Trinity 7, 2016
The Epistle. Romans 6:19-23
The Gospel. St. Mark 7:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Our Collect for today reads this way. Let’s hear it again.
Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things;
Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy,
keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are 4 things in this prayer that tell us about God and His work in us.
There are 4 verbs of action that God undertakes in sanctifying us.
Grafting, Increasing, Nourishing and Keeping.
We ask God in that prayer to graft into our hearts a love of His name.
We ask Him to increase in us true religion.
We ask Him to nourish us with all goodness.
And, we ask Him to keep us in the same.
Keep us in the same referring back to His goodness? Or maybe even keep us in all of the above.
This again is the work of our Lord, through the Holy Spirit, in us.
The lessons for today are The Feeding of the 4000, not to be confused with the Feeding of the 5000. These are two separate events.
And the lesson for the Epistle is from St. Paul and his great letter, once again, to the Romans.
Let’s take the Epistle first and see how God works in us these 4 elements of grafting, increasing, nourishing, and keeping.
The previous verses to this section are the set up and if you were to do Morning Prayer today, you would have heard the first verses that precede those we heard a few minutes ago.
Paul in this section of Romans 6 is speaking about the subject of slavery. Not slavery in the conventional sense, but slavery this time to Righteousness.
The Scriptures tell us about us once being enslaved to sin before we were Christians. For example here are some ways in which we were enslaved: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3 ESV)
Peter says: “…whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:19 ESV)
Or: “”For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
In all of these passages (and there are more) we are described as no longer being slaves. We once were, but now we are not.
But Paul today says that he is speaking in human terms because of our natural limitations.
He is speaking in terms we can understand or relate to. Terms that are physical, in order to help us to understand the spiritual side of what he is trying to convey.
He goes on to say, that before we were Christians we were slaves to sin. We presented our bodies in such a way so as to partake in lawlessness and impurity.
This is not necessarily physical lawlessness and impurity acted out. This is in thought and word as well. And in doing so, it leads to more lawlessness.
But he says, “So, now present your bodies as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. Now that we are professing Christians, we are to act in such a way, and behave in such a way so as to grow in sanctification.
He says when we were slaves of sin, we were free in regard to righteousness. What a strange thing to say.
We were free in regard to righteousness? When we are devoted to one, we are completely devoid of the other. When we are devoted to one, we completely depart from the other.
And it goes both ways. We should now be devoted to righteousness, and should be completely departed and separated from sin.
Easier said than done, but the exhortation must be given…so that we have no excuses.
This is the liberty of the flesh (before we are Christians) The liberty of the flesh frees us from obedience to God.
But he says now that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit we get….the works we produce….lead to sanctification.
And then he closes by saying that the wages of sin is death. The free gift of God is eternal life. Sin earns us death…but God gifts us eternal life. We do not earn it.
So to our 4 actions on the part of God here in this lesson.
First, there is Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name. The grafting metaphor we have spent time on here before.
We are told that when we are saved we are grafted into God’s vine. Recall not long ago, we were told that God actually broke off natural branches to make room for us wild olive shoots. He grafted us into the plant…of which we were not natural members or parts.
And His grafting process does not end in simply connecting us to the main part of the plant or the tree.
Once we are grafted in, we are nourished by the main trunk of the plant.
Moreover, as we saw today in Paul’s letter to the Romans, this work of grafting us in continues as God took us who were slaves to sin, and grafted us in as slaves now unto Himself.
Slaves have no choice to be where they are.
Slaves are bound by the limitations of their environment or their own strength or their own circumstances.
Interestingly when we are slaves to Christ, or slaves to God, we are strangely in a place that we desire to be. Not only is our circumstance changed but our attitude about it is as well.
Part of the sanctifying process God is working in us includes new desires…new loves…new ways of thinking. In the past these have been referred to as new affections.
As we are grafted into Christ, we are slowly being changed in so many ways.
We are being slowly changed to love our new status and hating our old status. Paul today talks about our old life …the one that we are now ashamed of.
This is not happening in those who are not being sanctified…those whom God is not working on.
So once we are grafted in….and notice these are progressive. The order here is not random.
Now that we are grafted in, and the love of God is being developed and wrought in us, we are then, in our second petition asking that He would increase in us true religion.
Religion for some reason has a negative connotation today. People would rather be spiritual rather than religious…whatever that means. And it becomes their religion anyway, so why not admit to it?
