Sermon, Pentecost 5C, Sunday June 23, 2013, St Petri
People of Grace
23 Before the coming of this faith,[a] we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Feeling locked in
I have never been locked up although plenty have said I should be!). One experience I have had of being trapped or hemmed in was during a cyclone in the wheat belt of WA, aged about eight.
The storm had been growing all day. The tin roof of our house cum general store, which was way out in the vast WA wheat belt, was beginning to lift. Mum and Dad and my two sisters and I were inside the building hearing the roar of the wind and watching the ceiling move up and down with each gust of strong wind.
Dad said we three kids should run out to Ford station wagon which was parked about 15 metres from the front door of the shop and stay inside until the cyclone passed. So, Dad knows best. We ran out into the wind and rain and slammed the door shut. We soon felt the car rocking around in the wind. The wind was louder out here! We were looking a bit doubtful about Dad’s great idea!
Then a gravel stone about the size of a Jaffa lolly got picked up by the wind and smashed into the windscreen and put a crack in it. Dad or no Dad, we were out of there in a flash and back into the building to wait it out with Mum and Dad.
The storm passed and we were fine. But it was scary.
How are you locked in?
It is scarier to be emotionally, spiritually or psychologically trapped though. When you are trapped by addiction that is destroying you and your relationships it is scary. When you are trapped by serious illness, even life-threatening illness, it is scary. When you are trapped in a relationship that is going nowhere but bad, that is scary. When you are part of a business or a financial situation spiralling out of control into more and more debt, it is scary. When you sens evil and feel oppressed by it, that is scary.
That wild man living out in the graveyard we heard of in the gospel word for today (Luke 8:26-39): naked, with broken hand-cuffs around his wrists must have lived in a total world of total fear. He was completely cut off from humanity – even living along dead people. He was feared. He was naked. He was out of his mind. He was almost sub-human. He was pierced by evil. He as full of the demonic – a legion of them – 6,000!
But, at least his prison was easy to see. Everyone knew he was in a dark prison. That is why they kept away from him. He was a dangerous man. A scary individual that we would want locked up for life lest he do more damage to himself or other people.
But our prison is not so easy to see. Paul uses the imagery of a prison cell to bring the good news of the freedom we have in the gospel to light.
Held in Custody
Paul says the law of God was our prison warden. Before Jesus came to us, as he bravely and kindly did to that Geresene demon controlled man,
“….we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed”.
The law of God as given to his people in the Old Testament kept a threatening watch over us to curb our destructive ways, protect us from ourselves, lest we destroy his creation and each other. At best the law saved us from ourselves by limiting evil and showing us our rebellious ways, our brokenness, our fallen glory, our self-worship. That is why he calls the Galatian people fools for trying to go back to the ways of the law.
“You foolish Galatians”, he says. “You are cursed for trying to rebuild the keeping of the Jewish law as a way you think you can earn God’s peace and life”. The law cannot deliver that. It never could.
But something new has happened
But then Paul heads straight to what he himself has experienced – what that crazy man in the Geresene graveyard experienced. God doing something new!
24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Jesus has come. he has opened up the prison cell and removed the accusing guard. The Son of God and heir to the throne shares his victory spoils after defeating the sin in us that gives the law its power. The wounded healer now gives out his gracious love and we are healed of our brokenness, found by grace, surprised by joy, set free from our prisons of fear and isolation and loneliness and death.
Now instead of being like that very lost man swirling around with the demons, we are in our right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus word and clothed with Christ himself.
Our shame is no more. Our death is defeated, our demons defeated, our past regrets wiped away, our loneliness cast away and we are in this community, not as people trying to be good and keep the law still, but here as “sons of God”.
“Sons of God”
Now there is term to ponder…..
“Sons of God”. Not demeaning for women. Not a sexist term in any sense of it. Rather a term of great honour and privilege and joy for men and women for as Paul has said in this letter there is no distinctions between us when it comes to God’s grace – no Jew or Gentile, worker or employer, poor or rich, only “sons of God”.
We know that in ancient culture the oldest son in the family inherits everything. This was a means to ensuring that the family wealth had a better chance of being carried on into the next generations, rather than being split up and weakened.
So, when Paul declares that we are all (men and women) “sons of God” he means that we are that privileged. We are all the “oldest son” who are heirs of everything the Father has.
So, we work, study, play as gifted and loved people confident in our present and future in the Lord. We are not trying to earn God’s blessing or avoid future destruction. We are living out the promise of our heavenly Father in whom you are always secure – even beyond your work and beyond your life on this earth. Being confident of this makes us thankful and humble gift-givers, does it not?
‘Sons’ with good clothes
Paul then switches from this beautiful sonship imagery to another beautiful imagery describing in more detail what this means for us as we live out our lifer in this sonship of God.
He uses the imagery of new clothes to express the gift of grace we now live in as God’s adopted sons.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
4 wonderful things
This imagery of being clothed with Christ (as the Geresene man became) implies four wonderful things for us who are sons of God. Being clothed with Christ means that;
1. Our primary identity is in Jesus: Our clothing tells us and others something about who we really are.
If I wear my West Coast Eagles scarf, you know I am about that!
