June 30, 2002
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Genesis 22:1-14
Palm 13
or
Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42


"Sin Boldly!"
Romans 6: 12-23

In a letter to his friend Philip Melanchthon, on August 1, 1521, Martin Luther wrote, "Be a sinner and sin boldly..."  The short phrase, "Sin Boldly," is one of the more widely known sayings Luther ever uttered.

Obviously enough, there is a Web site that in part features products based on Luther's saying. One of these items is a, License to Sin Boldly. It reads, "The bearer of this card is given a license to SIN BOLDLY. Rights and privileges include, but are not limited to: playing cards, dancing, and drinking beer."

Of course, as with so many misquoted ideas, Luther's intent is not conveyed at all in the quote. The full quote from Luther to Melanchthon reads: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly... Pray boldly - for you too are a mighty sinner."  The idea was that God's grace is so powerful, it finally defeats sin altogether. We do not become paralyzed by the fact that we are still vulnerable to sin, but instead rejoice in God's power to overcome sin.

Luther's quote was a result of the joy and spiritual liberation that came to him via the grace of God. Having struggled with a profound sense of sinful unworthiness for years, Luther finally understood that we are saved by grace alone and nothing we can produce on our own. Luther's opponents said that his doctrine of salvation by grace alone apart from our own righteous deeds was a "license to sin." 

But - Luther was not the first person to be accused of giving  license to sin. There is a spiritual issue that runs very deep here because Luther's story has some very strong parallels with the Apostle Paul's story. 

It is almost 1500 years earlier when the Apostle Paul wrote, "We know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ." [Gal. 2:16] Paul wrote these words to the churches of Galatia (modern Turkey) at a time when Jewish teachers were coming from Jerusalem to bring Christian converts under the law of Moses. "It is all well and good to be a believer in Christ," they would say, "But your men have to be circumcised as all Jewish males and you have to keep the law of Moses to be right with God."

This would in effect destroy Paul's message of good news in Christ. "It is through faith in Christ that we are made right with God," he said, "No one can be right with God simply by doing good works. We could never do enough to earn God's favor."

Paul was misinterpreted and accused of giving a "license to sin" because of his teaching of salvation by God's grace alone apart from our earning God's favor by doing good works.

It's a pretty subtle thing - but this seems like a slippery slope to, "Why not live it up - do what we want? Faith saves us and good works can not - so why bother with the good works?"

One quick answer to this is that those who live out their relationship with God based on Faith alone would certainly not be looking to live like the devil!  It would be as though a child, feeling quite secure in their parent's free gift of love, would intentionally turn and live in a way that would bring shame and disgrace on the family.

***

Our scripture today is Paul's answer to the charge that his message was amoral at best and immoral at the worst. To the Galatians he wrote, "...is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!" [Galatians 2:17] He is very clear about the issue in our epistle reading:

"What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!"

Now admittedly, Paul's words can be somewhat difficult to understand and a passage like this is one we generally flip by quickly should we happen to encounter it in our bible reading. But there is something important for our living that lies beneath the surface of Paul's writing. This passage from Romans deals with the issue of what controls our lives, the issue of our free will and the issue of consequences regarding the choices we make.

There is one important issue to consider before we jump into the reading for today.

The reading from Romans begins in a way that invites a question. "Therefore," the lesson begins, "...do not let sin exercise dominion..."   What comes before the "therefore?"  Whatever thought precedes this reading provides the premise for what follows.

The premise of everything Paul says about sin is that when we are baptized, we are marked as belonging to Christ forever. We are "united with Christ."  We are connected with the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Since we are in union with Christ, we have in principle died to sin Paul says.  The first part of Romans 6 has to do with the principle of Christian faith - namely that we are, "...dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."  The question comes when we get to the practice of Christian faith - namely that while we may be dead to sin in principle, sin is not dead to us!  All any of us need to do to demonstrate this is to determine that we are not going to sin at all for the next 24 hours - in thought, word or deed!

