Proper 10A

July 06, 2020

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 25:19-34

    Author: Stan Mast

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-13

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Lectionary Epistle

    Romans 8:1-11

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Few cinematic images are more powerful than that of a courtroom as a verdict is announced. In classic movies, the judge often verbally polls each individual member of the jury. Each offers crushing repetition. It’s especially poignant when the verdict is “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”

    The fear of having some great power or person pronounce us guilty shadows nearly our entire lives. Few of us are free of that fear, no matter how innocent or powerful we may think we are.

    This is part of what makes racial profiling such a terrible scourge. In a country that at least claims people are innocent until proven guilty, some American authorities perpetually suspect some people are guilty just because of the color of our skin.

    This too makes the kinds of racially imbalanced sentencing so troubling. We’re all guilty in one sense of the word or another. But to listen to the American judicial system all too often tell it, people of color are often guiltier than most.

    It isn’t, however, just the prospect of being pronounced legally guilty that haunts us. Some of us also worry about having people tell us that we’re guilty of being somehow unable to measure up.

    As long as I have memory, I’ll never forget the first time someone told me I didn’t measure up. I’d tried out for the seventh-grade basketball team at my middle school. I wasn’t a particularly skilled basketball player. Yet about the only thing I couldn’t do that others could was make a right-handed lay-up. Never mind that I was left-handed.

    When the coach posted the final roster, my name wasn’t on it. I’ll never forget feeling nearly crushed as I unsuccessfully tried to fight back tears. My pain only deepened as I watched my classmates who’d made the team proudly parade around in their new uniforms.
    Paul’s consistent message in his letter to the Roman Christians may at least initially haunt those who worry that we don’t spiritually measure up. We perhaps cringe as we hear him repeatedly say, “Not innocent!” “Not good enough!” “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”
    Paul calls it “the law of sin and death.” What he refers to as “law” here is what Fleming Rutledge calls a kind of process, like the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics that no one can escape. It’s a kind of force that unconditionally shapes some part of us.
    When our first parents sinned, all people fell under the power of sin from which we can no more free ourselves than we can free ourselves from, for example, the law of gravity. So we have reason to fear condemnation to eternal separation from God and each other that comes from that.

    That’s why Paul’s message of God’s pardon for Christians is such gospel. This good news is, in fact, what may still draw people to church despite all of Christ’s Body’s foibles and demands.

    We who fear God’s guilty verdict long for what is at the heart of the gospel message the Church proclaims every Sunday. We long to hear something like what Paul celebrates in Romans 5:18: “Just as the result of one’s trespass was condemnation for all men, so the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

    Because of what we’ve done, we naturally hear God’s, “Guilty! “Guilty!” “Guilty!” verdict. Reformed Christians profess that even Christians’ own “conscience” accuses us of “having … sinned against all of God’s commandments and of never having kept any of thm.”

    Yet because of what Jesus did, Jesus’ followers also hear God’s gracious, “Not guilty! Not guilty! “Not guilty!” After all, the only One  who has the power to overturn our guilty verdict has, in fact, reversed the verdict. What’s more, as Reformed Christians also profess, we “await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in” our place before God.

    So there is now no condemnation for those who have received God’s grace with our faith. By God’s grace, there’s no reason for God’s beloved people to any longer fear not “measuring up.” Christians don’t have to worry that God will tell us that we’re not good enough.
    When, after all, Jesus gave himself up to death he became what Fleming Rutledge calls “the Judge judged in our place.” When the only perfect person let the Romans crucify him, he submitted himself to the judgment God’s dearly beloved people deserve.

    Though Jesus was perfectly “good enough,” he let God pronounce him not good enough in our place. He let God somehow abandon him so that God would never abandon his adopted brothers and sisters. By doing so, Jesus “set us free from the law of sin and death” so that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    Yet Romans 8’s proclaimers want to do all we can to help our hearers understand for what purpose God has freed us from the threat of condemnation. God has not pronounced us “not guilty” in order to let us go back to our old ways of living.

