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Sunday, September 9, 2018

“Dual Citizenship”


Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
15th Sunday in Trinity 2018
Sept. 9, 2018

“No man may serve two masters.” Matt. 6.24, from our Gospel selection for the 15th Sunday after Trinity.   The  accompanying thought is: “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

What is “Mammon?”  It is an Aramaic word used by Christ twice in the Gospels, in Mat. 6:24 and Luke 16:13. It means “wealth or riches” and implies the concept of something secure, on which one can rely.[i]

From these two statements come the most difficult part of being a Christian on this fallen Earth. We are, of necessity, placed here to live and to be shining examples of God’s kingdom on earth. Yet, we must live in our economic culture.  Money is, by necessity, the thing that makes the world go ‘round. Despite being immersed in our secular culture, we must not take our cues from it. 

This is hard, nearly impossible. While we cannot serve God and mammon, or serve two masters, it seems that we must to do it. Obviously, it takes money to buy wine and Communion wafers…

This brings us to the idea our state in this world; dual citizenship.  We are told by God’s Holy Word that our true citizenship is in Heaven.  We are told that we will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven when we no longer exist on Earth. Hebrews 11:13 tells us the great figures in the bible: “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  Also, Hebrews 11:16 says: “6 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city”.
  
Most of the evil in this world comes from the misuse or “twisting” of God’s gifts to mankind. Everything God gives us is good: food, wine, power, money, interaction between man and woman, etc.  It is man’s fallen-ness, along with Satanic suggestions and temptations, that “twist” each of these gifts into evils, in the form of overindulgence or exploitation.  Healthful use of wine becomes alcoholism, wholesome marital relations become adultery and pornography, and money becomes the power to manipulate and enslave.

Everything man has is a gift from a loving and merciful God.  Even our ability to achieve and to accumulate wealth is a gift. Yet, when we become covetous of wealth, it becomes an evil. Thus, we should not accumulate to the point of obsessiveness.  To many who have made wealth accumulation their life’s goal, whatever wealth they have is never enough. Yet, Christ tells us in Mat. 6:25 to “Take no thought for your life…” While we are to plan and prepare prudently, we are not to obsess over our wealth, or even the lack thereof.  We should not be consumed by concern for our material well-being.  Christ wants us to be “as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.” (Mat. 10:16)

Yet, Christianity is not a call to stupidity or to carelessness, but it is a call to Godly wisdom.  When we recognize that all we have belongs to God, that is wisdom. When we know that we are simply stewards of all we have, that is wisdom. When we agree with the Prayer Book as it says, “Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being”, that is wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Let us understand and give thanks for the knowledge that all things belong to God. 
When we make an offering, remember that we are merely returning a portion of what is His.

“All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of thy known have we given Thee.”


[i] Dictionary of the Bible, Grant and Howley, Ed.,Thomas Nelson, New York, 1963

Theology and Thought


14th Sunday after Trinity, 2018
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church



Galatians 3:1-2 “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?  2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Thus begins the third chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, from which our Epistle selection is taken. It is a supreme example of Pauline theology, because it introduces one of the greatest dichotomies in Christian theology: law vs. promise.  Taking a broader view, it has implications for every single world religion, and it has implications for man’s relationship to his deity. Based on this dichotomy, it actually affects how one thinking as well.

These statements are borne out by this brief selection from Galatians. Recall that this particular Epistle was borne out of the caldron of theological disagreement, or more positively said, the arena of theological discussion. The Galatians had been set upon by Paul’s old foes, the Judaizers. In order to be good Christians, these men demanded that the early Christians follow the Law of Moses, including circumcision.  They waited until St. Paul had departed for other areas of ministry before descending on the newly-formed flocks of Christians.  They brought “another Gospel” to which some of the Galatians gave an ear, much to the distress of their founding Apostle, Paul.
That is why he asked the incredulous question, (Galatians 3:1) “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”
Paul is simply stunned that they should cast away his teachings of promise and grace, to become entangled in the tedious keeping of a multitude of commandments. Remember, that the Judaizers wanted the early Christians to embrace both the Christian Way and the Mosaic law.

To Paul, this is simply ludicrous.  Thus, he asked them if they received the Holy Spirit by the works of Law or by the hearing of faith?  The question becomes, do we receive salvation from Sinai (the Law), or Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Ghost)?  Or, is God’s relationship to man based on promise, or on law?

