A banquet of consequences
As a ministry it served a real need and in its own way, very fruitful. But alas, because I now put on weight, forever abandoned: the ministry of finishing off other people’s Christmas cakes.
Some years ago now I recall how I shamelessly exploited my position of vicar by offering to show hospitality for the half-finished Christmas cakes of my congregation. They were caught in a real dilemma – either to finish these calorific confections themselves and so put on even more weight or just bin them.
I could offer this remarkable ministry in those days simply because I did not put on weight, whatever my calorie count. Looking back, not sure what it did for my gut health. However, at the time there seemed to be no consequences for such a considerable consumption of cake. And when there are no consequences, there are no constraints.
I thought of all this when listening to Rafael Nada’s comments on how his rival, Novak Djokovic, finds himself in a Melbourne detention hotel. “He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions,” observed the Spaniard, “ but then there are some consequences.”
Understanding that there are consequences is at the heart of being human. Certainly it is an important lesson for parents to teach their children: “Do this and that happens.” Consequently we spoil our children if we consistently break this link of cause and effect.
“Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences,” declares Robert Louis Stevenson. This seems basic to our human condition, the way creation is. You could say that the entire Bible is a book of consequences.
So God places the earth-man Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. He commands: You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16f).
However, we read how the serpent successfully seeks to persuade these primeval partners that this is not going to happen. Like me and my Christmas cake, just eat away as if there is no future!
But consequences happen – and hence the fall from grace as Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, now guarded by cherubim and a flashing sword. (Genesis 3:24).
Even so, human nature being as it is, the people of Israel – generation after generation – thought they could get away with it, that somehow they would not be faced with the consequences of their own actions even against God.
And time and time, as we saw last week, God sends prophets to warn his people of the consequences of their rebellion. So they go into faraway exile, to Babylon because of their disobedience. They can’t say that no one warned them.
But Babylon is not the last word. “Comfort, oh comfort my people,” says your God. Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven! She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.” (Isaiah 40:1 Message translation)
However, it does not get any better and so as Jesus explains in his parable of the tenants of the vineyard: “Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.” (Matthew 21:37). Even so, the tenants, oblivious to the consequences of their actions, kill him.
For at the cross Jesus freely takes to himself all the consequences of our actions. The reality is that in this creation justice is to be served and sin is to be punished. Our sin, his punishment. For as Isaiah could prophesy: “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
But does that mean that the cross of Jesus has broken the link between our actions and their results? We no longer pay the consequences for our sins?
Well, yes and no. Yes – because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We may face the future, even death, with joyful hope. The link between our sinful actions and death has been severed by the cross of Jesus.
But now there is a new dynamic. The Holy Spirit, as we allow him access, seeks to change us inside out so that we become different people refusing to take advantage of our liberty in Christ. “So what do we do?' asks the apostle Paul. 'Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! “ (Romans 6:1f Message translation)
And more, although I don’t have time now to develop this, Jesus often talks about rewards for doing the right thing, positive consequences for our actions. So should we suffer persecution, for example, he promises “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. “ (Matthew 5:12)
We are called to be beloved children of God and not spoiled brats forever locked up in some faraway detention centre. For now our goal today is to please our heavenly Father knowing we are set free from our past and confident of a glorious future in Christ.