Our. Father. Matthew 6:7-21

Matthew 6: 7 When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. 8 Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.
9 You should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor
    your name.
10 Come and set up
    your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth
    will obey you,
as you are obeyed
    in heaven.
11 Give us our food for today.
12 Forgive us for doing wrong,
    as we forgive others.
13 Keep us from being tempted
    and protect us from evil.
14 If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 When you go without eating, don’t try to look gloomy as those show-offs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 17 Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then others won’t know that you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.
19 Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. 20 Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21 Your heart will always be where your treasure is.

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How many times have you said this prayer? For some of us, every Sunday of our lives. For others, every day of our lives. It is so familiar that we could say it in our sleep. In fact, when I can’t sleep, this is my go-to prayer, over and over and over.

Many of us learned to say this prayer in the language of the 16th Century: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
We no longer use that form of is/are anymore, nor do we say thy or thee when we mean you or your. And when is the last time you used hallowed in a sentence? The reason we use those archaic forms is because for several centuries the translation ordered by King James of England, a contemporary of Shakespeare, by the way, was the preferred English translation. It is a beautiful translation, still the most poetic of all the English translations. But like much poetry, it is hard to understand when you’re most familiar with 21st Century English.

Language is like a river: it never stays the same. When you stick your foot in the Wapsi, pull it out, and stick it in, it’s the not same river. The water has kept moving, changing. A river like the Wapsi is a great comparison to language; if you go over its bridges as often as I do, you know that the banks, the sandbars, the logs and snags are always changing. Thus, the comparison to language.
Still, enough of these words are familiar to us that we know what we are praying. We are not reciting a foreign language. We are using words to stay in touch with God.

Let’s look first at the first two words. Both are significant.
Our. Our Father. Not my Father. Not just Father. Our Father. That little three-letter word defines God in a way that pulls us out of ourselves and into community. People like to talk about their personal Savior. But this is different. This is one of the most important concepts of Christianity.
\I am reading a book right now, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. The author examines how and why Christianity went from being persecuted by the Roman Empire to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. He offers a variety of theories, but one that applies here is that the Christians met and flourished in communities. Those who worshiped the Roman gods of the time did not meet regularly, or in each others homes, or make a big deal of taking care of each other, ministering to the sick, the alienated, and the poor. The sense of community, the caring that the Christian congregations practiced and modeled may have been one factor that drew pagan worshipers to Christianity.
Our. One of the strengths of this congregation is the sense of community. We gather for a number of reasons, but I know that one that draws us back week after week is knowing that we will be welcomed. We are in this together. We know that to thrive, all of us have to participate. We know that we operate as inspiration to each other, as comfort to each other. We know that this is a safe place to ask for help, to ask for prayer, to ask for advice. We know that this is a safe place to share sorrows and problems as well as joys.
Even when we can’t be here in person, we know we are a part of this group. This is our church, our congregation, our space, our place.

Now. The second word: Father.
We live in a culture that seeks to make a people feel welcome, to make all people feel safe. Hence, political correctness. What does political correctness mean to you? Does it mean a bunch of silly rules that cater to minority groups? How about this definition: the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t get me in trouble. That’s fine, as long as I don’t have to watch what I’m saying. Everybody else can be “pc.” I’m not hurting anything. If you don’t like what I have to say, don’t listen.

What does this have to do with the Lord’s prayer? Sadly, tragically, the word father does not mean the same to everyone. When I think of my father, I think of a wonderful, loving, faithful man who gave me so much that he still influences my decisions. But to some, father means a mean, brutal, abusive man who had power and could hit and hurt without consequence to himself. Father can mean fear and shame and anger to many men and women. So, in this “pc” age, what do we do about those who cringe when they try to imagine a heavenly Father?

Believe it or not, Martin Luther addressed this in the 16th Century. Abusive fathers are not a modern creation. Luther was very much aware of fathers who showed no love and much cruelty toward their children. But he kept the word “Father.”

