Father Sang is too busy reading the many books in his bookcase to be bothered with providing a written manuscript of his sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of it, click here. If you would like to see the recording of the entire service, click here.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105.1-11, 45b; Romans 8.26-39; St. Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; St. Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, my beloved, here we are on Zoom—again. If you are like me, while I am always happy to see you in any venue, I am also feeling a bit hollow and disappointed this morning. Today was the day we were to reopen the chapel and reassemble as a parish family, as the beloved people of God. But COVID had other ideas and so here we are, consigned to our virtual meeting for the near future. But I have some Good News for you this morning because as we continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, today’s passage is a condensed and brilliant summary of the essence of the Good News of Jesus Christ and this is what I want us to look at this morning. If there is anything that can lift us out of our doldrums, our epistle lesson this morning will do it.
As we saw last week, St. Paul left us in a difficult place in his letter. Recall that he wrote:
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7.21-25, NLT)
For those of us who have pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment on it, we know where this is leading—to our condemnation. We want to say to St. Paul, “Thanks a lot. Another piece of bad news in the seemingly never ending hit parade of bad news lately. We are so hosed!” After all, we learn to fear condemnation from a very early age, even if we haven’t pondered the seriousness of sin and God’s judgment on it. Whether seeking the approval of our parents and getting none or suffering through the humiliation of being picked last in a neighborhood pickup game or getting turned down for a job or desired relationships—I was turned down 16 times in a row before I got my first date—the message is clear: You’re not good enough. You don’t measure up. You’re not innocent. Guilty!! Guilty!! Guilty!! And so we spend much of our adult lives trying to compensate for this reality as we desperately seek to avoid the condemnation we dread. Throw in God’s condemnation, the mother of all condemnations, especially if we were/are unfortunate to have overly critical and rigid parents, and we are confronted by an ongoing and terrifying reality that we try to tamp down or ignore altogether so that we can just cope. Not good enough. Can’t make the grade. Thoroughly inadequate. Total Loser™. Wretched people we are indeed!
But right when we hit rock bottom with St. Paul, he shocks us with his conclusion to the argument he has laid out in chapters 5-7, a conclusion we didn’t see coming with the help of arbitrary chapter divisions of his letter. Who will rescue us wretches? How can we ever hope to measure up when we’ve been told by the world throughout our lives that we don’t? “Therefore,” St. Paul says as we brace to hear his expected conclusion that we must face the reality that we are consigned to being Losers in everyone’s eyes including our own and God’s, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (v.1). Wait. What??? Welcome to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Before we look at why St. Paul would draw this astonishing conclusion, it bears repeating that his conclusion would only be meaningful to those of us who take the reality of sin and God’s judgment on it seriously. For those who don’t have an awareness of sin or who reject its reality completely, this wonderful Good News would likely evoke a shrug of the shoulders, their own personal avoidance of condemnation notwithstanding. But for those of us who understand that God will indeed judge our sin and all that is evil in his world that defiles and corrupts it, St. Paul’s conclusion of no condemnation for those who belong to Christ is music to our weary ears and aching hearts.
But what is the basis for St. Paul’s conclusion? How can we who are enslaved by the power of Sin escape God’s just condemnation? The answer, simply put, is that the power of God has freed us from our slavery to Sin where our finite and human efforts inevitably failed. In the following verses, St. Paul lays out a condensed version of the entire gospel of Jesus Christ. We escape God’s just and right condemnation because God the Father sent God the Son, i.e., God became human, to condemn our sin in the flesh instead of condemning us (v.3-4). We need to be very careful with our language here so that we can confront the tired old false teachings that claim God is a cosmic child abuser who punished Jesus on the cross. This is emphatically not what St. Paul is saying. First, we must remember that Jesus was and is God incarnate so anything Christ did on our behalf he did willingly and in cooperation with the Father, not because the Father coerced the Son. Second, St. Paul tells us that God’s terrible condemnation (judgment) fell on our sins, not on Christ. God the Father never condemned God the Son. It was our sins and the evil they produce that was condemned on the cross. And this should make sense to us. If God is a loving God, God must condemn all that is corrupting and death-dealing to his creatures. What loving parent would stand by idly and condone evil being perpetrated against his/her children? The whole story of Scripture is about how God is rescuing his world and us from the ravages of Evil and Sin, and here is a concise statement about how God ultimately chose to do that: by becoming human and dying on our behalf so that he could condemn the real culprit, sin, while sparing us. In other words, despite our fear of not being able to make the grade or measuring up in God’s eyes—who could blame us for thinking that in light of what St. Paul has written in chapter 7 and our own self-condemnation?—God doesn’t see us as we often see ourselves. As St. Paul reminded us back in chapter 5, God loves us so much that at just the right time he became human to die for us, even while we were still God’s enemies (Rom 5.6-8)! This is the power of God at work, my beloved, the only power that can free us from our slavery to the power of Sin. When Christ died for us on the cross, it not only spared us from God’s condemnation, it also freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power (v.2). Sin has been condemned. We who have a real relationship with Christ and believe in the efficacy of his death are not. On Mt. Calvary, God has proclaimed to us in no uncertain terms that we do measure up in his eyes, that we are not the Losers we have been told or think we are (well, the jury is still out on some of you, but I digress), and that we are no longer guilty because it was sin and not us that was pronounced guilty in Christ’s body. This isn’t the work of a cosmic child abuser. This is the work of the living God who loves his children and wants to free us to be the truly human beings he created us to be. No amount of human effort or trying harder is going to free us from our slavery to Sin. Only the power of God can do that. This is why we call it the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ.
