Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Advantage of Grace – sermon on Romans 6:12-23

July 2, 2017

We’re looking at a Wesleyan understanding of Grace this month. Two weeks ago, you examined God’s prevenient grace. Before we knew we needed it, God showed us his grace. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8) Last week, you heard the first part of chapter six in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. It was all about the grace God offers through Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. We call this justifying grace – becoming dead to sin, and alive in Christ, puts us right with God. We are justified through our faith in Christ Jesus.

Today we look at another aspect of God’s grace: sanctification. Sanctifying grace sets us apart as holy to the Lord. It is through the ongoing process of sanctification that we become more and more like Christ.

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:12-23

“Therefore,” Paul writes, and immediately we realize we need to jump back to last week’s passage to understand what Paul is about to say. Here’s how that passage ended, in verse eleven: “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Now verse 12 makes sense! Therefore, don’t let sin overpower you, because obedience to sin leads to death.

Sin isn’t a very popular topic in today’s churches. We don’t like to hear about the ways we fall short of God’s plan for us. We don’t want anyone reminding us that our self-centered pursuit of what pleases us is not always pleasing to God. And it’s really easy, when we start talking about sin, to point out the sins of others, as if they might be more terrible than our own mediocre sins.

But all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all guilty, in one way or another. We all need grace. And even after we have accepted Christ’s justifying grace, even after we have begun to walk in newness of life, we keep on needing grace.

Paul tells us that we need to keep on choosing grace as we seek to become more and more like Christ. Whatever we obey, that is what rules us. If we obey sin, it leads to death, but if we obey God, it leads to life. And this is not just-barely-getting-by life. Obedience to God brings us abundant freedom for all eternity, beginning now.

But doesn’t this freedom simply mean that we can go ahead and sin, knowing that God will forgive us? In fact, shouldn’t we sin more, so we can experience even greater levels of God’s grace? No, Paul says. You’re missing the point. The point isn’t personal freedom to do whatever we want.

Theologian Rudolph Bultmann writes, “Genuine freedom … withstands the clamor and pressure of momentary motivations.” Harold Masback adds, “Mere ‘freedom from’ this law or that obligation never leads to flourishing life unless it is linked with ‘freedom for’ a higher, heartfelt commitment.” (Feasting On the Word, Year A, Volume 3, 187.) The point of grace isn’t freedom. The point is sanctification.

Now there’s a word you don’t hear at the coffee shop during the week! That’s definitely a Sunday word, a great example of churchy language that we are supposed to avoid if we want to attract new people, people who might be put off by words that only the Christian insiders understand. But do we understand what sanctification means?

The biblical definition of sanctification is to be set apart for God’s glory. John Wesley used sanctification and perfection interchangeably. We don’t like that word, perfection, either. But Wesley wasn’t trying to set up an impossible standard for living.

For Wesley, “going on toward perfection” was a life-long process of Christian discipleship. Being perfected in grace means that we become more and more like Jesus, saying and doing the things that Jesus said and did, living our lives as he would live them if he were us. It’s a process of transformation.

One of the most frequent criticisms young adults offer the church is that we are hypocrites. We talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk. We say we love Jesus, but we live our lives as if he didn’t exist (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist).

Paul reminds us, “What advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death” (v 21). Walk the walk, Paul tells us. Live for Christ, now that you are dead to sin. Sanctification isn’t something that happens automatically; it’s a choice we make day by day, sometimes moment by moment.

Sanctification is what happens to us, by God’s grace, when we decide to center our lives on being disciples of Jesus Christ. It is that life of discipleship that sets us apart, and gives glory to God. And here’s the really wonderful thing: when we allow ourselves to be transformed in this way, we begin to transform the world around us.

At our recent Minnesota Annual Conference, Junius Dotson, General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries for the United Methodist Church, had this to say about the purpose of discipleship, or this process of sanctification:
“The point of discipleship is to influence the culture around us. We limit discipleship by segregating the secular from the sacred. We never take our faith public!
“The culture will have to live under the influence of Christ. In the world, [you] are each professionals who have been strategically positioned to reach new people and change their worldview, impacting the people around you. We don’t have to waste time in church meetings talking to death how to go beyond the church walls. We are already in every place in the community, in society.”

