Who Would Go Back?

Sorry there’s no recording this week!

You’re going to get a very short sermon today. Mostly because I off-handedly promised the confirmands that I would tell this story:

When I was in college, I was in the jazz ensemble. And one of the things we did was travel to different jazz festivals to compete against other ensembles. We went to Western Illinois every year and crushed it. And while I was in the band, we went to Notre Dame once… and Elmhurst once… and Eau Claire once.

For those who don’t know, Eau Claire is about an hour and a half east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. And it’s about an hour south of a little town called Rice Lake.

Now, one of our bandmates was from Rice Lake, so while we were at Eau Claire, we stayed at his house. And while we were there, we learned that he had some stuff in his room that he had stolen from Burger King back in the day. And we were inspired.

So on the way home—on the way from Eau Claire to Galesburg—some of us stopped at a Burger King. We ordered our meals. We ate our meals. And then we picked up the condiment dispenser, walked out the door, got into the SUV, and drove away.

And when I say condiment dispenser, I don’t mean a ketchup pump or a napkin dispenser or a few packets of mustard. I mean the whole injection-molded counter-top thingthat holdsthe ketchup and mustard pumps, and napkin and straw dispensers, and packets of everything.

We took that. We stole that. Because we were dumb and we thought it would be funny.

For a few days, we had a Burger King condiment dispenser in our house on campus. And after a few days, we got a call from our director, the gist of which was, “Burger King knows. I’m not going to prison for you. Fix this.”

So a couple of us called Burger King and apologized. And we collected some money. And we shipped a condiment dispenser to a Burger King in Wisconsin.

And that’s kind of a funny story. It’s the kind of thing that people reminisce about. “Hey, remember that time we committed grand larceny and transported stolen goods across state lines? Thank God we’re white.”

But it’s also not my finest moment. It’s not something I’m proud of. At best, it’s a good example of how even pastors have pasts.

Last week, I told you that you are loved and worthy of love… that it doesn’t matter how you got here, you are here now… that you are in grace… that you are loved and worthy of love. And I told you that didn’t have to do anything to earn that. I told you that you couldn’t do anything to earn that.

God doesn’t love us because of who we are. God loves us because of who God is.

At the beginning of today’s reading, Paul asks the question that follows naturally: If we are saved by God’s grace—if God is going to love us no matter what because that’s just the kind of person who God is—why not keep stealing condiment dispensers? Or, as Paul puts it, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”

And the answer is shockingly simple. 

Once, we were slaves to sin. Then we were baptized. We were baptized into Christ’s death. We were baptized into Christ’s resurrection. Sin is still there. Sin is still lurking in the world. Sin is still whispering and asking us to come back to it. But sin has no power over us. We are free from slavery to sin. 

And who, having tasted freedom in Christ, voluntarily returns to slavery in sin? Why would we go back?

In a few minutes, I’m going to invite some young people up to the chancel. We call them ‘confirmands’ and we pretend that we are confirming them.

But, confirmands, the truth is this: you are doing the confirming. You are confirming your baptism. You are recognizing that you are no longer slaves to sin. You are claiming your freedom in Christ. You are presenting yourselves to God as instruments of his righteousness.

And sin is still out there. Sin is still lurking. Sin is still whispering and asking you to come back to it. And, sometimes, you will wander in the direction of sin. But it has no power over you. You were free from slavery to sin the moment you were baptized, and, in a few minutes, you are going to declare that you are free from slavery to sin.

You are going to tell this church and the world that you are going to strive to instruments of love.

That is no small thing.

I am not proud of the person I was when I helped steal a Burger King condiment dispenser. When I say that it was grand larceny, I’m not kidding. When I learned that Burger King knew, I worried about prison time. And it still effects me. I looked up the statute of limitations before I told you this story.

But I am who I am, in part, because Burger King cut a group of dumb college kids some slack.

And I am who I am, certainly, because God looked at me, in all my brokenness, and said, “You are loved and you are worthy of love. I’m not done with you, yet.” And freed me from my slavery to sin.

I don’t want to be the person who helped steal a Burger King condiment dispenser. I don’t want to be the person who did a whole lot of the things that I did. I don’t want to be a slave to sin. I don’t want to be an instrument of wickedness.

And there is good news: I don’t have to be.

Thanks be to God!

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

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