Unimagined

Wednesday

Matthew 13

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The Sower, Vincent van Gogh

3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.

Parables are like jokes; they consist of a story that carries the hearer along expected pathways, then takes a sudden and surprising turn. In a joke, that turn makes us laugh as we reframe what we have heard. So the parable tells a story, and in the ‘surprise’ we are forced to reconsider what we assumed at the beginning. It prods us to see God, ourselves and the world differently – if we have ears to hear; sometimes people don’t get the joke.

So what is the surprise in this familiar parable of the sower and the seed? (Just as familiarity can kill a joke, it can kill a parable.) A sower sowing is no surprise. Neither is the fact that when you sow there is an inevitable and unavoidable loss to birds and weeds and the path. The surprise in this parable of Jesus is the extravagance of the harvest. Instead of “you still get a modest return, enough to feed your family,” you get a harvest far beyond anything you could imagine. A 100, 60, even 30-fold harvest is nothing less than miraculous. Such a harvest is incomprehensible.

So Jesus is out here, healing a few who are sick and preaching to villages in the backwater of the world. And his word is mocked by some, ignored or corrupted by others, and hated by still others. From such meager sowing one might expect a few followers, but the fruit of this word is beyond all comprehension. The world is forever changed. We are forever changed.

We tend to hear a moral imperative in this story: be good soil. Don’t let the evil one snatch away the word from you. Don’t let it get choked by weeds. But the message is in the surprise: despite all the obstacles, the word that is sown will reap a harvest beyond all imagining. The parable is not about us; it is about the power of God’s message.

We lose faith in the power of grace sometimes. We lose faith in compassion, in forgiveness, in charity, in kindness. We lose faith in the gospel. Against the might of Rome, against the ‘hosts of wickedness in heavenly places’ (RSV), how can a message of love and forgiveness prevail?

“A hundredfold” says Jesus. “A hundredfold.”

Abundant mercy

Watching for the morning of July 13

Year A

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

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James Tissot, The Sower

The texts this Sunday overflow with rich and abundant mercy. That a nation should so betray its heritage as to come to absolute ruin, its temple and palace and holy city reduced to rubble and plundered of all that was precious, its people scattered to the winds or carried off into exile – that such a nation could find mercy in the wilderness is beyond comprehension. But “my ways are not like your ways,” says the LORD – God forgives. Through the prophet, God proclaims that his word of grace is unstoppable: like rain bringing forth a harvest, it will achieve its purpose of bringing his people home.

The psalmist, too, speaks of water, of the rich abundance of water that God provides to an arid land, and the bounty of joy that flows from hills alive in fresh green. It is, in its own way, a resurrection.

The reading from Paul begins with that sweet line, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The grace of God has done what the law could not do, create a holy people, a people alive with God’s Holy Spirit.

And so we come to that fabulous parable of the sower scattering the seed freely and widely, recklessly, lavishly. Despite all that might fall among the birds and the weeds and the stony ground, there is an abundant harvest. God lavishes mercy on the world – and it comes back thirty, sixty and a hundredfold.

The Prayer for July 13, 2014

Gracious God,
you lavish your grace and life upon a world
where it is often trampled underfoot
yet, where your Word takes root, the harvest overflows.
Let your Word take root in our lives,
and bear fruit abundantly in love for you and our neighbor;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 13, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-13
“You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace.” – Like the rain that waters the earth to bring forth its bounty, God’s promise of forgiveness and return to the land shall not fail to achieve its purpose.

Psalmody: Psalm 65:5, 8-13
“You visit the earth and water it.” – A hymn of praise to God who provides abundantly for the world.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– God creates a faithful people not through the commands of the law, but through the working of his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” – Jesus provides a parable of the kingdom about a surprising harvest though the seed grain is gobbled up by birds and strangled amidst weeds.

Who knows what?

Sunday Evening

Matthew 11

File:Cristo nel labirinto.jpg27No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

It sounds more like the Gospel of John than one of the synoptics. “Do you not know me Phillip? He who has seen me has seen the father.” “The Father and I are one.” But here it is, in the middle of Matthew’s Gospel.

