"Freed from the Spiral" - Pentecost 7A
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
July 23, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
Romans 8:12-25
Description

For information about the Minimum Bible and to see the image that Pr. David used, go here: http://www.minimumbible.com/

 

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 7A, July 23, 2017

Romans 8:12-25

 

Freed from the Spiral

 

            A few years ago, I was introduced to The Minimum Bible, a set of minimalist prints by Presbyterian pastor Joseph Novak. Each print, in an image, represents one book of the Bible. No official interpretations are available, leaving it to the viewer to discover how the image represents the book of Scripture. One of my favorites is this one, which is supposed to represent the book of Judges. What do you see? (wait for answers).

 

            There’s a white spiral on a black background. And if you know the book of Judges, you can see how this might fit. Judges doesn’t start out well. It begins with recounting the failure of the tribes of Israel to drive out the peoples of the land. After Joshua’s death, the people of Israel quickly turn to other gods, which begins a brutal sequence of events. Foreign oppression follows Israel’s infidelity. The people remember the Lord and cry out. The Lord sends a judge – a combination of warlord, diplomat, and ruler – to deliver the people. After deliverance, there is a time of rest and faithfulness. However, the judge dies and the cycle begins again. Over and over again, the people of Israel go back to their old, unfaithful ways. Things get worse and worse until, at the end of the book, a terrible civil war breaks out with every tribe of Israel arrayed against the tiny tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin is nearly wiped out. The downward spiral of old, destructive ways eventually leads to the fracturing of the people and the near-extinction of one tribe. It leads to chaos, disorder, and death.

 

            Now, this sermon is supposed to be on the text from Romans. So why bring Judges into it? Because Judges shows what happens to each of us – as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. Each of us can find ourselves on this downward spiral, enslaved to destructive ways of being. Paul speaks about this enslavement as living according to the flesh. We very easily follow our sinful inclinations, every desire and whim, to live as we think we ought to live. Even good intentions (or rather, especially good intentions) can get co-opted by sin. For instance, we might try to be more religious, and find ourselves ensnared by pride at our pious behavior. Knowing that pride is a sin, we might find ourselves withdrawing from God and the church community under the pretense of humility. Sin does its work, turning our good intentions against us and fracturing our relationships with each other. We become fearful and immobilized. This kind of co-optation by sin is what causes Paul to lament in the previous chapter, “I do not do the good that I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).

 

            But God gives us a way out of the spirals of sin, fear, and death. God, as Paul puts it, gives us a spirit of adoption. In other words, God makes us his children, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that brings. When God adopts us in the waters of baptism, we are given the same privilege that Jesus had – to call God our Father, our divine parent. And while human parents fail from time to time (again, despite their best intentions), God never fails us. From our point of view, it may seem like God is absent sometimes, but in truth God is always present, ready to hear our prayers, ready to act in and through our lives to sanctify us and break the chains of sin that drag us down into the spiral.

 

            Of course, this sanctification, this adoption that God gives us has not reached its fulfillment. We all wait for that day when our hope becomes reality. We are assured in our baptism that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And that is, in Luther’s words, most certainly true. However, in the present that can only be known by faith. In this life, as we know all too well, we still struggle against sin. The difference is that God has given us hope. This life, on this mortal plane, doesn’t just lead to the grave. This life is where God first adopts us as his children – an adoption that will be brought to fulfillment at the end of time.

 

            Paul says something else that is very interesting. It isn’t just people that are waiting for their ultimate redemption from sin and death. The whole creation waits as well. Everything we know from scientific observation tells us that creation has a life span. Everything that lives eventually dies, from the mayfly which only lives a single day, to the Great Basin bristlecone pine, which can live for 5,000 years or more. Non-living things, such as stars and planets, have only a limited time of existence as well. Hot burning stars live for only a few million years before exploding in a supernova. Our own sun, which is estimated to have begun burning about five billion years ago, may have about another five billion years of fuel left before expanding into a red giant, engulfing our earth. Everything winds down, from subatomic particles to the entire universe. Creation itself waits for its liberation from a trajectory that seems to lead only to decay, dissolution, and death.

 

            But that liberation will come. For the time being, we live in a world corrupted by sin and death, but God will make all things new, including our own bodies, minds, and souls. God is concerned for our whole being, just as God is concerned for the whole creation, and in Jesus Christ has already won victory over the forces which spiral us down to death. In our adoption by God, we have already been given our new birth certificate. God is our parent, and our inheritance is eternal life in the presence of God, who knows and loves us more completely than we can ever know.

 

            That adoption by God, which we know through faith, is our reason for hope. Despite what happens to us, despite the spirals of sin and death we find ourselves on, we have hope that God will free us from them. God will free us, just as God frees the wheat from the weeds in today’s parable from Matthew’s Gospel. God will give us, and all of creation, a new beginning. And in some way, that future liberation can be experienced now. In Word. In Sacrament. In fellowship and friendship with each other and our community. In “bearing one another’s burdens”, as Paul says in his letter to the Galatians.  It is already here, and not yet. But its fullness will surely come.

 

            Let us pray.

 

            Lord Jesus, we find ourselves, our communities, our nation, and our world ensnared by sin, spiraling down in ways which lead to death. Liberate us from these spirals now, and assure us that one day, you will give us and all of creation a new beginning, freed completely from sin and death. Amen.

 

© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.