Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As children grow up, they learn a very important word; consequences. The lesson usually goes something like this: “Tommy, if you don’t finish your homework, you can’t go outside and play with your friends.” “Jill, unless you clean up your room, you’re not getting that new CD.” To children, consequences look a lot like punishment.
Marsha and I had friends when we were young parents who were so upset with their child…something he repeatedly did in his upstairs playroom…that the father screamed at his son “If you do that one more time, I’m going to throw you out of your bedroom window!” It was an idle threat; the kid knew his dad wasn’t going to throw him out the bedroom window; he slept on the second floor. But the very next day, his dad was listening to James Dobson on his car radio, and Dr. Dobson said something like “Parents, you have to be consistent. The worst thing you can possibly do is not follow through in the discipline of your children. If you say it, you’d better do it. You’ve got to follow through or your credibility will be shattered.”
Now what does he do? That night, the kid commits the same act of disobedience, and his dad quietly opened up the window, grabbed his son, and tossed him out into the eight-foot snowdrift from that day’s blizzard. From that moment on, that young guy never again doubted that his dad would follow through with consequences.
Up to now, the “consequences” I’ve mentioned have been negative in nature. (Do this or you’ll be punished; if you do that and you are likely to fail.) But there is such a thing as positive consequences. How many of us have told our children “If you really work hard, you can make that team.” “If you diligently practice your piano everyday, you can become a great concert pianist.” “If you study, and stay out of trouble, I’ll bet you can get an academic scholarship.”
As adults, one of the consequences of being a safe driver is lower car insurance. Shelly Rock constantly reminds us that a consequence of healthy eating is a healthier body. Every Sunday when we walk into the gathering area of our church, we are met with a powerful consequence etched into the cupola of that space: Grounded in faith, gathered in love and send with a purpose: So that others may gain the Kingdom! It’s the purpose statement of this church, the consequence of our lives of faith. Because we believe, because we gather for worship, because we are sent from this place…other people will come to know Jesus Christ. It’s a natural consequence of living.
The 51st Psalm is all about consequences. It is presumably written by King David, in the aftermath of some terrible choices he had made. He had accidentally observed a woman by the name of Bathsheba, bathing in the community pool, and he decided he wanted to become intimate with her. But Bathsheba is married; no problem. Slaves bring Bathsheba to the palace, she and David get together, and the result is that she becomes pregnant.
And then the cover-up begins. Bathshebagate! David sends for her husband, who is serving in the army, assuming that Uriah and Bathsheba would have relations, and Uriah would think that the child was his, but that doesn’t work. So next, David has Uriah sent to the front lines of the battle where he is killed, and then David takes Bathseba as his wife. Problem solved, right? Not exactly. The child is born, but only lives for a week, and the net result is that David is consumed by his guilt and shame. The consequences of David’s actions are misery and pain; just listen to the lament in David’s writing.
• Have mercy on me, O God…blot out my transgressions.
• I know my transgressions, my sin is ever before me.
• I was born guilty, a sinner when I was conceived.
• I have done evil in your sight.
• Hide your face from my sins.
You can feel David’s anguish as he pours out his heart to God. He is acutely aware that his shame is a direct result – a consequence, if you will – of his actions. He freely tells God that he deserves to be punished. Such is the honesty of one who is convinced of their sinfulness.
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Several years ago, I brought a group of junior high school students behind the bars of the Oregon State Penitentiary to meet with members of “The Lifers Club.” It’s a rather distinct fraternity, The Lifer’s Club; the only way to become a part of it is to have been convicted of first degree murder. We sat at a round table with a young man who was about 25 years old, and this is what he said to these teenagers. “I deserve to be here. A few years ago, I was just like you; happy go lucky kid with loving parents who brought me to Sunday School every week, and then I began experimenting with drugs. One thing led to another, and I ended up killing a store clerk to get money for drugs. I’ve been here seven years. My sister got married and has had two kids, that I’ve never met. My mom died and I couldn’t go to her funeral. I ain’t never getting out of here, and I don’t deserve to. My life is over.”
Now maybe your confession has never been as desperate as that young man’s; maybe your lament has never reached the level of David’s psalm. But if we are honest about our lives, we must admit that there are things we have done or said that fill us with guilt and shame. In fact, maybe we’re still doing or saying those things, and inside, we are a mess. “I know my transgressions, my sin is ever before me. I have done evil in your sight, God; hide your face from my sins.” Such is the consequence of one who is convinced of their sinfulness.
But there is another consequence in this tragic psalm of David; it comes in the very last verse that we read.
Create in me a clean heart O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and don’t take your spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation….
then I will teach transgressors your way.
If…then, did you hear it? God, if you give me another chance, if you can find a way to ignore my sins, and offer me a fresh start; if you can forgive the past and allow me a future, then I will serve you. Well, God did that for David, and in spite of his transgressions, David came to be known as the greatest king in the history of Israel.
And God did that for the inmate that we met in Oregon; the man was not released from the consequences, but God’s forgiveness led him to join The Lifer’s Club and spend his time warning young people about the consequences of drugs.
And God chooses to do the same for us; to blot out our offenses, though our sins are as bright as scarlet, he chooses to make them white as snow. Though our sins are real, and our shame – perhaps – deserved, we are offered grace. And the positive consequence is that we live in such a way that others would know about this God who offers a second chance.
In a moment we will share in this great transaction. We will stand before God with empty hands and broken hearts, and God will say “Eat this bread, drink this wine, and know that I love you, and then go and tell others that I love them, too.” This Christian life has consequences, but they are all good.
• If we have received God’s grace, then we will try to live righteous lives.
• If we are convinced of our forgiveness, then we will choose to forgive others who have offended us.
• If we are grateful for God’s love, then we will freely share our possessions.
• If we know we are loved unconditionally by Jesus Christ, then we will not get bogged down in petty disagreements with others.
• If we are serious about serving God, then our neighbors and our workmates and our families should not have to wonder if we are Christian.
Sometimes, in our wonderful Lutheran theology, we get so enthralled by God’s grace, that it doesn’t seem to matter how we live our lives. But it does matter! May we leave this place today, not bound to legalistic living, but freed for loving service. And may the consequences be mighty! Thanks be to God. Amen.