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Date: August 20, 2017 (Pentecost 11) 1. Texts: Genesis 45:1-15; Ps. 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28. 2. Subject: ecclesiology. 3. Topic: discipleship. 4. Aim: encourage, challenge. 5. Proposition: “We are called and we are gifted, just as our Jewish cousins have been.”



“The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”1 Eugene Peterson translated that verse like this, “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never cancelled, never rescinded.” It’s a sweet and gentle promise, full of steadfast hope. God calls his people and gives them gifts to fulfill that call—none of which will ever be taken away. That’s nice. Of course, St. Paul was writing about the Jews. God called them to be his Chosen People and the gifts that he gave were the Law and the Prophets. His call to be his Chosen People will never be taken away. The Jews will always be his chosen ones. And they will always have the Law and the Prophets to guide their fulfillment of God’s call. It’s, well, sweet. Now, before we go any further, you can’t be anti-Jewish and a Christian at the same time. You can be against the decisions of the government in Jerusalem. You could easily protest the occupation of the West Bank and the creation of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. Politics in Palestine have always been complicated and the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948 made everything worse. You can have whatever political convictions you want. But you can’t be anti-Semitic and be a Christian. Not possible. You have to give up one or the other. St. Paul wrote, I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means!... But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich 1 Romans 11:29. Page 2 of 4 -Faithfulness in response to God’s faithfulnessroot of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.2 As Christians we cannot be anti-Jewish. Anti-Israeli, sure. Anti-Jewish, no. But this reality goes actually very much deeper. It’s not just accepting the Jews as God’s Chosen People, it’s the reality that the Jews are the Chosen People and we non-Jewish Christians are not. We are, as St. Paul wrote, grafted onto the Chosen People. We non-Jewish Christians are the adopted children of God. We Christians do not possess some kind of supposed superiority or first place or priority. We are adopted by faith through grace. We are equal in salvation. Our forgiveness is identical. But the Jews are God’s chosen ones and we Gentile Christians are adopted into that family. So, here’s the thing: if the gifts and calling of God to the Jews are irrevocable, and if we are grafted onto that family tree, then the gifts and calling of God to us Christians are also irrevocable. Our call will not be rescinded. Our gifts will not be taken away from us. It’s actually pretty easy to outline the call, but it is a big call. We are called by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” We are called to embody and express the love of God in ways that build up the Church in unity in the same ways that Jesus did. We are sent out into the world to live the gospel of Christ in ways that attract a positive response from others. We are called to be faithful, righteous, just and forgiving. We Christians are called to be Christ’s apprentices, learning his content and living his life in our context. We could say more, but it is clear enough. Christians are called to be, called to be Christ-like, called to be spiritually mature, called to be guided by the Spirit in the midst of our daily lives. We are called to be forgiven and saved which we live out in ways that the world may recognize. The gifts that support that calling are clear enough as well. 2 Romans 11:1-2a, 11a, 17-18. Page 3 of 4 -Faithfulness in response to God’s faithfulnessThe prime gift is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit—and please note that this use of the word always gets a capital letter—is that reality of God that accompanies us throughout time, space and human experience. The Spirit guides, corrects, chastises and communicates our salvation to us. The Spirit is the channel of God’s forgiveness and grace into our lives. The Spirit is the gift that guides, supports and informs our call. Once given, that gift will not be recalled. We may choose to reject God’s gift, but God will not withdraw himself from our lives. The second gift is the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments as we Christians understand them. The Bible is the authoritative and normative library of God’s dealings with his Chosen People. It informs both our being and our doing. The Bible is God’s still, small voice speaking to all his people over the millennia. We can no longer add anything to it and it must always be reinterpreted given our context and understandings, but this gift will never be recalled. The third gift is the Church, the Body of Christ, the Community of the faithful, the family of God. Now, I know that many of us don’t quite perceive the Church as a gift from God. More often than not, it is more like a burden as we struggle to keep the institution alive and the doors open. But that’s not really what we mean when we say, “Church.” The “Church” is the collection of disciples throughout the world. The Church is all those other apprentices who are struggling to fulfill God’s call. St. Paul put it down like this: Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body…As it is, there are many members, yet one body…Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.3 That’s what we mean when we say, “Church,” and it is a gift. This reality means that we don’t have to do all our apprenticeship on our own. It means that our struggles are not individual—they are communal. We are not believers in isolation—we are a family and blood is thicker than water in this case, the blood 3 1 Corinthians 12:14-16, 20, 27. Page 4 of 4 -Faithfulness in response to God’s faithfulnessof Jesus Christ. This gift is created and continuously recreated by the Holy Spirit and it will never be taken away from us. That’s what the promise in St. Paul’s letter is all about: “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” God calls us into his kingdom where we serve him as Christ’s apprentices and the kingdom’s ambassadors. He then gives us the gifts we need to fulfill our calling.” It is a sweet and gentle promise, full of steadfast hope. And best of all, it is God’s promise to each one of us. AMEN.