So this gets complicated.
Homily 229 – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 18, 2016
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
St. Paul today offers a really, really complicated passage.
It is difficult, but we can break it down a bit, and perhaps make more sense of things.
In the first sentence of the passage, St. Paul tells us that justification will not come to us through the Law. There is a bit of context missing. In verse 15 St. Paul writes “We are by nature Jews, and not unbelievers.”
He has been describing the interaction with St. Peter – opposing him face to face, in essence, calling out his hypocrisy. If you, Peter, are Jewish, and do not live as a Jew (meaning, following all the law), then why do you ask others to follow the Law?
This is the context by which we need to understand today’s passage.
St. Peter, and St. Paul, both understood that the Gospel of Christ meant that justification – that is, to be considered righteous before God – was not found in obedience to the Law.
Obedience is an interesting phenomena. As a parent, I can see the motivation of my child to obey.
That motivation might be fear of punishment. It might be transactional – doing good to build up credit that I might ask for something later. Each of these is obedience – but it is insincere.
It comes not from love, but from selfish desire.
I can also see obedience out of love – an obedience that goes beyond the specific details of what is asked. There is no thought given to what is in it for them. The only desire is to serve.
The first type of obedience might be called the law of the Jews – the Torah. The second kind of obedience might be called the Gospel of Christ.
So, St. Paul points out that we understand the obedience to the Law can no longer be known as righteousness. Only the obedience through love for Christ.
But, St. Paul continues, but what if we are found to be sinners? That is, what if we still transgress the law? Does that mean that Christ encourages the transgression of the Jewish law? That Christ serves sin?
No – not at all. Because, what St. Paul doesn’t say explicitly but implies here is that Christ is not a “new law.” Rather, Christ calls us to love. Any obedience we offer is from our love.
So, if we still find ourselves sinning – transgressing the law – what then?
Does this mean that our love for Christ is somehow flawed? Are we found unrighteous because of our sin?
Well, St. Paul continues, let me put it this way. I’ve spent a lot of effort to convince you that the obedience to the Law will get you nowhere, and that we cannot be justified – made righteous – through the Law.
St. Paul isn’t going to back away now and tell us that our transgression somehow prohibits us from receiving God’s love. That would contradict everything that he has already presented!
That would rebuild the law itself!
What St. Paul does find in the Law is a way, a path, that we might crucify our selves, our will, and instead live the life which is demonstrating our Love for God.
It is no longer us being compliant and obedient through fear. But us being compliant and obedient through Love.
God – who IS Love – is dwelling in us, living through us. It is not us, but Christ living in and through us.
Now we can view the Law in an entirely new light!
No longer is it something to be anxious and fearful about. Rather, it provides us ideas for demonstrating our love for God.
No longer a rule-book, it becomes a resource book. A book of the myriad of ways I can offer service to others and to God.
So many ways that it will be impossible to do all of them.
But we can do as many as we can.
And if we don’t – we no longer have to fear condemnation and punishment. Rather, it is a missed opportunity.
A missed chance to say “I love you” by our actions.
This is the cross we take up. This is how we lose our lives. So that indeed, we my express our Love for God, our Love for our Savior, God incarnate.
And through that expression, we find true life.
Not through physical death or physical anything, really. Rather, through living a life of exuberant love for God and for Christ.
Why? You may ask? Because He loves us first!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!