Sermon: Lent 2 RCL A – “Condemn and Save”

Photo by Matt Unczowsky on Unsplash

The best I can tell, this is a true story…

A family was sent out into an area to do missionary work, and there were very few services or access to some foods, one of which was peanut butter. This family must have been somewhat like me; I love some peanut butter, so they made special arrangements with a friend Stateside to send over an occasional jar of peanut butter to have with their meals. Soon the news of this regular supply leaked to the other missionaries in the area, and they became quite irritated. Apparently, all the other missionaries considered it a mark of spirituality if you did without those things that the local people could not have or have access to. The other missionaries said, “We believe since we cannot get peanut butter here, then we must not have it with our meals, we must contextualize, we must be like the native people, we must sacrifice for Christ. We must bear the cross by not having peanut butter.” Personally, I think Jesus would have liked peanut butter, but that’s just me. Anyhow…

The young missionary family did not give in to the legalistic pressure and had the peanut butter secretly shipped in and ate it with their meals. However, I suppose they went out with peanut butter breath, and it was discovered they were still eating it, so the pressure grew more and more intense—all for a jar of peanut butter. Ultimately, the family was so discouraged by petty legalism that they left the mission field in disgust.

Thank goodness those other missionaries could keep the faith by not eating peanut butter. If they didn’t stop it there, those radical missionaries might have started ordering some lovely plum jelly to go with their peanut butter.

This week in my studies, something small about our Gospel kept my attention. Jesus said, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I’ve always looked at that statement and focused on the result—Jesus came to save us and accomplished this work through the Cross. When I read it this week, I kept returning to the two words, condemn and save.

You know the definition of the word condemn, but so that we’re thinking the same, from the Oxford Dictionary, condemn means to criticize something or someone strongly, usually for moral reasons, and can include sentencing someone to a particular punishment, especially death.

If we use Jesus’ words with that definition, Jesus said, “The Father did not send me to sentence the world to death but to save it.” Understanding this, St. Paul can say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Jesus did not come to condemn. He came to save. Again, St. Paul tells us, “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20) When Jesus said that he came to “save,” we can understand that He came to reconcile us to God.

Put together, Jesus said, “The Father did not send me to sentence you to death but to reconcile you to Himself.” So the question is: if this is why Jesus came, then why do we still condemn one another over everything and anything, including a spoon full of peanut butter, instead of seeking ways to be reconciled with God and to be reconciled with one another? Answer: It is far easier to condemn someone than it is to save them, to be reconciled with them. To condemn someone only requires words. To save or be reconciled to them is going to cost you something.

On the sixth day of creation, the Book of Genesis declares, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” “God said…,” God spoke us into creation, and He can just as easily condemn us and speak us out of creation. To condemn is easy; it only requires words, but to save…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

To condemn is easy. It only takes words. To save… that’s going to cost you something. St. John says to us, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16), and a few verses on, he says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

God the Father could have easily condemned us. He could have spoken, and it would have been over. Instead, he chose to pour out His grace by giving His son so we might be saved. That grace—that salvation—was costly to God, for it was accomplished through a deed: the death of His Son on the Cross.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Grace is costly, because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a person his life, and it is grace because it gives a person the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: you were bought at a price, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us” (p.47), and when we condemn others, we cheapen the grace that has been shown to us by the Father.

The Psalmist writes:
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him.
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
(Psalm 37:7-9)

As Christ Jesus has not condemned us, we should not condemn others. As Christ has saved and reconciled us to the Father, we should give of ourselves so that we might be reconciled to God and to one another. This is not easy work, it will likely cost you something, but it is God’s work.

Let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace:
where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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