When you wear good clothes out somewhere that says you value the occasion.
When you wear your school uniform or work clothes you are saying you value your work and your study.
Jesus’ forgiveness and love is our centre, our safe place, our core identity – we are loved people of God.
2. Our relationship to Jesus is very close: Clothes are closer to you than anything else you carry around with you (maybe except for one of those money belts you might use when travelling overseas!). We enjoy the very closest relationship with Jesus and his Father and ours.
3. We are imitators of Jesus: As we are clothed with Christ we think and act in him. Every area of our lives (not just the Sunday morning part) is best lived with him and in him and by his power and grace.
4. We are accepted by God: Clothing covers our nakedness. God has provided a covering for us as he did with Adam and Eve, by giving us the blood of Christ, the robes of righteousness dipped in the blood of the Lamb, to cover all our shame and our human sin and weakness with his light and life and honour.
Freedom from your chains
Friends, I don’t know your prisons at the moment. I don’t know what is trying to tie you down, robbing you of friendship and human connection, making you feel like you are out of control and spinning into some destructive place. I don’t know what shame you know. I don’t know what fear is driving you or what rules you’re trying to keep to win God’s approval.
Come and sit at the feet of Jesus. Let him calm you, untie you, speak to you and treat you as he sees you – a much loved son of God – a brother, a sister, a friend – someone whom he is personally seeking way out on the edge of the community of faith to bring you further into the family.
As you sit at his feet, with the new clothes of his forgiveness, you will know what Paul knew – the grace of God for you and this will revolutionise your life in all its parts.
Because you belong to Christ, because he has claimed you in your baptism and promises to be with us all to the very end of our lives or the end of the world, you are an heir to all he is and all he does for you.
We are far beyond petty concerns of self-protection, limited focus on small matters. We are able to cope with differences and even conflict because we are his and he is in us. It is no longer we that live but Christ who lives in us.
Our present is secure in him. Our future is secure in him. Our church is secure in him. Paul declares;
29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
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Hold on to that promise; that freedom Jesus brings. Don’t return to the prison cell of keeping the law to try and win God’s approval. (Galatians 5:1)
Go out of the open prison door and be who you are – a woman of grace, a man of grace, and we together; people of grace.
- Share some thoughts together on what areas in life have you sometimes felt “hemmed in” or “imprisoned” by?
- How does this news of God calling you his “son” with all the rights and privileges that go with this make you feel and why?
- In which areas of your life do you most struggle to remember and believe that you are clothes with the love and grace of Christ?
- When you think about who you are in relationship to others in your family, at work or at church, what picture or term comes to mind about who you are at your very core? Describe this for others in the group.
- Read genesis 12 where Abram first gets the promise of a new land, a great family line and a great name – and the promise to be the means through which God will bless the world with his love and grace. Christ has come and given us the promise of reigning with him by faith. How does this promise of new land, new life, new name and a person through whom God is blessing others work itself out in your life? What does it mean to you that God does all this for you and how can you see him doing this in your life – in the past and now…..Share a few thoughts….
After reading all the conversation starters I’d like to share some of my personal thoughts about my life which hopefully is relevant to the topic…
I recently turned 30, and reflected on life a little (a lot). Where should I be at, in my life by age 30? Or where does society say I should be at? I should have a mortgage by now, I should be qualified in something by now, I should have a career path by now, I should have been more productive by this stage of life, etc.etc. It is very much a feeling of looking away to the future constantly and getting impatient with present moments, hours, days, weeks and months. I find that I am wishing for a better financial position, career, house etc. That whole issue sometimes makes me feel a little imprisoned by perhaps where society expects me to be and imprisoned by my own impatience.
All this in contrast with looking after 8 children 7 years old and under, which is really hard work and can really feel like a blessing one day and a burden the next.
(All in all of course I wouldn’t change my situation for anything)
Upon deeper reflection I am forced to think about what I am trying to teach my own young children, Contentment vs. Covetousness, Realizing that God has provided everything that I need for my present happiness. 1 Timothy 6:8
And even one that I haven’t touched on with the kids yet, Patience vs. Restlessness Accepting a difficult situation from God without giving him a deadline to remove it. Romans 5:3-4
So I’ve been practicing being in the moment God has given me and resisting thinking too deeply about the future. I find I am feeling less impatient/frustrated/angry in my day to day life by doing this. My personal attitude towards life is to TRY not conform to what the world or society expects of me but rather seek out God’s will for me.
rich blessings to you
Good stuff, Tim. Deep reflection on who you are and what life is becoming for you as a disciple of Jesus. It gets complex doesn’t it!? On the one hand God calls people to vocations and allows them some prosperity to manage their family well and provide for their kids etc…. on the other hand living in the gospel of Jesus is never about that at the core. Living in the gospel is always about living in a relationship with the One who created us, saved us from death and now sustains us by his grace and power – the rest flows from that in whatever form. But, doesn’t that take some trust when your life is does not look like what most people expect is “should”?!
I guess that Word, “Seek the Lord with all your heart. Don;t lean on you own understanding. Acknowledge the Lord in all of your ways and he will make your path straight” comes to mind…….