Once God grafts the love of Himself and His Name into us as the initial move, we need an increase. We need an increase in our love for Him, a devotion to Him, but also an increase in true religion.
James writes, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27 ESV)
Religion is defined as a specific set of fundamental beliefs and practices. Is this not what Christianity (and other religions for that matter) are?
We have a specific set of beliefs. I believe in one God. I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. Bodily resurrected, virgin birth, ascension. These are all fundamental beliefs in the Christian religion.
James says there that religion is this. Keeping oneself pure and undefiled before God.
Visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeping oneself unstained from the world.
This is what we petition God to do for us every day. Increase true religion in us. Increase in us a desire to keep ourselves from being soiled from the world….and a desire to care for others.
By now we should be able to clearly see where true religion is found in today’s passage from Paul. If the increase is to true religion then this passage today is replete with examples.
Present your body as a slave to purity.
Present your body as a slave to righteousness.
Then we ask in the third petition, that God would nourish us with all goodness.
We think of nourishing as perhaps primarily related to food.
This is fine, but in this context we have more of a sustaining…a strengthening…and even a cherishing.
Nourishment comes from God in a number of ways. We ask to be nourished with all goodness.
This can be receiving the nourishment of good things coming to
us from the outside.
It can also be nourishment to the soul.
God nourishes us with all goodness in that He first changes our status from slave to sin to slave of righteousness. This is the initial nourishment.
He then moves to continue to nourish us in many ways throughout our lives. He brings us the nourishment of the Sacraments. The Lord’s Supper is the most obvious example.
We spiritually feed on the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. This brings very small nourishment to the body but great nourishment to the soul.
Nourishment brings strength. It brings what is necessary for life…for a healthy life. From Paul’s lesson today, the nourishment comes to us in the form of sanctification.
We are nourished by the bare facts of the entire passage. All that Paul writes this morning to us is spiritual nourishment.
We might even think about Jesus saying to the Disciples at one point: “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Jesus’ food was to do the will of the Father.
He gained great nourishment from the very act of obedience to God the Father.
We too can draw on that same nourishment if we set ourselves to do the will of the Father.
Finally there is the fourth petition. “Keep us in the same.” Again, we are asking God to keep us in a love of His Name, true religion, and nourishment and His goodness.
The important thing here is remembering from the first point that God grafted us in while we were wild branches and not even able to come in on our own.
Though our calling and election are sure, there is still to be a healthy fear of God and not an arrogance over our status as adopted sons….while others not.
Keep us in true religion so that we might never err and stray like lost sheep.
Keep us hating sin by the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
Keep nourishing us with your love, the comfort of your Holy Spirit, your Sacramental Body and Blood, your sanctifying grace and mercy.
And to see how we can depend on God for this, we only need to turn our eyes to the Gospel for today.
Jesus feeds the 4000 and this time it would seem that this story is directed to the comfort of us Gentiles. This takes place in a heavily Gentile territory that is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee.
So if the audience is predominantly Gentile, we find some interesting points here. Mark describes these people as not just lazy followers who are aimless….hanging around for food.
Rather he identifies them with words that denote a special adherence, a special commitment to Jesus that He had not found in other places.
This sort of reception and following, He had not found among the Jews.
But what about our 4 points?
Well, it seems that Jesus’ teaching and healing and other things He did fostered among many a desire to follow Him.
By His very actions, they were seeing the Gospel unfold in front of them. They were seeing the miracles and placing their faith and trust in Him. So we first see the grafting.
The Scriptures here show us how God grafts a people unto Himself. In this case it was the faith that was generated in the people who desired to be with Him. They saw the miracles and heard His teaching…and they were converted….grafted.
Today in this lesson we find an increase in faith in the people and the Apostles who also witnessed this.
We see in the miracle, an increase in the food source, which has spiritual implications. Jesus begins with very little and by divine power increases the amount so that all are fed well and go away satisfied.
Our third word here is nourish. Do we need to say much about nourishment here? This is self-explanatory.
Jesus nourished the people not only with bread miraculously multiplied, but with the very presence of Himself. He shows the glory of God in His miracles. This is nourishment in and of itself.
And finally there is the keeping. By this miracle, though these people were following for more than food, they got food and more.
Jesus keeps us by His power by demonstrating who He is to us again and again. We find it in the pages of Scripture and we find it born and sealed in our hearts by the work of God’s Spirit.
The Collect opened by saying, LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.