Sermon delivered on Trinity 5A, Sunday, July 16, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Because the preacher has to be smarter than the recording device, there is no audio podcast to today’s sermon.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What are we to make of our OT lesson with Esau giving up or despising his inheritance of God’s promise to his grandfather Abraham to bless the world through Abraham and his descendants? It’s a strange story to our ears and we wonder what would lead someone like Esau to despise such an awesome gift from God, especially over something as trivial as being hungry in a non-life threatening way? It’s easy for us to shake our heads wisely and scold Esau because of his foolishness. But what about us as Christians, who inherit an even greater promise in and through Jesus Christ? Do we despise our inheritance or birthright? This is what I want us to look at this morning.
So what is our inheritance as Christians? I suspect many of us, if pressed, couldn’t answer the question and that’s a problem, folks, because it is indicative of the problem Jesus highlighted in the parable of the sower. Many of us don’t have ears to hear. But that’s not one of Paul’s problems because he tells us right out of the gate in our epistle lesson what the prize is: No condemnation. To the glory and praise of God, Paul and the rest of the NT writers didn’t partake in unreality like we do. They recognized the deadly problem of the power of Sin in our lives and spoke clearly about it. As Father Bowser preached last week in his tepid sermon (I hate when he’s not here so as to miss a perfectly good insult), left to our own devices, we humans are enslaved by Sin’s power and have been since our first ancestors rebelled against God in the garden to unleash its deadly power in God’s world to corrupt and destroy it and us.
In Romans, Paul has been relentless in talking about our slavery to Sin. In chapter 3 he talked about the fact that there is no one who is good in God’s eyes, no one who is able to live out fully God’s righteousness and justice. If this weren’t true, if we could live out God’s righteousness and justice, there would be no racism, no greed, no cruelty. We wouldn’t be backbiting each other and murdering each other or blowing each other up. People wouldn’t be starving or homeless or pushing drugs. There wouldn’t be talk of inequality and favoritism. The list is endless but you get the point. None of us is able to live fully as God’s image-bearing people and that’s a massive problem, both for ourselves because our sins dehumanize us, and for God’s world because there are always going to be people who suffer and people who inflict suffering. And of course as Paul reminds us in Romans 6.23 and elsewhere, the wages of sin is death and we can fully expect to experience God’s terrible wrath on our sinfulness and unrighteousness because both represent our open and ongoing hostility toward God and God’s goodness manifested, in part, in God’s world. No, there is no unreal thinking on Paul’s part when it comes to the dark and terrible subjects of Evil, Sin, and Death. We are all under God’s just and terrible condemnation and there’s not a thing we can do about it on our own.
Oh, but how we try to do something about it! All this frank and straightforward talk makes us feel uncomfortable and we hate that. So we try to do everything in our power to manage our anxiety about it and to justify ourselves. We want to focus on feelings, on making ourselves feel good, and any talk of the terrible reality of Sin’s enslavement of us certainly doesn’t accomplish that. So we tell ourselves that we’re not that bad. Sure, we may want our way most of the time, but at least we are not terrorists or murderers. We’re not the ones who cause the kinds of suffering I just described. Right. What we are doing is being the seed that was sown on the path and in the thorns in Jesus’ parable this morning. And the Satan, the Father of Lies and Evil, encourages us in our delusional thinking. He is perfectly happy to let us be that kind of seed because it ends in our death. We may try to wish away God’s just condemnation of us, but that isn’t going to change the reality of our situation one iota. We all stand condemned in God’s holy presence.
I see Carl back there squirming in his seat and muttering something about this sermon being a buzzkill. What’s that you are saying? Glad to have you back in the pulpit, Father Maney! Don’t you want to take some more vacation time? Why, thank you, Carl. Yes I do! But I digress. Of course, if that were the end of the story, this sermon would be a total buzzkill. However it is to the glory of God that the Good News of the gospel is actually tied to the bad news about which we’ve just been talking. If all this talk about the power of Sin and its deadly consequences has you squirming in your seat and feeling hopeless and terrified, take heart! This means that you are beginning to experience God’s grace in your life afresh. God is being gracious to you and helping you to really consider the deadly seriousness of Sin and its twin brother Death so that you know clearly what is at stake regarding your faith. Once we actually start talking about Sin in ways that the NT writers do, we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become those seeds that bear fruit and produce a hundredfold yield by God’s power.
How so, you ask? Patience Weedhopper. Let me explain. Because Sin is an outside and invasive power that has the ability to enslave us, we have no hope of defeating it ourselves. Try as we might, we set ourselves up for failure. Conquering the power of Sin takes far more than self-help, by trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But as Paul reminds us this morning, we do not have to try to defeat the power of Sin because God has already done that for us on the cross of Jesus Christ. All the NT writers are clear that God became human in Jesus to rescue us from the power of Sin and free us so that we are able to actually live righteous lives in God’s sight. Only God has the power to break Sin’s enslavement of us and only God loves us enough to actually do so. On the cross, God the Son, in agreement with God the Father’s will, broke Sin’s power over us. Not completely in this life to be sure as we all are painfully aware. But Sin’s power over us has been broken and God the Son endured our just condemnation for us so that we would not have to bear it. As Paul tells us, in Jesus, God condemned our sin in the flesh as a loving and just God must do to bring about his perfect justice. But God did so in a way that spared us his wrath, thanks be to God. As we saw last week, Paul asked the agonized question, Who will rescue us from this body of death (Romans 7.24)? This morning, Paul answers his question. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In his body, God has dealt with the death-dealing problem of Sin and so spared us from experiencing God’s justice pronounced on us. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus, i.e., who have his Spirit living in us to unite us to him by faith. This is God’s free gift to us, given to us because Jesus loves us that much to give himself willingly for us.
