Sermon Archive

You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

Getting Used to a House

Roman’s 6:1- 14 
March 1, 2015 (Lent 2)
William Chu
UUMC

When I was a little kid my family moved into a new home.  That first summer in the new home my Aunt Elizabeth coincidentally lived with us whilst she was working a college summer internship in our town.  Now in the old house the bathroom was located down the hall from my bedroom, the first door on the left.  I could get up in the middle of the night walk down the hall, turn left and viola.  In the new house, however, the bathroom was on the right and the guest room was on the left.  

My aunt still loves to tell the story about how one summer night I sleepily walked into her room dropped my trousers and peed all over the floor.  Aunt Elizabeth showed me quite a bit of  grace that night.  She didn’t wake me up, she let me do my business and even cleaned up the my mess.  

I offer this confession as a new perspective on Paul’s letter to the Romans. 

Eugene Peterson paraphrases the beginning of Romans 6 like this…

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving?  I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there?  Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

This is a central question.  After we have immigrated a new country of grace,  through the waters of baptism, how can we live in our old houses in the old country of sin? 

Attempting to live in the old houses following this baptismal immigration into a new home. Can end in embarrassing messes similar to my wrong left turn.  

The 40 days of the lenten journey are a time of transition toward Easter and new life in Christ.  Perhaps you have taken a spiritual discipline over this season.  My opinion is that whether you are fasting from chocolate or reading the scriptures daily the real power of a spiritual discipline is how the new holy habit helps you come closer to God.  Habit is a good analogy for the lenten spiritual disciplines I think. 

After we have lived in a house / dorm or community for a time, we begin to pick up the habits of that place.  

In my neighborhood on the Northside of Williamston, the garbage collection is on Wednesday. So on Tuesday evening I have developed the habit of collecting the rubbish from around the house so that I am ready to set it curbside in the morning.  These routines are easily habitualized and by in large shape me into a Northside Williamsonian.  

Now if I were to move to the Southside of Williamston these old habits would create big mess in my new neighborhood since rubbish removal is on Tuesday mornings there.  Becoming a Southside Williamsonian would require my learning a new habit. 

Lenten Spiritual disciplines are a lot like learning a new habit. 

For example, when we give up meat on Friday.  We abstain from the shockingly large impact that the industry of raising animals for food has on our environment.  A 2014 United Nations report found that that eating meat is ‘one of the … most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global’.

Forget energy efficient light bulbs and hybrid cars – removing meat from our diets is the single best thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars)

So the spiritual discipline of the fish fry, doesn’t necessarily make you a Roman Catholic, it might just shape you into a better steward of God’s creation.  

At their best lenten disciplines are holy habits that we try on for the season as a means to rehearse the habits of heaven.   At their worst they are just are 40 day irritants that leave us Hangry-  (You know thats the combination of Hungry and Angry).

Learning the holy habits is the Christian way of getting used to a new house in the kingdom of God.

At this point I am fairly certain that the Methodist pastors in the congregation are feeling satisfied.  John Wesley was after very into the spiritual disciplines.  The founder of Methodism would have understood these acquired holy habits as the Christian’s response to God’s grace, or God’s presence in our lives. 

It is through the acquisition of holy habits that humanity draws closer to God. I can just about hear my grandpa Chu a lutheran pastor hollering at me from house in heaven, “Grace has is more about how God come closer to us, Billy!”  

Let’s say sin equals the transgression of a law.  Thus far I have submitted to you that all that is really required to get used to your heavenly houses is to acquire a new set of habits that operate within a heavenly community law.  

Our Methodist tendency to over focus on holy habits that include personal holiness and social holiness can tend to render Martin Luther’s  reading of  St. Paul as blurry or unreadable.  

Roman’s 6: 14 - For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 

Getting used to our new houses in heaven is not just an exchange for one set of laws or disciplines for another.  Getting used to our new houses in heaven requires us to accept the grace of Jesus Christ.  

Another Lutheran, Pastor Nadia Boltz-Weber is the pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints a world famously queer friendly church in Denver.  In her book of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint,  Pastor Nadia tells the story of Stuart a gay member of “House” 

In his young adulthood , Stuart had been told by his evangelical church that in order to fit in the [church] he must go through a process of becoming less gay and more straight. He loves Jesus and loves the church and so he tried. By all accounts Stuart tried really hard, and in the end it was never enough. He could never manage to be less gay and eventually he left that church. He and his kind and creative partner, Jim, had been coming to House for All Sinners and Saints for six months when Stuart showed up in a dress shirt and tie.  [T]hat was day he had stood as godfather and baptismal sponsor for the child of his friends, a straight couple who have known Stuart for a number of years. After the baptism there was a little reception at this couple’s house. To Stuart’s surprise, during the reception, his friends rallied the attention of all of their guests so they could say a few words about why they had chosen Stuart as their child’s godparent. “We chose you, Stuart, ” they said, “because for most of your life you have pursued Christ and Christ’s church, even though as a gay man all you’ve heard from the church is that ‘there is no love for you here.’ ” It was as if his friends had said to him, “You, Stuart, convert us again and again to this faith.”

Bolz-Weber, Nadia (2013-09-10). Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (p. 91-92). FaithWords. Kindle Edition. 

At the House for all Sinners and Saints at least one couple has rejected the law for grace.  That couple has gotten used to living in the house that God has made for them by spending time with the ones who have been rejected by the laws of world and the laws of the church.  

House of All Sinners and Saints takes some getting used to.  In part because it leaves room for God’s presence, or God’s grace. This house invites people to live into the Freedom of God and outside of the Tyranny of Sin.  

We are both simultaneously sinners and saints.  And the truth is even after we’ve  immigrated through the waters of baptism there will be those times when we make a mess of our lives.  We will transgress, and we will sin.  The good news is that even when we wax nostalgic about our old houses, God is right there with us.  And God’s grace pulls us into this holy house, around this table for a family meal.  Come children of God leave the dominion of Sin.  Come children of God and live in freedom of God’s grace. Amen.