The Sunny Side of The Street

 
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If there were no divine or earthly judgment, if we could murder by pride or prejudice, through moral torture or spiritual exploitation, there would be so much more murder. Even with divine judgment on the table, we can hardly hold ourselves back. Case in point: Jesus. When the Gospel comes to us it does not even matter what God thinks, we throw out judicial process altogether and nail him to a tree. Why? Jesus comes to set us free from God's condemnation and judgment once for all. All God thinks about is Jesus, and that is now all our life. We are free to slip out of the chains of law, sin, guilt, and blame. But, instead of receiving this freedom with praise and thanks, we cannot wait to charge back to the other side of the street where moralists, spiritualists, and methodists wait to welcome us back home.

Every time the Gospel comes to us we meet Him and His preachers with the same crowd of hand-wringers, gurus, and scholasticizers. We simply loathe any message that claims God has decommissioned guilt and blame. That even murderers can waltz into the heavenly wedding banquet wearing the white garments of Christ's righteousness. "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" awakens us to our reality—that we hate and fear freedom and we will kill it by stoning, beheading, crucifixion, or by whatever means are available to us. God, we believe, speaks with a forked-tongue and His preachers are deviants, unholy failures, and dummies.

How can God claim to be so lenient? It curls our hair to even consider that God's kindness may outstretch His severity. And so, even we Christians end up speaking out of both sides of our mouths. We confess that God sends His Son to draw us to Himself, to the comfort and consolation of His bloody suffering and death for our sin, death, and damnation, then we turn and behave as if God sits in His penthouse texting edicts to His clerical enforcers.

When Jesus calls us to the sunny side of the street, into the freedom and joy of His Gospel, there is always a crowd of voices calling us back with all the seriousness of a prosecuting attorney. Their sermons are accusations and their songs are hopeless. They will portray us to ourselves as lawless and guilty of the worst crime, using our freedom to sin. We who have crossed the street, who now stand in the shadow of Jesus' cross stand convicted of the most heinous crime: deicide. Murder in the first degree. The evidence against us hangs suspended above the ground for all the world to witness.  We are murderers. Justice must be definitive and inescapable. "Come back," they say. "Repent, and come back and maybe you will be shown leniency for your crime of believing that you were actually free. You're better off with us anyway, because look at what you did with all that freedom. You murdered God!"

God is for us in His foolish, scarred Word and Wisdom. Nothing is against us, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
— Donavon Riley

And scared, troubled, convinced by the moral theologians and spiritual directors that we finally went too far, we double back in the shortest time possible. Grace, it seems, is just abysmal. It is too much for us to handle without oversight. And if God will not do it for us, we will do it for Him just the same. And that is when Jesus asserts Himself into our retreat. He faces up against us and tells us there is nothing wrong, not even the truth that we are murderers, that we are guilty of committing deicide. He suffered Himself to be murdered by us because that is what unconditional love does. It suffers itself to be rejected by the beloved. God's Word speaks to us, and announces to us, that there is nothing wrong. We are uncondemned and free no matter what we hear from the dark side of the street. God is for us in His foolish, scarred Word and Wisdom. Nothing is against us, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Whatever in us that is evil, nasty, and stupid Jesus embraces and drags down into the silence of His tomb. All our sad, doomed intentions and schemes are crucified with Him and buried in the forgetfulness of His gracious death. And now, in spite of ourselves, He sends a preacher to reassure us again and again, especially when we are tempted to heed the voices and return to the other side of the street, to take our place alongside the moralists, spiritualists, and methodists, that for all their "nos", in Christ God has only "yes" to say to us. And all that there is on the sunny side of the street, all that there is for us to hear from our God is, "Be at peace. In His death, Jesus has put the moral hand-wringers and spiritual finger pointers out of business. Only peace, and laughter, and love, and the joy of having been forgiven everything Jesus-much exists here. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ."

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'.