Now, let's explore Paul's intent to help us with the practice of faith

The Issue of Control - [vv. 12 - 14]

We could paraphrase what Paul is saying this way, "Do not let sin rule in your lives any more. Sin still has attraction but we Christians have given over control of our lives to God. We live under God's grace now and do not need to be under the control of sin."

It is not that we become perfect or without sin. It is a matter of who we belong to. When we belong to God and give control of our lives to God in principle, we will have the possibility of growing in the new life we have received through Christ.

The Issue of Will - [vv. 15 - 19]

Paul struggles along with his readers. In principle we belong to God, but even though we belong to God, we did not have our ability to make choices taken away. We still struggle with temptation and have to make choices that honor God.  In fact, Paul will go on in the next chapter of Romans to acknowledge that he sometimes is overwhelmed by his will - or his "chooser."  "I want to do the right thing," he says, "and I know the right thing, but I wind up disappointing God and myself. It's like there is a war going on inside of me." [Paraphrase of Rom. 7:18-21 - We will examine this passage more fully next week.]

Paul urges his readers by reminding them that they freely chose to give themselves to God and as they renew that choice day by day, they will increasingly become servants of the God who gave them grace and sin will have less sway over them.

This is true for all of us. We grow in faith and in faithfulness to God as we continually exercise our choice to make Christ the center of our living. Instead of serving the old life and the old ways - we grow in service to God and to what is right and good. Those of us who are parents see this every day as we seek to have our children grow and mature into caring, responsible persons. In spite of the fact that they will struggle with their choices, we lovingly encourage them along the way and point them toward maturity.

The Issue of Consequences - [vv. 20 - 23]

In the final words of this lesson, Paul steps back and takes an overarching, long view of what he has been talking about. There are two ways of living and two end results.

There is the life which is lived under the dominance of sin, without reference to a relationship with God. Sin does not produce life, but death. On the other hand the life which is lived in relationship with Christ leads to life. The great thing about the Christian life and the grace of God is that it is the direction we are headed that counts and not that we have reached the destination. We are all "works in progress" with God. Paul said as much in Philippians 3:12-14:

"Not that I have already... reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."

Knowing that it is making the choice to live in relationship with Christ and that we are on the journey of spiritual maturity makes the words of Paul an encouragement instead of a condemnation. When we live in bondage to sin, the result is spiritual lifelessness. When we live in bondage to God, the result is eternal life.  All of this leads to one of the best know verses in the New Testament.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

In light of Paul's teachings here, we might translate Luther's, "Sin boldly," to,  "You need not fear because sin still plagues you - instead rejoice that by God's grace you are on a journey toward eternal life and sin will finally fade into the distant past."

Thanks be to God!

 


http://www.oldlutheran.com/   Web site for Lutheran humor etc.


Connections in the Texts

Each text speaks in its own way to the issue of obedience in the life of faith.  In Matthew, Jesus is instructing his disciples as he sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.  They go out with the message because they are sent.  Paul tells the Christians at Rome that they are to give themselves fully to God who has freed them from death and given them the gift of new life.  Free from sin, we are "free" for "obedience" to God.  The Genesis account puts the whole issue of obedience into the most amazing story of all.  Love for God and obedience to what God asks is tested to the extreme.  Your folk will need a bit of help getting from the Genesis story to contemporary application.  On the surface, the account of Abraham's testing is morally offensive to our culture.  Yet, if we can "get here from there" the lessons are central to a life of faith. If you choose the Jeremiah reading, Jeremiah speaks with the prophet Hananiah about the sign of a true prophet.  It will turn out that Hananiah is a false prophet and there are deadly consequences that come to those who preach and cling to false hope.

Matthew 10:40-42

This short passage needs to be seen in light of the complete discourse in Matthew 10 on the sending out of the disciples.  Verse 40 is worthy of exposition.  What an amazing calling we have!  The one who goes out on behalf of Christ to bring the word and the work of the kingdom has the highest calling of all.  When people receive the messenger of God's kingdom, they are receiving the Lord!

