The Gift: Renounce

Romans 5.1-11, 12-19, 20-21

 Lent calls to us to enter into the transformative heart of God.

Transfiguration. We started this lent journey into the heart of God last Sunday as we stepped upon the mountaintop with Jesus and his friends and entered what we call a holy moment of clarity about his identity. The Transfiguration was a power encounter with the Almighty that didn’t have a defined understanding. This encounter with God was not something that Jesus articulated coming down the mountain. Only in hindsight could the disciples name this fresh expression of God in Jesus Christ. On the mountaintop Jesus was empowered in his humanity to endure struggles of his passion.

If you have never experienced a passion moment in your own life, you may not fully understand the important of power that was endued upon Jesus’ frail humanity. Passion moments in my life have come by way of being persecuted for the Gospel. It is only through the transformational encounter of God who endues me with an understanding of my salvation, my identity in Jesus Christ, that my faith has endured these personal attacks on my character.

I remember the first time I was consciously aware of being ridiculed for the sake of the Gospel. I had just graduated from college and was working at my first job. One of my colleagues questioned my salvation and told me that I was not a Christian. This person was a strong believer in her faith tradition, but she had no openness to seeing Jesus in me solely based on her opinions.

Another passion moment happened when I was in the Baltic States of Northern Europe in the country of Estonia on a two-week mission trip. We were seated at a restaurant in a small town called Voru We were enjoying having just shaped the word of God with a Methodist church who experienced the renewal power of God. While we were enjoying ourselves, two men began to berate and harass us so much so that we feared for our lives. We were grateful when the authorities came to intervene on our behalf.

As a chaplain I have experienced passion moments almost daily by patients and families. I was ridiculed by Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Muslims, Buddists, Jews, and Hindus, many people refused to acknowledge me because of my gender and sometimes my calling.

Lent call us to rend our hearts wide open for God’s inspection.

Ash Wednesday. We travel through life most days on auto-pilot. We get up, eat breakfast and head off to work, school, or an appointment or activity of some kind. We cruise at a pace of what we might call “normal” only deviating from that tempo on Sunday mornings as we gather for our hour of faithful reflection. We travel across our lifetime moving from Sunday to Sunday living into our loyalty to the church without thought of going deeper. We often stay in the safety zone of comfortability. When challenged to go deeper, our first response is to tell God – I’m good with this level of intimacy with you. No need to get beyond a mire greeting, nod, wave, or handshake.

I grew up where everybody knew everybody, and not only did they know who you were they often knew a distorted version of your business. Or at least they thought they did. You would see each other at church and offer the handshake of peace, on the roadway you would give the wave, and in the grocery store you would offer a handshake and a greeting. Most people never got past the formality of hello, but behind the scenes they heard the gossip of what was happening. There were lots of presumptions, but not a lot of truth-telling that would lead to changed behavior. In God’s Kingdom we are called to go deeper in our personal relationship with God, and community relationships with others. Lent becomes that place of public confess of our sins. Without our acknowledgement of sin in our lives, we cannot receive salvation.

Lent calls us to a deeper understanding of sin.

Black – everyone sins and that sin makes it impossible to have a relationship with God. This belief is a key component to the Christian faith. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Red – the blood of Jesus and the belief that faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death are necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The belief that Jesus died on the cross to serve as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all mankind is the core belief of the Christian faith. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

White – through Christ Jesus your sins are forgiven and you are made pure. 1 John 3:5 says, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” Blue – baptism is the outward expression of the inward change that happens when we accept Jesus. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

Green – we are called to grow in the faith. 2 Peter 3:18 instructs believers to, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”

Gold – reminds us that we live in the already, not yet experience of the Kingdom of God.

Salvation. Sin. Sanctification. Romans invites us into the heart of God. John Wesley spent a lot of time reflecting on this letter so much so that he wrote 16 different sermons on Romans focusing his attention primarily on chapter 8 and what I call “life in the Spirit.” We are going to unpack chapter 5 in light of the whole letter, and chapter 5 teaches us what John Wesley might say is the “Scriptural Way of Salvation.”

