Justification, Webster and Lynn.

24 Feb

Text:  Romans 3:21-28.  

Success: I made the congregation laugh.


Tonight we continue diving in to the book of Romans.  Last week in just the opening chapter, we spoke about the righteousness of God and how we become righteous through our faith.  Tonight we continue on into the third chapter of Romans and onto another churchy and kind of intimidating word – justification.

To begin, I like to invite you to take a minute and think about the best gift you have ever received.  Think, think … what is that gift that was the very best?  When did you receive it?  Maybe it was Christmas.  Maybe it was your birthday.  Maybe it was just because.  Who was it from?  A spouse?  A parent?  Sibling?  Maybe even a stranger.   I might be a material thing or maybe it’s not.  How did it feel to receive it?  Does it make you excited just to think about it because it was so great?

Okay.  I want to share with you one of the best gifts that I have recently received.  It came from a friend of mine named Lynn.  Lynn and I have been close friends since elementary school.  Even though we’ve spent the last years since high school apart, we still are able to reconnect and talk and keep our friendship close. 

Lynn knows me so well that she just knew I would love this gift.  She sent it to me in a big box and I got really excited as I was opening it.  I picked it up from the post office and began to analyze it.  To guess what could possibly be inside.  It’s kinda light.  Didn’t move around much in the box.  Hmm…

(Third grade buddy J. and the ever-blogged about C. come forward and help me shake, ponder, and open the box.)

… until I opened it and found this.  I had to stare at it for a bit.  I really was not sure what it could be.  A banana dog?  She knows me so well.  I emailed her as soon as I got it and told her, there really are no words.  No words for this … banana dog?

Now I didn’t ask for the banana dog.  I didn’t expect this to come in the mail to me.  I didn’t pay for it.  There really was no good reason for it.  It was a gift.  Pure and simple.  Lynn didn’t have to send me a banana dog.  Really, she didn’t.  But because of our friendship, because of her love for me, she did just that.  She gave me a gift.

Okay, now back to the gifts that you thought of earlier.  The very best gift you have ever received.  Did you ask for it?  Were you expecting it?  Maybe you kinda asked for it if it was on your Christmas list.  Maybe you were expecting it if you are one of those who peeks at gifts under the tree.  But did you pay for it?  Chances are not.  That’s what makes a gift a gift.  It’s given without payment.  Free of charge.

In the third chapter of Romans, Paul writes that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift.  We are justified.  We become right in the sight of God.  But only as a gift. 

Justification is a tough word to wrap our heads around.  There is a lot encompassed within the word.  Perhaps, instead of justified, we can say that God accepts us.  God declares us righteous.  God forgives us from our sin.  God calls us into relationship with him.  Put all those together – that God accepts us, declares us righteous, forgives us from our sin, and calls us into relationship – and there we have it.  That’s what it means to be justified by God.

We can’t justify ourselves.  We can’t make ourselves right with God.  It’s not possible.  Paul reminds us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  In the context of this letter to the people in Rome, Paul reminds them that they all have sinned.  Whether they are a Jew or a Gentile, whether they are rich or poor.  They all have sinned just as all of us have sinned. 

We’re human.  There are many things that make us human.  Our heart that pumps blood through our bodies, poseable thumbs, walking on two legs.  And then things like gossiping.  Letting our emotions take control, whether it be anger or sadness or rage.  Putting ourselves and our wants ahead of other people’s needs.  Lying.  Swearing.  Not honoring our father and mother.  Caring for ourselves more than we care for our neighbors. 

We are human while only God is God and God.  Our God is holy and just.  We can’t follow what God commands us to do, try as we might.  We can’t live a life that is completely righteous according to the law.  We’re human.  We sin and fall short of the glory of God.  But because of our justification by God, we are accepted by God and we are made righteous.  We know that without the justification by God, without God forgiving our sins, that we are sinful and therefore worthy to be condemned. 

God does all these things through grace.  We are justified by grace through faith.  Grace.  It’s a gift.  We’re not worthy of it.  We don’t pay for it.  Grace is the “beautiful simplicity of the entire story of God’s love, active in Christ and the Spirit to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.”  That is the big story, the story of God.  “God’s initiative, energy and commitment to carrying through the project of the justification of sinners is at the heart of Paul’s message and is the true source of all genuine Christian devotion.”

This is the story.  This is what it is all about.  That while we were still sinners, God justified us by his grace as a gift.  We don’t deserve it because we’re sinners.  And we don’t need to do anything in return.  It’s a gift.  And as great as my new banana dog is, there, in God’s love and grace, is the greatest gift.

But now let’s go back to that gift that you were thinking of earlier.  The greatest gift that you have ever received.  The one that you shared with your neighbor.  Think about what you did when you received that gift.  Did you take the gift and stash it in a secret place?  Did you take the gift and keep it completely to yourself?

I’m hoping that you received your gift and then shared it.  Growing up, my brothers and I knew that the very first phone call on Christmas morning would be from our cousin Brent sharing the gifts that he had received with us and then we would share what we had received.  Later in the day, when we would all gather for our Christmas meal, we would bring our most favorite gifts to share with each other.   The first thing I did when I received the banana dog was email Lynn, to thank her, to share the joy of the gift with her.  Then I shared the gift with my coworkers, who had a good laugh over the character. 

Gifts are meant to be shared.  We receive them and then we must turn around and allow others to receive them, to share.  This gift of justification by grace is no exception.  We are given this gift of forgiveness, of relationship, of acceptance by God through faith in Christ and we turn around and share it with our neighbors.  How will you share the gifts that God has given you?  The gift of love?  The gift of grace?  That’s my challenge for you tonight as you leave here, hopefully aware of the gifts you have received – that you find ways to share the gifts that God has given you.  Whether it’s the gift of laughter in receiving a banana dog or the free gift of justification by God’s grace, In every day, in even the most insignificant of moments, share God’s gifts as He has first shared with us. 

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