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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Feast Day: Trinity Sunday
Readings: Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

“So then, brothers and sisters, we are in debt—but not to the flesh…” (Romans 8:12)

Trinity Sunday is a wonderful, if not tricky, feast. Tricky because preachers can sometimes be lured into trying to explain or articulate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Some of you will know that we explored this in our Lenten series on the Apostles’ Creed and while it has its merits this morning I want to focus instead upon the wonder of the Holy Trinity—that God’s very own life and love is open to the world, to you and I. We see this visually depicted in the icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev. Much could be said in contemplation of this icon but the one thing I want to note is that the circle which the three figures form is not closed, but open. There is space there at the table where the chalice sits.

“So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die…For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”

In these words from Romans we learn that the opposite of being spiritually enslaved is to be adopted into God’s family, to find our place at the table so-to-speak. Enslaved to what? To the “flesh” or, we might say, to sin. We often think about sin in terms of personal guilt or culpability and thus there is the need for forgiveness. While this is certainly true Saint Paul famously draws out another aspect of sin. You’ll notice, for example, that Paul hardly ever frames sin in terms of guilt and he hardly ever actually mentions forgiveness. Rather, what we see in Paul’s letters, is an understanding of sin and evil in terms of that which exercises force (6:14) and thus enslaves (6:6, 15-23).

And, from evil’s power to enslave one needs to be set free. We see a figure for this in the life of Israel who were themselves enslaved in Egypt. The Lord heard their cry and liberated them from slavery, leading them through the Red Sea and through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night towards the promised land. And if you know the story you know how often Israel complained and wanted to give up and go back to Egypt where they had been enslaved. Nevertheless, God is faithful and at the very heart of their liberation was God’s summons near the start of the book of Exodus: “Israel is my firstborn son. Let my son go that he may worship me,” (4:22). In other words, so long as Israel is enslaved they cannot possibly live as God’s children. In order to truly live as God’s children they need to be liberated from Egypt.

As I said this is a figuration of the greater reality of what God has done in Christ. In unconditional love the Father sends the Son who assumes our enslaved human nature and in dying on the cross extinguishes this old nature entirely (Romans 6:6). And in his resurrection from the dead Jesus reconstitutes a new humanity which is set free from the powers of sin and death. Just as Israel’s liberation creates the space for them to truly live as children of God so too our liberation from sin in and with and through Christ creates the space for us to truly live as children of God. But how does this reality of what God has done in Christ for us begin to work itself out in us?

Listen to what Saint Paul has to say about baptism elsewhere in Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:3-4). In other words, just as Israel’s liberation from slavery involved their crossing of the Red Sea so too your liberation from the powers of sin and death involves a passing through water. Sin no longer has dominion over all you who have been baptized into Christ. The Holy Spirit has taken you and grafted you onto Jesus Christ. You are now in Christ and he is in you.

I love the end of that quote from Romans I just read: “so we too might walk in newness of life.” In the waters of baptism the Holy Spirit has given you a new life as a child of God! This is what Jesus means when he speaks of being born again, of being born by water and Spirit (John 3:1ff). Every human creature has a natural birth. But in order to be set free from sin for life with God we are in need of a second birth whereby we become sons and daughters of God not by nature but by grace. The grace of the Holy Spirit poured into your heart to lead you in the way of Christ unto everlasting life.

Welcomed thus into the family of God, God nourishes us with his very self. I noted at the start that in Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity the circle is not enclosed but is rather open at the spot where the chalice is placed. This is the cup of wine that we share in the Eucharist each Sunday. Or, rather, this is the cup that God shares with us. It is, of course, the faith of the Church that by the Holy Spirit the bread and wine of the Eucharist become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we come to the altar rail we come to receive Christ, the one who shares the very life and love of God with us and gives us a seat at the table of the Holy Trinity.

This is wonderful indeed. Yet, Saint Paul continues with these sobering words: “So then, brothers and sisters…when we cry “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

In Christ we have been liberated from slavery to sin and adopted into God’s own family, yet our deliverance and adoption also has a future tense. Only a few verses later in Romans Paul will write of our waiting for adoption and liberation (8:22-24a). That is to say, while we are indeed God’s children now we remain part of a world which still awaits its ultimate liberation at Christ’s return.

We know this well, don’t we?—the tension and pain of living in hope. The waiting, the present suffering, the creeping power of sin which seems to be ever crouching at our door. This is why Saint Paul exhorts us by the Spirit to, “put to death” the deeds of the flesh as we live as God’s children. Saying “no” to the power of sin where it shows up in our daily lives is a kind of “putting to death” by which the Spirit leads us into life. This is difficult but the life of Christian freedom as God’s children requires just such struggle.