Romans is a letter written by the Apostle Paul, the New Testament theologian. Theology is a big word that simply means what we believe about God. Theology is not about what God has done in history, or even now in our personal lives. Theology defines the nature and character of God based on Scripture. The letter of Paul to the church at Rome was written most likely at the end of his third missionary journey, he is heading back to Jerusalem and then will find himself imprisoned and taken to Rome where he will be under house arrest for some time. The date of the letter is about the middle of the 1st Century.

The letter is addressed to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be Saints (holy people). So if you are not living into your calling of sainthood this letter is not for you. Romans is Paul’s Gospel with his emphasis on evangelizing both the Greeks and the Jewish communities of faith. A gospel is only a gospel if it has changed the people whom it addressed, first, in their thinking and then in their behavior. The Nevertheless for Paul is our sinful nature redeemed by Christ’s glorious sacrifice. The whole world is accountable to God. The only way we are made right with God is in belief in Jesus Christ and his sacrificial giving of himself. Wesley understood that the preaching of this good news was pointless to those who did not believe they needed reconciliation to God.

Often times people need to understand they have a sickness before they are willing to discover a cure. Sometimes they know they are sick, yet, refuse the treatment. God alone, our Great Physician, knows the condition of our hearts. We cannot discern the condition of ourselves apart from the Holy Spirit. When we rend our hearts wide open for God to explore our broken condition, we are giving God the opportunity to write a prescription for our well-being.

John Wesley reminds us that we have a duty to preach everything that Christ revealed, particularly the moral and ethical commands. Faith establishes love for God and neighbor. Faith works inwardly to purify the heart from its immoral dispositions. Faith forms our standard of what love it and what love does. It is faith that produces holiness of heart and life.

Have you ever been to the doctor with an ailment and been given extra scripts just in case you get worse or have an emerging episode? I have what is called cold-air induced asthma attacks and exercise-induced asthma attacks (exercise-induced bronchoconstriction). I have been treated at the doctor’s office for asthma attacks when

The sweeping theme of this letter is Gospel: by faith (1.18-4.25), by power (5.1-8.39), by covenant (9.1-11.36), by transformation (12.1-15.13), by relationships (15.14-16.27). In chapters 1-5 sin separates humanity from God and there’s nothing that can be done apart from God’s great love for his creation. We can only welcome his grace into our hearts, which is what we understand as justification. We might go so far as to sing a song to illustrate this concept: Just as I am without one plea! Sin surely points us to the need for justification.

Whatever happened to sin in the dictionary. The first step in radical change in a culture is to choose to remove or add words and concepts from its language. In 2008 the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed a number of Christian-related words like “bishop,” “chapel,” “disciple,” “minister,” “sin,” “Pentecost,” and “devil” to become more relevant. The changes were made to reflect a “multicultural” society. Catholic moral theologian William Smith has noted that, “All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering.” There is some good news, however. The on-line New Oxford American Dictionary still contains the word sin and Pentecost. I have a copy in my office if you want to check out the truth.

Adult dictionaries have not been modified like the children’s dictionaries, and so we might not even notice the changes happening around us. But the danger in this is that you will not notice what has happened to your children’s vocabulary because you assume they have these Christian concepts in their everyday lives – but that don’t. Did you know that words like God, Jesus, Jew, Easter, Epiphany are not automatically capitalized in Microsoft Word? Capitalization of the pronoun “His disciples” referring to Jesus or God, has been modified in scholarly language by the repetitiveness of the use of the word God. Changes in our language demonstrate a shift in our perspective of how we understand our Christian heritage.

There are sins of omission and sins of commission. When we think about the examples of the disciples, we see Peter. Theological Ellsworth Kalas in his book on the 13 Apostles points out that there are times when rashness leads us to sins of commission, while over deliberation lead us to sins of omission.

There are times when we are ignorant of our sin from lack of knowledge. When we think about the disciples, we might call to mind James and John the sons of thunder as they requested to behold the best seats of authority in heaven. They were really ignorant of what they requested, and we can see James’ true character as he died at the hands of King Herod praying for forgiveness.

