Lenten Series: Giving It Up
Sermon: Giving Up: Disobedience
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
March 11, 2018
Scriptures: Ephesians 2:1-10 CEB and John 3:14-21 CEB
††††††††††† There are people who donít think they are good enough to deserve Godís love because they know they have done things they shouldnít. They have disobeyed God and fear retribution, damnation and eternal punishment. Iíve had people say to me that they think God might strike them with a bolt of lightning if they darkened the door of the church. I quietly think to myself that theyíve been watching too many movies and reading books with a theology I donít recommend.
One wonders why they donít repent and turn things around, coming back into the sphere of Godís holy community and then it occurs that perhaps they donít want to give up the guilty pleasures. Perhaps they figure they can keep disobeying for a while and enjoying whatever it is they are doing that they fear God disapproves, and then later they will give it up, repent and be forgiven. Itís a dangerous game and God is not fooled. It reminds me of those who thought baptism was a final cleansing of sin that got you into heaven, so they waited until just before they were going to die to be baptized in an attempt to direct their next step upwards and not ďdown thereĒ. Talk about trying to be in control!
In naming the sinful things we humans do, sins were deemed so because they cause harm to either ourselves or another person or damages our relationship with God and others. The rules of the Ten Commandments include: Having no other gods, not making idols, not taking Godís name in vain, remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, Honoring your father and mother, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not giving false testimony against our neighbor, and not coveting anything that belongs to someone else. We also have the seven deadly sins, or cardinal sins as the Catholics call them: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.
I donít feel I need to describe these in detail. Most of us are all too familiar with their temptations. Repeatedly sleeping in on Sunday morning until it becomes a habit, eating meals with portions so large they could feed three people, buying lottery tickets with the money you might have used to pay your tithe, while not tithing on your winnings when you do win, could be examples. And no, I wasnít thinking of anyone in particular. I just made that up, but it wasnít hard to imagine.
One might accuse me of being old school, and you could be right. I am getting olderÖbut this not going to church on Sunday thing. The rule we are disobeying grows out of the fourth commandment, with roots in the first, honoring the Sabbath and worshiping God. There are many who have to work on Sunday mornings. I get that. But there are even more people who consider themselves Christians, got their children baptized, and yet they rarely worship God with a community of faith. We see their kids so rarely that we have no opportunity to keep the promise we made to nurture them in the faith.
It may sound like Iím criticizing them for being lazy Christians, but my thought is that we need to find ways to love them better. God continues to shed prevenient grace upon them, so we should offer them grace as well, but not stop there. What is it that causes people to feel uncomfortable in the church? What keeps them from connecting with the fellowship of the community of believers? Are our unspoken rules and expectations chasing them away because they arenít prepared or able to comply? How can we nurture grown adults in the faith without making them feel like they have been failing all this time?
I often read that newcomers to a church feel like all we want is their money. All we talk about is money. I have even heard words come out of church members mouths saying if we had more people, we could would get more money, which tells me that the newcomerís perceptions are not wrong.
This whole money thing in the life of churches is complicated. Mainline churches are caught in the throes of a massive downsizing for the past fifty years and yet we are expecting to be able to do all the same things we did before. Itís not that we are being greedy. We just want things to be like they were.
Unfortunately, it doesnít work that way. We need to find new ways of making disciples and praising God and reaching out in mission; ways that donít cost so much, ways that happen with fewer paid professionals doing the work. I donít imagine the 1st Century church paid staff to do all the ministry. They probably didnít need a bulletin every time they worshipped, and they shared news by word of mouth. But still, the Holy Spirit was able to touch their hearts and transform their lives. They each did the work of serving Christ. They each told the next person how God had blessed them and what joy they got as they gathered to sing praises and share meals together. They each invited new people into the fellowship of believers where they studied scripture and lived Jesusí Way.
Our disobedience to Godís commandments that we honor God first with our lives and live in right relationship to other people is what gets us in trouble. †Our falling to temptations of lust and gluttony, laziness or living perpetually angry, greedily coveting after the next thing that will supposedly solve all our problems and make us feel good about ourselves, is a problem. There are reasons these things are called sins. They prevent us from being able to trust and be trusted. They break relationships Ė both between us and other humans and between us and God.
There are, however, some rules that ought to be broken, like the one that says you canít wear blue jeans to church. Whatís on the outside of a person matters far less to God than whatís on the inside. Read Matthew 15. Jesus knew that what comes from a personís heart was far more important.
Preventing anyone from feeling welcome should be a sin. If God moves them to risk coming to church, woe be it to the person who makes them feel less than welcome because they look or sound different than the norm. The last thing God wants is for them to leave feeling like they were underdressed, overdressed, the wrong color, the wrong nationality, the wrong political persuasion, the wrong anything. This is Godís house, not ours. God brought them here, and it is our job to offer Christís love to them.
The Good News is that God loves us, even when we have gotten it wrong. Thatís why God sent Jesus. We needed the human example, the man that Jesus was, for us to be able to finally understand what God was trying to tell us. We hurt ourselves with our continual disobedience to following the way that God wanted for his children. God loves all of creation and wants the best for it, not the worst. The pain caused to ourselves and others when we live in sin is what God wants to get rid of. In Godís kingdom there will be no more tears because pain and suffering are gone.
Because we have been given free will, we have the opportunity to choose the good and not just the bad. In this freedom we can choose not to break Godís heart. We can choose to live Godís kingdom way, they way that leads to life, now.
Consider your life this week. How might you choose to love and honor God instead of putting God to the side? Worship doesnít have to only happen on Sunday.
How might you make amends with someone you have harmed?
Where can you let anger go, forgive and move on?
How can you love yourself better that doesnít include gluttony, lust or greed? I know these sell in our culture, but not so much in Godís.
Forgive and be forgiven. Live a life of obedience to Godís rule of love and feel the love grow in ways you never imagined. Amen.