March 4, 2017; 1 Lent, Year A

Some years ago I had a device that would record television shows so I could watch them at a later time. There was a big football game that I was going to miss because I had to do something else that day. So I set up the recorder and timer, and planned to watch as soon as I returned.

It was a big game, and people knew I was interested. So just before I was leaving to return home to watch the recording, a friend came up to me excited, beaming, and said, “I guess you are on Cloud 9. What a game!”

I had mixed feelings. Part of me didn’t want to know how the game ended because I had planned to watch it in real time like a live game. But the other part of me was so glad we had won. I knew I wasn’t going to end up disappointed and frustrated this time like I have been so many times before. Football can be a cruel game. I always give it up for Lent.

I went home and watched the game. It was a great game. We got way ahead, and I was delighted. Then the other team started coming back. Our quarterback threw a stupid pass that set up a touchdown for the opponents. Usually that would have triggered an uncharitable response from me toward the quarterback. But knowing that we had pulled the game out, I found forgiveness easier to access. After all, he was doing the best he could, and it was going to be okay. Then a running back carelessly let the ball get away from his body and the other team stripped him. They scored and went ahead. Normally, I would have been apoplectic. Furious at the mistakes. Afraid we were going to blow a game when we had a big lead. Dreading the feeling that always comes when we lose one that I thought we should win. But my emotions were downright sanguine. I wondered with great curiosity, how did we win this game? And I continued to watch, fascinated, with anticipatory excitement and unruffled hope. Late in the game, our quarterback escaped a deadly rush to flip a desperate pass to the running back who had fumbled earlier, and he broke tackles all the way to the end zone for the winning score. I was thrilled. Jumping up and down rejoicing in a game that had ended hours ago. Indeed, I found myself on Cloud 9.
I tell you this football story, to talk about St. Paul’s words to the Romans and to the Corinthians. Paul is convinced that the triumph of Jesus’ is complete and total victory. Paul declares Jesus’ “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (5:18) “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ, shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22)

Here’s how Paul thinks of it. That story we heard as our first reading, the story of human disobedience, Adam and Eve – Paul understands that human death is the consequence of Adam’s sin. “For the wages of sin is death.” Then Paul continues, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) The “free gift of God,” God’s grace, the gift of our acceptance, our acquittal, our justification – it’s all a free gift, Paul says. Even for someone like him, for Paul was an enemy of Christ and an enemy of God when God came to him with the unearned gift of life.

So Paul argues in today’s reading, if “one man’s trespass (Adam’s sin) led to condemnation for all,” “so one man’s act of righteousness (Christ’s faithfulness) leads to justification and life for all.” This is so important to Paul that he says it several times in different ways. “For if the many died through one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” In Greek, the word here translated “the many” can also be translated “all.” If death came to every human through Adam’s failure, Paul says, how much more surely must life come to every human through Christ’s victory.

So we know the end of the game. Christ wins. Resurrection is God’s complete triumph. It is total victory. God will not lose even one of God’s beloved children. For every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and so God intends, as Acts says, to make complete the “universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21) “A plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and on earth,” Ephesians says (1:10). The whole cosmos is moving toward union in God.

That means a lot to me. It means that we are all one, all bound together in this journey toward “the universal restoration that God announced long ago.”

But I have mixed feelings. I really want the bad guys, according to my accounts, to get beat. You may remember though, that Jesus commanded us, “Judge not.” (Matt. 7:1) “Vengeance is mine,” says God. (Dt. 32:35, Rom. 12:19) I do find that when I give up judging and let go of my fantasies of revenge and one-upmanship, there is more space for me to be curious, observant. I can be a little less anxious and threatened by the terrible things that happen, when the good gets intercepted and when humans fumble things so miserably, me included. I can remember, most everybody is doing the best they can, given their life history and their capacity.

Sometimes I can watch with great curiosity; with anticipatory excitement and unruffled hope. How will God bring grace to this mess? How will God create reconciliation in this conflict? And how can I cooperate with whatever God is doing to help bring about grace and reconciliation?

For that is what God is doing. Always. God is loving the whole cosmos into being, making us one. God’s strategy is the same now as it was in Jesus. God enters into human suffering, identifying completely with “the least of these.” The only power God brings to bear on our human condition is divine forgiveness and love. The resurrection of Jesus reminds us that God will ultimately triumph.

God will not turn stones into bread. God expects us to feed one another. God will not perform a spectacular miracle to instantly set things right. God expects us to do the daily, faithful work of loving our neighbor as ourselves. God will not give us good guys all of the power and the splendor of the world. God expects us to be servants as Jesus was, for he came among us as one who serves.

We are to look for the signs of Christ’s obedience that overcomes humanity’s sin and death. We know those signs. They are the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance.” (Gal. 5:22-23) The Spirit is present everywhere. Watch with expectant hope.

And we know its opposite, the works of the flesh, including enmities, strife, impurity, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy and such. (Gal. 5:19-21) We are to turn away from such things.

We aren’t just a passive audience watching life like a television game. We are active participants. We have the privilege of participating in God’s work and sharing in God’s inevitable triumph. We are to let Jesus live through us, living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” and by not putting God to the test, and by worshiping and serving only God.

The task is simple – love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The end is sure. Universal restoration of all things. Ultimately we are secure, beloved, empowered. Relax. Just be. Open. Curious. Hopeful. For in Christ, all things are being made alive.

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