Monday, June 10, 2013

Preacher's Study - Year C, Proper 6 (11) 2013

Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(4thSunday after Pentecost, June 16, 2013)

John W.B. Hill

The second reading for this Sunday takes us to the very heart of the Gospel according to Paul, the good news revealed to him on the road to Damascus.  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

What provoked this passionate self-disclosure was the memory of his dispute with Simon Peter over table-fellowship with Gentiles (the preceding four verses).  For Paul, this was an issue of ‘justification.’

Some of the most critical questions about Paul’s gospel hang on the translation of passages like this.  “We know that a person is justified not by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.”  Or is it ‘through the faith of Jesus Christ’ (NRSV footnote)?  And J. Louis Martyn argues that ‘rectified’ would be a better translation than ‘justified’, and ‘Torah observance’ would be better than ‘works of the law.’

Yet beneath all these questions lies one reality we all know well: our ‘old self’ (the “I” that Paul refers to) which is self-serving and self-justifying through our appeal to accepted social conventions.  In Paul’s case, Torah observance was the accepted social convention he used to ‘justify’ his old way of being, including his violence against disciples of a crucified messiah (who was therefore a ‘cursed’ pretender – Gal. 3:13).  In the king’s case (the first reading), ‘royal privilege’ was the accepted social convention he used to justify theft and murder. 

Ahab’s case (the semicontinuous reading) is particularly interesting: he ‘justified’ his generous proposal to Naboth on the grounds of a clever new value system that converted everything into monetary terms (does that sound familiar?), and he ‘justified’ the elimination of his enemy by resort to the blasphemy law (after all, had not Naboth virtually cursed the king by defying him, and hence implicitly cursed the god whom the king represented?)  That’s the nature of our ‘old self’ with its self-justifying instincts.  Elijah’s role as a prophet is to recognize and name the abuses of power which society simply takes for granted.

But the crucified and risen Prophet not only exposes the deceitfulness of this kind of selfhood; he obviates my need for this kind of ‘justification’, offering me forgiveness instead, and he summons me to accept his way of being as my own new selfhood.

The gospel reading mirrors Paul’s contrast between the old selfhood and the new.  In the eyes of religious people like Simon and his guests, that woman of the city is a sinner beyond forgiveness (condemning her is another form of self-justification).  In the eyes of Jesus, she is a person who loves greatly because she has been greatly forgiven (Jesus refuses to define himself over against us sinners).  And Jesus is more than a prophet, for he also offers himself as mediator between these two visions.  He does not criticize Simon for judging the woman; he simply tells a parable, gently opening Simon’s eyes to a possibility Simon has never imagined.  Then he points Simon to this spectacle of love born of forgiveness, who stands weeping beside the table.

Our natural instinct for self-justification only serves to sharpen our conflicts: privileged versus poor, Jew versus Gentile, religious versus sinner.  The Gospel of the crucified and risen One opens our eyes to such self-delusion and empowers us to become what Torah always intended to preserve but could never create: a new way of being, without envy or resentment, a being-in-love.

John Hill is a member of the Council of APLM. He will be featured as a workshop presenter at APLM’s conference in Chicago, June 27-29, “Stirring the Waters: Reclaiming the Missional, Subversive Character of Baptism.”

For more information or mail-in registration:

The picture “The Woman Who Anointed Jesus’ Feet” is by Glenda Skinner-Noble. For more information about the artist or to purchase prints:



    Is everything you have been taught about Christianity fact or has there been a lot of fiction presented as Biblical truth?

    Here are some doctrinal positions, are they fact or fiction?

    1. The New Covenant was in force during the three year ministry of Jesus. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction.

    Hebrews 9:16-17 where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

    The New Covenant was not in force while Jesus was alive.

    2. The apostle Peter used the keys to the kingdom heaven (the keys to enter the church of Christ) before the Day of Pentecost. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction.

    Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven....

    Luke 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.

    The apostle Peter first used the keys to enter the Lord's church, at Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost. Three thousand entered the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom of God on earth is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The three thousand who were saved and added to the church of Christ on the Day of Pentecost believed that God raised Jesus from the dead and that Jesus was was both Lord and Christ. They repented and were immersed in water so they could have their sins forgiven and then they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:22-41) They were saved under the New Covenant terms of pardon.

    3. The thief on the cross was saved from the punishment of his sins. Fact or Fiction? That would be a fact.

    4. Men today can be saved just like the thief on the cross. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. The thief was not saved under the New Testament terms of pardon.

    The thief did believe in his heart that Jesus had been resurrected from the grave. (Romans 10:9 that is you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.)

    The thief was not immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins. (Acts 2:38 baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...)

    5. Moses, Elijah, Job, Enoch, Abraham and Noah were all men of faith and saved . Fact or Fiction? That would be a fact.

    6. Men living today can be saved just like Moses, Elijah, Job, Abraham, and Noah. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. These men lived and died before the New covenant was in effect.
    Men, today, can only be saved by believing in Jesus. (Acts 4:10-12, John 14:6)

    7. Jesus did not say baptism was essential in order to be saved. Fact or Fiction? That would fiction.

    Jesus said "and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16)

    8. Peter and the apostles never taught water baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. Fact or Fiction. That would be fiction. (Acts 2:37-38)

    9. Men are added to the body of Christ before they are baptized in water. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. (Acts 2:41)

    10. Saul was saved on the road to Damascus before his sins were forgiven. Fact or Fiction? That would be fiction. Men cannot be saved without having their sins forgiven. Saul had had his sins forgiven three days later, when he was in Damascus, not on the road to Damascus. (Acts 22:16)(Acts 9:9)


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