Why? Luther himself had a demanding, judgmental father whose expectations for Luther did not reflect Luther’s own wishes. But when Luther himself became a father, he was amazed by the depth and intensity of his love for his own children. Luther discovered a God that was more like himself than his own father. He used the words, kind, loving, comforting, joy- giving and learned to know God, not as a judge, but as a source of trust and joy.

Luther recognized that some fathers, like his own, were not loving. But he reflected on Jesus’ prayers at Gethsemane before his death. Jesus was crying out to a God whose love he knew and trusted.
Additionally, Luther recognized the importance of the Christian’s relationship to God. He truly believed that we should ask God “boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, a 19th Century Theologian remarked that…
“If the prayer of our text had not been dictated by the Lord Jesus himself, we might think it too bold.

Luther emphasizes that we should always turn first to God for help. No one else has promised to always hear us, to help us, to strengthen us. Luther also noted that we should be aware that God’s help comes in the form of humans sent by God.

Let’s look at one more phrase: Hallowed be your name. By praying to God we are acknowledging that he is holy to us and we are reminding ourselves that we want to live holy lives. If we hallow God’s name, if we respect God’s name, we are establishing a right relationship with God. The Contemporary English Version makes this clearer:
Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. This reminds us of the Second Commandment
7 Do not misuse my name. I am the Lord your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name.
The Lord’s Prayer is amazing. I sometimes think it should be the only prayer we use. Jesus taught it to us because he knew we needed help with praying. He put everything we needed in our lives into that one prayer.
7 When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. 8 Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.

Every Sunday, we have a part in our service that we call “Prayers of the People.” In some churches, these prayers are read from a book. They are long and cover every possible subject. In our services, I pray from the heart to address whatever is on my mind or brought to my attention.

Religion professor Richard Swanson points out that…
It matters that it is a little prayer. The storyteller says pagans are impressed by battalogia and polulogia. Babbling and long-winded wordiness are useful if the Deity demands groveling before deigning to respond. Babbling and long-winded wordiness are useful if what really matters is preening religious practice. I am the child of people who believe that directness and simple honesty matter, and that elaborate protocol is a sign of dishonesty. “Don’t try to snow me” might be our family motto. It’s refreshing to hear that Matthew’s Jesus could belong to our family. “God your father knows what you need,” he says. “He knows it before you ask, so don’t try to snow him.” Prayer trusts the nearness and readiness of God. That is worth remembering.
The Lord’s Prayer gives us something we need: a direct, immediate connection to God. And we know it is “politically correct” because Jesus taught it to us. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Called, Gathered, Enlightened, Sanctified

