Sunday in Lent ≅ Year
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
March 13, 2005
Love God and Do What You
Lessons for the Day
Ezekiel 37: 1-3 (4-10)
John 11: (1-16) 17-44
you in the name of God our Creator, Christ our
Brother, and the Holy Spirit who sustains us
and empowers us to love and serve them both. Let us now
collect ourselves in the presence of God, and wait on
God's word for us today . . . (Pause)
this time and place, we don't know much about slavery.
We've read the history books, of course. We know about
mankind's long and sorry history of enslaving the "other"
-- the tyranny of the powerful over the less-powerful, the
dominance of the rich over the poor. But we're not
slave-holders. And we've never been slaves. So
we wouldn't say we know much about true
maybe we do.
our time and place slavery appears wearing a very
different face -- a face quite unlike the one it wore when
the apostle Paul wrote today's lesson in the Epistle
to the Romans.
for a moment about your own life,
and about the lives that you see lived-out all around
you. Without judging -- but simply by observing
and reflecting -- ask yourself:
know anyone who is enslaved by his or her work?
know anyone who is a slave to possessions?
know anyone who is a slave to drink or drugs, to food
sex or to any of the
other more-titillating enslavements?
know anyone who is a slave to what other people think
know anyone who is a slave in other ways?
answer "yes" to any of these questions?
Did the names of someone you know or of someone you love
come to mind? Did your own name or face flash before you
in response to one or more of the queries?
know more about slavery -- this slavery that leads
to death --than we ever thought we did. More than
we would ever dare to let on . . .
same time, we also know very little about slavery in
Saint Paul's time -- about what the word "slave" would
have meant to Paul's readers in Rome, or about how one
became a slave in those days . . .
time in which Saint Paul was writing, there were three
primary ways in which a person could become a slave:
could be captured in war and forcibly enslaved,
could choose slavery to pay off a debt, or
could choose slavery because of an inability to care
-- shifting the duty to provide life's necessities onto
the master, in return for a pledge to work as a slave in
the master's house or business.
Interestingly, two of the three ways in which people of
the first century could become enslaved involved
choosing slavery. Perhaps that's one of the reasons
Paul uses slavery to illumine today's lesson.
epistle to the Romans is Paul's most carefully crafted
statement of the Christian faith. And in today's
lesson, Paul is dealing with an important question -- one
that is every-bit-as-relevant to us today as it was to
Paul's readers in Rome almost two thousand years ago.
crux of the question:
Christ's death and resurrection have freed us from
obedience to Jewish Law, can we do
whatever we want, whenever we want, to (or with)
whomever we want, with no consequences?"
If we are
no longer slaves to the Jewish Law, are we now free to
be slaves to any random impulse that flits through our
consciousness? If we are not owned by the Law, are we
now owned by ourselves? And if we are not owned by
ourselves, then who does own us, and what do we owe
-- in the now-famous words of Saint
Augustine --"Love God and do what (we) will!" Well
yes, sort of. And also no, as well.
-- by God's grace in Christ Jesus -- freed from the law.
We can now choose a new master. But
we also must choose a new master.
Let's see how that played out for those Paul was
addressing in Rome.
that Paul's letter to the Romans would have been
written to people who were already believers. These
early Christians would have been baptized into the
church as adults -- and baptized only after a lengthy
period of instruction and preparation. These people would
have chosen Christianity and chosen baptism
-- and both these choices could have been fraught with
reminds the Romans -- and these are my words but his
thoughts -- that they have chosen to submit themselves
as slaves to Christ. As Christian believers, they
have accepted a new master. They have given up slavish
(there's that word again) obedience to the Law and
accepted Christ instead. They were freed
from the Law and freed
for a new life of righteousness in
what about us?
Where do we fall on this whole master/slave thing?
What is our Law? How shall we
are called to throw-in with the Christ. We are called --
just as these early Christians in Rome -- to be slaves to
In fact --
as the priest says when making the sign of the cross
on the foreheads of the newly-baptized -- we have
-- in Baptism -- been "sealed by the Holy Spirit in
Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever."
an image from the cowboy culture of the American
southwest, we have been branded with the cross of
Christ. For some of us, this is a brand we chose
in adult baptism. For others of us, the brand of Christ
was chosen for us when we were baptized as infants.
way, we affirm our branding every time we participate
in the Baptismal Covenant. And the Baptismal Covenant
speaks volumes about what it means to be slaves to
righteousness and to sanctification. We vow -- among
other things -- to:
in resisting evil and, whenever (we) fall into sin
to repent and return to the Lord."
by word and example the Good News of God in Christ."
and serve Christ in all persons, loving (our)
neighbor as ourselves," and to
for justice and peace among all people, (while
respecting) the dignity of every human
pages 304, 305
Christ we are freed from the Law -- for sure and forever.
But our freedom is a freedom for love, not a freedom
freedom is the freedom to choose
-- as slaves in the first century did -- who will be
our master. Will we give ourselves over to God and to
a life that is consonant with God's love? Or will we
choose something else, something less?
to hear Saint Augustine's remark as:
and do what you will."
more appropriate to Augustine's original meaning to put
the emphasis on the first two words:
God and do what you will."
always remember that -- in our baptism -- we have been
"sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as
Christ's own for ever." We belong to Christ. We are
branded with the sign of the cross -- the very brand
of God. And that very brand marks each of us as one
of God's own, calling us to keep the commitments made at
attend to those commitments, when we remember whose we
are, then (and only then) are we free to -- at Augustine's
bidding -- "Love God, and do what we will."
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