August 21, 2011

Monday after the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, 1 Sam. 16:1-13, Lk. 17:20
Evening - Ps.4, 8, Esther 5, Rom. 1:1-17

Commentary
Romans 1:1-7

Though our evening readings continue in Esther through Wednesday, the commentary is going to turn to Romans, where we will remain for the next four weeks. Written by the Apostle Paul from Corinth around the year 58 A.D., Romans contains the Bible's fullest exposition of the meaning of the life and death of Christ. It is so crucial to understanding the Bible that it may truly be said to understand Romans is to understand Scripture. And the heart of Romans is found in chapter one verse seventeen, "the just shall live by faith." This is the theme of Romans. In academic language we might say it is the thesis statement, for the rest of the book is support for and application of this one, central truth.

In the first 16 verses, Paul explains why he has not yet come to Rome to preach and teach. There has been correspondence between him and the Romans, and he even knows some of the by name. They have probably invited him several times to come and help them understand the Bible, and establish the church in that city. Romans is a promise to come to Rome very soon (1:15), and it is also a short summary of the doctrines and teachings of Scripture. This is what the Church believes. This is what the Church believes about God, about man, and about how the two are able to span the incredible gulf that currently separates them. Romans refutes the generally held supposition that Man is able to span the gulf by doing things of which God approves, generally called, "good works." It is not good works, Romans asserts, that spans the gulf. The gulf is spanned not by Man, but by God, who, in His grace decrees, "the just shall live by faith."

Though our reading officially ends at Romans 1:17, I urge you to read on to the end of chapter one, for immediately after stating that the just shall live by faith, the Apostle begins to show why faith is the only possible way for any human being to be considered just in the eyes of God. Paul assumes that no one is just by his own works. This is crucially important. It would have been silly for God to become a Man, and suffer a horrible death, and rise again and return to Heaven if there were some other way for us to be justified and reconciled to God. In other words, why would Jesus bother to span the gulf in such a horrific way, if we could easily span it ourselves? But, if we are unable to span it, and if not having it spanned consigns us to eternal separation from the source of Life and Joy and Peace, then God, if He is willing to save any of us from that separation, must span it for us. He spanned it for us in Christ.

The cause of the great gulf, the great divide between us and God, is sin. That is the point Paul makes in the rest of chapter one. The wrath of God is revealed "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness." The essence of ungodliness is that men know the truth, but suppress it in unrighteousness. Much of what can be known of God is available for all to see (1:19-20) but they turn away from that knowledge and make their own gods instead of obeying Him (1:26). This is important because it shows that it is people who turn away from God, not God who turns away from people. And they do so knowing what they do is wrong and worthy of the wrath of God which the Bible calls "death" in verse 32. Thus, God simply allows them to follow their own desires.

Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Grace Is for Sinners
Ninth Sunday after Trinity
August 21, 2011

Have you ever wondered what the world is about, or why it, and you exist? You exist because the Almighty and Everlasting Father is building a Kingdom for His Son Jesus Christ. Everything that exists was created and exists for His pleasure, meaning, His purpose, and His pleasure is to bring all things together in Christ. The Kingdom of Christ includes the physical creation, which will some day be restored to His original purpose and glory. But more than that, it consists of His people, the Church, those who know, love and serve Him as Saviour and King of their souls.

We who are in Christ are in His Kingdom now. We who were not a people, not a nation, not a family, have now been made a people, a nation, a family of Christ. We have been brought into the Empire of the Great King Jesus, and we are members of Him and of one another.

It took a lot of work for God to bring us into His Kingdom. We had gone astray from Him like lost sheep, and He had to go into the wilderness to bring us back. We had sold our souls to the devil, and He had to fight the devil to set us free. We had sinned against the righteousness of God on High, and He had to pay the price of our sin. We were weak and easily deceived, and He had to put His Spirit in us to teach and empower us. We were foolish and ignorant of His ways, so He had to give us the Bible to teach them to us. We were wandering like stray sheep and He had to build the Church to be our fold and home. And even now we stray, drawn away by some enticement of the world placed in our path by wolves in sheep's clothing, and He must continually round us up like cows on a TV Western.

We know this from our own experience. That's why reading the Bible is often so uncomfortable for us. We read that we "Thou shalt not," and ye "should not, and neither be," and we tremble because we do and are these very things in our hearts if not in deed. We tremble because the Bible tells how God punished the Hebrews for such things and warns us to take heed, and because many who think they are standing in Christ are actually falling away into everlasting damnation.

Indeed, when we compare the faith and practice of many of today's well-known denominations, with the faith and practice taught in Holy Scripture, we must conclude that they have a name to live, yet they are dead. The same is sadly true of many congregations, and of many individual people who are active in the visible organisation of the Church, but are not in Christ.

That was the elder brother's problem in the parable of the Prodigal Son. His brother left his home, deserted his father, and threw away his inheritance in riotous living. This means he rejected God and the people and House of God, and left them to revel in sin and wickedness. But the elder brother stayed home, and seemed to serve his father faithfully. He kept the law, the Temple prayers, the sacrifices, fasts and feasts, and, even had a better than average record of keeping the moral law. Looking at him from the outside, he appears good and holy. It is clear from the text that the elder brother represents the leaders of the Jewish religion in Jesus' day, and that the prodigal son represents Jews who had not been as faithful to God, and Gentiles who had not even known God until He came to them in Christ. Yet these "sinners" are welcomed into the House of God by the Father, representing God. The elder brother was sure of his goodness. He was sure of his faithfulness to the Father. But was he really so good and faithful? His attitude tells us he was not. So, though he thought he was standing in God, he was actually falling away.

What was it that put the elder brother in the situation of falling away rather than standing in God? It was his works. Though they were far better than those of his brother, they were still not enough to earn Heaven. By his own attempts at righteousness, He fell. What made the younger brother stand? It was grace. The younger brother threw himself on the mercy of the Father. He knew he was a sinner whose only hope was mercy. The older brother thought he was good enough as he was and did not need grace. It was offered to him. Luke 15:31 is God's offer of grace to those who thought they could earn God's love by their own works. "All that I have is thine," the Father says. In other words, all you have to do is trust me. Have faith, and I will give you all the riches of God that you could never earn by burnt offerings and ceremonies. But He would not do it. So, the younger brother stood by grace, and the older brother fell without it.

So what about us? What is to become of we who are convicted of sin every time we read, "Thou shalt not," or as St Paul put in 1 Corinthians 10, "Neither be ye"...? Grace is about us. It is by grace that we are made acceptable to God, not by our good works. It is grace that forgives our sins and presents us clean in our souls before God. It is not something we do for ourselves; it is something we receive from God as a free gift. Grace is for us.

Grace is for us in daily life. It is not only the way we get to Heaven; it is the way we live now. It is grace that changes our hearts from stubborn rebellion against God to loving obedience to Him. It is grace that gives us a desire to pray and seek God. It is grace that makes us want to live a holy life, abstain from sin, and do that which is pleasing to God. It is grace that enables us to do the will of God.

Dear God grant us grace, and where our faith is weak, grant us grace. Where sin does abound, let grace abound still more.

"Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we who cannot do anything that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."