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Sermon June 1
June 16, 2008, 11:31 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , ,

Deuteronomy 11:18–21, 26–28
Psalm 31:1–5, 19–24

Romans 1:16–17; 3:22b–28 [29–31]
Matthew 7:21–29

 

 

 

           Many of us have or will receive stimulus package rebate checks in the mail. Our government hopes this flow of cash will create more buying, more selling, more creating, and more jobs. Those of us who have been watching prices steadily rising might find our wallets getting thinner. We start to discriminate more tightly between our needs and wants. And at the top of our list- is us. There’s a saying circulating around the internet and it even found its way into the Letters to the Editor of the Rockford Register Star: If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China.
If we spend it on gasoline, it will go to the Arabs.
If we purchase a computer, it will go to India.
If we purchase fruit and vegetables, it will go to Mexico. And none of it will help the American economy. The only way to keep that money at home is to spend it at garage sales, because those are the only businesses still in the United States.
          It’s all about me- I matter more than anyone else, and the USA is more important than anywhere else. I’m about to get something good, and I’m going to keep it for myself, and for those in my group, my country. The rest of the people of the world just don’t matter.

          I get the idea from Paul’s letter to the Romans that there is a similar sentiment that the new Christians are feeling toward their Jewish neighbors. They’ve received some great news, their teacher, Jesus, died and rose from the dead. Because of Jesus’ faithfulness, they are made righteous before God. So they look at those who do not follow Jesus with scorn. They’re covered, and if others aren’t – it’s not their problem.

          There’s really a lot of confusion for those early Christians. Jesus was a Jew and his disciples were, too. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples are sent out to all nations. Paul is especially sent to the non-Jewish nations. So the new Jesus followers wrestle with what it takes to follow Jesus- do they need to live as Jews and follow the law? The Jews were always the chosen people of God, the only people with whom Yahweh had a covenantal relationship. Who are the people God chooses through Jesus? Does the relationship with God that Jesus offers supersede the coventantal relationship, is it a part of that relationship, or is it something different alongside it? What does it take to be “saved”?

          It is this last question that we see echoed at the beginning of our Gospel lesson. When I look at the opening verses of our Gospel, I am troubled. We read Jesus rejecting those who believe they have done everything right. Jesus denies them, saying he does not know them! What can these harsh words from Jesus mean? They are words that trouble many people. Words that trouble me.

          As I’ve been talking to friends and colleagues, reading from scholars, about this text, I’ve heard others echo my confusion and fear regarding these verses. Some folks suggest Jesus is talking about motivation and attitude. We face the danger of doing service to people so that we can feel good about ourselves, or earn favor with God. Others suggest those who are denied just weren’t doing the right things or keeping the law.

          As I think about our passage from Romans and the question, “what becomes of boasting”, I find these troubling words from the Gospel able to drive the point home. Righteousness and justification are gifts of God’s free will. They are not given in exchange for what is done, for belonging to the “right” group. It’s not about us. All our works, our prophesying, our casting our demons, our doing good works in Jesus’ name- these are not the tickets that buy us an elevator ride up to heaven.

          Our righteousness, our justification, our salvation are given to us by Jesus’ faithfulness. This is good news! But there are times when we look at good news and see it as bad news. If our righteousness is based on Jesus’ righteousness, we can’t boast that we have it because of something we did. We can’t look at another person and think- they don’t have it- but I do- and feel that we are more special or better than that person. Jesus died for them, too!

          Because God invites all people into relationship, we can no longer ignore our neighbors, or think only of our own needs. God claims us, and others around the world, as God’s children, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. It is my fervent hope that those reading the editorial from the Register Star would immediately think- the Chinese, Arabs, Mexicans- these are my brothers and sisters in Christ. These are fellow human beings for whom Jesus suffered and died. They are people who have a right to live – to flourish in dignity. It’s natural for us to want to have the resources to take care of ourselves and our families. But in Christ, our family is made a whole lot bigger.

          This morning, we gather here at Zion. All around Rockford, thousands are gathering for the same purpose, meeting the same God in their midst. That’s a pretty cool thing to think about. But when we expand our scope, we realize that from our bedtime, during our deep hours of sleep, and between lunch and our afternoon nap, Christians gather around the world for Sunday worship. Many of those communities will have read the very same lessons we read this morning. Geography, language, race, and customs may create a distinction among the various people of this earth. There is one foundation which unites us. God the Creator brought us all into existence, God the Son has extended his faithfulness to create us as a righteous people, and God the Spirit sustains and guides us as we seek to live into God’s kingdom.

 

 

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