Archive for October, 2011

Reformation Sunday – October 30, 2011

Ecclesia semper reformanda!
The Church must always be reforming!

My brothers and sisters,
Thomas Jefferson said,
“I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.”
But Martin Luther said,
“I rejoice in my soul when I remember that God is just.”

Of course, it took a long time for Brother Martin to get there.
It wasn’t that Luther thought that God’s justice would surely reward him, a just man.
As anyone with a passing knowledge of Luther knows,
Martin Luther struggled with the justice, or righteousness, of God.
He became terrified of God’s justice.
He struggled with it so that his monastic superior recommended
that he become a teacher of Bible.
We can imagine what Brother Martin thought of this idea at first –
kind of like curing a claustrophobic by locking him in a closet,
or ridding someone of their fear of heights by dangling them from a cliff.
The Bible?
Really?
Full of messages of God’s just condemnation of sin,
his anger towards those who disregard and flout his law?

But Brother Martin had to obey.
And so he did.
His superior recommended he start with the book of Isaiah.
And in Isaiah, and Psalms, and most especially in Paul’s letters to the Romans
and the Galatians,
he found in the Bible the gracious God he was looking for.
Jesus, who he had always regarded as a harsh judge,
Instead appeared in the Bible as the forgiver of sins, the one who called sinners like him ‘friends.’
He found in the Bible the message that the heart of God’s justice is not a retributive justice,
one that rewards and punishes according to the worthiness of the person,
but the heart of God’s justice
is that God makes his own people just because he is just,
God himself makes his own people righteous because he is righteous,
and sin, death, and evil cannot keep God from his own.
This is what we call ‘justification by grace,’ and we say we grasp it through faith.
Anyone who is burdened by sin, anyone who knows that they cannot escape it,
that try as they might, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves,
may return to believe in this Gospel,
this good news,
that God freely justifies us, ‘makes us right’ with him, as a gift,
by the redemption that is in his Son Jesus Christ.

It was this insight, this liberating insight,
that led Brother Martin, who was baptized with the name “Ludder,”
sometime in the late 1510s to begin signing his name “Luther,”
after the Greek work eleutheria, Freedom.
Freedom to be God’s child, after all.
Freedom to be God’s child before God had finished working with him,
Before God had eradicated all the sin in his life,
for he trusted the promise that God by the power of his Holy Spirit was working on that.
He trusted the promise that simply by ‘naming’ him a righteous person,
by giving him the name of Christian,
God had accepted him.

This message resonates today in a world that needs it more than ever.
For teenagers struggling with who they are and how to please others,
and yet who wonder how God fits into it all,
this message that a just God loved them enough to give his own Son for them
may yet give them the power to stand against the tide
which would suck them into living the life of trying to constantly please
whoever on earth has the best offer.
For people who are old, who live with the guilt of things they have done and cannot take back,
or who even feel guilty about things they could not control.
For people who are in the midst of life,
in the hurly-burly of parenthood and work and responsibility,
making decisions every day which can be attacked, which can be wrong, which can be misunderstood.
For people who are in the shadow of death,
Wondering whether they will land on the right side of God’s justice.
This world needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ more than ever.

The Church needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ more than ever.
Because it is not only individuals that need God’s justification,
It is the Church that needs God’s justification.
The word of righteousness that says, You people are to bear my message to the world,
You people are to forgive each other and live under my Word,
You people who are by all appearances dying away yet will rise to be my witnesses.

