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  • Pastor Jim Gronbeck (Retired)

“Even Us…Even When”

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

This has been a time of soul searching for our country. Where are we going as a nation? What are the shifts/changes in priorities that are happening? How did we get here in the first place?

It seems our recent events have triggered deep emotions that really should have been dealt with many years ago. If we are a country that values each individual as equal, then we need to follow our ideals and beliefs.

Certainly, our Christian faith values all people as precious in God’s eyes. Our text from Romans 5 boldly proclaims that “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God…” and “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.”

The strife and rotten relationship between humans and God because of sin has been healed. We are made right—we are put into a positive relationship with God—through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven of the sins that plague us so deeply. We are changed: made new in the waters of baptism to live as redeemed people. Sin is what separates us from God. Sin keeps us from loving God and others as God would have us love each other. It is like a great chasm—such as in the parable Jesus told of poor Lazarus and the Rich Man. Lazarus died and went to heaven, consoled by Abraham, and the Rich Man went to the eternal abyss where he begged for help. Between them was a great chasm that could not be overcome. Sin.

By faith in Jesus Christ, we have been made right with God, the chasm is overcome not by us, but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is the peace that Paul is writing about in Romans 5. We can’t achieve this peace, this access to the grace of God, we can only receive it.

So as followers of Jesus, as Christians justified by faith, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, how will we respond? How will we accept the free gift of grace, and what will our response be? What kind of Christians are we? What kind of a church—the people of God in Christ—will we be?

How can we take the dark time that our nation is undergoing and be the People of Light—people who spread the love and peace of Jesus the Light of the World? Can we continue through this time of Covid Pandemic continuing to keep the best interests of our sisters and brothers in Christ in mind? Can we share Christ’s love in ways that will disarm, show kindness, and bring healing to our nation?

There is a lot of anger, resentment, and hurt on all sides of the issues plaguing the death of George Floyd. People are responding in unhealthy ways, are going overboard one way or another, and we are treating one another with disrespect and anger. That is not the way Christ taught us, and that is not the peace Paul writes about in Romans 5.

We have been made right with God—justified by grace through faith. We, who so often react in harmful, hurtful ways, who say things that are hurtful for others, who do things or think things that separate us from God-- have been made right with God. The struggle between us and God has ended and we are free to love and care for one another and be the people God intended us to be from the beginning. That is because in God’s grace we do not have to prove ourselves before God or earn our spot in the Kingdom. We can be at peace if we let ourselves, because of Jesus.

But it’s so hard to do that. We keep on trying to solve our own problems, make our own rules, do our own things, so we don’t accept the grace of God.

There is an old story told by Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, a pastor, teacher, and youth guru from a few years ago. He spoke at one of our National Youth Gatherings I attended with some of our youth and really made an impression on me. He has a way with stories and may even embellish them a bit!

Dr. Campolo told about a time he was asked to speak at a conference in Hawaii. It took a while for his body to catch up with the move across five time zones. The first night at his hotel, his internal clock had him wide awake at 3 am and his stomach was growling for attention. Tony wandered the quiet Honolulu streets looking for a place to get fried eggs and bacon. All the respectable places were closed, and he finally ended up at a greasy dive in a narrow, dim alley. The place reeked with grunge. He was afraid to touch the menu for fear that it would stick to his fingers and that if he opened it something with too many legs might crawl out.

Suddenly Tony wasn’t hungry, no matter how much his stomach protested. He saw a stack of donuts under a cracked plastic cover. “I’ll have a donut and a coffee,” he said. The guy poured a cup of dark, thick coffee. Then he wiped his greasy hand on his dirty apron, grabbed a donut with his fingers, and tossed it on the counter in front of Tony. There he sat at 3:30 in the morning, gagging on sour coffee and a stale donut.

All at once the door slammed open and eight or nine prostitutes sauntered in. The joint was small and when the women crowded at the counter they surrounded Tony, swearing, smoking, and gossiping. Another gulp and bite, and Tony would scram. But something stopped his exit when the woman next to him turned to her friend and said with a faraway look in her eye, “You know what? Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m gonna be 39…”

That got Tony thinking. Later, he asked the owner if he knew the woman who sat next to him. “Sure, that’s Agnes. She’s been coming here for years. Comes every night about this time.” Tony countered, “Well, she just said that it was her birthday tomorrow. What do you think? Do you think you and I could do something about that—maybe throw her a birthday party right here tomorrow night?”

The man got a cute smile on his chubby cheeks. “That’s great!” he said. So they made their plans. At 2:30 the next morning Tony was back. He brought crepe paper decorations and a foldout sign that said, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” By 3:00 the diner was looking pretty good, and by 3:15 it was crowded wall-to-wall with prostitutes. At 3:30, Agnes and her group walked in. Tony had everyone ready to shout, “Happy birthday, Agnes!” She was flabbergasted. Her mouth fell open, she put her hands to her head and almost fell over stunned. Her friend grabbed her by the arm and led her to the counter where her birthday cake rested on a pedestal. Tony led the room singing an energetic chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

Agnes began to cry. She saw the cake with all the candles and wept. She composed herself, and after a minute or two blew the candles out.

“Cut the cake, Agnes,” they yelled. “Cut the cake!” But Agnes looked down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, said to Harry, “Look Harry…would it be all right if I…I mean, is it okay if I…What I mean is, do you think it’s okay if I just kept the cake for a little while? Is it okay if I don’t eat it right away?”

Harry didn’t know what to say. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure if that’s what you want. Take it home if you want to.” Agnes turned to Tony and asked, “IS it okay? I live just down the street. Can I take the cake home for a minute? I’ll be right back. Honest.”

Agnes picked up the cake like it was the Holy Grail and slowly promenaded through the room. She carried her treasure out the door and down the street with everyone watching in stunned silence. When she had gone nobody seemed to know what to do, so Tony got up on a chair and said, “What do you say we pray?”

There they were, together in a hole-in-a-wall, greasy spoon, prostitutes of Honolulu’s busy streets, at 3:30 in the morning, and Tony wanted them to pray! Later, he said it was one of those, “Geez, I can’t believe I did that moments!” Tony prayed for Agnes. He prayed for her life; he prayed for her health; he prayed for her soul and her relationship with God. When Tony finished praying Harry leaned over the counter and said accusingly, “Hey! You never told me you was a preacher! What kind of a church do you belong to anyway?”

Tony replied, “I belong to a church that throws parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”

Harry thought about that a moment and replied, “Naw you don’t! There ain’t no church like that! If there was, I’d join it myself! Yessir, I’d be a member of a church like that!”

Would you be a member of a church like that? Could that really be what Jesus was calling Tony to do? How can we be the church and follow Jesus’ call to serve people who feel disenfranchised or outcast today? Where is Jesus leading you to serve others?

St. Paul says, “But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.



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