Why the Church? The Experiences of Freely Forgiven Sin

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Ultima_cena_-_ca_1975

I started part one by asking the question, why the church?  If the church is full of sinners, and there are plenty of other “sinner-included” options, why do we commit to showing up from week to week?

We come because church is a place of honesty.  Secondly, we come because we’re invited to enjoy the experiences of freely forgiven sin.  Every week we’re invited to be satisfied with a rich meal.

Rich Food

My family does most of our grocery shopping at a store called Aldi, a low cost grocer.  We like Aldi.  The food there is fine.  To be honest, though, shopping at the high end grocer Whole Foods would be better.  The food is better.  It’s rich food. The kind of food you post pictures of on Facebook.  The kind of food you slow down to eat.  You savor it, it’s so good. You don’t mind getting lost wandering the store, exploring the market.

Isaiah 55 begins with the voice of one inviting us to the market.  We’re invited to go shopping.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;  and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk  without money and without price. -Isaiah 55:1

Free Food

But notice how this shopping works.  It’s not just rich food, it’s free food.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. -Isaiah 55:1

Nelson (my friend) and I were having a conversation recently.  Nelson, who’s Catholic, said to me, “You know, you Protestants are mad.  You’re mad that if I have a bad week, I can just throw a couple of extra buck in the plate on Sunday.”  I said, “But Nelson, you’re getting a bad deal.  You’re paying for what I get for free.”

We should pay for what we get.  This makes total sense to us.  This kind of food should cost us something.  But that’s not how this works.  This food that we are invited to shop for is free.

I’ve come to appreciate the writings of Robert Capon, especially his thinking about the freeness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  For example, he states:

“Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection.

For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.”  -Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgement

There is a rich meal given to us, without merit and without cost inside the doors of the church, week after week.  It is pure gift, no strings attached.

Spiritual Food

But it’s not just a rich meal, and not just a free meal, it’s a spiritual meal.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? -Isaiah 55:2

What do you do with your guilt?  What do you do with your shame?  Do you know the difference between them?  Guilt is feeling I’ve done something wrong.  But shame is different: it’s feeling I am wrong.  I’m a mistake.

When we feel that way, we act to cover those feelings.  (Think Adam & Eve covering their nakedness with fig leaves.)  Why do we spend our lives trying to mask these things?  Where is that coming from?

Here’s where it comes from.  We weren’t made to cover up.  We were made to receive forgiveness.  We were made to enjoy forgiveness.  That’s a funny way to look at it.  You weren’t made to enjoy sinning.  But have you ever felt the pure relief of the kind of forgiveness, the pardon of sin and full acceptance, you had no chance of “earning back”?  You were made for that.  You were made to receive this meal.  It’s for you. 

Food for YOU

My father-in-law, Jack, was telling me that he used to teach at the Police Academy in Puerto Rico.  Jack said to me chicharronesomething profound (and simple).  As we talked, he grabbed the bag of chicharrones I was snacking on and said that as he was teaching his class of cadets, he could talk about the chicharrone, perfectly describe everything about it, tell his students exactly what a chicharrone is.  But then digging into the bag, he grabbed one those delicious little cracklings and said, showing it to me, this is a chicharrone.

In the same way,

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.”

He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

This is what the forgiveness of sins looks and tastes like: bread and wine.  

We are reminded of our baptisms, whether we were sprinkled as an infant or submerged as an adult.  That water was given to us, saying we are his.

These are what the experiences of freely forgiven sin feel like and taste like.  At church we are welcomed to enjoyed these gifts.  They are given to us in the rich food of bread and wine at the Lord’s table.  They come to us in the cleansing waters of holy Baptism.  They are freely given gifts.  They are gifts for you, without money and without price.  They are God’s gifts to you.  Why the Church?  We come for the experiences of freely forgiven sin.

 

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2 thoughts on “Why the Church? The Experiences of Freely Forgiven Sin

  1. Pingback: Why the Church? God is Speaking |

  2. Pingback: Why the Church? The Church is a Place of Hope |

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