Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homily for Pentecost 4A (Proper 10) - Romans 8:12-17

(With thanks to Rev. William Cwirla for most of the thoughts expressed here.)

         The Apostle Paul works at completely changing the way we think in Romans 8 – which then will affect what we do.  For instance, chapter 8 starts off announcing the great news, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  Just think how people would live their daily lives differently if they learned those words by heart.  For consider how often sin and death make people’s decisions for them.  Or how much worry is caused by doubts about what God thinks of you.
Yet here God says not to worry – see how much He loves you as His Spirit sets you free.  Christ’s umbrella of grace and forgiveness covers you, shields you from the Holy Law’s condemnation that your guilt deserves.  Though you are still a sinner, and though you will one day die of something, you are no longer captive to sin and death.  For God sent His Son to live as one of us, taking up your humanity so He could be the ultimate sin offering by taking your sin into His crucified flesh to free you from Hell.
This turn of events calls for us to change our way of thinking.  Paul explains in Romans 8:5.  “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”  It is so natural for us to focus on our sinful desires.  Let your minds wander, and if God does not stop you, some evil thought will certainly pop up.  How embarrassed would you be if someone knew what goes through your head?  Especially here in church, or perhaps while reading the Scriptures.  We are not as devoted to Christ as we want others to think.  We can get caught up in conversations or movies or sports and lose track of time.  Yet when it comes to God’s Word, even the slightest thing distracts us.  Sin persuades us that the story of Christ for us is boring.
Why on earth do we do this?  We do not give the greater honor and devotion to the Lord because, as  Romans 8:7 puts it bluntly, our minds naturally are hostile to God.  By nature we sinners might appreciate this or that saying of God – as long as we can take it out of context, use it to our benefit and ignore the uncomfortable things God says that reveal our guilt.
An icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstanti...Image via Wikipedia
The sinful mind and heart is like that hard pavement Jesus describes in today’s Gospel parable of the seed in the soil.  God’s Word just bounces off the mind hostile to Him, and the Devil snatches the Word away like a bird gobbling up seeds.  Or else the mind goes along with the Word – but only until it gets a bit thorny to let the Word of Life tell me how things should go.  I love the things of this world.  And I do not appreciate the Bible’s call to sacrifice that love for the love of Christ.  Like the seed that fell among the rocks and the thorns, my faith is choked and dries up.  So whether God’s Word is received with joy for a short time or outright rejected, it does not much matter.  The end result is the same – a dead mind held captive to the sinful nature.  It cannot submit to God’s will because sin wants to be the Almighty director of all that happens.
No wonder that those who are captive to the sinful nature cannot please God.  Jesus said the same thing in John 15, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”  He is the Vine, we are the branches.  Joined baptismally to Christ in faith, we are fruitful in His life.  If I sever myself from Jesus, I am as fruitless as the seeds on the hard pavement or the rocky, thorn-infested ground.
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9).  And the Spirit does dwell in you and now in Brystol too because you are baptized.  She has a new identity – child of God.  That is the core of who you are.  Next time someone asks you who you are, think about telling them first off, “I am a child of God.”  And all those reasons that you are coming up with why you would never do that – that is the sinful mind hostile to God making itself known to you.  You might be many things in life – husband, mother, worker, student, retiree, neighbor, grandchild, citizen, pastor, parishioner.  And certainly you remain a sinner until your death.  Nevertheless, you are now to identify with the Spirit of Christ.  For you are changed, made new by God.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Now you think about things in a new way.  Which is what repentance literally means in Latin – to think again; or in Greek, repent is from the word for a changed mind; or in Hebrew it is “to be turned” – not that I turn myself, but that I am turned by God.  God turns your mind away from the sinful nature to our new nature in Christ; away from the old, dead you, toward the new you alive in Christ’s righteousness.  Let me explain.  A college friend last week showed me some photos from graduation.  I had forgotten what I looked like with facial hair and it took a while to stop staring at the picture.  Now, let’s say that instead of a beard, I had some ugly facial feature that was removed with surgery, resulting in some miraculous transformation.  How sick would it be for me to now sit and dwell upon how ugly I used to be?  I might have needed some time to get used to my new look in the mirror, but it would be wrong of me to go around as if I was still that ugly duckling.
