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“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)
In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. “There is therefore now no condemnation…” It doesn’t matter what the world thinks. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t even matter what God thinks, because God has said he isn’t going to think about it anymore. All he thinks now is Jesus bloody, Jesus dead, Jesus risen. And God’s Jesus-thinking is now ALL your life.
Christ Jesus thinking, Christ Jesus grace, Christ Jesus life that Christ-Jesus’ our celebration of life. “Let us eat, and celebrate, for my son was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.” Indeed, our Lord doing his Christ Jesusing FOR YOU is the celebration of life. His love FOR YOU relentlessly hounds all the non-celebrants in the world. This is what the Church, the communion of saints is all about. A floating, universal blowout singing its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its Calvary absolutions to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigal sons and daughters come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears to hear the truth about life… That Jesus came to raise the dead.
Jesus did not come to improve the improvable, perfect the perfectible, or teach the teachable. He came to raise the dead. In fact, he never met a corpse that didn’t sit right up then and there. And he never meets us without bringing us out of our lostness, littleness and deadness into the joyous freedom of his resurrection…
But if we are ever to enter fully into the glorious freedom of the children of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about Christian freedom than we do: of Christ’s gifts of Baptism, of his body and blood, of abundant absolution. Sadly, the church has, by and large, had a poor record of encouraging Christian freedom. It has spent far too much time encouraging and injecting into us the fear of making mistakes. The church’s leaders have worked at making us think and behave like poorly-taught piano students. We play our pieces, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music, but to avoid some flub that will earn us a wrap on the knuckles. The church, having put itself in the place of a hovering parent, has been so afraid we will lose sight of the laws of good taste and good behavior that it has made us care more about how we look than about who we are. It has taught us that we ought to act more like the subjects of a police state than free citizens of heaven with the saints.
At present, the church that claims for itself Luther’s name and teachings has become the very thing he taught against. You see, the Reformation was a time when people went blind-staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medieval piety, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace–of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture that will indiscriminately convert anyone. One drink will clear your sin-muddled senses to reveal a God who saves us single-handed with his blood. The Word of the Gospel, after all those centuries of believers trying to lift themselves up into heaven by worrying about the perfection of their own bootstraps, suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that those redeemed by the blood of Christ were home free even before they started.
Grace with Jesus’ name on the bottle is drunk neat. No water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale. Neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super-spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case. The message of the Lutheran Reformation was and is the message of Christ. That God is for sinners, for suffering and conflicted people. Christ on the cross became sin FOR YOU and in this way meets you in your suffering and conflicts, not in the promise to take them away. He is simply with you in all your times.
But we have given up gulping from the cup of Christ’s suffering and death. We have allowed hand-wringing religious house-wrecking to replace Gospel home-building as our primary joy. We don’t debate about what pertains to eternal life and salvation, but about the shape of the negotiating table. At present, we prefer to sit on the porch in our moralizing rockers instead of going in to explore the house of faith. We are so busy sampling the predictable little mints and Cheez-Whiz coated crackers on the buffet of our works that we have ruined our appetite for the startling flavors and large portions of the Supper of the Lamb. In short, in the church that bears Luther’s name, we have lost the war between dullness and astonishment.
So now, when God does his Christ-Jesusing FOR YOU it is considered to be wildly irreligious stuff. In a church that’s grown bored with grace that’s more than enough to get him kicked out of the God union that the religious bureaucrats, loud-mouthed pulpiteers and church-growth gurus have formed to keep him on his divine toes so he won’t let the riffraff off scot-free. If you join them though, if all you can think of is God as the Eternal Bookkeeper putting down black marks against sinners, or God as the Celestial Mother-in-Law giving a crystal vase as a present and then inspecting it for chips every time she comes for a visit, well, any serious talk of God’s grace is going to scare you right out of your pious rockers.
Why? Because no matter how much we give lip service to the idea of Christ Jesus grace, and Christian freedom, and God’s dying love, we do not like it. It is just too … indiscriminate. It’s too unconditional. It lets rotten sons and crooked tax farmers and common prostitutes into the kingdom. And, worse, it thumbs its nose at really good people. And it does that for no more reason than the Gospel’s shabby elevation of dumb trust over worthy works. “That’s such nonsense,” we mutter in our hearts. “Such heartless, immoral foolishness.” “We’ll teach God,” we say. “We will continue to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ in church, but we will be extra judicious when it comes to explaining to the riffraff what grace actually means. We will assure them, of course, that God loves them and forgives them, but we will make it clear that we expect them to clean up their act before we welcome them into full membership. We do not want whores and chiselers and practicing gays (even if they are suffering with AIDS) thinking they can just barge in here and fraternize with us. Above all, we do not want drunk pastors, or pastors who cheat on their wives with church organists, standing up there in the pulpit telling us that God forgives such bad behavior. We never did such things! Why, we can hardly even bear to think about it let alone be forced to sit quietly and listen to it described for us from the pulpit.”
We resent finding ourselves at the butt-end of the divine joke of grace that says nothing matters except plain, old, Christ Jesus thinking, Christ Jesus grace, Christ Jesus life. And when we turn that resentment into a God union then we give the impression that the church is not for sinners and those who argue against the unconditional Gospel. Then we are a disgrace to the Gospel. We are under judgment. Oh, sure, we say we believe. But what we believe is largely a hobby horse of our own workmanship. A system in our heads that will make the world safe for democracy, and for thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent ex-sinners.
But it doesn’t matter that this is what the world thinks of us. It doesn’t matter that this is what other people think of us. And, of course, it doesn’t matter that this is what you think of yourselves. It doesn’t even matter what God thinks, because God has said he isn’t going to think about it anymore. All he thinks now is Jesus bloodied, Jesus dead, Jesus risen. And God’s Jesus-thinking is now ALL your life. Christ Jesus thinking, Christ Jesus grace, Christ Jesus life that Christ-Jesus’ our celebration of life with the water, and the words, and the bread and the wine, because, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” AMEN.