Archives For Preaching Romans

1101480308_400This week we continue our sermon series through Romans by taking a look at Romans 3.9-20, a passage with an important place in Protestant history.

Paul’s insistence in 3.9 that ‘no one is righteous, not one,’ a phrase that hearkens back to Genesis 18 and the story of Sodom, has been the cornerstone of the Calvinist doctrine of ‘Total Depravity.’ It’s the ‘T’ in Tulip acrostic of Calvinist theology.

Total Depravity holds that because we’re all under the power of sin every act and aspect of our lives is compromised by sin.

Even are good deeds are ‘like filthy rags’ because ultimately they’re motivated not by a desire to serve God or neighbor but to justify our own selves.

I’ve never been able to swallow total depravity hook, line and sinker. It’s always struck me as a doctrinal answer in search of a theological problem- a problem I don’t necessarily agree Paul was primarily addressing.

The notion of total depravity made me remember this quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, a liberal theologian from the 20th century and one I’m not normally given to quoting in any positive way (save the title of this blog):

“Man loves himself inordinately. Since his determinate existence does not deserve the devotion lavished upon it, it is obviously necessary to practice some deception in order to justify such excessive devotion.  While such deception is constantly directed against competing wills,seeking to secure their acceptance and validation of the self’s too generous opinion of itself, its primary purpose is to deceive, not others, but the self. 

The self must at any rate deceive itself first.  Its deception of others is partly an effort to convince itself against itself. 

The fact that this necessity exists is an important indication of the vestige of truth which abides with the self in all its confusion and which it must placate before it can act. 

The dishonesty of man is thus an interesting refutation of the doctrine of man’s total depravity.”

Niebuhr’s point is that our self-deception itself presupposes that somewhere deep down within us we know that we’re not living out who we were created to be and that we disobey God.  Even if this is only on the subconscious level it undermines the notion that we’re completely depraved in the Calvinist sense. It also suggests, contra Calvinism, that non-Christians as creatures of God still live their lives imbued with the grace of the imago dei.

Our guilty conscience, then, might be the best sign we have for hope.

 

Jesus, Our Brother

Jason Micheli —  April 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

moltmannWe continue our sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans this weekend. While Paul’s dominant theme in the letter is that of Christ as ‘the Righteous One,’ the messiah who offers the faithful obedience to Yahweh that had been Israel’s calling. Christ’s faithfulness in Israel’s stead points out a necessary complimentary theme for Paul. Because Israel had not given God the faithfulness God was due, and thus had not been ‘a light to the nations,’ judgment was now due Israel just as it was to the other nations.

Christ the ‘Righteous One’ is also the Christ the vicarious sufferer.

This resonates with a passage from Jurgen Moltmann’s autobiography, A Broad Place, which I recently finished reading.

steve-larkinFor those of you not familiar with him, Moltmann is not only Steve Larkin’s doppelganger Moltmann is one of the most significant theologians of the 20th century.

As a young man, Moltmann served in the Nazi army. He did so near the end of the war when both sides were nearing desperation and taking desperate measures. Only after the war did Moltmann learn of his country’s shameful crimes with which he had, unwittingly, abetted.

Paradoxically, Moltmann also credits this experience with his conversion to Christianity.  Having been taken captive, Moltmann was sent to POW camp run by Scottish Christians. In the camp, Moltmann was given a bible, which he began reading in the evenings ‘without much understanding,’ Moltmann confesses. That is, until he came across the psalms of lament, Psalm 39 in particular:

“I am dumb and must eat up my suffering within myself.

My life is as nothing before thee.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry.

Hold not thou thy peace at my tears,

for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.’

Reading those words was for Moltmann like ‘an echo from my own soul, and it called that soul back to God.’

And reading Mark’s Gospel in which Christ’s last words are ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Moltmann came to see the assailed, forsaken Christ as our ‘brother in suffering.’ Moltmann goes on (in a very Wesleyan way, I’d add):

“I have never decided for Christ once and for all, as is often demanded of us. I have decided again and again…’

As he concludes the chapters on his time in the prison camp, Moltmann makes the powerful observation that the Christian faith of their captors was the only thing that enabled his fellow prisoners to become ‘human again:’ by treating the German prisoners as ‘brothers in Christ,’ exposing them to the truth of their country’s sins without condemning them as less than human and by offering, in Christ’s name, forgiveness.

