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Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Blessed are the eyes..."

13th  Sunday after Trinity, 2012
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Sept. 2nd, 2012

Last week, you’ll recall we spoke about the great themes that run through the Lectionary readings for the various Sundays throughout the Church year. Recall we also mentioned that these themes always do one thing: point to Christ in various and sundry ways.

This Sunday, the 13th after Trinity, is no different… what we have here is St. Paul again speaking of the dramatic tension between Law and Grace.  Last week, please recall from 2nd Corinthians, that St. Paul told us how the letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit of the Law gives life.  This week he expounds further on that theme by telling us that to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.  He goes on to tell us that the use of the singular in “seed” is intentional, for he expressly says not to many seed(s), but to one, the descendents of Abraham.

Let us take a moment and recall that promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3:   And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”  This is the great promise God made to Abraham and it has certainly come true.

Now, Paul follows up this remembrance of the promise with another great happening: the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. He carefully notes that the promise came first; then was followed by the Law some four hundred and thirty years later.  This is significant, because it clearly follows the history of the Israelites.  At Sinai they had just escaped from Egypt and were now a free people.  Note carefully that God did not give the Law to a slave people, but to a free people. Having escaped Pharaoh’s yoke, the People were to submit themselves to a far greater King, but with a difference. Instead of slavery, this new King (God) gave them freedom.  Also, instead of a questionable identity as the Hebrew slave people of the Egyptians, God gave them a new identity as the sons and daughters of the Most High.  On another note, is there any wonder why God’s wrath was so kindled when the People (or at least various segments of them) wanted to return to Egypt?  Remember the rebellion of Korah, where God destroyed those men and families who offered up idolatrous incense?  You see, once God has delivered a person from bondage, He does not take it lightly when that person seeks to return to that state of servitude, whatever that might be.

On the same vein, imagine God’s disgust with His People when much later, under the threat of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, they again sought the “week reed” of Egypt to help them? This of course, was not only futile, but also blasphemous.  As we have noted, the Babylonians crushed the Egyptians militarily, thus ending any hope that Israel would be delivered by her former master. Thus, to my mind, there is certainly no wonder at all, but a sense of incredulity at their foolishness.

St. Paul clearly tells us that the Law did not disannul the Promise, but rather, it was added because of the transgressions of man.  It was a necessary means to prepare mankind for the coming of the true promise, Galatians 3:19: “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made”.  Who is St. Paul talking about?  Christ, of course.  He is the ultimate promise to mankind, and the reason that “all families of the earth be blessed.”  It is only through Christ that we Gentiles are able to share in the promise of Abraham, and to be ultimately included in the family of God. 

This is both glorious and humbling.  Recall that in Romans 11, St. Paul speaks of us being “grafted” in as wild branched to the true vine, which is Israel.  Note also that in the same chapter, he tells the wild vine (we the Gentiles), not to boast against the Jews because we were included in Christ, while they rejected Him.  He reminds that if God was able to graft us in, He can certainly graft us out as well….  It’s a sobering thought, and one that cause us to reflect on the nature of our salvation with gratitude and humility.

Paul continues with a characteristic statement about the Law being added because of transgressions.  That is, if man is basically good, there would be no need for the Law.  We ask you, are laws basically used to guide and punish, or to praise and give reward?   The answer is obvious.  Laws are meant to guide and punish those who transgress them. Thus, St. Paul says”the scripture hath concluded all under sin”, that is, law is meant to control the natural sinful impulses of men. 

Yet, all is not negative.  Far from it.  Instead, St. Paul brings in the good news of the Gospel.  He does this by saying “that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”  What does this mean?  It is the fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham! That is, through Christ, we, and all the families of the earth who believe are brought in under the umbrella of Grace.  No longer do we suffer because of our failures to live under the Law.  Now, we have something better, the covenant of grace in and through Jesus Christ.  It is as if we have had our nasty, rusty, iron handcuffs and leg cuffs cut loose from our limbs.  We are free to enjoy an unfettered walk with God. 

Are we still sinful?  Yes… Are we subject to the temptations of the World, the flesh, and the Devil?  Most certainly, yes…. Yet, are we judged according the unyielding Law of Moses, or by the covenant of Grace in Jesus Christ?   Once again, the answer is obvious.

This is exactly what Jesus is speaking about in today’s Gospel selection from Luke 10…  He says in Luke 10:23-24   23 ¶ And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:  24 For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”  To what is Jesus referring, to His miracles?  Perhaps…We think it is more, much more.  He is speaking about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, that all the families of the earth will be blessed.  He is speaking of Himself.  He is speaking about the fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecy come true in their presence!  He is speaking of the events concerning Himself that began way in Genesis 3 and “trended” if you will, throughout all Scripture up to His day.;..

Once again, is it any wonder that Christ had moments of irritation and anger with his contemporaries, especially those in the religious establishment, the Scribes and Pharisees?  Those who were supposed to know and to recognize the signs of the Messiah did not heed them, or worse yet, purposefully ignored them to protect their own place of prominence in society.  How crass, How blind, How utterly human this is.

Yet, in the beauty and completeness of God’s Plan, this too was foreordained.  God did not control the Pharisees like puppets on a string, but instead, as He always does, cause people to realize their true nature to His Glory.  Just as Christ reminded the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:  26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?  27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”[1]

Beloved, we are living in the New Testament era of Grace.  We are the spiritual descendents of Abraham.  If we will realize it, take hold of it, and cherish it, we are the most blessed of all people.  We have the promises of God through Abraham, and we have the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

How fortunate we are to be in the Church of the redeemed.  How fortunate we are to be loved of God.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Luke 24:25-27