Now, I do believe that God has high expectations for us – like any good parent has for his or her children. But the flip side to this idea can be troubling. If we start from the idea that our relationship with God is one of parent and child, then the question is: Must a child earn the love of his or her parent? If not, and if God is our parent, then does God expect us to earn God’s love and affection?
St. Paul, like many of us, believed that if he was good enough, zealous enough, observant enough, then God would love and accept him. So, he worked hard at his religion, and he became rather proud of his accomplishments. Now, by all rights, he was a good man, but ultimately he discovered that no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t measure up. Indeed, he came to see himself as chief among sinners. In his words, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." And if that’s true, then even Mother Teresa is a sinner and has fallen short of God’s expectations. If they don’t measure up, then what hope do I have?
In these two passages from Romans, Paul addresses the question of sin, of righteousness, of law, grace, and faith. His proposal offers us a word of hope for a new life and a new opportunity to serve.
As we see in chapter 3 the biggest stumbling block to the Christian faith is the Law. Paul has a high regard for the Law. He sees it as a signpost of God’s high expectations and as a tutor. As our teacher, it not only reminds us that God has high standards, but that God also expects us to live together in a way that is peaceful and just, generous and gracious. Paul also recognizes that without the Spirit, the Law is a means of death. It offers no hope of transformation.
Recognition of this fact can lead to despair. Because if we’re fated to fail, what hope is there for us? The answer is this: What is impossible for us, is possible for God. The key is God’s offer of forgiveness and God’s willingness to see us in a new way. In Christ we who are unrighteous become righteous – not of our own power, but through God’s grace. We may choose to rebel against God’s will, but God is willing to embrace us and enable us to become new creatures. This is a message of freedom and of healing. It takes sin seriously, but it doesn’t lead to death.
II. LIVING BY FAITH
Knowing that my time with you is short, I want to again remind you that God is calling you, like he’s calling me, to be part of God’s missional people. God is calling us to live by faith in the power of the Resurrection so that we might serve our community out of love and not duty. And then the question is: How do we do this?
To live by faith is to live by the Law of love, which means that we don’t give in to the temptation of self-righteousness. From there, we begin to look outward. It might start with a handshake, a hug, or maybe simply a word of welcome, but in doing so we follow Jesus’ example of putting others first. From there our service takes hold. , It might involve a prayer or a gift of money. It might involve standing up for the person living on the margins of society, by giving voice to their concerns, even if that means putting you at a disadvantage.
Having been justified by God’s grace, we are empowered to live faithfully, and to live faithfully means living in such a way that God’s grace and love transform our world. El Salvador changed because of Romero’s witness. The same can be true for us. It likely doesn’t involve our death, but it does mean dying to self, so we can live for God by living for our neighbor.
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 1, 2008