Likewise, Moltmann says, his captors- many of whom had been victims of Nazi terror- let it be known that ‘in Christ’ was the only ground upon which they could ever possibly forgive.

544900_608245191477_257197599_nThis week we continue our sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s a tricky letter to expound because many assume that Paul’s primary message is justification by faith alone- how we’re made right in God’s eyes not by anything we do but only by faith.

As NT Wright says, thinking Paul’s main message is justification by faith alone is to confuse key for melody, for Paul’s main message isn’t how we’re justified but how God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord of all creation.

The trouble is many Christians not only think justification by faith is Paul’s primary message; they think justification by faith is the Gospel.

Scot McKnight cleverly calls these Christians ‘soterians’ after the theological jargon that emphasizes Jesus’ saving work.

Scot had this post recently, outlining how you know whether or not you have a soterian Gospel- vs Paul’s actual Gospel.

The soterian gospel is a rhetorical bundle of lines about the doctrine of salvation that came to the fore in the 20th Century. I had lunch recently with a missionary who told me he’s been struggling with the “soterian” gospel for years and is so glad I wrote The King Jesus Gospel because it put into words what he’s been thinking for more than three decades. He’s not the first to tell me this.

Critique of that rhetorical bundle can be found from a number of quarters, including the new Calvinists, theologians, pastors and leaders, and also from some evangelists I’ve met.

Perhaps the secret to the success of the soterian gospel is its teachability and its programmability. Whatever the reasons for its successes, we are not alone in being convinced it is not a fair representation of the NT gospel. I got a chuckle from this reflection by  Lee Wyatt:

What would you add? What do you think is the fundamental Question the soterian gospel asks? What do you think is the fundamental Question the gospel of Jesus and the apostles asks?

You might have a Soterian Gospel if:

-you think of humans primarily as sinners in need of redemption (which we, of course, are) rather than divine image-bearers in primarily in need of restoration to their primal dignity and vocation of God’s royal representatives in the world and creation’s wise overseers;

-you think Christ became human only because humans sinned and needed redemption;

-you think that the forgiveness of sins is the end/goal of God’s redemptive work;

-you think human destiny will be in a not-earth place (heaven) and in a not-earth kind of existence (immaterial, so-called “spiritual”)

-you think the earth is not a part of God’s eternal plan.

544900_608245191477_257197599_n Scot Mcknight has this up over at his Jesus Creed site. This week Dennis continues our sermon series through Romans by looking at Romans 1.18-32 in which lists the symptoms of a creation suffering under God’s wrath, or, better put, suffering un-righteousness. Romans 1.18-32 is the antithesis to Paul’s thesis in 1.16-17.

Since ‘wrath’ is the subject, I thought I’d offer this reflection on God’s wrath from Amos 7.

———————————————-

I’m sure you’ll know what I mean when I say that being a pastor is a lot like having a family member who is constantly in the tabloids.

I mean: here I am with this public relationship with someone who routinely shocks and outrages a reliable percentage of the population. While I can only guess what kinds of questions relatives of Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods are forced to answer, I do know the feeding-frenzy kinds of questions I consistently have to suffer thanks to my relationship with a different sort of celebrity.

Example:

This week I found myself in a conversation with a Unitarian Universalist clergywoman named Janice. Interrogation might better describe our exchange. Her every question to me was like the glare and flash of a paparazzi’s camera.

For those who might not know- Unitarianism began a few hundred years ago during the Enlightenment. As such, it was very much a reflection of its time. The Unitarian movement sought to strip traditional Christianity of its primitive, out-dated and superstitious trappings.

In many ways, Unitarianism is like Christianity but with less vocabulary for you to memorize since words like Trinity and Incarnation and Atonement and Resurrection have all been kicked to the wayside.

Janice has long, unnaturally black hair. She was wearing a hippie-sort of linen dress, had tattooed clover wrapped around her arm and, appropriate to her enlightened tradition, she was wearing not one but at least five different religious symbols on her hemp necklace.

She had a notepad on her lap which she wrote in whenever I spoke, as if she were the therapist and I was the delusional, misguided patient. She even kept referring to me as a ‘pre-enlightened’ Christian.

Now I’m sure you all know someone in your family or in your neighborhood who is a Unitarian and I’m sure they’re wonderful people. And I know there’s a Unitarian Church just down the road from us, and I’m sure that it’s filled with wonderful people. So the last thing I want to do is offend anyone when I tell you that I just wanted to slap Janice.

