Last week I talked about who we are, that at our root we are baptized children of God, marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord and nothing can take that away from us, nothing can change who we are, that we are God’s chosen people. So I guess the next logical question to come out of this is so now what do I do with this? How do I live out of this?You see for a lot of Christian traditions the way they understand the journey of faith is it ends when they make a choice for God and that is the high point and you have reached the goal, but as Lutherans Christians we understand it differently…God made a choice for us and we spend the rest of our lives trying to live out of that incredibly gracious calling that God has for us, to make sense of the new world of possibilities that creates for us. And God does have a dream for us and a calling for each of us in the midst of our lives. And God has always had this dream and vision for working through God’s people. Of us being the body of Christ, to use Paul’s language, of being the hands and feet of Christ reaching out into the world. If you remember through the Story that we went through last year God begins by setting a family and then a people aside to be a blessing to the world. As we recall from Genesis 12: 1-4
Genesis 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Abram, later renamed Abraham was not set apart for his own benefit, but so that all the families on earth would be blessed through him. His life was to be a blessing to others and he was to live out of this calling and adventure that God set before him. Did Abram lose sight of this vision at times, yes, did he focus on his own understanding and his own strength, yep, but God kept calling him back to the vision that God had, to the adventure God had laid before him. God never abandons Abraham and Sarah or leaves them. Later when it was no longer just a family, but an entire nation Moses reminded them (Deuteronomy 4: 37)
37 Because he loved your ancestors, he chose to bless their descendants, and he personally brought you out of Egypt with a great display of power.
And in Isaiah we see some of the vision that the people were to be if they could live into God’s vision of shalom and peace:
Isaiah 2: 2-5
2 In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all– the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. 3 People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. 4 The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. 5 Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
Paul captures this vision in Romans when he speaks of creation’s redemption is waiting on us:
Romans 8: 18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,
21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it.
25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)
Creation is waiting on us to become the people we have been created and called to be. Paul has a lot of confidence in this vision of what we as a gracious people can be and how powerful that would be, but as I think about it-Paul has every reason not to trust people, Paul who has seen the very churches he founded bicker and squabble over leadership, spiritual gifts, money, power, becoming intoxicated with the way things are in the world, becoming impatient for God to come and act now, and yet, in the midst of all of this, Paul has an amazing confidence in God to take these people with all their problems and addictions, these people who don’t know their right hand from their left and for them to be transformed by God’s love and turned into a gracious people who can reflect this transforming love of God into the world by being transformed into the people they were always created to be. People who can love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves. Yet I think often we are like the lawyer in Luke’s gospel, we come in asking the wrong question:
Luke 10: 25-37
25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now to be fair, when the people of Jesus time talk about what we translate as eternal life they are talking about a very earthly reality, it is the new creation and it is something that God going to do on earth and it is tied in with Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God. In effect this lawyer or scribe asks, “what must I do to be a part of what is going on with this kingdom of God you are always talking about.” It is something Jesus’ has pointed to so many times that he lets the lawyer answer the question:
26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
27 The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
I think we also know the right answer, if you listened last week you know that for Jesus love is the law, you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and soul and mind and strength, from the very heart of the Jewish understanding of the law (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love your neighbor as yourself ( Leviticus 19:18). Jesus had been calling people back to this throughout his ministry, it wouldn’t have been a surprise and it wouldn’t even have been very controversial, yet doing it-that is another matter, and how far does it extend, who can I justify excluding from this, who is my neighbor and who isn’t
29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Where can I put up fences, where can I draw a line between holy people and unholy people, between righteous and sinners, between insiders and outsides, who can I eliminate, help me see where the boundaries are. You certainly can’t mean everyone…not the Samaritans, the Romans, the revolutionaries, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the sinners and tax collectors, the prostitutes, the uneducated, the out of work, the poor, those who speak different, who believe different, who act different, who worship other gods, surely not them. Who can I leave out?
30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. 31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. 33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ 36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Go and live like this, and you will know what the kingdom is all about, live in a world where you build walls to separate us from them and you will never know. Live in mercy and grace, unafraid of what might happen, unafraid of the contamination of unholiness, willing to risk that in caring for someone else: a stranger, a beaten down one left on the side of the road that you also might be looked upon as the ceremonially unclean social outcast and religious heretics that most of the Jews believed the Samaritans to be. They were in many ways worse than the rest of the gentiles for in their eyes they were an unholy mingling of the chosen people with the other nations and they worshipped the same God in the wrong way at the wrong places and they refused to admit that the ways that the real Jews did it was right. Generations of hostility marked the border between Jew and Samaritan, Yet Jesus calls us to imagine a world beyond walls, where our own actions make neighbors of those in need and our love is a part of the healing of humanity and the rest of the world.
I want to invite you to imagine with me what the body of Christ, as Paul called the early church would look like if we could be captured by this kind of a vision. I want you to imagine what it would be like if everyone was here not because they felt they were supposed to be, or that they were trying to take care of the afterlife, or that they were here because mom or dad, of husband or wife, or friends thought they should be but rather imagine for just a moment if everyone was really here because they loved God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength and every song sung was a love song toward the God who loved us and would not allow us to be separated from that love, every prayer was in the confidence that God not only heard but cared for the words that were said, and we trusted that we were here in this place because as the Greeks in Jerusalem said to the disciples, “Sir, we want to see Jesus”. And what would it look like for the body of Christ to live out of that love, carrying it out into the world unafraid of the boundaries that had been set up between righteous and unrighteous, between classes and races and sexes, between us and them and we really were planted like the trees of life around the trees on each side of the river of God in the new creation with leaves for the healing of the nations. Where we are so grounded in the love of God that we really can love ourselves and from that place of love we can risk going out to love our neighbors. Where we begin to lean into the new creation and we begin to heal ourselves and heal the world, for as Paul points to the world is indeed waiting on the revelation of these children of God. And it begins with acts of love, caring for the man on the side of the road or the person going through a divorce, or the child who doesn’t seem to fit in, or the mother dealing with a screaming infant, or the person who doesn’t speak English or who can’t seem to find a job. It means being willing to be a part of Christ’s reaching out into the world through us to be a foretaste of the feast to come in the new creation. Sometimes it means bearing the disbelief of a society that cannot believe that we would give away some of our money to someone else, or that we would reach out to talk to and touch those who no one wants to touch. There is a story of a young priest who went to see Mother Teresa in Calcutta and after following her around during the day was struck by how unreligious her work seemed and then when he remarked to her how unclean and unholy it seemed she reached down and picked up a man dying who weighed very little and turned towards the this young priest and said here is the body of Christ given for you, for it was there in the poor that Christ was appearing and she was able to serve him.