “we have sinned against God, in thought word and deed and in what we have failed to do: we have not loved God with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves; we repent, and are sorry for all our sins.” The words of confession in this evening’s service have us admit that we are “miserable offenders”. This is not so much to make us feel hopeless or useless but rather to help us recognize our need of God, to accept his amazing free gift of forgiveness and to remember that in our act of repentance (which is to turn away from our sin and endeavor not to do it again) we strive to please God so “that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

As St Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 12:9: Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

There are some Christians who believe that our sins are forgiven once and for all at our baptism. This is what German pastor, theologian, anti Nazi dissident and author of the modern classic “The Cost of Discipleship”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called “cheap grace”. He wrote:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”[2]

Conversely, Costly grace is when we not only confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord, we naturally lead lives that are transformed to all that Jesus teaches  us. We allow Jesus to be not just our savior but also our Lord.

On this Feast day of the Transfiguration, when as we heard this morning, Christ was transfigured before Peter, James and John, and Elijah and Moses appeared, we pray in our collects asking Almighty God to “give us faith to perceive his glory, that being strengthened by his grace (which is his free gift of forgiveness) we may be changed into his likeness.”

Costly grace has us prepared to be transformed into Christ’s likeness and to become his disciples. 19th century saint and Christian mystic, Evelyn Underhill wrote of this transformation as a profound mystery. She wrote:

“The leavening of yeast must have seemed to ancient men a profound mystery, and yet something on which they could always depend. Just so does the supernatural enter our natural life, working in the hiddenness, forcing the new life into every corner and making the dough expand.

If the dough were endowed with consciousness, it would not feel very comfortable while the yeast was working. Nor, as a rule, does our human nature feel very comfortable under the transforming action of God, steadily turning one kind of love into another kind of love—desire into charity, clutch into generosity, Eros into Agape.

Creation is change, and change is often painful and mysterious to us. Spiritual creation means a series of changes, which at last produce a Holiness, God’s aim for us.” (end quote)

Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus intercedes for us to the Father and presents us to him as holy and blameless before him. First John 2:1 says “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

In this way we are not only justified, we are also sanctified. Sanctification means, made holy. As God’s holy people we believe Jesus is Lord of our lives and we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, making us more and more Christlike.

In conclusion, being good is only part of the equation. Acknowledging that we are incapable of being truly good is the other part of the equation. It is in acknowledging our weakness that Christ’s power can be made perfect in us. Understanding our weakness is necessary in order to understand and to perceive how much God loves us and the benefit to us of Jesus’ death on the cross.

Good works alone do not get us to heaven, but they are a sign of God at work in us. Being good in our own strength is not only hopeless, it denies us the knowledge of God’s love. It is a love that can transform us so that as tonight’s psalm says: we may “walk in the light of thy countenance.”






[1] “Freedom of a Christian,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Translated from German and Latin), ed. T.F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 600.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1959), 36.