Kenora St. Alban’s
Proper / Ordinary / Lectionary 13 – Pentecost + 4
28 June 2020
Heavenly Father, you call us to a loyalty beyond all earthly claims; grant us strength to offer ourselves to you as a people who have been raised from death to life; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
These days, I find that we’re living in a beautiful, confusing, chaotic, violent, and uncertain time in which we find ourselves living, these days.
It’s beautiful because it’s summer, and the grass is growing, gardens are being planted, and a chipmunk is chowing down on my tomato plants.
It’s confusing because of the restrictions that have been put into place for our protection, and for the protection of others during this time of Covid – 19 aka Coronavirus. Where we can, or can’t go? How do we decide when masks are to be donned? How close we can be to another person? and so forth.
And its chaotic, and violent because the bandage has been ripped away from the veneer of what we’ve perceived as ‘good social behaviour’ and we now see how racism and racially based violence has presented itself in our ‘polite society’ in ways we’d rather not see, and in places we’d, really, rather ignore.
And into this, then, we see Paul’s language each one of us, who follows Christ, and even those who don’t follow Christ, as “slaves” (Rom 6:17, 18, 19, 20, 22)
And this is one of the words, these days, that really has our society in an uproar, at the moment. It really leaves a bad taste in our mouths, when we realize that Paul is looking at each one of us, not just those whom some would see in that category.
Now, Paul has been able to see this argument from both sides. Throughout his writings, Paul has both identified as someone of Jewish heritage, therefore someone for whom slavery is a probability, as a conquered people, and he’s identified as being a Roman citizen, therefore someone not as likely to be a slave. In our modern mindset, he’s seen the issue from both sides, and yet, this is the language he chooses to use, today.
Paul is telling us that whether we choose to give ourselves over to unhealthy passions, leading to a life lived in sin, debauchery and chaos, or whether we choose to give ourselves over to following Christ, to living lives founded in righteousness and grace, we have a choice.
Because in either case, we look to examples that have the ability to shape and influence our behaviour, our view of the world and to its outcomes, whether to the negative or to the positive.
The movie “Kingdom of Heaven,” starring Orlando Bloom, is one of my favourite stories about the Crusades, and no its not historically accurate to just one crusade.
It’s a story of one man seeking the reassurance of faith, in the face of loss.
After reaching Jerusalem, this newly minted knight, seeking solace for the loss of his wife and child, states that he has no faith in religion.
The knight with whom he is speaking says: “I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the Will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.” (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0320661/characters/nm0000667)
And not only is this able to this still speak to us, today, it also speaks to the heart of today’s epistle passage, as strongly as Paul describing each one of us as slaves to righteousness rather than slaves to sin.
The other image we need to acknowledge, in today’s passage is that during the Roman Era, only 1 in 3 persons were considered to be ‘free.’ All others were enslaved. And this image of slavery could be as repressive as our North American history of slavery, or it could have been as encouraging as someone being a patron to an artist.
What predominates is that the one who is enslaved is not free to make choices for their own life. That they’re not able to decide for themselves what actions are beneficial or detrimental to their lives.
Rather the slave is compelled by obedience to whomever is the slave’s owner to behaviours that the owner wishes the slave to emulate, whether that’s in paths of sin and debauchery, or righteousness, grace, and forgiveness of sin.
And it is to this end, then Paul points out that we are either enslaved to sin, and its negative consequences, not just for our lives, and for our environment, but that affects others around us, a well.
Or we are enslaved to a life in Christ and the righteousness, and grace that follows as we actively work to overturn the damage caused to our lives, the lives of those we touch, and to the environment by the effects of sin, and all of its consequences.
So, in reality slavery isn’t a new image, but to those of us who have never considered ourselves to be slaves to anything or any one, this idea is rather uncomfortable.
It’s language that rubs us the wrong way, and today that may be Paul’s intent.
Paul tells us: “17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.” (Rom 6:17-19)
And really, Paul is giving us good news, today.
He’s telling us that what we knew is gone, and what we now have is infinitely better. He tells us that our allegiance’s, our loyalties, our adherence to Christ is so much more positive than a life given over to sin.
Jesus puts it differently, in today’s gospel when he tells us: “40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matt 10:40)
And in reality, this is the same thing, but from the perspective that we’ve already chosen which side of the fence to be on. Paul is working from the perspective of the fence.
But if we can’t even conceive of being our own person without the baggage of our own or society’s history, how will we embrace what God is offering?
Yes, we’re in rough times, right now. But peaceful solutions are able to be found, and used by all to bring peace, honest, real, lasting peace to any situation.
As Murray, the Mummy, in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation said, recently “Got’ta be greater than the haters,” as Drac saved the man who had been trying to wipe out all monsters. Once his life was saved by his mortal enemy, he apologized for all the harm he had done.
We might struggle to be followers of Christ because of the choices in our lives, yet the choices remain.
“What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.”
Yet in that struggle to choose, we will find ourselves, being pulled in two directions, yearning to follow where Jesus leads, to the paths of grace, righteousness, love, and equality. Yet the paths to sin are so slippery, and treacherous, are still there, aren’t they?
So, today we find ourselves in a beautiful, confusing, chaotic, violent, and uncertain time.
Today we find ourselves being challenged by not only the social circumstances all around us, but by the wording of today’s epistle that reminds us that its by choices that we make everyday that will determine if we are good, or not.
Going back to the movie “Kingdom of Heaven,” the oath taken to become a knight is also a great direction for each of us, today, in the face of what Paul observes and what Jesus directs.
The oath is: “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.”
Now, this is something that I think I can do, in my life. How about you?
Even as our erstwhile knight strives to save Jerusalem, knowing that most of the knights have already been defeated by the enemy, he turns to the servants, and the men at arms, the people without formal position in a medieval world and he gives them the position of being knights, of being those who defend the weak and the helpless, instead of being weak and helpless.
In doing this, the knight enables people to look beyond their current circumstances, to decide for themselves how to best help in the defence of the city, and those who are unable to defend themselves against an army.
We can take this on to remind ourselves that we serve God, that we represent Christ, in this world, and that its through our actions, our words, that change for the better, is even possible.
Following the example of our brave knight, we are able to choose to follow God, every day.
Everyday, we have the grace of God, in our hearts and lives. We have the ability to take on the situations of our world, and work to right the wrongs in society.
We’re able to minister to each other, following the guidelines established for our own and others safety, and bring the light of Christ to those in need.
And as we enjoy this beautiful world, we’re able to love all of God’s creation, from chipmunks to those who need our positive examples to see where equality and love, come from the righteousness and grace of God for all of creation, all of humanity. Not just today, but every day.