"He who receives you receives me..."  Perhaps this speaks first of all to those of us who share the Word of the Lord with people week in and week out.  As a bearer of the message and ministry of Christ, I am in a position to have people receive or not receive the Lord!   This is not simply a speech I am giving or a lecture I am delivering.  This is life and health and wholeness.  "Lord, make me a worthy servant..." comes to mind.

Romans 6:12-23

One of the clues to this passage is Paul's words in verse 19, "I am speaking to you in human terms because of your spiritual limitations.  He is also speaking in religious legalese. If the argument was hard for the mixed Roman church to understand -- it is doubly hard for people to understand today.

The whole issue is an answer to Paul's critics who contended that Paul was destroying Jewish law and preaching a libertarianism.  "If you don't have to keep the law to be saved," they reasoned, "Then people can do anything they want and still be saved by grace."

One way I try to get at this is one of my favorite lines to use from the pulpit. Most of my parishioners could finish the line, "Nothing you can do can make God NOT ____________."  ["love you"]  As soon as I say it, I can see peoples wheels turning as though they were trying to think up things they might do to cause God to not love them.  For an instant, you can also see the conclusion, "Well then...  that means I can..."  So you follow up with, "You can break God's heart.  You can disappoint God... but, you can not make God top loving you!"  That's the grace of God.   "Unmerited favor."   This kind of love can bring about changes the law (rules and regulations) could never accomplish.

In this passage, Paul says that there was a time when these Roman Christians were in bondage to a lifestyle that was contrary to the life and love of God.  A lifestyle that led to spiritual death.  Now by God's grace they have been freed from that life and they can now choose a different master.  They can make the choice to give themselves to the Lord and live lives that will make God glad. It is instructive and imperative to recognize that a relationship of love is not possible without the ability to choose.  God desires a relationship of love with us -- that is why the basis of our faith is grace, the reason is love and the result is a chosen obedience.

The greatest motivating factor in giving ourselves to the Lord is the very familiar -- much preached on -- words, "...the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."   In context, this verse is not an injunction to be saved -- but a motivation for Christian people to live for God in light of the wonderful gift we have been given!

Genesis 22:1-14

When teaching on this story, it is essential to understand that we are dealing with a culture where child sacrifice was the norm in pagan cultures.  II Kings 23:10 specifically addresses the issue of giving children as a burnt offering.  (To Molech - the god of the Ammonites)  Seen properly, not only is this story NOT advocating child sacrifice, but is leading Abraham away from a practice common in the ancient world.

The "testing" of Abraham leads him up to the practice of the pagan world -- child sacrifice -- and takes his obedience to a new height.  Child sacrifice is never practiced in Israel's life.  It may be that God leads Abraham to the highest expression of pagan sacrifice (sacrificing one's child) and then brings him beyond that to the offering of the heart and all the heart holds dear.    "Now I know," God says, "...that you will not withhold even your son whom you love from me."

The principles which emerge from this story provide enriching clues for the development of our faith today.  It demonstrates the biblical principle of the Christ who is "Yesterday, today, and forever." Here are contemporary truths from an ancient story!

The themes of faith, obedience, God's trustworthiness and the deepening of the relationship between God and the child of God permeate the story.  This story is not about "blind faith" or "unquestioning obedience."  Abraham has asked all kinds of questions of God along the way.  In this text he has arrived at a point of maturity in his faith where he trusts God absolutely.  How will God keep the promise that Abraham will be the father of a "Great nation" if Isaac is sacrificed?  The answer would escape human reasoning -- but then this is the God who gave a son where there should have been no child at all.

Many see a prototype of Christ in Isaac who obediently carries the wood for the fire as he ascends the sacrificial mountain.  The image is certainly there, but the greatest point may be a demonstration of what would be called the "Great Commandment" in the gospels.  You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  In this story there is the love of Abraham for God and for Isaac, the love of Isaac for his father and the love of God for the nation that will spring from these two who are willing to "lay it all on the line!"  The themes of the wood, the sacrifice, the son, the love and the provision of a lamb all offer rich themes for exposition.

