Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
“What do you have to do to get to heaven?”
That’s a question many people ask. And for some people that’s what Christianity is all about. Everything we do, everything we believe is all focused on this one objective, getting to heaven.
Nothing else matters.
I had a youth director for whom this question was at the forefront of her concerns. She saw her job as saving the souls of the youth of the congregation.
One Sunday during the children’s sermon she began with that question.
“What do you have to do to get to heaven?”
Immediately, one particularly feisty young boy blurted out: “Die!”
I could hardly contain my laughter.
He was right. The only thing we have to do to get to heaven is die. God has done the rest.
Faith is not a pathway we must follow to get to heaven, faith is to trust in God in all things, and let it go. “Got you covered.” God says. “Got you covered.”
But does what we do in this life matter?
If it’s not about getting to heaven, what is it about?
What is the point of Christian Ethics?
And does it make sense to talk about Christian Ethics at all?
What we have too often done is to miss the point of Christian Ethics. We think that Christian Ethics is all about earning a reward and avoiding a punishment. It’s about heaven and hell.
The truth is much different.
Christian ethics is about our quality of life, not eternal life.
It’s not about getting to heaven.
It is about living well now.
What then are we called to do as God’s children?
Jesus was asked by a lawyer, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?”
Jesus answered him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is for this reason that God created us in the beginning. God wanted, and still wants, only one thing. And that is to be in a loving relationship with us. And then, God also desires that we love each other as he first loved us.
That is the good life that God imagined from the beginning.
It’s all about creating a loving family.
That’s why we talk about God as our Father, and why we refer to each other as children of God.
We are bound together by love.
So, you see, the question of Christian Ethics is not “How do I get to heaven?” but rather “What does it mean to love?”
Here’s where the books can and have been written.
Love is situational.
What is loving in one situation may not be in the next.
Parents often are faced with this. Many parents start out with the conviction that they should treat all of their children the same. And yet each child’s situation may require a different response.
Love is not a ‘one size fits all’ proposition.
Love always takes into consideration the needs of the person we love, and those needs may vary.
For example, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to challenge someone to do better.
But at other times, what is needed is the assurance that they are good enough, just the way they are.
Both are loving responses.
But within all the complexity of what is loving, and all of the varied situations that we are called to respond in a loving manner, Jesus does give us some guidance.
Two things stand out in our lessons for today.
On the first one, Paul writes in Romans:
“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
Why shouldn’t we judge our neighbor?
Because we are not their lord, we are not God, and oh, by the way, God has already judged and forgiven them, so let it go. Just let it go.
Christians have a hard time with this.
We are quick to pass judgment on one another.
This is so much a part of our makeup, that it is almost impossible to avoid it.
In fact, if you think about what I just said, I’m guilty of it.
In saying Christians are often too judgmental I myself have rendered a judgment.
Well, I can be judgmental. You can be judgmental. We all can be judgmental. That’s a sin we are all guilty of in one way or another.
We form alliances based on our judgments.
Conservative Christians tend to make certain judgments.
Liberal Christians are equally judgmental, just on different issues.
I, for example, have a real hard time with racists, or abusers.
If a white supremacist showed up at our door, I don’t know that I could welcome them.
And as for someone who sexually abuses children, for example, I’d like to string them up and kill them. That’s kind of judgmental.
That said, there is one judgment that we as Christians can rightfully make:
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-23)
If we must make a judgment let it be this:
That all have sinned, and there is no distinction, that is, no one’s sin is better or worse than another.
But having said that, we make the declaration that sinful though we all are, we are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Are we sinners?
Yes, but sinners Christ has redeemed.
Always forgive. That’s the second key to living a loving life. Always forgive.
“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
This runs counter to our human nature.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Now that’s a statement that rings true to many of us.
When I was looking up that statement on the internet, just to get it right, I came across another:
“I’m a good enough person to forgive you, but not stupid enough to trust you again.”
I once had a couple come in for marital counseling.
They were there because the husband, while away on a business trip, had been drinking and hooked up with another woman at the bar.
What was interesting was that his wife was willing to forgive him, in part, because she reasoned that his drinking had played a major part in his lack of judgment in that situation.
But, for whatever reason, she desperately wanted to save their marriage and was willing to forgive him.
He wanted a divorce.
The reason he wanted a divorce was that though his wife promised to forgive him, he was convinced she would never again trust him. And he couldn’t live with that.
If someone has sexually abused a child, can we forgive them? But even if we forgive them, can we ever trust them again to be alone with children?
And if we cannot trust them again, does that mean we have in fact never forgiven them?
This is where the ethics of love gets complicated.
Love entails forgiving.
But love also mandates that we protect the vulnerable from harm.
We have learned the hard way, that though forgiveness is available for all, trust can often never be restored in this life.
Underlying that is a fundamental question: Is trust something that we give to another, or something that is earned. And when someone violates that trust, is there anything they can do to restore it?
I do know this. I would never entrust my children or grandchildren to the care of someone who has abused children before. I love them too much to subject them to that risk.
And if that’s a sin, I guess all I can do is ask God’s forgiveness, because that’s a sin I’m willing to commit.
There is another side to forgiveness, though, that is often overlooked. And that is ‘just let it go.’
Harboring anger, or resentment toward another, bottling it up inside and being consumed by it, is more harmful to our selves than it is to the other person.
It is said that hanging onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
One of the reasons God wants us to forgive those who sin against us, is so that we ourselves will not be destroyed by our resentments and rage.
I learned this first hand five years ago. Someone in my congregation did something that so enraged me that I turned to my bottle of Scotch and tried to drink the rage away.
The person who almost died as a result was not the person who harmed me, but me.
Just let it go.
Forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of others.
How often must we forgive?
As often as you need to forgive.
God isn’t asking us to do the impossible.
God’s command to forgive is actually for our own sake. Our failure to forgive will kill us in the end. It will destroy the very fabric of our lives.
And that’s the last thing God wants for us.
And so God forgives us all our sins.
And for our sake, encourages us to do likewise.