Justified by Faith
Tony E Dillon Hansen
A Sermon based upon Romans 5:1-5, Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31, and Psalm 8.
Let us begin with prayer. May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be accepted in Your sight, Our Rock and Our Redeemer!
Happy Trinity Sunday and Happy Fathers Day to all in attendance.
First, a note about our summer worship plans. The plan is to walk through the epistles and I invite you to join us this summer for lemonade and the apostles. We can look forward to engaging ideas about faith, love, compassion, discipline, our Church and our relationship to our creator.
Today we are going to talk about a deep theological topic of justification. You are going to learn a bit about me and my theology. (To be honest, this was difficult to write as I dived deep.) As it is Father's Day, I believe I can share a lesson that I learned through my father.
Maybe this person sounds like someone you know because many people share these qualities.
About my father.
He was a veteran of Vietnam serving in the USAF. Served state the state as a corrections officer.
He grew up in Missouri Synod Lutheran household and converted to Catholic in order to marry my mother. Mass on Sunday was not an option.
We did not have a lot of money to say the least. (In fact, some times were just outright tough). Yet what dad did have was love of God and service to community and family. I think a part of my sense of service likely derives from him.
As I grew up, we challenged each other as I developed my own view points. He lived a life of work, family and church (not always in that order). Yet, I hold onto some of his wisdom with reverence (like get your work done before you go play, say what you mean, got to church and pay your bills.) Eventually, he was diagnosed with cancer which eventually took his life. We will come back to this. (the Readers’ Digest version).
From my youth, I have known the Catholic ideas of free-will and justification. Lately, I have been in intense study of the theologies of Calvin and Luther along with that Catholic upbringing. Together, they are parts of my evolving theology. Today’s scripture from Romans speaks directly to the reformers’ concept of being justified by faith.
Frame the conversation :
In order to talk about justification, we also have to include sin and atonement – everyone’s favorite subjects. Get on your galoshes we are going in, and this can get messy.
One way to describe sin is as separation from God or more deliberate disobedience. From my youth, sin is an ever present temptation, and even with the gift of free will from God, there always seemed to be work to do – with thoughts like these:
I wasn’t up to the task.
I want what I don’t have.
I want to do what I should not…(who defined this barrier?)
And even deeper why do I feel like this
Atonement then is to align oneself with God by overcoming temptations. That could be:
- Prayer and hopeful insight
- Denial or self-prohibition – abstaining
- hopeful preoccupation – get the mind on something else.
- Shame, guilt and self-loathing
Thing is that shame is powerful and can be quite destructive. That instead of simply making a mistake quickly turns into I am the mistake.
For people like me as LGBTQ queer, I grew up hearing ideas who was acceptable before God where free-will did not exactly feel free -
Because someone was defining that for me (or so I let them.)
While I did my best and tried to live by the tenets of the Gospels (e.g. Matthew’s Sermon on the mount in Matthew or Luke’s sermon on the plain), I was different and I did not know why.
When I realized that I was different, I hid and hid until I could no more.
I hid in shame and self-loathing to the point of not feeling worthy of anything – denying my very being.
The shame intensified and walls were built to defend my vulnerability.
That shame tore at my confidence and ability because I wasn’t worthy.
Others would chime in, compounding the shame with their disappointment, their shaming and hurt me and my family – never-mind the log in their eye, as Jesus would say.
Then my reading and study of the Bible found places like this piece that our faith justifies us, and Ephesians 6 where grace is a gift freely given to us. I poured over the scripture looking but seeing that Not once did Jesus shame someone for being queer.
Our daily living can be quite challenging because (if we read further into Romans) we fail and we are broken.
When we talk about shame, I have to invoke Brene Brown and her TED talks about shame and the power of vulnerability. I would think about my own vulnerability and my shame and why God would put this in my life.
Whether divine plan or free-will, then justification is to get right with God. The thing with this path, on my own, is a never-ending question of whether I have done enough.
As a Stephen Minister
My first months as a Stephen Minister, I found myself working closely with my dad on his journey with cancer. My dad and I had some deep conversations and this “justification” idea always came up because my dad kept wondering if he had done enough.
