Message for June 1st, 2014

The hope is to eventually have videos up for these.  Until we get our technical issues worked out, we will be posting the text of the Sunday messages.   

Message Text:   Romans 5:1-11


Over the course of the past 12 months I have participated in something called the Bishop’s Leadership Academy for Clergy Excellence.  This year long process invited younger pastors from the Indiana conference to meet together regularly throughout the year.  The goal was to better equip us as pastors and leaders for decades of fruitful ministry.   A couple of weeks ago, we had the last of our Bishop Leadership Academy gatherings.  During this time there was a point where the presenter uttered the phrase, “You have to let it go.”   There was an audible sigh in the room.   Being younger pastors the vast majority of us have young kids, and because he said Let it go we all now had that Disney song from Frozen playing in our heads.  Again.   As anyone who has had young children know the love to watch and listen to the same things over and over and over and over again.    For the past couple of months, that has been Frozen for us.   I think if we let him, Connor would happily spend an entire Saturday just watching it on constant replay.   If we are not watching the DVD, then we are listening to the soundtrack.   I am so happy that we are finally In Summer, and during the week we call walk to pre-school.   Because for two months we had to listen to a Frozen song every single day on the way to drop him off.  So because of that I can tell you why Reindeer are better than people and the lyrics to every other song from that movie.   Based on my experience at the Bishop’s Leadership Academy I am not the only parent currently experiencing this, and it seems daily we encounter something that reminds us of the toddler-driven Frozen mania that we are all caught in.  

            We have been stuck in a Frozen loop for over a couple of months now.  For those of you with a good memory, this morning’s scripture may sound familiar because we used this same scripture two months ago on the first Sunday in April.   For those of you with exceptional memoires, then you might recall that then the focus was on verse 9, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him.”   I shared how one of my favorite hymns, Nothing but the Blood, made the list of the most unpopular hymns.    Back then, as we approached Easter, I talked about how even though the imagery of blood might be icky a sacrifice was necessary for our salvation.   So two months ago, this scripture was floating around my head and heart but I was also constantly being bombarded by all things Frozen.   I could not help but notice a connection between this scripture and the movie.   As the blizzard Disney’s Frozen has not let up out our house, this connection continued to solidify like a freezing pond.  One of the things that I most appreciate about scripture is that it is living and active.   The same scripture can guide us and speak to us in completely different ways.   It has been a couple of months, but this morning I want to revisit this Romans passage, because I believe it can teach us how and the necessity for breaking our frozen hearts.      

            So I realize that not everyone has been so thoroughly surrounded with Frozen like we have, so a clip might be helpful.    Connor’s favorite character is Olaf, a talking snowman.  In this scene he is trying to help Princess Ana who through an accident has had her heart frozen by her sister’s icy powers.  The only way that Ana can be cured and saved from turning to ice is by an act of true love.  To help keep her warm, the snowman builds a fire and this conversation happens:


            “Some people are worth melting for.”   This morning’s scripture says the exact same thing, it just does it in a bit more verbose way:  “You see, at just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”    On the cross Jesus communicated to us that some people are worth melting for.   We, me and you, were worth dying for.   The uncomfortable question, though is what makes us worth it.   Paul, knew this was the question, which is why he went on “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, but for a good person someone might dare to die.”   Paul is brutally honest, and points out that when it comes down to it, most people are not worth that high of a cost.   In the way we normally view things, most people are not worth melting for.   Thankfully he continues and writes “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ dies for us.”  

            What is it that Jesus saw in us, that he thought we were worth melting, worth dying for?  If we are being honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the kind of good or righteous person that someone might die for.   At best, we are a fixer upper.  If anything, Jesus qualifies as the kind of person that we should be willing to die for.   This is why, we are left with the question, what makes us worth it?   To be perfectly honest, Frozen is not my kind of movie.  A movie that is more up my alley (though not very toddler friendly) is Saving Private Ryan.   In this movie a group of soldiers risk their lives to save one other solider, whose brothers have all died.   One of the questions asked throughout the movie is what makes Private Ryan worth the risk and sacrifice of all the others.  At the end, Private Ryan is saved but at a great cost.  As the captain, played by Tom Hank is dying from a German bullet, he grabs Private Ryan and whispers in his ear, “earn this.”   Do you know how much more comfortable it would be if Jesus said this to us?   We are really good at earning things.   We are really good at having a sense of responsibility and paying back our debts.    Earning something is very comfortable for us, we do a lot better with the idea of earning something than being given something.  The infuriating beauty of this morning’s scripture, of the gospel, is precisely that we cannot earn it.    Christ died while we were still powerless and he died for the ungodly.   

A strong part of my theology is that Jesus did not just die for those who were predestined to be saved, he died for the world.  For everyone, for all of the ungodly people.   This means that there is nothing we can do to earn it.  There is no way we can prove ourselves worthy or pay back the debt.  Christ died for you and me, but he also died for everyone else who is stuck in sin, whose back is turned on God, and even for those who take great pride in their ungodliness.   I cannot fathom the reasons why or the depths of God’s great love, but out of that love he found all of us worth melting for.   We can earn it, the gift has already been given.   Love is an open door, we just walk through it and accept what has already been done for us.   

