The Rainbow of Righteousness, Lent IV, March 22, 2009 at Bethelehem
Title: The Rainbow of Righteousness, Lent IV March 22, 2009
Numbers 21:49 Psalm 107:1-3,17-22 Eph 2:1-10 John 3:14-21
This morning some very great passages from Scripture have been read for you and I am struggling in my mind to decide on which to preach. You all know John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Luther of old said that was the whole gospel in a nutshell.
And look at the verses around it! “And just as Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” And after the gospel in a nutshell verse comes the passage: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Under the cross of Christ there is no condemnation. Right after we nailed him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do!”
Then look at the famous passage from Ephesians! “that in the ages to come” – and we are living in the ages he foretold,
[God] might show the immeasurable riches of grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (2:7-9).
God sent Jesus Christ to us to save us, to save this whole creation from self-destruction and from we ourselves making humankind extinct. Don’t think that only the polar bears are in that danger.
Jesus died on the cross for us to take us out of our free-fall and give us an ascent into life, a life that is rich with love, a life that brings reconciliation of enemies, changing them into friends, friends of God, just like the Quakers are called, the Society of Friends. By his death on the cross, Christ takes us out of our free-fall into sin and makes us ascend into a life rich with healing power, a life full of empathy, a life full of commitment, full of involvement, freedom and responsibility and let me add, creativity, too.
That grace of God also sets our hearts on fire so that we fall in love with the world and figure out with Jesus how we can save it. Barach Obama and Michelle in her own way are trying to figure out a way to save us from the free-fall our economy and possibly, our country have taken. Perhaps God has felt that we were perfectly content to allow so many people in the world to live in poverty while we prospered that God is letting us experience poverty so that we care enough about them to share our prosperity when God blesses us once again.
I figure that the way to save the world is to live by the spirit and not by the flesh. We do not become completely spiritual by rejecting our bodies or physical and created lives. No, the spiritual consists in the use we make of the physical blessings we have. When I experienced Third world poverty in my travels, I came back to the good old U.S. of A. and felt that it was sinful to own a car. As a pastor I really needed one. So I bought a Dodge Van (with a straight six cylinder engine that wouldn’t die) and made it the congregation’s car. We used it to bring the Sunday School to church, used it for Day Camp. I let some people of the congregation use it to go house hunting and they burnt out the transmission and left it stranded. That was not a spiritual use on their part. But that was my spiritual use of that car.
The spiritual is not a rejection of owning a car or a house or a rejection of our body or our sexuality or the bread and butter that we need to live. To eat our own food selfishly is fleshly. To share it with others is spiritual, because we share it with others as a gift of creation, which God intended it to be.
A television show on Thursday brought me to tears. It was about the extreme makeover of a house, if you could call that shanty they tore down a house. It was in Florida, I believe, and the shanty had a metal roof that leaked all over. Four of the family slept in one small room. The father was a heavy machinery operator, who had gotten epilepsy and had to quit his work. The mother had to take a second job. Did anyone else see this program? The family had three or four children and the grandmother also lived with them.
This wonderful crew from ABC came and built them a beautiful house in one week. They must have had the help of another crew of a thousand people working to build that house so quickly. The kitchen they built in the new house was bigger than the old house itself. And they built an outdoor kitchen for their crabbing and fishing to boot; then for the father a garage to repair cars, a real repair-shop with which he could earn a living, and they even redid his red truck and gave him another one on top of that. He had been skipping his epilepsy medication to make it stretch and a company gave him a life-long prescription so that he would never have to do that again.
The family had tears streaming down their faces. He fell to his knees thanking God. The grandmother, upon seeing her beautiful room was saying “Thank you Jesus; thank you everybody!” What that program showed was an illustration of walking in the spirit by building that family that wonderful house. As the fellow who leads the crew says, “It’s about the joy of doing things for others ….and about these random acts of kindness that can restore your faith in people.” That’s not flesh, that’s spirit.
When some rich movie star builds a mansion to show off his or her wealth by conspicuous consumption and everything else they can pamper themselves with by all their money, that is flesh – while on the other hand, that group doing the extreme makeover was pure spirit.
When we understand “flesh” to be our body, we misunderstand what the bible means by spirit and flesh. Our orientation toward God and the needs of our neighbor is spirit. Self absorption, our turning away from God and from the needs of our neighbor is flesh. To be spiritual we do not need to reject our bodies or our sexuality or our material possessions or any physical aspects of our lives, to repeat myself. Whether something is spiritual or fleshly does not lie in the object but how we use the object. The spiritual consists in sharing physical things in the sense of the whole creation being a gift and giving and sharing such gifts with others.
When we do things that are bad, like for example, hurting someone else by what we say, drinking and driving and injuring someone that way, abusing substances, or say, abusing someone in our family: those sins are symptoms of our real sin: a lack of trust, a wanting of faith, and a falling out of relationship with others because of it. We do not want to follow Christ to become a loving and vulnerable human being. We want to stay detached, observe life from the side-lines instead of participating in it. We want to control, dominate, and judge others, rather than confess that we are sinners like everybody else. For all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all made of the flesh.
So the real point is grace. But what does grace mean? It means God’s favor; God has to do us a favor and change our hearts. So we fall on our knees and thank God for ourselves that we can share ourselves; we thank God for our lives, and that because of God’s gifts, they can be filled with love, faith, hope, and sharing.
We need to trust God and accept his marvelous creation as we rejoice in the freedom of the children of God and accept the responsibility to do our utmost to serve our neighbors with love. Who are our neighbors? They are anyone with needs that we can meet. Our children, our spouse, needy people near and far. Anyone with needs that we can meet – and with the Love of God overflowing in our hearts, we do as much and more than the Good Samaritan did for the fellow fallen among the thieves, as much and more than what that crew did in the extreme makeover of that dear family’s house.
Luther of old said that we did not only share our possessions in that way, but also our righteousness, our integrity. So if we are chaste, for example, then we let our chastity cover someone who is corrupt. We take their sin upon us and we act as though we had committed it, so that they get a chance, they get the space to convert their lives and also become chaste.
Look at how far Jesus went! He became sin for us on the cross. He allowed himself to be raised up on a pole, like we would raise a deadly snake on a pole so that it could not bite anyone. But Jesus was just the opposite of a poisonous snake. We are all poisonous snakes, snakes in the grass ready to bite others. But we raised the Son of God up on that pole as if he was deadly dangerous. But it is we who are deadly dangerous because of our sin.
So don’t you see? Jesus is giving us a chance to allow God to change our hearts, go down on our knees in thanks for our creation, the gift of our lives that God so much wants to fill with loving relationships, so that like a snake, we can crawl out of our old skins into the gospel, and leave our old selves behind, just like a snake leaves its old skin back there. Thus with upturned hearts and faces we look up at Jesus on the cross, we confess to each other openly, “We are sinners!” and we thank God for having forgiven us, for the blood of the cross that covered and cleansed us and allowed the righteousness of Christ to go right through us and through our hearts. Ah, what Christ did for us on the cross is so beautiful, we have to see it in color: behold the rainbow of his righteousness arching over us and in that heaven of grace, under which we learn to trust all God’s promises again. Amen.
 A quotation of Ty Pennington from Extreme Makeover: http://abc.go.com/primetime/xtremehome/index?pn=bios#t=designer&d=27615