But the gospel is more than just escaping God’s condemnation. We must remember that we are God’s image-bearers whom God created to run the world on God’s behalf, reflecting God’s goodness and glory out into the world and channeling creation’s praises back to its Creator. So God freed us to live accordingly, not to give us an eternal “get-out-of-jail-free” card so that we could continue indulging in our sinful and rebellious ways. This is the contrast St. Paul is talking about in the rest of the passage (v.5-11). When he warns that living according to the flesh produces death, St. Paul is not talking about our physical bodies being bad nor is he talking about a dualistic nature inside of us, an internal good-cop, bad-cop so to speak. That is a Neo-Platonic and gnostic notion. We must remember St. Paul was a Jew and all good Jews believed in the goodness of creation, bodies included, because God is our Creator and the Genesis narratives proclaim in no uncertain terms that all creation prior to the Fall was good and remained good, albeit corrupted, even after our first ancestors’ rebellion in the garden. Rather, what St. Paul is talking about here is who will be our master. Will we serve our fallen nature (the flesh) and the power of Sin or God (the Spirit)? When we set our minds on the flesh, when we trust in ourselves instead of God and act accordingly, we can expect God’s just condemnation. St. Paul speaks elsewhere of what living life according to the flesh looks like. He speaks of lives characterized by sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and others. St. Paul isn’t talking about one-off or occasional sins here nor is he attempting to offer a complete catalogue of behaviors and thinking that cater to our selfish and rebellious nature. Rather we should understand these things as manifestations of enslaved lives to the power of Sin. The apostle declares ominously that those who engage in lifestyles characterized by these kinds of behaviors will not be part of God’s world, either in this mortal life or the world to come, the new creation (Gal 5.19-21).
But serving our fallen nature (the flesh) is not always about committing egregious sins, and here is where it gets really interesting because we can pander to our rebellious desires in very subtle ways. When, for example, we proclaim Jesus is our Lord and Savior but steadfastly refuse to believe that God really has spared us from his condemnation by becoming human to die for us, we are setting our minds on the flesh by not trusting the promises of God contained in his gospel. We will likely follow a gospel of self-help, making sure, for example, that we read the Bible enough or pray enough or go to church enough or give enough to earn his love and forgiveness while simultaneously pursuing our own selfish interests and being very ugly people, hoping along the way that our good efforts are enough to persuade God to save us despite our ugliness. But as St. Paul has already explained in chapter 7, that ain’t gonna happen. We are incapable of pleasing God if left to our own devices. Don’t misunderstand. Praying, worshiping, giving, service to others, reading the Bible, and other pious activities are all good and necessary things for Christians to engage in, but we are never to engage in these activities with the false belief that doing them will compel God to love us and save us. As we have just seen, God has already demonstrated his love for us and taken care of all that is necessary for us to enjoy life with him in this world and the next.
We also see life lived according to the flesh illustrated in our OT lesson this morning in both Esau and Jacob. The former let his own temporary hunger control his behavior so that he disastrously forfeited his birthright, something from which he apparently never recovered, by giving it to his younger brother Jacob, who being the great deceiver he was, always tried to manipulate people and situations to gain God’s blessing. The beauty of both the old and new testaments is that despite this, God still redeemed Jacob because Jacob was to be the bearer of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, despite himself. God does likewise with us. Or consider the parable of the prodigal son. We see living according to the flesh in both the sons in the parable. While the prodigal’s sins are obvious, his older brother had a sense of self-righteousness that is death-dealing because his focus was on his behavior/power, not God’s. Contrast this mindset with the prodigal who humbly accepted his father’s forgiveness and found new life. So it is possible for us to live according to the flesh while pretending to be pious and spiritual. If you are one who thinks you have to follow the rules to earn God’s forgiveness, or that your right standing before God depends on you doing the right things instead of Christ’s sacrifice for you, you are unwittingly or otherwise living according to the flesh and living a lie, and you should have every reason to fear God’s just condemnation because of your refusal to trust God’s power to rescue you, relying instead on your own folly to get the job done.
Contrast this to living by the Spirit, who frees us to be truly human beings and God’s image-bearers (I see Father Bowser twitching with delight over the mention of the Holy Spirit). Notice carefully what St. Paul is telling us here. He is not telling us that those who have the Holy Spirit living in us will never sin. That won’t happen till after our mortal death (Rom 6.7). No, what St. Paul is telling us is that because we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, we are given his Spirit who will live in us and transform us over a lifetime to become more and more like Christ. It is the power to live as fully human beings, imperfect and utterly messy as that may look at times, precisely because we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection at our baptism (cf. Rom 6.3-5). The presence of the Spirit allows Christ to dwell within us and unites us to him. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul put it like this: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ [who] lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2.20). That’s why those who don’t have the Spirit don’t have Christ. First and foremost, the Spirit reveals to us God’s great love for us so that despite all our feelings and fears to the contrary, we really do believe that we no longer have to fear God’s condemnation because our sins have already been dealt with once and for all on the cross. We live in an Über touchy-feely age and frankly we need to get over that and embrace the objective reality that we have been transferred from the dominion of death into the dominion of God’s Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins (cf. Col 1.13-20). That same Son lives in us and helps heal and transform us into God’s restored image-bearers who think, speak, and act accordingly if we only let him. When we do, irrespective of how imperfect that might look in our lives, we really will experience peace because we trust God’s promises and great love for us. We no longer feel compelled to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps to escape God’s condemnation. We believe it to be true, despite everything in and around us trying to tell us otherwise. It would take a whole separate sermon to flesh out what these two contrasting lifestyles would look like in our lives, but mercifully I won’t pull a Deacon Wylie on you and keep you till suppertime (well, maybe he didn’t preach that long a couple of weeks ago, but I like my story better so I’m sticking with it).
