the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 6. 12-23
We aren’t “saved” because we always do what’s right and never do anything wrong … We’re saved because god loves us!

It was 1960 and I was in kindergarten. It was, also, the year I made my television debut! For one week, I appeared with five other five-year-olds on Romper Room in living black-and-white! I don’t remember what we did, that week. But I still remember one of the songs we sang …

I always do what’s right/ I never do anything wrong
I’m a Romper Room Do Bee/ A Do Bee all day long

Then there was a long list of dos and don’ts …

Do be a sidewalk player; don’t be a street player
Do be a car sitter; don’t be a car stander
Do be a plate cleaner; don’t be a food fussy
Do be a play safe; don’t be a match toucher

(And we thought the Smurfs were bad!) But that’s the way it was, back in the early days of television. Even more, that’s the way it was in the 1950s, here in the good old days! Looking back, now, we can see it was all about obedience. Following the rules. Always doing what’s right. Never doing what’s wrong. Of course, the number one movie of the decade was … The Ten Commandments! The epic, the blockbuster starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner! Anne Baxter and Yvonne deCarlo! Three hours and forty minutes of Cecile B deMille at his best!

But it was this movie – even more than the church – that taught us what to look for, what to expect, when we read the book! Look for the drama! Expect special effects! And, of course, there’s the obedience! Always the obedience! After all, it is about commandments! And we’re still dancing to the tune that film played! Ten Commandments on a courtroom wall! Ten Commandments on the courthouse square! Even today, when a congregation wants to make a statement to its neighborhood, it sticks signs in the yard listing all ten! The over-achievers among us, adding two more from Jesus!

I always do what’s right/ I never do anything wrong
I’m a Romper Room Do Bee/ A Do Bee all day long

That was the church in which we grew up! Everything so easy, so simple. Black-and-white! Wrong-or-right! Evil-or-good! With nothing – NOTHING – in between!

But, you know, I wonder if that’s not when the church began its decline. Its slow, steady slide. When numbers began to decrease. When prestige began to wane. Sure, we got “under god” added to the Pledge. And yes, we adopted “In God We Trust” as our motto. But I can’t help but wonder that it was that obedience thing, that blind allegiance to the Ten Commandments, that in the end, wound up doing us in.

You see, faith – real faith – real, honest-to-god believing – isn’t about doing right or not doing wrong. In fact, it has nothing to do with doing, at all! Faith – here in the church … Faith, here among god’s own … is about being loved! Being loved and believing in that love! Being loved and trusting it! Relying on it! Staking our lives on it! And sharing it with everyone around us! Just! Like! Jesus! Go back to the first words of today’s reading … “I don’t understand my own actions!” “I don’t understand my own actions,” he writes, “I don’t do what I want, but[, instead,] I do the very thing I hate!” It’s isn’t a DoBee/Don’tBee kind of thing! And it, certainly, isn’t about being obedient! And this isn’t just one of us saying it … It’s Paul! The apostle! If he can’t do it, what gives us the idea we can!?!

That’s what it means to be captive, to be in bondage, to sin! What it means not to be able to free ourselves! For some reason, we’re stuck. Doing what we shouldn’t! Not doing what we should! And to us as Americans! To us as go-getters! To us as movers and shakers! It just doesn’t make sense! Why judgement? Why heaven? If we can’t do it? Why hell? Why damnation? What’s the point? What’s the purpose? And so, we anchor faith on what does make sense … the Ten Commandments! Obedience! But this is where we get it wrong! This is where we get it all wrong!

It’s not about the Ten Commandments! It’s not about judgment! It’s not about obedience! It’s about love! It’s about grace and mercy! It’s about charity and forgiveness! As Americans, we’re terrified of people getting something they don’t deserve! We’ve fixated – obsessed – that they’ll be given something, anything, they haven’t earned! And somehow, if that should happen, our world would come tumbling down! Socialism, we call it! Communism! And so, we drive past beggars standing on street corners, for that very reason! We ignore them and theirs, for their own good! And yet, here it is – the truth – staring us straight in the eye. And we pretend it just doesn’t exist! Pretend it just isn’t there! “I don’t understand,” Paul writes, “I just don’t get it!” I don’t! I can’t! I won’t! What I want! What I don’t want!

As Christians … As church … we live with the confusion. With the uncertainty. It reminds us that life isn’t something we earn! Life’s not something we deserve! It’s a gift! It’s all a gift! Not a gift we give ourselves like we see in ads. But a gift given us by other people! A gift we give other people! A gift god gives us all! Not a something-for-something; but a something-for-absolutely nothing!

We talk a lot about American exceptionalism. About being the brightest and the best. That all people want to be here! That all people would rather be us! And I guess, in some ways, that’s still true! In spite of us, the Statue of Liberty still waits for the tired and poor! For the wretched refuse yearning to breath free! For a while, though, she’s just been looking in the wrong direction, across the wrong sea. However … However, as the church here in the U.S., we leave a lot to be desired. As the church, we’re far from being that city on a hill! That lamp on the lampstand! I think it’s because we’ve forgotten the love! Forgotten it or ignore it! No! For us, it’s all about obedience! All about example and not gift! But those aren’t the things that save us! Example! Obedience! And contrary to popular opinion, we’re not, even, saved by believing! We’re saved by being loved! We’re saved because we’re loved! Loved not because of; but loved in spite of!

It’s okay to be patriotic! To love your home! To be proud of where you come from! It’s natural! Human! Just as it’s okay to question your home! To challenge it to be better, more! Here in America, there’s a wall of separation between church and state, between religion and politics! At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work! Church doesn’t talk politics! State doesn’t talk religion! Here, there’s two kingdoms! America is America; America isn’t church! And church is church, it’s not America! For one, it’s law; for the other, love! For one, it’s the flag; for the other, a cross! For one, it’s the people; for the other, a cross! For America, life is crystal, clear! For the church – for the kingdom – we just don’t understand … What we do … why we do it … But the one thing we do understand! The one thing that, for us, is crystal and is clear! Is god’s love for us! God’s love for us all! Life is a gift! And as Paul ends the reading … “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Lord!”

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ King!

MLC sunday morning worship 7.5.2020

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, July 5, 2020