The Third Article. Of Sanctification.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;
but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith;
even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith;
in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers,
and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead,
and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life.
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One of the things that fascinates me about the Church is how it operates. A group of people get together on a regular basis, for a number of purposes. And this has been happening for centuries! That is not unique to Christianity, but it does, among modern religions, seem to be unique to the Abrahamic religions.
Are you familiar with that term, Abrahamic? Three major religions claim a direct connection to the patriarch, Abraham, husband of Sarah, lover of Hagar, father of Issac and Ishmael, grandfather of Jacob and Esau. Jews consider themselves to be literal descendants of Abraham. Christians consider themselves to be spiritual descendants of Abraham through Jesus, and Muslims are traditionally descended from Ishmael.
So, the majority of religions have much more in common than we acknowledge. That makes it all the more ironic that Muslims have been fighting Christians since the Middle Ages. If you recall your school history lessons, you remember that The First Crusade was the brainchild of The Pope in 1095 to recapture The Holy Lands from the Muslims. That war continues to this day.
Being a major component in a war seems antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, but religion ends up on a slippery slope when it is mixed in with government. The Church, especially when it is synonymous and simultaneous with the state government, is easily swept into war. How many Jews and Muslims have been murdered by Christians? How many Christians have been murdered by Jews and Muslims?
Does this seem like part of our family tree? It seems foreign to me, not because wars are fought on foreign soils, but because we, as members of a congregation, don’t wage war against anyone.
When I think of The Church, I think of peaceful settings, of quiet meditation, of joyful worship. I thinking of concern and caring and genuine love.
Luther’s description of the Spirit’s work as calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying the whole Christian Church on earth is the church I think of when I think Christian Church.
We often lament that we don’t have more people who are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified sitting in the pews with us. On the other hand, our small size is one of the strengths of our community. It’s really hard to be invisible in this group. Community is the face of Christianity, the work of Christianity, the earthly benefit of Christianity.
I need to be reminded, and I’m guessing you do, too, that we can’t take all the credit for the awesomeness of our congregation. We’ve worked hard, prayed hard, to make our congregation a presence in the community. If you’re like me, you keep track of all the things you’ve done for this congregation. You’ve cleaned the church, you’ve ushered, you’ve made blankets, you’ve visited people, you’ve made desserts, you serve on council, you bring stuff for the food pantry.
That reminds me: I heard from a friend of mind who is pastor of a little church up in Akron, Iowa. Their congregation is about ten years old. They take pictures of every single thing they do. They have filled albums full of pictures, big thick albums of ordinary people doing rather ordinary things.
We could do that. We should do that. We should recognize the work we do in the community, not to brag, but to be thankful for what we can do. And to direct that thanks t0 the true source of our success: the Holy Spirit.
Another great thing about our congregation, about any congregation, is that everyone, no exceptions, can work for the good of the congregation and for the good of the Kingdom. We are alike in many ways, but we are also very different from each other. Each of us has learned to be good at some tasks and to avoid other tasks. So, how can we work harmoniously? Paul puts it beautifully in Romans 12.
Romans 12 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
12 4 A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use.
5 That’s how it is with us.
There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another.
6 God has also given each of us different gifts to use.
If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have.
7 If we can serve others, we should serve.
If we can teach, we should teach.
8 If we can encourage others, we should encourage them.
If we can give, we should be generous.
If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.
You don’t have to be a scholar or a musician or a baker. You can be kind. You can encourage. You can lead. You can listen. There are so many ways to be an active member of this congregation.
Think about the original disciples that traveled with Jesus. As far as we know, none of them were doctors or rabbis or cooks. They came from ordinary back grounds.
Matthew 4:18-22 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
18 While Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers. One was Simon, also known as Peter, and the other was Andrew. They were fishermen, and they were casting their net into the lake. 19 Jesus said to them, “Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.” 20 Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
21 Jesus walked on until he saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat with their father, mending their nets. Jesus asked them to come with him too. 22 Right away they left the boat and their father and went with Jesus.
Matthew 9:9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
9 As Jesus was leaving, he saw a tax collector named Matthew sitting at the place for paying taxes. Jesus said to him, “Come with me.” Matthew got up and went with him.
John 1:35-51 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
40 One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.”
42 Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter.”
43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he met Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.”
45 Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
None of the original disciples was trained in theology, in doctrine, in public speaking. I bet Peter and Andrew couldn’t read or write. Yet, they became the foundation of the church. They established the church on earth, not with money or power or dogma, but with passion and devotion and faith.
Those same assets are available to us, again, in the same way they were available to the first disciples.
John 14:26 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
26 But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you.
We are no less prepared, no less able than those dusty-sandaled, ragged-robed men—and women—who were mesmerized by Jesus centuries ago.
We are a community, not because we have membership perks. Belonging to this church does not get us discounts at local establishments, nor does it qualify us for cheaper insurance. Belonging to this congregation does not make us better or protect us from the rest of the population. Nonetheless, we know that we have something greater than a constitution, a set of rules, a piece of paper.
We are a part of the whole Christian Church on earth, called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, who keeps us in the one true faith.
We exist, we thrive through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Not By Myself John 16: 1-15 Romans 8:26-39

Romans 8 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
26 In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. 27 All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. 28 We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, 29 and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children. 30 God then accepted the people he had already decided to choose, and he has shared his glory with them.
31 What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? 32 God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? 33 If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? 34 Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. 35 Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? 36 It is exactly as the Scriptures say,
“For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered.”
37 In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. 38 I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, 39 and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!
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John16 I am telling you this to keep you from being afraid. 2 You will be chased out of the Jewish meeting places. And the time will come when people will kill you and think they are doing God a favor. 3 They will do these things because they don’t know either the Father or me. 4 I am saying this to you now, so that when the time comes, you will remember what I have said.
I was with you at the first, and so I didn’t tell you these things. 5 But now I am going back to the Father who sent me, and none of you asks me where I am going. 6 You are very sad from hearing all of this. 7 But I tell you that I am going to do what is best for you. That is why I am going away. The Holy Spirit cannot come to help you until I leave. But after I am gone, I will send the Spirit to you.
8 The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God’s justice and the judgment. 9 The Spirit will show them that they are wrong about sin, because they didn’t have faith in me. 10 They are wrong about God’s justice, because I am going to the Father, and you won’t see me again. 11 And they are wrong about the judgment, because God has already judged the ruler of this world.
12 I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you could understand. 13 The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn’t speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen. 14 The Spirit will bring glory to me by taking my message and telling it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine. That is why I have said that the Spirit takes my message and tells it to you.
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Do it myself. Every child reaches a point where “Do it myself” becomes a point of pride, a mode of operation, a way of thinking. It is a vital step in development when a child can figure out his own autonomy. The first thing a child learns to do without help is hold her bottle. Then, day after day, the child learns to feed himself, dress herself, and before you know it that child has learned to drive himself or herself to school and back.
The child does not learn these tasks without help. The parent holds the bottle for the infant. Eventually the infant learns to put little hands around the bottle, and as the child grows stronger, he is able to use hands and arms to support the bottle. That reminds me of my own grandson, of course. Walter likes to use a pacifier. At first we had to put it in his mouth. Then he could put it in his mouth by himself. His mother keeps the pacifiers in a kitchen drawer. Walter pulls open the drawer, but he is too short to see into the drawer: however, he reaches over his head to find the pacifiers, pulls them out one at a time, tries each one, then chooses one, pops it in his mouth, and closes the drawer.
So it goes. Walter will some day forgo his pacifier and he will be able to do all kinds of things for himself. But he will always need someone to teach him, to encourage him, to help him, to inspire him.
We live in a culture that values independence. We are taught to admire “self-made” people. We are taught to achieve our goals through our own hard work. We are taught, subliminally perhaps, not to ask for help. Perhaps that is why we, as a citizens, are more inclined to admire competition than cooperation.
Jesus, on the other hand, taught us to ask for help. Jesus, because he experienced life as a human being, knew that we can’t always work alone. Jesus knew what it was like to need food or a place to sleep. I imagine one of the tasks of his disciples was to find food and lodging for the group as they wandered from place to place. They had to ask for help.
In today’s scripture, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his departure. He is expecting them to continue his work, to continue sharing his message.He knows that they are sometimes afraid. He knows that they don’t fully understand his teachings. It would be great if he could continue living on earth, and all the disciples would have to do was take care of him. But that wasn’t Jesus’ plan.
It was time to turn the work over to the disciples. They would become the teachers and the preachers. Jesus knows that the disciples don’t always understand what he is trying to accomplish. They don’t understand the concept of God’s kingdom. They don’t understand the super-logic of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
12 I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you could understand. 13 The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn’t speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen.
