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  • Writer's pictureThe Rev. Ian Emile Dunn

Who do you serve?

A Homily for Lent 4 – Rose Sunday

March 31, 2019

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

Text: Galatians 4:21-31

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Are you free or are you a slave? This question is put forth by St. Paul this morning as he writes to the church at Galatia. He is wanting for them to be free from their slavery to the law, their slavery to their own sins, and to be free in Christ. As we explore the saints word’s this morning we will seek to have a better understanding of what it means to be a slave – in the sense that he is talking about – he is addressing the Judaizers, that is those who would demand that Greek Christian converts would follow the Old covenant law, but there are other facet to this that we must be aware of.

There are two types of negative slavery that we must discuss this morning – first it is the one St Paul addresses directly - those who would say that we must do something in order to earn the grace we find in Christ. This still exists today – it is not new, for there is nothing new under the sun, as they say. The second aspect is the slavish devotion to sin, that we can sometimes find ourselves in and was our nature before we became free in Christ.

One of the first controversies that arose in the fledging church in the first century was whether the converts to Christianity were still bound to the Old Covenant. Must Christians be circumcised and obey the dietary laws of the first covenant? Or had they been freed? If you love bacon as I do, then you know what the church eventually decided. We are freed from the law – freed to follow Christ.

But there are those today who do the same thing. There are those who say – you must be Anglican to be a true Christian. You must worship with a certain prayer book, or use a certain translation of the Bible. You must worship with a certain kind of music. You must be republican or democrat to be a true Christian. We can just as easily add to the requirements of salvation as those in the first century did, and we see this happening throughout all of history.

As we contemplate this I should beg for us a serious question and call us to introspection, self exploration – do we truly believe, do you truly believe that you are freed by Christ, and Christ alone? Does your salvation rest in Him alone, or have you added to the requirement for yourself and for others?

We are called to be freed in Christ – we are called to trust in Him alone. We shall not add to this. Yet, throughout the history of the church we’ve seen her members adding to the requirement of salivation. Of course the most poignant example of the straying from this is the Catholic Church before the reformation – the leaders heaped upon believers more and more requirements for salvation. When the reformation broke out the rallying point was “Sola gratis, Sola fide, Solis Christus, Sola scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria.” That is “saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.”

This is not just a rallying cry for the reformation but the Christian call to belief and we shall not add any more to it, nor take anything away from Christ. We shall learn to trust in Him alone and in that shall we strive to live to God’s glory alone, and to do this we must trust in Christ alone.

Now, to the second facet of this passage – having explored the question of whether we add any requirements to our salvation, or are we trusting in Christ alone? The next question is this – are we slaves to our sin or do we prefer the freedom we have in Christ? I want to plant a small seed in your mind – before we dive into this – because the third question we will ask today – is do you prefer holiness – do you prefer God’s holiness, and pursuing Him, or do you prefer your own sin? These two questions are slightly different – but – they are closely linked, and so as we delve into the first question, keep the second in the back of your mind.

When Adam chose the fruit in the garden he rebelled against God. He welcomed sin into the world, and from him we have inherited our sinful nature. It is the curse handed down from father to son, and mother to daughter, the curse that makes us want to rule over each other, makes us want to set ourselves up to be our own gods, and to be gods for others.

For me, a particularly poignant example is as I look into my own heart – I have noticed my own inclination to not only want to be other’s god, to run from God, and rule over others but to be other’s christ as well. That is to say – altogether too often, I want to be other people’s savior, I want to fix everything for everyone and worst yet, I want the glory for myself.

These sins are a sneaky thing – I want people to trust in me, to see me as their savior. I want the praise that I get when I do good! But that is not my calling – my calling, all of our callings is not to be this redeemer for people but to point them to our redeemer! Our calling as Christians is to point people to Christ and to our Heavenly Father.

This is what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 5:16 – when he calls people to let their light shine, so that those who see their good works would praise our Father in heaven. It is not for our own glory that we do good works, not for our glory that we strive to be kind, to serve one another, but rather it is to point people to the Father.

But, I digress – I used this example to show how so often it is easy to get tempted into sin, tempted into taking up a position that is not ours to take, tempted to want to trample down others that we might have what we want. It is easy to get into our hearts a slavish devotion to sin, losing sight of our whole hearted pursuit of Christ.

St. Paul puts it another way “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We of course, echo this when we share in a confession in Morning Prayer and we say “I have done the things I ought not to have done, and left undone those things which I ought to have done.”

