Saturday, July 26, 2008

Whew! Grace happens...

This week's lectionary (Proper 12 RCL) finally gets us to Paul's core theological claim:
I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I know I am not alone in holding this particular text dear to my heart and spiritual journey (this passage is actually on the back of my Cursillo team shirt). I'm glad we finally got here ... after several weeks of Paul pounding us with SIN (capital letters intentional), it's kind of nice to know we're not left wallowing in it!

I have a love/hate relationship with the lectionary. I like the fact it forces me to deal with a lot of different texts all over the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. As a lectionary preacher, I don't have the luxury of picking my personal "text du jour" and constructing my whole worship experience around that one favorite passage (which is not to say that some of my favorite passages are not in the lectionary ... this week proves they do come around). What I don't like is that some of the readings get chopped up in weird ways that aren't always helpful and some authors (like Paul) are not good as "sound bites."

Three weeks ago, I was serving at St. Andrew's Episcopal in Clear Spring. We were squarely into Paul's rhetoric on the power of SIN (primarily in Romans 6 & 7 ... but the "front end" of Romans has a lot of "sin talk"). I told the congregation that I'm not a fan of "sound bite Paul." To really get what Paul is doing with his rhetoric here, you need to read the whole of Romans 1-8 (the second half of the letter goes into other topics). Paul synopsizes his theological point that we are justified sinners, the nature of the power of SIN as a big cosmic force, and how Jesus Christ defeated the power of SIN once for all. The problem with lectionary "sound bites" is they chop up Paul's argument so that it is hard to see his line of thinking.

Paul tends to beat you over the head with SIN to the point that when he gets to the subject of grace, it's as if he shifts gears without a clutch and grabs your attention. You're hearing:
  • SIN
  • SIN
  • SIN
  • SIN
and trotting down that rhetorical road with Paul only to be caught off guard when he opens Romans 8 with the good news,
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
"What??!! Huh??!! Hang on ... I thought we were talking about sin. 'No condemnation??' Now you've got my attention!!"
And that's where we are this week ... the point where Paul is persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus. I love how he says he is "persuaded." Paul didn't just swallow this story without some work. He has heard, considered, prayed over, and finally accepted that absolutely nothing will separate us from God's love.

I'm blessed to be going back to St. Andrew's this week again to preach on this text. It's like the continuation of a good story and it's nice to be able to preach on the completion of Paul's thoughts.


Crimson Rambler said...

it reminds me of the passage in Julian's "Revelations of Divine Love" where she understands that it would be very unfair of her to blame God for her sin, since he doesn't blame HER for it. It's fun to do that passage with a study group. They all go "HUH?????!!!????" -- thought that blame was the name of the game, all along...hee hee hee.

Mercenary Presbyter said...

Exactly! It's like shifting gears without a clutch. Remembering that Jesus broke down every barrier (including the ones we construct ourselves) is hard. We keep thinking we need to do something to "fix" our sinful nature ... but that's not the point. Instead of "Don't just stand there, DO something" we need to think "Don't just DO something, STAND there!" It's about being, not doing; being, not what we've done.

Pak said...

...And the reason he so graciously saved us? To live obedient lives, doing the good works he prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-14, 3:3-8)

The reason he wanted people from all nations baptised in his name? To be taught to observe all that he commanded! (Matthew 28:16-20).