Morning all! Here is this morning’s sermon – it was a little bit shorter because there was a lot going on, but I think the text stood for itself. As always, the audio is available here. Enjoy! xoxo
A Life of Grace
There is a member of my family who is a devout Catholic. A few years ago he told me a story of a Holy Week Mass that he had once attended. The entire Passion Narrative had just been read and the Priest got up to preach the homily.
Now you know the Passion Narrative. It is long. It is intense. It is exhausting to hear and to process and to sit with. It is a preacher’s worst nightmare. What do you even begin to say after that?
Apparently this particular Priest stood up, took a deep breath and said, “You’ve heard the story. Think about it.” And then he sat down.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about doing that this morning. For one thing, I wrote in my Epistle article this week that services would run 45 minutes through the summer, hit send and then looked at my calendar and realized that we were celebrating both the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Holy Communion today.
However, time-crunch aside and in a twist of irony, I think that this scripture, this letter written by Paul to the church in Rome, could stand on its own. It is one of the most beautiful and humble things that Paul wrote in all of his letters. He said things that I think we have all thought at least once in our lifetimes.
“I do not understand my own actions,” Paul said. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
It is quite honestly very strange to hear Paul say something like this. He was always very direct in his letters, he cut to the chase and he was never afraid to tell the church or the community he was speaking to how screwed up he thought they were. He preached the law; and not only did he preach the importance of the law, but he also preached the divinity of the law. His words, his letters, were – and still are – prophetic.
And yet, in this moment, Paul’s humanity showed through. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Paul – just like the people in Rome he was speaking to – felt like there were times when he did not do the right thing, that there were times when he fell short.
Now when I preach I do like to give you all as many pieces to the theological and biblical puzzle as possible. So I will say that there are some scholars that believe that Paul was not exactly speaking from his own heart when he said these words, he was speaking for the voice of Adam, the original voice of humanity. And while this does throw an exegetical wrench in my “for the first time we see Paul as a human” sermon, I wonder if this really makes a difference in what the text itself means?
Regardless of whether or not Paul genuinely felt these words or whether he was really re-laying something that Adam felt, Paul believe these words enough to say them again thousands and thousands of years later.
I believe these words. I believe these words enough to – 2,000 years after Paul said them – read them and preach on them.
And on a personal note, I also genuinely feel these words. There are times when I feel like I do not do the right thing, when I fall short. And I would be willing to bet that there are times when you all feel like you do not necessarily do the right thing, like you fall short. Is that true?
This letter is so striking to me because it is honest, it is real and it really can speak on its own. Paul is telling the church in Rome that he is human. He affirms anything that they may be feeling and thinking in their own lives and in their own Christian journeys.
Paul is saying that there are times in our lives when we know what is right, we know what we should do, we know the path that we should walk down and yet we do the opposite. Paul is saying that deep down we always know what it right and yet there are times when we do what is wrong. “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it,” Paul said. You fall short, Paul is saying. WE fall short.
We fall short.
We fall short in our jobs, in our friendships, in our families, in our parenting, in our churches, in our marriages and in our day-to-day lives. I can say with confident certainty that everybody feels at one point in their lives that they have fallen short, that they have snapped at someone without meaning to, that they have taken shortcuts on a project just to get it finished in time and that they haven’t made the best decisions, but they have made the easiest decisions. And it is very overwhelming.
“Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul asked.
Who will rescue us from life? Who will help us to make sense of this crazy world that we are living in?
Paul continues, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We are living lives full of grace given to us by God through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And through Jesus Christ, God is rescuing us every single day from this crazy world that we are living in and helping us to make sense of our jobs, our friendships, our families, our parenting, our churches, our marriages and our day-to-day lives.
It is ironic that because of both the Baptism and Communion that I wanted to try to keep my sermon on the shorter side this week and hoped that the text would speak for itself. Because it is through both the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Holy Communion that we have tangible reminder of the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Here is a quick history lesson – the Catholic Church honors seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick (what used to be Last Rites). The United Church of Christ – and this church, The Rehoboth Congregational Church – honors two: Baptism and Holy Communion. Because those are the two sacraments that are eluded to directly in the Gospel. Jesus baptized; Jesus broke bread. And we remembered both today.
We are going to feel like we fall short. We are going to feel overwhelmed. We are going to feel like we aren’t always making the right decisions. But when we witness a baptism, when we are reminded of our own baptisms and when we come together with our friends, we are instantly brought back to the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So instead of getting up here and saying, “You’ve heard the story, think about it,” I think I will close by saying this. “You’ve heard the story. You’ve shared in Christ’s sacraments, in Christ’s vision for the world. Now go live your life of grace.