    When God, as Paul writes in verse 3b, “condemned sin in sinful man,” God also completely changed our situation. Jesus Christ graciously frees Christians who had been slaves to sin and death from that captivity. However, he also given us, through the Holy Spirit, the freedom to serve the Lord and each other.

    So Paul doesn’t just speak of “Christ for us,” but also “Christ in us” or Jesus’ adopted siblings being “in Christ.” Christ’s Spirit, after all, frees his followers to live according to that Spirit.

    A friend visited one of my acquaintances as she was recovering from foot surgery. This visitor had become a Christian only a few months earlier. Dorothy and my friend had a delightful conversation about the things of their newly common faith.

    Dorothy told her that she’d read in her Bible that the way of anger was not the Christian way. So she reported that she was asking God to make her more patient and less irritated with her co-workers. Dorothy also reported, however, that her friend, who had been a Christian far longer, had rejected this. She insisted that to be angry is to simply be human.

    Yet Dorothy, with the kind of 20/20 spiritual eyesight new converts sometimes have, recognizes a new power at work in her life. She recognizes the “law of the Spirit of life.” So she told my friend, “Shouldn’t I expect Jesus to be working in me to help me change my anger?”

    Some Christians live in a kind of uneasy limbo between thinking about condemnation and not thinking about it. Our fear of not being good enough for God bubbles to the surface only periodically. As long as things are going pretty well, we keep our fear buried most of the time.

    Others have convinced others and ourselves that we’re superheroes. We don’t, as Rutledge notes, “Get ulcers.” Even Jesus’ followers sometimes “give them.” We judge others instead of worrying about them judging us.

    Still others live in a kind of perpetual spiritual panic. We join Paul in knowing, after all, all too that “nothing good lives in” us.” We want to do what is good, but we don’t actually do it. For us, the cry of “Guilty!” rings in our ears almost constantly, making our lives, but especially the prospect of our deaths, terrifying.

    Only individual Christians can decide into which of these categories we fall. Yet in whichever group we think we find ourselves, we’re actually all in the same group. After all, as Paul writes in Romans 3, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin … There is no one righteous, not even one … There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

    So to every single one of Romans 8’s proclaimers and hearers, the great gospel word comes. To those who have ears to hear and hearts to believe, God pronounces a new verdict and creates a new world.

    Yes, God’s adopted children remain guilty of sinning against God and each other by what we do and fail to do, by what we say and neglect to say. Yet “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit has set me free from the law of sin and death.”

    Not guilty!

    Illustration Idea

    Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall, introduces its readers to a successful man named Jean-Baptiste. He says, “I was altogether in harmony with life; my company was in demand … to tell the truth, I looked upon myself as something of a superman.”

    A walk home through Paris’ streets one night, however, rattles his conceit. Just after Jean-Baptiste passes a young woman standing on a bridge, he hears her fall into the water. However, he doesn’t stop, even when he hears her call out for help. He simply returns to his home and refuses to report the incident to anyone.

    Afterwards, Jean-Baptiste wrestles with his failure to try to save the drowning woman. He admits, “I couldn’t deceive myself as to the truth of my nature … It was not love or generosity that awakened me [towards others], but merely a desire to be loved and to receive what was in my opinion due me.” After he recognizes this about himself, he becomes a sort of social fugitive, saying, “Above all, the question is to elude judgment.”

    The process of “eluding judgment” teaches Jean-Baptiste, “People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves. The idea that comes most naturally to man … is the idea of his innocence.

    From this point of view God’s adopted children are like that Frenchman at the Buchenwald concentration camp who insisted on registering a complaint with the clerk, himself a prisoner. The clerk said, “Useless, old man. You don’t lodge a complaint here.” ‘But you see, sir,” said the Frenchman, “My case is exceptional. I am innocent.”

    “We are all exceptional cases,” Jean Baptiste concludes. “Each of us insists on being innocent at all costs, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself… The essential thing is that [we] should be innocent.”