In The Shadow of Glory

Sermon Text – 08.11.2019 [Romans 2]           C.S. Lewis may be one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th century. In addition to his many non-fiction books on various Christian subjects, he created the Chronicles of Narnia best known in the book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Many of us read it as children, but it you haven’t read it lately – I highly encourage you to go back and re-read it sometime as an adult. These are deep books with layers of meaning and every time I read them I find something new. He tells the story of Christianity inside a fictional, fantasy world of talking animals where magic is real. And there’s a character in the story named Aslan. Aslan is a lion, and his character represents God throughout the series of books. And there’s a moment I wanted to read you to start this sermon. This comes from the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which is actually the third book in the series. Now in this story there are four children who have entered the world of Narnia for the very first time and they don’t know anything about Aslan. But the children happen to meet some friendly beavers, Mr and Mrs. Beaver, who are trying to explain the world they live in. and it says, “Aslan is a lion – the lion, the great lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” [p?]

        
  Today is part two of our sermon series called “The Road to Rome, Part I” As I mentioned last week in the next year we are going to read the entire book of Romans in this church, but to get us started in this month we are just going to look at the first four chapters. The book of Romans is a letter written by a guy named Paul to a church full of people he has never met – and so it’s a very helpful book because it’s like an introduction to theology, an introduction to who God is. And what we will find is that the first chapters of Romans are all about how incredible and glorious and majestic God is. Today I want us to wrap ourselves around the idea that there is a shadow to glory. I want to us to see that the Glory of God is not safe, God is not safe, but He is good.    

 

         
So we jump into chapter two, we’re reading a chapter a week this month. Now, if you don’t know – that’s pretty fast. That was a really long scripture reading we had earlier in the service, there’s a lot of ground to cover and so as we begin I want you to understand we have to use broad strokes. It starts, [read v.1-5]. Oh snap, there’s a lot going on here. Walk with me on this. Verse one says you have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else. Basically, Paul starts with “don’t judge people.” That’s not our place. You ever see that t-shirt that girls wear, when they take pictures with the duckface. “only God can judge me.” You know what I’m talking about. You own that shirt, don’t you? And all the people with the “only God can judge me” t-shirt on look at the rest of us, stick out their tongue and say, “yeah, don’t judge me.” But, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh… wait a minute Verse 2, [read it again]. Now, if you didn’t catch it – Paul’s being a little sassy here. You know when God judged humanity, and says “wow, you guys are the worst,” Paul says, “you know he’s got a point.” You know he’s right. See, here’s what I want you to realize – not judging people does not let them off the hook. Paul is not saying “don’t judge people” because they should be able to do whatever they want. Paul is saying “don’t judge people” because that’s not your place. God is the judge. Not us, God. When Paul says “don’t judge people” he is not saying “stop caring about what other people do.” Paul is not saying judgment goes away. Verse 2 he says that God’s judgment is based in truth. He’s saying it’s not your job – it’s God’s job. God is the good and perfect judge. And I think about that shirt, the “only God can judge me” t shirt and I just.. every time I see that shirt I want grab them by the shoulders and say, “yes, you’re 1000% completely correct only God can judge you and that should scare the snot out of you.” Who cares if I judge you? I don’t even know you – but God, he knows you. Verse 3, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Only God can judge me, and I promise… he will!
 
Let me see if I can explain it like this – imagine God is light. Like the glory of God is the sun. There is a shadow created by the light of God’s goodness when it shines in our lives. John chapter three, verse 17 says [read 17-21]. You catch the metaphor? God is the light, and there is a part of each of us that does not want to go into the light. We don’t want to line up with God, we don’t like the light, we like the shadow, the darkness. But remember, Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn it – he came to save it. He came to give us a way back into the light. Back in Romans, verse four lays it out. [read it]. Argh, there’s so much stuff about the character of God packed into these verses – I’m having trouble conveying it to you clearly. First Paul outlines that there is righteous judgement of God, he judges us as sinful and that’s based in truth. But then in verse four, Paul shows us that God has riches of kindness, and forbearance and patience. Our God is a kind and patient God. And in our world some people interpret kindness as being a pushover. We see patience as a weakness, but Paul wants us to look at in the right way. He asks, “don’t you realize that God is being patient, and God is being kind is intended to lead you to repentance.” He’s not being nice to you because he doesn’t care what you do. He’s being patient so you have time to repent – to turn from selfish, sinful ways and come back into the light.
 

