Sermon for 6/26/16 Galatians 5: 1, 13-25

I know this may be hard for some of you to believe, but I actually was a pretty good kid in high school. My grades weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but otherwise I was a pretty good kid. I had a lot of friends, was involved with a lot of activities, had a job, and stayed out of trouble. Either because of my lack of bravery or lack of opportunity, I never had one of those crazy parties when my parents went out of town (like all the kids in the movies seem to do). I never wanted to take my freedom for granted. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve made some top-notch stupid decisions when given freedom. But, I just waited until after high school was over. The verse at 13 got me to thinking about all of that this week. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”

Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Hmmm. I am so grateful to be born and raised in this country. I have never known what it is like to not be free. I say what I want, do what I want, travel where I want, buy what I want, and talk to whomever I want without ever worrying about what I am doing. My fear in talking about freedom (especially among those of us who were born and raised in this country and may not know any different at all) is that we may not know what it is like to go without the simple freedoms of life. So it can prove difficult to talk about the ways we are held captive.

Paul writes in today’s passage about the down and dirty 15: fornication (nothing like starting out with a doozy), impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing. When we hear this list, we might get a little worried because there might be one or more of those desires of the flesh that we have given into more than once in our life. Remember, Paul’s letter was written to the people of Galilee who were recent converts to Christianity. This wasn’t meant to be a letter of shaming. It’s easy to hear it that way. Paul wanted to remind the new Christians that they no longer had to bow and cower under the law of other religions that demanded you do things certain ways or pay the severe punishment. With Jesus came freedom. That freedom can be scary. Think about that for a moment. If you’ve been used to doing things a certain way your entire life, the freedom to either 1) stop or 2) do them whatever way you want can almost be overwhelming.

So, Paul wanted to, in the most Christian way possible, warn these new believers to not go overboard with this freedom. It’s as if Paul would have said “just because you’ve been forgiven doesn’t mean you can now just go and do whatever you want, sinning however and with whomever you desire.” An argument similar to this is used a lot by non-believers, right? I’ve heard people say “if God is going to forgive me anyway, why do I need to go to church? Why do I need to read my Bible? Why do I need to participate in ‘Christian acts’. On my deathbed I’ll just ask for forgiveness and be good.” First of all, none of us know when we’re going to die, so we’re not guaranteed that “deathbed moment” portrayed in movies so often. Your faith isn’t a “get out of jail free” card, brothers and sisters. We know that we fall to sin daily and that God’s forgiveness is a daily event, not a one time, end of life insurance policy.

Part of the reason I like Galatians so much is that it really has stood the test of time. So many of the temptations the Galatians fought on a daily basis are the same ones we battle.  And the temptations of this world that we may fall to are forgiven by God on a daily basis. And with that forgiveness comes freedom. But what in the world do we do with our new found freedom? When we are forgiven for our sins, we are freed from the bondage of those sins. And the next logical question may be “so what?” So then our response should (of course) be gratitude, joy, and thanksgiving. But is that enough? Remembering that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love (or our place in heaven) our response to the freedom from our sins comes from a different place than our place of intentions. Our response is almost primordial or guttural. Maybe it could be categorized as reactionary.

See, when we’re given freedom from our sins, that freedom should drive us out into the world anxious, almost on fire, to tell others about our freedom. This sounds a little extreme, but it should be as if we want to run out and shout from the rooftops “I’ve been forgiven!!” And then, we should practically break down doors, walls, barriers, whatever is in our way to serve one another in God’s name. I have preached about this concept before. The idea is freed from–freed for. We are freed from our sin and therefore freed for service to one another in God’s name. The forgiveness of sins should make us so giddy that we can’t wait to show that love to one another for Christ’s sake.

We should be so overwhelmed by the fruits of the spirit that we have no choice but to serve one another. We should be so overwhelmed that we can’t help but love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And it’s not on us to decide who deserves this freedom or this forgiveness because none of us deserve it. And yes, sometimes joy, peace, love, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control are difficult. But remember these are fruits of the spirit, and not our works. At the same time, when you’ve been forgiven, trust in that promise. Don’t keep beating yourself up for your sins that God forgave a long time ago. Is anger easier than peace? Sometimes. Is envy easier than generosity? Sometimes. But remember, when we are left on our own, we will always fail.

Brothers and sisters, we all have been freed from our sin. We are now freed for service to one another and to this world in God’s name. The spirit feeds us and and then drives us from this place into the world that is hungry for proof of love, proof of forgiveness, proof of healing, mercy, and wholeness. How awesome is it that we can be those people to the world? How amazing is our God that other people are living proof of that to us? Your chains are broken over and over and over. The bondage of sin no longer defines you. Your definition of failure has no place in God’s kingdom. The freedom from sin allows you, me, all of us to live fully into who God has called us to be: beloved children of God.

