July 19th, 2015
Text: Romans 6:19-23
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
For all the strengths of the traditional Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service one of it’s greatest weaknesses is that it does not contain an Old Testament lesson, without a little bit of finagling. The Old Testament is fundamentally important and foundational to our understanding of who we are, where we have come from, it teaches us of the brokenness of humanity and shines a light on our very own hearts to show us our desperate need for something greater than our own broken will. It convicts us for our need for Christ.
Now, in order to understand what St. Paul is writing about in the epistle lesson this morning, we have to understand the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and if we wish to understand Genesis 3 we need to understand Genesis 1-3, which contains the creation narratives we are familiar with. If you are not familiar with Genesis 1-3, I would urge you, strongly to spend a few minutes reading these chapters this week, but in order for you to understand what the rest of the sermon, this is what you need to know: human beings hold a special place in creation, they were God’s final creative act in the creation narrative and not only that but man was given the right to name all of the creatures of the earth. He was given dominion over them. After God was finished His creative act He rested and thought of His work that “it was very good.”
Now in this time after creation, things were very good for the first humans and very good for all of creation. They had but one commandment and that was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sadly, the idyllic time did not last forever. Soon, one who had a wicked desire, one who wished to diminish the glory of God that Adam and Eve were able to enjoy, entered their world and through conniving convinced Eve to doubt the words that God spoke to Adam and so she ate the forbidden fruit and Adam did likewise and their eyes were opened to good and evil. Now, I do not want to delve too deeply into the theology of the creation and fall – but there is one major misconception in our time that I want to put to rest and that is that while Eve did wrong – it was not her fault. Too often people try and blame her, either to be misogynistic or to discredit scripture, the commandment was to Adam and it is clear that Adam is there with Eve and at any point he could have stopped her from eating the fruit and even in his failure to do so, he didn’t have to eat the fruit. Adam, not Eve bears the responsibility for the fall of man.
Now, before we proceed I want to read to you the curse, the curse that was not only upon Adam and Eve, but is upon all of humanity and in fact all of creation, it is found in Genesis 3:16-19:
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Now, I left out the first part of the curse, the curse that is upon the serpent, which also holds the first messianic promise, because I do not want to distract from the trajectory we are on today, but I do want you to understand that even in this painful curse, God gave mankind hope. But none the less it is after this fall that we see pain, animosity in marriage and relationships, hardship in labor, the corruption of creation and death introduced into this world which was called very good by its creator. It is with this in mind that St. Paul writes what we’ve read today. This is the cause of the infirmities of the flesh and this is why we with the saint bemoan, “why do we do the things we ought not to and not do the things we ought to!”
St. Paul launches into an imperfect analogy, for how can we set free from bondage only to be bound again, yet this is what it is, and this is how we are to understand what has happened to us when we become Christian. For when we turn form our sinful ways and are brought into Christ’s warm embrace we are both free in Christ and bound in Christ. In our humanity we lack the words to understand or express this.
At the same time, sometimes we need theology brought to it’s most basic level so that we can understand, so that we can grow in Christ – this does not mean we change the fundamentals of theology, but make it such that the youngest amongst us might understand it and build off those blocks. As some families might give their children a small glass of wine, watered down, we might use basic terms for new converts to understand. Those same converts may go on to seminary some day and study the same theology, but at a much more intense level, but we don’t expect one who was just baptized into the faith to be able to sit through an advanced seminary class. So we may make the faith basic, as the Saint may feel he is doing here, but we do not diverge from the truth we know to be true.
The saint then reminds the Romans and us of the dichotomy of life before faith and after. The wording in the translation found in the Book of Common Prayer is a bit confusing, and so for better understanding the English Standard Version reads: For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
The life we are born into leads leads to greater and great sin, to a numbness to those sins. When we chose to ignore our conscience and the laws of God, we find that our propensity to do things that we should never have done is much greater. Perhaps you can remember a time that you had a hard time in your life and in following the will of God and you can remember how suddenly you found yourself doing the things that you never should have done, that you knew better than to do, for the trajectory of life without Christ is away from God and deeper and deeper into sinfulness. The same happens to those who are not born in Christ and a life of sin leads to a deeper and deeper life of sin.
