Thursday, September 5, 2013

On the Christian Life

Sermon from last week, 9/1/13.


Good morning! Today is a great day – today is a really, super-special day for so many reasons – first of all is that we are here to worship God, to be part of a community who recognizes that God, and the gifts that he gives us are so important, so critical, that they rearrange our lives, and our schedules.  When we could be at the Fair, or trying to stay cool at home, or sleeping in, or whatever – why, even the very ability we have to recognize that worship is important is a gift from God, a truth that the Holy Spirit has placed in our hearts.  And second, is because while we are here, we actually receive the very concrete gifts that God promises. 

Each week, when we come to the altar and receive Holy Communion, you hold Jesus Christ in your hands – the same God who created the universe, who died on the Cross and rose again on Easter morning, who literally makes us to be like him because of his real, physical presence inside of us.  This is the essence of Holy Communion – that we are brought into union with Christ.  And right alongside Communion, before Communion, actually, is Holy Baptism.  In baptism, we become members of the Church – the capital-C, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  Our sins are forgiven by Jesus Christ himself, the Word of God.  When we are baptized, as little Danilo will be here shortly, we are ontologically different – we become literally joined to Christ – we are baptized into his death, and also into his resurrection. 

There is no more “you’re on your own in this world”, there’s no more “you need to look out for yourself, because no one else will.”  These things that we’re tempted to believe, these lessons the world tries to teach us, that the world will try to teach Danilo as he grows up, are shown to be absolute lies in the face of what we have as Christians – union with Christ, and his promises.  This is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at when he reminds us not to worry about money or anything else – it’s not just that we should be content, but that we can be content – because God has already said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” 
That is the promise he makes to us in our baptism, and the promise he makes to us over, and over, and over again – the promise that will never be broken, that never can be broken, because God cannot, and does not, break his promises. 

It is not an overstatement to say that nothing else – literally, nothing – matters, so long as you possess Christ.  And we do.  We who are baptized Christians, who avail ourselves of the real, true, physical presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, we possess Christ – we belong to him, and he belongs to us.  And that is all that matters. 

And yet Jesus, in the gospel reading today, seems to suggest that there’s more to it – there’s instructions – sit here, not there – invite these people, not those.  Even the writer of Hebrews, while reminding us that nothing can harm us because of God’s promises, gives instructions – be loving and show hospitality, remember those who are in prison, do not commit adultery, do good, share with others. 

If the only thing that really matters is Christ, then why the instructions?  Why does it matter what we do? 

Because baptism, being joined to Christ, being part of the Church, is a call to discipleship.  When we are united with Jesus in his death and his resurrection, we become people are joined to Christ’s life – a life of love and hospitality, of remembering the poor and imprisoned, of fidelity in relationships, of caring for the poor and homeless.  When Jesus tells us to live our lives in this way, when the writer of Hebrews encourages us in upright living – it isn’t because those things are conditions of our salvation.  It is because those are the things that characterize a life lived in Christ.  It isn’t a call to be better people than we currently are, it’s a call to be precisely the people that Jesus has already made us to be. 

Now of course, if we’re being honest, we know that this is a difficult call to follow.  To be kind and loving and hospitable towards people who are not kind and loving and hospitable back.  To love, and to share what we have with people we don’t even know.  To remember prisoners, when we’d rather forget them, because they’re bad people who deserve to be punished.  To eat with the poor and homeless, who might be awkward and have bad manners or smell weird and who certainly aren’t about to invite us over in return.  To be faithful in marriage and chaste otherwise, in a culture that tells us it’s boring or unenlightened or repressed.  To not worry about money in a society that staunchly insists that we must.  To be humble in a world of “selfies”.  To offer praise and prayer to God when school and sports and travel and work and whatever else seem to conspire to prevent it.

The devil’s arrows are sharp, and well-aimed.  It’s true.  And it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one, like you’re out there all on your own, struggling to live this Christian life you’ve been grafted into.  But two things to remember: first, how well you live the call to discipleship is not – is NOT – what determines your salvation.  Your sins are forgiven and you belong to Christ, and THAT is what determines your salvation.  And second, this is why the new life in Christ that is given to each of us at our baptism is paired with entry into the Church – because we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses – the saints who have gone ahead of us into glory, and the very concrete local congregation right here, to support us, encourage us, cheer us on, help us, and to remind us that it still – never – is about us, it’s about Jesus and what he has done for us.

So welcome to the Church, and to the faith, Danilo.  This little one is being baptized into the faith that we share, the faith in Jesus Christ that is given to each one of us.  The faith that looks at everything in the world that is set up against us and says, it doesn’t matter, because God has said, “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”  The faith that clings to that promise, and can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, because the Jesus who baptized me, the Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the grave, the Jesus who comes to us in this Holy Supper – that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”    

You belong to him, and that is all that matters.