Sermon 6/22/08

June 23, 2008 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

Proper 7A

Messiah Lutheran Church

June 22, 2008

 

There is a story about a little boy

who wouldn’t eat his brussel sprouts when they were served.

Eventually his mother got used to this

and he didn’t get any brussel sprouts on his plate when they were on the menu.

But one night this little boy’s grandmother was over,

and what was on the table but brussel sprouts.

“Danny,” said Grandma, “aren’t you going to eat any brussel sprouts?”

“No, Grandma, I don’t get brussel sprouts.”

“And why not, Danny?”

“Because I can’t eat them.”

“Oh, Danny, you know you can.”

            “No, Grandma, I can’t.”

“I bet you can.  I bet you this ten-dollar bill you can.”

And just like that, Danny had grabbed the dish

and tipped a heap of brussel sprouts onto his plate

and ate them all up.

He got his ten dollars.

 

The next time they sat down to dinner

and brussel sprouts were on the table,

Danny passed them around as usual without taking any.

But his mother passed him back the bowl.

“Take a helping,” she said, a little more short than usual.

“But Mom, I don’t get brussel sprouts.”

“You do now,” she said.  “You can eat them.”

            “But Mom, I only ate them because…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish,

because his mother said to him,

“You did it for money…Now do it for love.”

 

Remember the little verse we heard last week in the sermon?

We love because God loved us first.

Seven – seven – simple words.

1 John 4:19.

As soon as Paul says something similar,

his people misunderstand him with almost blinding speed.

He says, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”

to speak of the inexpressible love of God for people,

to speak of God’s rescuing heart for people.

And immediately Paul’s audience assumes that he is encouraging sin,

so that God can be gracious.

Such a reasoning might be found in a child

who has known the joy of forgiveness with a parent

and therefore she begins to act out and cause conflict,

so that there can be again a reconciliation.

Or even worse, a child who sows dissension

because he is sure that there are never any consequences;

because he is sure that he is secure in the parent’s love.

 

Two of the best comic strips of the past fifty years,

Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes,

repeatedly explored this theme of grace and good works

around the holidays every year.

“I’ve got this Santa Claus thing licked, Charlie Brown!”

announces Shermy one year.

“If there IS a Santa Claus, he’s going to be too good not to give me presents,

no matter how I behave, right?  Right!

“And, if there ISN’T a Santa Claus, then I haven’t really lost anything.  Right?”

And Shermy walks away, satisfied,

leaving Charlie Brown to answer into thin air:

“WRONG!  But I don’t know where!”

 

It is one of the most immediate challenges to the doctrine of God’s grace.

If our acceptance by God is out of God’s own great love and is God’s own work,

if “God loves us first,”

then what incentive is there for human beings to abandon the life of sin,

to act towards God and others in the way God wants for them?

What motivation does a human being have then to change his/her behavior?

When Grandma’s not around to slip a ten to little Danny,

what motivation does he have to eat those yucky brussel sprouts?

 

You have to read the whole sentence:

We love because God loves us first.

Or, one could change it around.

Because God loves us first, therefore we love.

Our love is always a response to the love with which God loves us.

Shermy has it wrong.

All people who try to bribe Santa Claus, or a parent, or a god,

with good behavior,

and that’s all of us sometimes and some of us all the time,

have it wrong.

All people who assume that because God loves us first,

we are free to be satisfied with our brokenness,

and that’s some of us all of the time and all of us some of the time,

have it wrong.

You see, it’s not about behavior at all.

Danny behaves in a certain way

because he thinks it will get him money,

but doesn’t want to behave that way for free.

It has nothing to do with behavior at all.

It has everything to do with the love that motivates behavior.

 

For Paul, who died on the cross?

It wasn’t just Jesus that died,

it was him that was killed there,

the sinful self, the old self,

the one more concerned with Paul than with God.

For Paul, who was raised from the tomb on the third day?

Not just Jesus who was raised from the dead,

but he himself was raised,

to live a new life,

to now truly love because God loved him first,

to be less concerned with behaving and more with acting,

to live confident in the love of God.

 

How is this symbolized in Paul’s life?

Because he has a new identity, he gets a new name.

He was Saul.

Saul is dead.

He is now Paul.

One of our confirmation students asked me why it was

that she didn’t get to choose a new confirmation name, like her Roman Catholic friends.

It might not be a bad idea,

although I would want to say that we all receive a new name

when we are baptized.

It is the name “Christian.”

We bear Christ’s name, and we may then live in the love

with which Christ first loved us.

Doing things, even hard things,

like eating brussel sprouts for our mom’s sake

or even enduring shame and oppression because of our faith

because of the love which Christ had for us,

enduring our life for us.

 

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Sermon 6/15/08: We love because God loved us first! Church Photo Site Now Online!

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