There are times we suffer from infirmities that are not moral failings nor considered sin. Those infirmities, according to Wesley, include forgetfulness, an active imagination, confusion, lack of understanding, slowness to learn, and the use of language skills to name only a few. Infirmities are found in the best of humanity in both large and small proportions. Infirmities are things in which we have little ability to improve. Further, we lack a full knowledge of God. We do not fully know God, but are fully known by God. We might think of Simon the Zealot, whose personality was filled with radical passionate zeal for a righteous government. To be sure he possessed limited understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Mistakes are unavoidable in this life to be sure. Wesley teaches us that the things that are essential for salvation are ours to behold as believers. Things that unessential are the areas of our lives where we are prone to mistakes. But John Wesley would advise that we are all going onward and upward – on to perfection in Christ Jesus. We are transformed as we continue the journey of spiritual formation. Perhaps Matthew might be the disciple we point out that made a mistake of chasing after career or wealth, yet we see him laying aside his ambition to follow Jesus.

There is willful sin that is a condition of the heart. Perhaps Judas Iscariot would be our reflection point for the willful condition of the heart that combines all the areas – sins of omission, commission, mistakes, infirmities, and ignorance. Judas was prone to discussing the non-essentials of the good news – focusing on lining his wallet with financial peace. Surely he was confused, lacked understanding, and was slow to learn. He lacked an understanding of the Son of God and the Kingdom.

Chapter 5 focuses on justification, defined as the declaration of being right. When we are justified we not only receive God’s grace but possess it. Our character is proven through test and trial. Righteousness is ascribed to us because of Christ Jesus, grace is laid upon us as a gift not infused inside of us. By grace we experience eternal life as life that is lived now and is a present possession of the believer.

In chapters 6-8 focus on the promise of God as the battle rages on with victory over sin, the Law, death, and the flesh. To be sure the Spirit of God brings full assurance and confidence in the power of God to conquer our deficits. Chapters 9-11 draw our full attention to the history of Israel’s salvation where the old and the new become one pathway for salvation. Chapters 12-15 is the heart of transformative life of a Christian. The letter closes with words from the last chapter of loving affirmation and warnings.

To Paul there is no room for bragging about our righteousness, it all belongs to Christ Jesus. However, he will brag about hope, problems, and God himself – his character and sacrificial death.  Paul invites us to understand the importance of reconciliation and the reestablishment of broken relationships and what he understands as peace with God. Paul insists that it is our duty that broken relationships are addressed thus the enemy can possess no strong hold or personal footing for destruction in our lives. We embody the faith that by which we are made righteous in our baptismal covenant.

Wesleyan core term is justification. Some folks call this “getting right with God” while others say it’s “making peace with God.” When we get right or make peace our capacity to love others increases. The image of God within us is restored as we seek renewal from the damages of sinful behavior and believes. God has provided justifying grace for us in order that we might be restored to the image of God. The power of our sinful nature has been overthrown by grace. The one policy we all want to see implemented in our lives is the cancelation of our debt from sin and guilt toward God.

Justification is all about receiving God’s love. It rests in our ability to trust Christ Jesus. Justification is grounded in Abraham’s hope as he climbed Mt. Moriah to slaughter his son Isaac that God would provide the required sacrifice. Now we have believer’s hope in the provision of Christ through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

The Letter to Rome takes us into the very heart of God from prevenient grace (awareness of God) to justifying grace (freedom by God) to sanctifying grace (transformation in God). The invitation for us today is to enter into the very heart of God in the sacred space we call church. Paul opens his letter with an introduction to the power of the Gospel message. He establishes our broken human condition that we call sinfulness and define as guilt, alienation, judgement, wrath, death, and cosmic chaos that separates us from God.

Leanne Hadley captures Pauline theology in her progressive style of pastoral care ministry to children. She has articulated what we might call good Wesleyan theology. The “u” form of ministry that Leanne suggests moves us from awareness of God to freedom with God to transformation in God.

