The readings on which the sermons is based can be found at:
s046e05 Sunday 13 26/6/05
"you (have) been set free from sin" Romans 6.18
St Paul exudes a great deal of confidence here, a confidence that later generations seem to lack. I do not know about anyone else, but I'm very much aware of my own limitations and faults and foibles. I am struck how quickly we personalize the message. We so quickly assume that the message is for us, it addresses our personal consciences. However if I don't FEEL any better, perhaps the Lord has overlooked me in the dispensation of grace. We effectively nullify the cross and resurrection on the basis of our own feelings.
I have often had cause to think that it is those who don't need to take any more notice of God's injunctions who inevitably do, and to their own personal detriment. On the other hand those who blatantly manipulate and dominate others (often in the name of "God") are often entirely oblivious of the damage they are causing, and think that God's word is directed to everyone ELSE. Shades of the scribes and the Pharisees, and St Paul before his conversion, come to mind.
I go back to my premises that the original sin was that which caused Cain to kill Abel -- a perception that his offering was less acceptable than his brother's -- and Jesus was killed because he accepted the offerings of others. I think that these put these words of St Paul about sin, which "leads to death" into perspective.
St Paul is talking about the attitude of whose offerings are more acceptable and whose offerings are less acceptable to God. This attitude leads to death. So the opposite of this is an attitude where all people's offerings are acceptable to God, and this leads to righteousness and eternal life.
St Paul asks pointedly: "What advantage did you get?" If we insist on the message directed towards our own feelings, then these ebb and flow as circumstances impinge on us. No one, not even ourselves, gets any advantage. If we continue to divide the world up into those whose contributions are more acceptable and those whose contributions are less acceptable, then no one can expect there to be any outbreak of peace anywhere in the world. Again, no one gets any advantage.
There is no advantage in pointing the finger at the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland, the Palestinians or the Israelis, the Moslems or the Christians in the Sudan or Indonesia, the Bosnians or the Serbs in the Balkans and say that THEY need to heed this message -- when we ourselves hold precisely the same doctrines. The only difference is that we are not in a situation where we need to resort to actual fighting -- because no one is taking anything of "ours" away.
The only possibility of advantage for the world and hence for individuals, including you and I, comes from ceasing to divide people up into kosher and non-kosher.
St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, struggles to reconcile Jew and Gentile -- it is nothing about how you or I feel, our perception of our own deficiencies and how we repent that God made us with so many of these.
The struggle to reconcile Jew and Gentile is completely solved when we realize each of their offerings is equally acceptable to God.
This is the purpose of the Cross. Jesus was killed because he accepted the offerings of others, so his resurrection is the proof that the efforts of those who wanted God to accept only their offerings was and is ever doomed to failure.
So our "enslavement to God" is actually nothing more than this perception that other people's offerings to God are equally acceptable to our own.
God does not expect us to deal with our deficiencies and faults and foibles, as with a magic wand, instantly making them disappear. If God doesn't do it, then perhaps this is not what God is aiming for anyway. We all have to live with ourselves and some of these things are gently erased over time. God cherishes us as we are, and others as they are -- for it is only when this is perceived that some of our defense mechanisms can be lowered.
Indeed when we perceive the gospel message as something global, perhaps some of those nagging doubts that we all have, may be lessened.
Again, how often do we think that the gospel message is how we can improve ourselves -- and so if we fail, then we are not good enough or don't have enough faith?
It is enough that we accept (rather than deny) the reality of our own faults and failings, and accept the faults and failings of others. We are not gong to be either popular or helpful if we try to "fix" the world by denying our own shortcomings and pointing out everyone else's.
Our companion reading is from Jeremiah and it ends with the words: "As for that prophet who prophecies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet." The Lord wants peace between human beings. I would not worship any god who didn't -- it wouldn't be worth it (which is what "worth ship" means). So God has done everything necessary for there to be peace, most notably accepting the offerings everyone makes. The ball, as they say, is now in our court.
This is the message of the Son, and this message was rejected and the world continues to suffer with war and strife. The Cross shows us the way, and I suspect the only way, for peace to reign. But this is not for all to become Christians and the rest can go to hell.
Finally a note about "is inclusiveness the gospel?" I reflect that Jesus didn't go around saying to people "be inclusive". But what he did do was be inclusive himself and say to us: "follow me". If Jesus was crucified for the company he kept, then surely our following Jesus must be intimately linked to how we do likewise.
The good news is that we have been set free from sin. We no longer have to consider or worry whose offering is more acceptable and whose offering is less acceptable. Each offering is equally acceptable. If we do this, then all those faults and foibles are overlooked. We are free to cherish ourselves and free to quietly work away at our own up-building. We are free to cherish others as well and quietly work for their up-building also. Thanks be to God!
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