7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2017
Grace to you and peace in the name of God our Father and our Living Savior Jesus. Today’s sermon is based on the Second or Epistle Lesson from the wonderful text read earlier that is Romans chapter 8.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
So…of course the BURNING question on everyone’s mind today is clearly “what did Pastor do on his vacation?” Okay, I’ll tell you. First, I flew from Tampa to Atlanta and then Lincoln, NE. Then I did a BUNCH of stuff before eventually driving to northern Minnesota.
“Like what,” you ask? For starters I got a haircut and some new shoes. I went to our family’s cabin where I played croquet and celebrated the 4th of July. I rode past the old house and neighborhood where I grew up as a kid at 2420 Park Ave in Lincoln; sounds more fancy than it is. I went to both a movie and a concert. And, oh yeah, I met a living legend, shook his hand twice, and had him autograph a football for me. Yeah…maybe that last one needs some explaining.
On my vacation I met Tom Osborne. “Who is that,” you ask? Well, Tom Osborne served as the head football coach at the University of Nebraska for 25 years, from 1973 to 1997. Osborne was one of the most successful coaches in college football history, with a career record of 255–49, 13 conference championships, and three national championships. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Osborne was later elected a U.S. Representative from Nebraska where he served three terms, from 2001 to 2007. In 2007, he returned to the University of Nebraska as athletic director before retiring in January 2013.
It also just so happens that he goes to Stauffer’s – the same little restaurant – every Friday morning and, gee whiz, I guess I JUST HAPPENED to be there at the same time. What a coincidence! To be honest, I kind of ambushed him with signing a football on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant, but he was very gracious in hand-signing the ball just like I wanted him to…for my brother Mike. That’s right. I had Tom Osborne, living-legend coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, right in front of me with his undivided attention, and I had him sign the ball for someone else. Did I want the ball myself? YES! Was I only going to get one shot at this? YES! Did I act for my own benefit to suit my own desires? No…no, I did not. I did something for someone else even at personal cost. And I don’t regret it; to me it was the right thing to do.
In the first 7 chapters of Romans, Paul explains that God counts us as righteous not because of the good stuff we do for ourselves or even the good stuff we do for others even at personal cost, but because of what Christ has already done for us. Even though we continue to sin, those sins are counted against the old self that was crucified with Christ. We have an obligation to fight sin, not to be saved, but because we are already children of God.
If I added a personalized autographed ball to my collection, that would have been awesome. But only I would have benefited. Now, 2 people benefit: Mike has a personalized autograph and I feel good in having done that. I have learned that selflessness is always more powerful than selfishness. In the same way, Paul wrote that there is a cosmic significance to God’s selfless plan being worked out in us: “…Creation waits in eager expectation…For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into freedom and glory” (verses 19-21).
The creation is now in decay – a reality that you wake up every day to, whether it’s a pain in the news or in the neck. A day is coming, at the resurrection of all flesh, when we are perfectly given God’s eternal glory, the whole universe will be freed from its bondage, too. Could Jesus have been selfish at Gethsemane and Calvary? Of course…but He wasn’t. Instead, the entire universe has been redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). Imagine! All creation in our day “groans” (different for all) from the struggle of sin, but a time is coming when God in Christ will end all this because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross for you and promises to provide in and through faith secured at the empty tomb of Easter.
Even though we have been given the Holy Spirit through Baptismal faith, we still struggle, for our salvation is not yet complete. We struggle with sin, we struggle with physical limitations, pain and grief and depression and sorrow, we struggle in relationships and financial concerns – even while we rejoice in what Christ has done for us! It is the great struggle – a weird dichotomy – that is being “sinner and saint” at the same time.
And so, in the meantime, we take a lot away from a phrase like “Living Legend,” and not just in regards to Tom Osborne. Know why I admire Tom Osborne so much? Not his win/loss record; it’s his outspoken Christian faith. Christ Jesus is our real living legend; a living Lord and Savior who has redeemed you and now keeps you in eternal love, mercy and grace. Inspired by that love, we love one another because love comes from God who is love (1 John 4:7-8).
How can we show that love? I’m glad you asked. We show that love by not acting for our own benefit and desires, but instead doing for others as we want done unto us. By doing the right thing especially when no one is watching. By resolving conflicts in your life instead of fueling them. By having a living hope even when life seems hopeless and then sharing that hope. By being willing to forgive your neighbor because who know that God has already forgiven you. And, of course, if you want to get your Pastor a hand-signed football autographed by Tom Osborne, well, that would be good too. It’s good to be home, my friends, good indeed.