There is a certain proverbial character to this statement. In that time and place the eldest son was the father’s representative. To do business with one was to do business with the other. To have the word of one was to have the word of the other. People were defined by their families. To know the Father was to know the son. People were not seen as individuals in that day but part of extended families.

And families kept family business private. Public reputation mattered. Family secrets were never shared. Such information could be used against them. What might be revealed would only be revealed to family.

So to sayNo one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son” is something of a tautology, a truth everyone would recognize. What’s different is that Jesus is not speaking about Joseph. The thunderclap in this simple little aphorism is that Jesus is speaking about God and himself.

Jesus is the one with insider knowledge about God.

Everyone talks as if they know who God is and what God wants. It is a hubris of our time. Protesters at rallies for marriage or for life carry signs declaring God’s thoughts with absolute certainty. Clergy from liberal traditions wear their collars to union rallies to declare God’s support for some piece of legislation. We do not say “Thus and so seems best to us in light of what we read in scripture so far as we understand it, though others read it differently.” We say God is on this or that side. Even those who state categorically that there is no God are declaring what they cannot know.

The God of the scriptures is clothed in mystery. He appears at Sinai hidden in a cloud. He appears to Abraham in the form of a man. He appears to Moses in a burning bush. The prophet Isaiah says “Truly thou art a God who hidest theyself.” Ezekiel’s strange and compelling vision of God is not a vision of God, but a vision of “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.”

We should be much more cautious about what we claim we know. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.”

But then there is this sweet addition: “and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The God who hides himself is revealed by the Son in the healing of the sick, in the feeding of the hungry, in the releasing of debts, in the raising of the dead, in acts of mercy and justice, in words and actions that call us to regard all people as members of our own clan – even the soldiers asserting Roman rule in the homeland of others.

The God who hides himself is revealed in the Son who welcomes outcasts and forgives sinners and washes his followers feet.

The God who hides himself is revealed in the Son who lays down his life and meets Mary at the tomb and sends his followers to all nations.

Jesus is the one with insider knowledge about God. He has chosen to reveal this much to us and not too much more. We should not be afraid to say what we know of the Son – just careful with what we think we know of God.

It is easy to get this wrong, but so important to get it right.

Thimbleberry jam

Saturday

Psalm 145

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Thimbleberry, photocredit: Walter Siegmund

14The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

There are so many things in these texts for Sunday that are pricelessly sweet. It is important to remember that the Christian faith is not dry toast but toast slathered with butter and a generous layer of thimbleberry jam.

I had my first thimbleberry hiking with my daughter, Anna, on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Yes, everything tastes better when hiking – but the thimbleberries we discovered on the trail tasted like a champagne. They had an effervescence that roused your mouth with joy. There is a monastery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that makes a wild thimbleberry jam that a friend brought for me as a gift. It reminds me of Anna, that summer, and all the sweetness and joy of life.

It is important to remember that the Christian faith is not dry toast but toast slathered with butter and a generous layer of thimbleberry jam.

The ship of the church in our time and country seems to be listing heavily to port or to starboard. Either the message of the church is all grace and no summons to follow – or all summons and no word of grace. We can’t quite seem to get this balance right that we are being called to take up our cross and follow – and that this is an easy yoke that brings rest for our souls. It is toast and jam. Not just jam. Not just toast. But toast with jam – and toast with jam can never be just toast or all jam. It is always a discipleship energized by joy.

“Take my yoke upon you.” There is a yoke. There is a service. There is a lord before whom we bow.   There are commands to be obeyed. Tithing is not a suggestion. Hospitality, forgiveness, generosity, holding your tongue, loving your neighbor, are not strategies for a more rewarding life; this is the path set before us. But it is a path lighted by the brilliance of Easter morning. It is followed amidst the song of redemption.

Christian faith is not dry toast but toast slathered with butter and a generous layer of thimbleberry jam.

