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Ordinary Christians

Proper 8, Year A, RCL, Track 2

Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42


Romans 6:12-23, Proper 8, Series A, by James Wetzstein, Copyright 06-26-2005
Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

Our theme of helping others and receiving them with grace carries on from last week. Matthew tells us to welcome people, who are doing the work of the Lord. Prophets should welcome other Prophets, righteous people the righteous. And even those of us who are neither prophets nor righteous, we, the disciples of Christ, are to welcome the little ones.


The little ones, referred to in this passage, are not children but ordinary Christians. In the Matthean Church, there were three classes of disciples; the Christian prophets, those who legitimately spoke on Christ's behalf. The Righteous, who are thought to be the traveling missionaries. And then there are the rest of us, the ordinary Christians, which he calls “the little ones.”


This passage does two things. First, it empowers the disciples to be the representatives of Christ. Much as I spoke about last week, Matthew says we are to live lives that are examples of Christ's life. Secondly, Matthew defines what he means by Disciple.


A disciple, for Mathew, is not the twelve apostles or Jesus’ original followers. Disciples are all Christ’s followers, past, present, and future. In many ways, we find that Matthew has a strong sense of the One Body of Christ in which all Christians are members of the Body. This doesn’t only connect us as one Church; through our baptism, through the Body and Blood. We are bound together in Christ, through his love, through His life, death, and resurrection. As much as we try to divide the body over our differences, in doing so we only harm the body by growing dissension, animosity, and division.


For me, this leads to the question, how do we work within the bounds of government; how do we work with other denominations; how do we work with people with whom we don’t see eye to eye or find distasteful? How do we build kind and loving relationships, to bridge a divided culture, without increasing hate or demeaning others’ humanity?


This is a difficult task. Whether we look at the world news or the issues in our local community, we often feel overwhelmed and inadequate to even figure out where to begin. But the truth is that we don’t need to begin by solving such large problems. We can begin with ourselves and mentoring those we love to do what we can both as individuals and through our small piece of the global Church which we call Grace.


Today, Paul offers us guidance to accomplish this. He uses words such as sin and death, righteousness, and sanctification. He also uses a word that really rubs me the wrong way, slavery.

Many of us have some idea as to what slavery meant here in the Americas. Brutal punishment and dehumanizing conditions in which enslaved people were treated as beasts of burden. So my question is about Paul’s analogy, of us being enslaved to God. Is this enslaved relationship really the relationship the Lord wants to have with us?

The answer is an emphatic NO!


First, slavery in 1st century Palestine was not the same as it was in the Americas. For the most part, slaves were more like indentured servants. And a life where poverty wasn’t the accepted condition. It was a life of servitude yet with many rights, often more rights than a child or a widow. I’m not trying to put a shiny gloss on this, and I don’t think any of us would subject ourselves to this life. What I believe Paul is trying to explain is that there are rules and norms to follow if you desire to live a Christian life.


A significant part of our Christian tradition is to give up yourself for others. We realize that following Christ is difficult, and sometimes challenging. Much as I spoke about last week in which Christ said we must pick up our cross and follow him. But it is the burden of the cross that we must carry, that can be so very difficult. And when we carry our cross, we understand that we do not carry it because of our will or desires, but we carry it for others and for the Lord. We are not called to blindly follow or to lead without understanding. We are called to the more difficult tasks of challenging the norms and challenging historic tradition including biblical interpretation just as Christ himself did. If Christ says, loving God is the first commandment and Loving neighbor is the second. Then all the things we do in life should align with these two commandments.


Getting beyond ourselves, our ego, our pride, and our selfishness is the more difficult task. If we cannot get beyond these, we will have a difficult time seeing our neighbors as equal to ourselves; seeing those who are substantially wealthier or poorer, those more or less educated, and those who have strange accents, or extremely different points of view. If we have difficulty accepting others as equals to ourselves then we likely do not see others as Christ sees them.


All people are created equal in God's eyes. And if we do not see others as equal or if we do things that prevent this equality, then I wonder if we truly accept that God loves us the same as God loves others. This is the gift of grace, that no matter what we have done and how much separation we have put between God and ourselves, we can be made whole again through Christ. We can begin our journey of righteousness in which we strive to follow God more closely. We can become increasingly sanctified; more holy; by lessening the distance between us and God.


Now I can almost hear some of my more evangelic brothers and sisters saying that this smells of Works Righteousness. But it’s not. It’s not the works that bring you closer to God. It is the opening of your heart to God’s love and sharing that love with others that bring us closer to God. The works are examples, or the fruits, of the out poring of this love. For example, if you help someone, and you are helping them because you believe you will feel better for doing it, or others may see what a good person you are, then the rationale is about you; how you will feel, or how others will perceive you. But if you help someone out of compassion for their plight, out of love for them or their humanity. Then you are doing this not for you but for them. You are showing them the love that God has for you. It is unmerited. It’s undeserving. It is grace.


I pray that we can accept God’s grace and love for ourselves and offer this love to all whom we meet.

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