Saturday, February 04, 2012

B, Epiphany 5 – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 “Breathe in Breathe out: This is the Law of Christ

Key text: 1 Cor 9:20b-21, 23

To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
In recent weeks we have heard that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son; the second member of the Trinity. We have heard he has come preaching, "the kingdom of God is near"; he proclaims, "repent and believe the good news". We have heard the power of his word in calling the disciples. "Come follow me", is all he said, and they followed!
Last week and today we heard (Mark 1:21-39) how the demon possessed testified to his presence, naming Jesus as the Son of God, as if in a contest of one-upmanship. As if the demons would have had power over Jesus and not be exorcised, if they could name their exorcist before he identified them and threw them out. But the demons' words against God's word amounted to absolutely nothing. In fact their ploy to identify him first and have power over him, only reveals the very source of his power and authority over them. Jesus is the Son of God; he has the power of God, because he is God. Jesus of Nazareth is revealed as the Son of God.
Those around Jesus didn't get it; they didn't understand what he was saying or doing. The disciples, those in the synagogues, the crowd, and the sick, all saw Jesus as a quick fix to their problems. He could heal their diseases now, and make everything alright. But Jesus came not to heal sickness and throw out demons—he wasn't one who bore a bandaid solution—but rather he came to heal people of sin on the cross. He came to heal the source of all sickness and death. The demons knew why he was there, but he didn't allow them to speak. They got it, they knew, but they had no power to stop him.
Saint Paul an apostle of Christ proclaims, 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
How do you picture Christ in your life? Are you one who seeks quick fixes? Are you one in the crowd looking to feel good; to use Jesus as emotional balm. Or to apply him as a bandaid; to hid the reality of sin oozing out from under it. What is the reality of Christ in your life, do you allow his word access into your heart? Do you allow the fruits of the Spirit planted in you, to heal and to grow?
It might seem that Paul is contradicting himself, going back on the "Justified by grace through faith" catch cry to which we Lutherans cling. Paul now seems to advocate law once again saying, "…I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law". Jesus himself says, "…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8: 36) And Paul says to the Romans, "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes". (Romans 10:4) So are we under law or under gospel? What is Paul talking about when he says he is under Christ's law?
The truth is that the gospel is not a quick fix, feel good, solution? It does fix; but its healing qualities are received eternally. Jesus' call to follow—given to us in baptism—is not a once off remedy, done and forgotten. That's not how it works! Rather Jesus' call to follow is a daily struggle against all those things that would stop us from repenting and believing that Jesus is with us. It's a call which continually immerses us in the forgiveness and life of our baptism so we might trust Jesus, and trust the things he has put in place, so we can receive all the benefits of his grace physically and spiritually. And having trusted in these things—including the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to lead us to him through these means he puts in place—he calls us to be Christians in the situations in which we are placed in this world.
When we are Christians we do good works. Not because we have to. Rather they become an automatic response of our being in Christ and he in us. It's just like being a human—a human being––we breathe, our heart pumps, our minds work, all without our willing them to do so. We're humans being, humans existing. So too we are Christians being, Christians existing. The things we do as Christians should be as automatic as a human breath.
However, humans do stop breathing or find ways to stop their breathing, having a detrimental effect on their being or existence. There are also other things which might stop us from being, breathing, living, existing – from being a partaker of life. So in this situation one who is on the edge of life might receive a quick remedy to make them breathe or start their heart pumping, but to partake in the blessings of life, air must constantly and automatically flow into the lungs and blood stream, and the heart must automatically move that blood around the body.
If we treat God's grace as a once off quick fix, not hanging onto the means and ways of receiving God's grace; not trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us in God's word, not trusting the Spirit to lead us to the Son of God in the sacrament; not trusting in the sacraments as Jesus way of giving us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation; by closing up our ears to God's word; then we become like a human being who says after they have been given life, they no longer need to breathe to survive.
So one must conclude that a Christian who treats God and his grace cheaply, balances on the edge of life too. Without trust in God, without faith in Jesus' way of repentance and belief, with the word of God being suffocated and stifled within, how then can the exhale of good works occur in our automated Christian lives? How can the love breathed into us, flow through us, out of us, and into the lives of others who have not yet received the life-giving breath of the gospel, or who are suffocating under the weight of their sins?
We now live under Christ's law, this law is about life, and this law is about allowing the Holy Spirit to put our breathing back into time with the breath of God first breathed into Adam in the beginning. We are called to follow Christ; not to follow under our own steam and become exhausted, or to think once we have him we can leave him and run ahead. But we are called to follow and breathe Christ in our lives everyday. He calls us to stay with him, and trust in his life giving means.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are God's "continual" workmanship, a work in motion, living beings; living in the love of God's grace as an example for our lives. But also living in the love of this grace to forgive and restore us when we choke, when our heart misses a beat, or when we cause ourselves or are caused to stop breathing the living air of the gospel. He continually works to bring us back from dying in our sinfulness to serve him and share in the blessings of his death for our sins and his resurrection for our eternal life.
Jesus cast out demons, healed Simon's mother-in-law, and that night he healed many others too. He took on himself all impurities that lead to death, and early in the morning after the Sabbath he went out to pray. He took the burdens of their sicknesses to his Father in prayer. And afterwards he bore on himself the cause of all these sicknesses on the cross. We too can bring all our sins and those of others to the Lord in prayer because we have the living risen Son of God in us. Breathing in the forgiveness of our sins on the cross and exhaling that love onto other people too.
This is Christ's law, it's the law of love; this is who we are. This is our nature in Christ; this is a Christian being! Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe Christ in, breathe Christ out. Repent and believe the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the God of forgiveness lives and breathes in you. Amen.