So let me close with this. If you really believe what St. Paul is telling us here, my beloved, it will change you and free you to live your life courageously and boldly, without fear of God’s judgment, because you trust in the unfailing love and power of God, not your own power or delusions. The NT calls that having real peace. And God knows we need courageous and bold Christians to proclaim a better way of life—a life lived according to the reality of no condemnation because of the love of God made known in Jesus Christ—to the forces of godlessness and lawlessness that swirl around and within us. It will make you want to please God because you realize it’s no more than your humble response to a done deal God has accomplished unilaterally on your behalf. You’ve been freed from your slavery to Sin’s power and your sins have been dealt with forever. Here is the Good News in a nutshell. St. Paul speaks of the saving work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—three in one and one in three, all working together to rescue and heal you so that you are equipped to live as the truly human being you were created to be—reminding us that those who belong to Christ share in Christ’s power and destiny, which is new bodily life at the Resurrection of the dead (Romans 8.11). We did nothing nor can we ever do anything to deserve God’s great gift of life. We only have to accept the gift offered us and believe we are worthy in the God’s sight. God is loving and faithful to his word and God has the power to do the impossible. Embrace the gift along with the hope and promise, my beloved. Let it change you so that you live your life with new power, freedom, boldness, and joy in your Lord Jesus Christ. After all, he lives in you and is your hope of glory (Col 1.27). To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am happy to announce that we closed on our new building this afternoon. Junior Warden Christopher S. signed on behalf of the parish. Our new address will be 120 N. Otterbein Ave, Westerville, OH 43081. We are currently awaiting an occupancy permit and hope to hold our first worship service there on Sunday, September 13, 2020. Below are some pictures from today’s closing.
Let us Pray: Dear Lord, be with me when I am in doubt and drive away my fear. Refresh my mind and affirm my faith that you are with me and I am in your promises. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,
How are you all!
Even today, Number of cases of Covid 19 is going on increasing along with the deaths all over the world. This Virus caused lot of mental issues like fear, scared, depressed, don’t know what to do & how to deal with it, domestic violence, looting the stores, some people went back to addictions. In this situation we gathered here as a St. Augustines’s family to shout along with Joshua
24:15 “ As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. ( Could you repeat after me please!)
We gathered together to celebrate the life in Christ Jesus. God in His graciousness blessed us to be safe from this deadly Virus. Isn’t it? Yes.
The word of God speaking to us directly during this situation
Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. “
Fear not, Abram. (Genesis 15:1)
When you find yourself in a place where you feel as though your only companion is fear, change Abram’s name to your name, and receive this promise of God – Fear Not- as part of your spiritual inheritance. Whether you are aware of this or not, you are always held in the hands of God’s promises. Are you afraid? Remember the One who is your shield. Your name is always being called as you are invited into deeper faith. Faith is the guardian angel overshadowing you at all times. Much is invisible at first glance. Look deeply.
How difficult it must have been for our father, Abraham, to believe the promise of God. Likewise, it is not easy for us to believe there is a rich future awaiting us. It is not easy to see a Divine plan for our lives and for St. Augustine’s Church. So let us hold hands with our ancient father in faith and with faith itself. And today’s first reading is about God Yahweh promise to Abraham is being fulfilled through Isaac the son of Abraham. And Isaac got married to Rebekah and had two sons Esau and Jacob. So let us be strong in faith and hope in Jesus Christ.
Now let us reflect on letter to Romans chapter 7
St. Paul is dealing with the Law, Sin and the Flesh.
This passage in Romans 7:15-20 gives us the first-hand account of the battle between the new nature and the sinful flesh within the apostle Paul. He writes these verses as a mature believer in Christ. Paul’s own life demonstrates that this struggle with our sinful flesh never goes away while we are on the earth. Paul is in a fight for holiness, just as you and I are. We must take action to buffet our body and make it our slave. We must resist temptation and fight the good fight. We must resist temptation and flee immorality. The Christian life is a fight for holiness. This battle within us is real, intense, ongoing, internal, spiritual, and found within all true believers. Romans 7:15-20 These verses are like looking into a mirror and seeing the struggle with sin that resides within each one of us.
If you do feel the intensity of this internal strife, it is because you are converted to Christ Jesus.
John Calvin wrote in chapter one, section one of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that with the knowledge of God comes the knowledge of self. Everything in your Christian life begins with knowing who God is and, in turn, knowing who you are. Until you know who God is, you will never know who you are. And until you know who you are, you will never advance in spirituality. Paul is being completely honest with us. This is a private thought that is now made known publically in order to help us to learn about our struggle with sin. If when you sin, you are thinking, “What is wrong with me?,” the reality is that this is what is wrong with all of us. The reality is that even as a believer, we still struggle with sin.
Sin is a Legal Offense (7:16)
Sin is a legal offense against God and His word. Paul writes, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (verse 16). Paul is obviously talking about the sin that he does not want to do. We know he is a true believer because no believer wants to sin. But Paul confesses that he does the very thing that he does not wish to do. This man, who authored fourteen books in the New Testament, yet even as a mature believer in Christ, Paul is still entrenched in this war against the sinful flesh within him. This is the same struggle we all face in day to day lives.
let us answer some questions in this regard:
can the law save us? No. only the grace of God can save us.
Paul shows that even though the law is glorious and good, it can’t save us – and we need a Savior. Paul never found any peace, until he looked outside of himself and beyond the law to his Savior, Jesus Christ.
