Sermon: Redeemed

…our flaws and our failures are not counted in God’s judgment of us. What counts is our willingness to do what is right, even if we don’t succeed. … It’s the Heart that matters, not the Head…. God judges our hearts.


gettyimages-660179780-1024x566This morning, I thought we should tie up some of the loose ends I’ve left from our last two sermons.

Two weeks ago, in the sermon “Very Good” we learned that God sees only the goodness that is an inescapable part of who we are; and which God deliberately put into us at the very beginning. All are just as loved by God as we are; and all anyone needs is a revelation of this Love; a love which heals us from all of our iniquities.

Last week, on Palm Sunday we remembered that we’ve all betrayed Jesus, even God betrayed him. And that we cannot help but muck things up, because muckiness is also a part of who we are.

In other messages I’ve given here, we’ve talked about how – because we are conscious of ourselves, and have the freedom to choose right from wrong.  Then we must have the right to fail. This is also part of who we are. And, we not only can fail, we must. We must  have the freedom to fail, and will, even though we don’t want to.

These messages are somewhat at odds with each other. Two weeks ago, we talked about how we are all, in our heart of hearts, “Very Good” and that God sees the goodness in us, and is determined to save us for that reason.

But last week I said we are creatures of sin, we are always making choices that increase our separation from God. This seed of corruption is buried deep within us: and is a very necessary seed.  If we are to be worthy of Love, and not simply puppets of the Almighty, then God must allow us to be able to distance ourselves from God. We must have the right to fail. We must have the right and power to betray others, even betraying the Son of God himself.

So, how do we reconcile all this? Yes, we are, ultimately, Very Good: beloved children of God. And yet, we killed the Son of God through the sin that is part of who we are.

And, how does this all tie into our hope for redemption, for our salvation which is promised by virtue of Jesus’ Resurrection?

First, let’s begin by talking about sin.   When we refer to “sin”, what are we talking about?

Usually, we think of sin as something we do. We drink too much, eat those chocolate donuts, have lustful thoughts. We see sin as something that os outside of us, not who we are. But in the Bible, Sin is who we are, not what we do.

When we do wrong, we are sinning, but the Bible teaches that Sin is an inherent and inescapable part of human nature. This is what is meant by the term “Original Sin.” The sin that we need to worry about is not the sin we do, but the sin we are.

But it’s even more complicated than that. If Sin is what we are, then why are we worth saving? There has to be something within us, besides Sin, something that is worthwhile to God. It is this part that God treasures, the part that is “Very Good.”

On the one hand, our sin will cause harm to everyone and everything we love. On the other hand, God loves us despite that and sees the good in us, and even trusts that this goodness will eventually win out over our sin. It seems God believes our goodness must be allowed to mature and grow, and that it will eventually conquer all of our sin.

If this weren’t true, then why are we here? Why didn’t God destroy us in a flood or some other calamity, or just give up and leave? And yet, we’re still here, and so is God, and God even sent Jesus to help us along!

Now, I’ve been thinking about the “Fearless Girl” Sculpture which was installed on Wall Street on International Women’s Day a few weeks ago, confronting the famous “Charging Bull” statue that has been there for some time.

“Fearless Girl” embodies a theme common that’s throughout the Bible (and elsewhere): of how those who seem weak and of no consequence have the ability to stand up to the greatest of earthly powers – and win, because right is on their side.  That right matters more than might.

But then, how come it didn’t matter how right Jesus’ message was? Or, how right his cause was? He was killed, and what’s more, he told us he’d be killed; and we killed him!  What does that say about us?

And, at that very last moment, he seemed to realize that no cavalry come charging up the hill to save him in the nick of time. He was a dead man, and he knew it as he gave his last heart-rending cry.

The “Charging Bull” sculpture on Wall Street is of a mature male animal, glorious in its strength and power. It’s a Bull, a creature you do not mess with. From its pose you can see that it will not give up its ground. It will mow you down if you get in its way. It’s a creature that conquers and dominates others.