Jesus is prepared. He can assure the disciples that the Spirit will support them and give them the knowledge, wisdom, and courage to continue to build the Kingdom.
Imagine the disciples’ trepidation, after watching Jesus draw crowds of thousands of people. Imagine their doubt that they could speak as beautifully or eloquently. Imagine their fear that no one would listen to them. And imagine their reluctance as they recalled how Jesus had been harassed by community leaders. And imagine their terror when they remember Jesus’ arrest, prosecution, and execution.
According to tradition, all of them experienced harassment, prosecution, and death for sharing the Good News.
And they weren’t the last ones to suffer for sharing the Gospel. In every century, followers of Jesus have been persecuted. A couple Sunday’s ago, we listened to the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr who died at the hands of the Nazi regime because he refused to compromise Scripture to fit Nazi ideals.
How many Christians today are meeting in secret because their government has forbidden them to “be” Christians? One of my favorite “success” stories is the Christian church in China. China has allowed Christianity to exist, but the churches have to be registered with and regulated by the government. Consequently, “house churches” have sprung up. Originally, according to what I have read, the house churches could have not more than 25 people gather at a time. Consequently, more groups of 25 sprang up. The latest information I read said that the now there are groups of 300 meeting for worship. The congregations are not allowed to own property, so they meet in rented buildings.
Persecution is more violent in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Nepal, and Pakistan. Yet Christians still meet to worship in all those places. When I hear some mainline media sources say that there is a war on Christianity in this country, I shake my head. Who has been arrested here for saying Merry Christmas? Who has gone to jail for putting a nativity set in their front yard? We have no idea in this country what it is like to be persecuted for our faith. We may have been made fun of for our reluctance to break the Ten Commandments. But persecuted? Not at all. The next time you go to the grocery store, look for crosses around peoples’ necks. If you can wear that cross openly in public, you are living in a pretty safe place.
Nonetheless, we still need the Spirit because wearing a cross or going to church doesn’t make you a follower of Jesus. It’s more complicated than that. It requires total devotion, 24/7. So how many of us remember that Jesus is counting on us 24/7?
Not me. I can’t do it alone. Jesus knew that. Jesus knew that I would ignore him, ignore the commandments. Jesus knew that I would forget that I am a baptized Child of God. And furthermore, Jesus knew I would not be able to understand Scripture by myself.
God, in God’s infinite wisdom, Jesus, in his infinite love sent the Spirit to us to give us knowledge, wisdom, and courage to continue to build the Kingdom.
When we are confronted with the choice of making our Christian faith obvious or  blending in with the crowd, we can call on the Spirit. When we get disgusted with our leaders, we can curse them or, with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, we an pray for them. When we despair over family members, we can desert them or we can pray for them. When we are mistreated in the workplace, we can retaliate or we can try to imitate Jesus.
But we also need the Spirit to guide our own personal understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Can we rely solely on the writings of theologians and scholars who have explained scripture to us over the centuries? Are we content to rely on apple sauce, easy-to-swallow, or can we bite into the apple of Scripture and chew it for ourselves?
In other words, is the Spirit still working in us?
I say, “Yes.” Luther said, “Yes,” five hundred years ago.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;
In other words, your faith, your ability to understand Scripture, hymns, sermons, does not rely on your own intelligence. It is the Spirit, not your own intellectual ability, that allows you to understand when you read and hear Scripture.
You do not have to have a Master’s degree or an IQ of 140 to understand Scripture. We wouldn’t teach our children about Jesus if we thought they had to be able to understand content so challenging that scholars are still debating the finer points of Scripture. We trust the Holy Spirit to give us, at any age, an understanding of God’s plan for us and Jesus’ love for us.
Additionally, the Spirit makes sure that our understanding is age-appropriate. What you learned as a child about Jesus has matured as you continued to engage Scripture as truth, as a source for daily living. The Holy Spirit will never stop nurturing your faith.
I, at age 69, am entering seminary. Will I be able to read a whole chapter without dozing off? Will I be able to write papers that are logical and based on scholarship? Will I be able to understand the writings of theologians who have devoted their whole lives to studying Scripture? I will tell you with all sincerity that the only way I can answer “Yes” to any of those questions is to trust the Holy Spirit to fill me with intellectual caffeine, to guide my fingers, and to wake up thousands of dormant brain cells.
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.
but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
Amen.