We fast forward a little bit to verse 13, where it says, [read it]. Look, here’s the thing – Romans chapter one talks all about the glory of God and how incredible he is. Chapter two shifts from talking about that glory to the alternative – sin, the darkness. When glory meets sin, when light meets darkness there is what we call judgment. And American Christians HATE talking about judgment. Some of you are very uncomfortable right now – you’re like super worried I’m going to say something terrible in a few seconds. And to be honest, I get it, we have a reason to hate judgment. Christianity as a whole through the centuries, but also in America specifically in the last hundred years – we have been a church filled with judgment. But it’s worse than that. It’s bad when humans try to take God’s job, but it’s even worse when we are hypocritical about it. This is what Paul is warning us about. First, he says, if we’re going to talk about judgment – we have to remember that’s God’s job, not ours. And second, don’t be hypocrites. Verse 13 – there is a difference between hearing the law and obeying the law. So many of us in the church, we know the law, we know the rules – we know, basically, what’s right and wrong, and yet we don’t follow it. And that makes the judgment all the worse, because it is so full of hypocrisy. It’s so fake. Paul gets real specific about it, verse 21 [read 21-24]. And there it is – the name of God is dragged through the mud because of what you do. When you talk the talk, claim Christianity – but then live away from God, you drag God’s name through the mud. I think the easiest example of this is Catholic church and their struggles with pedophile priests. Every time a priest is accused, people leave the church – hurt by the two-facedness. They teach one thing and then they do the opposite. And so then some people try to cover it up – we gotta protect the image of the church, don’t tell anyone – and then it makes it even worse. Not only have we hurt children when we say that it’s a sin to hurt children, but then we covered it up, we lied when we say that it’s a sin to lie. And people are sick and tired of it. Judgment done by humans in the light of hypocrisy hurts the name of God.  

But there’s good news! 30-40 years ago they found the answer. If, every time we judge while we are being hypocrites we hurt the name of God – we should just stop judging completely. We should teach people that God doesn’t judge. We should teach people that judgment is evil and a loving God would never do that. The struggle between light and dark in our hearts is a bit too much, so we’ll just pretend that everything is light. Stay out of one another’s business. Can’t be hypocritical if you never say anything. Can’t be judgmental if you just ignore everything the other person does. And all the problems of the church were solved overnight. [laugh]. Not quite. We took Paul warning about judgment and hypocrisy and we moved from hypocrisy to nothing. Our answer is to just avoid the issue completely. But ignoring the darkness does not deal with the darkness. It does not move us closer to the light. We are less judgmental – which is nice. But there’s still a missing piece. See, no matter what we tell ourselves as a culture we still have to deal with the fact that God is light and there is darkness in each of us. And no matter how much we ignore the people around us, we still have to deal with the reality that someday that light and that darkness will meet.
 

And then there’s verse 29. The last verse of the entire chapter says, [read it]. Maybe I need to explain. One of Paul’s greatest struggles was the issue of circumcision. There was a branch of Jewish people who taught, Jesus is nice – but you still have to be circumcised, you still have to live under Jewish law. That’s why he’s talking about circumcision. If you don’t have that context, it’s super weird for Paul to suddenly be talking about cutting off the tip of your –hmmphm. But Paul argues, real circumcision, the thing that makes you right with God is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. And that’s our answer for dealing with judgment. The American church has moved from hypocrisy to nothing, but Paul is teaching us to move from hypocrisy to humility. Where we take the pride in our heart and we cut it off.

