|Palm Sunday, Year A||April 9, 2017||Palm Sunday, Year A||Matthew 26:36-46|
|Lent 5||April 2, 2017||Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, Baptism||John 11:1-45|
|Lent 4||March 26, 2017||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A||Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41|
|Lent 3||March 19, 2017||Third Sunday in Lent, Year A||Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42|
|Lent 2||March 12, 2017||Second Sunday in Lent, Year A||Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17|
|Lent 1||March 5, 2017||First Sunday in Lent, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Ash Wednesday||March 1, 2017||Ash Wednesday, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 26, 2017||Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany||February 19, 2017||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 12, 2017||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Sermon Date:July 2, 2017
Scripture: Romans 6:12-23; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Liturgy Calendar: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8
This week, on Tuesday July the 4th, we celebrate our independence, hopefully taking some time to remember the sacrifices of those in the 1700’s who fought for freedom from the tyranny of the British king, and in doing so, at great sacrifice, gave birth to a new nation.
So Paul’s words to the Romans about the tyranny and bondage of sin, and the way to freedom for those early Christians is helpful to us today, in the 21st century, not only as Christians, but also as citizens of the United States of America.
Paul believed, along with many in his time, that the human world was under the control of demonic powers, and that we are all slaves to the thing or things to which we give allegiance.
As Earl Johnson points out in his commentary on this passage, “Paul argues that all people, whether Christians or not, are dominated by someone or something other than themselves, that we cannot help but be enslaved to someone or something.”
Remember how, in the baptismal service in The Book of Common Prayer, the candidates for baptism renounce Satan, the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God. They renounce the evil powers of the world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. They renounce all sinful desires that draw them away from the love of God.
And then they turn toward Jesus Christ, accept him as Lord and Savior, put their trust in his faith and love, and promise to follow and obey him as their Lord.
So through our baptisms, we have already turned toward Jesus, and acknowledged him as Lord. Through our allegiance to God, we’ve been set free from Satan and the evil powers of the world. We’ve been set free from death so that we can have eternal life, beginning now.
In the language of Paul’s metaphor, we serve God. God is our master, and we are God’s slaves.
And we can rejoice in having God as our master, our point of orientation and our only focus of allegiance.
In today’s psalm, the psalmist writes that God is faithful to us, that God’s love for us is established forever, and that God’s faithfulness to us is set firmly in the heavens, where it can never be shaken.
So, knowing this, we are joyful people. We walk in the light of God’s presence and rejoice daily in God’s name, because God is our strength. The first and foremost reason we come to church every Sunday is to praise God, and to give God thanks, and to rejoice in God’s love for us. Everything else we do in this life grows out of our gratitude for God’s faithful love for each one of us.
The other metaphor that Paul used to help the Romans understand this change of allegiance that they had made from the evil powers of the world to the saving grace of Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior was that of the soldier. The Christians in Rome have given their total allegiance to God, so Paul suggests that they are like soldiers now, presenting themselves for duty to their commander, no longer to the Roman emperor, but to God.
So when they present themselves for duty, they have to be girded with their weapons.
Unfortunately, as Earl Johnson points out in his commentary on this passage, the New Revised Standard Version that we use in church leaves out this nuance about weapons—why, I don’t know, because this translation leaves the image of the soldier very fuzzy, instead of painting a bold picture of the soldier armed for battle.
The Common English Bible offers the more complete translation of Romans 6:13 from the original Greek.
“Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+6%3A13&version=CEB
Johnson, in his commentary, goes on to point out that “in the personal and cosmic battles against sin and death, Christians cannot expect to win if they are dressed in destructive passions that weaken them.”
“Instead, they should put on the body armor described elsewhere in the New Testament.” Paul uses this image of the soldier and armor repeatedly in his letters.
For example, a little further on in Romans, Paul tells the church that the day has drawn near, and so we need to put on the armor of light, and to walk in the light rather than in strife and envying.
Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God, so that we Christians can stand against the wiles of the devil. “So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+6%3A11-17&version=CEB
And in 2 Corinthians, Paul describes himself as serving, as Johnson says, “with a two fisted faith.”
“We displayed purity, knowledge, patience, and generosity. We served with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, 7 telling the truth, and God’s power. We carried the weapons of righteousness in our right hand and our left hand.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+6%3A6-7&version=CEB
Later in 2 Corinthians, Paul says that “the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
Paul’s words about bondage and freedom still ring true for us today, as they have through the ages. The understanding of the world in which cosmic forces for both good and evil are at work runs through our understanding of God at work in the world.
In just a little while, during the Great Thanksgiving, our Eucharistic prayer, we will acclaim that “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Resurrection has defeated death, and our resurrection lives will be complete when Christ returns in glory.
Eucharistic Prayer 3 in Enriching our Worship more fully stresses this idea of battle and struggle of Jesus against cosmic powers when we acclaim that —“Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life. Christ Jesus, come in glory.”
Recently, in Vacation Bible School, the children entered into the imaginary world of Harry Potter. The whole story of Harry Potter is about the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Harry and his friends are always in the process of arming themselves for the battle and being put into positions where they must choose how to use their armor—things like their wands and Harry’s invisibility cloak, for the purposes of good rather than for evil.
And of course, J.R.R. Tolkien’s great Ring trilogy covers this same territory, the struggle between the forces of good and evil and how we can be pulled in either direction, using the armor that we’ve been given on the side of good or on the side of evil.
So today’s reading from Paul puts us on notice.
We Christians have chosen Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Our first allegiance is to God, and we must not take this first allegiance of ours for granted or let anything else supplant it.
We so often put other things ahead of God. Jesus starkly reminded the disciples last week that he had come not to bring peace but a sword, because he knows that having a single minded focus on God can put us into conflict with even the good things around us, when those things compete for our total allegiance and first place in our hearts—and this can apply to our families, our drive for our own success, and also our allegiance to our nation. All of these allegiances, and many more as well, all compete with our allegiance to God, knocking God out of first place.
As Christian citizens of the United States, then, first job is to make sure that our allegiance to God is always our first and most passionate allegiance. Second, our job is to wear and use the armor and weapons of God as God intended. We Christians are to be the people who are truth tellers, who work for justice for all, (and we say this in the pledge of allegiance too—with liberty and justice for all, not just for the rich and the privileged in power, but for everyone).
We Christians are the ones in this nation who are to spread the good news of peace, who are to live by God’s word and in doing so, to witness to the fact that Jesus Christ has already destroyed death, including the death that obsessions and addictions and systemic injustices and poverty bring, and that eternal life is already ours.
Our calling as Christian Americans sounds easy, but the way to be Christians in this country is not always clear, as we are constantly reminded when we Christians ourselves have strong and competing views of how the country and the government should proceed in dealing with the tough areas of economics and jobs, healthcare, gun violence, the environment, voting rights, foreign policy, immigration, military might and on the list goes.
So always, each one of us Christians has to keep turning back to the first thing—to remember that we Christians are under God, and that we must always be longing and working together to become who God intended us to be from the beginning, holy people who treat one another with hospitality and who live according to God’s good purpose and design.
We can only be those people through God’s grace. So today, claim and be thankful for God’s grace and for God’s faithfulness to us. Put on the gospel armor with prayer, and go out from this place to do the work God has given us to do, to love and to serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord, with gladness and singleness of heart. All the rest will fall into place.
Johnson, Earl S. Jr., “Romans 6:12-23, Exegetical Perspective,” pgs 183-187. Feasting on the Word, Preaching the Revised Common Letionary,Year A, Vol 3. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Louisville, KY: Westminster Knox Press, 2011.
“Eucharistic Prayer 3,” Enriching our Worship 1, New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1998.
The Book of Common Prayer