Sunday, February 28, 2016

Perfect Freedom

Lent 3+C+2016             The Reverend Robert RM Bagwell
Exodus 3:1-15                                                        Psalm 63:1-8
Corinthians 10:10:1-13                                         Luke 13:1-9
In his very challenging and enlightening book, the Road Less Traveled, first published in 1978,  Dr Scott Peck begins the first chapter with these words: "Life is difficult".  He then begins to explain how the acceptance of that truth frees us and the denial of that leads to all sorts of neuroses and thereby neurotic behaviors.  We say things like 'That's not fair!" as if there were moral imperative in this world that requires "fairness"  We say this often from an erroneous reasoning that may be selfish at the core. One catholic psychologist defined "fair" as "the means by which I got my way." The liberation from the erroneous construct that life must somehow be fair is simply to accept it, says  the good doctor..  The adverse, to reject this, ignoring all evidence to the contrary,  produces anger, hatred, malice, resentment and other destructive attitudes and behaviors.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)  From all of this bondage, God with Israel and later, Jesus with the whole world, came to set us free.

In this "self-help" culture of the 21st century, our collect, our petition to God declares a mighty truth of self awareness which humanity for millennia has striven to deny: . "Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul."

Humans are at least tri-partite beings. We call this: body, soul and spirit in the Western world. We live in a cause and effect world.  We live in a world of conditionals  We contract:  you do this and I will do that.  We live by science, hypothesis, experiment conclusion.  We expect this orderliness to somehow continue in God's dealings with us.  However, the Israelite people, given incredible signs and wonders, did not live us to the demands of the law. No one could live up to the demands of the law until God sent His Son and we KILLED HIM!  The idea that anyone could keep the law required and element of the divine.  What a threat to the religious authorities of Jesus' day.  The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Why in the midst of all of the brokenness of the human condition did God show up in the person of Jesus?  I think the 103rd Psalm has some enlightenment on the subject. We read: he does not treat us as our sins deserve  or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;  as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
Even in the Older Testament, we see His great love for us!  The oddness of God is that he loves the broken and the sinful!  Many Christians, have put ourselves somehow out of the moral paradigm into a different category of sinner so that we  see others as greater sinners than ourselves, may have or do look down upon them.  This is just what Jesus reproved the Pharisees and the religious leaders for.  When criticized he replied: I did not come to call the 'righteous' but sinners.  (Luke 5:32) At times since the inception of the Church of Jesus  Christ, you might be persuaded to believe just the opposite!  It is a stark reality that those seeking to follow God, must continually come to God for grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:6) The only thing that stands between or differentiates between us and the most vile human being that ever lived is the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is in His matchless GRACE that we stand because without it we cannot stand at all before God.
Look at the Israelites in their Exodus!  They had seen God's mighty works and eaten the manna in the wilderness. They had gotten water miraculously from a rock in the wilderness that saved them from death! You would have thought that they would have been the best little God-worshippers in the world, but were they?  Over and over again they rebelled against God their Savior!   In our reading from Corinthians, Paul writes:  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
Jesus speaks in this same vein of thought in today's lesson: Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? (Luke 13)  We assume that if something bad happens, God was punishing someone for bad actions.  We look at the cause and effect we have grown to expect out of life, but God is not a cause and effect God.   Nevertheless, God continues to blow our understanding throughout the Bible.  He chose GREAT SINNERS to accomplish His will and purpose: Moses who killed and Egyptian, Jacob who sold his brother's birthright, Samson who presumed upon God in his pride, David who committed adultery and ordered a second degree murder of a woman he had had relations with to cover his sin and Paul who actively participated in the killing of Christians before his conversion.
What then can we DO to please God?  Outside of Jesus Christ the answer is NOTHING!  Inside of Christ, God has already done everything!

The good news of the gospel is: what we could not do or would not do, Jesus did.  No human being ever born, save one, did not sin. It's our nature.  We were great sinners, but Jesus is a greater Savior!  This is the RADICAL nature of grace. We don't understand it.  We almost never practice it, but without it, cannot be saved.

During this Lenten season, I am challenged to get back to the roots of my relationship with God.  Even in Christ, I find that I need His grace and help to accomplish anything.

Paul writes of this human dilemma that all of us experience. I read it from the Message version of the Scriptures of even Christians trying to walk in the way of Jesus:

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different (Romans 7:23-25)
 That is why we need God's grace, every moment of every day.  Without it, we can accomplish nothing and be nothing.  But in God's grace we can accomplish whatever God wills in our lives and we are the daughters and sons of God.

The hymn writer, Philip Bliss wrote:
Free from the law, O happy condition, Jesus hath bled, and there is remission; Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall, Grace hath redeemed us once for all.
Now are we free— there's no condemnation; Jesus provides a perfect salvation;
"Come unto Me," O hear His sweet call, Come, and He saves us once for all.

Once for all, O sinner, receive it, Once for all, O brother believe it; Cling to the cross, the burden will fall, Christ has redeemed us once for all.

This is the good news we proclaim to the world.  This is the good news we need to remember every day.  It is not license, for the person in whom the Spirit of God dwells, my new nature in the new birth, desires to please God and to follow him out of gratefulness and love. God will help those who come to him and set them free from the bondage of sin. God does not threaten or punish us into repentance, he reaches out in perfect, accepting and healing love.

Once for all, O sinner, receive it, Once for all, O brother believe it; Cling to the cross, the burden will fall, Christ has redeemed us once for all.

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