Going Deeper 12-9-19

The first verse of our reading from Romans will serve as the basis for this morning’s message: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Your pastor stands before you with a bit of egg on my face… I hope not literally since I haven’t had eggs for a few days.  You see, last Sunday I spoke of Advent readings pointing toward the end times and warning us to be ready.  Well, while this is generally true, in the texts for Advent for Year A of the 3-year cycle—which we just started—these themes are only prevalent the first week.  So, if you came anticipating more of the gloom and doom that dominated last week’s readings and sermon, you’re going to be disappointed!
It is true that Advent does have a duel theme, with a focus on the light and the dark of Jesus’ first coming as the Babe of Bethlehem, as well as the light and dark that is to be anticipated as His final coming draws nearer.  But while we do need to spend some time contemplating the darkness and hearing and heeding the warnings related to the last days, we do not want to dwell in the darkness… for it’s all too easy to get trapped there.  
This is true not only in terms of the darkness which surrounds us, we also must acknowledge the darkness that is within us, the darkness of sin.  Remember, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  And as the song we will sing during communion today reminds us, we are wounded and broken within, overwhelmed by the weight of our sin.  We do well to spend some time contemplating that truth.
However, repentance is never to be understood as being an end unto itself, but as a means to an end.  The reason we spend time acknowledging the full weight of our sinful brokenness is in order to prepare ourselves to recognize how truly amazing grace is.  After all, if sin isn’t real and isn’t significant, who really needs grace?
As you hear me quote often, these words of Jesus from Luke 7, spoken to a religious leader who thought critically of Jesus for allowing a ‘sinful’ woman to anoint His feet with perfume and her tears, are so very important: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."  The greater the sin, the greater the grace; and the greater the grace, the greater the gratitude and love.
Many of you have probably experienced this, but it always remarkable to me what it feels like when hiking or backpacking carrying a heavy load up hill and then setting the pack down once you reach the top.  Removing the heavy weight you have been carrying make you feel like you can fly!  You feel so light.  
As we comprehend the depth and weight of our sinful brokenness, and we allow the Holy Spirit of God to help us see and experience the full burden of our sin, when grace removes it, we ought to feel as though we can fly.  We ought to be filled with both gratitude and a deep and enduring love for the One who removed the load of our sin by taking it upon Himself on the cross.  Maybe if Jesus were to walk physically into this place right now like we talked about a couple of weeks ago, it would be a fitting response for us to fall at His feet and wash them with our tears of gratitude.
Imagine that for a moment.  If Jesus were to walk through that door right now, and you were the only one here, what do you imagine the expression on His face would be?  A look of judgment or disappointment?  Remember… He knows absolutely everything there is to know about you, every weakness, every sin, every wasted opportunity you have had to care for others, to extend grace, to show compassion.  Do you think Jesus might be just a bit angry and disappointed?
Personally, I believe that if Jesus were to physically appear before us right now, the look on His face would be disappointment… disappointment that we still haven’t quite fully understood the all-sufficiency of His love and grace, disappointment that we still think and act as if there is something we can do (or not do) to make Him love us less, disappointment that we still think and act as if there are things we can do to make Him love us more.
Tell me, when you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you typically see?  Do you see what is ugly, what is blemished, what is broken?  Are you disappointed—even frustrated—by the weaknesses that ought to no longer be there after all these years?  
Or do you see what God sees… a beloved child whose sin has not only been forgiven, but also completely forgotten?  Not some of it.  Not most of it.  All of it.  By grace, you and I are righteous in the sight of our Abba Father.  Our brother and Lord Jesus looks upon with favor, and grants us peace.  We are vessels filled with the Spirit of God, who is willing and far more than able to help us continue to be transformed back into our created image, the image of God.
Brennan Manning, in The Wisdom of Tenderness: What Happens When God's Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives, wrote: In a moment of naked honesty, ask yourself, “Do I wholeheartedly trust that God likes me... in this moment, right now, right here, with all my faults and weaknesses?” If you answer without hesitation, “Oh yes, God does like me; in fact, He's very fond of me”, you're living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness. 
I love that phrase: “you're living in the wisdom of accepted tenderness.”  You see, that is where true healing and transformation starts.  Grace, mercy, and love transforms us.  Guilt or shame do not.  We are children of God, and now we are free to pursue living more and more fully as children of our Abba in heaven, loving and serving God and others, growing more and more into the likeness of our Brother Jesus, moved and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And there is another thing I pray that you will see more and more clearly when you look into the mirror.  You are not only beloved, you are also uniquely gifted to fulfill a special purpose.  Each and every one of us have been blessed with unique gifts, talents, and abilities that are to be discovered, developed, and deployed in the highest of all callings—the calling of strengthening and extending the Kingdom of God.
I wonder if we really have any idea how incredibly gifted we are—not only individually but also collectively.  And I also wonder if we realize just how powerful our mission, our working together, could be if we were all inspired and empowered to discover, develop, and deploy our collective gifts.  Do you believe that you can do all things through Christ, who strengthens you, and that we call do all things through Christ who strengthens us?
I urge you to spend some time prayerfully considering this, time contemplating just what it means to be a forgiven and gifted child of God, part of a forgiven and gifted family in Christ.