Proper 8 + Year A + 2014 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Genesis 22:1-14 Psalm 891-4
Romans 6:12-23 Matthew 10:40-42
I read a quote from an observer who once said that there are many basic and lasting truths about life that children learn on their own. She listed four: no matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats; when your mother is mad at your father, don’t let her brush your hair; you can’t trust dogs to watch your food and the best place to be when you’re sad is in your grandmother’s lap.
We just prayed: "Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord…"
"Oh, is that all!! We all know that! Let's all just go home!" But to mimic the commercial from Geico: well did you know that no one of us has ever accomplished that feat even with the Holy Spirit's help.
In our understanding, the new birth is an act from Almighty God through Christ Jesus, but conversion, that is a daily task. Did you ever wonder why Puritan, John Bunyan penned Pilgrim's Progress? The title is the answer. As an athlete grows through the exercise of his or her individual gifts, so the Christian life, the life in Christ grows stronger through exercise.
Jesus is a sinner's Savior. That's the good news. Jesus loves SINNERS! Imagine that! Some of us don't even do that! I mean average sinners we can stomach, but really sinful sinners, (from which we are always excluded, at least in our own minds). Remember High School: we liked the "bad boys" and "cool girls" who were always in trouble. We admired "cool sinners! at least many did.. Today we might say: " I mean I'm not too keen on thieves and murderers, sexual predators and spouse abusers! Can I tell you a dirty little Christian secret, we are far too willing to excuse our own 'sins' (little 's') and to judge the (BIG 'S') sins of others.
Why would that be? I want you to listen VERY CLOSELY. We tend to judge others by their actions--we judge ourselves by our 'intentions'. We hope that others will do the same with us. How many of you know that every day of the Christian walk is a series of decisions, trials, moments of doubt and faith and choices: thought word and deed? It is a decision to follow the Holy Spirit or to give into the world, the flesh and the Devil. No the Christian walk is not for the faint of heart. St Paul tells us we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against entities purposed on taking glory away from God and the only way Satan can do that is by hurting US!
Paul again speaking of his own struggles says: " We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do… As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature] a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7)
Slaves to sin. I thought slavery was abolished? Not in the human heart, even now the human heart is in a battle against enslavement by the world system and it's would be controllers, the comforts of things, position and power and the Spiritual forces of wickedness that touch us.
How many of you know controlling people and controlled people? Those who charge themselves into oblivion on credit, those who have chosen other gods in this world who are not gods at all? Have you noticed how many of our historic hymns are "militaristic?" Why? Because we are in a war: . Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus, Soldiers of Christ Arise, God of Grace and God of Glory, and Onward Christian Soldier marching off to war--with the cross of Jesus going on before…"
May I suggest to you that if you can't relate to both that outer and inner struggle you are not fighting the right battle. No we are not striving with material weapons, but even those who use material weapons know that the battle starts with the outer and inner struggles of the human heart. As the old prayer of confession states: "in our thoughts…words…and deeds." What does God expect us to do? Turn to God, each day of our lives.
Live in the reality of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote " God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being…(Acts 17)
We can't escape God we are in him. What we can do is ignore him! Ever done that? Ignored God? Some Christians seem to forget about God until Sunday morning, then they're all about "God"? One of my mentors said: "going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger!"
If God is Father and Jesus is Brother, and Spirit inhabits us, we have an arsenal of support at our heart's beckoning. In other words to win at least most of the time we need Divine power, not our own "will-power". Jesus said to his disciples after his encounter with the "rich young ruler":“ …, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (Mark 10)
OK: we now are to presuppose that living this new life is not impossible and indeed is very possible. It is my firm conviction that Christ is about human dignity, freedom and elevation into God's sphere of being. Paul wrote these encouraging words: " It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." .On the other hand, it is also my firm conviction that the Evil One is all about human bondage, read 'slavery.'. We live the new life in faith and confidence. The world without Christ is under the control of the world, the flesh and the Devil.
We did not save ourselves and we cannot keep ourselves. We are marked with the sign of Christ in baptism and in the Spirit. Where we go, Christ goes. It would behoove us to understand that when people see us, they surmise that they see Christ and his effect on a human soul. This is where the unity of spirit comes for Christians. Not only are we soldiers we are Ambassadors from the King of Heaven. It's a lot to carry, but as we run this race we begin to win this race and we fall in Love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all over again." Why the fight? We must learn the ways of Christ ourselves, battle by battle, victory by victory, prayer by prayer. We do not learn or grow in the easy times, like nature, we grow in times of adversity. When we are persecuted, we return to Our Father. Our gospel tells us that God has our backs. God just asks for our willingness to go and do as we are led by the Spirit. It was said to me in school: "no one has yet seen what can be accomplished by a heart surrender completely to God." Welcome to the war. There's good news, I've read to the end of the story and we win if we surrender to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God.! As you leave this morning: remember freedom. Remember your Father God and Brother Jesus and finally, go forth in peace in the Spirit's power and in the Name of Christ AMEN