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?

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Sermon: Betrayed

In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God. Why?

The_Flagellation_of_Christ_-_Rubens_-_1607
The Flagellation of Christ (Rubens, 1607)

There is a whole lot of betrayal going on in this morning’s dramatic reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s count the ways…

First is Judas, The Betrayer, who sells Jesus out to the Chief Priests for 30 pieces of silver. And then there are Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, who fail to stay awake while Jesus is praying; and then all the disciples desert him and flee. Caiaphas and the Council stage a trial, using false witnesses and evidence to condemn him to death. And, Peter betrays Jesus again – three more times, before the Cock crows; just as Jesus foretold.

And then, Pilate ignores the plea of his wife, betraying her. And, the Chief Priests betray Jesus again, inciting the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas. – Which means all the people (and our pamphlet reading makes it clear we are among those people) betrayed Jesus, too, Matthew has us saying “let his Blood be upon us and on our children…!” They knew what they were doing. Even the bandits hanging on crosses on either side of Jesus taunted him.

And finally, Jesus calls out “Eli Eli Lema sabachthani!” meaning “My God My God, why have you betrayed me!?”

In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God.

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Escaping Eternity

Eating of the Tree was the only thing in the Garden for which we’d been told there was a consequence of making a choice – “In the day you eat of it, you shall die.” Yet, the man and woman did not know what a “consequence” was, they did not even know what death was. Yahweh was speaking way over their heads: a specific day? Time? Death? What’s that? I’m sure the man and woman thought: “Hmmm, sounds bad, let’s not go there!” Time was infinite, so why rush? Why push the boundaries? Why risk change?

Yet, there was a reason. The serpent knew what it was: they would “become like God, knowing Good and Evil.” Eating that fruit meant we’d learn new things: we’d escape from our existence in a mindless and meaningless eternity. Something new would happen in our never-ending cycle of days. But, to do so, we had to be willing to face what we had never known: change. We would experience limited time, we would experience death.

Genesis3:8 Lego Adam And Eve
Genesis 3:8 Lego Adam And Eve, from “The Brick Testament”

You know, the story of Adam and Eve is a great story, but it’s always bothered me.  I mean, come on: if the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were so darned important, why didn’t God put a fence around it, or stick it in some remote and impossible to access place?  I mean – seriously: even if the man and woman obeyed, one of their kids or grandkids, or great-grandkids would eventually “forget” and taken a bite.  It was inevitable.  So, why?

Now, this morning’s reading is the passage in which the so-called “Original Sin” takes place, an event that we are taught “cursed” mankind for all time, until we were redeemed by Christ. But, is this event that affects every one of us – whether it is factual or metaphorical – really the great failure and source of all sin that we have been taught it is? Perhaps not.

…Let’s step back for a minute and consider the text as a whole.  This particular story, the second of the two “creation narratives” at the beginning of the Bible, portrays Yahweh as a very hands-on sort of God: unlike the more remote vision of God we find in the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1.  In that narrative, God “spoke” the world into being, hovered over the waters and said “Let there be light.” – All these are commands and things done from a distance, like you’d expect a remote and unapproachable God to do.

But, in Genesis 2 & 3 God doesn’t command anything into being, Instead, Yahweh gets down and dirty: She lovingly forms us with her own hands, then gently breathes the breath of life into our nostrils. She is presented as an up close and in your face sort of God, a very hands on sort of diety.

Yahweh is concerned for us as individuals, saying “it is not good that the man is alone” and so creates the woman.  She talks face to face with us.  The man and woman, we are told, “heard the sound of Yahweh walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”  Yahweh works, walks, talks and breathes.  She is a very human God – not some powerful spirit being. She is a very personal God – not some distant and unreachable entity.  Yahweh is a God of Relationship – not a dictator.  She is not a god who demands obedience and taking whatever she wants from us – Yahweh is a God filled with love and concern for us and for all of her Creation.

Keep Off!So, what does the type of God we find in this passage have to do with all this?  Why wasn’t there even something like one of those little gnomes holding a “keep off” sign put there in the garden?  Why was this tree left unguarded, tempting us? …Why no fence?

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Sermon: The Right Thing To Do

The Crowd, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, and Peter: They all try to do the right thing, and we can see ourselves in them; because they are us in this story.

One central lesson of Palm Sunday is that that no matter how powerful we may be, no matter how well intentioned we are, no matter how wise, or how foolish, or how rich, or how poor, we all constantly make choices that widen the chasm that lies between us and God. We can’t help it, we can’t change it: … it’s part of being human. That is what Sin is: Sin with a Capital “S”; the Sin that has been passed down to us as our share in the brokenness of all existence, the Sin that began with Adam.

…But, God knew this all along…

"The Last Supper" (1494-98); Leonardo Da Vinci
“The Last Supper” (1494-98); Leonardo Da Vinci

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be one of those shouting “Crucify Him!” during our dramatic reading of the Passion from the Gospel of Mark this morning?

How does it feel to be one of them, one of the mob, one of those calling for His death?  To turn on him in his hour of need?

How does it feel?

Let us pray…

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message.  May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls.  We believe your word and your love will rescue us from the depths of our doubt, unbelief, and Sin.  Speak to us now, Lord.  Help us to know you in the way you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.

Peter really tried to do the right thing.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he really tried to stay awake while Jesus prayed, but failed. We’ve all been there: like many of you, I have a hard time staying awake for my son after a long day of work, let alone during a sermon. Peter was no different!

But then, when Jesus was arrested, Peter ran away, just like everyone else.  He tried again, tried to be there for his friend, the man he knew to be God’s anointed: stumbling along in the dark behind that mob, following their torches to the house of Caiaphas. He then sat in the courtyard, wondering what to do, listening to the voices coming through the window above him, hoping to hear his master speak, hoping that – somehow – Jesus would escape the fate they’d all feared for him.  But, Peter also feared for his own safety, fearing he would be recognized as he warmed himself beside that fire.

He did his best, but it was too much for him.  When the test came, when that servant girl called him out, he did the only thing he could do: he lied.

And then, when he heard the cock crow the second time, he wept.  His failure was complete, his weakness contributed to the death of the man he loved. But Jesus had known this all along, and out of an abundance of compassion and love, had warned Peter this would happen.

We all know how this feels.  We’ve all been confronted by situations we could not overcome.  How many of us are Peters?

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