S101214 Romans 1:16-2:3
TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE
On August 28, 2004, I was in Oxford, England, as part of a C.S. Lewis study group. By myself I went to The Eagle and the Child or The Bird and the Baby Pub with a new copy of Lewis’ book, THE GREAT DIVORCE. I sat just a few feet from where he and his fellow Inklings had met weekly to discuss their literary work, to smoke their pipes, and to drink their ale. I ate my fish and chips and drank my ale absorbing the ambiance of the quaint establishment. It was a special moment for me as I wrote on the opening page what I was doing in this place where Lewis and his professor colleagues met so often.
Last Sunday I finished my message with a reference to C.S. Lewis’ dream story in THE GREAT DIVORCE. His story has stirred my imagination on the relationship between heaven and hell. Hell in his story was like a shadow land in which souls lived as ghosts. There was no objective substance to them. Yet, there was always a choice they could make. They could enter an omnibus at the bus station and take a holiday journey into a higher country in which they could explore the possible choice of becoming Solid People by beginning the journey toward true joy and reality. In the process they would progressively become more Solid People.
But not many ghosts chose to take the journey toward joy. They much preferred to return to earth to check out their earthly interests, to haunt others, and check out libraries to see if their books were still being read, or perhaps their sermons still being referenced. Those who took the bus to the higher country almost always resisted moving higher up and further in toward reality. The journey was painful. The green grass was so solid that it hurt their feet. The light was so bright that it hurt their eyes. They needed spiritual and physical conditioning with each step toward joy. Many decided it was much easier to return to the bus and journey back to the Valley of the Shadow of Death rather than to move toward the Valley of the Shadow of Life.
In the higher country the ghosts who had chosen to journey toward becoming Solid People desired the deeper joy of reality. The taste of joy, of life, drove them on. The narrator of Lewis’ story explored with his Teacher, George MacDonald, why it was that the Solid People, who were in touch with joy and filled with love, did not return to the shadow lands for the sake of saving those who had chosen death above life. The Teacher said many had returned on a saving mission, but once in touch with life and the reality of joy it was difficult to do. No one wanted to return. Yet in love many had.
The narrator sought further clarification about those in the gray city below in the Valley of the Shadow of death. Why had they refused to enter the omnibus for the holiday in the Valley of the Shadow of Life?
“What of the poor Ghosts who never get into the omnibus at all?”, he asked.
The Teacher answered,
“Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God,
‘Thy will be done,’
and those to whom God says,
‘Thy will be done.’
All that are in Hell, choose it. Without self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.” Chp. 9, p 75
THE FREEDOM OF GOD AND MAN
Two kinds of people! Which kind are we? The Apostle Paul was struggling with this dilemma throughout his ministry. In chapter 1 of his Romans Letter he traced the story of the fall of man away from the true and living God. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man or other creatures. In the process of this decision or choice the humans embraced the way to Hell. They chose the Valley of the Shadow of Death rather than the Valley of the Shadow of Life. Many said, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Lewis, P.71. The result was that the Creator God allowed them to experience the consequences of their choice. “God gave them up”. Three times Paul used that phrase: “God gave them up”. “God gave them up.”
God gave them up to reap the fruit of their choices. This “giving up” was what Paul meant by “the wrath of God”. It was as if God let the humans suffer the consequences of their deathly exchange.
So Adam and Eve were shown the way to the door of the Garden of Eden and were compelled to leave the Garden separated from the Tree of Life. In the very next chapter of Genesis the biblical writer allowed his readers to see what life cut off from joy, the reality of Heaven was like. Conflict, Murder, Anxiety, Fear, Violence, Death!
How are we to understand this radical freedom of God? From the creation stories of the Book of Genesis we learn that God created the humans, not as robots programed to do the makers will. Some have said this was God’s greatest risk in creating the humans in his own image. In doing so they were given the freedom to say to God, “Thy will be done” or to hear God say to them “Thy will be done”. Could it be that God did not care about the human choice? Like any parent concerned for a child, he had to care about the life decisions of those who bore His image.