The answer is key to our whole belief system, and affects not only the way we practice our religion, but how we think as well. Let’s examine this…. Under a works system, or one based on Law, one must always be concerned about “doing” something. That is, it is the concrete performance of an action, or the avoidance of an action that determines righteousness.   This is not always bad; in fact, it can be a good and desirable way of life, especially when one considers the riotous and anarchic alternative: no law.  Yet, Law is sterile. It produces legalistic righteousness and a “by-the-book” mentality, but if fails to produce a change in the human heart. Yes, it can create righteous people, but they tend to be joyless and cold.  Contrast the cold gruel of an Ebenezer Scrooge, who certainly followed the rules of good business, with the warm, happy, agape dinners of the early Christians.  Which is more appealing? Taking a broader view, consider the broader implications for one’s religion.  If one is simply concerned with doing, one never gets around to growing. One becomes concerned with doing a code, as opposed to living a life. 

Now consider the implications of promise, as opposed to law. God’s whole relationship to man is based on promise. It began with Genesis 3, where God tells the serpent that Eve’s seed will bruise (smash) his head, while he will bruise his heel.
This is called the proto-Gospel, where Christ, born of woman, is foretold to vanquish the ultimate power of evil, death.  Although it came with the terrible price of the Crucifixion, it did come, as the Satanic powers tried to silence Jesus.  They failed, as evil ultimately will fail, through the power and promise of God in Christ. 

The promise of God to man continued in the form of a covenant with Abraham, referenced in today’s Epistle. The promise was made to Abraham like this: (Galatians 3:8-9): “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.  9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

All nations have indeed been blessed through Abraham, by the coming of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ.  Where then, is the Law?  Recall that Christ said in Matthew 5:17:  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

Jesus is the living embodiment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah.  He fulfilled the Law by bringing the complete fulfillment of what the Law was supposed to do: bring love on the earth. Recall those wonderful words from the prologue of the St. John’s Gospel: (John 1:16-17”: And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”   

No truer words were even spoken. Grace, truth, and promise came by Christ.  He gave us the new law of Love, by which we are to be transformed, and by which we are to transform the world. Because of Christ, we relate to our deity (the Triune God) through faith and grace, not through slavish obedience to a code.  We Christians have liberty in Christ, bound only by the law of Love.

Let us consider how our theology affects our thinking.  For example, if one is bound by the love of Love, one will strive to do two things: love God with all of one’s mind, heart, and strength; and love one’s neighbor as oneself. All of one’s actions, thoughts, and motives will be guided by these two bases.

Thus, one will seek to return God’s Love with thanksgiving, praise, and worship.  If fact, the more loves God, the more one will be drawn to adoration and worship, like the moth that must approach the light even though it may singe its wings.  In our case, the closer we get to the love of God, the better we will be.

On the other hand, consider those who are so driven by a code that they must embrace acts of violence and destruction to defend it. Anything that does not agree with their code must be destroyed; it cannot be countenanced. The infidel must be converted or be destroyed. This is negative theology at its worst, but it is the logical outcome of a works-driven, or law-defined salvation system.

In the end, it proves to be unworkable.  Even if one comes close to obeying every aspect of a system of law, one becomes self-righteous and prideful. After all, it is my actions that determine my salvation, or my blessedness, one will think.

What folly this is!  No one can be righteous by law, because no one can keep the law. No one is one-hundred percent consistent. Second, when one fails to keep law in every aspect, this breeds hypocrisy. Thus, we have the scenario of outer righteousness for all of the world to see, while the inner man is base and unredeemed.  The outer man shines with all the splendor of compliance, while the inner man seethes with hatred, lust, anger, pride, and vainglory.  This hypocrisy, combined with righteous anger against those who believe differently, has the negative outcomes of terrorism and holy war.

Thus, beloved, we submit to you that righteousness and joy do not come from adherence to a code, but from a change in the heart.  Only where the promises of love, joy, and grace abide can there be true peace. Only where we know and feel the loving Presence of our God through faith and relationship can true spiritual growth occur.  When we know that we are loved without limit, in a deep and profound way that escapes our comprehension, we give love back to the World, despite its wickedness.

Then, we can begin to understand that we are truly the children of promise.

Galatians 3:6 : “ Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”




Weakness



            All flesh is grass, says the Word
            It withers and dries, only to be cast in fire
            Earthly pomp is illusion
            Powerlessness our native state
            Yet, we strive, we wrest and struggle
            Thinking only of our gain.