For the man or woman who is born a new in Christ a transformation occurs and as he presents himself at the foot of Christ and gives himself over to the sanctifying will of Christ, as he embraces a life of righteousness he finds that sanctification follows. That is to say that as we follow Christ, we grow in Christ, as our hearts are given to Christ, so our righteousness grows, not by our own will, but by His will.
The Saint continues in the dichotomy between sinfulness and righteousness. For the non-Christian to be free from righteousness sounds like a great thing, he can do as he pleases, seemingly without consequence, but there are consequences to this. It leads to pain, to loneliness to injury and eventually to death. Righteousness, true righteousness leads to healing and comfort, to community and to life, true life, eternal life.
The saint likes to talk about the fruit of what people do, and there are fruits of righteousness and fruits of sinfulness, perhaps you remember his great list from Galatian 5, which reads: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
These things lead to dissonance in communities and eventually to death. And for those who were not blessed to be born into a Christian family and have come to Christ later in life we may feel shame for the things we once do and we all probably carry with us the shame of times when we wandered outside the will of God. But the grace found in Christ covers that shame, covers those sins and in true repentance, we needn’t feel shame any more.
For we are now free from those sinful ways, we are brought into true life. We are made free not by our hard work, not by our own self righteousness but by putting Christ upon us. How does this change the way we view the world? How does this change the way we act? I think we are able to view the world with more compassion, more kindness. We feel empathy and sympathy for those around us who do not know of the grace that we have, for we have seen that not only were they born into sinfulness, their lives lead to more sorrow and eventually death. But not only do we have empathy for non-Christians, but also we are called to live lives that show compassion, that show them what the Gospel is, that invites them into the freedom and fellowship that we enjoy. We are not to be the frozen chosen, but men and women on fire to show the world the grace that we enjoy.
This grace makes us servants, but much more than servants. A better wording here is that we are actually made slaves to God. Which I know may sound odd to us, for slavery has a gruesome past in our country, but this is not what the verse means, rather we belong to one who has more compassion and kindness towards us than we can imagine. We are purchased and made free from sin. For though we were once slaves to our sin, and now we are made to belong in the family of God.
Perhaps to use the analogy of slavery in our country, we are presented with two very different masters – our own sin-filled affections or God. Many of the infamous slave owners of our sad past were notoriously brutal, were cruel, unkind and unjust, it is the same for when we submit our wills to our own affections. Yet for the slave who escaped or who was bought for freedom there were still rules she had to follow, but she was freed from this cruelty, so is the same for us when we are freed from the bondage of sin. I know this is a bit of a vulgar and perhaps even simplistic example, but we need to understand the stark contrast between our life with and without Christ.
Now this new life we enjoy leads to the fruit unto holiness, leads to fruit that leads to sanctification. Sanctification that happens through the gentle, orderly though sometimes painful work of the Holy Spirit. For those of you who weren’t at Christian Education a few weeks ago, we will review the fruits of the Holy Spirit, for they are not things that come naturally to the sinful natures of mankind, they are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. It is these things that the Holy Spirit are working in each of us, and these things lead to true life, true community and most joyfully – eternal life with God.
Our epistle ends with St. Paul’s iconic statement: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Today we have learned that the result of the fall of mankind is that death was introduced into the world, because our first father sinned we have pain, we have hardship in labor, we have death. This is the natural end to the desire to be our own god, to being our own ruler of our destiny, for we cannot have life without the one who has made life, the one who gives every living creature life. So naturally without Him we will die.
Yet we are not left to wallow in our own falleness, but God has given us life in Christ, life that grows our souls so that we can have eternal life. It is in the spirit that we learn to live in Christ, that we are given the fruits that teach us to submit our will to the giver of life.
We end with this hopeful thing, that though the world around us may be given to its sinful affections, and though we may struggle and fail, we can hold on to the hope that we are made anew and that we are being made new. That though this life may bring us pain, sorrow and heartache, we can look forward to a life where we will be able to truly enjoy the glory of God forever. Where work will be joy and communities will live in peace. This is our hope; this is that which we look forward to no mater what the days may bring.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.