Sermon–July 9, 2017


5 Pentecost—9-A, July 9, 2017

William Bradbury

Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-15, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Growing up at Saint Anne’s, Atlanta most of the prayers I heard from the prayer book ended with the phrase, “through Jesus Christ, Our Lord”, so naturally I figured Christ was Jesus’s last name. I was in high school before I realized Christ is a title, which should be preceded by the word, “the”, so Jesus is properly called Jesus the Christ. Of course I also didn’t learn till much later that Christ is not a Christian term first of all, but a Jewish one—since the Christ, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for the Messiah.

Both Christ and Messiah mean “the anointed one”, so in theory a prophet, priest, or king could be the Messiah. In practice the Messiah came to be expected as King David’s heir through whom God rescues Israel from its pagan enemies. In Jesus’ day some thought the Christ would establish God’s reign by throwing out the Roman Empire and purifying the Temple in Jerusalem as the center of God’s presence in the world.

Of course no one believed the Christ would be crucified by the Romans, because a crucified Messiah is clearly a failed Messiah, of which there had been numerous before and after Jesus.

It is the resurrection that shows the disciples that Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi earlier that year is in fact true: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.

But an odd Messiah because he clearly does not defeat the Romans, nor does he transform the Temple, except symbolically during his last week.

So what does he do? What does it mean to claim that Jesus is the Christ?

Saint Paul answers that question in 2 Corinthians 5:17:  “So if anyone is in union with Christ, he is a new being, the old state of things has passed away; there is a new state of things.” And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through the Christ….” The New Being, page 15

In a famous sermon entitled “The New Being” preached in the 1950’s theologian Paul Tillich says the fundamental message of Christianity is that in and through Jesus “A New Creation has occurred, a New Being has appeared; and we are all asked to participate in it….that in the midst of the old creation there is a New Creation, and that this New Creation is manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ”. Ibid Page18

Therefore the proclamation of the church is not a new and better religion called Christianity, because as we see in our reading from Romans 7, every religion is subject to the fact that “I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

We do not find salvation by finding the best religion, the biggest church, or the most popular secular system.

So it doesn’t matter if you are highly religious or highly secular for both are under the power of the old creation, subject to sin and death, whereby we cry out, “Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

What saves us in this life, therefore, is the encounter with Jesus the Christ who brings New Creation into the midst of the old. Therefore, Jesus calls to us, not from the past but in this moment: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

He invites us every day to step into his yoke of the New Creation, even as we live in the middle of the old. To be yoked to the old creation is to be yoked to all the things our culture thinks will give us more life: like having more stuff, more winning, more fame, being thinner, younger, and richer, and thus living in denial of our central brokenness.

To be yoked to Jesus is to be apprenticed to the New Being in order to learn his loving, serving, and self-sacrificing for others, even for our enemies. See Greg Boyd’s The Myth of the Christian Religion.

Jesus does not call us to take on a new religion called Christianity, for the message of Christianity is not itself but Jesus the Christ. And nowhere does Jesus say, believe these three things about God and you will have met the required minimum to get into heaven when you die.

Rather he says, “Come unto me and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Jesus also says you will recognize New Being, New Creation, not by calling him Lord and going your own way, but by following him into New Being. Greg Boyd says: “To the extent that any individual, church, or movement looks like Jesus’ loving, serving, and sacrificing for all, it manifests the Kingdom of God.”

We do not have to pass a belief test or a certainty test. All that is required is to let the Christ pull us into the unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, and healing of God…every day and to live out of that place.

For Saint Paul writes to the Galatians, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only a new creation.”

That New Reality appears in Jesus the Christ and is drawing all humanity and all creation into himself. We see this process as Jesus trains the disciples: for example, remember when the disciples are caught up in arguing which of them is the greatest? Jesus sits them down and says, the world thinks in terms of winners and losers, with losing being a living death, but in God’s Kingdom, another name for the New Creation, greatness is measured by serving not by being served.

A significant training issue for us is overcoming the fact that the culture we live in does not value the inner journey. How can I seek first the kingdom of God if I’ve been trained by my culture to only value rationality and logic? How can I seek first New Creation, if my church teaches me to embrace certainty, moral purity, and always staying busy doing stuff for God and thereby missing the journey into New Being.

The Christ is actively working in each person’s life, no matter their religion or non-religion. Some may actively resist Christ’s work but they cannot stop the Christ from loving them and seeking to draw them into New Being.

The proof of this is the obvious fact that it is often the greatest sinners, those living the farthest from God’s will, who become the greatest examples of New Being. Paul was involved in locking up and killing the disciples of Jesus. The composer of the hymn “Amazing Grace”, Anglican priest John Newton, had been captain of a slave ship carrying human beings into hell on earth. Both were grasped by New Being and gladly yoked to Jesus the Christ.

When we recognize this fact we realize that “the Christ” is no longer a Jewish title or even a Christian title, for now it is a cosmic title: the Cosmic Christ drawing everyone and everything back into the love of Triune God.