The working out of these themes throughout biblical history will lead finally to the gift God will give that is like Abraham's gift.   Faith comes alive when we come to know this about God... "...you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."  This will connect with Paul's, "...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."     Paul says we are to present ourselves to God "as those who have been brought from death to life..." [Rom. 6:13]  This Genesis passage points to the reason why.  God gave the best to us -- our heart response is to return the best we have.

Jeremiah 28:5-9

The lection from Jeremiah is really out of context. The entire 28th chapter belongs together as a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.  The lection is the middle of the story. The beginning has the prophet Hananiah "blowing smoke" and telling the people that God is about to liberate the people from the grip of Babylon. Jeremiah is happy for the news, but points out that the way a true prophet is recognized is when the peace they prophesy for the people actually comes to pass. In prophetic fashion, Hananiah breaks the wooden yoke Jeremiah wears. The yoke is a symbol of the burden of Babylonian oppression that God is bringing against the people.

As it turns out - Hananiah is no prophet of God at all. The yoke will be worse than a wooden yoke and Hananiah comes to the end of his days. The false prophet is the object of God's wrath throughout Jeremiah.  The stakes are not simply prophets who make up their own message - the false words actually separate the people of Israel from their God

The meaning for those of us who teach and preach the "Word of the Lord" are clear.  We dare not make up our own message!

Psalm 13:1-6

There is a sense in which the Psalm speaks to the journey Abraham or any of us have to take through trial and difficulty.  Finally, with God there is salvation.  "God has dealt bountifully with me." the Psalmist discovers in the end.  The Psalm perhaps reflects the "human side" of what it would mean to have to give up that which was the joy of life.  It is okay to pray our discouragement and our distress.  It is not wrong to pour out our questions and struggles.  Indeed, honest relationships include things like this and it is our relationship with God that must be the most honest of all! 

It helps to know -- indeed, God will be seen to "deal bountifully" with us when all is said and done.  Paul takes this "all the way home" when he calls us, "...those who have been brought from death to life."

Overall theme for the readings might well be, "Life out of Death."


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship

Leader:   We come to you today, O Lord of life,
People:  Bringing our hopes and dreams,
Leader:   Our burdens and our fears,
People:  Because we trust in your steadfast love.
Leader:   We rejoice and sing your praises O God,
People:  For you are our hope and our provider!  Amen!

 

 A Prayer of Confession

O most merciful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; who pardons all such as truly repent and turn to You; humbly we confess our sins and implore Your mercy.  We have not loved You with a pure heart fervently; neither have we loved our neighbor as ourselves.  We have not done justly, nor loved mercy, nor walked humbly with You, our God. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out our iniquity.  Create in us a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within us.  Cast us not away from Your presence; and take not Your Holy Spirit from us.  Restore to us the joy of Your salvation; and uphold us with Your free Spirit.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  Amen.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

O Lord of all, we give thanks today for the gift of faith that transforms
our days and keeps us hopeful through the night.  We rejoice in the
gift of your voice which speaks to us in holy scripture and guides us
along the sometimes treacherous roads of our living.  We praise you
for all the ways you have touched our lives and picked us up along the
way.

O loving God, we earnestly pray that our hearts might be so shaped by
your love and grace that we shall know the joy of an obedient heart.  May
the hopeless burdens and impossible barriers that cross our paths crumble
under the provision of your Holy Spirit.

Give us grateful and joyous hearts that we might truly be a manifestation of
who you are for the world around us. Amen.

 

A Prayer Of Dedication

No gift we could ever bring to you, O Lord, would compare with the
gift of grace and eternal life. May the gifts we bring be the
outward symbol of our desire to love you above all things.  Bless us
and bless these gifts to the glory of your Holy Name.  Amen.