Whatever we might think of ourselves, whatever we see in ourselves that we despise or that is unwholesome or unlovely, when our Lord Jesus looks at us from the cross, he sees us as forgiven. There is nothing we have done, there is nothing we are, that is beyond the healing love and merciful forgiveness of God the Father poured out in God the Son as he died a godforsaken death for us on the cross. And now we are back to the parable of the seeds. If we see all this as clearly as we can—realizing of course, we are never going to plumb the depths this side of the grave of what God in Christ did for us and suffered for us on Calvary—we will be those fruitful seeds. Our hearts will be full of astonished, humbled, and grateful love for this God who saved us from a sure and certain death because of his astonishing love for us. Amen?
So we no longer have to fear God’s condemnation because we put our whole hope and trust in Christ and are open to the power and working of the Holy Spirit to heal and transform us. This doesn’t mean that all our problems and struggles disappear. What God the Son has done for us on the cross does not constitute some kind of magical power that we suddenly get. Sin is still real and it still has a fight in it. But it has been given a death blow and its end is certain, thanks be to God. When we realize we are now no longer under God’s just condemnation, that God has taken care of that for us, we are free to love and serve this God who loves us and gave himself for us. We’ll not do that perfectly this side of the grave, but do it we must. Many, of course, will see God’s power in us and hate us for it because sadly, many want to continue in their sins and enjoy being enslaved by Sin’s power. And when they see us struggling to live as God’s true image-bearing creatures so that we flourish even in the midst of our suffering, it will infuriate many and they will hate us and want to silence us. As our Lord warned us, if they hate him, they will certainly hate us who are his followers. But take heart. He’s overcome the world.
This is our birthright, our inheritance as Christians, my beloved: No condemnation. And we deserve none of it, just as Abraham and his descendants didn’t deserve God’s call to them to be a blessing to the world. Yes, we continue to struggle against the world, the flesh with its fallen and corrupted desires, and the devil. But we do not fear God’s condemnation because in Christ, God has overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, thanks be to God. As God’s healed and forgiven children, we look forward to living in God’s new world with our resurrection bodies patterned after our Lord’s. And we know this hope of eternal life is true because we know God raised Jesus from the dead and promises to do likewise for us.
So how might we despise our birthright as Christians? There are several ways, but I will only mention a few to stimulate your thinking and prayerful consideration about this. Perhaps the most common way we Christians despise our birthright is to not believe God’s salvation story in Christ. We may think it’s too good to be true or refuse to believe the NT’s insistence that in Christ God has defeated the power of Sin and Death because there is still so much chaos in the world and our lives. To be sure this is where faith comes into play and we must have a strong belief that God really did enter human history in Jesus to die for our sins and be raised from the dead. If we don’t believe that, or if it really didn’t happen as the NT writers proclaim, everything becomes dark again. But God did intervene on our behalf to save us and if we essentially do not believe this or what we recite in the Creed each Sunday, we despise our birthright and become seeds ripe for the plunder.
A second way we despise our birthright is to not accept God’s forgiveness of us in Christ. This is closely related to not believing the Good News, of course, but this can also involve us loathing ourselves and projecting our own unloving spirit onto God so as to convince ourselves that God couldn’t possible forgive our sins because, well, we’re just too rotten. This means that we really do believe we are under God’s condemnation and elevates us to a special status where the Cross just can’t cover our sins. If you are one of these folks, I encourage you to talk to one of your priests and other faithful Christians so that we can start praying that you get over yourself and that Satan’s power to delude you might be broken so that the scales fall from your eyes and you can see yourself as Jesus sees you: As one of God’s beloved and forgiven children.
Another way we can despise our birthright is to develop a proud and haughty spirit that leads us to do good things so that we can obligate God to us. We all know folks like this. They’re usually proud, arrogant, and self-righteous like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who prays opposite the tax collector (Luke 18.9-14). When we realize we are no longer under God’s condemnation, it will lead us to desire likewise for others, even our enemies, and we realize how utterly foolish it is to think we can make God feel obligated toward us by how we behave. To believe this indicates we really are clueless as to the seriousness of Sin and living in a state of death-dealing unreality.
All these attitudes, and a host more, can also lead to us despise our birthright in another and devastating way by causing us to refuse to live and proclaim the gospel to others because we are embarrassed and/or worry about offending them. We tell ourselves that maybe salvation is possible outside of Jesus, that trying to do our best is all that it really takes to get right with God. But of course that is a delusion and a lie, and our reluctance to warn others about the deadly consequences of Sin and to embody and proclaim God’s love in Christ to others is a damning testimony to the shallowness of our faith, if faith is what we have.
Think on these things, my beloved. Not just once. Not just occasionally. Think on these things constantly. Consider the astonishing and life-changing love and mercy of God the Father made known to us in Jesus his Son. Dare trust Christ’s love for you enough to really believe you are no longer under condemnation and therefore have nothing to fear in that regard. And then get to work in ways God calls you, both individually and together with the rest of the folks here at St. Augustine’s and beyond, to proclaim this life- and world-changing news to others. Be prepared to suffer the condemnation of others, but give it no thought. They do not hold the power of life and death over you. The one who does has declared that you are no longer under his condemnation so that you know you really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.