You have been strategically positioned to impact the people around you by the way you live out your faith, the way you ‘walk the walk.’ Think about that. How are you strategically placed to bring glory to God throughout the week?

It isn’t by our effort; we can’t strive for it. It is by God’s grace alone that we can be transformed. To what end? What’s the advantage of sanctifying grace? “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” The wages of sin is death – that’s what we earn, what is due to us right now. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord – we can’t earn it. God gives us this gift through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Yet we must choose, and the choice is always before us – Obedience to sin that results in death, or obedience to God that results in eternal life, fully transformed into the likeness of the one we follow, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who invites us to this Table now. …

 

Awakening to Love – Sermon on John 14:15-21

Aldersgate Sunday
May 21, 2017
View a video of this sermon here. 

We are drawing near to the end of this season of Easter. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Ascension, and the week after that will be Pentecost, the birthday of the church. But today, it is still Easter, the season when we’ve been learning what it means to follow the risen Christ.

It is also Aldersgate Sunday, the day we remember how John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” as he suddenly felt sure of his own salvation. This event in his own spiritual journey led him to develop a way of discipleship that would become the United Methodist Church.

Throughout this Eastertide, we have been examining what discipleship looks like through the theme of Awakening. Thomas awakened us to the realization that doubt is a necessary element of real faith. The disciples on their way to Emmaus, maybe Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas, awakened in us the need to be together: to break bread together, to examine God’s Word together.

Jesus awakened us to recognize him as the Gate to salvation, and last week, we were awakened in the Upper Room to the realization that following Jesus means surrendering ourselves completely to him, just as he surrendered himself completely to the Father’s will, and for the Father’s glory.

Each of these awakenings has highlighted a different element of discipleship: Continue reading

Disciples Who Make Disciples – sermon on Matthew 28:16-20

June 11, 2017
Trinity A
View video of this sermon here.

Do you like a good mystery? Summer reading lists always include a section on mystery novels, and some authors, like Agatha Christie, have made a career of writing them. We usually associate “mystery” with fiction, but we aren’t so comfortable when it comes to talking about true mysteries. In fact, the Protestant church through the centuries has played down any interest in the mysteries of faith, beyond reciting “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

And yet, every time we receive Communion as Methodists, we give thanks for “this holy mystery” of Christ’s body and blood being shared with us, so that we might be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood. Like it or not, following Jesus means engaging in things we can’t explain. Faith means buying into what you can’t prove, because if you could prove it, you wouldn’t need faith, would you! Sometimes, what moves us into deeper, more profound trust is our willingness to believe in the mystery.

We celebrate one of the holiest of mysteries today, on Trinity Sunday. It would be easy to get stuck in a bunch of poor analogies, trying to explain the unexplainable aspect of God’s identity as Three Persons in One God, trying to “de-mystify” the mystery. To understand the Trinity, we’d want to go first to scripture, and we’d run into a problem right away. You see, the Bible doesn’t use the word “trinity” or any kind of explanation for the Triune God – at all. Continue reading

Building Up the Body of Christ – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 for Pentecost A

June 2, 2017

We just heard the amazing story of the Holy Spirit rushing among the disciples who had been praying together for fifty days. We think of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, because it was on this day that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on  those who were gathered. But for centuries, Pentecost had been a major Jewish festival, and people came from all over the world to  celebrate it in Jerusalem.

The disciples had been huddled in an upper room together for weeks. Now they dispersed through the crowds, each speaking a different language. The people who had come from far and near each heard  the Good News in their own tongue. As Peter preached to the  crowds, thousands responded to the gospel and believed in Jesus as  the Son of God.

This is where it all began. After Pentecost, there was no going back. Somehow, these new believers had to figure out how to be the  Church, how to live and worship together in a new way.

It didn’t take long for conflict to emerge. Some thought faith should be lived out this way, and others thought it should be that way.  There were arguments over worship and teachings and how to  observe the Lord’s Supper. And because the church was made up of human beings, there were arguments over power and hierarchy.

Some thought that they had a corner on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that the gifts they had been given were somehow more important than “lesser” gifts. In the middle of all this conflict, the Church at Corinth sent a letter to the Apostle Paul, asking for some clarification. It’s a good thing for us that Paul wrote back. Continue reading