            What of strength?  What of beauty?
            Surely these don’t pass away?
            Sadly, there is no quarter
            All fall under the axe of time.

            Yet, our weakness is strength,
            Focused through the proper lens
            “I am with you, I am with you”
            Says the Lamb of Calvary.

            What is life but tribulation?
            All seems such futility
            Yet in Him all is glory
            Offered to the Perfect One.
           
            -S.E.S.
            Trinity, 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018

“Covenants and Christ…”


  
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
June 17. 2018

Genesis 9:14-15  “And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:  15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.”

Today’s Old Testament reading deals with the aftermath of the Great Flood.  We hear God telling Noah and his family to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” It is time to re-populate the Earth.  Additionally, we see the first instance of man’s mastery over the animal kingdom.  Man shall rule the animals, and they shall provide food for him, as well as the plants God has made. It was an unfortunate result of the Fall that we must kill to eat, but so it is. Sin always has consequences.

An interesting point about this passage is that we begin to see the Mosaic Law start to take shape, in rudimentary form. Man is told to refrain from eating meat with the animal’s blood in it, which is the beginning of the Kosher food laws. Also, we hear the first of behavioral law for man, as God tells Noah that he who kills man will also be killed of man.  It is a sin to kill another man, because he is made in the image of God. Surely we hear echoes of “an eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” here, as the Law would be later given to the Jewish people.

The main point of this passage comes in the giving of the covenantal sign to Noah. The sign of the covenant between God and man is the rainbow, the sign of which indicates that God promised never to bring water upon the earth again, to the extent of the Great Flood.

God deals with us in terms of covenant, which is a solemn agreement between two parties.  Even modern contracts often use the word “covenant” to express such an agreement or understanding. 

We know God is the Great Ruler over all things. Another word for absolute ruler is “suzerain”, or King of Kings. In such manner, God’s covenants reflect the great Suzerainty Treaties of the ancient Near East.  Once a suzerain had established his power over a region, either by conquest, or by offering a treaty, several common features appeared.  Using the acrostic THEOS:
Transcendance:          This was the statement(s) stating the power, majesty and glory of the suzerain.
Hierarchy:                   The authority and makeup of dealing with the suzerain
Ethics:                         The stipulations of the covenant or law (or code) was laid out.  This was the body of the law.
Oath:                           A statement of blessings and cursings that would follow from
                                    keeping the covenant or breaking it.
Succession:                 The succession section indicated how the covenant was to be kept for ensuing generations and by whom.

The first covenant was the Adamic. This was the first covenant made between God and His Adam.  God gave Adam dominion over the earth, to subdue it and use it. Also, God provided a garden for Adam and Eve for a dwelling.  He had one commandment, that he not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This first covenant was based on obedience to this commandment.  In return, Adam and Eve would enjoy life in the Garden forever.

The sign of the covenant was the Sabbath, because the Lord God rested on the seventh day from his labors.

Noahic  This was the second covenant made between God and man.  God found a righteous man, Noah, and made a covenant with him. God commanded that Noah build an ark and gather into it all species of life, thus to be saved from the ensuing flood.  The basis of this covenant was grace.  God would preserve Noah, his family, as in Genesis 9:1:
“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.“ 

The principle sign of this covenant was the rainbow, a sign that God would never again destroy the earth by water.
Abrahamic.  The third covenant with man was with Abraham, whom God accounted faithful and righteous.  The basis of the covenant was promissory, that, in return for Abraham’s faithfulness, God would bless Abraham, as in Genesis 22:17:
“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; “ 

The sign of the covenant was male circumcision.

Synatic or Mosaic. The fourth covenant God made with man was Synatic or Mosaic. The basis of this covenant between God and the Jewish nation was obligatory.  The people were to keep the Law because they were a holy, blessed and saved nation unto God. The covenant was primarily expressed in the Ten Commandments and extrapolated throughout the book of Deuteronomy. 

The principle sign of this covenant was the Passover.

Davidic. The next covenant God made with His People was the Davidic. This was expressed in the kingship of David. The basis of the covenant was promissory; the promised blessing being a continuation of David’s line on the throne for succeeding generations.

The principle sign of the covenant was the throne.

Universal or New. The last covenant made with God and His People is universal, extending from the Jews to all mankind through Jesus Christ.  This is the Renewed (or New Covenant), in the Greek called Kainos.  The basis for this covenant is both obligatory and promissory, for through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ and keeping of His Commandments, we are promised eternal life.

