Granada Hills, CA
Warm-up Question: Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do? Have you ever been let off the hook for something you DID do? How did it turn out?
Paul House has been on prison death row in Tennessee since 1986, after being convicted of the murder of Carolyn Muncey. He was scheduled to be executed next month, but now, after intervention by local attorneys as well as an organization called The Innocence Project, all charges against him have been dropped, and he is free to go.
- Why do you think that, after 20 years, the House’s case was finally re-opened in 2006?
- Do you agree with the court’s decision to dismiss the charges against Paul House? Do you think he might still be guilty?
- How do you think House will adjust to his newfound freedom, after 22 years on death row? How different do you think his life is now from what it was in 1986?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 17, 2009. (Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In John 15:10, Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” Just a chapter earlier, in John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In both verses, the message is the same: love and obedience are inextricably entwined. God gave us a set of commandments. We are charged to follow them, every one, at all times. But at the same time, we know that we are doomed to fail. Every person on earth fails to keep God’s commandments. We may succeed in keeping most of them most of the time, but God demands no less than perfection. We must be holy, for he is holy. And, we simply can’t be that perfect.
God gave us his commandments to show us his love. They act as a mirror, to show us our sinful nature. We are unable to keep God’s commandments through our own power. And when we try to, we are merely servants, slaves to sin, striving unsuccessfully to keep God’s commandments because he told us to, fearing his wrath if we don’t. But then in God’s commandments we also see Christ’s love: the greatest love there is, laying down his life in place of ours, freeing us from the bonds of sin, so that we would no longer be servants, suffering God’s wrath for disobedience, but friends, with Christ’s love flowing through us.
It is only through Christ’s love that we are able to love one another. And it is only in Christ’s gracious love that we are able to keep God’s commandments. If we have Christ’s love in us — loving him and loving one another, and keeping his commandments — then Christ’s joy will be in us too. A joy shared among friends and all people. Our joy will be full!
- How can we share Christ’s love with others? How can we show them both that God loves them, and that we love them?
- How do the actions of someone who knows he has been freed from the bonds of sin, to be called a friend of Christ, differ from the actions of someone who struggles to keep God’s commandments without love, like a servant trying to avoid his master’s punishment? How should we live our own lives differently, when we abide in Christ’s love?
- How is our freedom from sin, to become members of the body of Christ, like Paul House’s freedom from death row after 22 years, to rejoin mainstream society? How is it different?
Whether guilty or innocent by law, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Pretend you have been given the opportunity to share the gospel with Paul House. Write a conversation with him, connecting the good news of Christ to the events in his life, and using his ordeal to illustrate God’s love, forgiveness, and justice for us. Use verses from today’s Gospel, and any other scriptures you think might be applicable, to tell him about Christ’s sacrifice for us, and our freedom from lives of sin — all sin.
Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me, and calling me your friend. Please help me always to abide in your love, that I may keep your commandments. And let your love flow through me, that I may spread that love to others, and love them as you also love me, that we may experience your love together and thus also your joy. Amen.