SERMON NOTES — March 10, 2019
I am so grateful for this Gospel journey with you these past eight months. You have been open to exploring nothing less than the possibility of a very different destination. My first Sunday with you (July 22) we began with a central Gospel text, that of Ephesians 2:11-22. If we back up just a couple verses, we get the traditional Reformation starting place of the Gospel journey, Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. . . .” In the New Reformation, Grace continues to be the starting place.
But for the New Reformation, the Gospel journey has a new destination. Same starting place, Grace; different destination. Ephesians 2:11-22 provides that destination, beginning with the words, “So then. . . .” What we’ve learned together over these eight months is that the goal of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah is that in the cross and resurrection, “he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. . . . (Eph. 2:15). In the issue of our times, thus means healing tribalism. One new humanity out of two.
The destination of the original Reformation became increasingly focused on ‘going to heaven when you die.’ Yes, because of Easter, there is life after death. But this is not the final destination. That initial resting in God’s power of life when we die is a holding place. It is on the way to a day of resurrection for all when God’s power of life has completed the healing of tribalism, creating one new humanity. That old focus on heaven, in fact, became paired with a supposed fate of many in hell so that the hope for going to heaven became a sort of anti-Gospel! The pull of our original sin of tribalism is so strong that we came to see the final destination as God making a final dualistic sorting between heaven and hell. Instead of God creating one new humanity out of two, we relapsed into seeing God making an eternal split between those in heaven and those in hell. An anti-Gospel.
Thus, in Jesus the Messiah we see revealed both true humanity and true divinity. True humanity: we are created good to live as one human family, but since the beginning we have become enslaved to the powers of tribalism. Our very cultures and religions are structured as Us-against-Them. And so we have created gods to establish order in terms of Us-vs-Them. Those are the gods we have always worshiped and who still are very much mixed in with our contemporary forms of tribalism. We continue to behave as if our view is the only true view because it has the stamp of approval of the gods. It keeps us mired in tribalism.
Jesus comes to reveal a completely different God to us, one who makes the sun shine and rain fall on both Us and Them. This is God who loves unconditionally like the best of parents, and even goes beyond normal parents by asking us to love our enemies. Why? Because even our enemies are brothers and sisters, children of the same heavenly parent. God is not a God of blessing on some, and curses on others. In fact, Jesus turns all that upside-down by declaring blessing on those we usually see as cursed. Jesus calls us to follow him not in showing deference to the most powerful but to reach out in care and love to the most vulnerable. True justice is to show preferential care to least of God’s family.
How difficult is it to worship this God above the gods of tribalism? It is the temptation Jesus himself faces in today’s Gospel Reading. First, the god who would turn a stone to bread for Jesus is one to manipulate blessings for himself. Skipping to the third temptation, Satan represents the same false god who would show special favor for Jesus by catching him from falling from the Temple peak. And the second temptation is most shocking: we basically see that the gods in control of our human politics Jesus sees as the devil! He doesn’t challenge the devil’s claim to be in charge of our human politics. He simply challenges him, and us, to worship the true God, the God who gives us a completely different politics for healing our tribalism.
Today I’d like to conclude my time with you by sharing one of my favorite stories with you (from Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God, by Dennis, Sheila, & Matthew Linn [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994], pages 8-11). It’s from Christian counselor and pastor Dennis Linn, his personal story of how his mind was changed about God — how he repented. He tells of Hilda coming into his office one day because her son had attempted suicide for the fourth time. She described how her son was involved in prostitution, drug dealing and murder and then ended her list of her son’s “big sins” with, “What bothers me most is that my son says he wants nothing to do with God. What will happen to my son if he commits suicide without repenting and wanting nothing to do with God?”
Pastor Linn tells how he personally believed in the popular version of God being something like a stern father, but the counselor in him didn’t want to tell that to this struggling mother. Instead, he began by asking Hilda what she thought. But Hilda was trapped in that same idea of a stern punishing God. “Well,” she replied, “I think that when you die, you appear before the judgment seat of God. If you have lived a good life, God will send you to heaven. If you have lived a bad life, God will send you to hell.” Sadly, she concluded, “Since my son has lived such a bad life, if he were to die without repenting, God would certainly send him to hell.”
Again, Pastor Linn didn’t want to admit he agreed with her so he tried another counseling tactic. He had Hilda close her eyes and imagine herself sitting next to the judgment seat of God. He also had her imagine her son’s arrival at the judgment seat with all his serious sins and without repenting. Then he asked her, “Hilda, how does your son feel?” Hilda answered, “My son feels so lonely and empty.” So Pastor Linn asked Hilda what she would do, to which she responded, “I want to throw my arms around my son.” She lifted her arms and began to cry as she imagined herself holding her son tightly.
Finally, when she had stopped crying, Pastor Linn asked her to look into God’s eyes and watch what God wanted to do. Hilda saw God step down from the throne, and just as Hilda did, embrace her son. And the three of them, Hilda, her son, and God, cried together and held one another.
Bottom line: What Pastor Linn said he learned about God that day is this: God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. God loves us unconditionally.
God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways, says the prophet Isaiah. In the cross of Jesus Christ, I think we see just how completely different they are. And that’s a cause for celebration, isn’t it? Let’s celebrate, with bread and wine — our Lord’s body broken, his blood poured out, for us, for all God’s children. We are forgiven. We are loved, unconditionally. Our disease of tribalism is being healed! And we are called and commissioned to participate in bringing the healing to this broken world. Amen
Lutheran Church of the Savior