The principle signs of the New Covenant are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 
Covenants are God’s way of dealing with mankind. We in Christ’s Church are blessed to be covered by the final, complete, and covenant of Jesus Christ.

To Him be honor, glory, power, and dominion, world without end.

Amen.
H

“Love and Judgment”


The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
June 3, 2018


In our reading for today, we see two strikingly different themes: Love and Judgment.  The Epistle from 1 St. John speaks of the essential attribute of God: Love.  St. John tells us: God is love. He loves us so much that he gave Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins.  What is propitiation? It is the act of winning over, placating, or appeasing.  In Christian theology, it is “that by which God is rendered propitious, i.e., by which it becomes consistent with his character and government to pardon and bless the sinner.”[i]  John makes it very clear that Love is what God is about. It is His intrinsic characteristic.

In the gospel from St. Luke, we read of the theme of judgment.  We hear the familiar story of Lazarus, who was a beggar “laid” at the gate of a rich man’s house.  His health was not good, because he did not sit at the gates, but was laid there.  In fact, the Greek word is to “throw or discard.”[ii] He was full of sores, indicating malnutrition and a lack of personal hygiene.  He was miserable.  Hungry as well, the beggar only wanted to be fed from the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  This is notable, because in the ancient near East, the wealthy would wipe their hands with pieces of bread, like napkins, and then discard them under the table or throw them to dogs.  This is what the poor beggar wanted. Moreover, hungry, mongrel dogs licked his running sores, hoping perhaps even to devour him.[iii]

In time, the starving beggar died.  He is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, where he is comforted and eased. There has been much debate as to what “Abraham’s Bosom” means.  Although that might be of great interest, that is not the focus of our discussion today. Suffice it to say that the beggar, tormented in life, is now comforted to the infinite degree in Heaven. 
Note also, the rich man died as well, but he discovers he has arrived in Hell.  Immediately, he is in torment.

The contrast couldn’t be greater. There is bliss to the beggar, and torment to the former rich man.  One commentator says, “the poor man got rich, and the rich man got poor.”[iv]
How true.  The beggar, unattended by men during life, is now attended by angels in a blessed state.  The rich man, used to attention by men, is now subject to the attention of devils, and is in a wretched, tormented state. [v]

These two scenes stand in complete juxtaposition.  Our immediate lesson is that our earthly actions have consequences. The rich man ignored the beggar deposited on his doorstep.  He was a lover of luxury and wealth, with no regard for others’ sufferings.  His complete self-interest so occupied him that he was blinded to all else, other people, and most importantly, his relationship with God.  It wasn’t his wealth that was his sin, but his complete consumption by it.  When one blots God completely out of one’s life, the result is willful separation from Him, now and forever. The beggar, although distressed in life, may have had a deeper spiritual life than the rich man.  No doubt, in his agony and deprivation, he cried out to God many times.

The question remains, how does the love of God, mentioned in the Epistle from 1 John, and judgment, mentioned in the Gospel selection from Luke, have any connection?  If God is love, why does suffering, like the beggar’s, happen?  How could judgment be linked to love? While one could argue that the rich man, in his blatant disregard for others, deserved his fate, how could a loving God impose such suffering?

Let us remember the state of our world as it is.  Since the downfall of our first parents, we live in a fallen world. It is cursed because of Adam’s sin.  Thus, suffering abounds.  We must kill to eat.  The animal kingdom is ruled by survival of the fittest. Bad things happen to good people; in fact, bad things happen to all people, sooner or later. Natural disasters happen, for no apparent reason.  It seems unjust, and perhaps it is. At times, life isn’t fair.  Thus, the poor beggar suffered in this life, unjustly and cruelly. He died and was forgotten to man.

He was, however, not forgotten by God. God is a lover and creator of all things.  He is absolute truth and absolute love, which means that He is a lover of all virtues. Chief among these is justice, which means that things will be set right, sometime, in God’s time. If God is love, from St. John, we know that He loves justice.  This means that all situations will be corrected, and consequences for all actions imposed. Abraham tells the rich man, who even in Hell thinks he is superior to the beggar, that his situation is just.  “Send Lazarus” he cries to Abraham. In life, he received the best, and ignored the rest. Now, he is in agony, while Lazarus is comforted.

