Tag Archives: sin

Lent: The Season of Rotten Snow

This was part of my weekly e-mail message to the congregation of First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, Minnesota for March 15, 2019.

Last night, just as I was turning out the kitchen light, I heard a crashing thump. At first, I thought that Bruce had fallen while getting ready for bed. I called upstairs, “Are you all right?”  “I’m fine, but the gutter isn’t,” he answered. I stepped outside and looked at the roof of our porch. A giant ice dam that had been melting over the past couple of days had fallen, and it had taken a four-foot length of rain gutter with it. 

Years ago, I started calling this time of year The Season of Rotten Snow. Just as we are getting into the season of Lent, when we ask God to reveal to us the dark corners of our souls and the sin we hide there, a winter’s worth of snow is melting away. The pristine white landscapes of December are gone. Now there is only this gray, slushy mess, revealing all the trash and dirt that has accumulated over the winter.

The Season of Rotten Snow reminds us that we have work to do in our hearts. It’s time to clear out the anger and animosity, the complacency and self-centeredness, the resignation and hopelessness that have been building up in our souls. As melting snow reveals all the dirt of a winter, Lent reveals all the sin that we’ve let slide undetected into our lives.

And if we don’t want that sin to bring us to ruin, just as that ice dam brought the rain gutter to ruin, it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is: sin. It’s time to give it over to Christ, ask forgiveness, and be healed. May this Season of Rotten Snow reveal not only your sin to you, but Christ’s abundant, gracious, forgiving love. May you find healing in repentance, and peace in forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Made for a Purpose – Sermon on Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17

We’ve had a great start to reading The Story together.
Several of you have already told me about the way this has impacted your lives, and it is good to see God already at work among us.  If you missed the discussion on Wednesday night, let me bring you up to speed.  (Then plan to join us this Wednesday, as we dive into chapter two!)

Here’s what we have so far:

The beginning of our journey through the story of the Bible is like the beginning of an action-packed movie. If you miss the opening scenes of a good action movie, you will probably not understand the rest of the story. There is so much packed into those first few minutes, it’s worth sitting through all the previews to make sure you’re in the theater when the action starts.

It is the same with the Bible’s grand story. The story of Creation sets the scene for the whole revelation of God in the Bible. So many things happen here at the very beginning, and so many characters are introduced that you may miss an important fact if you skip this first chapter.
If you come into the theater after this movie has begun, you might think this is a story about Adam and Eve, and what happens to them.  

And you would be wrong.

The main character of the Grand Story of the Bible is God.
This is a story about who God is, and what God does.  The very first thing God does in this story is create. From Genesis 1:1, we learn that the beginning of the universe is not an impersonal accident, but the result of the creative purpose of a personal God.  

The story of creation is presented to us as a poem. It is art. The book of Genesis is traditionally attributed to Moses, but he wasn’t around at the beginning, so what he wrote probably came from words that had been spoken from one generation to the next. The easiest way to remember an important story and pass it along to others is to put it into the form of a poem or song. Here in Genesis, we have a beautiful work of art that tells us how the world was formed.

It’s arranged in an order that makes sense, and is easy to remember. First, God makes the places, and then he creates the things that belong in those places. So, on the first day, God makes light and dark, one the second day, he divides sky and water, and on the third day, God creates land and covers it with vegetation. Then on the fourth day, God puts stars and moon and sun where they belong, to rule over the day and night that were created on the first day. On day five, God puts birds into the sky and fish into the sea, and on day six, God populates the land with animals. God saves his crowning achievement for last. The final thing God makes is humankind.  God’s core passion is people, made in God’s own image. 

We read in Genesis 1:26-27:

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

All the beauty of creation is secondary to you. Let this truth sink in. God made you in God’s own image, whether you are male or female, for a purpose: to live with God while caring for his creation. God’s supreme passion is to be with us at all costs, to give us everything that is good. 

“In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:4-9)

“15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (2:15-17)

Notice that the tree of life was not forbidden for food. Only the tree of death, knowing good and evil.
And almost from the beginning, something goes wrong. We call it “the Fall” but it really should be called Adam and Eve’s rebellion. 

You see, when God made humans, his purpose was to live together with us in friendship. But God knew that the only way that could work would be if humans chose to love God the way God chose to love us. God gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose.
They could choose life in friendship with God, or they could choose death, by knowing both good and evil.

God does not force love.
Love must be given freely, or it isn’t love. So God let Adam and Eve choose, and they made the wrong choice. Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate from the forbidden “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and God’s vision to be with people was ruined. 

But here’s the good news: the rest of the Bible is about God’s pursuit to get us back!

Sin damages the whole human race.
Because Adam and Eve chose a different vision than God’s vision, sin became part of their spiritual DNA and they produced more sinners. Their children were born with sinful natures, one brother even killing another out of jealousy. And the sin virus was passed on from generation to generation, until things got so bad, God said, “I want a do-over.”

So God looked for the most righteous person he could find, and he chose Noah to start over. But it didn’t work. The flood erased the wicked human race, but did not erase the sin nature from Noah and his family.  Once they were off the ark, Noah planted a vineyard, and made wine from the grapes. One day, his youngest son found Noah drunk and naked, and he went snickering to tell his brothers about it.

“When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.”
(Genesis 9: 21-23.)