The historical Reformation in the 1500’s was a return to the central message of the Gospel,
that for Christ’s sake God forgives sinners and sets them free,
and that the Spirit is given to them to form them in holiness.
The continuing Reformation, which will always be,
whether or not in God’s good time he brings the separated churches once again to visible unity,
The continuing Reformation will always be people and communities returning to the grace of God.
When evening comes, we reflect upon the day.
We reflect on the good that God has done for us.
We reflect on whether or not we have offended anybody, by our thoughts, words, or deeds,
and perhaps even before the day is out, we strive to begin to make amends.
We go to bed secure in the promise that God has forgiven us in Jesus.
We rise from sleep, as we will in the Resurrection,
to live in the new day of God’s grace,
striving to be open to the Spirit of his holiness,
and returning to the baptismal promise of forgiveness whenever our brokenness gets in the way.
That’s the life of Reformation.
That’s the life of Baptism.
Thank God that God is just, and because of his justice he will show mercy,
not giving up on any one of his children,
because they are as precious to him as Brother Martin,
they are as precious to him as his own Son, Jesus.
Thanks be to God that the promise of freedom is for us, even us,
and though many things may change,
God’s Word shall be ours forever.

Ecclesia semper reformanda!
The Church must, and will, always be reformed.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

October 31, 2011 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Sermon October 9, 2011 – The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Gospel text: Matthew 22:1-14

I would imagine that a majority of us,
if not all of us from time to time,
have had dreams where we showed up somewhere
wearing the wrong clothes,
with humorous or more usually embarrassing outcomes.

Sometimes this happens in real life, as well.
I remember the first retreat I went to
with the local chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity,
before I subscribed to the Rule and became a member.
I was really nervous, because a lot of the members
wore the long black vestment called a cassock on retreat,
and I didn’t know whether or not I ought to follow suit.
After a while I relaxed and figured out that this problem
was more about me than anyone else,
and that I could wear, or not wear, the cassock if I wanted.
But a friend of mine in college
had a more difficult situation.

He had just been to gym class,
which at our school we had to take the first couple of years,
and he had a class right away in the next building over.
He was wearing a long shirt that day,
perhaps a hockey jersey; he is a Penguins fan,
and he hastily changed into his clothes, grabbed his books,
and went off to class.
It was a warm day, like yesterday.
Upon his arrival in class, and the beginning of the lesson,
he began to wonder why it felt so unusually cold.
Yes, dear hearers, he had forgotten his pants.
‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’
I would have been speechless;
in fact, I may have transferred the next day.
But he somehow managed to get out of there
and retrieve his pants and skip the rest of class,
and curiously enough, no one mentioned the incident to him ever,
as far as I know.
He loved to tell that story because he loves to make people laugh.

The king in the story that Jesus tells seems to be a rather bloodthirsty individual,
and capricious in the extreme.
We don’t imagine Jesus throwing someone out of heaven, or a party for that matter,
for the egregious crime of wearing the wrong clothes.
What if the guest couldn’t afford good clothes for the wedding reception?
What if the guest simply got the wrong message?
But we need to see our fixation with the proper clothing as simply that,
our own fixation, and allow Jesus’ parable to tell its own story.
For the parable is about grace, all about grace,
God’s grace and our response to grace,
and how that plays out both for Jesus’ original hearers and for us.

Jesus tells the story of the wedding banquet to illustrate the obstinacy
of the religious leaders of his time
in refusing to embrace the message of the Kingdom that he was bringing.
For in celebrating with tax collectors and prostitutes,
he was announcing that God’s reign had broken into our troubled world.
In his own person, he was bringing his Father’s life and salvation to those who needed it most,
and his Father desired everyone to share in the joy.

But there were certain people around then
(and maybe there are now)
who are more interested in the world running as usual
than to embrace the experience of the joy of the Kingdom.
They are busy, you see,
There are things to be done, people to see, things to do.
I’ve done a lot of weddings in the past six months,
and a wedding, even though it is a happy occasion,
is an interruption.
To attend a wedding, however much you love the people involved,
involves a sacrifice of time, of money, of energy, a sacrifice of yourself.
And maybe you just don’t want to make that sacrifice.
There are times that you get a wedding invitation in the mail and you just go, ‘Oh my word…’
I think at one point this summer I asked facetiously why people didn’t just go to Las Vegas.
But when you are asked to share in people’s joy, it is a privilege.
It is an honor that you don’t refuse unless you absolutely have to.
And so, you go, and when you’re there, it makes sense.

