Romans 6:12-23

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 2,2017.

Romans 6 has traditionally been divided into two sections, with verses 1-11 viewed as the justification passages and verses 12-23 as those dealing with sanctification.  The first eleven verses are packed with indicative statements about God’s work of reconciliation.  They emphasize God’s declaration that a sinner is not made righteous by anything the sinner has done but only because of God’s decision to count the righteousness of Jesus Christ as belonging to the sinner.  The second half of Romans 6 is filled with imperative declarations to live as righteous people.  This is in line with sanctification- the process in which a sinner is regenerated into righteous living. Both justification and sanctification are gifts of grace.

While the first half of Romans 6 may lean more towards justification, and the second half more towards sanctification, it is important to note both themes show up in both passages. Paul’s discussion of  “walking in new life” in verse 4, hints at the regeneration that is a theme of sanctification. And in verse 14, Paul says the baptized one has moved from the dominion of sin to the dominion of grace. That is a statement of justification. When the passage is neatly divided into two theological parts, we are in danger of missing significant truths.  Namely, there is a human role in justification.  That is seen in the call to accept Christ’s free gift of grace.  And there is a divine role in sanctification.  If Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, the branches only come to new life by staying connected to the vine. The sanctified life is not merely an obligation imposed on those who have received the gospel.  It is an essential part of the gospel. We were made for holiness.  Becoming righteous is our deepest longing and greatest joy. Verses 12-23 should not be preached as imperatives for living that the baptized just need to suck it up and get after. Instead, sanctification should be preached as a beautiful, compelling invitation to become who we are most created to be.

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Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 2, 2017.

In this selection, Jesus takes up the topic of whining. Which is appropriate since the parable contained within it will prove perplexing enough to elicit whining from any preacher who finds it assigned by the lectionary.

Jesus starts off by wondering out loud how to allegorize his contemporaries, what image best captures their character. What he settles on is not one of his clearer statements. Straightforwardly he might have said, “Y’all spend so much of your time whining that you miss what treasures sit right under your nose. You’re like a bunch of whining kids who fail to realize that they’ve been handed the keys to the kingdom.” Not Jesus, who goes on not only to give his not-clearest-parable ever but also to praise God’s mysterious nature, that God reveals truths by keeping things “hidden” “from the wise and intelligent” even while giving them to infants (that is, children who are not even quite children yet), such is God’s “gracious will” (v. 25 and v. 26).

Two interpretive questions arise. What is meant by the parable? And why is Jesus so squirrely about its meaning? About the parable, there are, as one might imagine, competing interpretations, but the best ones underscore Jesus’ invocation of “Son of Man” in v. 19. You will recall that Jesus’ reference draws one back to Daniel 7:13-14, where God is described “like a son of man” who rides on “the clouds of heaven” and ushers in God’s glorious and powerful kingdom which the Son of Man will rule and everyone will serve. Before one gets carried away imagining Jim Morrison’s amazingly rich baritone singing The Doors’ “riders on the storm, into this house we’re born” and catapulting oneself into Heidegger’s Geworfenheit (thrownness), we can safely say that that was probably not what Jesus had in mind. Rather, the reference to the Son of Man is meant to identify Jesus with the one about which Daniel prophesied. If that is the case, then those who might think Jesus a “glutton” or a “drunkard” or who defamed him because of his association with tax-collectors and sinners are made to look a bit silly and juvenile. Jesus is not to be judged as John was in announcing Jesus. No, Jesus brings the power and the glory, ushering in the arrival of the Kingdom and declaring his judgment of everything, including those who dared to judge him.

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Genesis 22:1-14

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 2, 2017.

“God Will Provide”
Life is a promising and dangerous adventure. The stakes are high. Participation is not optional. Everyone has to decide and act on the decisions made. We all have to figure it out. So we ask, “God, how can we successfully live out this adventure of life on earth?”. And it is as though God says, “Glad you asked. Because I will provide what you need when you need it.” Patience is trusting in God’s timing. And a life well lived requires well-placed trust.

The drama of Abraham & Isaac at Mt. Moriah revealed this drama in a troubling fashion. Why would God, whom we believe is loving, good, and trustworthy – ask for the human sacrifice of Abraham’s beloved son? Or for that matter any human sacrifice? What we find is that nowhere else in Scripture does God ask anyone else to offer a human sacrifice.  So the bigness of this passage includes a major teaching that shaped the rest of Scripture and informs our life today. God’s goodness is what we can trust in when the options of our circumstances don’t indicate that we have any good options.  Let’s pay attention to the story and let the meaning show us the way forward.

Spiritual Map Making
Abraham & Sarah and Isaac were spiritual mapmakers. That is, they followed God’s leadership into faith territory not previously understood or traveled. By their obedience to God’s call, and by God’s grace which forgave their failures –  they became the leaders in God’s faith movement. (Known as   Patriarchs and Matriarch of faith.) Their story is frequently referred to in the Old and New Testaments. They define how to live the meaning of faith as defined in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.’

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Romans 6:1b-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.

Romans 5 emphasizes the free gift of boundless grace through Jesus Christ available to any who place their trust in him. In just three verses (vss. 15-17) Paul mentions this “free gift” five times. Comparing Adam to Christ, we are reminded that the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift of grace that followed many trespasses brings justification. This discourse culminates with the promise, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”  Left on its own, Romans 5 could be interpreted as a free pass to intentionally live in sin, so as not to diminish the full potential of grace in our lives and world.  With that in mind, Paul follows his discourse on boundless grace in Romans 5, with a direct question in Romans: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”

This question posed by Paul to the first-century church resounds in our churches today. While many pastors are exceedingly comfortable preaching a sermon on grace, few tackle the realities of sin on a consistent basis for fear of sounding too harsh, too judgmental, or too impractical.  We are more comfortable inviting folks to “come as you are because God’s grace is immense,” than we are challenging folks “not to dare leave unchanged because God makes us a new creation.”   While the church is still into sinning, we are not really into talking about sinning.  In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous description of cheap grace, he says we have become masters at, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  Bonhoeffer speaks into what Paul feared might happen. Because the grace of Jesus Christ is free and abounding, the people of Christ might be tempted to take it for granted.  When the preacher introduces this text, it will first be necessary to remind the church that we do sin indeed, and that is indeed a big deal.  Only then can delve into the relationship between sin and grace together.

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