If I were the Creator I would not have given such an option. But not the God of the biblical story! To be like God was to exercise the will of God, to freely choose the Valley of the Shadow of Life, and not the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Who of us can understand the mystery of this choice the humans made, “to exchange the glory of the God who is good and the source of all joy”, for “gods that are no gods?” In his Galatians Letter, Paul wrote,
“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at the harvest time, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:7-9
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE EXCHANGE OF LIFE FOR DEATH.
God gave them up to live with the results of their misused freedom. Central to these consequences was a distorted way of thinking. This was why the Apostle spoke so much about our need to have our minds transformed by the Spirit and the mind of Christ. By falling away from God we chose the way of foolishness thinking we were being wise. The human mind became debased.
We come to think that power is greater than love. We see others as objects to be used for our own passions. We think that we have arrived at freedom by asserting ourselves against God’s will. We break the 10 commandments and this as an assertion of freedom. And the Valley of the Shadow of Death seeks to enforce our false and foolish choices.
Most commentators believe that Paul wrote the Letter of Romans from Corinth. In the ancient Greco-Roman world to “Corinthianize” meant to be immoral. In Corinth one could purchase any experience of human sexuality one might desire. I have been in such cities. I remember being taken on a tour through the famous red light district of Bangkok, Thailand. Patpong it was named. It was jammed with people from around the world. We were on a mission trip to India. On the way back I wanted to see this place that had recently been written up in Time Magazine. That night my missionary companion and I were offered every form of sexual experience. Little boys and girls were for sale. Homosexual and Heterosexual options were on the market. The sex tours were present and there was money to be made. That’s what it was like in Corinth. The same in Ephesus and Athens! Surely so in Rome!
Through out the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s I felt as if I had a front row seat to the “sexual revolution” in America, both homosexual and heterosexual. Those were the decades of free love and sexual freedom. Drugs, sex, and rock’n roll! Living the dream.
Now our colleges and universities are struggling to bring order into the abuse of alcohol and drugs on campus. But with that has come sexual misconduct and rape. How do you deal with that? The UC system has installed blue buttons and lights around its campuses to call for police. The computer App genius’ have developed an iPhone App named “Good To Go” that couples may use in the midst of their passions to either say “yes” or “no” to consummation. One hopes it works in the back seat of a car or in the fraternity house in the heat of passion and booz. How likely is it that people will delay by consulting their iPhones?
Some of you are either hoping that I will sanction or condemn homosexuality from this text. I will do neither. Why? Because this text is only a litany of human behaviors that Paul saw in his world and which we see in our world. Each of the human behaviors are worthy of a class and open, honest study and discussion. I do not want anyone to feel beat up from the pulpit. The truth is that the line of sin runs through every human heart, the preacher’s included, and we need to be sensitive to the tender places of our hearts and lives.
There is not a one of us here that is not struggling with sexual brokenness and deep wounds from our search for intimacy, love, and lasting relationship.
“God gave them up.” God gave them up to suffer the consequences of exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images or idols. Therefore, Paul named what we see in the world. “Sexual identity confusion; evil; covetousness; envy; murder; strife; deceit; slander; hate; prejudice; pride; rebellion; faithlessness; lacking in compassion; ruthlessness.”
We could add to the list, but it is not necessary. Watch the evening news! Read the morning news! Go to the theater! The daily world in which we live is deeply troubling for those who care. Yet, the world has largely forgotten that it is ultimately accountable to the Creator and that the manifestations of “God Exchange” are but signs of the wrath of God already at work.
Jesus was right that it is not what comes from outside of our lives that defiles us, but what comes from deep in our unbelieving, rebellious hearts, about which we are often in denial.
A pious Jew or member of the Roman church, seeking to be obedient to the law of God, could easily have read Paul’s summation of the Gentile world and said, “that is exactly right. The Gentile dogs are corrupt and they deserve the judgment of hell for their immoral and unjust behaviors.”
But it was not just Paul who had a list of vices. Gentile moralist were naming the same perverted, inhuman behaviors. By this time in his letter, if a reading Gentile or Jew was saying “yes” to his argument against immoral sinners, the apostle wrote,
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Romans 2:1
That hurts doesn’t it? It is Jesus’ question: “How is it that you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye and cannot see the beam in your own eye.” This too is part of the blindness we all carry in our souls as a witness to our own need for healing.