God’s justice may be one of His highest forms of love.  It requires that debts be paid, and actions be accounted.  Things must be set right. Inequity and evil will not go unrequited forever. God’s complete Holiness and absolute Truthfulness demand no less.

This was once a hard concept for me.  How could a loving God separate those from Him to perish everlastingly? How could He show such disregard for His Creatures?  The answer is just the opposite.  Jesus Christ paid our debts.  He provides that God be propitiated for our actions. He is the complete expression of God’s Love and justice.  Justly, God himself bore the price that only God himself could pay.

We are unjust to Him when we reject this great, awesome love. When we live in the sin of rebellion, it is us who reject Him, not the reverse.  Yet, when we acknowledge our sin and wretchedness before Him, He lovingly grants forgiveness for one reason: the propitiation of Jesus.  Even the rich man, had he repented before his death, could have secured forgiveness.  It is not sin by itself, that separates us from God, forever.  It is unrepented sin that causes the complete break between man and His Creator.

To heal that rift, we have our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation for our sins. AMEN.
1 John 4:18   18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.







[i] https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/propitiation/
[ii] https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/CONF-RC08-10/the-rich-man-and-lazarus-2008-resolved-conference
[iii] ibid
[iv] Ibid
[v] CONF-RCOB, op.cit.

Righteousness in Love


Romans 6:3-4  3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

This week’s Epistle deals with some very important issues.  It speaks of one of the chief sacraments of the Christian Church, and it speaks of the necessity of endurance in the Christian life.

Baptism is an area of great discussion in the Christian church.  Great differences exist in its understanding, sacramental nature, and application. Since the Protestant Reformation, these discussions have continued, and probably will until Christ returns.

What is baptism?  It depends what branch of the Church from which you come.  Sacramental bodies, like Anglicans, Romans, and the Orthodox, believe it is a true sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself.  It was not the baptism of John, which was primarily one of repentance for the coming judgment.  Christian baptism is a sacramental entrance into the Christian life.  It supercedes the covenant of circumcision under Abraham and is the entrance rite of Christianity. In the Anglican view, Baptism allows the recipient to receive the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ.  Salvation is not guaranteed by baptism, yet one cannot be saved without it. With this understanding, we baptize infants, accepting their sponsors’ commitment for their training in the Christian faith.  We later hear the child’s verbal commitment to follow Jesus in the rite of Confirmation.

What then, does baptism do?  Once again, it depends which branch of the Church you call home.  We Anglicans, along with the Roman and Eastern Communions, believe that there is a mystical washing away of sin.  Whose sin?  Our first parents’ sin, Adam and Eve.  Original sin is washed away and the subject becomes fit for the promises of Christ. During the rite of Baptism, we pray the Holy Spirit be given, that sin be removed, and that everlasting life be granted through Christ. All things noted, it is an amazing rite.

 After St. Paul addresses baptism, the second point of this lesson concerns the necessity of continuance in the Christian life.  We are told: (Romans 6:6): “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”

Note here that St. Paul does not say that we will not sin after baptism. That is a fond hope, vainly imagined.  We all sin, every day. Anyone who says differently is sadly mistaken.  Yet, the word used here is “douleo”, coming from the Greek “doulos”, or slave.  Thus, we are not to serve sin, in the sense that the slave serves his master. We are not to give ourselves over to sin, or as Strong says, “to become slaves to some base power.”[i] Instead, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin.  It is no longer our master, although for all Christians, it rears its ugly head from time to time.  Does that mean we ‘serve’ sin?  No. 
It means that sin achieves a momentary victory over us from time to time.  This victory is shortlived, however.  Once we recognize our sin and ask the Father for forgiveness through Christ, this victory becomes defeat for the mystery of iniquity.  Whatever impulse, prompted by whatever spirit, is defeated. 

Thus, take heart, Christians….yes, we all sin; but it is not our native state anymore.  Instead, we “…reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We have discussions with many people who are confused about Christianity and the Church.  Some people think that they must be perfect to be a Christian.  Would God that were so!  Yet, how impossible it is.  Some people stay away from the Church, either because of a sense of their own unworthiness, or because of the rampant hypocrisy so easily engendered by a mindset of pretended perfection. Let us all admit it.  We are not perfect.  We never will be, except in the final perfection of our natures in Heaven.  Yet, with recognition of our condition and frequent confession to Christ, we can be better, much better.

