Sunday, July 24, 2011

I Am Convinced

Romans 8: 26-39, page 158
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. For those whom God foreknew God also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
And those whom God predestined God also called; and those whom God called God also justified; and those whom God justified God also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
God who did not withhold God’s own son, but gave him up for all of us, will God not with him also give us everything else?
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?
It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
August 6th is to be a day of prayer, or so hopes Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has called on the president, our nation’s governors, and Texas lawmakers to fill up Houston’s reliant stadium with people who are “Christ-loving and realize that our country has gotten off track.”
Governor Perry has touched a nerve with many Christians in our country who hope that a day of prayer will spur a return to God, a change of heart, and a new direction for our nation and our world.
It must be a hopeless feeling, believing that such a drastic change is necessary – a hopeless feeling that our nation, our representatives, maybe especially our President, no longer seeks to follow the will of God, or at least, no longer represents their religious values.
If a Texas Governor in a nation led by a President who is a Protestant feels a need for this kind of dramatic change, we can scarcely grasp how the congregation Paul addresses must have felt each day living in an empire led by an Emperor who was a Pagan.
Certainly the Emperor of Rome couldn’t have supported the church that Paul addresses in this letter, and certainly the church must have felt cut off from an Empire who pledged allegiance to different gods, followed a different code of ethics, and neither respected nor even recognized the existence of Christianity.
But Paul doesn’t urge this fledging group to storm the coliseum for a prayer meeting – instead Paul offers this group assurance, that their relationship with God is not contingent upon the empire who rules over them, nor is their relationship with God at all in question.
That must have been hard to believe, as I think it will always be hard to believe – this idea that we need not pray using formal or even beautiful speech, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words”.
So many have lived their lives believing something else entirely – that God is distant, hard to reach, and surely we have fallen too far afield to be heard.
There’s a story about Jim Morrison, the lead singer for the Doors, a rock and roll band who pushed the limits of what was acceptable with their controversial lyrics and scandalous stage persona during the 1960’s. The story goes, Morrison is brought to a place, the Factory, to meet the artist Andy Warhol, who greets Morrison like the returning prodigal son though it’s not clear that they’ve ever met. Warhol gives Morrison a golden telephone, which Warhol picks up and holds out to Morrison saying: "Somebody gave me this telephone... I think it was Edie... yeah it was Edie... and she said I could talk to God with it, but uh... I don't have anything to say... so here... (giving Jim the phone) this is for you... now you can talk to God.”
In some ways, for some people, this is easier to believe – that it must take something magical, something special, to be heard by God, to be noticed by God – and so those who know that they have fallen off track, slipped backwards, and believe they have lost favor can’t believe that communication with the Most High God is as simple as getting down on your knees wherever you are. It must be more complicated than that – there must be a need for a golden telephone – surely God will not hear and be merciful to me, a sinner.
Not realizing that God is ever more ready to hear than we are to speak.
Not believing that if God is for us, surely no one could be against us.
Not daring to trust in the assurance that in all things we are more than conquerors considering the one who has loved us beyond measure.
After all, our world just doesn’t work that way.
Ours is a world of loss and gain – in the workplace, some gain favor with promotions and raises while others lose it. In school the push to succeed is so strong that teachers themselves in Georgia have been found guilty of cheating on standardized tests. And in society those who have made it hardly know where they stand if they don’t know whom they have left out.
In our world of lay-offs, failing math and science scores, and social hierarchy, who could ever believe in a God whose love is not given based on deserving, but whose love is simply poured out in the hope that you will see yourself for who you truly are?
Not according to the opinion of your boss, who saw you as replaceable.
Not according to the standardized test scores, which saw your need for improvement.
Not according to society, who lifted up the Pharisee over and above the thieves, the rogues, the adulterers, or even the tax collector.
For while we must always demand better of ourselves, striving to use our gifts to the fullest of our capacity, we can never forget that in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's Coming

Romans 8: 12-25, page 158.
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father! It is that very spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what one already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Almost three weeks ago my wife Sara and I left our two year old daughter Lily at home with her grandmother to go to the hospital – feeling like our lives were about to change forever. There is a difference between two kids and one kid, or so we’d heard, and perfectly happy with our lives as three, Sara and I would often talk about the change to four – how with two kids and two parents you can plan on man on man coverage, but when one of us is gone there are two kids to keep safe and only one parent to do it. How on earth would one of us ever make it to and from the grocery store, how would one of us feed them both lunch, how would one of us console them both if they both needed arms to hold them?
