I heard it again this week; a Lutheran sermon on the internet in which the Gospel was presented as “Jesus loves us dirty, rotten sinner.” It seems this has become more popular in the last few years – or maybe I am just noticing it more – emphasizing the love of Christ by emphasizing how little we deserve that love.
Now it is not that this is necessarily wrong in and of itself. Paul certainly does this when he tells us that while we were yet enemies of God, Christ died for the ungodly. Certainly, the love of Christ is astounding because it is given to those who do not deserve it, us.
But when that is ALL the pastor says about the Gospel and the love of Christ, well that is when this becomes a problem. The Gospel presented only in the negative, how awful we are, simply becomes a backhanded application of the Law and tells us only about ourselves and nothing about Christ. It is this kind of application without the positive that emasculates the Gospel and creates despairing sinners.
Paul, while admitting we are sinners who do not deserve the love of God, also uses multiple illustrations about how valuable we are to God because of the love of Christ. We are the Body of Christ. We are the Temple of God. We were bought with a price. Hebrews tells us that we are kingdom of priests. Christ tells parables in which the God rejoices over those no one else would; a lost sheep, a found coin, a son returning in failure. The focus in these parable is not on the thing or person that was lost but on the joy of God at their return.
The fact is that we are valuable. Now don’t get me wrong. We are not inherently valuable in and of ourselves. This is the mistake I sometimes see in another kind of sermon among those who try to apply the Gospel without Law. Our inherent worth as human beings becomes the basis of our salvation instead of the cross. And this, too, is wrong and deadly.
No, we are valuable only because of the love of Christ. But that is true of everything, isn’t it? I was watching a British show, “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is,” in which appraisers visited flee markets to see who could make the best deals and then their finds are independently appraised or sold to see if they made good deals. On one show one of the participants found what I though was an ugly and rather overdecorated piece of porcelain for a couple of pounds. It turns out that the item was highly valued by collectors and worth several thousand times what he paid for it. BUT, let’s keep in mind that an item like that is only worth that much because there is someone out there willing to pay that much. To me it would still be an ugly plate. We are valuable only because of the love of Christ.
But because Jesus loves us we ARE valuable. We see that in the words of Paul, Christ, Hebrews, etc. But we also see that in the way we are encouraged to treat one another. Christ tells us that what we do for the least, we do for him. Paul reminds us that because we are members of Christ’s body we should treat one another as members of that body. And James, I love James, says that you should not make a poor man sit at your feet while offering a rich man a chair. Now, we have to understand that sitting on the floor was no shame. Most people sat on the floor, on rugs or cushions. No one would have though twice about the “more important” visitor being offered a chair. But in James’ eyes we are all “more important” guests because we are redeemed by Christ. The poor man is bought at the same price as the rich man.
When one of my clients comes back to our center crying because some jerk driving by in a pick-up yelled “retard” out the window, they don’t need reminded of their disabilities again by us as we try to reassure them. They don’t need to hear “we love you IN SPITE of your disability.” They just need to hear “we care about you, we love you, and we enjoy working with you.” They just need to know that they are loved and valued.
Neither does the LGBT kid in the pew need to hear over and over again in the Gospel about how little they deserve the love of God. They just need to hear that God does love them. And because God loves them they are valuable to Him and valuable to His Body.