We were sitting around a coffee table: Janice and me and three other clergy from varying denominations. I was the last one to show so I got stuck sitting in a low, awkward butterfly chair with everyone else towering over me. And obviously given my height I’m sensitive to such things.

The chair was narrow across too; it kept me from being able to cross my legs or move my arms and only increased my sense of being trapped and on trial.

Because our meeting had no clear ending, the conversation unraveled quickly with Janice electing herself grand inquisitor. So with me trapped in my butterfly chair, like a reporter from the Enquirer Janice fired question after question at me:

Do you still believe in the Resurrection?

Surely you don’t still believe in Jesus’ miracles do you?

You don’t seriously think Jesus was God-in-the-flesh?

And the virgin birth…don’t tell me you…?

With her every question and my every yes she grew more incredulous.

How do you still hold to a pre-enlightened faith, she pressed, given everything we now know about the universe?

As if to teach me a thing or two about the universe, Janice’s next round of questions proved that she could make time stand still.

She kept me on the defensive, wanting me to explain every inconsistency and every troubling passage in scripture, every wicked thing ever done in Christ’s name, every theological claim we make in here that can’t be proven empirically. And the whole time she kept writing in her notebook!

Towards the end of the interrogation, Janice looked up from her pen and paper and she took a sort of cleansing breath and sighed, and, adopting a good-cop tone of voice, she said: I just don’t see how anyone can reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New.

I kept my mouth shut. By that point I knew exactly what I wanted to tell her but it wasn’t of a theological nature. Besides, I was afraid I might need her help to get out of the butterfly chair.

So I didn’t say anything.

Then she looked at me and she said:

Okay, you tell me. When you read the Old Testament what sort of God do you see?

As much as I wanted to slap her and throw her through the window, the truth is on some days, with certain passages of scripture, it’s a good question.

It’s a good question today because when you read through the Book of Amos you might end up with an answer that troubles you. You might decide that what you see in this book is a God who is incongruent with the God you know in your heart. You might conclude that the God who speaks a Word to Amos can’t be the same One who said to the Father ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.‘

What do you see? It’s a good question.

God asks Amos that same question in today’s text. And in that moment, what Amos sees is how Israel doesn’t measure up, doesn’t make the grade, doesn’t meet God’s expectations. But a ‘plumb line‘ is not the only thing Amos has seen in these seven chapters.

Amos is a prophet, which means ‘seer.‘ Prophets see what will come to pass.

And God has given Amos a lot to see.

Amos has seen God sending locusts to devour Israel’s crops. Amos has seen God ordering a shower of fire to eat up the land. He’s seen God’s anger roaring like a lion. He’s seen God shipping the Israel off into exile. He’s seen God made nauseous by the worship of his People.

And in today’s text he sees God vowing never again to pass Israel by, in other words, never again to forgive.

What do you see?

The hard fact is that in the Book of Amos God threatens to kill and destroy, God promises to send fire and pestilence and famine.

The hard fact is that in the Book of Amos there are 28 different verbs to describe God destroying what he’s created.

The hard fact is that even when you come to the end of the Book of Amos there is no word of hope.

There is no good news.

That wherever God’s mercy is mentioned it’s done so in the past tense because God’s mercy is all dried up, his patience has run out. God’s no longer willing to wait for us to change.

There’s a lot to SEE in Amos.

But I wonder- is that all there is to see?

I spent time not long ago in Cambodia, visiting with our mission partners there. I think it must be because of the language barrier I experienced there but most of my memories from Cambodia are visual. Most of my memories are of what I saw.

And so I don’t recall many conversations I had there. I don’t remember much of what I or anyone else said, but I do remember seeing.

I remember seeing:

Young men fishing for food in a thickly polluted pond.

Toddlers playing tag barefoot in an alley strewn with broken glass while others their age cried for breakfast.

School children walking home from school and disappearing into the smoke and smog of a garbage dump- because that’s where home was for them.

I remember seeing.

An old woman- a Sunday School teacher- sitting in a dark, hot corner of a decrepit old apartment building.

The hands that reached out for bread as I served the Eucharist- rough hands, broken and worn-down hands, wrinkled hands, dirty hands.

Teenage girls praying frantically and loudly and with tears on their cheeks, leaving no mystery about how hard their lives were.

Shanty towns filled with the poor and the forgotten, displaced from their homes in the city to make room for ‘progress.’