How the law help the humanity? The law help us to respect every human. And every human life is matter, not just black or white but everyone, born in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and North America, and to bring harmony in the society, and for the welfare of every human being.
We must know that the Law Reveals Our Sin.
This is the great paradox of the Christian life. Are we free? Yes! We’re free from sin’s dominion and free to worship God, but we’re also trapped in this flesh which will never be free from sin until death. That’s why Paul cries out “who will free me from this body of death?” at the end of the chapter.
As much as we hate it, we’re in a battle, not just with Satan and demonic forces, but with our flesh which desires to heed to sin. How does a believer know that there is still sin within him? The answer, according to verse 16, is that the Law reveals it to us. One of the necessary ministries of the Law of God is to expose sin in our lives, even as a believer. Paul writes, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (verse 16). What is it that the Law testifies to Paul, to which he is in agreement? It is that the Law reveals to us our sin.
Anyone who has tried to do good is aware of this struggle. We never know how hard it is to stop sinning until we try. “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” (C.S. Lewis)
For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man says Paul: Paul knows that his real inward man has a delight in the law of God. He understands that the impulse towards sin comes from another law in my members. Paul knows that the “real self” is the one who does delight in the law of God.
Jesus was born under the law, but in his death and resurrection, he reformed the law, and he did so on behalf of all humanity. The risen Christ does not have to keep the Sabbath or any other laws of Moses. Yet he did it to fulfill Father’s Will and to be our Master and Model.
We cannot adopt a defeatist attitude, because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Because of the all-sufficient grace of God, we will grow in personal holiness. We will experience ever-increasing victories over sin in our lives. There is still sin within us as believers, but we are, nevertheless, making progress and moving forward into greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).
What role does the Law play in an unbeliever’s life? It defines sin. The Law condemns an unbeliever. It can be the ‘tutor’ that shows an unbeliever that he/she needs a Savior
24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.. (Gal 3:24).
Can obeying the Law save anyone? Why or why not? The Law cannot save anyone. No one can keep it perfectly….except Jesus!
Paul described the process of how our flesh can be aroused by the Law in vv8-10.
8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.
I would like to give my own example as I apply this text to my life. Few times in my work place, I did my personal works and I used company material . The rule is every employee has to dedicate their time fully towards the job and never to use the material of the company. So If I keep the rule I am free from mistake and fault but If I do not keep, the same rule points out my mistakes.
We can apply this for the sins and failures. The commandments help us to obey God and respect other human beings. And the same Commandments points out our sins when we do not follow.
Let us read the text:
17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
In Rom 7:17-20 Is Paul giving believers an excuse to sin? No
Is he removing any hope of walking in godliness? NO
Paul speaks of two persons in himself. We can understand this way, Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle. The old Saul has the nature of sin with the Law and new Paul has the nature of spirit of Jesus to do good with love of Jesus Christ.
Paul is making a clear difference with the desires or works of flesh Vs the desires of the Spirit in the believers.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
What is the conflict in these verses? What do you learn about the Law in these verses? What do you learn about believers and their flesh?
There is always conflict between Spirit Vs Flesh;
The Law points out the restrictions, boundaries, requirements and sin
The Believers have to live by the new spirit and new heart rather than worldly and fleshly desires.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Dear friends in Jesus
The Law related to Marriage is to guide the married people to be faithful, to have mutual love and respect and to have the family instituted by God. God in His graciousness instituted the family. Wife, husband and children living together in love.
Therefore let us love the family life and be bound by the law that guides and directs the family.
There is a law and order in the universe that brings harmony. Therefore the law is so important for human society for common good.
Throughout the history of the church, people have debated who Paul was describing in vv14-25. Here are some common interpretations:
1. Paul is describing himself before he was saved. (unbelievers)
2. Paul is describing his personal experience as a believer. (believers)
3. Paul is describing himself before salvation, when he was under conviction.
4. Paul is describing the struggle of anyone who is trying to live ‘under the law’…believer or unbeliever.
I personally believe when we are motivated by Love we do not need the law. And we may overcome all evil and sin with the grace of Jesus Christ.
The freedom in Christ is new creation yet we need to deal with all the issues of the world. Because we have the symptoms of this flesh virus ( Eg: Bad habits drinking , smoking, lustful Thoughts, anger, violence etc) . We struggle very hard to fight against all these sins.
We have the good news: Rev 3:20-21
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT painted the picture of Jesus knocking the door ( England)
I would like to conclude my reflection with the Image of Jesus Knocking your door- The door of your heart, only you can open it from inside. would you open it for Jesus to enter into your life!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit .Amen.
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Despite the fact that Deacon Wylie has a PhD, you won’t find a written manuscript for today’s sermon because, well, his PhD is from the University of Wisconsin. Need we say more? To listen to today’s sermon click here.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 22.1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6.12-23; Matthew 10.40-42.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, focusing on our epistle lesson today. You recall that last week we looked at St. Paul’s astonishing teaching about God’s great love for us made known in Christ. There he told us that while we were still God’s enemies, hostile toward God and hopelessly alienated from him because of our slavery to the power of Sin, God moved decisively on our behalf to end our hostility toward him by becoming human (or in the words of St. Paul, by sending his Son) to die for us, thereby freeing us from our slavery to Sin’s power and its ultimate and inevitable outcome—death. We are now reconciled to God and called, in part, to be ministers of reconciliation, reflecting God’s great justice, love, mercy, and grace to the world that desperately needs to hear it even while it is vehemently opposed to God and his gospel. Today we look at what St. Paul has to say about the process by which sin is defeated in the life of believers. Before we do that, however, we must look at the passage leading up to our epistle lesson today which the lectionary (bless its pointy little head) has left out like it did last week because it provides the immediate context for St. Paul’s teaching in chapter 6. Hear now the rest of Romans 5:
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5.12-21).