I must admit I felt a little bit of the same last night when we went to the hayride.
I was being invited into the joy of the community, to celebrate God’s harvest
with my family and God’s family, to feast with my brothers and sisters in Christ,
and part of me wanted to stay home and watch Penn State lose to Iowa.
Of course, they beat Iowa. Miracles do happen!
But I went, and it was worth it. It was worth it to be around happy kids,
and to celebrate God’s glorious creation and to give thanks for it.
And I still got the updates on Kristi’s smartphone.

To enter into someone else’s joy involves sacrifice of your own interests.
And that is exactly what the Pharisees and chief priests refused to do
when God invited them to the celebration of his Son’s taking the kingdom.
It was an insult.
It’s insulting to have your own invitation refused –
How much more if God invites you into his joy and you refuse it for your own interests?
It is a rejection of God’s grace, who wants you to celebrate with him.
And this may very well explain the king’s furious reaction when those he invites first
refuse to come, reject his messengers, and act like the high-handed people they are.

And so the king invites those who have no idea that they are invited to the party,
those who have no station in life and who are not ‘the best people,’
and they respond with joy, for they have nothing to commend their own refusal.
We have been gathered here to celebrate God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.
What is there to commend us?
None of us are famous, few of us have invented anything that has changed the world,
We will not be invited to walk down the red carpet at the Tonys, or the Emmys, or the Oscars.
None of us are saints, all we have is the invitation of grace.
And to accept the invitation of grace is to be worthy of the wedding banquet.
What compels us is the urgency of the invitation – there is joy to be had!
Christ has taken the Church as his bride!
God has triumphed over the powers that be!
And so we gather here to receive the feast of victory of our God,
For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.
When God calls us, and he is always calling us,
we come running to share in his joy, to be part of that party,
to celebrate that because of Jesus there is no sin that can separate us from him,
no evil that can tear us away from him,
no death that can sunder us from him and from each other.
And all because of his love and grace, and we are invited!
If we believed this about our Sunday gatherings,
If we believed this about our lives,
It would transform them.
It would transform the way we think and act and speak and do and live.

But what about the wedding robe?
What if we’re not dressed correctly?
What if there is something we’ve missed, that we should have done
Or should have known so that at the end,
When we are called to account, we will be rejected.
My friends, brothers and sisters,
It has nothing to do with clothes.
It has nothing to do with specific works.
It has to do with attitude.
For the person in the parable that shows up to the king’s victory feast
is not ignorant, nor is he misinformed, nor is he too poor to afford the right clothes.
He is arrogant.
He shows up not to celebrate the King and his Son,
but to get what he can for his own advantage.
He is a gate-crasher.
He’s there to eat the food of the celebration and to drink the wine,
but certainly not to do honor to the son of the king.

The grace that invites us invites us to do honor to Jesus,
who is the one who has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil.
We do this by the power of the Spirit, who works in our lives to convict us of our sin,
to renew us in grace, and to sanctify us in joy and in the truth.
If we think we can use church or God for our own advantage,
we are like the one who arrives at God’s party without a wedding garment.
But if we are there because we’ve been invited,
and because God calls us to be there,
and we want to celebrate with God,
then God’s Spirit is working within us to give him glory.
We will fall short as we always do, but there will be one day when God will finally take away
all that keeps us from him.

Brothers and sisters,
Rejoice, for you have been called to the wedding banquet of God’s Son,
the banquet of his victory over sin, death, and evil.
Here on this altar we celebrate a foretaste of the feast to come,
where all who hear and respond to the summons will feast forever in his joy,
clothed in the garments of thanksgiving and praise.
Compelled by the Word, we come with joy to enjoy his love forever.
Thanks be to God!

October 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm Leave a comment


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