Why do I preach this text this morning? Some of the assigned lectionary readings for my daily devotions, cut this portion from the Letter of Romans. I think that our awareness of spiritual need must begin at this place of seeing the human condition and ourselves in the mirror of the truth. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
It would do little good to read these texts if we were not able to hear the gospel of God, the good news of God’s rescue mission. When Paul spoke of the “righteousness of God” he was proclaiming the mighty acts of God by which we sinners have been rescued from our choices to walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. To be sure, God gave us up so that he could act in freedom to woo us back to right relationship with Himself.
Truly, the magnitude of God’s act in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, his Son, is impossible for our debased minds to understand. It is a mystery. But our hearts may be melted and loved back to the way of life. As long as we are alive we may be awakened to the reality of joy.
How powerful is the gospel of God? Let me end with this quote from Romans 5.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” 5:8-10
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
This is a podcast of the Sunday Sermon and portions of the worship service at Laguna Presbyterian Church. Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching, “The God Exchange” from Romans 1:16-25. We continue our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It is World Communion Sunday. We are reading from the NRSV.
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Acts 17:22-33; Romans 1:16-25
THE GOD EXCHANGE
When the Apostle Paul observed the religious life of the Greco-Roman world he saw it through O.T. prophetic eyes. Like Jeremiah the prophet of the 6th century B.C., he could have asked, “Have you ever seen such a thing? Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 2:9-12
Yes, the great tragedy of Old Testament Israel was that repeatedly she had changed her God for no gods, for idols. Even though the prophets and the psalmists had called the people to accountability for the change. How was it, they asked, that Israel had changed the Creator/Redeemer Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, for gods with eyes that could not see, for gods with ears that could not hear, for gods with bodies that could not move, with mouths that could not speak. The prophets said that those who worshiped the gods of their own making had become like them, lifeless, impotent, deaf, blind, silent, dumb, dead. Not a very good deal to exchange life for death!
The psalmist wrote in Psalm 106, “They made a calf at Horeb (Sinai: Exodus 32) and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.” Psalm 106:19-22
This was the theological crisis of Old Testament Israel. Repeatedly, they had fallen into idolatry. They exchanged the light of God’s glory for gods that had no light or life.
Yet, the Apostle Paul knew that this was not just a problem for Israel, whom he loved. This was the theological issue that plagued the entire human race, the Gentile world, all nations. He had seen this in every Greco-Roman city he had visited. From Ephesus to Athens, to Corinth, wherever he visited, the temples of the gods were always at the center of the public square. He wrote to Corinth what he preached, “We know that no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one. Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Cor. 8:4-6
In Romans 1-3 Paul summarized the human condition. He argued that humans from the beginning have had the same issue and problem, and that is holding on to the reality of God the Creator/Redeemer.
“Claiming to be wise, they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” Romans 1:18-25
Because in the Garden of Eden the first humans were seduced by a lie! Rather than finding freedom, wisdom, power, and self-actualization they fell away from relationship with their Creator. In losing right relationship with the One God who had given them life they lived the rest of their days East of Eden in bondage to the powers of sin and death, cut off from the Tree of Life.
The truth was that they lost their humanity when they lost their relationship with God. But what was lost was not their need for relationship with reality. That need was soon manifested. Separate from the Creator, the humans worshiped themselves, their power, their potential, their possessions, and finally they symbolized themselves in the material creation by making idols that they deified and fell down before. They worshiped “no gods” that they were sure would bring them wellbeing, prosperity, supremacy over others, and endless gratification. The result was folly and spiritual darkness.
You may be saying to yourself at this moment, “Well, that is a story from the past. It has no relevance for my world or me. I do not see temples to idols in my public square!
But let me ask, “What is it that you value above all things? Who is it that you trust will secure your wellbeing? For what have you worked a lifetime to achieve? The beauty of the creation is all around us. Many come to our shores believing they have arrived at their final goal being surrounded by sea, the beaches, and open-space. And of course this is good.
We have accumulated property and invested in the stock exchange to see our portfolios grow to the point that we think we are wealthy. Did we realize that our investing in the public stock exchanges was a spiritual act, a witness to our need to lift up a means of exchange for a deeper exchange on the God Exchange?
