I think he was fascinated with the alliteration: load/lift And I must admit that forty years later I still remember the idea.

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1 Sermon 22B 2015: Rules or Relationship Living in Hope with God Introduction: Religion Rules or Relationship One of the great challenges of the Christian life Is simply the quality of that life; By that I mean, is the Christian life a load or a life for you in your life? That was a popular sermon topic during my growing up years; As it was one of the three sermons the Rector of my Church; He seemed to weave it into so many of his sermons: Christianity, a load or a lift. I think he was fascinated with the alliteration: load/lift And I must admit that forty years later I still remember the idea. But in some sense it s a pointless question; Because the answer to the question should be obvious to Christians And non-christians alike. Of course Christianity is supposed to be a lift and not a load or a burden; It s supposed to help us live fuller lives rather than drag us down; It s supposed to fill us with hope rather than fear; Supposed to bring us closer to love rather than to mere duty. That s the way it supposed to be; That s what looks and sounds like Jesus to me and His call on our lives; Any authentic Christianity or life with God ought to remove burdens Or at least make them more manageable; But as with many things in life, I ve learned that what is supposed to be Is not what is in many cases. The fact is a great many people do not experience Christianity as a lift at all; Instead, trying to live as a Christian is an additional load for them to bear. 1

2 Far too many people believe Christianity involves something else; Christianity involves rules, regulations, obligations, responsibilities; Instead of removing weight from our daily loads in life, it adds to it. God is not experienced as a loving Father or Parent who wants the best for His children; Instead God is experienced as a stern taskmaster; He is seen as some kind of patrolman in the sky, Watching our speed and making us obey all the rules. I hope I m wrong, but I fear the prevalent image of the Christian gospel, In church and out of church, goes something like this: God wants us all to be good; He has given us the Bible as a book of rules to show us how to be good; He calls people like (Amanda and) me to teach the rules and remind you to be good. God watches our every move and records our behavior in a grade book; We receive gold stars for our good deeds and black marks for our bad deeds; And when we die, God totals up the gold stars and black marks If we have more gold stars then we go to heaven; If more black marks the other place; And that s the Gospel? That s the good news? That s not good news, that s bad news. It s the sentiment in the bumper sticker that says, Jesus is coming again, better look busy. With that picture of the Christian life in mind is it any wonder that people are afraid? Afraid to be part of the Christian life at all; Afraid, when they are involved in Christianity to go all in; And live in a close relationship with God; I mean who is going to measure up all the time And who can keep track of all the rules and expectations. 2

3 I had a friend who was talking with one of his close friends for months about his faith; Talking about the personalness of Christ s call on our lives and God with us; And after presenting the Christian life in as positive a manner as possible; My friend asked if his friend would like to become a Christian; And the response was, No thanks, too many rules. Well, here s the good news about this challenge of rules versus relationship; The rules have been given to us or have grown up with the faith As a means for giving us some direction in this life with God; But God is not so interested in the rules; God is interested in relationship; God is interested in you and in me. The great Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, once wrote, God does not love us because we are lovable, but because He is love. God knows that we will never measure up, try as we might; That s part of the reason Jesus came; To show us a way of life, a way of relationship with God; And a way of forgiveness because we won t measure up. You see, God is soft hearted; God has a heart for mercy and loves us, just because we are; And the rules, the hundreds of rules that are in the Bible And that have grown up around the Christian faith Are not there to make us worthy of God s love; But are about our response to God s love, God s call, God s presence, God s forgiveness Signposts in our lives with God, but not the ultimate destination. It s not about the rules alone, but about a living relationship with God. 3

4 Jesus and the Rule Followers, the Pharisees And that s what Jesus is trying to get across to the Pharisees in today s Gospel. On a first reading, they re asking questions about divorce and remarriage; But the underlying premise, the real issue centers on rules versus relationship; Centers on justifying their lives before God; On trying to earn God s favor through following the rules; Apart from the love and mercy of God; Apart from God s soft heart. Like many of us, the Pharisees are religious people; Actually very religious people who are trying to live Godly lives; Who are trying to follow God s law, as handed down through Moses; So that they can earn their gold stars, be worthy of God s pleasure By what they do and how they follow the rules. In this case, the issue is divorce And they ask Jesus whether it s lawful or acceptable for a man to divorce his wife Expecting Jesus to trip up in some way so they can discredit Him; Or to give them another way to tip God s scale in their favor. But Jesus has heard this kind of approach to the life God is calling us to live before And will have none of it; Reminding them that God s intention is for married people To become one and to stay one. And that Moses only gave them the commandment, the rule allowing divorce Because of their hard hearts; Because they felt they needed some way to justify themselves When a marriage failed; Or when they simply grew tired of their spouse and wanted release; Which by the way in Jesus time probably meant a life of poverty for that wife. 4

5 Now Jesus, like many of us, knows that sometimes marriages don t work out; And that there may be more life for the two Apart from one another rather than together. But there s no justification for it; There s no way to reconcile the choice before God; Except for the mercy and the love of the God who forgives; Except for the soft heart of God. And whether it s marriage or work or church attendance Or being kind or giving away 10% of your income for God s purposes; There is no way to earn our way to God apart from God s soft heart; Apart from God s desire to draw us into a living relationship And to forgive us when we sin, which we do, to forgive us out of His great love. You see, God knows what it s like to be human; God knows what it s like to be born and to grow up; To run and play and study, to be part of a family and to work hard; To see marriages that succeed and those that become broken; God knows about rules and God knows about relationships. God knows because He created all that is and sent His Son, sent Jesus to live as one of us; God knows because He was willing to become like one of us And to suffer and to die for us So that we would know the God forgives sins; And that God wants a relationship with you and me And not just a bunch of rule followers. We can never measure up on our own and the good news, The magnificent news is that we don t have to; God loves us, God forgives us, God wants us because God has a soft heart. 5

6 And we can have soft heart, too, once we accept the grace-filled love of God for our own; We can have soft hearts for ourselves and for others When we answer Christ s call on our lives And accept God s love for us and offer that love, that heart to others. Stewardship and Soft Hearts This week we begin our annual financial stewardship campaign; When we consider what we will pledge or give to God at St. David s Beyond our time and talent; It s the month when we consider our giving as a rule of life; Or as part of our relationship with God. It s one of the most fearful aspects of the Christian life for many of us; Giving our hard earned money away for God s purposes. For we rule followers in the congregation, the rule is 10%; God calls us to give away ten percent of our income for God s purposes Here, at St. David s and out there in the world; That s about as clear a rule as there is in the Bible; Make your pledge and check your box for a potential gold star. And for we who are seeking to live in relationship with God; The call is ten percent, a tithe, before or after taxes, you decide; The difference? It s not in the amount; It s in the intention; it s in the purpose of our giving; It s not the rule; it s the relationship with God. And so I invite you today and every day to allow God to lift you to a higher life; To the life of a living relationship with this God who loves us so; And will reveal His soft heart to you and me again and again. Amen. 6

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