What sticks with me is what I saw.

And I’d like to be able to tell you that my reaction to seeing all of that was a sense of fulfillment that despite all of the challenges there this church is doing so much to help. I’d like to be able to tell you that my reaction to seeing all of that was one of humility- humility that the people I met there had such faith and joy despite having nothing.

And even though those things are all true; they’re not what I felt upon seeing everything I saw.

No, what I felt first, what seeing made me feel:

Anger and Indignation – that so many could be forgotten and so many others refuse to see them.

Impatience and Exasperation – that things are still so far from what God intends and so many assume there’s no other alternative.

I wanted to Judge…someone… anyone.

When you read the Old Testament, what sort of God do you see? Janice asked me.

I knew what she was getting at.

I knew she was hoping to checkmate me into seeing that the God of the Old Testament is angry and vindictive and impatient, that He frequently threatens to punish and to destroy and to call off creation completely and start over, that this God bears little resemblance to the One who, while we were yet sinners, died for us.

And the truth is-

If that’s what you’re looking for, then there’s plenty of examples to find. In the Book of Amos especially.

But if you read through scripture and see only an angry, arbitrary God,

then you’re not seeing all there is to see.

We think of prophets as future-predictors, as fortune-tellers. We think of prophets as people that God empowers to see what God will one day do. And so Amos sees plagues of locusts and famines and showers of fire and punishment and destruction.

But as much as that, prophets are people empowered by God to see the present, to see what God sees right now, to see how things are today, to see the things we refuse and choose not to see.

And so when you read through scripture, when you read through the Old Testament, when you read through the Book of Amos you don’t see a God who is arbitrary or petulant or vindictive.

You instead see a God who is righteously angry.

Angry over the way his people use violence on one another. Angry because they value silver and gold more than each other. Indignant for how they obey convention over covenant and for how they’re more faithful to the propriety of their worship than to the message of their scripture.

What you see is a God who is angry because His People refuse to see the poor, refuse to lift up the weak, refuse to remember the forgotten.

When you read the Old Testament, what sort of God do you see? Janice asked.

And I didn’t take the bait. I didn’t say anything.

After a moment or two she closed her notebook and, sounding disappointed, she said to everyone around the table: ‘Well, I don’t see how a loving God could ever be angry.’

And struggling to get out of the butterfly chair, I replied: ‘I don’t see how he couldn’t be.’

family-vacations-boston-marathonThis weekend we continue our sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday, Paul’s entire letter is an extended meditation on the key phrase in 1.17: ‘the righteousness of/from God.’

In the Greek, it translates to ‘dikaiosyne theou.’

Dikaiosyne theou is the fork in the Romans road.

Depending on which path the reader chooses, Dikaiosyne theou can lead you to two very different conclusions.

If you translate ‘the righteousness of/from God’ as a genitive objective, then you conclude, as Martin Luther did, that Paul means God’s righteousness gets transferred to us from God by our faith in Christ.

When you choose this fork in the Romans road, then it appears that Paul’s primary question is about our justification before God. The plot of Paul’s letter becomes our own individual savedness.

It’s about us. Our destiny. Our rescue from sin.

If you choose the other fork in the Romans road and translate ‘the righteousness of God’ as a Genitive subjective, then you must conclude that Paul’s writing not about us, primarily or individually.

He’s writing about God. ‘God’s own righteousness’ in this sense refers to God’s commitment to the covenant made with Abraham, in which God promised to rescue- not individuals but- the world from sin.

To choose the former option, NT Wright says, is a bit like the earth insisting that the sun revolves around it.

To choose the latter option is to acknowledge that we’re just a part of God’s creative and redemptive activity.

Like Israel before us, we’re participants in God’s saving work. Of course, this also necessarily entails our individual redemption from sin, but, like Israel before us, we’re not saved for our own sake. 544900_608245191477_257197599_n

God’s promise was made through the chosen people, Israel, but the promise was never limited to them. 

The promise was always: for the world.

Abraham being chosen by God was a blessing, to be sure, but it was always a blessing meant to bless the whole world, that through Abraham’s People God would undo what Adam did. Through Abraham’s People, God would deal with sin, set the world to rights, and restore his creation.

Ever since Martin Luther, Protestants have opted for the former reading of 1.17, reading into Paul a narrow focus on the eternal salvation of individual souls.

Ever since Luther chose that fork in the road, many Christians have believed Paul’s message was about the life to come rather than this life.

