Friday, June 27, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 4

I am not ashamed of the gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel.
These are the words we hear from Paul
in his letter to his Christian friends in Rome.
I am not ashamed of the gospel.

Out of all the readings today,
that sentence is the one that was instantly—
and has been continuously with me:
I am not ashamed of the gospel.

We can read that or hear that and think,
“Well, of course not.
What’s there to be ashamed of?
It’s the gospel! The good news.”

But the truth is, we are sometimes, by our own admission and proclamation, we are Christian “buts.”
That’s B-U-T.

I’m a Christian but I don’t think homosexuals are evil.
I’m a Christian but I care about this fragile earth, our island home.
I’m a Christian but I believe women are equal to men.
I’m a Christian but I don’t think people who believe differently from me
will fry in hell for all eternity.

Some of us have friends who-- when we tell people we go to church--
get a shocked look on their face.
When people I meet for the first time find out I am a priest,
They take a step back as if I am radioactive.
We are often Christian”buts”.

For the next 15 weeks in our scripture readings,
we will continue to hear from Paul and his correspondence
with his friends in Rome.
The heart of his message is this: “justification by faith.”

This was radical thinking when he wrote that letter to the Romans,
And it is still very difficult for us to get our minds around this.

Paul is saying is this:
To God,
It is not what we do,
it is not our good works,
that earn the love of God.
God’s love is there regardless.

God loves us because we are God’s beloved children.

The theology of Paul, and the Christian church,
is not justification by works
but justification by faith.

That does not mean we should stop doing good things.
It just means that our good things are in no way required for God to love us.
I believe it is God’s dream that because of God’s love for us
We will do those good works—in thanksgiving, with gratitude.

The heart of our faith
is believing that God really loves us.
Loves you.
Loves me.
Loves each one of us as a unique and cherished individual.

This again sounds so simple==
Yet it can raise those Christian “buts” again.
I believe God really loves me,
BUT I’m not totally convinced God loves you…
or him…or her…or those people.

It’s like the bumper sticker I saw on a car recently—
God loves you—but I’m his favorite.

There are no BUTS when it comes to God’s love.
That is what it means to not be ashamed of the gospel.
To really believe in God’s unconditional
and always there and amazingly abundant love for all of us,
for each one of us.

Some of us don’t respond well to love.
Some of us have life experiences that make us skeptical of love,
make us distrust those who are crazy enough to love us,
make us believe that love only comes with strings attached.

Faith is believing in that unconditional, abundant, always there love of God.

In the midst of one of my recent periodic worry-fests,
someone this week asked me, “Where’s your faith?”
I rather quickly dismissed the question at the time
but that question stayed with me

Where’s our faith
when life isn’t going like we want?
Where’s our faith
when things aren’t moving as fast as we believe they should?
Where’s our faith
when people we love are hurting?
Where’s our faith
when we don’t have the money to pay the bills?
Where’s our faith
when we feel lost, abandoned, discarded?

Faith is not about achievement or success or accomplishment.
Faith is our response to the Divine, our response to God.

Faith is trusting God more than we trust ourselves.
(oh so much easier said than done!!).

Faith is walking the daily journey,
living into the words:
All shall be well
and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well.

Faith is recognizing that none of us really know the mind of God.
Faith is accepting that our ways are not necessarily the ways of God.

Faith is living with the core belief that God loves us—no matter what.
Faith is linked arm in arm with hope.

If God is the highway then faith is our car.
Worship and prayer are our fuel.

To live in faith, we need to keep driving.
We need to spend time with God.
We don’t want to hear those words, even metaphorically speaking,
that are spoken in Matthew’s gospel today,
“I never knew you.’

God longs and hungers to know us.

But that means letting go
of the illusion
that we are the ones in control.
That means letting go because we trust that God is always there.

I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
Then we must stop hiding.
We must be willing to keep going,
to keep trusting,
to keep loving,
to keep hoping—
to keep letting go.
Let go and let God.

This week I got a very intriguing piece of junk mail.
I rarely ever open junk mail—
I toss it directly into the garbage can.
But this envelope was lumpy.
So I opened it.

The first thing that fell out was this little card that said:
Well, that got my attention.
And the next thing that fell out—the lumpy part of the envelope—
was a ballpoint pen.

The pen had St. John’s Episcopal Church printed upon the shaft.
(This piece of mail was a sales pitch to get us to purchase pens—
we’re not).

But I did read the other line written on that pen—
after all, I was looking for that WORD OF ADVICE—
And here’s what I found:
With God, all things are possible.

Where’s your faith?

I don’t want to be a Christian BUT.
I want to be a Christian AND.

I am a Christian AND I know that God loves each one of us—even me.
I am a Christian AND I know that with God all things are possible.
I am a Christian
AND I know that God can do more than I can ask or imagine.

Robert Benson writes these words in his book A Good Life:

If Christ is in us,
and if Christ is present in the others that we meet,
acknowledged or not,
then there are no moments when Christ is not present…
One does not have to go far to find Jesus.
What one has to do is adopt a posture that allows us to see him.
My father used to say that when we get to heaven and see Jesus,
our first thought is not going to be
that we have never seen him before.
Instead, we will grin and say,
“It’s you, it’s you. I have seen you everywhere.”

I am not ashamed of the gospel.

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