Friends, make no mistake – if we are not in Christ, if we are not his bondservant we are slaves to sin, if we are not fleeing sin, and turning to Christ we are slaves to that sin which separates us from God, from our fellow human beings, and leads to our death, not only physical death but spiritual death. We called to guard our hearts against these sins so that we will not return to this slavish devotion to the passions of our hearts. Flee sin, and turn to Christ.

Now, we find ourselves at the third point – St. Paul talks about about being children of the free woman to point towards our freedom in Christ. There is an important distinction to be made here. What is it that we are freed to? We are freed to obedience. As we have been slaves to the sin, Christ has freed us so that we might follow him, so that we might be made obedient to what God calls us to. Christ has purchased us from our owner who is sin, that we might be his bond-servant, and not his bond-servant alone but be adopted as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. That, my friends is the good news of the gospel.

But we are not to remain there, we are not to say well, that’s neat, we have been made free now let me go back to my sinful ways. No, we are set free so that we can freely walk with the Lord, freely know Him. Here, an action is required of us, an action that comes out of knowing God, and the endowment with His Spirit and that is that we turn from those sins of old, and dwell richly in Christ. We do a full fledged about face and come running to him.

Perhaps the most beautiful example of this comes from the tale of the prodigal son. The son has left the Father, and squandered his Father’s riches. Think about humanity for a moment. We were created to dwell richly in the garden, to walk with God in the cool of the day, to know him as we know our best friend or spouse – only better because in that garden, in the early days of the new planet there was no sin, so there was no separation.

Yet, we know sin came into the world, and we know the horrible after effects – just on the most basic level – heartache, pain, and sorrow are all from sin. Torment, injustice, brother turning against brother, and sister against sister – these are actions are not what creation was meant to be, but yet this is what we have done with what we inherited from the Father. We have squandered the richness that God had given us.

When we hear the call of Christ – when we look in the mirror truthfully and we see ourselves clearly – we see that we have sinned against the Father and are not worthy to be call his son. But, we trudge back to the Father and while he is still a long way off he comes running to us, he embraces us and he prepares for us the fatted calf. But Christ is not the older brother of this story – Christ is the one who has made our way home easy, who has opened the door for our return. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and it is through him that we come to the Father.

But what would we do then, if welcomed with the glorious feast we chose to go back to the swine? Would we go back to eating the slop that was meant for the pigs? No, we are called to arise each day, to repent, to turn back to God, and dwell richly in Him through Christ.

This brings us back to my question earlier – it is not my own but one I heard recently and that I think is particularly helpful – do you prefer sin or do you prefer holiness?

I think the critical word here is prefer. For if we are honest we know that we still sin. We know that when the day gets long and we are tired and we’ve been asked one too many questions we snap at our spouse and say words we shouldn’t say, we know that we think hard thoughts that are not kind and even hateful towards others, we know that we struggle with taming the lustful beasts, we know that if we ask God to reveal to us the sins we are struggling with – it’ll be more like looking under our refrigerator that has been in the same place for twenty years with a bright flashlight than smelling freshly launder sheets.

But what do we prefer? Would we rather be unkind to our spouse, be hateful towards others, do we prefer sexual immorality, and laying down in the collected dust of forgotten years, or do we prefer to ask God to continue to sanctify us? Do we long that God would give us penitent hearts that allow us to come running back to him day in and day out?

If we are truly free, we are free to repent, free to learn what it is to love God in obedience and self sacrifice. If we are truly free, we are free to follow what God has called us to in His word, and to be a living sacrifice that is a sweet smelling offering to Him. A loving obedience to the word of God – is what true Christian freedom looks like, for we are no longer burdened with the horrible pain of sin but invited into joyful obedience empowered by the Holy Spirit.

I realize sermons about sin are not the most fun to sit through. We live in a time when the idea of sin is either a taboo subject or it has been turned into a rebellion against the social norm. But for the Christian – seeing our own sin gives us broken and contrite hearts – which we offer to God and he is pleased. For he can used our broken and contrite hearts to draw us back to Him and the glorify Himself. It is this that he desires. So take heart dear friends – if this sermon has hit a nerve, let us repent together, let us turn back to God, let us say to Him, Father, I have sinned against you and heaven, and am no more worthy to be called your son, and let us feel his warm embrace as he runs to greet us as we turn away from those sins.

We have been given the opportunity to not be the children of slavery – but to be the sons and daughters of God. So rejoice and be glad dear friends, for it is in Christ that we have this freedom, and it is in Christ that we know God, so as we reach the last couple of weeks of Lent, let us with penitential hearts, rejoice in this good and beautiful fact that we have been made free, adopted, and grafted into the Christian family.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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