Friday, September 8, 2017

Getting Skin in the Game

Installation of Deacon Jon Micheels Leiseth
September 6, 2017/Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
John 15:9-17

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

God chooses to do nothing without us.

Let me say that again:  “God chooses to do nothing without us.”

Please hear me clearly, friends.   I’m not saying that God can’t do anything without us.   I’m saying that God chooses to do nothing without us.

This is God’s modus operandi, God’s M.O.   God imagines, speaks and acts always with people and the creation, with you and me, with human flesh clearly in view and very much “in play.” 

God chooses to do nothing without us.

So, when God creates, as Genesis tells it, the culmination of the whole creation is God’s fashioning of human beings who alone—among all creatures—bear God’s spitting image, reflecting God in all that has been made.  

God chooses to do nothing without us.

When God acts to rescue us, when God intervenes to bring us back from our waywardness, God doesn’t bypass creation or humanity, but rather enters more deeply into creation, takes on human flesh, comes right alongside of us, for us and for our salvation.  

God condescends into our lives, “gets skin in the game.” And then this God-with-human-skin-on lives our life, bears our guilt, dies our death, and comes back from the grave lest we ever wonder whether God is “for us”—come what may!
God chooses to do nothing without us.

And, when God’s astonishing victory in the Resurrected Christ bids to become the story of the world….the vibrant heartbeat of the universe….once again God doesn’t step out of the creation to do all that, but rather God stoops down once again, breathing the Spirit into us, stirring us up with a Pentecost-tempest, and praying within us in sighs too deep for words. 

God chooses to do nothing without us.

And that remains true right now and for all the future “nows” God will yet grant us, until the New Creation finally dawns in all its splendor.

So, today also, my friends, here at Concordia College and now, at (give the time), my beloved ones, God chooses to do nothing without us.

That is true for all of us—no exceptions. 

It is true for you, Deacon Jon, true for you everywhere, all the time, in your own life of faith, hope and love…

You are not, in any way, shape or fashion called as Minister for Faith and Spirituality in Action—you are not called to carry out this ministry for us somehow, so that we’re off the hook…but you are called to do it with us, sometimes ahead of us, often behind us, but always alongside of us.

C.S. Lewis was once asked, by an earnest Christian:  “What if I don’t feel like loving or serving my neighbor?”  To which Lewis, without skipping a beat, responded:   “Pretend that you do.” 

He could have added:  “Fake it ‘til you make it,” because he knew the elementary truth that we don’t simply think our way into faith, but often we act our way, serve our way into faith.

Deacon Jon, you are called and installed to be among us as one who always reminds us of what we could too easily forget:   that God chooses to do nothing without us.
Such a “tall order,” this is!   It’s more than any of us could ever do, under our own steam, out of our own imagination, with our own strength and verve.

Whatever could that involve, in the “moment-by-momentness” of life?

Here’s the best guidance I can come up with:  just keep paying attention to Jesus who declared “I am among you as one who serves.”  (Luke 22:27) That is who I am.   That is what I do. That is what I will keep doing through you.    

It all comes together in Jesus.   So, here in John 15 Jesus seamlessly weaves together things we sometimes try to keep separate: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Life-giving love and commandment-keeping costly service are all of a piece.

Where we perceive dichotomies, Jesus creates synergy.   Asked, in another place, to name the greatest commandment, Jesus seems, at first to fudge (like a wily election-year politician!)—Jesus seems to say two things, articulate two commandments.  

But not really.  The one commandment, the only commandment worth our time and attention is about loving God BY loving our neighbor, not so much as step one and step two of a little dance—but more like “heads and tails,” the two sides of a single coin.  You cannot have one without the other—God and our neighbor welded, melded together, for time and all eternity.

That’s because God chooses to do nothing without us, don’t you see?  

God is always finagling new ways to climb into human skin, in Jesus, and now in the community that is the Risen Jesus, for the sake of “getting at the world,” saving, restoring, renewing, transforming, making you and me and all things new.

God labors over, God aches for this whole groaning creation, this whole struggling human family….and the way, the main way God “gets at” us, is through us—our voices, our hearts, our feet, our hands.

You already are living that and have been living that for years, Deacon Jon. 

Today this graced community formally invites you to continually remind us of that, to help us discover fresh ways of embodying it and living it every day, in all sorts of ways, always in Christ Jesus.   Amen.

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