But then there wasn’t much of a point to this speculation – it was too late for that – you get to a certain point and there is no going back – the baby is coming.
The baby is coming – that’s true no matter who you are or what age you live in – at a certain point the mother realizes that there is only one way this baby is coming out.
That was certainly true in Paul’s day, though childbirth was something different from what those of us with access to modern medical care experience in the sense that the process back then was more painful, less public, and carried with it a much greater risk.
Sara and our new daughter Cecelia benefited from the care of a doctor who has delivered half of the city of Columbia and a nationally ranked hospital where mothers have access to sanitary conditions, epidurals, even television and popsicles. We benefited from a system of health care unavailable to everyone, but certainly unimaginable compared to conditions in the Roman Empire.
In the ancient world, where we can assume that in Rome, as in all ancient cultures and still many cultures today, the rate of infant mortality was high, as was the chance of a mother dying in labor.
But some things never change and Paul’s words still ring true, I assume they resonate with every mother of every time and place: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
We can assume that the women in his congregation would have known exactly what he was talking about, that childbirth is a time of groaning – but something new is coming and for the mother, there’s no going back to how it was before.
However, for the father, that may not be true, especially considering the accepted practice in Ancient Roman society of exposure, as the choice to raise a child lay not in the hands of the mother, but in the hands of the father who would examine the newborn and choose whether to raise it or leave it to die, often on the street. The Romans thought it was strange that some nations subsumed by their empire would raise all healthy children, that Egyptians, Germans, and Jews exposed none of their children but raised them all.
As they struggled for hours, risking their own lives and the life of that child who would be born, they had with them also a great worry – that all this work, all this pain, could be for nothing should the father choose not to raise this child.
As Paul elevates this image of the mother, using it as a divine image to explain the pain felt by all people, all of creation, we can assume that he not only sought to give an adequate metaphor for the new Kingdom that is coming, but sought to challenge the patriarchal assumptions of Ancient Rome – that the choice or decision made by a father was not akin to the divine working of God in creation, but the delivery of a new child by a mother, this glorious and unavoidable act was.
He lifts up an act – a new creation that is coming regardless of your waning state of mind, your back sliding, your fear, to make a point about our world – the Kingdom is coming – and there’s just as much a chance of stopping it as stopping a child from being born in the heat of labor.
I remember too well the night our oldest daughter Lily was born. After hours and hours of labor my wife Sara faced an emergency c-section. It was a big change from our expected birth plan, but more than that, it was an emergency c-section, and as they wheeled her out of the delivery room to take her to surgery I was left wondering whether the birth of my daughter might mean the death of my wife. My wife summoned tremendous strength and courage that night to face that pain and uncertainty, but there was no going back.
I, like many, will never have the privilege of giving birth, but as we all live in the midst of a changing world that we don’t always like and rarely understand we are invited to see the truth – that the Kingdom is coming and there’s no one can stop it.
While we don’t always like to look ourselves in the mirror.
While we don’t always like to remember our regrets - who we’ve known, who we’ve been hurt by and who we’ve hurt.
While we would save ourselves from dwelling too long on our greatest mistakes, fearing that they will define us over and above our greatest success.
While often, when we consider all of who we are, it’s hard to believe that we are truly worthy of love and acceptance, especially the love and acceptance of God.
While it seems as though sin and bad decisions will define us, Paul does not understand our relationship with God to be one where we are worthy of God’s love, but one where we are adopted by God’s grace whether we choose to follow or not.
And Paul does not understand creation as though all of creation’s redemption were a matter of choice, as Paul does not portray creation as a Roman father who makes a decision to choose or not choose a newborn child, but as an expectant mother, giving birth to the new creation whether she chooses to or not.
We are used to choice and we are used to our choices defining who we are. But the choice between obedience and disobedience does not paint the picture of creation in Romans. Paul does not liken the pain creation suffers to a Roman father who faces a choice, but a “creation” who like a pregnant mother, “waits in eager expectation” for the joy that is to come.
From this perspective Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” that the Kingdom is coming – whether we choose it or not.
It is God who governs our existence, and it is hope and not disappointment that defines who we are as the people of God.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” and as we feel the pain of this childbirth what do we expect?
Out of sadness, regret, depression, disappointment you may expect the worse and come to believe that our whole society is going down and, likewise, when you look down deep at who you are and who you’ve been you may reach the conclusion that you are sure to go down with it. But who are you but a child of the God who calls you son, who calls you daughter, and if you are God’s children, then you are also heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – and if, in fact, you suffer with him, you suffer so that you may also be glorified with him – so you do not suffer pessimistically, but while trusting that all pain and discomfort are like birth pains – you suffer knowing that all groans lead the way to new life.
You see, you are the children of God, and so you encounter mistakes, not as lost opportunities, not as wrong turns that have lead off course, but as a part of an unavoidable process God is working in you and in the world.
You are the children of God, and so you must see yourself, not in disappointed judgment, but as a hopeful air of the God who has already chosen you as God’s own.
You are the children of God, who like an expectant mother know that your present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in you, because you have a reason to hope.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Sower's Lesson

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23, page 13
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thrones grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!
Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
It is convenient that I already had two sermons written for this month – one that corresponds with this week’s assigned readings, another that corresponds with next—because months ago I recorded sermons on Day 1, a nationally syndicated radio show that broadcasts sermons according to the lectionary.
So the two Sundays following my second daughter’s birth, theoretically, I wouldn’t need to scramble to piece together sermons for Sunday--I wrote them already.
But the problem is, I wrote these two sermons to address a church that struggles to remain relevant in a changing world. And this morning I preach to you, a church that is powerfully relevant. Months ago, I wrote two sermons to address a church that has seen diminishing membership and today I preach to you, a church that is growing. And I wrote two sermons to address a church that is less and less able to meet the needs of young people, but today I preach to you, a church who is blessed with young families and more children than we know what to do with.
In other words, I wrote a sermon months ago that corresponds with today’s assigned scripture lessons, but I can’t preach that exact sermon because the church I addressed then isn’t the church I address now.
If you listened to my sermon this morning on the radio or read or listened to it on the Day 1 website then you know I began my sermon with this introduction, “In this passage Jesus is having a problem that I would love to have – that when I preach on Sunday morning the crowds would be so great that I would have to sit out on a boat to avoid being consumed by the growing congregation on the shore.”
I can’t say that we have this problem exactly, but unlike so many in our denomination, we are growing, and we do struggle with space – where to put all our Sunday School classes, where we should put our youth group so that they’ll have room to grow, what can we change in our building to meet the needs of our growing congregation. What changes should we make so that we can continue to grow?
We want to do things, to make changes to ensure that we will nurture the families that we have while attracting new ones. We want to build things that will attract more people, offer programs that people of all ages will be interested in; we want things that we can do to assure that we’ll continue to be a relevant and vital part of this community.
But Jesus doesn’t really help us in that regard, because his advice doesn’t have all that much to do with those things that we can control.
In this parable we hear about a sower who has gone out to sow seed. The sower seems careless, sowing seed along the path where birds would eat it up, on rocky places where the plants would sprout quickly, but with shallow roots that the sun would scorch, other seed scattered among thorns that would out grow the plants and choke them out – seed going all these places besides its intended destination, among the good soil.
This parable describes a farmer, but surely not a farmer who knows what he’s doing. There is no mention of plowing the field, irrigating or fertilizing it. The farmer carelessly sows seed without thinking much about the maximum yield of his field, depending on a miracle for any kind of harvest at all.
Now I thought that this farmer was a whole lot different from modern farmers, but then I talked to Campbell Ridley.
I thought that modern farmers didn’t depend on miracles. And while they do plan ahead, plowing, irrigating, fertilizing, and sowing seed with expensive equipment rather than throwing it out haphazardly, according to Campbell Ridley, a good crop costs just as much as a bad one, and your crop at the end of the year, whether it makes you look like a good farmer or a great farmer fully depends not on what you can do, but on the weather which is out of your control.
Jesus admires the farmer who makes this truth so easy to see. The farmer in the parable doesn’t try to control much of anything, and he interprets his parable far away from the crowds so that only the disciples hear; the disciples, who, in a way, are like sowers, sowing the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
To them, those who would soon be entrusted with spreading the Gospel to all the earth, Jesus offers a parable about a farmer who sows seed and so obviously leaves the rest up to God.
This is the thing about churches: when you get right down to it, a whole lot depends not on who has the best building, the best programs, and which has the best preacher. Churches grow because of a whole bunch of factors that are out of our control.
The church I grew up in grew dramatically, and a bunch of people, myself included, contributed all that growth to our dynamic preacher. He took me out to lunch not long after I graduated seminary and he told a different story – one where the church that he served grew because the city the church served grew, and though he and the church did their job of casting out seed, the harvest was plentiful because of many factors that were completely out of their control saying something like: “Marietta was growing Joe. All I had to do was to keep the doors open and not screw up.”
We Christians today do our best to control everything that we can. We want to maximize the soil’s fertility, adding in Miracle Grow, watering on a schedule, doing our best not to leave too much of the process up to chance or up to God.
When we seem to be successful, the temptation is to take the credit for a job well done; and when we seem to struggle, we assume we have done something wrong, we haven’t planned enough. We want to maximize our yields, minimize our waste, and with the opportunity to control more and more, to know more and more, we run the risk of forgetting that ours is a vital, but ultimately small part of the great miracle God has been doing in our world since the dawn of creation.
We are the sowers of the seed, but we are not the Lord of the Harvest. Our seed must be sown or there will never be a crop, but by no means is the harvest all up to us. We must sow the seeds, but we must also trust that what will grow will grow, and what doesn’t is out of our control.
And here is the message to you - our world is changing, and I, like many of you, would like some plan for what to do about it.
I worry about the world we are living in – what according to too many Christians is a culture of drugs and greed, filling young men and women with apathy, cynicism – eating up seeds of hope and truth like birds to seeds sown along the path.
I worry about the soil – that too many in our communities are unresponsive to the Gospel, as hardened to church as the rocky places that have no use for seeds of faith.
I worry about the shallow faith of others who have not left the Church but have left the churches they grew up in to attend churches with less structure and more casual preaching offering moral lessons at best and a gospel of prosperity at worst. I worry about what will come of, what seems to me, a shallow faith or the lonely faith of those who are spiritual but not religious who assume they don’t need the church at all. When the sun comes up will their belief be scorched and wither into nothing?
I worry about the thorns of our world – knowing what forces will take over to strangle humanity should the faithful fade away. A world left to ambition, the reckless pursuit of wealth with no regard for the common good – surely without the Church too many would be left to the thorns that grow up and choke, first the poor, the oppressed, then us all.
But Jesus doesn’t call our attention to the seed that is lost.
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Jesus entrusted 12 people with the future of the church, 12 people who launched a campaign that changed the whole world and while we are the exception to the typical mainline church, growing, flourishing, witnessing to the truth in what we say and what we do – there will be no crop without casting seed, and no one will experience the gift that this church is if you don’t invite them here.
More and more, either having experienced rejection or just fearing it, we are reluctant to reach out to people in love though we so desperately want to – as though our hands are cold despite our warm hearts. We are reluctant to reach out in love, to cast seeds of hope, to invite friends to take part in the gift that we all receive because of this community of faith.
We are reluctant, as though we already knew how our offer would be received – though the only thing that guarantees the rejection of what we have to offer is keeping the seed in our hand, never casting it out into the world.
The parable of the sower demands that you sow seed.
Don’t complicate matters any more than that – just sow seeds of love – and leave the rest up to God.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I do not do what I want

Romans 7: 15-25a, page 157
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
What could be better than welcoming a new baby girl into the world; a little girl who will have the chance to be a part of this church, grow up in this town, be surrounded by kind and loving people who will help my wife and me raise her to make wise decisions, knowing who she is and how special she is in the eyes of God.
But at the same time, the thought of raising a baby girl in our world is terrifying. Life in our world today means steering clear of so much that’s negative, so much pressure, so much stress, so much that’s violent – and it’s not clear whether society will help us keep our children safe or put them in harm’s way.
This week it has seemed as though the world we live in is governed by a combination of self-determination and litigation from on high, or, as the Apostle Paul would put it, we have freedom on one hand and the law on the other.
On Monday the Supreme Court “struck down California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors,” putting an end to restrictions that have kept children from playing video games that involve shooting people, and has called forth a storm of concerned parents who defended the law first signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Then Tuesday came and the government attempted to protect children by approving tough new federal rules on baby crib safety that effectively bans the sale of used cribs.
It’s a mixed bag – while in one instance our society gave children freedom to decide what games to play ruling in favor of self-determination, the next day new legislation was enacted to protect children and at retail outlets, online sites, including eBay and Craigslist, even yard sales in the US, those who would try to sell a used crib to new parents face fines up to $100,000.
This past week, the week of my new baby girl’s birth, has been a mixture of legislation or law that attempts to protect on the one hand, and on the other values her freedom of speech over protecting her from violent video games.
Now parents and not the law stand in the way of kids and their violent video games, and the law and not parents will protect children from dangerous cribs.
Here is the struggle, then, for parents and every other resident of our society – we must, in some instances, decide for ourselves because we have been given the freedom to choose between what is safe and what is not, what is good and what is bad, we must depend on ourselves to keep sin at bay with the freedom to choose for ourselves – while at the same time abiding by laws that attempt to do those very things for us, deciding for us what is safe and what is not, what is good and what is bad, keeping sin at bay by outlawing those things that would do us harm.
I worry, then, about our moral compass. Certainly the moral compass that seems to be at work in the two instances I have mentioned has little to do with right and wrong or protecting our children and much to do with commerce, removing restrictions that would limit purchasing while adding restrictions that would increase the need for purchasing. Therein we see the limit of the law – the purpose of Government is not always to protect us, we cannot depend upon the law to always keep us from hurting ourselves or doing wrong, and so often we find ourselves left to our own devices.
Some would say that’s exactly how it should be. Why should the government decide for us, making decisions that we can make ourselves? But I believe we give ourselves more credit than we should in this regard, and here in our scripture lesson the Apostle Paul issues a warning, not at all confident that he can win over temptation by virtue of his own merit: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Freedom, for the Apostle Paul, is on the one hand, exactly what he wants. It is freedom from the Law that Christ brings – freedom to live according to the standards of the Golden Rule over the standards written down by Moses and his descendants. But freedom brings with it the opportunity to choose poorly, because freedom leaves decisions up to his own flesh and when left up to his own flesh too often, he does the very thing that he hates.
Here Paul takes seriously sin, its ability to control what we do, and the precarious position we all find ourselves in every day by living in a society where morality is not legislated, unless your heart desires a used crib at a neighborhood yard sale.
We must be wary of the Law, according to Paul, who says that only “if I do what I do not want, would I agree that the law is good.” Believing that abiding by rules can save us is a delusion, but at the same time we must be wary of this world when law or societal pressure does little to keep us in line lest we set loose that part of ourselves that drives us to sin.
Paul writes that “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members,” and so he worries over freedom, for freedom may well set loose that part of ourselves that needs the limit of the law.
Without standards of Sabbath that tell us to rest, we find ourselves pressured to do more than we have time in the day to do, a way of living that leads to seeing a traffic accident as an inconvenience and not a tragedy.
Likewise, there are parts of ourselves that push away Biblical mandates for head coverings and restrictions on what we can wear, and so defining the limits of fashion is left up to magazines, standards of beauty set to standards unattainable, and we are left looking in the mirror for flaws and not wonder at God’s good creation.
And rather than have our income limited by tithing, knowing that it is not the Law but Christ who brings salvation, that part of ourselves that is constantly stimulated by the brainwashing of a consumer culture is set free to spend, though this part of ourselves always wants more and refuses to be satisfied.
We must be careful then. Because “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
The Apostle Paul finds himself caught between the need for freedom and the need to limit our capacity for sin through the law, and with no way to choose between the two – freedom on the one hand and the law on the other, Paul calls us to a third option: the Cross.
There are plenty who believe that Paul simply replaces the Old Law with the New. And they live out their religion in the freedom of eating shrimp in the face of Old Testament prohibitions, while refusing women’s right to leadership, saying that Christ came and replaced the Old Law and brought a new one.
But that’s not what Paul is saying here. The Law, while it serves a purpose in limiting our actions, cannot be the means of our salvation because it isn’t enough. Nor does it honor the message of the Cross, because laws shape human behavior according to fear – fear of punishment, of the denial of attention, of removing favor. Under the law, God loves those who follow the commandments, but in the cross we see that God simply loves, even when that love means laying down God’s very life for you.
Without the law to help you make the right decisions, without the law to keep you from hurting yourself, without the law to protect your children, you may well worry about human behavior and the horrors that are sure ensue from such freedom.
But the greatest acts of humanity are not motivated by the fear of punishment or retribution; our greatest acts are motivated by love.
In Christ we know that those often-quoted words are true, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”
And so we know that it is because a mother so loved her children, not because there was a law against it, that she kept violent video games out of the house.
It is because a father so loved his daughter, not because the Federal Government told him to, that he made sure the crib she goes to sleep in is safe.
And it is because love, the love of God found in Christ Jesus, made a difference in Paul’s life that he came to change his ways, turn from persecuting Christians to live a life as a great champion of the church. Not because the law of the land or the law of scripture told him to. It was because of love. It was love who rescued you from your body of death, because of love.
Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!