To me, “Charging Bull” says that those who already have power will not tolerate being challenged. It is how those with power see themselves, but it’s not an expression of what we hope to become ourselves. Once you are at the top of the heap, as the Bull is, you have nothing else to look up to. Every path into the future leads down from where you currently stand. You become your own God. But here what the Bull sees ahead of him, in his own future, is Fearless Girl.

The Bull’s dominance is fragile and fleeting; and those who are Bulls know it. They know something else will eventually take their place. We wouldn’t need a Charging Bull if we didn’t fear losing our power. And, Jesus’ teachings recognize this reality.

Jesus did not come to celebrate – or create – a Kingdom in earthly terms. He did not come to anoint those in power, nor those who aspire to power. Such earthly power doesn’t last.

And, while God loves us just as we are, God is not interested in keeping us just as we are, especially if we’re Bulls. Sin-filled creatures is what we are. We are not masters of our own destiny, as Bulls may believe themselves to be.

God has something better in mind; and is determined that we will achieve all that was intended for us from the very beginning. We are loved by God for who we are; but, we are precious to God for the seeds of wonder that are already planted within us. Being who we are is good, but not good enough. The unmistakable message of the Gospel is that far better is awaiting us in our future; a future that God already knows will come to pass for us, if we are willing to accept it.

For Jesus to remain alive meant he’d be endorsing the future we want for ourselves. The sort of future a Charging Bull envisions for itself, on its own terms. But, Fearless Girl is standing there, confronting that future.

Those who followed Jesus felt lost and betrayed because their Messiah was not the Messiah they thought he was. Once that Messiah was dead and gone, they had nothing left to hold on to, no hope for the future they wanted. Once that future died, then the Messiah, God’s Messiah, not our Messiah, could come.

Fearless Girl is a threat to Charging Bull because she represents a future that does not come to pass on Charging Bull’s terms.

Jesus had to die because our own expectations for the future, and for the Messiah, had to die. But that does not mean our future is dead! It was never ours to determine in the first place. Only God is in control of our future; just as he was in control of Jesus’ future.

Despite Jesus having died and crossed into oblivion, God did not forget him. Jesus was beyond all human help, but lives again. God’s love for Jesus transcends death. It is the same Love with which God loves us: a love that looks past our present flaws, and our failures, and our present state of Sin. It is a love that is built on God’s hope for our future; the future God has planned for us. It is a hope that exists because God’s seed is already within us, and will produce an abundant harvest.

Fearless Girl can be seen as a symbol of what God wants our future to be. She is small, and young, and seemingly helpless, but she is filled with the power and love of God, which means she loves even the Charging Bull. This is a love that, if we accept it and live it, becomes part of our future (and the Bull’s).

Peter says this very clearly in this morning’s reading from Acts 10: everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins; and all who fear God and do what is right are acceptable to God.

In other words, our flaws and our failures are not counted in God’s judgment of us. What counts is our willingness to do what is right, even if we don’t succeed. In fact our Sin nature means we can’t succeed, but God already knows that! Our intent to do right is what matters; not whether we succeed or fail. It’s the Heart that matters, not the Head: Heart Knowledge, not Head Knowledge (as I was saying last week). God judges our hearts.

And so we rejoice for good reason: Jesus is Risen! The resurrection is proof that God’s plan works. God reaches beyond the grave to bring all of us back to the light. God does not consider our sin. What matters is our hearts.

Rejoice, for Easter celebrates our invitation to join the Kingdom of God. All that is asked of us is that we are willing to accept the Love of God and allow it to function within and through us.

Fear Not.

Hallelujah!

Amen.


Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, April 16, 2017 (Easter).

Sermon Audio:


 Scripture Readings:
Acts 10:34-43 “Gentiles Hear the Good News” (NRSV)
Matthew 28:1-10 “The Resurrection of Jesus” (NRSV)

Copyright (c) 2017, Allen Vander Meulen III.

Author: Allen

Pastor Allen is minister at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA. A would be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is a father of two (ages 28 & 7). He and his wife enjoy life near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/ or on Twitter @allenvm3.

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