Even still, brothers and sisters, the Triune God has begun something very wonderful in you, indeed. And I do mean begun, for having been freed from the power of sin you owe your old life nothing at all and are invited rather to live as children of God, for that is what you are. And the same God who began this good work in you will bring it to completion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Feast Day: Rogation Sunday

Readings: Matthew 6:25-33

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

At first glance this gospel reading is difficult to understand. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Yet who among us can avoid being concerned with putting food on the table unless they want to starve? It is a difficult passage but the verse immediately before it provides a helpful interpretive key: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

“Mammon” here is wealth personified. In other words, you cannot be devoted both to God and to the pursuit of worldly wealth and comfort. You cannot have two ultimate goods, or two final goals, at the same time. To put an even finer point on it, one can serve God only whole-heartedly or not at all. The lack of wiggle-room here, the all-or-nothing, black-or-white, yes-or-no, may be a difficult and challenging word for you this morning. If it’s any consolation I’ve been hearing this text all week.

“Therefore,” says Jesus, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, in light of the fact that human creatures cannot serve two masters, cannot have two ultimate goals, give up worrying about the pursuit of wealth and worldly security. After all, doesn’t life amount to more than that?

“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says. What does it mean to worry about your life? It means to think that you are self-sufficient and that your life has meaning only insofar as you are useful and able to decisively secure a future for yourself. I think what Jesus is doing here is exposing the frailty of this way of thinking. It is no wonder that the Church has always cared especially for those people that the world deems useless: the poor, the sick, children and the elderly.

In our culture creating a meaningful life and securing your future is generally attached to material things. We possess some things but we fear losing them so we work more to gain more, to achieve more. To have something to point at and say, “Look, my life is worth this much!” And we accept this as inevitable, as just the way things are. Yet cracks have been evident for some time now. For example, we know that modern economies are creating people that are increasingly distressed, lonely and isolated from one another.[1] But what if this isn’t inevitable? What if this is a burden that we arbitrarily inflict upon ourselves?

“Do not worry about your life…Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Jesus invites you to quit worrying about your life and to consider how God the Father provides for and sustains the life of all things. The birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the bees of the hive, they do not worry, they are not anxious, they simply are, they simply receive life as gift. 

Some of you need to take some time each day to consider. Some of you need to wake up each morning and before you complain you need to consider. Some of you need to stop for a moment and before you cave-in you need to consider. Some of you need to quit thinking that everything is just one big coincidence and consider.

Consider that life is a gift. You did not make it. You did not work for it. You simply are because God is. God the Father is the giver and sustainer of life. He cares for the flowers and the birds. How much more does your heavenly Father care for you?

I think of my own children who spend a total of zero minutes in the day worrying about their life. It is the job of the parents to concern themselves with putting food on the table and clothes on little bodies. Children, meanwhile, play and laugh and concern themselves with much more important things such as joy and wonder and exploration. Even as I wrote this sermon I watched my daughters fashion shields and swords out of old cardboard boxes!

It isn’t until we grow older that our view of the world begins to shift. It ceases to be a place of abundance and wonder and becomes a place of scarcity and anxiety. One of the things that Jesus wants to do is help us recover a sense of the giftedness of the world and a strong and lively sense of the goodness of your heavenly Father, the creator of the world. Perhaps this is in part what Jesus means when he encourages us to come to him as little children. Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness.

Rather than frantically and anxiously trying to add to or secure our lives by pursuing material wealth Jesus invites us to concern ourselves with a greater matter: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We might translate this, “Be seeking first,” to highlight the fact that this is an ongoing commitment, a life that is daily oriented towards God as first priority and ultimate good, for our life not only comes from God but is going to him as well.

So, it’s not as if followers of Jesus are simply to live unconcerned about anything at all. Rather, we are invited to have our lives re-oriented so that we concern ourselves daily with that which is ultimate: Do I have a sense of the giftedness of the world? Does God have my whole heart? How am I growing in holiness? Am I open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Who can I be praying for more diligently? Who is the Lord leading me to share his life-giving gospel with?

This morning Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness. He is inviting you to orient your life towards God, your heavenly Father, and make him your first priority. To be thankful and generous and full of the joy of the Holy Spirit knowing that God cares for you and keeps you now and always.

Endnotes:

[1]https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/not-meant-to-be-alone/