Our job is to love Christ with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Our job is to love our neighbor as ourselves. We also strive daily against sin, knowing that we cannot avoid it completely, but we can avoid serving it.

With this attitude, we can maintain our sanity, and our growth in holiness, day by day.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
AMEN.



[i] BW, “Strong’s data for “serve”

Slaves no More

Slaves no More
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
7th Sunday in Trinity 2018

July 15, 2018         
Romans 6:20 “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.”

This is the second time St. Paul speaks to us about sin in his Epistles from the Lectionary.  Although it may seem repetitive, the weight of the topic demands a thorough treatment.

St. Paul speaks to us about being free from righteousness, while we were servants of sin.  Recall that we spoke last week about being a “doulous”, a slave or servant to sin.  We mentioned that since we were no longer servants to sin because of Jesus, sin had no power over us.  We were to count ourselves dead to sin, but alive to new life in Christ.  We also mentioned that while sin still occurs for all of us, sin’s power of captivity had been broken.  This is good news.

Today, we hear that when we were servants to sin, we were free from righteousness. What a fascinating concept!  It is probable that most of us have never thought of ourselves being a servant (or slave) to anything.  Now, here comes St. Paul and tells us that we either are, or have been, slaves to sin; that being the case, we were free from righteousness.  Calvin tells us: “This is the liberty of the flesh, which so frees us from obedience to God, that it makes us slaves to the devil. Wretched then and accursed is this liberty, which with unbridled or rather mad frenzy, leads us exultingly to our destruction."[i]

Personally, we are very careful about any personal protestations of righteousness, for several reasons.  Among them is the fear of being a hypocrite, for as soon as one proclaims himself righteous, a personal act of some sort gives evidence to the contrary.  Thus, hypocrisy.  Also, according to Isaiah, our supposed righteousness is but “filthy rags” to God.  The more we grow in grace, the more apparent God’s Holiness becomes to us. One of the great paradoxes of the Christian Faith is that the more holy we become, the more sinful we feel.

There is a kind a righteousness that we can claim, without fear.  That is the imputed righteousness of Jesus. Why imputed?  We can do nothing truly pure or good, but Christ already has.  The Father imputes righteousness to us because of Him.  Thus, we can claim it without hesitation. What a blessed relief! We need not feign righteousness, or struggle to appear so.  We simply accept the righteousness of Jesus with joy and gratitude.

We are called to have a new master. One commentator says, “As the same metal becomes a new vessel, when melted and recast in another mould, so the believer has become a new creature.”[ii] Rather than being the rebels we were before, free from righteousness, now we are the servants to righteousness in Christ.

St. Paul describes a dualism.  One path leads to separation from God. The other path leads us to eternal life with Him.  Paul asks, “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.”  If we continue to be slaves to sin, we know the result.  It is not a happy conclusion to our earthly lives.

On the other hand, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” 
We have a new orientation.  This new way leads to fruit unto holiness, which is the opposite of the fruit of sin; namely a tortured conscience or a feeling of dis-ease with God.  Sin does this, if our consciences are not seared by sin. The fruit of holiness is different. We have more peace, and godly love for ourselves.


The apostle ends the section with a startling, but true phrase: (Romans 6:23) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Going to the Greek, “wages” here is ovyw,nion (opsonion), meaning the wages given to a soldier for service. What a thought!  Those who truly serve sin, or have become its soldiers, are paid back with death. Not a good bargain.

Rather than making this bad bargain, we have something better (Romans 6:23)  “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We are not soldiers to sin, but rather like Hymn 552 (Silver Street) says, “Soldiers of Christ arise, and put your armor on; Strong in the strength that God supplies thro’ his eternal Son.”

We have righteousness; not of ourselves, but of Christ. We are not free from this, nor do we want to be. Instead, we accept gratefully our wages of righteousness, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.





[i] “Biblehub, Calvin commentary on Romans 6:20
[ii] Matthew Henry, “Commentary on Romans 6:20

Right Thinking and Repentance


9th Sunday in Trinity 2012

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
August 5, 2012

“O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth Thy Praise.”

“Grant us, O Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  AMEN

If there were ever a more ardent, perfectly formed plea for grace to live the Christian life, I don’t know how it could be better phrased than in this prayer. This Collect for the 9th Sun. after Trinity, no doubt written by a very mature Christian mind, recognizes the true reality of life on this earth. First, it grasps the reality that we need the right “spirit” to help us do the things that we should do.  This prayer affirms that the true nature of this world is spiritual and that we need the right spiritual orientation in order to behave correctly. 

