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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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No Condemnation

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

July 9, 2017

Romans 8:1-17

 

Arne is a regular guy who had a tough week. He got yelled at by his boss for making a mistake. Yah, he had taken a short cut, but no real harm was done. Why did his boss have to make such a big deal about it, especially in front of everyone else? How humiliating! Then there was the phone call from his mother, guilting him for not spending more time with her, ticking off a long honey-do list of projects he just didn’t have the time to tackle right now. And the letter from his ex-wife complaining that he’s behind on child support. The frustrating thing is whenever he does see his kids all they want to do is spend time on social media. It’s not like they really interact much when they are with him.

 

As he was driving home from work, that Friday afternoon he passed by a church, the same church he always drove by on his way to and from work each day. The sign out front said “No Condemnation. Sunday 9:30 AM.” 

 

“No Condemnation!” Arne thought, “That would sure be nice.”

 

He had noticed that this church had a different message on the sign each week – always hopeful and optimistic. A couple of weeks ago it said “Open Minded/Open Hearted. Sunday 9:30 AM” Last week is said “A New Day is Dawning. Come and See. Sunday 9:30 AM.” The messages sounded too good to be true. But if they were true, wouldn’t that be nice!

 

So, when Saturday night rolled around and his girlfriend dumped him, Arne knew where he wanted to be Sunday morning at 9:30 AM. “No Condemnation” sounded just like what he needed.

 

But did they really mean it? He hadn’t been to church in years, in part because it seemed that they were always condemning someone for something – like drinking or gambling. A guy’s gotta have a little fun! Or they were condemning the protesters, or those who don’t protest. They were even condemning Walt Disney! He figured if they were going to condemn everyone else, it was only a matter of time before they condemned him, too. So, he just stopped going to church.

 

As Arne entered the church he didn’t want to get his hopes too high about this “No Condemnation” thing. He didn’t want to set himself up to be disappointed. So, he took a seat near the back, on the aisle, just in case!

 

The service started with a song he didn’t know. The music was fine. It had kind of a catchy beat. At first, he didn’t sing, but then he caught on. So far so good. 

 

Then they started with the confession “…we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought word and deed…”

 

“I knew it!” Arne thought.

 

They continued “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

 

“That sounds like condemnation if I ever heard it!” thought Arne.

 

He was just trying to figure out if he would bolt now or sit out the rest of the service when he heard the pastor say “I therefore declare onto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

 

“Hmmm. Entire forgiveness of all my sins!” Thought Arne. “That pastor clearly doesn’t know how many sins I’ve committed! There’s got to be a catch. But nevertheless, ‘entire forgiveness of all my sins’ sounds pretty good. Maybe they’re not condemning me. I guess I’ll stick around and see what else they have to say.” 

 

Then someone stepped up and read from the Bible:

“There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

 

“There’s that ‘No Condemnation,’ thing,” Arne thought. “But there’s a catch! You have to be in Christ Jesus. You have to be part of their club or else the ‘No Condemnation’ thing doesn’t apply.” 

 

So, he began to wonder “What does it mean to be ‘In Christ Jesus?’ Does it mean you have to go to church all the time? Does it mean you have to live a holy life, not have any fun?”

 

As the reading continued, he heard lots of references to the Holy Spirit. He remembered that as a young child he had been baptized “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – named and claimed as one of God’s beloved children forever.”  

 

Forever! Would his baptism still apply, even though he hadn’t been to church in many years? Did God still consider him as part of his family even though he had been absent from the family for a long time? Is it possible that that “No Condemnation” thing would include him?

 

As he was thinking about this, the pastor got up and said:

“Grace and peace to you from our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

 

“That sounds good,” thought Arne. “I could use some grace and peace from Jesus.”

 

And then the pastor began explaining about the “No Condemnation” thing:

 

“The scripture you heard read this morning is from the book of Romans. Romans is actually a letter written by Paul to the Christian Church at Rome. The people in Rome were a lot like us. They were trying to make sense of their lives in a culture that was changing very fast. They were trying to figure out what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ in a society that had people of many religions all voicing their differing beliefs. They were wondering about the role of sin and forgiveness. Try as they might it seemed that they sinned. Paul addressed that in the 7th chapter of Romans. He said that even he was a captive to sin.

 

The Old Testament was all about the Law. The Law was good. There was nothing wrong with the Law. The Law was God’s way of telling people how to live their lives so that they would be pleasing to God and that the people would live happy and fulfilling lives. But no matter how hard they tried, people always messed up. They couldn’t keep the Law.

 

It started with Adam and it continued with the Israelites. Everyone was slave to sin. Even Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, said “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me…. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:19-25).

 

“And that leads into our passage for today” said the pastor. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).

 

The preacher continued “Jesus came and lived in a human body just like ours. Jesus came and was tempted as we are tempted. He faced all the same temptations that we face. But he didn’t give in to temptation. Jesus lived a pure and holy life. Jesus lived a sinless life. And because Jesus overcame sin and temptation, because this innocent man gave up his life as a sacrifice for our sin, we are saved. We are not condemned by God. We are free in Christ. We are free to live as God’s beloved Children.

 

That, my friends, is grace. That is the ‘Amazing Grace’ that we love to sing about. That grace is not cheap. It came at a very high price – the life of God’s own Son. No, that grace is not cheap, but it is free. It is free to all those who seek God. It is free to all those who accept this free gift.

 

Does that mean we should all go around sinning as much as possible, so that we can get as much grace as possible? No! That’s not the point! Paul addressed that in chapter 6 of Romans. We, who once were slaves to sin, are slaves no longer. We are free! Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are free to love and serve God and love the neighbor in need. There is no condemnation for us because of Christ’s sacrifice. We are free in Christ.

 

God’s grace knows no boundaries. God’s mercy has no restrictions. God’s love includes everyone. God’s love includes and doesn’t exclude. God’s love includes the liberals and the conservatives, the rich and the poor, the rednecks and the bluebloods, Trump supporters and Trump resisters, men and women, straight and gay, young and old, people of all colors from all corners of the earth. All are God’s beloved children. All are saved and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.”   

 

As Arne heard this message, it gave him hope. Maybe that “No Condemnation” thing was for real! Maybe they were serious about that here. The condemnation from his boss and his mother and his ex-wife and his girlfriend were still there, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter as much anymore.

 

Arne allowed himself to hope. Knowing that God doesn’t condemn him and that God loves him enough to send his Son to save him from condemnation, was a big relief. Maybe now Arne could stop condemning himself. Maybe there is hope for him yet! Maybe he’ll come back next week and see what this preacher has to say. Maybe he’ll come back and see if the people here in this congregation really lived up to that idea of “No Condemnation.”

 

But if this church is serious about “No Condemnation,” what does that mean for him? If he were to become part of this church, does that mean that he, too, would need to be “open hearted” and “open minded” like the sign said? Does that mean the he can no longer condemn people he disagrees with?

 

“Humph!” thought Arne, “I’ll have to think about that. But if God isn’t going to condemn me, what business do I have condemning anyone else?”

 

As Arne was thinking about all these things, the pastor said:

 

“Let us pray:

Gracious and holy God,

set us free from the past that we cannot change;

open to us a future in which we can be changed,

and grant us grace to grow more and more in your love,

as people made in your image.

Thank you for your amazing grace.

Fill us with that grace so that as you do not condemn us,

we also don’t condemn others.

All this we pray through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

Amen.”

 

And as the pastor said “Amen” Arne said “Amen!” And he meant it!  

 

Amen!