When We Were Still Sinners (Sermon for May 26, 2019)

I’ve said it before. I said it last week. I’ll say it again:

You are loved and you are worthy of love. It doesn’t matter how you got here. You are here now. You are in grace. You are loved and you are worthy of love.

I know that can be hard to believe. That’s why I say it so often. It is hard to believe… and there are so many voices in the world telling us that we are not loved and we are not worthy of love.

Some say it outright. Some are more subtle. Some even say, “I love you,” while they tell you that you are not loved and you are not worthy of love.

There is a chorus of voices who tell people who are gay or lesbian or bisexual or asexual or transgender or genderqueer, “You are not loved and you are not worthy of love.”

There is a chorus of voices who tell people who came here from the ‘wrong’ country or who came here in the ‘wrong’ way, “You are not loved and you are not worthy of love.”

There is a chorus of voices who tell people who walked into a clinic and made a hard choice, “You are not loved and you are not worthy of love.”

There is a chorus of voices who tell so many others, “You are not loved and you are not worthy of love… but you can be… if you change.”

You can be loved and you can worthy of love… when you figure out how to be normal.

You can be loved and you can worthy of love… after you prove your value to the United States.

You can be loved and you can worthy of love… if you have that child.

You can be loved and you can worthy of love… if you beat the addiction… if you lose just a little more weight… if you pull yourself up by your bootstraps… if you be the person I want you to be… if you become perfect.

And when we hear that chorus enough, it gets easy to join them. It gets easy to say, “I am not loved. I am not worthy of love. But if I could contort myself and change myself and fit in the right box and be the right person, I could be.”

So it’s good to have the reminder:

You are loved and you are worthy of love. It doesn’t matter how you got here. You are here now. You are in grace. You are loved and you are worthy of love.

Today’s reading is from Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome. It’s from a letter that Paul wrote to a group of believers who he had never met. It’s from a letter that Paul wrote to introduce himself, and tell people what he believed, and ask for help.

And, so far, he has told a familiar story:

The world is broken. We are broken. There is not one of us who is whole. There is not one of us who is who we are supposed to be. We are full of wickedness and evil and covetousness and malice. We are full of envy and murder and strife and deceit and craftiness. We are gossipy god-hating insolent haughty boastful inventors of evil We are rebellious, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. We are at war with God. We are broken. The whole world is broken.

And God could look at this broken world and sweep it all away. God could look at us like so many of us look at a spider or some loathsome insect or some venomous serpent. God could look at us with wrath and loathing. God could cast the world into fire. But God does something else.

“While we were still weak,” Paul writes, “Christ died for the ungodly. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still enemies of God, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son.”

Now, I will admit, I don’t like this focus on Christ’s death. Jesus was born. He lived. He taught and preached and healed. He performed signs and wonders. He suffered. He rose. And I don’t want to erase all of that. I don’t want to reduce Christ to the crucifixion.

So let me expand on Paul a little bit:

While we were still weak, while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, while the world was still broken, God became one of us. God was born in a manger in a backwater province of a great empire. God lived a life. God taught and preached and healed. God performed signs and wonders. God showed us a better way. And after we took the side of that empire and nailed him to a cross and laid him in a tomb, God got up again and looked at us and said, “I am not done with you, yet.”

While we were still weak, while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, while the world was still broken… God loved us.

While we are still weak, sinning, broken enemies of God… God loves us.

And we didn’t have to do anything. We couldn’t do anything.

You see, God doesn’t love us because someone sprinkled water on our foreheads… or because someone dunked us in a river… or because we help in the nursery… or because we show up at Bible study… or because we believe without doubt… or because we are good… or because we are perfect. God doesn’t love us because of who we are. God loves us because of who God is.

God is love, so God loves us. All of us. Every last one of us. Even you. Even me

In fact, I don’t think that God could sweep this world away. I don’t think that God could look at us like so many of us look at a spider or some loathsome insect or some venomous serpent. I don’t think that God could look at us with wrath and loathing. I don’t think that God could cast the world into fire. I think that God could only do what God is

God can only look at this world—God can only look at us—and love.

And that makes all the difference.

At the beginning of our reading today, Paul writes that we are dikaiōthentes ek pisteōs. He writes that we were ‘justified’ or ‘made righteous’ or ‘made just’ by faith.

A little bit before our reading this morning, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham. A long time ago, God made a promise to Abraham. God took Abraham outside and said, “Look at the stars. Count them if you can. So shall your descendants be.” 

And even though Abraham was old, and his wife was barren, and he had no children, he believed God’s promise. And God looked at that faith, and treated it as righteousness. And that wasn’t just for Abraham, it was for all of us: we are justified, we are made righteous, we are made just, by believing in the one who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

We are justified, we are made righteous, we are made just, by having faith in the promises of the God who is love.

And the deepest of those promises is this: You are loved and you are worthy of love. It doesn’t matter how you got here. You are here now. You are in grace. You are loved and you are worthy of love.

And here’s the thing:

Love is something that’s passed around. We can’t hold onto it. We don’t get to keep it.

When we believe the chorus of voices that tells us that we are not loved and we are not worthy of love, it becomes easy to believe that the well is dry, that we have no love to share… and love becomes hard. It gets easy to say to ourselves, “I am not loved and I am not worthy of love.” It gets easy to say to our neighbor, “You are not loved and you are not worthy of love.”

It gets easy to break the world again and again and again.

But when we believe the promise of the God who loved the world in all its brokenness—when we believe that we are loved and worthy of love because God loves us—we see that they well is full and overflowing, that the river of life is overflowing its banks, that we have love to share… and love becomes easy. It gets easy to boast, “I am loved and I am worthy of love.” It gets easy to boast, “You, my neighbor, are loved and you are worthy of love.”

It gets easy to get a little closer to the kingdom of God… the kingdom of love.

So we’re going to do a little something. We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again. Turn to your neighbor, muster up all of the faith you can, and say it like you mean it, “You are loved and you are worthy of love.”

Now, I’m going to ask you to say it again. But this time, concentrate on hearing it. Muster up all of the faith you can, and believe it when you hear it, “You are loved and you are worthy of love.”

And now the hard one. When you’re out in the world this week, and you see someone who is doubting that they are loved, muster up all the faith you can and tell them the truth, the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ: “You are loved and you are worthy of love.”

Change the world. Bring it a little closer to the kingdom of God… the kingdom of love.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Subscribe