There’s a clue at the very beginning of God’s story that God has a plan to save us, and Noah’s nakedness points us back to that clue. After Adam and Eve sinned and became aware of their nakedness, they made fig leaf clothing to cover their nakedness. God took away the fig leaves and covered Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. Here’s the clue:  For God to restore humans to their place in Gods created order, blood must be shed. 

God created the world with the grand vision of living together with us in the world. It is God’s supreme passion to be with you. God gave us freedom of choice. Adam and Eve chose out of the freedom of their will to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and ruined God’s vision of living with us.  
Sin was deposited permanently into the nature of Adam and Eve, a deadly virus separating them from a holy God. God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and set angels to guard it, in order to keep them from the Tree of Life, which would sustain life forever. Without access to this tree, they would eventually die.

We think God is being cruel by letting us die. But it’s actually an act of God’s grace to keep us from being able to sustain our life forever in a state of sin and hatred. Man’s choice resulted in separation from God, and it broke his heart. The ‘rest of the story,’ the entire Bible, tells us of the relentless pursuit of God and the extent to which he will go in order to get us back.

The flood is God’s first attempt to go to great measures to get us back. But it doesn’t work because it doesn’t deal with sin. Sin goes onto the ark with Noah, and it disembarks with him. But God isn’t finished. He will not let his good creation go.

Let’s review…

When God replaced Adam and Eve’s fig leaves with garments of skin, he gave us a clue as to how far he would go to fulfill his supreme desire to restore a relationship with us. Even when we are ashamed and feeling vulnerable, he covers us in order to restore our relationship with him, but covering us requires the shedding of blood. We are invited to soak in the fact that the God of the universe wants to be with us more than anything else on earth. You are the point of The Story.

God wants to be with you. Think about that. You. God wants to personally be with you. At great cost to God, God has done everything possible to get you back. You are valuable. Recognizing your own personal worth begins by believing what God says about you.

In Psalm 139 we read:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
 before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
 they would outnumber the grains of sand— (Psalm 139:14-18)

There was a time in my life when I had to read those five verses out loud to myself every day. I did not feel fearfully and wonderfully made. I felt completely worthless. I was sure that God didn’t care about me anymore. I had wandered away from God. I had turned my back on him, and I was afraid to turn around, because I had convinced myself that God had turned his back on me. Yet, when I read these words, I began to realize that God had been waiting for me all along. God wanted me back.  

Then one day, I glanced backward in my Bible and read the last verse of the psalm right before this one, psalm 138. The psalmist writes,
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever! Do not forsake the work of your hands.” 

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for you. God made you for a reason. He gave you a purpose when he formed you, before you were even born. No matter how far away from God you wander, no matter how much you rebel against his plan for you, he wants you back.

The rest of the story is all about God’s work to restore each of us to our place in his perfect creation. We can take the first step toward that restoration when we confess our sins and ask God to forgive us. Psalm 139 ends with these words:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The way everlasting is the path back to God, whose love endures forever. His purpose for all of us is to live in loving relationship with him, and he has created you to do that in a way that is completely unique to you. God made you for a purpose that only you can accomplish. Will you let God fulfill his purpose for you? He will not forsake the work of his hands. His love for you endures forever.

Will you take the first step back to God?

Let us pray.

Lord, you formed us and made us in your image, but we don’t do a very good job of reflecting your glory sometimes. You made us to walk with you in friendship, but we often turn away from you. We know this breaks your heart. Yet, you don’t give up on us. Your steadfast love endures forever. 

Help us, Lord. Help us to see your way in front of us, and help us to follow in that way. We pray for the things that continue to break your heart: for the migrants fleeing war and terror with no place to go, for those who suffer from incurable disease, for those who mourn. We pray for leaders to rise up among your people who will stand for justice and righteousness. We pray all this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

“And That is What We Are!” Sermon on 1 John 3:1-7

April 19, 2015 Easter 3B

How many of us ever tried to talk our parents into letting us do something just because “everyone else is doing it”? If your parents were like mine, the answer sounded something like this: “’Everyone Else’ isn’t my child. You are. Now act like it.”

Did any of you grow up as a “PK” – a preacher’s kid? Or maybe you knew a preacher’s kid when you were growing up? I was a PK. I never thought that it was fair, being expected to behave better than other kids my age. Sometimes my friends would tease me, calling me “goody two-shoes” – and I didn’t even know what that meant. Go ahead, Google it.

Most of the PKs I knew found ways to rebel at some point. It was no fun living up to a standard of behavior that made sure we wouldn’t embarrass our parents, or get them into trouble with their churches. Sometimes the pressure was too much, and one of us – never me, you understand – would do something just to be ornery, just to prove that PKs could be human, too.

That’s when The Parent/Pastor would sit us down and give us “The Speech.” It went something like this: I know it doesn’t seem fair to you, and it probably isn’t, but the way you behave matters. People are watching, and when they see you behave badly, it reflects badly on their Pastor, and that reflects badly on the church. You represent our family, but even more, you represent our church. Whether you like it or not, you have to be good.
You’re a preacher’s kid. Now act like it.”

A highlight of the Covenant annual meeting I attended this week was listening to the personal faith stories of candidates for ordination. One young man described what it was like to grow up in an adoptive home. Continue reading