(Philippians 3:4-11)

The past can often make us feel self-righteous or unrighteous. We could look back like Paul and declare, I’ve done well and I’m good. Or we can look back and see our yesterday and ourselves in such a negative light that we wonder if God really wants anything to do with us because we don’t want anything to do with ourselves. Yesterday is a part of our story, but it’s not the whole story.

Paul reminds us that we are made right by God. Our past, whether good or bad, doesn’t make us right (wrong) with God–if grace and love are truly free. Last week, I preached that holiness was attained by us striving to become more spiritually healthy. But holiness is different than righteousness. And many Christians (and religious folk in general) get these terms confused so I want to be clear. To be made right with God is to be in right relationship with God. And there are many things that keep us from right relationship. Sin is one thing, but so is death, and so is depression, so is addiction, etc…

As a Christian, I believe that God gives us Jesus as a way of showing us the extent to which we are accepted–Incarnation, murder, and resurrection point to the extent of God’s love and grace. I believe the Spirit is given to us to help us feel accepted and empowers us to live acceptable lives. And I believe the Kingdom of God is the spiritual space where and when we become a “Beloved Community” because we accept others as God has graciously accepted us. 

The Christian confession is simple yet complex. 

We cannot ultimately save ourselves.

(There’s a lot that needs to be said about the word “save” that I don’t I have time to go into. But I want to say clearly, though we cannot ultimately save ourselves, we still have a responsibility to live salvifically. To be Christian means that we can’t do anything, and that’s why we have to do everything we possibly can. It’s a paradox for another post.) 

But God can and does ultimately save us, because God is gracious and loving. Even though we cannot make ourselves right with God–and we routinely suck at being made right with each other–God makes us right through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the outpouring of the Spirit, and in the space of God’s Kingdom. There’s a lot of  “dogma” and theology in those statements, so let me try to simplify: 

As a Christian, I believe that God gives us Jesus as a way of showing us the extent to which we are accepted–Incarnation, death by unjust crucifixion, and resurrection point to the extent of God’s love and grace. I believe the Spirit is given to us to help us feel accepted and empowers us to live acceptable lives. And I believe the Kingdom of God is the spiritual space where and when we become a “Beloved Community” because we accept others as God has graciously accepted us. 

All we can do at this moment is accept this. 

I mean really accept this. Accept that we are accepted. Accept that we can and have been made right. Accept that we are not separated from God, from love, from goodness, from life, from wholeness. Accept that in a world of laws, in a world of violent hierarchy, in a dog-eat-dog world, in a world of rewards and punishments, in a world where you have to scratch my back so that I can scratch yours, in a world where we often don’t give our time, talents, and money to Loving and Merciful realities… In this kind of world, in those kinds of yesterdays, against everything we routinely see, against everything we routinely participate in, against those kind of odds, God says, “I’m making you right for free… because I love you.”

“I don’t need you to sin in order to save you. Whether or not you sinned, I still accept you.” 

I think folks often forget that sometimes people have a hard time accepting others and themselves even when no one has done any wrong. God’s love and grace doesn’t need a problem to fix in order to be grace and love. 

God loves and accepts us. Period. That doesn’t mean God agrees with us or sanctions our ways. But we are accepted. 

Accept that we are accepted. 

The spiritual side of things like racism and sexism–notwithstanding their real socioeconomic and political dimensions–is that folks truly can’t see or believe that everyone is acceptable to God–because they’ve become God or made God in their own image. They want their group or their masculinity to be acceptable and for another human group or femininity to be unacceptable. In other words, racists and sexists worship at the seat of idolatry.

Unacceptable. 

Accept that we all are accepted. 

This is hard to accept. But if we don’t accept it, it will be impossible to take the step towards holiness. And if we have accepted it, but forget it, we will begin to confuse holiness for righteousness. And that’s what holier than thou folk do: mistake holiness for righteousness. I said last week that holiness doesn’t make us better than anyone else, it makes us look and act differently from the status quo. But often times in the pursuit of holiness we can become self-righteous and forget that righteousness is a gift from God and this gift is for everyone who believes and even for those who don’t believe. 

But our yesterday can keep us from seeing what God is doing right now.

And just because God saves us, that doesn’t let us off the hook. 

We are accepted. We must accept that we are accepted. 

But then we must live acceptable lives. 

This is holiness. Living acceptable lives. 

We won’t ever be perfect and no one is better than anyone else, but we are still called to live acceptable lives. 

And that, my brothers and sisters, is the paradox. We are saved by faith in God’s grace, but faith without works is dead. It’s too bad Neoplatonic philosophy got a hold of the Church’s theological production and couldn’t hold these views in tension. 

But my treatise on Augustine and Pelagius is for another day….

Until then…

Let it go.

We are accepted. 

Faith, Hope, and Love…

©2016 M. J. Sales

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