Sermon for 6/19/16 Galatians 3:23-29

I guess you could have called it a typical high school crush. Taylor was good looking, funny, charming, talented, and an all around good guy. He had brown hair and blue eyes that pierced. We were involved in the choir and theater events. I was smitten almost immediately. He was a year or two younger than I in school and seemed “out of my league.” But that didn’t stop me from hoping, wishing, dreaming, that maybe, just maybe, this boy might find me worthy of dating. And so, with all the bravery my little high school self could muster up, I asked Taylor to be my date to the junior prom. And, much to my surprise, he said yes. I looked good. He looked good. We had a great time. The evening even ended with a kiss and me floating home. It was the stuff all cheesy teenage romance novels write about. I desired more. I wanted to date him. I wanted to call him my boyfriend and I wanted him to brag that I was his girlfriend. That didn’t happen. We had a long heart to heart one evening and almost through tears I said “I just don’t understand why this won’t work out.” And he looked at me, took a deep breath and said “well, JV, it’s probably because I’m gay.” We’re still good friends to this day.

The events of Orlando have weighed on my heart and mind all week. I’ve tried to keep myself purposefully busy so that I don’t have to hear the gory details or be reminded that it happened. At the same time, I am tired of turning on the news and hearing about one mass shooting after another and then hearing the same “thoughts and prayers” but nothing being done to prevent these types of things from happening again. And I read our Galatians reading for today and this verse (28) sticks out to me “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” If we were to read that in language that was a little more pertinent to today, it would probably read “There is no longer black or white, there is no longer gay or straight, there is no longer democrat or republican, there is no longer churched or unchurched; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, being a follower of Christ is one of the most difficult things I do in my life. I fail daily. Christ calls me (all of us, really) to (as Micah says) “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” with God. The church, if it puts its mind to it, could be more powerful than congress. Can you imagine if all the Lutherans in this country decided to rally their support behind one issue or another? Our elected officials would be forced to listen. But, all too often we sit idly by, thinking our hands are tied. We think our voices don’t matter. We participate in blanket statements like “I wish things were different” or “well, what can I do? I’m just one person” or even have thoughts like “I don’t even vote…my vote doesn’t even matter.” What I have really learned this past week is that when powerful voices are silent, people die. And most of us, because we are white and because most of us are straight, we have power in this country. If we don’t use that power and privilege to advocate for those that are called “other” then we are not living in accordance to God’s will. We are one in Christ Jesus. This means that we are called to advocate for the poor, seek justice for the oppressed, work for equality, and stand with those on the margins.

This means that when people start to spew hate rhetoric we are the ones who need to rise up and put a stop to it. When we see people protesting funerals with signs filled with hateful slogans, when we hear people using derogatory language, when we see people being treated differently just because they don’t fit into our perfect little box, our call as christians is to put a stop to it and declare that this isn’t what God desires for the world. What we so flagrantly call “weird or different” or even worse, God calls “holy.” What we call “undeserving” God calls “worthy.” What we label as “the other,” God calls “my child.” What we call a “sinner” or an “abomination” God calls “forgiven.”

Friends, I can no longer stay silent. I cannot be silent. My silence, and the silence of thousands of others who label themselves as Christians has been a catalyst for violence all too long. I know what I am about to tell you isn’t popular. I know that after I tell you this, there may be some of you that no longer want to attend this church. Maybe after I share with you how I feel, you may even want me fired. But I can no longer stay silent. I am an ally. What this means is that I stand with those who identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or even questioning. Maybe this doesn’t come as a surprise to any of you; I don’t know. It means that I believe “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” It means that if you are gay, or lesbian, or bi-sexual, or transgender, you can come out to me and I will still welcome you at this table. I will still love you. I will visit you in the hospital. Because I love you.

We are all one in Christ Jesus. This means that any distinctions we try and place on one another are erased in the cross. We are all one in Christ Jesus. This means that the way we try and group people so that we can make ourselves comfortable are erased in the cross. We are all one in Christ Jesus. This means that anyone who isn’t welcome at the table of the Lord in any church in this country (for whatever reason) will be welcomed at a heavenly feast. We are all one in Christ Jesus. This means that when 49 homosexuals, or 11 children, or 6 Muslims, or 5 African Americans, or innocent theater goers, or even 1 person is killed because of hate, we all feel the pain. We are all one in Christ Jesus. This means acknowledging our differences, maybe even celebrating them, and working towards understanding and reconciliation when those differences seem too much to bear. We are all one in Christ Jesus. This means our story, no matter what we call ourselves, what we label ourselves, what we embrace, or who we love, is grounded in God’s grace. And grace is grace is grace is grace is grace is grace is grace is grace and no bullet, no words of hate, no church bombings, no blood spilled, no xenophobia, not even nails and a cross can stop grace.

