Sunday, July 19, 2020

Credit where credit is due

Sermon for the sixth Sunday after Trinity

Your job as a waiter in a restaurant is going well. The customers are nice and the chef is just the right side of demanding. The food is good and the company genial.

Just before closing, you approach a man to settle his bill. He takes out his wallet and from it produces a shiny gold credit card. "I have this!" he says proudly, "it's accepted by all the best places!" Immediately, he gets up and tries to leave. 

Has the bill been paid?


Of course, you protest that you haven't put the bill onto the card and that just waving the card at you doesn't pay the bill. There has to be sufficient credit on the card in order to pay.

As you run his card through the machine, there is a beep and the card is declined. It doesn't matter how flashy the card is, if there is no credit on it, it is no good.


And that's the attitude that the Apostles are up against. They are faced with Jewish Christians saying that, in order to be saved, all men must be circumcised. This is why the very first Council of Jerusalem gets called by St James: how do gentiles become Christian?

St Paul tells us that circumcision availeth nothing and uncircumcision availeth nothing. Using a bodily scar as proof of your salvation is like the shiny credit card. It doesn't work if there is no credit. We cannot expect salvation without a change in our hearts. This is why St Paul tells us to circumcise our hearts.


The conclusion of the Council is that gentiles do not need to be circumcised but they do need to live lives of chastity and not eat food sacrificed to idols. For many gentiles in Jerusalem, this will be a big deal because it involves a change in lifestyle. It means turning away from sin and idolatry and towards Christ. These are painful and demanding changes that will put these gentile Christians directly at odds with their culture and their families. It is every bit a commitment to the church as circumcision is to the Jews.


It is only in Christ that we are saved from the debt of our sins. He is the credit on our cards: it doesn't matter if those cards are gold-plated or not. Nonetheless, we have to live lives of faith in order to recognise the value of this credit. We will not be saved by outward gimmickry but by knowing and loving God.


When the Day of Reckoning happens, will there be enough on your card? How do you know?

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