In this passage, quickly, St. Paul speaks of two Adams. The first Adam, our first human ancestor, rebelled against God and that resulted in humans getting thrown out of paradise and losing their intimate and life-giving relationship with God so that instead of being God’s children and faithful image-bearers who ran God’s world on God’s behalf, we now were hostile and alienated from God. As St. Paul reminded us sin leads to death and eternal separation from God, something God found intolerable as he demonstrated when he sent his Son, the second Adam, to die for us to rescue us from that fate. The law magnified our slavery to the power of Sin (or sin’s rule) more and more but in Christ, God’s grace, or undeserved mercy, reigned even more because only God is greater than the power of Sin and so only God can free us from our slavery to its power. That raised the logical question. Should Christians sin more and more so that grace can abound more and more? The 18th century German poet, Heinrich Heine famously (or infamously depending on your perspective) put it another way when on his deathbed he was asked by a priest if he thought God would forgive his sins. Heine replied, “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job.” Right.
Now in our epistle lesson, St. Paul anticipates this rejoinder to his teaching about sin and grace and gives us his answer (this clearly wasn’t St. Paul’s first rodeo). He asks rhetorically if we should “keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?” Of course not, he roars in reply! We’ve died to sin. How can we keep on living in it?? Now if you are like me, you read this passage and are tempted to scratch your head in puzzlement. You want to say to him, “St. Paul, are you crazy? I still sin. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You even address this phenomenon in chapter 7 of Romans. How can you say I’ve died to sin?” To which St. Paul would reply, “It’s not about you stupid, it’s about the power of God at work in you” (well, he probably wouldn’t have called you stupid, but this gave me an opportunity to do so, which always makes me feel better about myself so I’m good with it).
St. Paul knew very well that being united with Christ does not make one a sinless person. Like Father John Wesley, he would have said sin remains but it no longer reigns in our lives. But that is not what St. Paul is talking about. He is echoing what he wrote to the Colossians when he said that “[The Father] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom [from the power of Sin] and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1.13-14). This is the power of God at work in us to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into the kingdom of his promised new creation that one day will come in full at Christ’s return. God did this for us out of his great love for us. We did nothing to deserve this gift nor can we earn it. In our own right we are utterly broken, unworthy and incapable of living as God’s true image-bearers. This is what the power of Sin has done to us. But God loves us too much to let us go the way of death and extinction and so God has acted decisively in Christ to break Sin’s power over us on the cross and transfer us into his new world via Christ’s resurrection. This is what grace looks like. We can’t earn it nor do we deserve a lick of it, but it is ours for the taking because of the power and love of God. What God wants, God gets and nothing, not even the power of Sin or the dark powers, can overcome God’s power made known and available to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen? It’s a done deal, even if it may not feel like that to us. And let’s be real. We are all about feelings these days, corrupted and unreliable as those feelings might be. But Christ’s death and resurrection were not feelings. They were and are the objective reality. They made known supremely the power of God to intervene in our lives on our behalf to rescue us from ourselves, our foolishness, our folly, and our slavery to the power of Sin and Death. That is why St. Paul tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin. By this he meant for us to do the math, so to speak. When we do the math, we discover the sum of what is already there. For example, when we count the cash in the register, we learn what was there already. We don’t create a new reality; rather we affirm the existing reality. Christ has died for us and been raised from the dead to proclaim God’s victory over Sin and Death, and when we are united with Christ in a living relationship with him, St. Paul promises here that we too share in Christ’s reality, whether it feels like we do or not. Again, notice nothing is required of us except an informed (or reckoned) faith. We look at the reality and calculate it to be true so that we learn to trust the promise that has not yet been fulfilled is also true.
How does this happen? St. Paul doesn’t tell us how, only that it does happen beginning with our baptism. When we are baptized we share in Christ’s death and are buried with him so that Sin’s power over us is broken (not to be confused with living a sin-free life, something that is not mortally possible because as St. Paul reminds us in verses 6-7, we are not totally free from sin until death). We have died to sin and can no longer live in it because we have been transferred into a new reality, God’s new world that was inaugurated when God raised Christ from the dead. So in our baptism we begin our new life with Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17), flawed as that might look at times. What St. Paul is talking about here is a matter of will. In chapter 8, he will talk about the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives to help us live after the manner of our Lord. Here St. Paul simply tells us that we have been given a great gift in the death and resurrection of Christ and through our relational union with him. If we have been given such a great and life-saving gift, why would we not together want to live our lives in the manner Christ calls us to live them? Today is Fathers’ Day and most of us who were/are blessed with good fathers seek to live in ways that honor our fathers or their memories. If we do that for folks who cannot give us life or raise us from the dead, how much more should we want to live our lives in ways that bring honor to God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ? This is what dying to sin looks like. It often looks messy on the ground and in our lives, but because it is the power of God at work in us and for us, it is a done deal nevertheless. If this isn’t Good News, I don’t know what is, my beloved.
So we have died with Christ and are raised with him. We’ve been delivered from the dark dominion of slavery to the dominion of freedom and life and light, the Father’s kingdom. Now what? Well, for starters it means we are no longer afraid. We have peace with God, real peace, a peace that was terribly costly to God, and we also have life that cannot be taken from us. Sure our mortal bodies will die, but that’s nothing more than a transition. We have no reason to fear death, even the worst of sinners who have genuinely given their life to Christ, because we believe him to be the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25). It means we reject living our lives in the darkness of sin. It means we reject false realities and are willing to speak out boldly against them. It means we are willing to love even the most unloveable people (and believe me, we are seeing more and more of them every day), starting with ourselves. It means we are willing to speak out against injustices of all kinds. It means we have compassion for people, realizing they are without a Good Shepherd who will love and heal them just like he is loving and healing us. It means we recognize all human beings as being made in God’s image and therefore worthy of our highest respect and honor, even when they do nothing to earn it.