Christianity, we think, is about going to heaven when you die instead of joining God in bringing heaven to earth. luther

Unpacking ‘dikaiosyne theou’ isn’t simply an academic exercise.

It’s not just a parsing of theological jargon.

And it’s not nearly as abstract as it sounds.

Events like the Boston bombing bear that out.

How?

Because Paul intends ‘the righteousness of God’ as the answer to Habakkuk’s question: Why God? How long will you let this go on God? Where are you God? (1.17)

Events like the Boston bombing remind us that Habakkuk’s question is our question too.

And Paul’s answer to that question isn’t: ‘Don’t worry. You’re saved, things will be better when you get to heaven.’

Paul’s answer to the question is the righteousness of God.

Paul’s answer is that precisely what grieves us grieves God too, that what drives us to despair, drives God to determination, that what prompts us to ask pained questions is what compels God to cut a covenant.

Paul’s answer to Habbakuk’s our questions is that in Jesus Christ we see unveiled God’s commitment to his promise to restore creation from the sin that ails it.

Paul’s answer is not to point to where we’ll go when we die if we have faith.

Paul’s answer is to point to God’s promised coming, to God’s faithfulness to us, and, by our faithfulness, foreshadow his arrival; so that, we become- in some small way- the answer to such questions.

 

Get Over Yourself

Jason Micheli —  April 8, 2013 — 2 Comments

r1-not-ashames* Title courtesy of Dennis Perry.

For the many of you who aren’t part of my church, this is a sermon from Julie Pfister, our Congregational Care Director, who leaves for Utah after this week. Prayers and best wishes to her. Take a few moments to read her sermon; it’s well worth it. 

Romans 1.1-7

Just so you know, I did not ask to preach today and I’m not here because I am special or different from any of you.  I was told that my story and my voice are important, because I’m a Christian

And that God uses broken people like me.

Although Bible study is my favorite part of the week, what I know about scripture could fit on the tip of a pin.

I guess if a Bible scholar is who they thought you should hear this weekend, they would not have asked me.

So, why did I agree to preach this weekend?  Believe me, I have asked myself that question a thousand times over the last few weeks.

Well, I just couldn’t help myself.

Scripture tells me that I am a servant of God – that I am His witness.

I have worshipped with many of you here over the years, but just in case you don’t know me, Im Julie Pfister.  I have been married for 27 years to my husband Steve and have raised three children here in Alexandria, just around the corner.  I have been blessed to work in the church as a teacher in the Day School…. with the babies.  And for the last year and a half, I have served as the Congregational Care Coordinator.

Many of you may know that I am moving in the not too distant future.

My husband must love me very much to have agreed to go to a no-stop light town in South Central Utah to take care of my ailing parents.   It will be a long awkward good-bye as our plans change often depending on the latest updates about my father’s health and treatment plan.  Although Utah is home for me, we have built a life here in this community.    I couldn’t leave Aldersgate for any other reason.

I begged Dennis and Jason:

please please please….just let me just go quietly into the good night.  Let me hitch up my covered wagon and leave at dawn and head west.”

I pleaded….”It’s going to be too difficult to leave and say good bye to everyone.   I will end up crying like a zillion times. “

Jason said he wanted you to hear my voice.

It’s not what I wanted.

Then, Dennis, in his infinite compassion and understanding, said

“Get over yourself.  

We are going to cry and pray for you at a great party.  Get ready!”  

So I said yes.

Get over yourself.”

At its very core, isn’t that what knowing Christ is all about? –

Getting over ourselves and becoming a new creation in Christ.

Casting all fears, burdens, doubts, insecurities, hopes and prayers on HIM.

“As God tells the prophet Isaiah, “You are MY witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 

How could I say no, knowing that scripture tells me that I am to witness for Christ?

For the Apostle Paul, everything changed on the road to Damascus. Saul, as he is known before his conversion, encounters the Risen Lord in a flash of light. He is knocked from his horse and blinded.  Jesus asks him why he persecutes Him.  He is told where to find a man named Annanias through whom God would restore his sight.  Annanias tells him that God has chosen him to spread the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles

He doesn’t shrug the whole thing off.

Sure, he was blind, and then he could see, but he doesn’t write it off and wonder “

What just happened here?”

That couldn’t have really been God?

There are plenty of people throughout scripture that tried to shrug off attention getters like that.

