Sermon – Second Sunday after Pentecost

July 5, 2011 at 9:09 am Leave a comment

Texts: Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:27-29
(can be found here)

I’m not a big fan of ‘bumper-sticker theology.’
To me, if you have a theology you can fit on a bumper sticker,
it’s not much of a theology.
It’s more of a slogan,
which can become a reflexive excuse for the way one wants to live one’s life.
There’s one I saw just a few months ago,
that extols the virtues of a particular denomination.
I’ll put in the name of our own particular branch of Christianity
to protect the innocent,
but it says something like, “Lutherans ask questions.”
I thought of the very first question in the Bible –
The serpent said to Eve – “Did God really say,
you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”
I somehow doubt the driver of the car wanted
to be associated with that particular question,
but there is a time to ask questions
and a time to refrain from asking questions.
God needed sixty-six books written over at least a thousand years
to get his message across,
so if we think we can get by with the space allotted to us on a bumper sticker,
we’re in trouble.
Unless the print is really, really small.
Actually, when God wanted to get his message across to us,
he sent not a bumper sticker, but a man.
He sent his Son, Jesus Christ to speak to us,
to challenge us, to forgive us, and to send us out,
so that he could say, if we were carrying the Gospel,
“Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

St. Paul was one of those sent out to proclaim Christ to the world,
and one of the ways he did so was letters to congregations he had started,
but Romans is special because it is to a congregation that he did not start,
indeed had never visited,
although he really wanted to.
I wonder what St. Paul would have thought of a bumper sticker
that was popular a few decades back –
“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Just forgiven.
Just. forgiven.
Forgive me, but if that’s all God wanted to do with us,
to give us a blanket allowance to do whatever we want,
and then to issue us a free pass to be with him after our lives,
that’s not a God,
that’s an insurance policy, or a permissive parent.
Or a seller of indulgences,
someone who would have driven Martin Luther to nail 95 theses to a door.

True, Christians aren’t perfect,
and we have no need to worry that we are not,
and I guess that was the point of the bumper sticker,
but the call to holiness is part and parcel of the forgiveness that God offers us.
He offers us forgiveness because he wishes to reconcile us to each other,
and to himself.
For real.
A holy God wants a relationship with holy people.
And so through Jesus Christ he makes them holy,
by sending them his Holy Spirit.

St. Paul had to deal with the reduction of his own theology
to bumper sticker size,
to something like “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
His message of good news,
that in Christ we were forgiven our sins for free,
had become a message of bad news,
that in Christ we had license to sin.
It’s so easy to make the good news into bad news.
It happens in every generation,
often in the same ways that happened before.
In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented the “cheap grace”
that had invaded the Christian church.
Christianity without discipleship,
forgiveness without repentance,
Jesus without the call to become like Jesus.
It would have all seemed so familiar to St. Paul.

Paul needs to get the idea across
that when Jesus forgives us,
he does not simply give us a free pass,
but actually in his body frees us from sin and the power of the law to condemn us.
Paul makes this argument over several chapters of Romans,
so there is no way that today we can examine the full scope of his argument.
But Paul is battling against that cheap grace
which has been the shadow of the Gospel
from the moment it was first proclaimed,
one that says we can serve two masters.
God and money, or God and fame,
or God and pleasure, or God and whatever else you want.

Sin only makes you more of a slave, says Paul,
and leads to death.
not just the physical death we fear,
but the death of anything good in us,
the death of being able to love anyone or anything other than self.

But to have God as master is to hear the call to eternal life,
not just life forever,
but life now, life with God and life in emulation
of the God made flesh, Jesus Christ,
a life empowered by the Spirit.
Christians aren’t perfect,
they fall, but when they fall they hear the call to get up again
and keep walking,
striving to bring their lives into conformity with the life of Jesus.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
A life without that daily hearing of the call,
without that striving,
without that recognition of sin and the asking of forgiveness,
without the honest submission of one’s thoughts and actions to God’s judgment,
without the presentation of oneself to God as an obedient servant,
runs the risk of becoming a pale shadow of itself,
having an appearance of faith but missing the substance.

But with the daily hearing of the call,
we are confirmed in the relationship we have with God in Christ Jesus.
That takes more than a bumper sticker to get across.



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Trinity Sunday sermon Quotable: On Friendship, Love, and Truth

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