Monday, July 11, 2011

Proper 10A 2011

          Today we hear about Jacob and Esau, St. Paul’s teaching about “no condemnation,” and Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.  We pray that our prayers may be heard and for the grace to know and do what we ought to do.

          The Parable of the Sower is explained as a parable of soils – the hard-packed road, rocky ground, thorns, and finally good soil that bears much fruit.  None of us are naturally good soil, but by God’s grace working in us we can become so.  But we all contain all the kinds of soil. Parts of our lives are as spiritually hard as a well trodden dirt path in a drought; parts of us are full of rocks; much of us is prickly with busy thorns, and part of every one of us is good soil bearing fruit. Our spiritual task is to increase the good soil, digging out the rocks and thorns, breaking up the clods, softening the ground with the water of tears of repentance, digging out the weeds with the hoe of faith and good works.

          The traditional evangelical sermon begins with condemning sin, which leads to hell fire and damnation, and then proclaiming the good news that the death and resurrection of Jesus have set us free from sin and given us new life. All of us when we are honest with ourselves know from personal experience that we “have all sinned and come short of the glory of God” so I skip the condemnation and move straight to the good news. St. Paul rejoices, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and ends, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

          The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds of the difference between free grace and cheap grace. Free grace is the gift of God in Jesus Christ. We receive the gift of free grace by faith, and witness to that faith in repentance and a new life. Free grace led Bonhoeffer to oppose Hitler and led him to Flossenburg concentration camp and execution April 9, 1945, just 2 weeks before the camp was liberated by the American Army.

          Bonhoeffer says, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

          Cultural religion believes in cheap grace.  Christians have convinced most people that God loves us and forgives us regardless of how we behave, and that is true. But many folks have missed the necessity of faith in Jesus, and repentance and holiness of life as our response to God’s love and forgiveness.

          It is subtle. From the outside the behaviors look very similar. What we do in response to God’s love in Jesus, in response to God’s free grace, guided by the Holy Spirit, and what we do from motives of self – what St. Paul calls “walking by the flesh” may be the same actions. It is only from the inside, from examining the heart, that we can tell which is which. And sometimes our motives are very mixed, part led by the Spirit and part by the flesh.

            An example is entertaining friends. How often have we said, “We owe them.” We’ve been entertained and want to respond in love. Or, we’ve been entertained and we don’t want to look ungrateful by not entertaining in turn. We give wedding presents because we want the couple to have something useful or beautiful – or because we want to show off, or not be considered cheap.  We make our best effort to be spiritually honest, but only God fully knows our hearts. “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.” In repentance and faith we receive God’s word, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

          We don’t know Esau’s heart or Jacob’s heart. At the death of parents’ property was divided into as many parts as there were sons, plus one – 4 sons 5 parts. The eldest got a double portion as his birthright. We’re told, “Esau despised his birthright.” We’re also told that he married two local girls, abandoning the faith of his father and grandfather. The biblical tradition treats all these as real historical people. Another interpretation is that these are groups of peoples who gradually move from northern Syria into Palestine, some as hunter-gatherers, others as shepherds, and others as farmers. Today’s reading may reflect a conflict between two groups with a memory of common ancestors. For the next 3 weeks we will hear stories of Jacob’s mostly faithful obedience to God’s will.

          So repent of your sins, seek to know God’s will, and trust in his free grace to do it. Amen.

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