Our Lord had something to say about this in our gospel lesson. There he tells us essentially the same thing St. Paul has told us in our epistle lesson. Preach the gospel boldly because it is the only way for real healing, goodness, justice, and forgiveness to happen. Be ready to challenge false gospels and narratives that are death-dealing and destructive. Know you will be called all kinds of vile names in an attempt to silence you, and some of you will be killed along the way. But don’t worry. Your effort to proclaim the Truth of the Good News will be made revealed to all by God the Father come judgment day, even if your voice isn’t heard now. But don’t keep silent out of fear of reprisal. Even if they kill you, I have won back your life by going to the cross for you. It’s a done deal. So don’t be afraid. Proclaim the Good News of my death and resurrection, of God transferring folks (not systems—listen if you have ears) from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life only through me. Just don’t keep silent in word or deed. If you do, I will disown you come judgment day because your silence proclaims you really didn’t believe in my promise to rescue you from Sin and Death. Your faithful living and bold proclamation will be terribly costly to you, but count it a blessing because if you are truly acting faithfully and proclaiming my Truth, the only Truth, you have my promise that nothing in all creation will harm you or separate you from me or my love (cf. Romans 8.31-39).
My beloved, as I watch dark forces trying to dismantle and wipe out this country’s history and ethos, I can no longer remain silent and I encourage you not to remain silent if you are as troubled as I am about the state of our nation. Besides regular and fervent prayer for our nation, I’m not sure exactly what that is going to look like for me, but I cannot stand by silently and watch a false narrative and divisive ideology that is decisively anti-Christian be foisted on this nation. I am not talking about being a super patriot or about political solutions because fearful and arrogant politicians are a massive part of the problem. I am talking about the people of God, you and me, finding and embracing our identity in Christ to speak the truth in love to forces who are preaching lies and attempting to intimidate and silence us through their false and divisive narrative. When you start pulling down statues, erasing chunks of history, and not allowing historical figures to be human, you are doing what tyrants have done throughout history. If you don’t believe me, check out how the Reign of Terror came about in France. History doesn’t repeat itself perfectly but you will find some very disturbing analogues there, starting with the radical Jacobins’ refusal to believe in the Christian faith or any religion other than their own secular one. They renamed streets and institutions and even developed a new calendar in an effort to repudiate their history. They attempted to create a whole new and false reality and took no prisoners in the process, only to have their own hate-filled narrative ultimately collapse on them. When folks try to create an “us-versus-them” mentality, when they attempt to pigeonhole the narrative of history into oppressors oppressing the oppressed, they are no longer dealing with the reality of history and ironically are wiping out chances for history to teach about the good and bad of this country. The very foundation of democracy depends on the ability of humans to act wisely and humanly, rather than myopically and selfishly, and if the forces in our country today prevail, we will see the end of democracy. While this country is far from perfect, it has offered the best hope for human flourishing in history, in part, because we have been so influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition that must flourish if democracy ultimately is to flourish.
As God’s people in Christ, we must work hard in the coming months to find and embrace our identity in Christ first and foremost so that he can equip us to be his voice and embody his goodness, justice, mercy, and love to one and all in these tumultuous times. Whatever we do, it means we do it gently and without rancor and vitriol. It means we are gentle as doves and wise as serpents. We learn to do that through regular worship, Bible study, prayer, partaking in the eucharist and through sweet fellowship with each other to love and support each other, even in our disagreements, because we realize we are all in the same boat and reject the false and arbitrary classifications and identities that divide rather than unite us. We have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light and life in and through our crucified and risen Savior, in whom, and only in whom, we have redemption from our slavery to Sin and forgiveness for our ongoing sin and rebellion against God. We have died to sin and live now in union with Christ. Let us therefore embrace the only identity that truly heals, saves, and give life: Jesus Christ our Lord, and let that identity be the basis for our fearless and gentle witness as we proclaim boldly God’s love and Truth to a world hostile to the gospel but in desperate need of it. It is the only loving thing to do and as Christ himself reminds us, it will be a litmus test of our own faith when we stand before our Judge on the last day. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The appointed readings from the lectionary this year (we are in the first year of a repeating three year cycle of readings) focus on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a massively important document in the NT. Accordingly, I have asked our staff to preach on the assigned readings from Romans and I kick off our summer preaching series today with this sermon. I do so at an extraordinarily dark time for our nation. We are beset by a pandemic that has left us isolated and fearful, decimating our economy and further aggravating our fears and feelings of uncertainty. George Floyd’s recent death at the hands of a police officer has triggered massive protests and riots. Racism is the new cardinal sin and the BLM movement appears to be the new required dogma. Failure to get on board with its political agenda will cause you to be named and shamed publicly as being a racist. I do not want to be flippant about this or make this sermon about politics. The issues are so much bigger than that. Racial injustice is a serious problem that has plagued our nation from its inception and as Christians, we should be speaking out against it and doing what we can to end it. But lawlessness is an equally serious problem and calls to defund law enforcement agencies across the country and woke zones like the one that has been created in Seattle threaten to accelerate the lawlessness we have seen in the riots and undo not only our country but the democracy on which it is based. I cannot speak for you, but for me, the prospect of seeing our nation succumb to mob rule is as terrifying as the prospect of contracting COVID. In this kind of climate, what does St. Paul’s letter to the Romans have to offer us as Christians? Much, and the Church must be bold in our proclamation and willingness to speak to these issues because we have the only solution to the problems that confront us—Jesus Christ. This is what I want us to look at this morning.
