Just as we sat down for the sermon, I saw two girls sitting in the back behind the glass doors. Girls from the Doves Nest. I invited them to come in, and offhandedly I said, “Come on in, you don’t have to do a thing.” Which really is kind of the point. Nothing is required of us to experience God’s grace. But that is hard to imagine.
When she was little, our daughter Alex was painting an egg in art class, laboring to get it just right, putting colors exactly where they needed to be to complete the vision she had in mind. But paint can drip unexpectedly and just as she was almost done, it happened. Some-thing dripped in the wrong place. In her mind it was life and death-all was lost. It was failure beyond fixing. Heartbroken, she smashed the egg.
That can be how we think of God. We hear in scripture of God, heartbroken, and imagine unforgiving, punishing. Instead of freeing, forgiving, renewing.
That’s what people were debating about 600 years ago when the church was teaching people they could be lost as far as God was concerned. Failure beyond fixing. Whether people would go to heaven or to hell when they died mattered because disease would wipe out entire towns and people didn’t expect to live long. Whether you could be right with God mattered. People thought they had to earn salvation, buying prayers and doing so many things- trying to keep themselves out of hell.
Along came Martin Luther who said it’s time to reform, or
re-shape our thinking.
Because the Bible does tell us we will all sin and fail, but we are all justified-put in a right relationship-with God. We are as Jesus says, “Freed.” But this doesn’t happen by our laboring to be perfect. It’s possible only by God’s promise fulfilled in the gift of grace for us in the cross of Christ. God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Salvation isn’t made possible by what we do or how well we do it. It is ours because God’s grace reaches out-forgiving, reshaping and restoring.
So instead working on a perfect masterpiece, our relationship is more like playing with Play-Doh.
With Play Doh I can make anything, one shape, then another. I can add more. If I make mistakes, it can simply be restored back to how it started. PlayDoh is forgiving that way. And lots of things are possible. That’s how God’s love is for us.
That's grace. Today we’re celebrating this history, but what about our lives today? Well, people still hand me flyers warning me I'm going to hell, and maybe some people are worried about that, but I think we’re even more worried about what shape our church is taking, and keeping our identity.
And then I wonder if we like continual love, forgiveness and reshaping for ourselves, but lose sight of it sometimes as the church.
Life or death might be about other challenging things we’re sure cannot be.
Yet, across history God enters into these very places in our lives of faith. That is our strength to rely upon. Even in changing times that is the constant. That too is like Play Doh. No matter how many ways I try to use it, there is something that stays the same-it’s always Play Doh.
In the church, there may be many ways ministry is expressed, and people added but something stays the same. That constant isn’t our desire for “the way we’ve always done it.” It’s the love and grace and power of the cross through which God claims and redeems us all.Today our music I hope is one way to see this diversity and strength of faith. Our opening song was Scandinavian, "built on a rock the church will stand” and we’ll end with a classic German song Luther wrote. “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” A song some of us know by heart that brings tears to our eyes. Both songs will talk about the strength of the church but there was a time Germans and Scandinavians worshipped separately.
We’ll also sing two newer songs. One from Tanzania, where the African church is growing rapidly, a song reminding us to listen because God is calling. A word for us today. During communion liturgy we’ll sing music by a Latino artist "Santo Santo Santo Santo es nuestro Dios"- Holy Holy is our God. About God’s liberation today.
Signs of God continually re-forming and re-shaping across time. No matter what language or culture or tradition, the vision is still the same. God’s church in every age strengthened and loved and being reshaped. New life and power always centered in the cross.
Sometimes that truth is scary- we want things fixed. In sin, we end up focusing on our efforts as the key. But the constant truth is our loving God meets us when we end up trapped and frees us again. And again. Today we remember again that freeing constant truth-God’s grace, the gift of faith and strength of the word that starts in our baptism-where that cross is made on our foreheads.
Baptism also is not a single moment fixed in time, but a journey for the rest of our lives. Today we celebrate as Victoria and Eddie enter and as Heather, Sean and Megan continue in this life, our life together as God’s people. Through them and us God will continue to work, bringing new life and reshaping. It’s worth celebrating! Let’s celebrate together that we’re freed, forgiven and renewed by this creative, redeeming and powerful love and continue the journey into God’s vision together.