Sunday, May 18, 2014

Faith At Home...At Home in Faith

Faith at Home…At Home in Faith
NW MN Synod Assembly
Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
May 17, 2014
I Peter 2:1-10

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

“Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.”[1] 

Let me say that once again:  “Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he (or she) is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.”

Thank God, when Martin Luther wanted to make a point, he never mumbled or beat around the bush!   Thank God, the Great Reformer had a penchant for shockingly-bombastic hyperbole!

Of course, Luther was grinding an ax here, as he was wont to do.   He was demolishing a whole way of envisioning the church--especially leadership in the church.  Luther was leveling, flattening the church of his day by sweeping away a rigid hierarchical structure that was burdening consciences, blunting the gospel, keeping God’s Word shackled and killing the church!

For the church Luther inherited was a church that carefully distinguished leaders from followers, those at the top from those on the bottom, the rulers from the ruled….

…..which is why in brash, sweeping assertions like this one, Luther declared:  “Enough already!”

Whoever (accent on that:  whoever, meaning anyone!)….Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he (or she) is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope!

Now I suppose we could say:  “Well and good!  Sounds like ‘Luther being Luther,’ ‘democratizing’ a brittle medieval religious bureaucracy, helping the grassroots reclaim their community of faith….

Except that this brash quotation from Martin Luther has such deep roots in God’s ancient and abiding Word…..even as it also presses ahead, reaches forward, right up into our own day.  

Martin Luther’s contention in 1520, after all, echoes the words of our text from I Peter, a first century letter of encouragement that circulated among scattered bands of “resident aliens,” Jews and Gentiles living in Asia Minor.  These spiritual “exiles” had been caught in the updraft of the Holy Spirit, claimed by the Risen Christ to spread the Good News in an indifferent if not hostile, distracted, religiously pluralistic world.

Peter deploys a cascading array of images to remind these “resident aliens” just who they now were in Jesus Christ:  
·       newborn infants drinking in the spiritual milk of God’s Word,
·       living stones being crafted into a spiritual temple
·       God’s elected, chosen race,
·       God’s royal priesthood,
·       God’s holy nation,
·       God’s own people.

If the world around them counted them as good-for-nothings, God had decided otherwise:  
Once you were not a people,
   but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
   but now you have received mercy.

And to what end, for the sake of what work had God gone to the trouble of feeding, building, electing, claiming and sanctifying these “nobodies?”  

That they might “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

When Martin Luther brazenly proclaimed that “Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope” he was only reclaiming for his own day, an ancient scriptural word from the First Epistle of Peter.

Luther reached back to a first century biblical treasure-chest…even as he simultaneously pointed forward, into God’s future, right into our own time.    For, my dear friends, you and I also need desperately to hear that “whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.”

You and I need to hear these words, not so much to flatten an outdated hierarchy but to reclaim the dignity of our calling to live fully, imaginatively, energetically as the whole people of God in the year 2014.

Luther contended with a bullying Pope Leo and a corrupt Vatican Curia in Rome….but  we contend with a more subtle, insidious adversary:  ourselves and some of the assumptions we make about who the church is, how it is formed, and why it is sent into God’s world.

We contend with a church that still mutters nostrums like:

·       “Oh good, the pastor is here now, so he can pray for us, and we can start our meeting….”

·       Or:   “Bishop, please tell our minister to visit all our shut-ins every month….that’s her job, you know….that’s what we hired her to do!”

·       Or:   “What has the ELCA, what has the synod done for us lately?”

Words like those, my friends, are the death-rattle of a terminally-ill church, a church turned fatally inward, a church that thinks it can hire somebody else to do the ministry that’s been given to all of us, a church panting for Christ’s death-defeating, resurrecting power.

In this assembly, I pray, we’ve been opening our eyes to another way, a better way of being church and doing church in this time and place.

Living in an indifferent if not hostile, distracted world….a world with scads and scads of competing stories and compelling messages….feeling sometimes like resident aliens, not sure we’ll ever feel “at home” here….

….you and I are dying to hear Peter’s amazing proclamation of who we are and what God is equipping us to do:  “But you—you, “you all”!-- are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

You can’t hire someone to do that for you, though you surely can call a minister to help you do your work better….but the work’s been given to all of us….in our communities, in our congregations, and in those “little platoons” where we hang out with folks near and dear to us.

This assembly has invited us to pay close attention to these most basic cells in the Body of Christ on earth—however we name them:  homes or households or families or table-gatherings or wherever folks live  and breathe together…

As David Anderson reminds us:  “Faith is formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through personal, trusted relationships—often in our own homes….Where Christ is present in faith, the home is church too.”[2]

Wrapping our heads and hearts around that notion….inviting a critical mass of our synod’s congregations to live more deeply into that bracing vision….just might be the most hopeful and promising thing we could do as a synod over the years to come.  

I can think of nothing, nothing else that will help us tap into God’s renewing, refreshing Spirit as much as assisting congregations in helping households pass on the faith to the next generation of God’s chosen people.

When I was serving at Our Savior’s in Moorhead, we had some pretty big confirmation classes come through our congregation’s process of forming young people as disciples of Jesus.   After confirmation Sunday one of those years, I got a card from one of the young men that read:  “Pastor Larry, thanks for teaching me everything I know about God.”

When the young man who scrawled those words first gave me that card, my heart was warmed….for about 15 seconds….

….but then I said to myself:  “Oh no.   This can’t be!   He didn’t really mean that I had taught everything he knew about God.”    I barely knew the lad, having been with him for such a slender slice of his tender young life!

Surely, surely, others had been teaching him about God, proclaiming “the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Friends, it will not do to keep thinking that if parents or other caring adults just drop their kids off at our church buildings for one quick hour each week during the school year, they will be formed into fervent followers of Jesus, with a faith they can be at home in, a faith to carry them into the rest of their lives.   It takes more than one hour a week to accomplish that!  

Faithful, fruitful proclaimers of God’s mighty acts want to get at the other 167 hours in every child’s, every young person’s week!

If that thank you note from my former confirmation student eats at me, other stories give me hope.

I think of the young dad who told me recently that his oldest son was soon to become a teenager.  “Oh boy--you ready for that?” I asked.   “Well,” the dad responded, “so far, so good.  He still won’t go to bed at night unless I bless him.”

We can do this.   Oops—let me say that better:   God, through us, will do this, even with the likes of you and me….because Luther got it right:  “Whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he (or she) is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.” 

….consecrated—that is--to do what priests, bishops and popes and every other person baptized into Christ is called to do:  “To proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

[1] To the Christian Nobility (1520)  LW 44:129
[2] David W. Anderson, The Great Omission, p. 17.

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