Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sermon August 14th

Unmerited Membership

Peace and Grace to you all from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ,

One Sunday while we were still living in Chicago Heather and I wanted to attend a church where our friend’s mother was the pastor. This congregation was in the south suburbs; an area that we didn’t frequent and know our way around to well. We thought we gave ourselves enough time but lo and behold we got lost and showed up a little late for worship. Heather and I tried to inconspicuously find a seat in the back of the sanctuary, so we picked an uncrowded section of pews and sat down. At one point in the service there was activity around us and we looked and noticed that the worshippers that surrounded us were passing out sheet music. They then stood up while the rest of the congregation remained seated, except for Heather and me. What we did was kind of shrink in our chair trying to be as little as possible, which is always a feat for me. That is right brothers and sisters we managed to show up late to a church we’ve never been and sit ourselves in the middle of the choir. Any chance we had to feel like we belonged or were even welcome worshipping with this community of faith flew the window that morning. Truth be told the people were extremely gracious and hospitable after the service but the damage had been done. It was obvious that we were lacking the knowledge and the experience to be a part of what had been created.
Brothers and sisters, the truth is that much of what humans do by their very nature creates boundaries and walls. Whether or not we it is done intentionally by creating rules, traditions, expectations, and stories or memories we define who is in and who is outside the boundaries and walls we create. I don’t think this is inherently a bad or sinful thing. The gift of community and/or family can and should be a blessing to us all.
However one thing I have learned in life is that our gifts or blessings and our sins and weaknesses are often the two sides of the same course. For instance my outgoing and extroverted nature is often seen as a gift, however I have had to work much harder on the more introverted aspects of the Christian life.
The gift of community is the same way. When we try to apply the boundaries and walls we create to our understanding of God our gift becomes a burden and our blessing becomes a curse. When we get so caught up by our limited perspective that we fail to see that God’s grace and majesty transcend our human categories we fail to see that our faith should bind us and not separate us.
This is kind of what happened to the Pharisees throughout the New Testament. They weren’t inherently evil or sinful; any more than you or I at any rate. We actually share a common intent, they wanted to learn more about God. The Pharisees were religious leaders who desired to teach people about God. In order to do that they arranged rituals and rules to help people encounter God. By the time Jesus was in the picture many Pharisees forgot the original intent and the rituals and rules had attained a kind of primacy in the views of the Pharisees. Right before Jesus’ teaching today the Pharisees approached him upset that his disciples wouldn’t wash their hands before they ate. The catch was they didn’t talk about washing hands as a matter of health or cleanliness but us a matter of tradition, a matter of ritual. Jesus responds as he does not against the act of washing hands but against thinking that any human act will make anybody clean enough to be worthy of God’s promises. According to Jesus failure to conform to a specific group’s practices and requirements will not inhibit one’s faith but what will are the ways we live and the thoughts of our hearts. Brothers and sisters let me say this one more time and another way, what defiles us is our words and actions, and they will. We will wish harm on others, we will speak with a barbed tongue, struggle with the desires of the flash, and we will create divisions and not just communities and those things that create distance between us and others will also drive us from farther from God. On the flipside there is nothing we can do, no group we can attach ourselves to that will make us clean enough, good enough to be worthy of all that God promises.
But God can. In the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ he draws all people to Himself, all we need to do is trust that God’s incarnation has accomplished all that has been promised. Hear again God’s words though the prophet Isaiah,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
[6] And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant--
[7] these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Brothers and sisters as the Canaanite woman that Jesus encounters today reminds us, the gifts of God are for all who call him Lord. Her confession of faith began with an acknowledgement that she wasn’t worthy, it is that which Jesus names as faith and then offers her daughter salvation forever claiming them both as children as God.
Brothers and sisters, you and I are no more worthy than that woman to be children of God. And that is truly good news because those are the people that are claimed as God’s sons and daughters. The amazing thing about grace is that it tears down all the fences that we build to keep ourselves in and others out and the fences that are built to keep us out and others in and creates a family of faith that transcends time and our own shortcomings, in the kingdom of God there are no haves and have-nots only forgiven sinners who have been claimed as God’s children and inheritors of eternity.
Today (at the 10:00 service)we get to celebrate this amazing grace in a special way. In the sacrament of holy baptism God will be claiming Charley Sage Dipasquale as a part of His special family. Baptisms always offer us a unique opportunity to be reminded that the Body of Christ is a group where the only criteria for membership is met by a God who hangs from a cross and defeats death for our sake.
Please pray with me,
Lord God,
Thank you for claiming us all as your children. Help us remember that just as nothing we say or do can stop your love for us we also can’t say or do anything to earn that love. It comes unmerited from you because of who you are.
In jesus’ name we pray.

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