 
 

          The good news this morning is that God lights up our darkness. God lights up our darkness. The God who is out there fills our world with his light and his glory, and there’s no room in our hearts for darkness anymore. The problem is that some of us like our darkness, we want to keep it. But the reality from the text this morning is that our darkness is not safe in the light of God’s love. The radiance of God’s glory creates a shadow out of sin and if you’ve ever shined a flashlight into a dark room you understand what happens when the glory of God meets sin, when light meets dark. The light wins, every. Single. Time. Each and every one of us is carrying around a little darkness in our hearts. Like it said back in verse 2, we know that God’s judgment is based in truth. But God is here to light up our darkness.

        
  I think one of the key problems here is that in our effort to run away from the idea of judgment, from the collision of light and dark, we have tried to create a smaller God than what’s actually out there. To get away from the hypocrisy and hatred that the church has had in the past, we created something different to try and worship. Rather than the light of the sun, burning in the sky lighting up every crevice of darkness – we like imagine God is like a campfire. Like a cuddly warm little flame where we can snuggle up under a blanket with our sins. God loves me just like I am, he is kind and so he would never judge me and so I never need to grow or change or improve. And I just hear Paul in verse 4, [read it again]. And so our response is to let God’s love be a refining fire burning away your sins, not a campfire to snuggle up, but a cleansing fire that washes you clean. God lights up our darkness.

 

    
        I feel like there are two groups of people that I’m talking to right now and it’s hard to talk to you both at the same time. On the one hand, there are people in this room who are VERY convinced of the power of sin. Maybe you are one of these people – you are overwhelmed by your struggle. You have no doubts about God’s glory and your sin and you are terrified of the reality of judgment. You have spent so much time looking for the angry face of a God who hates you and is just waiting to squish you. His hand hovering over the button that opens the trapdoor and drops you down into hell. To the overwhelmed this morning – please know, I see you. Then on the other hand there’s a group of people in here who have spent so much time with campfire Jesus that you can’t really think of anything God would be upset with in their life. You’re basically a good person who just needs a little boost from Jesus to be good with God. You can’t really understand these passages about judgment. I mean God is love, and judgment is mean so there’s no way those two things could be connected. You spend most of your time judging people who are judgmental – because how dare they? You focus exclusively on the kindness of God, and who could blame you – it’s campfire cozy. These are the two groups of people in the room – and I have the same application for both of you. Let kindness lead you to repentance. This is chapter two, verse four. Write it down. Memorize it. Ask yourself this question every day this week. Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
    
      For those who spend time afraid of God, completely overwhelmed by their sins – I want you to focus on that word kindness. The kindness of God leads you to repentance.  The Glory of God is hard to look at, because it’s so incredible we literally can’t even handle it. Like the valley girl says, “I just can’t even with the Glory of God.” God is not safe, and you are right about that – but let this reassurance wash over you this morning. God is not safe, but he is GOOD. Let kindness lead you to repentance. On the other side, for those who do not like talking about the judgment of God, I want you to focus on that word “repentance.” Remember that the kindness of God is not for your comfort, but is intended to lead you somewhere – to guide you. God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. To a circumcised heart. A heart where the darkness has been washed away by the light.
         
 
When the topic is judgement, it’s probably not going to be everybody’s favorite sermon. But honestly, I just want to show you what this text shows us about the character of the God who is out there. It starts by teaching us that God is a God of righteous judgment. It is his job to judge humanity and hold us accountable. The light of his glory creates a shadow when it encounters our sin. But then we find out God, the righteous judge, is also full of riches of kindness, a wealth of patience. And for long time these two aspects divided Christianity – as if those qualities were mutually opposed. Either God is judgmental OR God is kind. But Paul is teaching us that they are related. God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you pursue the creator of the universe, and not a god you created in your mind. May you realize that the glory of God is not safe, but it is good. And may you let the kindness of God lead you to repentance. Amen

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