Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Great Exchange

June 25, 2017 –– 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:10–13 / Psalm 69 / Romans 5:12–15 / Matthew 10:26–33
The Great Exchange

Over a forty year span I can still hear many different people who have said to me: “The Apostle Paul is so hard to understand!” Yet we believe the Holy Spirit inspired his words, and the Church affirms our need to hear them. This Romans text is one biblical passage where many would read it and say “Huh?” One of my passions for pastoral ministry is helping people better understand what God has chosen to give us in Scripture. It means we need to focus and think, but good things usually require a bit of work.

Paul is giving the foundation for God’s act of justifying sinners. The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what happened because of Adam, and what has happened and will yet happen because of Christ. In these verses there are both commonalities and contrasts between Adam and Christ. Christian faith is grounded in something that, having a humanity in common with Adam, Jesus did in specific contrast to something Adam did.

Every person born into this world comes with an identity in Adam. It is an identity that brings with it alienation from God (guilt), a tendency to live for one’s self (commit sin), an inevitable curse (death) and a threat of God’s future wrath (eternal punishment). This identity makes us helpless and hopeless. But (3:21) God has chosen to provide another identity, in Christ––who is another, and last, Adam (1Cor 15:45)––so that all the hard things that we received from the first Adam can be undone and reversed in the last Adam: Jesus Christ.

How did the sin of Adam effect everyone? Paul says that the trespass―the disobedience―of one man (Adam) brought God’s judgment (physical death and spiritual condemnation) to all Mankind. Somehow, all of humanity participated in what Adam did. St Augustine, the great theologian from the turn of the fifth century said that when Adam acted the whole race acted and when he was judged, the whole race was judged.

This is the reason the Gospel is truly Good News. Something has been accomplished by Christ which is as universal in its effectiveness as was the sin of the first man. So, even as we are condemned on account of what Adam did, we can be justified because of what Christ did. Christ’s part is already done––he was sacrificed once for all (Heb 9:12). It’s like a free meal––the meal is already paid for, but (and this takes us to the aspect of our faith) unless a person goes and eats the benefit is lost.

The point here is the union of the race with Adam and the further union of the race with Christ and ratified in those who believe. It is like the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics. Both are true all the time, with the law of gravity being the normative default (as is the law of sin), but able to be superseded by the law of aerodynamics. The law of gravity applies to all; the law of aerodynamics applies to those who are in aircraft. The disobedience of Adam marks all people; the obedience of Christ marks those who embrace the Second Adam. When we follow Jesus Christ we are lifted up from the bondage of sin so we can wing our way to heaven. And so, as Paul opens his letter to the Romans, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes... (1:16).

We do not have a choice not to be born in solidarity with Adam; we do have a choice to live in solidarity with Jesus Christ. When God first created Man, he wanted Adam’s “yes.” Instead he received Adam’s “no.” Now God offers a second chance through his Son, the second Adam, in order to remake us into a new creation. We do not have to keep our identity in Adam. Saying “yes” to God’s life in Christ is saying “no” to the legacy of sin in Adam, and in that “yes” there is the great exchange.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Spirit Makes A Difference

June 4, 2017 –– Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1–11 / Psalm 104 / 1 Corinthians 12:3b–7, 12–13 / John 20:19–23
The Spirit Makes A Difference

Fear and loneliness….. A sense of belonging and being loved…. Those are huge contrasts that come into focus at Pentecost.

The disciples were afraid. They had locked themselves away. It seemed that Jesus was gone. Even though they were together in a room, I wonder if each one didn’t feel surrounded by people they no longer knew––sort of like being at party where you know no one else and loneliness is intensified because everything seems strange.

We can easily have those feelings. It can seem that others see my problems more than they see me. It’s easy to think that so many others are living the Christian life better than I. Why is it that we so quickly sense our problems and weaknesses, and so easily overlook our blessings and strengths?

God did not create us to live life alone and in our own strength. One of the first things God says about his human creation was It is not good for the man to be alone…. (Gen 2:18). Before his death, when he was preparing the disciples for his absence, Jesus told them I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (Jn 14:18).

Yet it had to have been confusing to their ears. Jesus had also told them: It is for your good that I am going away…. (Jn 16:7a). Why? Unless I go away, the Comforter will not come to you (Jn 16:7b).

Pentecost shows us the meaning and power of what Jesus has made possible. In the body, Jesus could only be with a few people at one time; in the Spirit, the presence of Jesus is available to everyone all the time. The Spirit is like the air around us, present and ready to be breathed. Through his death for us, Jesus makes it possible for us to breathe―spiritually. His death removes our sins; his life gives us life.

The story in Acts describes a bit of the wonder and the power. Maybe we wonder about the different manifestations of the Spirit and even what we might call the “levels” of intensity. Compare two people. One is a baby, new-born and weighing 7 pounds, who has just begun to breathe; the other is a full-grown man, 6 feet in height weighing 190 pounds. Both are fit and healthy; both are breathing properly; and both may be described as "filled with air." What, then, is the difference between them? It lies in the capacity of their lungs. Both are "filled," yet one is more filled than the other because his capacity is so much greater.

The same is true of spiritual life and growth. A new-born babe in Christ is filled with the Spirit. Likewise, a mature and godly Christian of many years' standing is filled with the Spirit also. The difference is their spiritual lung-capacity. The life of the Spirit in the Church means there is a place and purpose for every single person whose life is open to Jesus. This means our fears and loneliness and personal inadequacies do not have to control our lives.

The devil wants us to cower in fear because of our sins. Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins. Our human weaknesses push us to pull away from others. We think we need to be self-reliant. We try to hide our sins and faults. The Holy Spirit living in us is always saying, “Let me help you.” And one way the Spirit helps us is when we join our personal gifts to others so that we all give and receive, and then learn the joy that we do not have to face all the issues of life in our own wisdom and strength.

Just as he did with the first disciples long ago, Jesus is here to breathe on us and say, Receive the Holy Spirit. Believe it. Tell Jesus yes and thank you. Ask Jesus to make his Spirit strong in you every day. Instead of being fearful and lonely, know that you are loved. Know that you belong to the One who is stronger than sin and death.

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