Sunday, July 10, 2011

Jesus: God and Son of God

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2011
Romans 8:12-17

So here’s the deal. You are under obligation. You are a debtor to God. Paul says in the Epistle reading today that you are a debtor. But the thing is he kind of forgets to follow through with that point. He doesn’t really mean to. He just can’t help it. Because when it comes to obligation, to owing God, to being a debtor to Him, Paul can’t continue with the point without explaining that the debt has already been paid. The obligation has been fulfilled. You might even say that he is contradicting himself. Because no sooner does he say that you are debtor than he says that you are a son of God, meaning that you are in line to inherit all that God has. Paul cannot continue on with the notion that you are under obligation to God when God Himself is your Father and calls you His children.

But you would still miss the point if you were to think that he’s saying that you’re not a debtor. You would not be able to see what God really does for you if you heard Paul as saying that you’re not under obligation. That’s why he says you are. But when you’re listening to that and then you listen to what he then goes onto you see what it really means that you are under obligation to God. It’s not something like owing Him money. It’s not something like spending some time, even if it’s a long time, in purgatory. It’s a debt you cannot pay. You are under an obligation to God you cannot fulfill.

What you must do for God can only be done by God. You are not just under obligation, you are done for. The reason Paul doesn’t tell you how to get out of it is because you can’t. He doesn’t tell you to get it in gear and appease God because that won’t eliminate your debt. You will still be under obligation to Him and you will remain under it.

The reason Paul doesn’t tell you to pay off your debt is because he must tell you how it is that your debt is paid. Only God can do it and only He has. That’s why Paul does what he can’t help but doing, telling us about Christ. He tells us about the Son of God.

What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God? Jesus is God. Jesus is the Son of God. God the Father is God and Jesus is the Son of God. Does this mean that Jesus is less of God than God the Father? No, Jesus is fully God. Jesus is also the Son of God. It’s vital that we understand that to say that Jesus is the Son of God is to say that He is God. But He is at the same time not God the Father and is in fact the Son of God.

The Epistle reading today doesn’t refer to Jesus as the Son of God. But it says that we are co-heirs with Christ. This is an amazing statement. Even though Jesus is God He is an heir of God the Father. This is how our debt has been paid. By God doing it. By God becoming flesh. By Jesus being forever God and the Son of God. He possesses all things and yet is the heir of all things of God the Father.

It goes without saying that you and I are not God. We’ve already established that we owe an insurmountable debt to God. But look what happens! We are co-heirs with Christ! Jesus is God—we are co-heirs with God! What really is happening is not us going up to God but Him coming down to us. It’s not that we are getting right with God but that He is paying the debt we owe Him so that we are right with Him. It’s not that we must obey Him as His children but that He has adopted us; He has made us His children so that we may call out to Him as our dear Father.

Children never realize fully how good they have it. They never understand completely all that their parents do for them. That’s probably why they complain when there’s work involved around the house or discipline handed down. When we hear the message that we are saved by grace and that we are the recipients of all of God’s blessings we may grudgingly hear the words that Paul says that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Has this replaced the debt? Has God taken care of our sin only to lay down for us a path of suffering?

Actually what Paul is saying is what he has been saying all along: that we are joined with Christ in order that we may be united with Him in His glory. Only a little before what he says here he reminds us that in Baptism we are united with Christ. But it’s specific. We are united with Him in His death, in Baptism. In the same way, we are united with Him in His resurrection, in Baptism. It’s amazing that this happens. Only Christ suffered for the sins of the world, but we are actually united with Him in that suffering. Christ alone rose from the grave sealing the salvation He accomplished in His suffering and death, but we are in fact united with Him in that resurrection.

That’s what Baptism has done for you. It’s not just that you look far off into the distance, and into the past for that matter, to the Son of God suffering and dying on that cross and see there that forgiveness has been won for you. It’s also that he unites you to Himself, and specifically His death and resurrection, in your Baptism. That’s how you are a child of God and an heir with Christ.