The lectionary curiously and frustratingly cuts off our lesson from Romans at verse 8 instead of the more natural ending at verse 11. But if we are going to understand what St. Paul is getting at we need to hear what he said immediately before and after today’s pericope from Romans. So bear with me a moment while we prepare to look at today’s passage. In the first three chapters of Romans, St. Paul has laid out a devastating and grim picture of the human condition. There he spoke of our ongoing rebellion against God where we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and obey God so that we are no longer his image-bearers who rule God’s world wisely on God’s behalf, resulting in God giving us up in judgment to our own disordered desires. This doesn’t afflict one race of people; it afflicts the entire human race. All have sinned, says St. Paul, and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Therefore we all can expect nothing but God’s terrible judgment and condemnation, not because God is an angry, intolerant God but because God in his moral perfection can countenance no evil or sin because both lead to our dehumanization and ultimately to death, and God loves us too much to let that happen. We are too thoroughly broken and infected by sin to fix ourselves and without outside help, we are slaves to the power of Sin and destined for eternal separation from God, the Source of all life and things good. BTW, only the converted, you and me, will entertain St. Paul’s teaching on this matter and realize we are sinners. The unconverted won’t have anything to do with the idea, itself a symptom of the human race’s sin-sickness.
But thankfully we have outside help from a Source more powerful than the power of Sin: God himself. St. Paul makes the astonishing claim that despite our rebellion against God, despite our outright hostility toward him and/or our resolute unbelief in God, God the Father has acted decisively on our behalf to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and bring about our reconciliation with him and each other. God did this by sending his Son to die for us to reconcile us to him and free us from our death-dealing slavery to Sin. Listen to St. Paul as he leads up to our epistle lesson from this morning.
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God (Romans 4.20-25).
Here St. Paul lays out the basis for the peace we enjoy in Jesus Christ. As we’ve seen, we are incapable of fixing ourselves and our relationship with God. No amount of trying harder is going to work and God knows that. So God sent his Son to die for us so that we could have a right relationship with God. In Christ’s death and resurrection, God offers us forgiveness and healing and this is a free gift to us if we take God at his word. Despite our ongoing hostility toward God, despite our slavery to the power of Sin and the chaos and alienation from God that results, God has offered us healing and reconciliation if only we will believe he has forgiven us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Where once we stood as condemned enemies of God, we are now reconciled to God and can expect healing and forgiveness because of what God has done for us in Christ. We can enjoy our changed status in the present as soon as we dare believe this Good News, and this is known as justification (or being made right with God) by faith. God promises this is true and by faith we believe the promise.
The result? “[S]ince we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Romans 5.1-2). St. Paul drives home this point starting at verse 6:
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God (Romans 5.6-11).
Did you catch the breathtaking promise of the love and mercy of God in this passage? Notice carefully there are no preconditions for this saving gift from God. In fact, just the opposite. God did all this for us when we were utterly helpless to save ourselves or change our relationship with God. God’s act is not contingent on our repentance and remorse. That comes naturally after we realize what God has done for us and what fools we have been to reject and deny God. Here we see God practicing what he preached: To love our enemies and do good to them. When we believe the promise of God to heal and forgive us so that we can share in God’s promised new world as his image-bearers, it must change us and the way we live. We realize how great is the Father’s love for us and what a terrible price God paid to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and restore us to himself, and it must change us so that we act for God, not ourselves. Trust in Jesus Christ is the only way we escape God’s just condemnation of our sins. Jesus Christ is the only way we are reconciled to God so that God can begin to heal our sin-sickness in this world. When we truly believe we are reconciled to God, undeserving as we are, we find real peace, the kind of peace our first ancestors enjoyed with God in the garden. And we learn over the course of our lives to live for God, not ourselves or the corrupt and evil powers of this world and its human-made systems. Our future glory awaits us but we have the promise right now and when we truly believe God is big enough to fulfill his promises, we find real peace, God’s peace, the only true peace there is. This is why St. Paul tells us to boast in our hope. It is boasting based on the love, mercy, and goodness of God, not ourselves, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having this kind of pride in God. In fact, God encourages it!
So what does this have to say to us as Christians and the current Zeitgeist of our age? First, since we are reconciled to God, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. First and foremost this means that we are to introduce folks to Christ in our speaking and doing and encourage them to find their identity in him and not some other death-dealing identity. Doing so will allow us to see humans, ourselves included, for what we are, and to proclaim God’s great love for us as well as his willingness to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation so that we are willing and able to forgive and repent of our evildoing that causes discord and rancor with the help of the Spirit. Hear what St. Paul writes about the effects of having peace with God in his second letter to the Corinthians:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him [the ministry of reconciliation]. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.17-19).
In other words, because we enjoy real peace through a new and reconciled relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ, we are commanded to live, proclaim, and offer that same healing love of God through Christ to others so that they too might be reconciled to God and find his great and precious peace. When that happens, the walls of racial divide come tumbling down.
To engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we must first be clear about the human condition and our slavery to the power of Sin without God’s help. It’s what makes reconciliation necessary in the first place and a realistic knowledge of our slavery to Sin’s power keeps us humble and helps remind us we are all in the same boat. For example, we see the chaos that sin produces (because at its essence all sin is chaos in its opposition to God) in the actions of the police officer who callously murdered George Floyd. We also see the power of Sin at work in the rioters and the chaos it engenders. When we realize the truth of the human race’s enslavement to the power of Sin we no longer develop an “us versus them” mentality because we realize everyone of us is capable of good and evil, and left unchecked we are more likely to do evil than good. Why is this important to our ministry of reconciliation? Because we know that only by the grace of God are we spared from God’s wrath and how desperately the human race needs the healing and restorative power of God’s love for each of us. We acknowledge that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, ourselves included, and we are thankful that God loves us and has rescued us from his wrath and condemnation so that we enjoy peace with God. If we truly love others, wanting the best for them, even our enemies, how can we not engage in a ministry of reconciliation? This is the chief difference I see between the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and BLM movement. The former was grounded in the Christian faith. Martin Luther King had a vision where one day no one would be judged by the color of their skin because all humans are created in the image of God. Dr. King resisted violence and rioting as means of getting justice because he knew that sin is chaos and ultimately will destroy us. Contrast this with some of the violent and oppressive ideology of the BLM movement that makes it all about fostering racial discord and insisting that history be seen only through the lens of racial oppression and injustice. By definition this kind of thinking can never lead to reconciliation. It leads only to division and rancor and as Christians we must oppose it even as we advocate for justice for all.
In the context of the current debate about race and law enforcement, as ministers of reconciliation, this means we are ready to listen to all sides, not just one, and to acknowledge all sides have a role in contributing to the current tensions because we realize the real problem is human sin, not race. This means we listen to the pain expressed by many in the black community and acknowledge it is real, even if we do not fully understand the basis for that pain or makes us uncomfortable. It means we speak out against racial injustice when we see or experience it because the love of God demands that we do justice and love mercy as we walk humbly with him, submitting to his just and sovereign rule. This means we resist the strident voices who attempt to demonize all law enforcement officers and discredit their legitimate role and function in helping preserve the rule of law in our country. It means we try to put ourselves in their shoes, just as we try to put ourselves in the shoes of black communities so that we can better advocate for all people, not just some. It means we are willing to have an honest conversation about all causes for racial disparity, poverty, crime, and violence, not just racism, important as the latter is. It means we are not interested in winning debates about which side is right and which side is wrong. Reconciliation rarely, if ever, results from winning debates, but rather from having empathy and compassion and understanding for others, realizing we all desperately need to be healed and reconciled, first to God and then to each other. And as we engage in this ministry of reconciliation, we must take to heart Christ’s admonition to us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. This means, in part, that we must not be naive in our listening but also not cynical. It means we must be both thin-skinned enough to be empathetic and thick-skinned enough to withstand criticism, and it means we must be angry at injustice but gentle in overcoming it, just as our Lord Jesus did for us by dying for us to reconcile us to God.
Being ministers of reconciliation means that we talk to people about the love of Christ and how he has healed and changed us in the living of our days. It means we offer forgiveness and mercy to our enemies, not anger or vitriol or the desire for revenge, even when they act hatefully toward us and accuse us falsely, which they most certainly will. Instead, we are to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and proclaim the love of Christ offered to one and all. These are signs of the in-breaking Kingdom of God in our midst. We may not raise anyone physically from the dead (although nothing is impossible for God working in and through us), but by the power of God’s love and Word made known in Christ and available to all in the power of the Spirit, we can bring new life to those who are dead from despair, apathy, grief, hedonism, or absence of meaning. And certainly we must confront and cast out the demons of violence, hatred, injustice, and division that currently terrify and corrupt us. We are to do all this because our Lord himself tells us to do so in our gospel lesson. And let us be clear-headed about this. Being ministers of reconciliation will bring about the world’s wrath and vitriol as our Lord himself warns us in our gospel lesson. Proclaiming the love of God made known in Jesus Christ will sadly be rejected by many, but even here St. Paul has good news for us. He tells us to rejoice in our sufferings because our sufferings produce solid Christian character through perseverance. We persevere because we have peace with God and a future hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come. When we suffer the world’s wrath for Christ’s sake, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to endure it and reminded that our future is life and total healing, not death and condemnation. This, in turn, helps us offer that same healing love to others, even in the face of opposition and threats. There is much more to say about these things but I am out of time. I pray I have stimulated your own prayerful thinking about being ministers of reconciliation and that we will walk this journey together as God’s people, supporting one another in love. Remember, our little parish is a microcosm of the society that results from the ministry of reconciliation. We are equal brothers and sisters in Christ from many tribes, languages, and nations, all healed and restored to God and each other by the mercy and grace of God, God be praised!
But none of this will happen if we do not believe in the power of God to work in our lives and the lives of others. It is only in and through God’s power that we can ever hope to be ministers of reconciliation. Now is the time for the Church, for you and me, to find our voice and to be bold in our proclamation about the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation with others in the context of our daily lives. We have the peace and power of God to make a difference in our world and if the Evil One tempts us to not believe in the efficacy of the gospel or our ability to live and proclaim it, I would point you to our OT lesson. Sarah and Abraham laughed because they struggled believing in the power of God to bring about his promises. But a child was born to them out of time and by the grace and power of God. It took a long time but God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to bless him with descendants as numerous as the stars.
God loves us and has given himself for us in a great and costly act. In doing so, God calls us once again to be his image-bearers whom God will use to reflect his goodness, mercy, and justice to a sin-sick world, image-bearers who live in the power of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, to reconcile us to God the Father so that we can be his image-bearers once again, patterning our lives after Jesus our Lord. We worship a God who creates things out of nothing and who raises the dead. Nothing is too hard for him, not even our own fears and foibles in these desperate times. Let us thank God that he loves us enough and honors our role as his image-bearers to call us to this ministry of reconciliation in Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.