Now let’s apply that to the Word of God in our lives.  We were born worse off than spiritual ugly ducklings, for we were damned to die as fallen children of Adam.  However, through no help from us, God in mercy rescues us from the junk heap and makes us His own.  For all the times we have closed our ears to His Word He sent His Son, but His own people did not receive Him.  The Devil snatched Him away as men grabbed Jesus to arrest Him and nail Him to the Cross.  For all the times we have let the worries and love of this world choke off our faith, Jesus wore a crown of thorns.  And then He was buried in the rocky ground of the stone cold tomb.  Then Jesus sprang up – but not like the seed that was planted in the rocky ground that withered, for Jesus lives never to die again.  He rescues us from this body of death and gives us life abundantly.  So now where should we fix our minds?  Should we sit and dwell on that old sinful nature that leads to death and hell?  Or on that new nature, that new you in Christ and whatever is good, noble and true in thanksgiving to God?  When you put it that way, it is not a tough decision.  It is just that in daily life we do not ordinarily put it that way and things get more interesting.
In today’s Epistle text, Paul spends no time telling us what to do, because doing stuff does not make us children of God.  He reminds us of who we are, who God has made us to be by grace.  He points our attention, our minds, to Christ where we find our true identity – and everything outside of Christ becomes empty and mostly not worthy of consideration.
“Brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” messed up with sin.  That is what got us into trouble in the first place, bringing us nothing but misery and death.  Now our debt is to live according to the Spirit of Christ, to put to death the dirty deeds of sin.  Daily we must turn our minds away from sinfulness and again to the Christ who rescues us.
You are led by the Spirit and you are sons of God.  Plant that home, deep in your mind and heart.  You belong to God in Christ.  You have the Holy Spirit who frees your mind and breathes life into your body.  He is no spirit who enslaves you with fear, for He promises you will face no condemnation.  Nothing for you to fear in the end of days from God’s judgment.  Yes, we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  But that fear is the right honor, respect and devotion that God deserves for having yanked us out of the jaws of sin and death.  There is no fear of punishment, wrath, and Hell that in the end would drive us away from loving God – for Christ has saved us from all that.
As a father gives good and necessary gifts for life to His Children, so He has given you His Spirit of adoption as sons.  Brystol will learn to call Kurt, “Daddy, Dad, Father” someday, and likewise we pray like little children, “Abba, Father.”  Perhaps Paul started thinking of the Lord’s Prayer while writing this.  Have you ever stopped to think about how strange it is to call God “Father”?  He is high and mighty, the Creator of all things, with so much to keep track of.  What gives us the right to speak to Him – especially on such familiar terms?  His Son Jesus gives us the right, teaches and tenderly invites us to pray this way, as a dear child would come to his or her dear Father in Heaven saying, “Pappa.  Daddy.  Abba.”  And the Father turns His ear and says to those around, “Did you hear that?  Those are my children!”
Jesus Christ CrucifixImage via Wikipedia
And as His child, then you also are an heir of God and fellow heir with Christ.  The Baptismal service was filled with that word.  “Heirs” is an identity full of grace.  To be named an heir, you do not do a thing.
You receive and benefit from the death of another.  The death of Jesus has made the treasures of Heaven yours.  So now forgiveness is yours.  Eternal life yours.
Which helps us to see our troubles differently, giving us strength to endure them.  Today’s text concludes by saying we are called to suffer in this life with Christ.  But note that suffering is not on our own.  We are with Christ.  And this happens “in order that we may also be glorified with” Jesus on the day He appears to raise us.
So set your mind on these things as children of God, heirs of Heaven.  All thanks to Jesus.  Amen.
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