October 30, 2022 – Reformation Sunday – Romans 3:19-28

Who likes M & M’s?  I’m not surprised.  They’re really a great candy!  I saw online that you can get them in Halloween colors:  orange and black and slime green.  That’s fun.  But there’s nothing like that original bright rainbow.  And when you pop them in your mouth, and they have that satisfying crunch, followed by the taste of rich chocolatey goodness inside . . .mmm!  Am I making you hungry for them?

What would you do for an M & M?  Would you smile for me?  Let’s try it out in this row, here.  Anyone who smiles gets an M & M.  (Giving out M & M’s.)  You’re smiling even more now!  Let’s call this M & M psychology or M & M thinking.  It goes like this:  if people are smiling, and you reward them with M & M’s, they will smile even more.  Or if someone is working hard, and you give her an M & M, she’ll work even harder.  It works in reverse, too.  If someone is frowning and you withhold the M & M, it won’t take long for that person to figure out that they ought to be smiling – that is, if they want the M & M.  And who wouldn’t want an M & M?  M & M-ing rewards people, and motivates them into action.  We use it at work and to raise our children and to train our pets.  And it works – most of the time.  Well, honestly, only some of the time.

See, there are some problems with M & M thinking.  People start feeling like they are owed M & M’s.  That row of people that I used as an example – if I gave them M & M’s every time they smiled today, and then next Sunday, and the next, and then on the fourth Sunday, I stopped giving out M & M’s . . . they would feel ripped off.  They would feel like I owed them an M & M.  That’s why M & M thinking works terribly in our relationships.  If M & M thinking is at the core of your marriage – in other words, if you only do nice things for your spouse as long as he or she rewards you – then your marriage is probably in trouble.  If you have friends who only do favors for you because of the favors that you can owe them in return – then that’s not much of a friendship.

And if M & M thinking doesn’t work very well in our human relationships, you may be sure that it doesn’t work at all in our relationship with God.  We ought never to feel like God owes us anything.  Nevertheless, there’s an M & M style of Christianity that’s very popular.  It goes like this:  God is the creator of all M & M’s.  God is up there in heaven with an M & M factory, and God makes all the M & M’s for the whole world.  But God gives out M & M’s very selectively.  To the people who obey God’s rules and regulations, to the deserving, God gives M & M’s.  And the more they obey the rules, the more M & M’s God gives them, as a reward.  But the other people, the ones who can’t quite get it right – God withholds M & M’s from them.  God punishes them by withholding those M & M’s until they figure out what they’re doing wrong and start obeying the rules so that, when they die, God will invite them up to heaven where they will live right next to the big M & M factory in the sky and enjoy M & M’s forever.

Now, I know that sounds sort of silly because we’re talking about M & M’s.  But let me say that again, and change the word M & M to blessing . . . God is the creator of all blessings.  God gives blessings to the whole world.  But God gives out blessings very selectively.  To the people who obey God’s rules and regulations, to the deserving, God gives blessings.  And the more they obey the rules, the more blessings God gives them, as a reward.  But the other people, the ones who can’t quite get it right – God withholds blessings from them.  God punishes them by withholding those blessings until they figure out what they’re doing wrong and start obeying the rules so that, when they die, God will invite them up to heaven where they will enjoy blessings forever.  (pause)  Does that trouble you?  It ought to.  Because M & M Christianity is not Christianity, at least not in my understanding.

God does not bless us based upon how deserving we are.  St. Paul says it quite clearly:  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  In other words, none of us, by our own doing, deserves a single M & M.  None of us.  It doesn’t matter how good we’ve been.  It doesn’t matter how much rule- and regulation-abiding we’ve done.  God doesn’t owe us anything.  And yet, we are justified, says St. Paul, we are made right with God, we are brought close to God by grace – as a gift.  Not because we deserve it in any way, but because God loves us anyway.

In fact, God gives out blessings much more like this.  Feel happy today?  I love you.  Here’s an M & M.  Don’t feel like smiling today?  I love you, too.  Trying to be a good spouse?  I love you.  Lost your temper with your spouse last week?  I love you, too.  Been feeding the poor and healing the sick and sheltering the homeless?  I love you.  Been pretty self-involved lately?  I love you, too.  God gives out blessings, God gives love not based on how deserving we are, but based on how generous God is.  We are who we are – children of God – because of the gift of God’s grace.  That’s the very definition of grace:  God’s undeserved and unmerited blessing and love.

So come to the table today, and experience God’s gift of amazing grace:  Jesus Christ, given for us.  Not because we deserve a Savior.  Not because God somehow owes it to us because we’ve been so good.  But just because God loves us.  Full stop.  And that is very good news indeed!

 

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