Monday, June 19, 2017
Scripture Lessons: Exodus 19: 2-8a and Romans 5: 1-8 Sermon Title: Justified Preached on 6/18/17 The title of this morning’s sermon is “Justified” - a one word title that I chose deliberately because this is the subject of my sermon today – “justification” or to be “justified”. This is my next to last sermon here, and I’m taking this Sunday’s sermon and next Sunday’s sermon to preach about two essential Christian principles – justification and sanctification – so the sermon title today is “Justified.” The sermon title for next Sunday is “Sanctified.” Clear enough, right? Well, it’s clear enough if you know what being justified means. People use this word. Christians use this word. Maybe you’ve heard it in church or in a court of law, but of course, you know that people use words without knowing what they mean all the time – take for example the word “superfluous.” I used that word in a sermon two weeks ago but Sara told me that I used it incorrectly so I used it again last Sunday just to redeem myself. “Predestination” is a word that Presbyterians are supposed to know a little something about, but I’d rather not be put on the spot to talk about it, and “justification” is another theological term – this one of crucial importance – but you just about have to read a book on the subject to understand what it means. “Justified.” What do I mean when I say “justified”? Or, more importantly, what did Paul mean when he wrote the word “justified”? Our Second Scripture Lesson began: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” You can tell from just this passage that being justified is about Grace, and grace is one that we all know well. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Being justified is about standing before God, not as one condemned, but as one forgiven. Justification is about salvation, how it works, what it means, what it is that Jesus has done for you and me. Justification is the difference between this religion that we call Christianity and a religion that masquerades as Christianity in popular culture that I’ll call moralism. Moralism is all about being good, doing right, following the rules, and doing so enough of the time that you get to go to heaven. That sounds a lot like Christianity. In fact, I’d wager that if you asked most Christians to describe their religion, that’s about what they’d tell you. They might say, “I go to church to learn how to live, so that on judgement day I’m deemed worthy of entrance through those pearly gates”. But Christianity is not about worthy. Moralism is all about being good enough, and Christianity is about knowing that you’re not, you never were, and you never will be, but God loves you still. If moralism is about goodness, then Christianity is about grace. And if moralism is about being good enough to go to heaven, then Christianity is about knowing that heaven is ours not because we are good, but because we’re justified. Moralism is the religion of the school classroom, the courthouse, and the dentist – it’s all about whether you have listened well enough, followed the rules enough, and flossed your teeth enough. Moralism is about measuring up to certain standards – and I don’t mean that moralism is foreign to Christianity, but Christianity is more than that. Christianity goes beyond measuring up to provide you with this Good News: that if you know that you never have, and that you never will, rest in the assurance that what you can’t do for yourself, God has done for you. Speaking of measuring up, or trying to measure up, yesterday I had to drive down to Dalton, Georgia. You might know this – that for a Presbyterian minister to serve a church in a different region, a different Presbytery, he or she must be examined by the pastors and elders of that Presbytery and receive their approval – to see if he or she measures up. I’ve been through the process three times now. Once to begin ministry at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church outside Atlanta. A second time to begin ministry here, and now a third time I’ve been examined so that I can begin ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, GA. So, I’ve just been examined by a Presbytery who knew me when I was a child… and as a teenager. There, with the right to ask whatever question they wanted, were people who remember me when I was 7 or 8, disrupting Sunday School class. There were people there who knew me when I was 16 years old, driving around Marietta, GA in a car painted in black and white checkerboard and they wanted to know if I was up to the challenge of a new church. This is a hard question to answer, because I’ve never felt worthy of serving the church I serve now. Yesterday there was no pretending: I have not always been a pristine example of being good, nor am I now, nor will I ever be. Yesterday, I didn’t need to pretend that I could measure up to the standards that some put on the office of pastor, because they knew already that I couldn’t. Instead, I stood as another example of one who has been justified by the mighty work of God in Christ Jesus, for I am a sinner who has received God’s grace. The Pope said it best. When Pope Francis was asked to describe himself he said, “I am a sinner.” And knowing that we cannot do any better, what good is it to pretend to be innocent when we know we have failed to measure up? However, while we may have failed to measure up, we do not stand condemned. We stand justified. Justified by faith, because our Lord Jesus Christ, by his death on a cross, gives us peace with God. Through him we obtain access to grace, so if we boast, we cannot boast in ourselves, for what have we done, we can only boast in what Christ has done on our behalf. To use the words of Rev. Diane Givens Moffett, Senior Pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina: “we cannot win God’s favor. We need only accept God’s grace.” And maybe that sounds easy, but it’s hard. Especially if you’re not used to it. Father’s Day is today, and maybe you have a father who helped you remember just how far you had to go before you measured up. Maybe you had a father you’re still trying to measure up to. You got a part in the play, but he wanted you to play football. The closest he came to saying he loved you was a handshake and a pat on the back. When you graduated High School, maybe you had a father who, instead of telling you how proud he was, asked you why you didn’t graduate with honors. Some of us think of God this way. If God is our Father in Heaven then surely, he remembers that summer when you wreaked his car and is still holding it against you. Preachers preach about that kind of God. I once believed in that kind of God, but there are many ways to be a father, and it’s important to know the kind of Father that our God is. A preacher named Ray Jones told it this way: he was walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. She told him again and again, “Daddy, just don’t make me cry. Don’t say anything that will make me cry at my wedding.” So he kept his mouth shut through the rehearsal dinner. Didn’t give a toast or anything, but as he walked her down the aisle he whispered to her, “I love you, and as long as you live you will never fully know the gift you are to your mother and me.” If God is our father in heaven, is God not this kind of father? The kind whose love for us, in just a few simple words, brings tears to our eyes? What does it mean to be justified – it means that whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, no matter how far you’ve gone – your heavenly father is waiting with open arms to welcome you home. To be justified is to remember that the God of the Exodus is still delivering his people from slavery out of profound and powerful love. To be justified is to know that the price of your imperfection has already been paid by a loving savior who laid down his life that you might know what a father’s love truly is. Now that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. That doesn’t mean we should wallow around in sin and debauchery – but that’s next Sunday’s sermon – sanctification. For now, for today, remember this – you might not have been enough, you might never be enough, but God is, and God always will be, with grace enough to cover all our sin. That’s justification. Thanks be to God. Amen.