March 1, 2020

 “A Free Gift”

Romans 5:12-19

 

I know we have been spending a lot of time on the writings of Paul lately. We’ll branch out a bit as Lent progresses. Today, however, we are going to look at a section from his letter to the church in Rome. Now Paul is known for a number of things. In particular, he is known for developing theological concepts. Today’s passage to the Roman church gives us 5, that the Christian church has been discussing and arguing about for centuries. In order then, we have

  1. Sin
  2. Grace
  3. Condemnation
  4. Justification
  5. Righteousness

 

Let’s unpack these concepts and see how they might apply to us today as we begin the season of Lent. First, sin. Sin in Greek is hamrtia, hamartia-This word literally means “to miss the mark.” My son and I are going out to archery on Wednesdays to Moonbow Archery at the Grove. It’s a lot of fun to shoot at targets with a bow and arrow and feels particularly satisfying when one of us aims at a target and hits it dead center. So imagine God placing a target out before us, one we are asked to aim our lives after, one of love, mercy, peace, and justice. When we do those things, we hit the target. When we don’t we miss, and we sin. Sin is missing the mark in our lives that God intends for all of humanity to aim for. From where did sin originate?

 

Paul’s belief is that sin came from one being-Adam. In those days, in a male-dominated society, the man’s lineage and seed were focused upon, rather than the woman’s rather much more important role in actually giving birth.  So, Paul focused upon the first male human and at some point, that male missed the mark. Sin was handed down then over the generations, beginning with Adam, and continuing right to today.

 

Did it really happen that way? Is that where sin originated as it speaks about in Genesis? Well, I don’t know, since I wasn’t there. Within this story of creation in Genesis, however, there is truth. Something happened between the Creator and humanity in that initial relationship. Something got into human beings that was not meant to be there. Sin is a bit like Covid 19,  in that is has spread throughout the earth, infecting every human being it comes in contact with. Science has even tried to find the patient zero if you will, first Adam and Eve through DNA.

 

From the National  Geographic in 2019, Scientists who have studied DNA believe that DNA, for the most part, remains the same as it is passed down through generations, going right back to the beginning of homo sapiens. In particular, for males, the Y chromosome has been passed on for thousands of years. Genetic researchers believe they can trace that Y chromosome back to the first Adam, an individual male from approximately 60,000 years ago on the continent of Africa. For some reason, this particular man’s Y chromosome has been handed down over the centuries, but other males were not. Yet his DNA goes back much further.

 

Similarly, for women, Mitochondria in the DNA has been passed on for a very long time, and genetic scientists have traced the source of this back some 150,000 years, to a specific female, the scientific Eve. She was not the first homo sapient female, however, and her DNA roots, also like the scientific Adams, go back very far.

 

We don’t know when there was a first human couple, although scientists believe modern-day homo sapiens like us showed up around 250-300,000 years ago. Whoever that first couple was, we are in some very strong ways connected to them through our DNA, which has been passed down for hundreds of thousands of years. They are the ground zero couple for us all.

 

The human family has its roots in Adam and Eve, and our original relationship with God has meaning, purpose, and foundation in the first couple, who first experienced God’s compassionate voice of grace (Genesis 3:9). Although they fell short in whatever they did, God still came back to them and had a plan for the human family, and that plan, according to Paul manifested itself in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Also according to Paul, DNA is not the only thing that was passed down to us through the generations. Sin has been passed down as well, which leads to misery, condemnation from our Maker, suffering, and death. That sin is still with us today, and we need something to combat it, just as scientists are looking for a way to stop the spread of Covid 19.

 

Well, unlike where we are with this deadly virus, thankfully there IS a vaccine that inoculates us against sin-It is Grace, one of Paul’s better theological concepts he developed. Grace is also related to Justification and righteousness, which we will explore in a bit.  What then can we say about grace? Paul tells us it is a free gift, and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Furthermore, as sin came to us through Adam, grace comes to us from God through Jesus. What then is grace? Theologian and author Anne Lamott writes, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Grace is the understanding that first and foremost, God is FOR us, for all of humanity. The sacrifice of Christ is an act of love and grace for all those gathered at the foot of the cross and meant for every human being that followed. Grace means Gods meets us where we are, does not leave us where God found us and helps us start over when we miss the mark.

 

Theologian, minister, and author Nadia Bolz-Weber says, Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God's grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word ... it's that God makes beautiful things out of even my own mess. Grace isn't about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - like saying, ‘Oh, it's OK, I'll be the good guy and forgive you.’ It's God saying, ‘I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.’” Sin does not have the final say. No matter from whom it came, no matter how it has been handed down, sin does not define us nor keep us. Grace has the final say.  Grace then leads to our final 2 theological concepts for today- justification and righteousness. These two concepts kind of go hand in hand.

 

Regarding justification, Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable…this is the genuine meaning of the Pauline doctrine of justification.” The sins we commit may make us seem unacceptable in some way to our Creator. Yet because of Grace, because God does not want to let sin define us and be the final word because God wants to make us new, we are then justified to be in the presence of God, to stand before God as loved accepted creations of our Creator.  The free gift of grace, Paul says in verse 16 brings about justification.

 

For those of you who attended our Jazz Vespers service last Sunday, when I got to sing a solo with a guy who used to be the musical director for Dean Martin-Bill Eckhart, along with a saxophonist who used to play regularly with the great jazz legend, Etta James-whose name, unfortunately, I did not catch, in truth I had no business being up there. I am not a famous jazz musician. I have hardly sung any jazz throughout my singing career. What in the world made it justified for me to be up there singing with all of that great talent? I wasn’t worthy to be up there-I didn’t have the jazz cred to be up there singing.

 

Well, grace justifies us, makes us be able to be present and live in this world, seeking to serve God and others-even if we don’t have the faith cred like Jesus did. Grace allows us to be forgiven for the sins we commit and allows us to become something new.  Theologian Thomas Watson wrote, “God does not justify us because we are worthy, but by justifying us makes us worthy.” Therefore we can proclaim ourselves as people who follow Jesus, who try to live as God intends, and even when we fail, we still are justified through grace. For sin does not define us. God’s grace and love do. We are worthy. We get to sing with God’s band!

 

That leads us to righteousness, the final concept Paul crafted in his letter to the church in Rome. What is righteousness? Jesus followed God in his life, demonstrated love, justice, and mercy on a regular basis and was for all of humanity a perfect example of how to follow God in life. He lived rightly in God’s eyes, enough even to sacrifice himself for all of humanity. That is really all righteousness is- living rightly in the eyes of our Creator.  How then are we righteous? As Paul says in verse 19 “For just as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by another man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” We live rightly in God’s eyes because of Christ’s obedience, which led to his sacrifice and death upon the cross. This is what gives us that free gift of grace, which justifies us, and which encourages us to be better at trying to hit the mark God places in front of our lives every day.

 

Yes, we struggle with sin. Paul argues in this chapter that we offspring of Adam and Eve have an entrenched tendency to rebel against God. Implicitly, and at times explicitly, the human family build walls of separation, looks down upon others due to their ethnic heritage or poverty in an attempt to control, silence and marginalize. We hurt others in thought, word and deed. We fail to see the beauty of creation in other human beings. Yet we are not left that way.  There is good news! Through God’s grace, which justifies us and makes us right in God’s eyes, we are freed from sin, and given opportunities to serve God in this world daily.

 

So as we go from this place, know YOU are worthy. Sin does not define who you are. Grace defines you. God loves you and sees you as justified and righteous. SO go from this place in confidence, thankful for the free gift of grace and aim for the mark of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with your Maker, each and every day. Alleluia! Amen.

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