If I remember correctly, I was around 16 when I preached my first full-fledged sermon. That was almost 23 years ago.
I have not been preaching full-time since then (about 5 years was full-time), but as I consider the churches I have worked for and the places I have been asked to speak, I know that I have easily preached over 500 times. Which compared to full-time preachers is not a big deal, but still…that number is fairly significant.
I share that only to say this: I have said a lot of crap that I wish I could take back.
Lest you think I am being too hard on myself, I am certain that if I were to preach another 500 sermons I would say the same thing. I am changing. I am growing. I am developing.
And that is a good thing. (Who said, “If the person you disagree with the most is not yourself many years ago, then you aren’t growing”?)
One of those things I wish I could go back to and un-say has to do with the idea of redemption. I used to use emotional manipulation to twist a certain response out of my audience. I really wanted to harp on how wretched we all were. Sure, I got to the whole “redemption” thing, but my point was to emphasize the negative, get you all twisted about it, and throw you a lifeline that you had to cling to.
And I was wrong.
That is not redemption. That is not Gospel.
That is a preacher trying to pad his baptism numbers.
And this also plays out in a different way in our churches today. At my local church, Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker is teaching a class for parents on how to talk with our children about sexuality. In this week’s class, we talked about the messages our children (especially our daughters) are receiving about sex.
One of those messages is that if there is a mistake, a slip-up, a sin, then you are now damaged goods. You are broken. You are shamed.
Maybe we throw redemption in there somewhere. But likely, any message of redemption comes with a preface that says, “Since you are so messed up, perhaps you will get lucky enough to find someone who might still love you.”
And that is not redemption. It is nothing more than ugly. And wrong. And sinful.
Redemption needs to be reclaimed in our churches. The message of redemption that is beautiful and wonderful and Gospel!
When Jesus called His disciples, He looked at them and said, “Follow me.”
When Jesus met with the woman at the well, He mentioned her five husbands but did not make her feel guilty for her life. Instead, she became inspired to run into her town to tell everyone about this Messiah.
When Jesus was brought face to face with a woman caught in the act of adultery, He waited until everyone was gone before He simply said, “Go and leave your life of sin.”
When Saul had his Damascus road experience, Jesus said, “It is me you are persecuting. Go and wait.” And wait he did. And the scales fell from his eyes.
The message of redemption does not necessitate that we talk about how messed up we were. Yes, we were dead in our transgressions and sin. Yes, we struggle with the flesh. But life in the Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Remember the vision Peter had before Cornelius invited him to his house? Peter saw all the unclean animals and even though he was told to eat, he protested. “I cannot touch what is unclean.”
But they weren’t unclean anymore! They had been redeemed! Their identity was changed!
I saw the following video clip recently. It offers an incredible message. I encourage you to watch and think about how we talk about sin and redemption. If sin gets more press, we are doing something wrong. We must proclaim redemption. Jesus wants the rose.
You may be hurting. You may have regret. You may have been told you are no good. If so, you are right where Jesus wants you. Because He wants you. Right now. Where you are.
And that is the message of redemption.