Romans 5:12-19

If you try to lock God into some kind of manageable cognitive framework that links in with our own sense of the world’s “narrative”, you might begin with God as the ‘Creator’.

As soon as you take on board human sin (as exemplified in the Old Testament reading today) you begin to look at God as a ‘Judge’. 

But in a split second of time—which is actually irrelevant in eternity—God has become a ‘Teacher’.  The moment the Creator becomes a Judge he also has to become a Teacher.  Because while he hates and condemns sin, he still loves and saves the sinner.  And unless we learn that we never properly understand—not in our context in which sin is an all-pervading reality.  Unless God the Judge is even more effective as God the Teacher we never properly understand who we really are, and where we really stand.  We could stumble along and survive, and perhaps become rather cynical, defeatist, maybe even perpetually depressed about the nature of nature.  But unless we are taught the fullness of the love of God we will never know the reality of the Creator’s continuing love for creation, for us!

So God, in order to share what is most important to him, his love for us, God is a Teacher.

Jesus was clearly recognised and known by the community of his day as a great Teacher; and he was addressed by that title.  It was a title of honour and respect and a recognition that he had knowledge and wisdom that was worth learning.  He was a terrific practitioner:  he used memorable stories; he acted in a way that grabbed your attention, challenged any complacency, sat you up, and then sometimes overwhelmed with truth and compassion; and he modelled in a natural, integral way, especially in his relationships with others, everything that he taught in parable or sermon or miracle.

But God’s formal teaching career, if you will, started much earlier.  God’s people, Israel, were his ‘teaching aide’ for the world.  A whole history, a real history of real people, in which there is pattern:  God’s good plan & blessings…and our good intentions…which inevitably turn into a sense of self-sufficiency and into pride…followed by asserting our own will, our own plans…with disastrous consequences…pain and panic…crying out for help… and then the appearance of our God—still faithful to his original plan, still full of love, always ready to hear and to save and to restore.  We love the story of the prodigal son—the adolescent leaving home and doing his own thing (it could work equally well as a daughter story….)—but that short, dramatic parable is nothing more than a précis of the whole of the Old Testament history of God and his people—of God who faithfully waits, and then runs towards his ailing, fallen, stumbling children. 

 

[And it works pretty well as a précis of my own personal journey in faith….]

The fifth chapter of Romans is one of those “great moments in education” when God uses the apostle Paul, in a rather crude, simple, blunt manner.  If basic repetition still has some value in teaching, Paul pulls it out here.  Earlier in the chapter he says that God loved, gave, died and forgave “while we were still helpless” and then “while we were still sinners” and then a third time:  “We were God’s enemies!  But he made us his friends through the death of his Son.”  Do you get it?  God puts things right not because we figure it out and instigate some act of reconciliation.  He loves.  He initiates.  He forgives.  He saves.

And then Paul goes into further discussion, as we’ve heard in this reading, and talks about sin and its consequences—talks about justice if you will, the sort of approach a Judge might take, what’s fair, what’s equitable, “the wages of sin is death”, that sort of thing.  But Paul insists that if you are going to really learn and understand God, then you have to challenge those simple, logical action-reaction, cause & effect, act-and-its-consequences approaches and look at a God who has a better way.  And so in the heart of this passage, in five punchy sentences, he repeats “free gift”, “grace”, “free gift”, “grace”, “free gift”, “free gift”, “grace”, “free gift” to lead us out of the shadows of guilt, and out of the domain of sin and judgment and death, into the light of his revelation, the light of his love—into life!

He has to teach us this.  Because if you don’t know God’s grace, then the rest of reality remains a puzzle with the critical piece missing.  What is most important to God—his love for us—he has to get that through to us; he has to teach us that.

There are possibly quite a few of you who watched the final Michael Parkinson show—his last set of guests and last interviews.  And when he was speaking to the well-known naturalist, documentary maker, David Attenborough, he said something to this effect:  “You are a teacher, really.”  To which Attenborough replied:  “Well, I am just a person who really loves something and want to share it with everyone.”  To which Parkinson replied:  “Which is what a teacher is, really.”

A teacher is someone who loves something so much he wants to share it.

Kind of reminds me of John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”  God loves the world, so he teaches us his love, he give us Jesus.  What is most important to him he gives.  That’s what teachers do—share what they love.

The lesson God teaches by grace does not do away with the rational, the logical, the causal links.  Reason and logic, pattern and design and order—they are all part of God’s good creation, too!  As Paul says, God’s Word, using reason and logic(!), helps us to realize what’s wrong in our world and in our lives.  Today’s Gospel is incredibly apt:  Jesus is surrounded and bombarded by things material, and opportunity for increased ‘status’, and threatened with dangers, and perhaps given the opportunity to exercise power and control and there is not one of us here who doesn’t recognize all of those issues in our own stories, in the shaping of our own egos, our identity, our relationships with others, our sense of vocation, our plans and aspirations and dreams.  For us, and for our kids this is all the stuff of life, of growing and learning and being formed as people.

But in this story, this lesson—Jesus our Teacher teaching!—we are shown, as Jesus repeatedly goes back to the Word, back to the promise, back to God’s faithfulness—we are shown repeatedly that beyond and before that action where one man shaped his own destiny by disobeying, was the former forming action of the loving Creator who shaped that man in his own image; who formed us, in his love.

So Jesus becomes again, for us, the gift of being “in the plan”, of being “in the image of God”, of being “in the grace of God”.

In a sense, the Adam-and-Eve-and-the-fruit story God holds up as saying, “That’s you.” 

Today’s Gospel—Jesus also tempted—God holds up Jesus and says, “That’s mefor you.”

Verse 18:  “As one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”

So God, the Teacher, teaches us grace.

[I’ve noticed that a few of you haven’t been taking notes…so] here again is Romans 5, in two sentences:  While we were still helpless, while we were still sinners, while we were God’s enemies he made us his friends through his Son.  It’s a free gift, grace, free gift, grace, free gift, free gift, grace, free gift.

Be a teacher.  Share what is most important with someone else.

Amen.