And we see it around us all the time – unwillingness to see the hand of God in our lives, even when His grace and mercy are as tangible as being knocked off a horse and blinded.

 

But there are also dozens of examples in scriptures of unsuspecting characters who accept God’s call, even when they were not seeking it.  God sought them.

Noah wasn’t looking for an excuse to build an ark.  Moses asked the LORD over and over to not make him go before Pharoah.  David wasn’t tending his sheep thinking….hum….I think I want to be King.

There are many who believe that if God had not chosen Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and if Paul had not obeyed, that there would have been no worldwide Christian faith.  Most importantly to remember it was not Paul by himself.  It was as he said repeatedly, “not I, but Christ in me.”

So Saul becomes Paul, a new creation in Christ and is horrified to think that his old name Saul of Tarsis would dishonor God and freak out those who would hear him preach about Christ.

Paul doesn’t ask for this to happen.  He isn’t praying for a testimony of the risen Christ.  He doesn’t choose this role.  He is busy persecuting those who are spreading the Good News of Christ.

But once God chooses him, He does not turn back.

Unlike Paul, I was already blind.

Blind from fear, mistrust, disillusionment.  Blind from bitterness that led to the realization that by striving every day to live a good life, to do the best I could, that my life was not going to be the perfect little picture I had painted for myself and my family.

For me, everything changed one morning.

It wasn’t a conversion in the sense that I did not know Christ as my Savior before that morning.  It was just that I was living on the fringes, powerless and afraid that my life would always fall short of being what and who God created me to be.

He just knocked me off my horse and told me that He would change my life.  That He is who He says He is.

It was a moment of pure grace and mercy that is at the heart of everything I have felt, and believed, and loved since.

It was an ordinary morning during a moment when I was sitting in a chair and was told to get up and change my life.   I did.

I have never looked back.  I have faltered and experienced doubt, frustration, fear, panic and all the other emotions that are in our range, but I have never, denied or diminished how God changed me and continues to work in me and through me.

 

So, what happens when everything changes for you?

You wake up in the morning and start the day as it is required and planned.

Get the kids off to school.  Get ready for work.  Start a load of laundry. Make a few calls.

What happens when all that just stops and GOD touches you in a way that brings you to your knees?

Do you just shrug it off?

How do you fit a new creation – a transformed life, into a life already in progress.

What happens when you pray and pray and pray that God will show his face?

And then HE does.

Once we claim Him.  He claims us.

Paul got over himself quickly, but it wasn’t without cost.

Can you imagine what courage it must have taken for him to seek out Peter and the other apostles to tell them that Christ had appeared to and spoken to him?

Returning to those whom he had persecuted-, even leading to the death of the beloved Apostle Stephen?

Asking to become one of them and to have their blessing to take the Gospel and bring it to the gentiles.

That kind of courage only comes with faith.  

The meat of today’s scripture is verses 5-6

“Through Him and for His namesake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.  And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”  

It is about obedience through faith.

Not Paul’s obedience and faith – but ours.

Paul is following Jesus example of obedience through faith.

That’s why for Paul there is really no difference between faith and obedience because having faith means obeying God’s ways all the way to a cross.

Rebellion is much more fashionable than obedience these days.   

We think it brings freedom.

Freedom from rules.

Freedom from oppression.

Freedom from THE MAN.

rutledgeFleming Rutledge says:

“true freedom is not found in rebellion against God.  Rebellion against God leads to the death of the soul and the spirit.  Obedience to God may mean the death of the body, but it means life for the world.”  How do we carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus?”

This church, these pews have been my trenches.

 

Many times when the church was quiet, I stormed through the doors, determined to not see anyone along the way, marching straight to the bottom of this gigantic cross.

That was the size of the cross I needed some times.

A giant cross to heal me and calm me from my fears.

To put me back together again.

In these pews and at the foot of that cross I fought for my family, for my children, for my friends, my sanity.

If I could have, I would have gone to the caves where David hid from Saul and cried to the LORD – How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?

This is where I prayed my family together against great odds.

This is where I prayed that God would find a remnant in my heart “to take root below and bear fruit above.”  That my family would be a “band of survivors.” And that the “zeal of the Lord almighty would accomplish this.”

The sign in front of the church asks – Does your faith fit your life?

Over the years, some people have gone so far as to tell me that I spend too much time here – –I venture to say that there are many of you out there that are even more of a church rat than I am.

I have been told that I should just get a bed and live here….