Matthew 11

29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

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Thimbleberry blossom, photocredit: Walter Siegmund

Woe to you, Chorazin

Friday

Matthew 11

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Ancient Synagogue in Korazim Israel.

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

These verses are omitted by our assigned reading. They stand between Jesus’ remark about the fickle response of the people to those God has sent:

18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

and his prayer of thanks:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

The Phoenician city/kingdoms of Tyre and Sidon were not the great military powers that threatened ancient Israel – they were the great cultural and economic powers, wealthy, prestigious, traversing the Mediterranean with the wealth of the nations.

It is Tyre that teaches Jerusalem how to build a proper palace and temple. It is Sidon that forms an alliance with Israel sealed by the marriage of Ahab to the Sidonian princess Jezebel. It is Jezebel who sets out to replace Israel’s archaic faith with a modern, progressive understanding of the gods – the worship of Ba’al, the god of the storm, the source of rain, the bringer of fertility and prosperity and his consort, Ashtoreth (Astarte). It is Jezebel who teaches Ahab about “modern” kingship and the use of power, arranging Naboth’s murder in order to seize his vineyard for a garden.

It is Jezebel who vows to murder Elijah after the great showdown on Mount Carmel that results in the people rising up to slaughter the priests of Ba’al.

Had these cities, symbols of idolatry, seen what the towns of Galilee had seen and heard in Jesus, they would surely have repented – changed their allegiance from gods of wealth and fertility to the LORD who rescues slaves, defends the poor and delivers the needy. They would have embraced the reign of God dawning in Jesus.

It’s a little like saying Wall Street and Washington would become models of piety and compassion, servants of justice and the poor.

Woe to us, how shameful, that we have seen the majesty and mystery of God in this Jesus and do not acknowledge that he is of God, that he speaks the eternal truths, shows the path of our true humanity, and brings to us God’s gifts of healing and life.

There is nothing here or elsewhere in the Scriptures that celebrates ignorance when it critiques “the wise and intelligent”; these words challenge the elites of society whose attachment is to the world they have created rather than to the world God is creating. They may be wise about war and politics and the manipulation of markets; but they are ‘fools’ when it comes to that which is eternal and enduring. Their allegiance is to Rome rather than the New Jerusalem, to their power and privilege rather than the justice and compassion of God.

But some have seen: the poor, the indebted, the enslaved, the wounded, the outcast – the powerless and inconsequential ‘infants’ of the day – they have seen and welcomed the dawning kingdom. And for these who see Jesus gives thanks to God. In the mystery of God’s working, these are the ones who change the world.

Sherry glasses

Thursday

Matthew 11

Sherry glasses.blog18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

My father’s mother was a feisty woman, small, thin, tough. She had a wrist full of bangles and a cigarette in her mouth as she whipped cream by hand. She made the most exquisite Danish sweets – and frikadeller to die for. Everyone gathered in the kitchen to watch her do the Danish potatoes, in the vain hope we could replicate her feat of beautiful small round potatoes in a perfect thin brown glaze. She could drop you with a Charlie horse – her knuckle into your thigh – and could drop over from her heart condition anytime she was losing an argument. She was raised in an upper middleclass home in Denmark, married an instructor in the Danish agricultural college who was doing sugar beet research in the Ukraine when the Russian revolution broke out. He was invited to America by a sugar beet company (as a researcher, so he had been led to believe, but when he arrived he discovered they brought him here to farm). So this woman who had never done domestic work became a farm wife who survived the dustbowl and depression in America.

She was a wonderful woman. And no story captures her best to me than her tale about welcoming every new pastor when he called on her in her senior housing. She offered him a sherry. If he took the sherry, he wasn’t good enough to be a pastor. If he refused the sherry, he couldn’t relate to ordinary people. Either way she had him. (At that time they were still all men.)

I thought for a while that the secret was to accept the sherry but not drink it but then realized that would have been the worst of all – wasting perfectly good sherry.

When Farmor died, I asked to inherit her sherry glasses.

Congregations are like this. Maybe it’s a quality of religious people. Maybe it’s a characteristic of our humanity. We say, “There’s no pleasing some people,” but it’s more than some people. We all have a remarkable ability to set ourselves up as judge.

