Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Religion Goes Bad

My mom brought me a dewberry pie for Easter. For those of you not fortunate enough to have grown up in the country, dewberries are essentially wild blackberries. They grow in pastures, along fence lines, and in other out-of-the-way places. Their vines have thorns, so you're likely to get scratched trying to pick some. And of course, copperhead snakes love to coil up in the shade of those vines, so that makes dewberry-picking even more interesting. But they taste so much sweeter than domestic blackberries. Eating fresh-picked dewberries was one of the great pleasures of my childhood. Dewberry jelly was a highly coveted treasure. And a pie or cobbler made from dewberries was by far my favorite dessert growing up. You can have your cheesecake, your bananas foster, your creme brulee. Give me a piece of dewberry pie, and I'm happy. A scoop of vanilla Blue Bell on top took the whole experience to the level of culinary nirvana.

This year, there hasn't been any rain. That means a lot of bad things for people who make their living from ranching or farming. It also means there are no dewberries. No pie, no cobbler, no jelly. But my mom found some vines early in the spring and decided to water them herself. That's where the dewberries in my pie came from. When she told me this, I had already finished my pie. I had enjoyed it tremendously while I was eating it. But when I found out what a rare treat it was, I was even more thankful. I hadn't carefully tended and watered that fragile dewberry vine. I hadn't picked the berries. I certainly hadn't made the pie (the one time I tried, a few summers ago, it did not end well). Yet here I was, enjoying the sweet fruits of my mom's labors. I had no reason to brag, and every reason to be thankful. What a gift!

We just finished Easter season, when we were reminded of the cost of our salvation. The truths of the Gospel should leave us feeling humbly grateful for the precious gift God gave us. We of all people have no reason ever to boast. Everything good about us is because of what Christ did for us. And everything good we will ever receive from Him (and there is so much more He has planned!) will come only when we humble ourselves before Him yet again, and gratefully receive the gifts he gives by His grace. This week, as we continue our series on the parables of Jesus, we'll study some stories that speak of the importance of humility. There's an odd thing about humility; it's one of the most important facets of Christian character, yet I never hear Christians say they want to become more humble. Hopefully this series will help us see the need.

We'll begin with a rather famous story from Luke 18:9-14. Part of the gist of this sermon is that religion, while a good thing, can become tainted. Religion can actually stand between us and the grace of God. Has that happened in the American church? Are we more like the Pharisee in this story than we are like Jesus? Worse still, has it happened in your life? We'll discuss these important questions Sunday. Meanwhile, thank God that He did all the work, and poured out all the blessing on you.

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