It’s why also you will have times where you wonder why being a child of God seems to entail more suffering than glory. But isn’t that why we cry out to our dear Father? Isn’t that why we hold tenaciously to His Word, which goes forth from His mouth and accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it? Isn’t that why we cling against all odds to that Word which He indiscriminately scatters about, and takes root despite many people rejecting it, and bears fruit and yields a crop beyond what we can imagine?

We’ll drive ourselves nuts if we try to figure out when and where and in whom the Holy Spirit has created faith. What we do is simply do what our Lord has called us to do. We are heirs with Christ. He is God and the Son of God. When we are the children of God then we are not on our own. As children of God we are not just kids who complain to Dad, eternal Father that He is, we are actually brought into His eternal glory. That it doesn’t always seem glorious on this side of heaven is part of the brilliance of it. We need God the Father, we need God the Son, we need God the Holy Spirit. With smooth sailing we would see no need for God, the one in whose name we were Baptized. With suffering, we see our need for Him and that He actually takes care of us, a fact we know because He has Baptized us and has made us co-heirs with Christ.

With suffering, we are drawn closer to Christ. We see our need and that draws us to look to Christ and His suffering. So often when we suffer we act like spoiled little children who think that everything should go their way. We have little time to consider the suffering of others. We have little care for the needs of others. Why should we think about them and help them when we are going through the suffering that we are enduring?

This isn’t the path of glory but of self-absorption. This isn’t the way of the children of God, of co-heirs with Christ, but of whining little children who want their way.

Suffering with Christ is the way of glory. Suffering with Him is the way of receiving the blessings of God because we can only be children of God, co-heirs with Christ, because of God—that is, Jesus: God Himself and the Son of God.

Consider who you are. A child of God. Consider why that is. It is because of Jesus. He is God and He is the Son of God. Consider that your life is bound up in His. You are Baptized into Christ Jesus. You are not your own. You are a child of the Most High. You are fed at the Table of Your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Consider what this means for you. That you are a child of God, a co-heir with Christ, means you live not for yourself but for your Lord. It means that it’s simply who you are that you serve others and reach out to them in their need. It means that it’s not a grudging stipulation laid upon you but a marvelous opportunity to be Christ to others. It means that it is a joy to live in the new and eternal life your Lord, the Son of God, has given you and in whom you are united. It most certainly means you will enter into the eternal joy and glory of the Heavenly Father even as it means that here and now and daily as you live, you, by the grace of God the Son are a child of God. Amen.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is Your Life Not Going the Way You Wanted?

Third Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2011
Romans 7:14-25

Who are you? If I may be so bold, you are a body of death. Okay, so maybe you don’t want to hear me be so bold. I’ll let the Apostle Paul do the talking. He cries out in helplessness: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” If you can picture various metaphors of a rotting corpse or being chained to a dying person, you’re getting there. Paul is saying he is a body of death.

Christianity is not a feel good religion. Some churches have people coming in in droves because they are being given a feel good message. People are flocking there because, well, they want to feel good.

Paul most certainly did not feel good. He was rotting away. His flesh was consumed with the filth of sin. He was a body of death.

Paul is agonizing over not being able to do the things he desires to do and instead doing the things he knows he shouldn’t do. His agony results in his exclamation that he is a body of death.

As Lutherans our usual question is, What does this mean? Was Paul literally rotting away? Was he slowly dying? Was his body a living corpse? When we see what he meant then we can see what he means by his question of who will deliver him from it.

Adam and Eve were warned of death if they were to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. A funny thing happened after they ate of it, they kept on living. Okay, it wasn’t funny, but what are we to make of their remaining in a living state after having eaten of the tree when God had said, “In the day you eat of it you will die”? Did Adam and Eve look different in that instant after eating the fruit? Were blemishes suddenly visible on their skin? Did they look aged in contrast to the pristine look and feel of their skin before they had eaten of the tree?

Whatever the physical condition that was apparent, something happened. They were now living in a body of death. God in His mercy kept them living so that they wouldn’t be severed from Him forever. But consequences are consequences. They were now living a life in which they were bound in a body that was in its nature dead. Their life wasn’t exactly going the way they had wanted.

