OPENING PRAYER

O God, we gather together in Your presence with expectation, hungry for an encounter with You, eager to hear Your Word. Open our eyes and ears to the presence of Your Holy Spirit. May the seeds of Your Word scatter among us this morning fall on fertile soil. May they take root in our hearts and lives, and produce an abundant harvest of good words and deeds. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our teacher and our Lord. Amen.

Music: For the Beauty of the Earth

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION

Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.

SCRIPTURE               Romans 8:1-11

8There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot,8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

SERMON

Did you know that we are much like the people in Rome during Paul’s life time?  Yes, the people in Rome. People who were, apparently, a lot like us. That is, they were trying to make sense of their lives. Trying to understand why and how things in their lives and culture were moving so quickly, changing so fast. Trying to find their place in the incredibly fast-paced and increasingly pluralistic world they were living in. And trying — really trying — to figure out what their faith had to do with all of this.

In the midst of all this, they get this letter from Paul that sums up his take on the Christian faith — how we are all confused about God’s will, often unable to fulfill it, and so fall short. About how God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves by sending us Jesus that we might be made right — justified — not by what we do or don’t do but by faith in Jesus; that is, by trusting that in Jesus we see God’s love poured out for us and all the world. It’s not that we don’t still sin — though we try not to — and it’s not like we don’t still feel guilty about sin — though we hate that feeling. In fact, as Paul writes, the Christian life often feels like being stuck between knowing what to do and yet not being able to do it. It’s not a good feeling, but, hey, no one said it would be easy.

And then comes Paul’s sentence, maybe the only thing you really need to hear from the whole letter: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” Did you hear that? No condemnation. None. Nada. When? In some distant future. No, now. Right now. This very moment. Why, because God loves us enough to forgive us, to restore us, to welcome us into God’s loving embrace like a loving parent welcomes back an errant child.

According to Paul, in fact, that’s why Jesus came — not to suffer in our stead. Not to show us how to live so that we merit God’s love. Not to satisfy some weird sense of justice that makes it possible for God to love us only if blood is shed. And definitely not to have the crap kicked out of him for sin so that we can feel eternally and simultaneously guilty and grateful. No. Jesus came to show us through his cross just how much God already loves us. And to show us through his resurrection that his love is more powerful than anything — than death, our sin, our confusion, and even our sense of being condemned. Our sense of being judged. Our sense of being Denounced. Our sense of being Criticized. Our sense of punishment.

And that last one -Condemnation- may be the toughest. Because no matter how many times we’ve heard that we’re forgiven, and no matter how brave a show most of us put up, I’d still wager that Henry Thoreau was right about the mass of us leading lives of quiet desperation. Maybe it’s some missed opportunity or long-held disappointment. Maybe it’s regrets over a past wrong we did to another, or a difficult time getting over a wrong done to us. Maybe it’s a pervasive sadness about our relationships with our friends or family. Who knows? I just know that if you talk with anyone long enough sooner or later you get back to this pervasive sense of not being worthy, a persistent conviction that when it all shakes out they’re going to come up short.

I believe that we need to hear Paul’s amazing pronouncement and promise that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!” To hear, that is, that no matter what we’ve done or has been done to us, no matter what we may have previously heard or presently believe, God is not angry with us. To hear that God loves us, forgives us, accepts us as we are, and sets us free to live lives of meaning, purpose, grace, and gratitude.

So what did that mean for the church in Rome?  What does that mean for the church in Woodbury?  It means that all that baggage.  All the regret.  All that weight.  All that condemnation can be put into the garbage can!

  • Our insecurities.
  • Our inadequacies.
  • Our regret.
  • Our misdeeds.
  • Our misfortunes.
  • Our threats.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Paul’s eschatological, present-tense reality that is shaped not by guilt but by mercy, not by disappointment but by promise, not by what we’ve done wrong but by what God has done right.

Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day speaks about opportunity, hope, the potential for life, anticipation and what God may do through his beloved children:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

So let’s give our people that same thrill by asking them this simple but potent question:
“What will you do with your wild and precious life now that there is no condemnation?”
“What will you do now that you know you are free?”
“What will you do with all the love and grace God can give you?”
“What will you do….”

It’s a powerful question, one that may just set them free to live lives not only absent of condemnation but also filled with potential and promise.

Commentary provided by Mindy, L. Ann Jervis, Walter F. Taylor, Jr., David Lose, Margaret Aymer, Marion L. Soards, Fritz Ristch,

MUSIC

God of compassion
We pray for the many who are oppressed
by crushing political and economic circumstances.

Those persecuted on grounds of faith or ethnicity
or background.

Families torn apart by age-old feuds, petty tensions,
ill-founded jealousies
and destructive attitudes

based on concepts of exclusion, privilege and prejudice.

The men and women
ground down by lack of food and opportunities of inclusion.

The children oppressed by discrimination and disadvantage,
lack of resources
and failures of education.

The downtrodden
and those seen as unable to make a positive contribution to the life of the world.

Empower, encourage and endorse
the disciples of Jesus
who try to address the needs of the isolated and lonely, often at enormous personal cost.

The concerned workers
who day by day bring food and shelter, care and compassion
to the hungry and the homeless.

The missionaries in the world of business and economics who try to overturn the status quo
and bring health and healing
in an environment alien to the Gospel.

Those who hear the world’s poorest cry out for justice and mercy and respond without question or analysis of impact.

The generous who see gifts always as opportunities for sharing their good fortune.

The intrepid who take food and water
to those who are ungrateful
and resistant to kindness and thoughtfulness.

The faithful, who day by day
take time to pray and listen attentively to the Word.

The fighters for justice
who have courage and conviction
and who try to change the mind-set of exclusion and condemnation.

Those unafraid of persecution,
personal disadvantage
and power in the world
and who dare to question and speak the truth when it would be much easier to keep silent.

The sick in mind, body and spirit,
the dying, and those who care for them, that they may always be aware
of the presence of Your spirit among them and in their daily lives.

Those for whom the proclamation of the Gospel is a privilege, but not one without cost and personal sacrifice.

For all whose lives,
however apparently insignificant
and lacking in prestige and power,
are attempting to be faithful to the Gospel,
in Jesus’ name,
because they are confident in the inclusive love and mercy You have demonstrated
in and through Jesus.

In whose name we pray.

The Lord’s Prayer

We pray all this in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit  –who taught us to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Music: I Love to Tell the Story

SENDING WORDS—

Go forth as God’s people.
We will sow seeds of love and joy in the world.
Go forth as Christ’s true friends.
We will sow seeds of justice and hope in oppression-strewn paths.
Go forth as the Spirit’s love.
We will sow seeds of peace and reconciliation in every corner of creation.