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Pentecost 17 Proper 19C RCL September 15, 2013

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
 Psalm 14
 Timothy 1: 12-17
 Luke 15:1-10
In our opening lesson from Jeremiah, God’s people have strayed from God’s values of compassion. The ultimate result is that their society is crumbling and that they will suffer a foreign invasion.
In his letter to Timothy, his student and apprentice, Paul expresses his gratitude to Jesus, who has called Paul to minister in Jesus’ name and has given Paul grace to carry out his ministry even though Paul was, in his own words, “a persecutor and a man of violence.” As we know, until he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul was totally dedicated to killing the followers of Jesus.
In our gospel for today, we see Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are safe and secure and goes out to rescue the one who is lost and in danger.
Our lessons and collect for today lead me to take some time to reflect on a topic we had discussed some time ago, and some folks had asked for some reflections on this topic of Original Sin and Original Blessing.
There is one strain of Christian theology that was strongly promoted by St. Augustine of Hippo, who had led a wild life before he finally found faith. This theology says that all of us are born sinners. Even little babies are born sinners, and we will all be very bad people and will do bad things except for the grace of God. This is also the theology that says that unbaptized babies will go to hell or limbo. And this theology says that we baptize babies to prevent them from going to hell or limbo. This theology makes God into a bad and hateful parent.
The theology of Original Blessing is a theology that looks at the account of the creation in the Book of Genesis and sees that, at every stage of that creation, there is a wonderful refrain, “ and God saw that it was good.” Original Blessing, or Creation Theology, also says that God created people as good. Little babies are not horrible sinners bent on doing evil. They are wonderful little human beings who are curious, open to love and learning. They need good guidance from all of us to grow up and be creative people.
The theology of Original Blessing says that all people are created essentially good and that God has given us free will. We have choices.God loves us with all of God’s heart. God loves us unconditionally. God wants us to love God back. But, if God simply programmed us to love God and others, like robots or puppets, that love would mean nothing because it would not be our free choice. So God gives us free will.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Bible is an early attempt to explain how evil came into the world. Adam and Eve are given a beautiful garden and all they have to do is not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and, as we all know they eat the fruit. This story is the basis for the theology of Original Sin. Basically, the theology says, Adam and Eve committed that first, original sin, and now we are all afflicted with the sin that originated with them, namely, Original Sin. That theology says that we were all mired in sin, and God sent God’s only Son to free us from that curse.
The theology of Original Blessing, described by Matthew Fox in his book, Original Blessing, says that God created the world and it was good, and God created people and they are basically good. God gave us the gift of free will and we can make some humdingers of bad choices and messes, but God never stops loving us and is always there to help us.
This loving God would never condemn his Son to die as a sacrifice for us because God is not a God who needs sacrifices. Jesus is God walking the face of the earth, God came among us to lead us and guide us and show us how to live, how to love God and how to love other people.
We humans do have a tendency to want to do it our own way rather than to follow God’s guidance. This is what we call the sin of pride. We don’t want to stick to those boring old Ten Commandments. We don’t want to pursue the virtues of faith, hope, and love, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. We can find ourselves at times drawn almost irresistibly to pride, wrath, envy, greed, lust, gluttony, and sloth. We can be like two year olds. We don’t want to love God back and love our neighbor.
All of this means that we can sure use some good help, and that is why Jesus came to be with us, to show us the way, to be someone we can follow and to give us the grace and power to follow in his footsteps. This is our loving God seeing that we need help and grace and coming to be with us.
Because the creation is good and we are trying to follow Jesus, we are also called to cherish the creation—the earth, the oceans and lakes and rivers and seas and skies, the plants and animals, everything that God has given us. In other words, we are called to be good stewards of every part of the beautiful world that God has given us.
Celtic theology expresses many of these concepts in a beautiful way, and there was a Celtic theologian, Pelagius, who tried to express the idea that God made the creation good and saw that it was good, and this included people. But his words and ideas were twisted and misinterpreted, and he was branded a heretic.
I have always loved our collect for today. Here is the version from the 1928 prayer book. “O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In this prayer, we are saying that without God we are not able to please God. Does this mean that we cannot do anything good without God’s help? Does this mean that we are helpless without God? I don’t think that is the meaning. I think the meaning is that God has created us good and that we can do many good things, and that God wants us to choose to be partners with God. God wants us to be co-creators with God in doing and creating good things, in taking care of the creation, in loving
God back and in loving others as God loves them. I think that it means that what pleases God the most is our accepting God’s love and loving God back. When we do that, our “hearts are fixed where true joys are to be found.” We will be following Jesus for the rest of our eternal lives.
Amen.
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