Our O.T. Lesson from Ezekiel is in many ways a perfect example of this Collect.  Let’s consider briefly why this may be so, but first, some information about Ezekiel himself.  According to noted O.T. scholars Keil and Delitszch, Ezekiel,” יחזקאל (Ezekiel 1:3; 24:24), i.e., יחזק אל, God strengthens̓Ιεζεκιήλ (lxx and Book of Sirach, ch. 49:8), in the Vulgate Ezechiel, while Luther, after the example of the lxx, writes the name Hesekiel, was the son of Busi, of priestly descent, and was carried away captive into exile to Babylon in the year 599 b.c. - i.e., in the eleventh year before the destruction of Jerusalem - along with King Jehoiachin, the nobles of the kingdom, many priests, and the better class of the population of Jerusalem and of Judah (Eze 1:2; Eze 40:1; cf. 2Ki 24:14.; Jer 29:1). He lived there in the northern part of Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Chaboras, married, and in his own house, amidst a colony of banished Jews, in a place called Tel-abib (Eze 1:1; Eze 3:15, Eze 3:24; Eze 8:1; Eze 24:18). In the fifth year of his banishment, i.e., 595 b.c., he was called to be a prophet of the Lord, and laboured in this official position, as may be shown, twenty-two years; for the latest of his prophecies is dated in the twenty-seventh year of his exile, i.e., 572 b.c. (Eze 29:17).”[i]

Ezekiel was himself a witness to the fulfillment of God’s prophecy concerning Israel and Judah. Beginning in Deuteronomy and continuing through all of the books prior to Ezekiel, the Jews had heard the same message again and again; stay in covenant with Almighty God, or face the consequences.  This message they ignored and continued to run after false gods and various pagan religious practices, including ritual drunkenness and ritual fornication. They worshipped the Baals and Ashtoreth, as well as Chemosh and Milcom, who were the abominable idols of the Canaanites.   We learn in Ezekiel that the elders of the Jews had even carved out secret rooms in the Temple of Solomon where they offered incense to various idols.

We all know the history that followed Israel’s and Judah spiritual whoredom.  First, the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were carried away and dispersed into the vast Assyrian Empire as a result of their gross idolatry.  Next, the Babylonian suzerain Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and carried away the “cream of the crop”, so to speak, of Judah.  The Prophet Daniel was amongst those carried away.  King Jehoiakim became a tributary.  Failing to see God’s Hand in their tribulations, this king rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, whereupon he marched again to Jerusalem, besieged it, and eventually took it again.  This time, the Babylonian king carried away the king, his court, and many of the skilled artisans, warriors, priests and carpenters.  He left a rough remnant of the people, over which he appointed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah, whom he renamed Zedekiah.  This occurred during the prophecy of Jeremiah, who warned the people repeatedly of their fate if they did not repent.  Meanwhile, the various false prophets concurrent with him were prophesying prosperity and peace. As we know, Jeremiah was eventually proved right, although he was accused of speaking treason against the king and was imprisoned.

 After the second fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah, speaking for God, told the people to bear the Babylonian yoke with patience and all would be well with them.  Even at this point, the leaders of Judah refused to hear the Word of God, but instead rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, broke their treaty with him and turned to Egypt for help.  The very nation in which they had been held in slavery for 400 years was to be their savior?
This was absurd and futile.  The Egyptians were utterly defeated by the Babylonians, and now perfidious Jerusalem was to feel the full fury of Nebuchadnezzar, who had been remarkably restrained up to this point regarding the city. His forces marched back to Jerusalem and besieged it again.  Eventually, the city was starved out.  The walls of Jerusalem were breached, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the city was completely destroyed.  The fabulous Temple of Solomon was thoroughly looted and destroyed as well.  Nebuchadnezzar left Jerusalem a smoking heap of stones. As we know from the book of Jeremiah, Zedekiah, his court, and his top military men tried to escape through a hole in the wall.  They were captured and brought to Riblah.  Here, Zedekiah’s sons were killed before his eyes, and Zedekiah himself was blinded.  He was led in chains back to Babylon, where he spent his days as a captive, subject king to Nebuchadnezzar.  Judah as a nation had been effectively destroyed.[ii] 

