Genesis 2: 15-17 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Romans 5: 12-19 March 5, 2017
“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Prayer: Extravagant God, as we begin our Lenten journey, please let your presence be another way you communicate your love to us. We pray through Christ Jesus, our Redeemer and Friend. Amen.
On Ash Wednesday, our Lenten journey began. To set the stage and to begin the theme of “Extravagant Love,” we heard the idea that out of holy love for the world, God gave the gifts of Love, and Life, and saving grace through Jesus Christ. A key biblical passage for us is John 3:16 which says, “For God so loved the world, that God gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will never die, but will have everlasting life.” Amen.
Throughout the Sundays of Lent and worship moments of Holy Week, we will be exploring and learning ways to communicate this extravagant love. Christian author and family care specialist Gary Chapman has written a book called The Five Love Languages. In his book he helps people express and receive love that we speak and understand in relationships. He calls them love languages. Our worship experiences will explore these five languages, and three more I’ve added. We do this not so much for married couples, but more so for us as people on the spiritual journey (you can see the five languages and the additional three ones on the inside back cover of your bulletin).
We will also use the placement of the cross in our sanctuary on various Sundays as a means of suggesting that God’s extravagant love might be expressed visually by the cross being in that certain place. Today, the cross is at the altar, and you’ll see why in a minute.
The first love language is one we can all identify: doing an act of service. An act of service to or for another person is a meaningful way of expressing and receiving love.
From a biblical perspective, God did an incredible, outrageous, extravagant and needed act of service for the whole human race. The Genesis passage sets up the reason why. The metaphorical story depicts God taking Adam, the human being and placing him in the garden of Eden, earth.
Then God instructs Adam about what to eat and what not to eat. But… human beings, being human beings, are prone to doing exactly the opposite of what was told, though, right? It’s like, if I told you, ‘Don’t think of an elephant.’ Uh, you did! I told you not to! But, what did you do? Later on in the story, God told Adam and Eve, “Don’t eat from that tree of knowledge good and evil.” Uh! What did Adam and Eve do? They ate. Ofcourse, it’s much more complicated than that, but when, they ate from the tree theybusted their pristine relationship with God.
This is the metaphorical story the ancient Hebrews told to try and make sense of the fact that all humanity suffers from an acute case of a busted relationship with God. Call it sin. Call it making anything more important than God. Cal it falling short of God’s glory. Call it missing the mark of our ideal humanity. Call it whatever you want, but know this—it cuts us off from God, our Source of Love and Life. If we’re cut off from that Source, what happens? We die. The consequence of sin is death of the inner spirit. And death is pervasive, spreading to all.
Paul chimes in and says that death spread to all because all have sinned from the starting point of Adam—all have a busted relationship with God. Kind of like the bowl of oranges that all of us sometimes have on our counters. If we let them sit there too long, sure enough, one of them goes bad, and this white, moldy, gross, icky looking stuff starts spreading over all the oranges. I like it when small moments in life teach us biblical truths. Similarly, Paul says that death is the consequence of our busted relationship with God, spreading to everyone, dominating everything, governing all perspectives. Is it any wonder that humanity needed God to do us a favor? An act of service that expresses God’s love for us?
But, let’s be sure we understand… it’s not just a love that makes us feel good. It’s not just a love that invites intimacy. It’s not that this love creates touching moments of acknowledgement and
acceptance for us and others.
God’s Love does all that, yes… but, there’s more. It’s a Love that is willing to go the extra mile for you, even to the point of sacrificing it all, just so you understand how far God is willing to go to communicate love for you. That’s why I’ve placed the cross at the altar today—because the altar and the cross are symbols of the sacrifice Christ made.
But there’s still more… most of all, the act of service God does in Christ actually removes the consequence of our busted relationship with God, which is death of our inner spirit. Christ is able, as I understand it, to place the human race before God as redeemed, no longer held accountable for our ability to bust our relationship with God. That means in Christ, we live! That means, instead of death running dominant in us, if we let in life, love, grace, righteousness, holiness run dominant. That’s extravagant love!
On the one hand, Paul describes death as starting from a certain point, spreading throughout humanity, dominating all things. On the other hand, he describes the abundance of Christ’s grace as the free gift from God that spreads from a certain point, and that is Christ, and his act of service for humanity. And that free gift of love and grace spreads to all. And, God is justified in making that happen! That is Extravagant Love!
Kind of like when you are doing dishes and one pan is filled with water, soaking… and there’s a thin film of oil over the top of the water. What happens when you add one drop of the cleansing liquid detergent in the middle of that film of oil? The oil dissipates quickly, doesn’t it, radiating outward to all sides and in all directions. Ever notice that? As I said, I like it when small moments in life teach us biblical truths.
In the same line of thinking, God’s love is communicated in Christ’s act of service, offering the free gift of himself, and the cleansing, redeeming power radiates out from him in all directions, to all people. The many, the human race are redeemed through the one act of service. Such is God’s extravagant, saving Love.
And the many, all of us redeemed people gather together, and we celebrate this act of service Christ performed for each of us. We worship him for that reason and many other reasons, too.
We are called to be Christ Jesus’ Church. And as Church, we do acts of service that communicate God’s extravagant Love. For what? I think we do it for others in the world… I think we endeavor to go on with our lives inspired to be a people who communicate God’s extravagant love and grace through our acts of service for others… others who long to have the extravagant love of God expressed to them… others who have an emptiness in their soul that craves an act of service which says to them, “God loves you.”
Friends, I think we miss an awful lot when the churchbecomes a commodity that we can consume for our own purposes, our own well-being, to meet our own personal interests and desires. It does provide that, but there’s more!
People often say to me that they are “Church shopping.” That’s good… you want to find a place where your faith is nurtured. But, if you happen to settle on Christ Church, UCC, you need to know going in that being involved here means that God calls you to Be the Church with us. The Church is the instrument God uses for God’s purposes.
This is true for all of us. The church isn’t made for us. It’s made for God to use in whatever way God likes. You’re made for God to use in whatever way God likes. And for each of us to be part of God’s Church here in E-town, in my way of thinking, that means that God has access to each of us to do acts of service, to do ministry, to be the church that expresses God’s love to all others.
That is why we have Consistory, commissions and committees, task forces, music programs, and small groups. We provide the structure and the opportunities for all of us, not just a small portion of us, but for all of us to be the church, to do acts of service, for God’s love and grace to be shared.
And, trust me, your personal faith and spiritual needs will get met, too. Jesus promises that so many times through scripture. Here’s just one… Jesus said, “God knows what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all the rest will be added unto you” (Matthew 6: 32-33).
So, this season of Lent, I invite you to engage in Acts of Service which share God’s Extravagant Love because God in Christ did an loving, extravagant act of service for us. We’re invited to cherish this gift, and to love others in new ways, because we and our church are made for God to use for God’s purposes. Amen.