To be sure most days we are aware that God is real and we believe God is present in our lives. Then there are days when grace takes us into a place of confession and pardon. We need places where we can become honest with ourselves, and transparent with our neighbors. Authenticity comes at a high price, but authenticity will always lead to deeper levels of trust. The work of journeying into the heart of God can be uncomfortable for us adults because we like to stay on the surface with others. We prefer to remain surface Christians. But let me just tell you that Jesus never condoned surface relationships with Almighty God, and neither does Paul.

There are times that we really sink our heels in and flat out refuse for God to have authority in our lives. Most of us understand that we are called to submit our lives to God, but our wills are defiant. We just cannot bring ourselves to surrender. The act of baptism is the gateway in the Christian worldview into the new reality. The Law was given to define sin, but Jesus died to break the power of sin. Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus who dwells within every believing heart, the power of sin and death is broken.

Paul teaches us that we are not to permit sin to reign and rule. Paul invites us to consider how we are given the power and authority over sin and death; we are no longer mastered by our impossible situations. We are no longer slaves to fear, depression, fatigue, sleeplessness, poverty or abusive systems. Our mental health belongs in God’s good hands. Even we have emotional instabilities, God provides us with his peace, comfort and rest knowing that he will be with us along the journey.

Our mystical experience of baptism places us in a position of being in Christ, and no longer in the worldly order of things. We are given a new sphere of influence, and a new boundary of existence. God acts in baptism, and we are incorporated into Christ’s holy body. To be sure we are united with Christ. Because we are united with Christ Jesus through our conscious decision to become baptized, confirmed, and professing the faith, then we can no longer continue sinning. Paul insists that our old nature has become crucified with Christ, therefore, our invitation is to live in victory over sin’s power. Sin loses its power as we grow in our understanding of forgiveness and acceptance by God.

I often hear people talk about the love of God, and wonder what on earth they mean. It sounds so hollow because of our cultural definitions of love. In our culture the whole concept of love is wrecked with biblical sinfulness. It is really hard to hear the words God loves you/me. I need to hear a deeper more profound definition, I need a fresh expression that helps me capture this whole idea of a loving God. When I look around, I see so much conditional love and fake love that I fail to grasp the true meaning behind this whole idea that God loves. If God loves, why doesn’t he intervene in the lives of broken people? It’s a slippery slope to talk about God’s love.

Our text defines our situation clearly: the love of God has been poured out into our hearts (Romans 5.5). This agape love is given to us by the Holy Spirit!  The name Agape or “love-feast,” as an expression denoting the brotherly common meals of the early church. In the opinion of the great majority of scholars the Agape was a meal at which not only bread and wine but all kinds of viands were used, a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord’s command, and after thanksgiving to God were eaten and drunk in remembrance of Christ and as a special means of communion with the Lord Himself and through Him with one another.

The Kool-Aid story is also the story of Edwin E. Perkins and his family who lived in Iowa and Nebraska in the late 1800s. Kool-Aid was discovered by 1927. It came in six flavors – raspberry, cherry, grape, lemon, orange, root-beer, and later Strawberry. Kool-Aid has been around for a very long time. In February 2012, “Drinking the Kool-Aid” won first place in an online poll by Forbes Magazine as “the single most annoying example of business jargon” (Forbes Magazine, January 2012). John Wesley wrestled with his own salvation, and his work of growing himself and the people of God to become holy people is evident. Some folks in Wesley’s day may have warned the people he cared for about “drinking the Kool-Aid!” Have you wrestled with your faith? Are the Christian beliefs that I hold the foundational truths of the Scriptures or are they religion?

1 John 1.9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.” Let us remember our baptism and be holy. Let us partake of the Lord’s Supper and remember the sacrifice of Christ for us.

It is by grace we have been saved. Our faith in Jesus Christ paves the way for us to live at peace and unity with one another. Jesus took upon himself all the sins of the world in his hands, feet, and side. The power of death has become swallowed up in his victorious resurrection. To be sure love becomes our motivation for holy living. Test your faith to see if your motives are pure. Are you drinking the religious Kool-Aid or Christianity?


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