Sin No More

Romans 6 12 Don’t let sin rule your body. After all, your body is bound to die, so don’t obey its desires 13 or let any part of it become a slave of evil. Give yourselves to God, as people who have been raised from death to life. Make every part of your body a slave that pleases God. 14 Don’t let sin keep ruling your lives. You are ruled by God’s kindness and not by the Law.
15 What does all this mean? Does it mean we are free to sin, because we are ruled by God’s wonderful kindness and not by the Law? Certainly not! 16 Don’t you know that you are slaves of anyone you obey? You can be slaves of sin and die, or you can be obedient slaves of God and be acceptable to him. 17 You used to be slaves of sin. But I thank God that with all your heart you obeyed the teaching you received from me. 18 Now you are set free from sin and are slaves who please God.
John 8: 3 The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses brought in a woman who had been caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. They made her stand in the middle of the crowd. 4 Then they said, “Teacher, this woman was caught sleeping with a man who isn’t her husband. 5 The Law of Moses teaches that a woman like this should be stoned to death! What do you say?”
6 They asked Jesus this question, because they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him. But Jesus simply bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger.
7 They kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” 8 Once again he bent over and began writing on the ground. 9 The people left one by one, beginning with the oldest. Finally, Jesus and the woman were there alone.
10 Jesus stood up and asked her, “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?”
11 “No sir,” the woman answered.
Then Jesus told her, “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”
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Being a woman myself, I think a lot about how awful that woman must have felt, being singled out by the moral leaders of her community. Caught in the last place she should have been. I noticed that whoever was her partner in the crime was of no concern to the Pharisees. Was she set up so that they could mess with Jesus? What was it like to be thrust into the middle of the crowd? Was she wishing they would stone her and get it over with? Would being dead be any worse than being humiliated? Where could she go after this? Would she be welcome at home? Would she be kicked out of the community? Did she have children? a husband? Whose idea was it to jump into bed, his or hers?
It’s easy to say that wrong is wrong; the details don’t matter. Sin is sin.
It’s not that simple.

Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, once spoke to an audience of 200 pastors. He asked them, “Is it possible to build so large a house that the house is sinful in the eyes of God?” Raise your hand if you think so. Every pastor raised a hand.
He next asked, “Then at what precise square footage does the house become sinful?”
Several moments of silence filled the room. Finally, one pastor quietly said, “When it’s bigger than mine.” (Frank G. Honeycutt, “Captives in the land of the free,” Living Lutheran, July 2018.)

That’s the thing about sin. When I sin, I have a good reason. When you sin, whatever it is, I judge you and wish you wouldn’t sin so much. Or I accuse you, probably not directly, but indirectly, through gossip. In other words, my house is just the right size for two people. But yours, which is 500 square feet larger, is extravagant and wasteful. Wouldn’t it be interesting to make a list of the square footages of each of our houses and rank them? Whose house would be just the right size? Whose would be too big?
Maybe it’s not your house. How else do we judge people? We can judge people by how they spend their money. Those people spend too much on cigarettes. Those people spend too much on cars. Those people spend too much on restaurants. Those people spend too much on entertainment.

I’ve observed that we are quicker to see the sins of others than we are to see the good in them. While it’s easy to ignore our own sins, we can almost automatically detect the sins of others. I am one of those who is more likely to accuse than confess. It is so easy for me to see the wrong that others do.

I see this especially in that odd mixture of practice and perception of other’s beliefs and values. We not only disagree with people; we treat them as if their opinions are sinful, thus making them sinful. We label people as snowflakes or deplorables; words like liberal and conservative become insults instead of simple descriptors. And how many times have I heard the word “politics” used as if it were a kind of intellectual crime instead of a means for people to work together for the common good.

When I think about this woman, obviously a sinner, dragged before Jesus, I wonder what it would be like for me to be dragged before Jesus in front of everybody to have my sins publicly displayed. Which of my sins would cause someone else to drag me before Jesus?
Think for a minute. Imagine yourself being dragged into church or into your favorite restaurant or ball game where Jesus has gathered a bunch of people together. Imagine being observed, caught, and dragged into public. Imagine having one specific sin used to persecute and prosecute you. You are standing there. Look around at the crowd. Listen to your accusers. What are they saying about you? Look at Jesus. Is he shaking his head, pointing his finger at you? Or is he waiting for the accusers to go away? Is he waiting for the crowd to lose interest? Imagine Jesus saying to you, “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?” And you say, “No, Jesus.”
As you stand there, you know you are guilty and you wait for Jesus to lecture you on your sinfulness, your shamelessness, your carelessness, your greed, your selfishness, whatever sin you have committed. You know you deserve to be lectured, to be scolded, to be punished. You wait. Will you be stoned? Will you be whipped? Will you be kicked out of town? Will you be asked to pick up trash along roadside ditches? Will you be sent to jail? Will you have to pay a fine? There are so many ways to respond to sin. How does Jesus respond?
“I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

That’s it? No punishment? No consequence?

Here’s the Good News: Jesus says the same thing to us. You are forgiven. But don’t sin anymore.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 6:
12 Don’t let sin rule your body. After all, your body is bound to die, so don’t obey its desires 13 or let any part of it become a slave of evil. Give yourselves to God, as people who have been raised from death to life. Make every part of your body a slave that pleases God. 14 Don’t let sin keep ruling your lives. You are ruled by God’s kindness and not by the Law.
15 What does all this mean? Does it mean we are free to sin, because we are ruled by God’s wonderful kindness and not by the Law? Certainly not! 16 Don’t you know that you are slaves of anyone you obey? You can be slaves of sin and die, or you can be obedient slaves of God and be acceptable to him. 17 You used to be slaves of sin. But I thank God that with all your heart you obeyed the teaching you received from me. 18 Now you are set free from sin and are slaves who please God.

Professor David Bartlett,(Professor of New Testament Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Georgia) explains Paul’s words in this way:
For Paul the idea of a sinful baptized person is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. “You are dead to sin,” says Paul, “so stop acting as if you were capable of sin. Be who you are.”(http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx? commentary_id=66)

Be who you are. You are not just a human being. You are a saved, believing human being. You love Jesus, you follow Jesus, you believe what Jesus says. Act like it.

We are set free from sin because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer the consequences of sin. We know that our sins often come back to visit us in misunderstanding, lost friendships, and, if that sin is recognized by our government, we can be fined or imprisoned. But we do act differently because of Jesus death and resurrection. We strive to be like him, acting with gratitude rather than envy, acting with generosity rather than selfishness. Instead of following the crowd, we follow the Ten Commandments. Instead of living according to the standards we see on television, we live according to the standards Jesus gave us: Love God. Love one another. All the “one anothers.”

“You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

I wonder if that admonition from Jesus turned the woman’s life around and she never did anything wrong ever again. How would her life have changed?

“You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

What if, when we shared Holy Communion, I said in blessing, “Go and sin no more.”

And what if you didn’t sin? What if only twenty of us never sinned again? How would that change our community?

We are weak. We are careless. I find that sinning is almost automatic, because I’ve been doing the same things over and over without examining my own life thoroughly enough. As I’ve prepared to enter seminary, I’ve had to do a lot of self- examination, but no where on the application have I been asked to list my sins. I’ve been asked to describe my “growing edges”—that’s the latest jargon for “Where do you need to improve?” But sins? Nobody is worried about my sins.
God worried about my sins, about my sinful life, so God found a solution: Jesus. Jesus—all human and all God—is the only way I can escape from my sinfulness. Because I am forgiven, I am free to consciously, deliberately turn from sin and turn to the world as a follower of Jesus. Let me have the courage and the conscience to always ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” In other words, how will I be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus in this world that sees sin as irrelevant, that sees sin as necessary, in a world that sees sin as relative?

It is not easy to be a Christian. We hear that label, that moniker thrown around a lot, especially on the media. It is dangerous to let the media define us, to define what Christianity is. Let us be diligent in our own practice, in our study, in our own worship and follow Jesus minute by minute.

God gives us every possible means to live whole, sinless lives. He gave us Jesus; he gives us strength. We have a gift. May we use God’s gifts in every moment of our lives. Amen.