We cannot earn God’s love and salvation, but surely we must respond to it.  Out of great love God sacrificed his son.   He took all of our personal sin, evil, wrongdoing and He let it go.   If we truly claim that kind of love in our life, then it must be life changing, we have to respond and change in some way.   We cannot pay God back and earn it, so how do we respond?   The answer to that question, may not be the most comfortable one of us.  After washing his disciple’s feet Jesus said in John 13:15 “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  And Philippians 2:5 reminds us that we should have the very mindset of Christ.   This example set, this mindset is that Christ died for the ungodly.   The example given is being able to tell people that they are worth melting for.   The example given is showing an act of true love to those who do not deserve it.   In order to do this, we need God’s help to break the frozen heart.   The heart we need to break though is our own.

I do not care how good of a person you are, there is at least one person in your life you cannot stand.   Be honest, there is.  Sometimes it is just simple personality clashes that put us as at odds with people.  Through no true fault of their own there is something about that them that we find grating.   Other times there are people we cannot stand because we have a difference with them.   Other times there are people who have deeply hurt us or hurt someone we love, and we cannot let that go.    We have to remember that all of those people the ones who annoy us, the ones who hurt us, the ones we consider enemies, and even the ones that on darker days we say hate- God loves them all.  Jesus died for them.   If we are going to respond appropriately to that same love shown to us, then we have to be willing to love those people in that same true love sort of way.   To do this, we have to stop seeing them as our enemies, we have to stop focusing on the reasons why we tell ourselves they are bad people.   We have to see them the way that God sees them, because God saw those people as worth dying for- and we should too.   In their song Jesus, Friend of Sinners the band Casting Crowns sings, “Jesus, friend of sinners open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.  Let our hearts be led by mercy.  Help us reach with open hearts and open doors.  Oh Jesus friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours.”   God so loved the world that he gave his only son.   The thought of us, of his precious creations being lost, broke God’s heart to the point that he was willing to sacrifice greatly to change that.    Whatever it is, whether it be old prejudice, unforgiveness, or a pain we cannot yet face, that divides from those people in our lives, we must let it go.   The frozen parts of our hearts must break, and we must love like Jesus. 

An example of what it means to do this comes from Corrie ten Boom.  During World War II in Holland, out of Christian conviction, she and her family helped Jews escape the Holocaust.  They were caught and imprisoned for it.  After the war she became a great social worker,  author, and a well-known preacher.   In a Guidepost magazine article entitles “I’m still Learning to Forgive” she told this story:  “It was in a church in Munich that I saw him- a balding heavy set man in a gray overcoat.  People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken.   It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives- that when we confess our sins, God cast them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.  I saw him working his way forward against the others.  The Ravensbruck memories came back with a rush.  The man who making his way forward had been a guard, one of the most cruel guards- and he was now in front of me, hand thrust out:  “A fine message Fraulein!  How good it is to know that, as you say all sins are at the bottom of the sea.” 

“And I who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather take his hand.  He evidently did not remember me, but I remember him, and the leather crop swinging from his belt.   “You mentioned Ravensbruk in your talk”, he was saying.  “I was a guard there.  But since that time, I have become a Christian.  I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well”-and again the hand came out- “will you forgive me”

“And I stood there-I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven-and could not forgive.-  Betsie, my sister had died in that place-could he erase her slow terrible death simply by asking?  It was the most difficult thing I ever had to do but I had to do it- I knew that.  And still I stood there with coldness clutching my heart.  “Jesus help me” I prayed silently “I can lift my hand.  I can do that much.  You supply the feeling.”

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.  And as I did, an incredible thing too place.  The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, spring into our joined hands.  And then this healing warmth seem to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.  “I forgive you brother” I cried “with my whole heart.”  For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands the former guard and the former prisoner.  I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

If you are holding on to negative assumptions that cause you to look down on people.  Let it go.  If you are holding onto past pain.  Let it go.  If you are clinging to hate and bitterness. Let it go.  If you are refusing to forgive.  Let it go, Let it go!   Then for the first time in forever, you will experience God’s love more intensely because now you are loving as Christ loved you.  

May you know that you are so loved by God that Jesus considered you worth melting for.   And may you consider others in the same way.   May you share the unimaginable true love of Christ with the sinner and ungodly people who you know need it.   This day, if there is coldness in your heart then may you have the courage to ask God to crack the ice apart and break the frozen heart.    One of the many lyrics from one of the many songs from the Frozen soundtrack stuck in my head goes like this: “Throw a little love their way, and you’ll bring out their best.  True love bring out the best.”    May you find this to be true, because when we dare to love others we find that it brings out the best.   In us.   This week, may you seek to show that kind of love and discover how true that is for you.