This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on July 9, 2017.
When our oldest son was three years old, he loved to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, not so much for the cartoons, but for the commercials between the shows. He saw Power Ranger action figures, kids on shiny new bikes, tempting sugary breakfast cereals. He thought this was the greatest stuff. He would come to me after watching those commercials, and he would say, “I need this. I want that. Buy this for me.” Each week he would add more things to the list. Finally, I sat down with him and said, “Nathan, they are trying to trick you.” He looked up at me, smiled and said, “But I wanna be tricked. I really like this stuff. I wanna be tricked!” Then a few months later we had a similar conversation that showed some growth: at least he was beginning to struggle with the concepts of right and wrong. “Mom,” he asked, “sometimes I say naughty words, don’t I?” “Yes, I replied. Sometimes you do.” Then hoping to turn the conversation into a learning experience for him I said, “Nathan, why do you say naughty words?” He looked up at me and very self-confidently replied, “Sometimes I think I just like to say naughty words.” Our little boy was caught – between the “Is” and the “Ought” – the world as it is, struggling with the temptation to sin and our fallen human nature, and the good world as God created it to be – and the intentionality gap that resides therein. Even at the age of three, Nathan understood that he had a proclivity to do the wrong, even though he had a sense it would not make his parents very happy.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.
Romans 5 emphasizes the free gift of boundless grace through Jesus Christ available to any who place their trust in him. In just three verses (vss. 15-17) Paul mentions this “free gift” five times. Comparing Adam to Christ, we are reminded that the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift of grace that followed many trespasses brings justification. This discourse culminates with the promise, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Left on its own, Romans 5 could be interpreted as a free pass to intentionally live in sin, so as not to diminish the full potential of grace in our lives and world. With that in mind, Paul follows his discourse on boundless grace in Romans 5, with a direct question in Romans: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”
This question posed by Paul to the first-century church resounds in our churches today. While many pastors are exceedingly comfortable preaching a sermon on grace, few tackle the realities of sin on a consistent basis for fear of sounding too harsh, too judgmental, or too impractical. We are more comfortable inviting folks to “come as you are because God’s grace is immense,” than we are challenging folks “not to dare leave unchanged because God makes us a new creation.” While the church is still into sinning, we are not really into talking about sinning. In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous description of cheap grace, he says we have become masters at, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer speaks into what Paul feared might happen. Because the grace of Jesus Christ is free and abounding, the people of Christ might be tempted to take it for granted. When the preacher introduces this text, it will first be necessary to remind the church that we do sin indeed, and that is indeed a big deal. Only then can delve into the relationship between sin and grace together.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on October 16th, 2016.
This sermon series began two weeks ago in Lamentations 1:1-6 and ends next week in Joel 2:23-32. This series allows the pastor to trace the arc of redemption as told through Israel’s story with God. This is the foundation of Christ’s coming, through which this story finds its fruition and fulfillment. Such a series permits a congregation to re-engage the movement of their own life with God through this story, starting in Lamentations with disorientation over their own sin and its consequences. This confrontation with sin is necessary if a church is to engage in the faithful application of hope toward Joel’s vision of life and land indwelled with the presence of the Spirit.
Last week in Jeremiah 29, the text focused on living in the tension of brokenness and hope. Today’s passage moves from the midst of this tension into the promise that is to come. Here the prophet promises renewed relationship and renewed covenant. This is hope on the move; hope that propels a people into the practice of a future freedom right now in the present. This hope is on the move because God brings renewal. This God-moving renewal establishes relational wholeness. This relational wholeness is expressed in human life together and covenant life with God.