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    Jun 28, 2020

    The 4th Sunday of Pentecost

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Today we hear Paul, in his letter to the Romans, admonishing his listeners to be slaves to righteousness as they have been freed, through Christ, from being slaves to sin. As I reflected on his words, I found myself stuck on that word righteousness. It is a word that has held various meanings for me over my Christian life. As a child, righteousness was making sure to follow the ten commandments, to learn the catechism and obey, it was to pray in the right ways, and read my bible stories so I could get little star stickers next to my name in the Sunday school class room. As I grew older, righteousness became more about my personal purity; it was about abstinence from all kinds of things: secular music, secular books, the secular world with its temptations and passions, its foul language and godlessness. Righteousness was winning the battle in the invisible spiritual warfare that surrounded every person where our very souls were the prize. Righteousness was about being saved through believing the right things, the right way. As a consequence, for much of my childhood and teenage life, I had viewed righteousness as being an individual’s state, and that salvation was about one’s individual purity before God. This is what the church taught me growing up. And it makes sense, as Paul writes: Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

                But now, as an adult, I’ve come to see righteousness much more broadly. It is about far more than simply an individual’s purity; it is also about Justice. Scripture is full of references to righteousness as justice. Over and over God calls forth prophets to admonish Israel when it has gone astray, chastising the nation when it has forgotten to care for its widows, its orphans, and its poor. Take the prophet Micah for instance and the verse that we are so familiar with: “And what does the Lord require of you? To do Justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” In the gospels, where we learn about the good news—well, that good news is also about justice. In Luke, when Mary and Elizabeth meet, Mary exclaims in the song we now know as the Magnificat, that God has show strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. The same is true for Matthew’s gospel where we see Jesus sending out the 12 as prophets, as righteous people to go and proclaim the good news; commentators tell us that in Matthew, righteousness is linked to “justice, ethics and Torah observance.” They go on to say that a righteous person in Matthew is someone who gives generously to the poor, or who practices any loving act; it is someone who is in right relationship with both God and others. It is in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus teaches us, blessed are the poor.

                This is also Paul’s understanding of righteousness. For Paul, there is no emphasis on the individual (although we’ve often interpreted this from his writings). You see, in Paul’s mind there are no individuals, only members of the community who through their baptisms have given themselves over to God’s will. A life of faith is about submitting in obedience to righteousness, and that means caring for the needs of others. Often Paul’s letters see him trying to help newborn believers and their newborn communities learn to live with one another, communities that were made up of people from vastly different backgrounds, both culturally and economically. Again and again he encourages them to submit to one another, to consider the spiritual and economic needs of one another, and to think of themselves not as individuals but as members of the body of Christ and “members, one of another.”

                Righteousness it seems is found in how we live with one another and not just in our community here at Holy Trinity, but in the greater community we find ourselves. We have brothers and sisters all over the country who are hurting right now, who are hungry right now, who don’t have homes, who are grieved and traumatized by violence and racism and economic injustices, people who live in places too polluted to be safe. I tuned into the Poor People’s Campaign over the weekend and do you know that 140 million people are in poverty in this country, who live in these conditions, who’s lives are cut short by poverty?  1.5 million children are homeless. I think what Paul is telling us today is that we don’t have to keep doing things the way we used to—that the world doesn’t have to be broken like it is, that God has a vision for humanity where justice and love wins. We are to offer ourselves and all our parts, as weapons (which is thought to be the most accurate translation for the word we read as tool or instruments), weapons of righteousness. Because if we don’t offer ourselves to that, the only option is to offer ourselves to sin. Paul doesn’t offer us a neutral ground.

    A number of us gathered several nights ago to reflect on the protests, and the message that is coming from the millions around the country demanding change. One person commented that it felt like we were standing at the edge of some kind of change, or at least, standing at the edge of us needing to change if we want to have a future worth handing over to our children.    Inequality, climate change, the pandemic…all of it feels that the present time is indeed poised to welcome life-giving change should we choose it, should we submit to it, should we offer ourselves to God’s righteousness. The modern, mainline and predominately Anglo Church has not always seen itself as an agent of societal change. For a long time it has focused on the individual, on individual righteousness, and on the individual’s salvation. But it is time for us to change as well. Thomas Merton writes: We have seen that Christian holiness can no longer be considered a matter purely of individual and isolated acts of virtue. It must also be seen as part of a great collaborative effort for spiritual and cultural renewal in society, to produce conditions in which all men can work and enjoy the just fruits of their labor in peace….it can never be sufficient …to lead a “Christian life” that is confined to the pews, to the home with out regard for… acute problems which call into question not only the future of man’s civilization but even perhaps the very survival of the human race itself.”[1]

    Jesus came to change everything. We the church are in this with everyone else, and the good news we proclaim is good news for all! We are a people of righteousness and we carry with us the promise of God’s faithfulness, God justice, God’s love. I have certainly found those things to be blessings in my life. Let us be an offering unto God and present ourselves as weapons of righteousness and choose eternal life for us and for the world. Amen. 

     

     

    [1] Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness