Monday, June 8, 2015

Your sin is blotted out

Romans 8: 12-17, NT 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. Sermon I am thankful to people who drop by newspaper clippings, magazine articles, or books to the church office. When it comes to sermon preparation, inspiration comes from all kinds of places so reading a variety of things really helps. And this week I was inspired by Dear Abby. The title of the article was “Husband’s caring ministry doesn’t extend to his wife,” and the letter from “Reached my limit” went something like this: Dear Abby: I have been married to the same man for 20 years. He likes having people around all the time, and because he is a minister, we often can’t avoid it. I have tried to accommodate his friends and hangers-on, but lately it’s becoming unbearable. He will say “yes” to people who have been evicted, and I find myself sharing living quarters with perfect strangers or church members without prior notice. I have tried over the years to make sense of his attitude toward me (also toward those he’s offered to help). I feel he cares for others and what they think of him more than what I feel or think. When I complain about his latest live-in’s attitude – or when I complaign about anything at all – he brushes every issue aside and basically tells me to be a good Christian. Right now, we have a family of three sharing our three-room house with us and our three boys. I’m thinking of leaving him when the youngest one turns 13. This letter from Dear Abby came to me with a note from Joan Jackson which said, “I was wondering when we could move in with you, and whether or not you and Sara could accommodate our two dogs Mercedes and TJ.” This letter to Dear Abby seeking advice for dealing with a pastor and husband who can’t say “no” has real application to the life of faith, not just to the life of pastors, for going over-board isn’t uncommon, due to the reality that it’s hard for many of us to know when we’ve done enough, when we’ve been enough, when we’re kind and compassionate enough and when we can finally stop trying so hard to prove that we are good. I was fortunate to have lunch with a pastor who works with an organization called Search – if you’re familiar with the ministry called Young Life that’s now active out at Central High School then Search is kind of like Young Life for adults, and a few weeks ago we were discussing this issue – how hard it is to know when we’ve done enough. The goal of both organizations (Young Life and Search) is to reach people who have not grown up in the church. They don’t own buildings or spend too much time talking about the Bible or hymns, the goal is to provide an introduction to Christianity in easy to understand terms for a group of people who have never set foot in a place like this one. And as these people who are unfamiliar with the church, they’ll tell this friend of mine when he asks them about Christianity, they’ll say, “listen, I’m a pretty good person. I work hard, I pay my taxes, and I even give a little bit of my time and money to make a difference in the community. Now maybe I don’t call myself a Christian, but I don’t need to go to church to live a good and moral life.” It’s not a bad argument, but my friend always asks a follow up question to this claim, “So you’re a good person,” he says, “but are you good enough? Are you good enough to make it into heaven?” he asks them. Some people are sure that they are. Michael Bloomberg is one example. The former mayor of New York city is pledging to spend 50 million dollars this year to push gun control, and for this and other deeds (such as taking on obesity and smoking), Bloomberg believes he is going to heaven. He told the New York Times last April, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” Some people are like that. They have so much self confidence that they are ready to walk to the Pearly Gates with a resume of great accomplishments, a legacy of good deals so substantial and outstanding that there will be no need for an interview – but I am not so self-confident – and neither was the Apostle Paul who wrote the words of our second scripture lesson. Before he wrote these words from the book of Romans Paul was a Pharisee, and not just a Pharisee, Paul was a Pharisee’s Pharisee, an elite among the religious elite. He wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors;” then in Philippians he wrote that “if anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss.” But why? Why would all this work, all these achievements, all this glory gained by his determination and self-discipline, why would he render all these gains he had as loss? Maybe because he knew the feeling – that empty feeling – that goes away with a victory or two but comes back again and again. Maybe even though his mother and his teachers were telling him that he was by all accounts a good person, he still wondered if he had been good enough. The men and women on the magazine covers know this feeling. People tell them they’re beautiful, but no matter how hard they work they still have some details that need to be airbrushed away. Our small towns empty out with people who rush off to make something of themselves in some place big – as though they weren’t something already. The Pastor works to make something of himself – but how many people must he help? We are like some who sit on stools peeling potatoes as though self-worth depended on how full the fill the bucket. Like women who walk down hallways knowing their value based on how many heads turn. But the pastor ends up alone in a house of strangers. The potato peeler is replaced when his arm goes out. The woman fights a losing battle against a body that ages – 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 – for the grass withers and the flower fades – and the flesh is dying just the same. I got a haircut last Wednesday. Been depressed ever since. The barber spent five minutes on one side, five on the other, about 30 seconds on the top. He told me there wasn’t anything up there to cut! We work so hard. But the flesh is dying and if we’re not careful we’ll die right along with it. And it has been this way since the beginning. Since human hands tried to construct a tower to the heavens to make their name great – we are always trying to earn by the work of our own hands what our God has always offered to give us freely. No matter how eloquent your words, no matter how bold your deeds, no matter how famous your good works you are still “lost,” like a “man of unclean lips” who lives among “a people of unclean lips” – but it is the power of God, not the power of human goodness, that we are called the children of God. I know why “Reached my limit” wrote to Dear Abby – because even the preachers of the Gospel misunderstand their adoption – even the preachers of the gospel lean on the strength of their flesh to make something of themselves - so hear these words again from the Apostle Paul, “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 bearding witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And we are God’s children, not because we’ve let so many people sleep in our houses that our wives and children left us behind, not because our bloodline is so pure and our family so good, not because we look and act perfect, loved and admired by all – but because the God who created this universe claimed us, made us heirs with God “and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” There is suffering involved in our salvation. That part of ourselves that works for glory and admiration must die, and the pain of this death of self and ego is a trial indeed. We are slow to confess and quick to defend our innocence trusting more in our flesh than in the Spirit of God – but salvation comes to those who know that they need it, it is provided to all those who cry out. Life, and life everlasting, is provided, not to the ones who are sure about all the good they have done, but to the ones who know firmly the good that our God has done for them. Amen.

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