That I should “get a life.  That I need to balance – yadda yadda.

This is where I got my life back.

This is where Christ became my savior and I became His.

This is where I serve the One who gave my life and my family back to me.

This is where I found my balance.

How could I NOT be here and spend myself for His church and His people?

 

My prayer has been each morning that God will show me the means to increase my faith, to know and believe that He is who He says He is.

I must listen for the answer to that prayer and recognize opportunities that arise each day to that end.

For the great majority of us, obedience through faith is lived day to day in the humdrum details – being prepared for the daily decisions that show us to be Christians as we claim.

 

The power in obedience – aligning ourselves with the power of God in obedience to the Spirit:  this is the power that overcomes the world.  The power that helps us “get over ourselves

Paul calls himself a servant of Christ.

Paul was a willing servant and slave for Christ.

He was so overwhelmed at how he had been transformed, that he spent himself to express that.

A bond slave of Christ in debt to all.

Paul is the one who told us later in Romans that …

”the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to God’s will.  

I have been on the floor at the foot of that very cross, face down, my arms spread – in the shape of the cross….with a prayer in the deepest corners of my heart that I could not give words to.  I confessed to God that I had NO IDEA how to pray.

I used Paul’s word’s that told me that the

Holy Spirit would intercede and moan to the Father on my behalf.

I didn’t just know this, I learned this with my Aldersgate sisters as we have worked our way through a dozen Bible studies over the years.  Relying on each other to help us through many storms.

I, like John Wesley, had my heart strangely warmed at Aldersgate.

My time spent here with you is sacred to me.  Whether you knew it or not, you have been my scaffolding.  As I prepare to leave, a part of Aldersgate, goes with me.  It was here that I found God, or more precisely that God found me.  It was here that a loving, caring congregation accepted me into your midst.  I shall be forever grateful.  And I know that you will do the same for anyone that walks through these doors in search of a place and a people to find and worship God.

I’ll use the words of Fleming Rutledge again to close.  “

The purpose and meaning of worship with fellow believers is to be a people prepared for daily decisions that make our faith fit our life.

As we share the Lord’s Supper together, we rejoice to remember whose spirit it is that bears us up and links us together in the power of the obedience of faith – the faith that overcomes the world.

I offer this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

imagesYesterday I wrote a post about Paul’s use of the phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou in Romans and how that phrase has been appropriated, incorrectly in my view, for the doctrine of justification. You can read it here.

We’re justified not by our faith IN Christ but by the faith OF Christ, is Paul’s argument I argued.

As anticipated, I received a flood of panties-in-a-twist emails from evangelicals excoriating me for playing fast and loose with their core doctrine.

One of the responses, from a friend, essentially asked:

What difference does it make, IN or OF? Isn’t it just semantics?

I could answer that question a number of ways, many of them theological. After all, how one chooses to translate ek pisteos Iesou Christou does lead to different even divergent conclusions. It’s a little like a circuit. You can’t reverse the wires and expect to have the same result.

But that’s for another post or another day because right now the phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou registers for me not on a theological level.

For me, the phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou is personal.

Someone I care about very much is right now in a bad way.

You know the sort- where you’re overwhelmed, don’t know what to do, how to help and can’t find the remedy (or end) in sight.

The sort where you’re left with those persistent, security-blanket questions like:

‘Why God?

Where the hell are you God?

Are you napping on the job or what?’

The sort where your faith in Christ feels as porous as sand and your doubts and unbelief feel like the Nothingness that comes creeping over everything in The Never-Ending Story.

So that’s why I think how we translate Paul’s phrase ek pisteos Iesou Christou can make all the difference in the world.

I don’t insist you agree with me, but, for me, saying our standing, our justification, before God depends on our faith IN Christ is not good news. Not at all. Not today.

Because, let’s be honest, even on our best days our faith IN Christ is as fragile as a house of cards.

No, the good news has to be better than that. It has to be big enough to withstand the waves of doubt and despair that threaten to knock us down and undo us.

Whoever we are in God’s eyes, whatever righteousness we possess, however we’re justified and saved has to depend on a faith stronger than the one I can muster on most days. 

Especially the dark ones.

It has to depend on the faith OF Jesus Christ, the one who felt what we feel in Gethsemane but who nonetheless got up from the Garden and kept the faith when there’s no chance in hell we would have.

For me at least, that’s a better good news. r1-not-ashames