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The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Psalm 111:9, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is an exchange between the Prince of Denmark and Polonius (father of Ophelia). Hamlet asks him to take good care of some visiting actors. Polonius fatuously replies,

My Lord, I will use them according to their desert.

Hamlet retorts,

God’s bodkin, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping?

It may not be obvious, but that’s a uniquely Christian idea!

We also find it, possibly less poetically, in the 1992 Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven, which re-appears on television once in a while. It is still a very violent movie even in our violent age. In one scene Clint’s young sidekick has participated in the shooting and painful, prolonged death of another man. He is shaken, but reassures himself, “He had it coming!” There’s no comfort from Clint, who utters the deathless line, “We all have it coming.”

Whether the screenwriter knew it or not, it’s the same uniquely Christian idea as Hamlet’s!

So, OK, trivia question; What is an idea, doctrine, or theological concept unique to Christianity?

The Incarnation? Jesus, Son of God, made flesh, an actual, historical human being; surely that is unique. But there are lots of examples, in world religions and mythology, of gods who becomes human, or at least take human form for a time. The Crucifixion? While we cannot find a crucifixion in other world religions or mythology, we can certainly find gods who die, even gods who die for noble purposes. And the cross? It never was and has long ceased to be a uniquely Christian symbol. Now it’s a fashion accessory! Anything else in Christian thought? Search, and you will discover there is almost nothing that cannot be found elsewhere.

And yet there is one idea, uniquely Christian, to which I alluded in those literary and film examples. “Who shall ‘scape whipping?” “We all have it coming?”
No one is righteous, no one is innocent, everyone deserves punishment! No one can stand before God because of all that is wrong with all of us. In his Letter to the Romans Paul implies it twice in his crisp way, “There is no distinction; since all have sinned …” (Romans 3:22b-23a) and later he again says, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek …” (Romans 10:12a). There is no distinction; between chosen and not chosen, between godly and ungodly, between those who think they are good and those who know they are bad. We all have it coming, and there is nothing we can do to change that fact of our lives before God.

That insight, as far as I can tell, is unique to Christianity. All other religious systems contain methods, techniques, practices, for getting on the good side of their god or gods, for making oneself righteous. Christianity says; don’t bother, it can’t be done! Which is why Christianity, properly understood, is not a religion, but the end of religion!

Which invites the question; Why bother; why bother with church at all? The answer is found in looking more closely at the Scripture passages heard earlier, and the Romans passages I cited; cited incompletely(!), to get your attention.

A verse from Psalm 111 (v. 9) already contains a sense of hope; ”

He sent redemption to his people; he commanded his covenant for ever, …

And the two quotations from the Letter to the Romans, more fully read,

There is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22b-24)


There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12)

And of course, today’s Gospel reading is all hope and promise,

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day …”; “… whoever eats me will live because of me, … the one who eats this bread will live for ever.

Yes, we all have it coming and, praise God, we are not going to get it, because of what God has done in Jesus Christ! It is a gift, there is nothing to be done, but accept the grace of God. And yes, this is indeed the end of religion, because no one is keeping track of who has done the right religious observances and who hasn’t, who’s in, and who’s out.Which still invites the question; why bother, why bother with church?

Because we, the Church, are called to be witnesses and examples of this uniquely Christian fact; all fall short of the holiness expected by God, but, God has made us holy and just in Jesus Christ. We are witnesses to the fact that sin is inevitable, and forgiveness of sin is assured. We do this every time we confess our sin in worship, and are immediately assured of pardon. We witness to this at every Holy Eucharist; we recognize ourselves worthy to stand before God, and eat and drink at the heavenly banquet. When we come together as Church, hear God’s Word, sing God’s praise, pray for our needs and those of others, and yes, confess our sins and be assured they are forgiven, we are witnessing to the great Christian truth that no one is worthy in and of themselves, yet all have been made worthy through Jesus Christ.

From that corporate worship flows, ideally, a personal way of life that witnesses daily to that redemption through Christ. But let’s ask ourselves, do we really reflect that truth; that we have been freed from sin, and bring the love of God to others in word and deed, simply because we love God and we love them. Or, are we hedging our bets, thinking that there might be something to this religion thing after all, and so we’d better act right?

Robert Ferrar Capon, an Anglican priest and theologian (whom I’ve quoted on the subject of grace before) writes many of us live like we are preparing for a tax audit, carefully saving receipts for good deeds, and more carefully hiding things we’d rather not have known. The trouble with that, writes Capon, when we finally arrive for the audit, with our shoe-boxes full of receipts and debit slips, we discover there is no auditor. “Ledger books of your life?” Jesus will say, “Oh, I guess they’re somewhere, but I’m not really interested!” “But what about these good deeds?” we’ll ask. “I really enjoyed those,” Jesus will say. “Well then, what about my sins?” we’ll ask. And Jesus smiles, and says, “I died for those!”

Fanciful, yes, but it contains that uniquely Christian message that sin is unavoidable, and sin has been forgiven. It only remains to live lives that express that truth!

On how to do that, I’ll give the 2nd-last word to St. Paul, in today’s Epistle. Note that nothing he recommends to the Ephesians is to be done in order to please a judgmental or angry God, it is only done in gratitude for the grace of God in Jesus Christ;

Be careful then how you live, … do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk … but be filled with the spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourself, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The last word is Shakespeare’s. In Much Ado About Nothing, Dogberry, the comical constable who always gets his words mixed up, gets it precisely right. “O villain!” he says to one of the malefactors in his custody, “O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption!”

Words to live by! We have it coming, and we have been condemned to everlasting, un-revokable, totally free, redemption!

This sermon comes with some help from Fleming Rutledge’s Sermon Clint’s Got It in,
Fleming Rutledge, The Bible and the New York Times, Copyright ©1998, Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan

Copyright ©2018 is claimed by Gerry Mueller for material not quoted or derived from the above.