In the section of Ezekiel we read today, the last act, namely the destruction of Jerusalem, had not happened yet. The final blow had not yet been struck against the heart of Judah.  Yet, we see in the reading that the mindset that would lead to it was very much present amongst the exiles to which Ezekiel was attached.  In this passage, God speaks to Ezekiel and asks why should be He be entreated by a people whose heart was far from Him?  Even though these men, the elders of Israel, had come seeking the counsel of God, their innermost hearts and spirits were not of God.  In fact, they had put the stumbling block of their idolatry in front of the faces and had idolatry in their heart, even while they were seeking the counsel of God.  Obviously, they were “hedging their bets”, so to speak.  They obviously wanted it both ways: namely, to enjoy the notorious sensuality and wanton-ness of their pagan practices, while pretending to be holy towards the God of Israel.  This cannot be.

Our God is a holy God, who will not tolerate our allegiance to any sort of idolatry.  He will not allow His Glory to be diffused with another. He cannot allow His Holiness to be diluted in a believer’s heart, or to be mixed with an idol of any sort; that is, if one is to enjoy true fellowship with Him.  It is possible to be deceived into thinking one has fellowship with God, but it is not true.  Witness those poor, deluded souls who think they can lead one of the various “alternative lifestyles”, and then come have a meaningful relationship with God in His House.  They may be able to “play church”, but their worship is tainted and is not acceptable to God.  Their fellowship with Him is not really real, and any feeling of good will they may experience from it may very well be a satanic deception.  By the way, this is true of any for us, including this priest.  If we have deep hatred, animosity, or un-repented sin abiding in us when we enter the House of God, we cannot offer a worthy sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving when our spiritual selves are in turmoil due to sin.  One may, like these elders of Israel, go through the motions of religiosity, yet never really get close to God.

 The purpose of religion is not merely to do ritualistic things to curry favor with God, but to develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Holy Trinity.  Thus, when Christ speaks in Luke 17:21 regarding the Kingdom of God, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” This is very akin to the statement Jesus made in John 14:23 where he says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This certainly sounds like a relationship situation to me.    

This sense of relationship is exactly what Ezekiel is speaking of during this interview with the Jewish elders.  God is not at all minded to listen to them because they are not truly interested in a relationship with Him. They only want to use God to get what they want, or to hear what they want.  What they really want to hear are the words of the false prophets saying, “Peace, Peace”, when there is no peace.  Through Ezekiel, God tells them that He will turn His face from those who deceive themselves with idols and will remove them from their land.  This will be done not out of cruelty, but rather out of chastisement, so that Judah would eventually truly repent herself of her idolatry.

As later history would prove, God did remove Judah from the Promised Land.  Judah did repent and was restored, but to a lesser degree until the time of the Ptolemeys.  By this time, the Jews were so against idolatry that it led to the rise of the Pharisees, who became jealous guardians of the Law. Yet, as history would show by the time of Christ, slavish adherence to the Law had itself become a form of idolatry. It is really difficult for man to get it right, isn’t it?
The point for today is that we too must remove any idols in our hearts, or any stumbling blocks of iniquity that impede our relationship with Almighty God. All of us have them, and for us to enjoy the fullest fellowship with God, they must be removed.  The Holy Spirit will keep pointing to them until one of two things happens.  Either we, with the help of the Holy Ghost, remove them in order to enjoy a fuller experience with God, or we will grow hardened in our sinfulness until a fuller relationship loses its value to us.

Pray God that this does not happen to any of us, because it had serious consequences. Rather than experiencing the wonderful fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, contentment, godliness and self control, we will bear the evil fruit of our natural natures: hate, discontent, malice, unease, fear, and infidelity.  If one reads St. Paul long enough, one will come across of these “laundry lists” of bad behavior.

In the words of St. Paul himself, he meMay it never be! We pray that all of us may continue to take daily inventory of ourselves and of our relationship with Almighty God in Christ. We pray that we may ardently seek those things that hinder our relationship and fling them from us like so many filthy rags… We pray that you may seek the power of the Holy Ghost to do so, for only through Him is it possible.

Then, unlike those idolatrous men in Ezekiel whom God would not hear, we will enjoy the warm spiritual embrace of our Heavenly Father. He will hear us.  He will come to us and tabernacle with us.  He will make His Face to shine upon us. Through His blessed Holy Spirit, He will give us peace, now and forever.

AMEN.

 






[i] Kiel and Delitzsch, “Ezekiel”, BW 7.0
[ii] ibid