Sometimes the consequences are tragic. The elites of Jerusalem dismissed John as too rigorous and Jesus as too liberal and received neither prophetic voice. They missed the time of their visitation.

It is amazingly easy for us not to hear what we don’t want to hear. We dismiss the message for some fault we find in the messenger. And since there are always faults to be found, we need never listen.

So we hear the preacher say that Jesus tells us to love our enemies or forgive those who sin against us – and though we don’t necessarily criticize Jesus, we criticize his spokesmen and women and keep on as we always have, nursing our grievances and perpetuating our hates. We gossip about the one who tells us that God commands us not to gossip. We ignore the message because of the messenger.

But then we cannot gain the kingdom.

The messengers are frail. This is part of the mystery of the incarnation. God comes to us in a human being (Jesus) and through human beings (one another). God comes to us through the human voice and human hands and through bread, wine and water that are taken from the soil and worked by human hands.

The messengers are frail. But we do not imagine that Christ does not come to us in the bread because we don’t like the taste or texture of it. And Christ is still in the wine whether it is red, white or golden. And Christ still speaks through our sisters and brothers whether they are too serious or too playful.

We are not listening to the messengers; we are listening to the voice of Jesus that comes to us through them. As messengers – we are all messengers – we should try to be worthy of the message. But the point is the message not the messenger. Unless we are not interested in the message at all, but only – like the Jerusalem elite – in retaining our power and privilege, our comfort and convenience. In which case, neither John nor Jesus matters.

But our loss is great.

Rest

Wednesday

Matthew 11

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Fresco in Kariye Camii (Kariye Kilisesi) in Edirnekapı, Fatih, İstanbul. In his hand, Christ holds the Gospels open to Matthew 11:28

28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Rest is not a small word in Israel. On the seventh day God rested: the work of creation moves towards rest. The slaves God delivered from Egypt were commanded to observe a day of rest, rest not just for themselves but for their servants and animals. Even the fields were to have a Sabbath rest. Rest is in the fabric of creation and it is our salvation. The Book of Hebrews speaks of the age to come as our Sabbath rest.

The Sabbath is a unique covenantal sign of Israel, an ever-abiding command. The neglect of the Sabbath was one of the reasons for God’s judgment against Jerusalem, and honoring of the Sabbath one of the defining marks of the faithful eunuchs and foreigners God welcomes into his sanctuary.

Jews were mocked by Roman society for giving slaves a day off. The Pharisees defended it forcefully – even against Jesus’ attempts to heal and free on the Sabbath. But Jesus rebuked them for failing to understand the Sabbath. Sabbath is not a ritual obligation; it is the day of salvation, the day of new creation.

So in this simple and familiar promise, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus is speaking a profound word. “I will give you rest.” I bring you God’s Sabbath. I give the rest God intended for us. I give deliverance. I bring the day of salvation. I lift the burden of humanity’s weary labor by the sweat of their brow. I restore humanity to those days when God walked through the garden in the cool of the evening. I make all things new.

This is far more than a promise to weary field hands and servants. It is the invitation to enter the reign of God, into the realm of the spirit, into the world of joy and life and peace, to dwell in God’s grace and compassion, to become sons and daughters of the Most High, to live the kingdom.

Jesus does not do away with the Sabbath, he fulfills it. He brings our true rest, our healing, our wholeness, the fullness of our humanity. And he invites us to live it.

What kind of king?

Watching for the morning of July 6

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

A wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on a donkey (c. 1378), Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

A wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ on a donkey (c. 1378), Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany.

“Lo, your king comes to you… humble and riding on a donkey.” Zechariah promises a king who will ride to Jerusalem upon a donkey. It is the ancient rite of accession in Jerusalem – the king coming in humility and as a symbol of peace. But the prophet is not promising window dressing and political posturing. He proclaims God’s living promise for a people who have known too much war.

The psalmist, too, speaks of kingship this Sunday, celebrating the God of mercy and steadfast love whose dominion endures forever, and who lifts up the downtrodden.

