Really, if you boil it down, all sermons could be shrunk to this: "Worship God and don't disrespect him. Follow the laws. Be kind to each other. And if you don't you're going to Hell!" People don't need long lectures anymore.I told him that no truly Christian sermon would go like that at all, then, linking to the transcript, asked him to tell me where he saw any of his characterization of a sermon was seen in the royal wedding sermon. He responded by citing the Most Reverend Michael Curry's mention of what's called "the Great Commandment": to love God and to love neighbor.
It's been a few days since that exchange. I've been waiting to respond in the right way. Hopefully, I did so today. Here's what I wrote:
...I've been waiting for a time to give a more thoughtful response to some of your comments. I don't really have the time right now. But responding to you is too important to me to wait any longer.
I hope that you'll be patient with me. And I promise that I won't continue this thread beyond here unless you choose to do so. But I feel the need to clarify some things.
If, in the citation of the "the great commandment"--love God, love neighbor-- you heard the royal wedding preacher saying, "Do these things and you'll not go to hell," I feel the need to clarify.
That's NOT what he said.
Remember his reference to Jesus?
If I could obey God's commands, like to love God, to love neighbor, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God, I wouldn't need Jesus.
But it's because I am TOTALLY INCAPABLE of obeying God's law, the appropriate consequence for which is God's condemnation and my death, that God, Who loves sinners like me despite my being completely undeserving, that God became human in Jesus Christ.
Jesus led the perfectly sinless life and was able to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for my sin when He voluntarily died on the cross. When I trust in Christ, He covers me with the forgiveness and new life He earned for me on the cross. His resurrection confirms His ability to do that for anyone who believes in Him.
God's commandments--or His laws--CANNOT, to use your language, save me from hell.
By that, I mean that I can't have a right relationship with God by being good. BECAUSE I CAN'T DECIDE TO BE GOOD. It's not in me. Everyone falls short of God's will for human beings.
God's law exists for three purposes, then:
1. To show us our distance from not only God's expectations of us but, truth be told, our own expectations of us.
2. To drive us to the cover of Christ, Who has obeyed the commandments perfectly for us, gaining forgiveness and new life as gifts from God. This is what Christians mean when they speak of "grace," an English translation of the New Testament word, charitas, which gets transliterated into English as charity. (The New Testament writers wrote in Greek, the second language of the first-century world, as English is today.) You don't earn charity. It's conferred. When we trust in Christ, God confers the charities of forgiveness and new life on believers.
3. The third use of God's law is as a guide to believers who are grateful to God for grace. After God sets me free from sin and death, as a grateful disciple, I want to live in ways that God has designed for human living. I fail at this every day, causing me to turn back to God in the name of Jesus, for forgiveness and the help of God to live differently today than I did yesterday.
All of this is why I said earlier that no truly Christian sermon states or intimates that if we behave in certain ways, we will be saved from sin and death.
A Christian sermon might say, "This is the will of God for human beings. This, in fact, is how we behave. But God loves us and has sent Christ to erase the power of sin and death over the lives of those who turn from sin (repent) and put their trust in (believe in) Jesus." That's what Christian preachers do when they refer to God's laws.
And even the capacity to believe in such good news is beyond me because I'm a creature of a bad news world. God gives belief to those who are willing to believe. They're like the man who told Jesus honestly one day, "I do believe; help my unbelief." That's what I ask God to give to me every day, belief...and have been since the days when, as an atheist, I became enamored of Christ, the Bible, and the "ordinary" Christians of our home church in Columbus, and asked God to help me to believe. He keeps me giving me this gift every day.
All I'm saying is this: If you ever heard a sermon and didn't hear the good news about Christ: new life and forgiveness as free gifts for those who believe, you didn't hear a sermon. Any preacher who ever intimated that you and I could be saved by the good stuff we do would be a liar. Only Christ can do that.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]