Cornerstone of Faith
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:35-45
You know what? I am just going to be honest with all of you and let it fly. I am sick and tired of death. I am sick and tired of people killing each other. I am sick and tired of people pointing fingers at each other. I am sick and tired of listening to pundits spouting off their opinions. I am sick and tired of lies and if I hear the term “fake news” one more time I am going to scream, and I am really sick and tired of Twitter and Facebook.
What led up to this rant? It wasn’t just the shooting in Las Vegas, or the hurricanes in the Southeast, or Puerto Rico. It wasn’t the riots in Charlottesville. It isn’t the even the culmination of events, it goes deeper. My frustration has to do with the Christian faith and our part in all this chaos. Yes, we do have a part in the mess and I think it is time we own up to it because right now the church is being called to make a stand for justice, mercy, love and forgiveness and we are missing the boat big time. Over the last couple of days I have read articles by pastors and listened to sermons by pastors alluding to the fact that God is punishing us for our sins and that we need to repent and turn back towards God. Ironically, neither preacher took the lead on their opinion and confessed their sins. Rather, both alluded to the sins of our culture, and the sins of those leading ungodly lives. Just once I want a bible thumping, text proofing, God loving pastor say, “You know what? I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself. I haven’t fed, clothed, healed, visited, and cared for the least of God’s children. I have missed the mark and I repent.” No! What I hear and see all around me in the church is Christians looking at the speck in our neighbor’s eye and ignoring the log in our own.
Now, don’t worry I will get around to doing my own repenting, but just hear me out. As a younger person I spent years listening to pastors, preachers, and Christians with good intentions try to lead me to salvation with good Bible thumping, come to Jesus or burn in hell sermons. And when I say years I mean years. My best friend in high school, Damaris, dragged me to church services all around Dallas and Salem growing up. After high school we spent three months together in Brazil and during that time I was dragged from one service to another with the thought that maybe the gospel in Portuguese would do the trick. The truth is that I never once heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in those services. I heard judgment, intimidation, and fear. If God was the God they were proclaiming I wanted none of it, and I still stand by that sentiment. Why? Because what was preached was a theology of us versus them. The general idea was that they were not only right, they were righteous and all others were evil. The message always had an undertone of radicalism that lent itself towards violence that I could never quite put my finger on, but made me very uncomfortable.
Obviously, something changed because I am a pastor who loves Jesus, and I am driven to preach the gospel. So what changed? The message changed. Where years and years of fundamentalism rang hollow the message I heard at Trinity Lutheran Church in Dallas, OR was the truth. The message I heard of God’s love through Jesus was the same, but the radicalness of Jesus’ teachings, and his ministry were music to my ears. Pastor Pederson did not hide behind proof texting to convey his own message rather he delved into the whole of the gospels and mined them for the beauty and wonder that they possessed. I was more convicted, repentant, and forgiven in the Lutheran church than in a decade of previous church experiences.
We as Lutherans we need to make a stand for truth. Right now we are living in a post-truth world and the Christian faith is caught up in that post-truth mentality. The Christian faith has more churches than any other time in history. Just drive around Albany and count the mainline churches and then the non-denominational churches. We are awash with churches. With so many people of faith are problems should be minimal, but we all know that isn’t the case. Why? That’s a rhetorical question by the way because all of us will begin pointing fingers at those who are in the biggest need and state that it is because people are lazy, they want everything for free, or they feel entitled. I can even go so far as to use my faith and the bible to justify my beliefs, and churches do this all the time through proof texting.
What is proof texting? Well, it is using the bible to prove my point. So, let’s say I want to prove that the poor are poor as a punishment from God for being lazy. I can go through the bible and find ample passages and piece those passages together and prove my point. It doesn’t matter if those passages are taken out of context and really don’t say what I am proving as long as I can make it work I will. That’s proof texting and in my opinion it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is taking the will of God, and the Word of God and making it say what it doesn’t say. When I ignore the broader message of the bible, the overarching message of the bible, to make my point work then I am not only a schmuck I am a heretic and a schmuck.
As Lutherans we are challenged to proclaim the gospel in its totality, with all its twists, turns, and challenges. We are called to be befuddled, exasperated, and overjoyed all at the same time. That’s what the gospel does and that is exactly what Paul is talking about in the Philippians text today. Paul thought that he had all the answers. Paul knew what was wrong with the world and knew how to fix it. If there was hell and damnation being preached Paul the Pharisee Saul preached it. He had it all going for him and he knew it. All Saul had to do was stay the course and he would have had it made. He was entitled to all that his culture prized, education, authority, and power. However, the cornerstone of Jesus crushed him and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. In hindsight Paul says that all the things his old life valued he counts now as garbage. Garbage! Power, authority, money, and political clout it’s all rubbish. This is a man who is behind bars for treason and he would give it all up again just to know the truth of the gospel. How can we get there?
First, we, me and you, the whole of our faith, need to get honest with ourselves. We need to embrace the gospel, our message, and own it. We have the most wonderful gift and we are living in a world, a culture and a country that needs to hear it. We also need to get brave because we are also living in a world, culture, and country that on the whole will reject it and there are few feelings more awful than rejection. However, we need to own our message and find ways to share it because we are living in a time that needs to hear a message of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. The time is right to bring the unabridged, no agendas, no strings attached gospel out and share it freely.
So, here it goes I am going to repent and turn. I am going to own the gospel that brought me to faith and not shy away from the uncomfortable experience of being evangelical. Because of the negative connotations that the word evangelical evokes we have shied away from that aspect of our denomination. Let’s embrace our title and own it! Let’s be evangelical and spread the good news of Jesus. Let’s be a voice of love and mercy and forgiveness. Let’s take the log out of our eyes and then step up to the plate and swing for the bleachers.
You might ask how we can do this. First we have to start working together with other churches with the same overarching mission. We will begin doing this next month when we have an ecumenical worship service on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodist, and Christian churches are all coming together to be a voice of unity for the gospel. Next we can give of ourselves to ministries here at the church that help build up the body of Christ. We need people to teach Sunday school, we need people to host for fellowship hour, we need people to help with worship and altar guild, we need people to be committed both in giving and in service. The more we work towards the gospel the stronger we are as a community and the more we can do to reach out to others.
There is no better time than right now to take a stand for Jesus and the gospel. There is enough anger, resentment, bitterness, and angst in our community, culture, and the world. We do not need to be contributors to the bank of angst. We are called to be proclaimers of God’s wonderful news of the grace of His son. The time is ripe for the Lutheran message and I know that there are a score of people with ears to hear because our message is so radically different from the prevailing Christian message. I know what the truth sounded like to me the first time I heard it. The gospel sounded like hope and I was desperate for some hope. Aren’t we all desperate for some hope? Let’s be the voice of that hope here and now.