Many of us have invested in education for ourselves and our children hoping to have a return! We never thought of that process as a God Exchange. What if the diploma on the wall will not find us a job in the public square? Dare we trust the diploma on the wall to determine our future wellbeing?
The other morning when the sun was rising and the air was cool and clean I collected the newspaper, looked up the driveway, and thought to myself, “we just about have the maintenance completed.” And then I realized someone else, someday, will likely think the same. As an owner I’m just passing through. I have a stewardship responsibility, but my work dare not be thought of as an end in itself. I remembered my dear friend who had his ashes buried under a rose bush in his back yard. It’s hard to separate one’s identity and destiny from what we think we own and control.
John Calvin in the 16th century wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.” (See 1.11.7, p.108)
Karl Barth, the great Reformed theologian of the 20th century wrote something like this: “Wherever the qualitative distinction between men and the final Omega (or God) is overlooked or misunderstood, that fetishism is bound to appear in which God is experienced in birds and four-footed things, and finally, or rather primarily, in the likeness of corruptible man—Personality, the Child, the Woman—and in the half-spiritual, half-material creations, exhibitions, and representations of His creative ability—Family, Nation, State, Church, Fatherland. And so the ‘No-God’ is set up, idols are erected, and God, who dwells beyond all this and that, is ‘given up’. (p. 50-51 The Epistle to the Romans)
The PCUSA Brief Statement of Faith, confesses, “The Spirit gives us courage to unmask idolatries in Church and culture.”
At this point we need to remember to read Paul in context. He intended us to read his case against humanity with our eyes on Jesus Christ, the Center of all creation and the source of all life.
This is what we are doing this morning as we listen to his Word that is sharper than any two edged sword. This is what we are doing when we come to the Sacramental Table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here, at this Table the spoken, invisible Word of God, becomes visible to the eyes of faith in the elements upon the Table.
This Table reminds us that we are hungry and thirsty for the living, true God, for the presence and the power of the one Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is good to experience this hunger and thirst. This hunger and thirst for spiritual reality has never left the human heart. So we welcome that longing. All of our hungers and thirsts, our desires and our ambitions, remind us and call us to rediscover what it means to be human in right relationship with reality revealed in Christ.
This Table is not an idolatrous Table. It is the Table of the one in whom we live and move and have our being. We were made for this Table. This Table witnesses to our hope to sit at the Table of the Great Messianic Banquet in the presence of our Lord with people from East and West, North and South, and to commune with our common Lord.
At this Table we believe that the spiritual presence and power of Jesus is seen through eyes of faith in the elements of bread and wine, of the feeding we are so hungry to receive.
These elements of bread and cup witness to us of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through eating and drinking from these material elements all of material reality is sanctified and we enter the Paschal mystery of Christ crucified, Christ buried, Christ raised from the dead. Here we open our hearts to be filled with Christ. The promise is that he comes, he knocks at the door, he promises to come into our hearts and minds to restore to us what we lost in the original fall away from right relationship with our Creator.
You see, only Christ can reverse the consequences of our fall from reality. Only his crucifixion and resurrection can reconcile us with God as forgiven sinners.
This morning we turn from all our idols to find ourselves deeper in the reality of the New Creation, the Kingdom of God.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, a description of hell that has haunted me. He said that hell was a form of the shadow land in which the residents continually moved farther and farther away from one another. This hell was a place absent of relationship. It was a place in which there was no community. It was a place in which irritation and isolation abounded. It was a place of profound division, loneliness and anguish.
At the Table of our Lord, the living Lord restores the vertical relationship that we have lost by virtue of our God Exchanges. At this Table we move closer together to the only God and farther away from the no-gods we have chosen. Here we begin to experience what it means to live anew in a world God created and which he has redeemed in his dearly beloved Son.
By Dr. Jerry Tankersley
Rev. Dr. Steve Sweet is preaching from Romans 1:15-17 as we continue in our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.
To LISTEN NOW, CLICK the TRIANGLE.
To download the audio, CLICK the DOWN ARROW.
Rev. Dr. Jerry Tankersley is preaching from Romans 1:1-15 as we continue in our sermon series in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We are reading from the NRSV.
To LISTEN NOW, CLICK the TRIANGLE.
To download the audio, CLICK the DOWN ARROW.