The sermon for week October 02, 2016
Who and Whose We AreI was at a sermon seminar this past summer where a pastor said “sin” in every other sentence. I told him that I had heard him say “sin” more in a day than I hear in a month at my church.
He replied, “That's because I don't believe in cheap grace. I know the absolute truth of the Good News: That I am a sinner and Christ died for my sins.”
“Well,” I said. “Hate to break it to you, but grace is worse than cheap; it's free. And the Good News is that gift of God's grace is free to all who turn toward it and believe God's beloved community has come near. It's sin that's cheap. It cheapens our relationship to God, to ourselves, and to others. That's the cheap part.”
It is as Pastor Jack Stephenson once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” Yet the main thing isn't that we humans are awful, sinful, totally depraved, worthless worms. The main thing is God's grace. God's grace is the main thing. That is the power we rely on. The Good News is that God somehow entered the life of Jesus and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace, a grace that existed before the ages began. And what's human sinfulness compared to that?
Now I know what “cheap grace” refers to. I know it comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who used the term to counter a theology that demands nothing of you that he found in his time and context of Nazi Germany. Indeed, that is no grace at all. It was the lameness and quietism of the church at that time that missed the good news and said nothing. The church did not hold people accountable, and I hear the concern of that pastor who would misinterpret the good news to being “Jesus died for a loser like me.” But that's not the main thing.
The main thing is grace, and grace stands in contradiction to everything we know about religion and about relationships. It is the love of God that created everything and everyone. It is that love that we move and have our being. The cosmic story and the story of our lives is about God who loves us so much that we cannot help but be transformed by it and love our neighbors.
But here's the rest of the story. It took me four days to have my rebuttal to that other pastor. The first two days was this dude saying and then repeating his statement. Then I took two days to stew on it and figure out why it bothered me so much. I had to find the words. We don't teach you such short words like other churches do. I had to go through all my seminary training and all the sermons I could remember. I had to remember what the main thing was. The main thing or me, that when you boil everything down is that my identity rests in the fact that I am a child of God. That nothing can take that away from me. 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.
Four days. Four days to remember this when I should have the words in a snap. This is called having a low articulated spirituality. We embody our spirituality. You can see it and we can point to it. In all our work together: at Grace Community Center, St Paul's, Polly Fox, Gabriel's Gowns, Habitat, Clean Our Streams, in our literacy work, and in all our work and service... We do. We know we're called but we can't talk about why we're called or what bible verse might call us to a certain line of work.
What we don't have is the words to say why we do what we do. We can't really point to a teaching of Jesus or a bible verse. We are uncertain as there are others who speak with more passion and shout their faith. We want our actions to speak and we feel it might be immodest to speak about those actions. But we must, for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and love and of self-discipline.
We have the self-discipline. What y'all do is powerful. When I sit and talk with you, you are doing amazing things. And we love. So I pray we speak that love and we find words to speak that love and say NO! You're not a sinner. That's not the good news, the Good News is that God's grace is free to all who turn toward it and believe God's beloved community has come near. We are citizens of that kingdom where we beat our swords into plowshares and we don't learn war any more.
Do not be ashamed then of the testimony about our Lord, but join with me in keeping the main thing, the main thing and speaking about and suffering for the gospel and relying on the power of God. You can join me now. I want you to turn to your neighbors. Look them in the eye. Everyone have someone? Say to them, “NEIGHBOR! I am a child of God. And so are you. No matter what.”
Does that need an amen?