So how is your life going? What it means that each of us lives as a body of death should move us to realize this daily. Daily we wake up a body of death. We should remember this daily. But our condition of being a body of death shouldn’t be a morbid fascination. It shouldn’t drive us to despair or cause us to walk around in morose manner. People, especially non-Christians, don’t need to see us walking around with our shoulders slumped and receiving as an answer to their question, “How are you today?”, “Pretty good, for being a body of death”.

What we ought to ponder is a body of death all right, but the focus needs to be on deliverance. Paul’s exclamation of being a body of death is as a question: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” [Hold up crucifix.] “Thanks be to God!” is his immediate response. But his response isn’t simply, Thanks be to God,” it is “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.” What does this mean? The body of death God sees is the body of His own Son on the cross. Not just beaten. Not just bloodied. Not just dying. A body of death. A body upon which the sins of the world have been placed. A body in which the stench of death and sin has been infused.

It’s not just that God delivers us. God in His Son Jesus Christ delivers us. It’s not just that you’re a body of death walking around. You are a person who has been brought to life through the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not just that you can’t bring yourself out of the deathly state you’re in, you can’t even see clearly to get your focus off yourself and your own body of death and onto the Christ who hung on the cross. [Hold up crucifix.] So God delivers you. He delivers you in His Son. He brings you out of the death you’re in through Baptism. You can then see clearly the Christ who was blood-stained on the cross and who Himself rose up from His death.

Jesus was not born this way. He was born in the way you and I were, in the womb of His mother for nine months and born. But He was not born as a body of death. He was not born in sin as you and I are. This is the great irony, that we are born in sin and yet Jesus says we must receive the Kingdom of God as little children. In today’s Gospel reading He says: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.” How is it that babies are in original sin and in need of salvation and yet Jesus is saying that we must be like them in terms of understanding and receiving the blessings of God?

These things cannot be taken in by us through understanding and comprehension. Those things are certainly part of it. But it’s really by simple faith. That’s why Paul doesn’t go into a long explanation of what it is that God in His Son Jesus Christ does to deliver him from this body of death. He simply exclaims his thanksgiving. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” At this point Paul has spent seven chapters explaining, so to speak, exactly what it is that God does in His Son Jesus Christ to deliver us from sin and the body of death which weighs on us.

Today’s Old Testament reading gives us a little taste of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is all about the cross. It heads up Holy Week. The way it does is not just by starting Holy Week but by showing us that it’s all about the cross. Why was Jesus coming into Jerusalem? To go to the cross. He was coming in righteousness and bearing salvation. The only way to impart that to us was by going to the cross, to be a body of death.

When a child looks at this [the crucifix] he or she sees something very simple, Christ on the cross. That’s exactly it. There’s no amount of knowledge or information that can add to it. When Jesus says, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” we see it all here. We have it all here. When you look at Christ on the cross you see the body of death that delivers you from your body of death.

Is your life not going the way you wanted it to? Are you struggling as Paul did, with the desire to do right and the filthy thoughts that instead flood your mind? Are you heartsick over the intention to be patient and the vile actions that instead characterize your life? Do you find yourself time and time again wanting to do the good God calls you to do but instead doing the evil you know you shouldn’t do? Do you attempt more and more to try harder and harder to stop sinning, to work more and more to do what is right, and find yourself utterly failing? Does it seem as though you are not simply not getting better but that you’re actually getting worse? And the more you work at it the worse it becomes?

Jesus’ words are for you. They are spoken to you: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” You know the thing about this body of death of yours? The one you are bound up in and continues to weigh you down and bring you further and further into death? It is delivered. You are delivered. You find rest for your soul in the body of Christ. It not only hung on the cross. It not only died. It was raised. It not only was raised, it is given to you. Jesus Christ invites you to His Table: “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Here at His Table He gives you Himself, His body for you, His blood, for you. His words are spoken to you: Take, eat, this is My body, given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Given to you to deliver you from this body of death. Given for you—for rest, for forgiveness, for life, for salvation. In body and soul. Amen.