I preach on taking our next step because that is what we can do.
There is a lot we cannot control. We cannot control God and the flow of God’s grace. We cannot control the world around us. We cannot control our external circumstances.
But we can do our best to keep growing in Christian faith and love no matter what else is going on. We can always do the things that our tradition teaches us can help. We can come together in worship and praise. We can share the sacraments. We can study the Bible. We can support each other. We can share God’s love with a hurting world. As we do those things, we grow in the image and likeness of God. We live into our baptism. We come to know God a little better.
I will continue to preach on the things we can do to take the next step along the Christian way to God, and I hope you will continue to do those things.
But this morning I want to make a different and even more important point.
Today, I want to emphasize that God loves us right now, wherever we are on our Christian journey.
If we are honest with ourselves, we all have a long way to go. AND God loves us anyway. God loves us as beloved children, formed in the image and likeness of God and created for intimacy with God.
Two weeks ago, people from the diocese talked to us about the Veterans Building Bridges Initiative. In the session after Church, Ali described “the moral injury” of war. I did not know that term, but I think it can be really helpful for all of us.
According to Ali, many combat veterans have not had particularly good experiences at Church. Some Church people vilify the veterans for having committed acts of violence. Other Church people celebrate veterans as heroes.
Neither response is helpful, because neither response speaks to the complex reality of many veterans’ lives. Most feel a justified pride in their service. But many veterans also feel shame or guilt for some of the things they have done. Veterans are not unredeemable sinners. Nor are they saints. They are human beings who have done their best in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
I hope that we at Saint David’s can start an intentional veterans ministry in 2016.
But I do not think what Ali was saying about veterans is only true for them. I am not a veteran. I have never known the trauma of combat. But I have my own experience of moral injury.
Most days I do my best to do the right thing. And every day, I know that my best is not perfect. I am neither an unredeemable sinner nor a perfect saint. None of us are.
All of us struggle with sin. All of us struggle some of the time with a sense that we are not really worthy of God’s love. Often we mask our struggle. Often we try to pretend that everything is OK. Few of us routinely acknowledge our brokenness, shame, or vulnerability. But we all know brokenness and shame and sin.
The good news of Christ starts with the painful truth that there is NOTHING we can do about that on our own. As Hebrews puts it, “Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” We can repeat our best efforts, day after day, without changing anything.
It sounds depressing. But we know in our hearts that it is true, and there is some relief in publicly acknowledging it.
Thankfully Hebrews keeps going. “Christ … offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” In and through Christ, God promises, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Christ has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. Christ has done what needed to be done so that our sins could be forgiven.
And then comes the most amazing line of all. We just heard it. But really listen this time, and know that Hebrews is talking about each of us. “By a single offering, [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
That line is my entire sermon this morning.
It is not that we no longer commit sins and lawless deeds. We do. That is a sad fact of living as fallen creatures in a fallen world. But in Christ, God forgives our sins. In Christ, God expresses perfect love for us, who are not perfect people. In Christ, God sees us as if we have been perfected.
Thanks to the new and living way opened for us through Christ, because we have such a great high priest over the house of God, we can rest in the “full assurance of faith.” We can take comfort in the fact that our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience—again and again, as often as we need it, which is often. Our bodies have been washed with pure water, and will be washed again and again, as often as we need it.
This is shockingly good news! Best of all, this good news does not depend on our own best efforts. God does it. God cleanses us. God forgives us. God loves us.
We can hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, and we can do so not because our hold is so strong, but because the one who has promised is faithful.
Hebrews goes on to encourage us to do our best. We should “provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together.”
But we do not provoke one another so that we can at last get it right, so that we can finally earn God’s love. We start with God’s love. Whatever we do that is good follows from God’s love, not the reverse.
This means we are no longer defined by our sin or our shame or our guilt. We are defined by the perfection of Christ. We are defined by love. We are defined as good and beloved children of God.
And so this morning, for once, I am not asking you to take another step on your Christian journey. I am not asking you to do your best to do right. I am not asking you to undertake a spiritual discipline or commit to a Christian practice. I will on another day.
But today, I invite you to rest in the knowledge that you are a beloved child of God right now. Today I invite you to take comfort in what Christ has done for you. Today I invite you to enjoy the forgiveness and love of God that you already have. Today I invite you to celebrate because of what Christ has done for you, because God no longer remembers your sin, because in God’s eyes you have been perfected for all time.
And today I give thanks to the God who is faithful, thanks to the Father who loves us, to Christ who forgives us, and to the Holy Spirit, who blesses us with His divine presence. Amen.