It is an interesting coincidence on this weekend our nation celebrates the anniversary of its founding document. What should governance be? What does true kingship look like? In a world of tyrants and self-serving rulers, our true king comes to us “humble and riding on a donkey.”

The elite members of Judean society criticized John for being too severe – and Jesus for being a glutton. They dismissed John’s prophetic voice because he fasted excessively – and Jesus because he didn’t fast enough: comfortable excuses for ignoring their message that the God of justice and mercy was coming to reign among them.

But there are those who hear. Those who enter into this reign of God. Those who take up this yoke that is not a brutal burden of tribute and taxation, but a glorious and gentle rule of grace and life. A sharing of bread. A forgiving of debts. A lifting up of the downtrodden. A healing of the sick and freeing of the bound. A dawning of the Spirit of God.

The Prayer for July 6, 2014

Gracious God,
in Jesus you invite all people into the path of your teaching and life.
By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and lives to your message
that, following your Son, we may find true rest for our souls.

The Texts for July 6, 2014

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12
“Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – A prophetic message from the book of Zechariah promises a king to come – not as conqueror upon a warhorse, but as prince of peace upon a donkey. It comes to us in the weary years after Babylon has fallen, but Judah is a poor backwater of the Persian empire.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-14
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” – A hymn of praise to God who reigns as earth’s just and faithful king.

Second Reading: Romans 7:14-25
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Paul uses the image of possession (compelled to act against our own will) to expound his notion that the death of Christ has freed us from our bond service to Sin and made us servants of God.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus rebukes the fickle crowd (who criticized John for his asceticism and Jesus for being a libertine) and praises God for opening the eyes of the poor and marginalized to see and take up the yoke of God’s reign of grace and life.

The kingship belongs to God

Sunday Evening

Psalm 89

white rose.charlie18For our shield belongs to the Lord,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

The poet’s opening themes are God’s faithfulness and covenant promise to David that his royal line shall never fail. Then the poet sings of the host of heaven praising God’s faithfulness and might. He uses as his poetic image God victorious over Rahab, the primeval chaos monster of Canaanite myth. All creation, heaven and earth, the divine and the mundane, is the LORD’s.

But we, the listeners, know that the Davidic kingship has fallen; the poem will end with lament and plea for God to remember and act. Still, the poet sings that all heaven and earth belong to the LORD, that God’s “arm” is “endowed with might.” It is why the people who know the festal shout are happy.

And then this little verse peeps in:

18Our shield belongs to the Lord,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.

The king belongs to God. The kingship belongs to God. God made a promise, but the kingship belongs to God. The line of David shall continue as the sun and moon “established forever”, but the kingship belongs to God. If kings forsake God’s commands, God will punish, yet he will not take away his steadfast love – so God has spoken – but the kingship belongs to God.

There is a remarkable humility in the text. The promise is ever allowed to be a promise; the poet does not take it as a possession: the kingship belongs to God. God has promised it to them, but it belongs to God. It is gift. It is a sure and certain promise by the one whose faithfulness and might are sung by all creation. But the kingship belongs to God; it is not Judah’s possession. It is not something that can be clenched in their fists. It comes only as promise. It must be trusted.

God binds himself with a promise, yet God is free. We can trust the gift, but we don’t own it. The kingship is not ours; it is God’s.

Jerusalem got in trouble when they thought the city could never fall because they possessed God’s temple. They imagined God’s presence and protection as their possession. It disconnected them from trust. It no longer mattered what they did – or didn’t do. They became a city that didn’t follow in faith, didn’t live the life they had been given, didn’t abide in God’s teaching. And the city fell – with the temple and kingship.

God binds himself with a promise, yet God is free. We can trust the gift, but we don’t own it. The kingship, the city, the promise is not ours; it is God’s.

Salvation is gift. Grace is gift. The Holy Spirit is gift. The presence of Christ in the bread and wine is a sure and certain promise, but it remains a promise, not a possession. A promise must be trusted; a possession I own. A possession I control. A possession asks nothing of me.