Sermon for 6/12/16 Galatians 2:15-21

Some of you may be wondering why I took off my shoes. I was reminded this week of Moses getting close to the burning bush. The Lord called to Moses and as Moses started to move towards the bush, the Lord said “Come no closer! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” I’m also going to talk a bit about my feet today (for a reason, by the way, not just because). When I was in Atlanta for continuing education, I slipped away from the conference for about an hour. I called for an Uber ride (which is like a taxi) and went to my appointment. I got settled on the paper covered table after some initial conversation and tried not to be nervous. Malia had made sure I was comfortable and then started in on her work. She dipped the needle into black ink and then touched the needle to my skin. As promised, I did not kick her out of reflex. And so, yes, while I know some of you may not agree with my choices, I did get more tattoos while I was in Atlanta. And they are on my feet. And they have everything to do with today’s reading from Galatians.

On my left foot is tattooed the words “by grace” and on the right foot is tattooed the words “through faith.” I placed them in the order that I did because many times when I start walking from either a seated position or standing still position, I start with my left foot. It is how I desire to walk through life: by grace, through faith. And I fail almost daily. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying. An interesting verse stood out to me this week as I prayed about this Galatians reading. Verse 16 says “And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” If someone ever asks you what it means to be Lutheran, direct them to the book of Galatians. So much of what we hold to be true, what we believe, what we profess and claim, week after week and day after day can be found in this book.

One of the beliefs that make us different is that we hold fast to the idea that we are justified, we are made right, only by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot ever be made right or be justified by our works. So, let me break that down for you. You cannot earn your way to heaven. You cannot do anything at all to “get right” with God. We all know someone who feels like they have to get right with God before they can come to church. As if all of us have it all together and we’re going to notice. If you have that person in your life who is waiting to get right with God before they come to church, they ain’t never coming to church. Because none of us, none of us can do anything to get right with God.

This idea that we are justified by faith and not through works is one of the biggest sticking points that Martin Luther had with the Catholic church. Now, as a reminder, our friend, Martin Luther (or as I like to call him, “Marty”) was studying to be a Catholic Monk. He took this call to serve God very seriously. But Marty was also very studious, very serious, and and very faithful. He started to study the ideas and beliefs of the Catholic church and felt a lot of the things he learned didn’t jive with the Bible. And Marty believed firmly in sola scriptura (word alone). So when he found out about things like penance and indulgences he started to get angry. We cannot do anything to make God love us more. We cannot do anything to get in “better” with God. We cannot do anything to reverse the sins we’ve already committed. And for Marty, that included saying additional prayers or making large “donations” to the church.

Yes, it is to us to confess our sins. It is on us to admit to God and to one another where we’ve fallen short. It is on us to to admit when we’ve sinned in thought, word, and deed. By what we’ve done, and by what we’ve left undone. We need to confess when we’ve not loved our neighbors with our whole heart. We must admit that daily we are held captive to sin and cannot in any way, shape, or form, free ourselves. And then, we sit back and realize that the only way we can be freed from our sins is through Jesus Christ and not by anything we can do, might do, should do, would do, or could do.

Another important part of the verse I highlighted today (verse 16) says “and we have come to believe in Christ Jesus” so that we will be justified by our faith in him and not through anything we do. But have we? Have we come to believe that? If this were true, we wouldn’t constantly be wondering what we must do to “get right” with God. If this were true, we might not be so quick to judge the sins of others because we too sin and we know that we are all justified through faith in Christ. If it were true that we have come to believe in Christ Jesus then we would quit carrying around the guilt associated with our sins and stop beating ourselves up for the sins God has already forgiven. Our lack of faith has made us masochists. This is the only reason I can think of that we continue to punish ourselves for our sins that God forgave a long time ago.

I cannot think of a simpler way to put this: you cannot do anything by yourself to free yourself from sin. You also cannot do anything to gain more favor with God. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we go out looking to sin day after day. What it means is that when we do fall into sin and the inevitable guilt sets in, we rest assured that God has forgiven us. God has forgiven us not by anything we have done, but through Jesus Christ and the cross. Friends, stop beating yourselves up for the sins you have committed. Stop beating yourself up for falling short. Stop beating yourself up for not achieving the unrealistic goals you have set for yourself. Stop beating yourself up for feeling like a failure. You are not any of those things.

You are forgiven. You are saved. You have been called and claimed. You have been washed clean. You have been fed. You have been sent into a world that is hungry for a word of forgiveness and your life can be proof of that. You are not a failure. You are not your sins. You will not be defined by the times you fell short. You will be claimed for what you are: child of God, beloved, and set free. Brothers and sisters, you are loved. You are forgiven. Start acting like it.