Have I been welcoming enough, open enough, patient enough or compassionate enough? I would listen pray and believe that he had done enough.
This is not just a Catholic dilemma
I have had Protestant people question whether they had done enough, especially when there is sudden sickness or surgery needs. Despite being loyal, compassionate and good people with strong faith, there is that lingering question.
So what have I done to be right with God and Is it enough? Even when you come home and feel I have had enough.
My problem and even my dad’s was that we were focused upon us and our feelings – instead of letting God lead us. Yes, our body and mind can cause us to wander about in misery of sin and temptation, but our spirit can reconcile these through Christ and get us closer to the divine. According to the lesson from Paul is that our faith gets us there.
I believe that faith carried my father (and others with this question) through the gates of heaven because he had strong faith, and faith can do so much for us. He inspired me to live better as I hope that I inspire Tyler to live.
If we are all created by God in his image, and we are all children of God, why did I have to feel shame for being? Proverbs 8 says, God made me the way I am to truly understand the power of faith. It took me a long time to understand that faith can carry us through shame and vulnerability.
As Brene Brown would say, “you gotta dance with the one who brung ya.” Thus, I am going to dance with God because God “brung” me this way.
With where I am on life’s journey, this faith carries me and this is powerfully moving and encouraging. Brown quotes Theodore Roosevelt “Man in the arena” “ It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the one in the arena whose face marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best, he wins, and at worst, he loses, but when he fails, when he does, he does so daring greatly.”
Dad got in the arena of living life and service as so many have. I am the way God made me just as you are what God made you. God wants you and I in the arena, the authentic you; not just the façade and shell we create. I have faith in that wisdom to trust in God.
Our Focus not on suffering but God
Faith in the Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit will move us and heal us – as it has for so many.
God’s wants our help to do the good work. Shame and evil do not need to be our focus or that might be what we become – as it did me. We do fail and we will. We do not need all the answers if we leave a place for God to fill our souls with grace and hope.
In fact, Thomas Aquinas suggests that evil and suffering might be there to help us understand the good we can do and what Christ has done for us.
Therefore, I honor that holy sacrifice by getting in the arena as a martial artist, a wrestler, a queer, and in service of Jesus. I honor that sacrifice by living the life that teaches and learns, builds and encourages, welcomes and heals with that faith in the Spirit working. The spirit is working right there for us because that Spirit reveals God to us.
Good service is Our Witness
Yes, good service is our witness to God’s love and demonstrates our commitment to faith, but our faith in the Spirit working with us can do so much more. With the Spirit working in us, as we talked about last week, we can reveal that divine inspiration and that new life in our world.
God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, invites us to into holy service and witness of all God’s children because Jesus reminds us that we have work to do :
- helping the poor,
- comforting the sick,
- visiting the inmate,
- supporting the refugee,
- valuing the dignity of immigrants, queer and Native American as creations and children of God.
- Valuing ourselves as beautiful and messy children of God.
So Dare greatly! Witness the life and grace through your good work, welcome, compassion, comfort, and your faith.
Then our focus is not upon shame and temptations, but rather, we might look forth into the possible with the grace we have been given. Calvin calls this “irresistible grace” and isnt it after all?
What "possible" do you leave for the mystery of God to fill you?
God has revealed to us to be forgiving even during judgment. In fact, Luke 6 says that Jesus tells us to forgive because God already has. We have such bountiful grace as the morning sun. We have God with all the grace and glory! Faith and grace are gifts for you and me!
Bring it Home…
Our faith can do so much because of this!
We have peace through Christ and access to grace.
We get to share in the wonder and grace of God
Despite suffering, we learn discipline and endurance.
So yes do good work! God is working with us through the Holy Spirit and Christ.
When you live your faith in the good of Christ with the Spirit working with you and for you – you can have true life and grace! I could let go of shame and let God lead.
God’s love has been poured onto our hearts through the peace and grace of the spirit.
So dare greatly with your faith!
Live that life poured out for you and walk with the love and comfort of God with you!
Then your answer to the question of “have I done enough” will be “yes”
Thanks Be to God.