Christ is gift, not possession. Grace is gift not possession. Salvation is gift, not possession. They come to us as promise and we receive them with trust. We are confident, we are bold, we build on rock not sand, but we are not in control. We are not the masters. The kingship is God’s.

In this great psalm of praise and lament, hope and plea, confidence and yet confusion, the genius of the poet weaves together in a deep and abiding trust all these various threads: the faithfulness of God, the surpassing might of God, the certainty of his promise, and yet the knowledge that God is free. God is still God. God is not bound by us; we are bound to him. Our right and proper response to God is humble trust in his promise. To the invitation to God’s holy table, to the gift of bread and wine, to the promise of forgiveness, to the participation in the body, we can only say thank you. It is and always remains gift and promise, not our possession.

Dominion

Saturday

Romans 6

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Mosaics in Mount of Beatitudes: QUAE SURSUM EST IERUSALEM “The Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26)

12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

We don’t like to talk about sin these days, although I suspect that human beings have never liked to talk about sin – at least not our sins. Talking about other people’s sins has become a multi-billion dollar business we call the “News”, but that’s a different matter. I miss Walter Cronkite.

I suspect part of our problem in talking about sin is that we are working with a notion of sin that doesn’t match the world of the scripture. We tend to think of sin in terms of sins, specific thoughts and actions that are against God’s rules. But if we use that concept of sin, the opening line of Sunday’s reading makes no sense.

12Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

Paul imagines sin as a governing power, capable of exercising dominion, capable of making us “obey their passions.” Whose passions? Sin’s passions? It confuses most of us.

Much ink has been spilled trying to explain Paul. Some of the problem is that we are listening to half of the conversation. Paul is arguing with people, but we are not privy to their objections. Some of the problem is that Paul leaves out important elements of the argument because both he and his listeners can fill in the blanks. We are not so fortunate. And part of the problem is that the world in which Paul lives is different than ours.

As a consequence of all this we tend to pick out the verses we understand “The wages of sin is death” and skip over the rest. But then we are reading in our own ideas rather than understanding his. And so we are back to the idea that sins are deeds and their result is death, but Jesus has endured the death in our stead so we are free.

That’s true as far as it goes; it’s just not quite what Paul is saying. Paul sees sin and death as a governing force in the world. It is an evil lord that thrives on misery. It keeps Narnia frozen in ice (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe). It turns Eustace into a dragon (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). It binds and enslaves like an addiction. We chose to act in ways that harm ourselves and others, and yet we cannot choose otherwise. As Luther says so profoundly we are turned in on ourselves. We are born running from God. What we consider ‘free will’ is a will already bound to disobedience, a will that wants to be God rather than let God be God.

In our “natural” state we can serve only ourselves. An infant knows only its own wants, needs and desires. Parents sand off the rough edges of that self-centeredness – and the neighbor kids beat some it out of us (either you share the ball of they don’t let you play) – but it still lurks there in our inner selves.

Until Christ comes. Until we are encountered by selfless love. Until we are met by true generosity. Until we are Val Jean given the bishop’s precious silver with the surprising transforming grace: “you forgot the candlesticks.” (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables)

Such radical grace carries us into a different realm, a foreign territory – a realm Javert cannot comprehend. But there Paul’s comment begins to make sense: “Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies.” Do not let our innate rebellion rule. Do not submit yourselves to serve it as master. Submit yourselves to the one who has called you into his grace.

Choose to stay in the realm of life and not to submit again to death. Choose to abide in the realm of righteousness and not in the realm of sin. Choose to remain in the realm of grace and not law. Choose to dwell in the New Jerusalem not the old. Choose the realm of freedom and don’t go back to old chains.

There is choosing involved. I didn’t choose to journey to this foreign country – but once I have been carried here on the Samaritan’s donkey, then I have a choice whether I will stay or go home, whether I will bend the knee to serve Christ or submit myself back to the dominion of brokenness.

“Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies…You, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness….so now present your members as slaves to righteousness.”