Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
June 28, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Graven Images"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
What great news this is for us on the week we celebrate Independence Day. You are free. We had been slaves to sin… slaves to addiction… slaves to fear… slaves to grief… slaves to shame, and anger, and bigotry, and hate… all those things that suck the life out of us. But in Jesus Christ, we are free. God has forgiven us and accepted us so that sin will no longer dominate us.
We all know that the independence that the United States declared on July 4, 1776, did not free everyone equally. Even people like Thomas Jefferson, who wrote some of the most profound words of human freedom in the Declaration of Independence, did not apply those same principles of freedom to the slaves who worked on his plantation. The freedom that was declared 244 years ago has taken centuries to be realized… and we’re still not there yet. Not everyone is equally free. So, we continue to struggle to achieve the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.
That same truth applies to our spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ. As Paul says, we are no longer slaves to sin; but there is a part of us that continues to live as if we were. We continue to serve those impulses that bring death, death into our lives and death into the lives of the people around us. We continue to present ourselves as obedient slaves to sin. So, as long as we are in this world, we struggle against those death-promoting impulses.
But we don’t struggle without hope. In those glimpses of the Kingdom of God that sprout again and again in our world, we have seen our destiny, and it is freedom… it is life. And since we are destined for freedom, we can be honest with ourselves about those parts of ourselves that are still under the dominion of sin.
Right now, our society is reckoning with the sin of racism, racism in our past and racism in our present. We who are in Jesus Christ should be able to engage in this process honestly and without fear. There is not a person in this world whose life has not been poisoned by racism. So, let’s stop pretending that there are good guys and bad guys, good cops and bad cops, racists and non-racists, and deal with the sin that is destroying us.
It’s been interesting to see our country deal with the monuments to the great men - and they are almost all men - of our past. It was easy enough for us who live in the north to gloat when statues of confederate soldiers were being toppled in the south. But what about Christopher Columbus? What about Thomas Jefferson? What about George Washington? Weren’t they the good guys? Well, they did some good things; but they also did some really bad things.
If any of you are alive and at my funeral - whenever that may happen in the future - and someone gets up and says about me, “He was a good person,” I hope you will stand up and interrupt that speaker and say, “He was not a good person! He was a sinner saved by grace!” I’m in no place to judge people like Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson, but I’m inclined to think you could say the same thing about them. They were sinners saved by God’s grace.
So why do we put up statues of them? That’s a good question. The second commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” That’s a commandment most Christians have been pretty lax in following. And frankly, I’m as concerned about the images we project on the internet as I am about the images we erect in stone. So maybe this a good time to reevaluate the images we surround ourselves with.
It’s not the first time we human beings have had to do this. During the French Revolution, people tore down all the statues of French kings on Notre Dame cathedral. You can go to a museum and see all these beheaded statues of the men who had once tyrannized the people.
There is another approach, though, one that I think is even more profound. Instead of tearing down the monument, you erect another monument that tells the full story. Here in Philadelphia, we have Independence Hall, a monument to our ideals of freedom. There are statues of George Washington and Commodore Barry and all the “founding fathers.” But just north of Independence Hall, there is another monument that reminds us that George Washington was also a sinful human being. There, you can see the excavated remains of George Washington’s home and read about Oney Judge and Hercules, two of Washington’s slaves who worked in that house and escaped to freedom. So yes, let’s celebrate freedom-fighters like George Washington; but let’s also celebrate the people who fought against George Washington when he himself was a slave to sin.
Martin Luther observed that we are simultaneously saint and sinner: saint because we have been adorned with the robes of Christ’s righteousness; sinner because we continue to some degree to be under the dominion of sin. So, if we are going to erect graven images of people, we should be prepared to see those images broken. We can tear our graven images down or we can erect images that offer a counter testimony. Either way, please remember that the only image that really matters is the image of God hidden within every single human being. That image is the source of our freedom and our dignity. Sin mars this image, but in Jesus Christ this image is restored and beams with God’s righteousness.