Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Really Good News

Sermon preached June 3, 2012

Texts: Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

This past week I attended the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting in St. Cloud. It is a busy time for me. Even before conference started this year, I facilitated a conversation about social justice legislation. I serve as the conference parliamentarian, which means I sit on the dais next to the bishop as she presides at the plenary sessions. I advise her, when she asks, on parliamentary procedure and help in other ways as requested. As a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry, I attended breakfast with those being ordained on Thursday morning, and I played a small role in the ordination service that evening. I don’t have a lot of spare time.
One of the things that means is that I miss most of the news while I am at Annual Conference, perhaps only picking up a snippet here or there. When I get home, I try and review the newspapers to see what has been happening in the world. Even a cursory glance through the papers can be kind of depressing. “Fears Mount in Egypt Over Outcome of Presidential Election.” Shootings in Seattle. “Suicide Attacks Target Police in Afghanistan.” “Third Massacre Points to Further Deterioration in Syria.” “A dismal jobs report Friday rekindled fears that the economy is stumbling.” “Pavano Pounded in Cleveland” – and the Twins are 4-6 in their last ten games. A couple of significant people in the Duluth community – Meg Bye and Gary Gordon died.
Much of the news that gets reported is bad news, certainly not all the news, but much of the news.
So how about some good news, some really good news, some really good news that is intended to make a difference in your life?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
How often we have heard these words, so often, in fact, I am guessing that for many of us they have almost lost the power to be really good news. I hope we can hear them again as good news.
Maybe if we add on a related thought. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
God so loved the world – the world, you me, the world – everyone. God’s love was embodied powerfully in Jesus, as Christians we think this is quite a unique sharing of God’s love for all. Jesus, in whom God’s wisdom and power is embodied, gives himself over to this work of love by teaching, healing, freeing, feeding, welcoming. He gives himself completely to this work of love and ends up dying for it. But the power of love cannot be kept down, cannot be finally crucified, but rises.
And the welcoming word of Jesus is the word of God’s love, amazingly stated by Paul – we are children of God, heirs of God just like Jesus. We are part of the family of God and like Jesus in that respect – a joint heir of God’s goodness with Jesus.
Roman society was a very stratified society, and one key identifying characteristic of your social status was who your father was. Romans were privileged. High level Romans were even more privileged. Paul is saying that no matter who your earthly father was or is, no matter your social standing, in Jesus you call God your Father, your parent. That’s whose child you are. This is really good news.
And how do we divide up people in our society, making decisions about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, who is favored and who is not? Sometimes we have used racial-ethnic categories. Sometimes we have used family categories. Sometimes we have used gender. Sometimes we have used sexual orientation. Sometimes we have used past behavior. Sometimes we have used immigration status. Sometimes we have used physical characteristics. Sometimes we have used economic status. The really good news is this –these do not matter when it comes to God’s love. God so loved us all, that we are invited to see that we, too, are part of the family of God, joint heirs with Christ.
Nothing need get in the way of God’s love for you and your primary identity as a beloved person in Jesus Christ. This is really good news.
I was able to hear this news powerfully again this week. Leia Williams was our Conference coordinator for promoting Imagine No Malaria. Leia is a young woman born in Arkansas, whose appearance and voice make her seem even younger than she is. As she was celebrating with us that the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church has in funds raised and pledges committed $2.5 million to Imagine No Malaria over the next three years ($20,000 pledged by us, of which we have raised $3,100 dollars), she also shared some of the story of her faith. Leia grew up in a church where women were not allowed to speak. It was a church that believed that God cleansed you at the moment of your baptism, but then it was your job to be worthy of that. By her teens, Leia felt that she would never be worthy, especially as a woman. She had pretty much given up on church by the time she went to college. In college she was invited to participate in a play sponsored by a United Methodist Church. She was hesitant, but since the play was not about Jesus, she felt safe enough. The people there welcomed her warmly and encouraged her to come to church some time. She didn’t, but really appreciated their warmth. On a trip home, her mother, now attending another church than the church of Leia’s youth, asked Leia if she wanted to go. Turns out it was the same kind of church that had sponsored the play. Leia says she went with her mother and for the first time in her life heard a sermon about grace – God’s love inviting us to be God’s children and being “worthy” had nothing to do with it. For God so love the world – everyone. In Jesus we are children of God, joint heirs with Christ.
Have you been beat down or beat up by some social category of worthiness? Do you feel unloved, unlovable, unworthy – even in some part of your life? I have some really good news. God so loves you that God wants to adopt you as one of God’s own – just because you are. Good news, really good news. Amen.

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