Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Radical Gratitude: Becoming Human" (Romans 5:1-5)

“Is that all?  Now what?”

In all honesty, that was what I was thinking after I came up out of the baptismal waters in that church sanctuary over forty years ago.  My baptism wasn’t quite what I had expected after listening to my friend Paul describe his baptism.  Paul was the “golden boy” of the church youth group that he talked me into attending.  He was “Mr. Everything” . . . good looking, smart, athletic, musical, and knew that he was going to be a minister one day saving the world from itself for the glory of God . . . and, he was popular with the girls.

Listening to Paul tell the story of his baptism he expounded upon the glory of it all.  He described how he went under the water, surrounded by the embracing love of God, and came up out of the depths of sin into a life of grace.  But, more importantly, he described how the heavens split open, the heavenly choirs began to sing, and a dove descended . . . it was a heavenly coronation straight out of the Bible.  He was saved.

Coming up out of the murky water . . . I think I was the fourth person baptized that afternoon . . . there was no parting of the heavenly clouds . . . there was no heavenly choir singing . . . and, there definitely was no dove descending from the heavens or even the rafters of the church.  Nope, there was just me . . . standing there in a dripping robe, freezing thanks to the air conditioning in the church . . . with the only noise that could be heard was the crying of my younger brother.  Crying because he did not understand the pastor’s words about the “old dying and the new being born” . . . he was certain that as the pastor immersed me in the baptismal waters that he was drowning me . . . that I was as good as dead.  So, he cried. 

Having not received the heavenly coronation that my friend Paul had received . . . dripping wet and freezing . . . I stood there and wondered, “Is that all?  Now what?”

We Christians can have the tendency of seeing our conversion to faith . . . conversion into a relationship with God . . . our salvation . . . as a sort of holy insurance policy.  Having a holy insurance policy we have a tendency to think that we are covered by the grace of God and that nothing will ever make life difficulty; after all, God is watching over us and taking care of us.  With this policy, life is good and we can breeze through it with the minimal discomfort that those who are not “saved” cannot.  With God all things are good. 

Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul says in our scripture reading this morning?  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”  Sounds like God has got us covered . . . so, why worry?  Why fret?  Life is good because we are God’s!  We don’t have to do anything because we are covered by the grace of God.

Despite the fact there seems to be a tendency to fall into this “holy insurance” frame of mind as a Christian, the truth is that reality is far, far from this rosy picture of salvation.  Faith . . . being in a relationship with God . . . is tough work.  There are no easy pathways through life if one is truly embracing his or her relationship with God . . . it is not easy to do the will of God.  It is hard work.

Yet, that “holy insurance” policy mindset seems to pop up in our faith from time to time when we catch ourselves in difficult situations . . . when life gets tough . . . when we are hurting, lost, and lonely . . . when we feel the farthest from God.  We wonder, “Is that all? Now what?”  And, we find ourselves stuck.  Stuck in a place where we do not want to be, and feeling as if we have been abandoned and duped.  We think to ourselves, “This isn’t what we were promised when we signed up for this!”

Well, the Apostle Paul was right . . . but, at the same time, we should learn to read the “fine print”.  Paul said that through faith we have been saved.  Yet, he never said that having such faith would be a cake walk through the park.  No, he said the journey would be tough.  From his own experience he knows that the journey will be tough.  No one should doubt the difficulty of the apostle’s journey of faith.  Thus he did not end his statement in our reading this morning with the words that we heard earlier; no, he had more to say.

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” 

Yeah, we are covered . . . but . . .

We have all probably heard the statement by Mother Teresa in which she speaks about the old saying “that God will not give us more than we can handle.”  That statement in which she says, "I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much."

The truth of the matter is that through our faith we have come into a relationship with God . . . an intimate and intense relationship with God.  We have been restored into that intimacy of knowing and loving God.  Our hearts have been filled with the love of God by the Holy Spirit.  Our hearts are God’s heart . . . and, what God feels, we feel . . . and, what we feel, God feels.  Because of this we rejoice.  We rejoice in the glory of having been restored into a relationship with God.  And, we rejoice because with that relationship comes the desire to do God’s will . . . a will that often brings with it suffering.  Through it all, good and bad, God stands with us . . . never abandons us.

Our faith is not a “get out of jail” card.  Our faith does not allow us to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Our faith is a call to follow the example and life of Jesus who has shown us the way.  It is to do the will of God and to go where the voice of God has called us to go.  And, no one ever promised that it would be easy.  In fact, many of those who have gone before us in the journey of faith, and those firmly rooted in that journey now, will tell you that is hard.  Yet, the promise of God . . . because we have faith . . . is that nothing will ever destroy that relationship . . . nothing will ever separate us from the love of God or God.  Thus we should rejoice.

I imagine that this idea of showing gratitude not only in the good times, but the bad times, seems a little strange.  Who wants to be grateful for hard times in one’s life.  Yet, we all know that life is not easy . . . that the path is not always smooth . . . that there are unexpected surprises and crises . . . that we get scared, lonely, and lost.  Who wants to be grateful for that?  Yet, it is a part of our journey . . . and, whether we like it or not, we cannot escape it.  Through it we grow.  We grow stronger as individuals, and we grow stronger in our relationship with God.  Thus we must embrace our suffering as much as we embrace our glory.  We live lives of radical gratitude.

In living lives of radical gratitude we discover our humanness . . . we discover ourselves as God created us . . . we become “human” as many Native American cultures would say.  We care.  We love.  We grow.  We come closer to realizing the Kingdom of God that surrounds us.  We do not sit around waiting for the heavenly gift . . . no, we embrace the gift that is already ours and we live our lives faithfully.  There is no holy insurance policy . . . there is only faith that calls us into action to serve and love God and others.

Many years ago at my baptism, I might have thought, “Is this all? Now what?”  But now, I can assure you that standing in a sanctuary dripping wet while waiting for the heavens to burst forth in angelic choirs was not the end of my journey of faith . . . no, it was only the beginning.  I can also assure you that it has been a wild adventure following in the footsteps of Jesus to do the will of God.  Because of it I have grown closer to who it is that God has created and called me to be . . . grown closer to God . . . and, grown closer to those whom I have been called upon to love and support in their journeys of faith and life.  I have also learned to be grateful . . . to live a life of radical gratitude.

Out of radical gratitude we are changed.  Mother Teresa says, “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I'm praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

Faith is not a mindset . . . not a holy insurance policy; faith is action born out of love.  For this we can all be grateful.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. I love it. Being raised Methodist, I didn't get dunked, so didn't expect a big dramatic baptism.