Summary: A sermon for the 9th Sunday fater Pentecost, Proper 10, Series A
9th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 10] July 13, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son, Jesus the Christ, to reveal your will for our lives and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive your living Word, and empower us to walk in its redeeming light, that we might resist all that would hinder us from being faithful disciples of your crucified and risen Son. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
I have chosen as my text for this morning the first of our second lesson, from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death… so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” End quote.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It is amazing to me, now many times I have heard these words of Paul, or similar expressions of the Gospel message of forgiveness and freedom from sin and death, cited out of context. An in most cases, it has given rise to the notion that it doesn’t matter how we live our lives, or what we do, God forgives us and accepts us – just as we are.
For example, I once had a former parishioner of mine call me to make an appointment to see me to discuss, what he described as a serious issue. I readily made the appointment to see him. He was a long-time member of the congregation, who rarely missed a Sunday at worship, and I was curious to know what might be troubling this person of faith.
When we met, we exchanged some pleasantries with each other, which I felt calmed the tension. And then I asked him what he wanted to discuss with me. “Pastor,” he said, “I want to make a private confession, and receive God’s forgiveness.”
Well, as a young Lutheran pastor, this excited me. After all, there aren’t too many Lutherans that even realize that private confession is still a rite maintained by the Lutheran church, for the purpose of easing one’s consciousness and providing a means of processing one’s feelings of guilt over something they have done which continues to trouble them.
So, I dusted off my occasional services book, and turned to the order for private confession. When we got to the part where the parishioner shares the sins for which they wish absolution, this person, who was a life-long member of the church said, “Pastor, I want God and you to forgive me, for I am going to go home and take my life. I have not been happy since my wife died, and with your blessing, I can join her.”
At this point, I leaned back in my chair, looked at this elderly man of faith with the sincerity of his plea in his eyes, and shook my head from side to side. “I can’t do this,” I said to him, thinking that if I granted him absolution, he would immediately go home and commit suicide. And when he asked “Why couldn’t grant him absolution,” we wound up in an hourly discussion about the meaning of repentance, of turning away from sin toward embracing the grace of God in Jesus the Christ, as the foundation of forgiveness.
This may be an extreme example of what it means to take this message of Paul out of context, but it is no different than what I have heard stated by persons over the years, which seems to be becoming more prevalent in our current culture. It is the idea that it really doesn’t matter what we do, because God forgives us anyway.
This, to me, turns Paul’s expression of the Gospel upside down. To think that the grace of God, which sets us free from sin and death, gives us a license to do as we please, and to satisfy the hungers of the flesh for the numerous pleasures of this world, doesn’t choke out our faith, is a denial of what Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson for this morning.
Quite frankly, I am concerned about the popularity that individualism has achieved in our present day culture, which has only increased the temptation to believe that our actions matter only to ourselves, and do not effect our relationship we have with our community in which we live, and more importantly, our relationship with God.