Sermon – November 10, 2019 – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Grace and peace to you, this day and every day, from God our Creator, from Christ our Savior, and from the Holy Spirit who gathers us together. Amen.

 

The year was 2009. The date, June 18th. Our group entered the building’s large interior. The place was packed. In addition to being overly crowded, the place was old and massive. Construction started in 1506 and the building now covers an area of 5.7 acres. We had these blue little headphones that would broadcast the guide’s messages and educational information straight into our ears as we walked about. We entered St. Peter’s Basilica and took an immediate right to head to the front of Michelangelo’s Pieta, a large marble sculpture depicting the body of Christ held in the arms of his mother Mary after being taken down from the cross. After describing the sculpture, the guide told us that we were now going “across the Basilica” to look at other artwork. I walked throughout the Basilica awed by the beauty, size, and wonder of the place. I absorbed the atmosphere of worship services taking place in the side-chapels. I found the stairway down into the crypts. I was taking photos, about to head down the stairs, and was happy as a clam.  Until I heard Sarah’s voice through the blue headphones. “Excuse me ma’am? Ma’am. I can’t find my husband. I don’t know where he is.” … “It’s ok miss, everything is going to be alright, we will probably meet up with him at the end of the tour.” … “You don’t understand ma’am, he’s extremely interested in religion … He. Could. Be. Anywhere.”Sure, the story is a bit humorous now. But in that moment, through the headphones, I heard the desperation, the fear, and the tension of being separated from certainty, safety, and identity.

 

Perhaps this leaves you with a feeling of confusion. This weekend/Sunday is after all the weekend/Sunday when we celebrate the bounteous fellowship of our community, when we reaffirm our commitment to Christ and His Church, and when we rejoice and hope in the promises and opportunities for our fellowship of believers. But this weekend/Sunday is also one of anxiety and reexamination. We are a different people now. We are still a community of baptized believers; called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Grace of God through Jesus Christ, empowered and inspired by the Holy Spirit to grow in Christ, share the Gospel, and serve God’s people. Pause. But something has changed. Pause. Robert Rasmus, a Pastor we called into our midst to lead, and to serve, and to sustain, has retired and begun the next leg on his marathon of life. And so here we are. Pause. I cannot speak for her, but I imagine that there is a distinct comparison to be made between how Sarah felt in Rome in 2009 and how we feel here and now.

 

I don’t have to tell you that the relationships between a wife and her husband and between a congregation and her pastor are close ones. These relationships are intimate. They are precious. Sometimes they’re a bit nutty. But they are special. And when we find these relationships disrupted by circumstances outside of our control, we worry. In periods of transition, whether as a congregation in a state such as ours, or as a spouse whose carefree husband has transitioned aimlessly throughout the Vatican, anxiety emerges. Pause.In the verses immediately prior to our Gospel text this evening/morning, Christ admonishes those who seek to place the security of their possessions above all else. He tells the crowd gathered to hear Him, that in these moments of their self-assuredness, they may be ill-prepared for the suddenness of life’s changes and the sheer fragility that is human existence. And so the disciples in our Gospel text are worried too.

 

These disciples are not wealthy. They have abandoned their homes, their livelihoods, their friends and family, to follow our Lord. They are aware of life’s unexpected twists and turns and its fragility. But they’ve been reminded of it once more. So now they’re worried about being fed and clothed, how they are to find an assurance of stability and provision, how they will be sustained and protected from life’s surprises.

 

Perhaps we too are anxious about these sorts of things. How will we continue to be fed with the Word of God and with His Body and Blood?How we will be reminded of and clothed with our identities in Christ Jesus? How will we be led in idea and example? How will we be sustained in hope in our ministries?Pause.But be not afraid little flock, for Jesus Christ has a thing or two to say to His disciples and to usconcerning anxiety. And He is not a fan.

 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. … Life is more than food … The body is more than clothing. … Can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your lifespan? … If you can’t even do that, why worry about the rest? … Do not keep striving for what to eat or drink. … Do not keep worrying.”

 

If there was any doubt as to what sort of person I am, who would become so distracted, entranced, and lost in the Vatican, I think it’s time for a little theology break before we continue. Two Greek theological terms are used in talking about the Triune God, and they both work together in opening up our Gospel text today. First, there’s kenosis.Kenosisis a term which means self-emptying, and is most often associated with Phillipians 2 where Paul talks about how Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, He humbled himself and became obedient even to the point of death on a cross. Second, there’s perichoresis. Perichoresis is used to describe the intimacy of relationship, the mutual indwelling between the different persons of the Triune God in order to emphasize their oneness. All is God’s gift fromthe Father, through the Son, and inthe gift of the Holy Spirit. When one person of the Trinity is doing something, all the persons of the Trinity are involved. Christ isn’t moonlighting on the cross. God the Father is present and the Holy Spirit leads the Centurion to make a confession of faith.

Christ isn’t moonlighting in our Gospel either. Our heavenly Father, who created you and me, who has intimately known you in your mother’s womb, remains committed to the faithful relationship between creature and creator. He knows that we need our daily bread; food, clothing, home and family; and in Christ has demonstrated His commitment to offer life and salvation to all people. In Christ’s kenosis, God has emptied Himself to offer all people light in their darkness, life in situations which are death-dealing, and hope amidst despair. Through the Holy Spirit we receive these gifts of Grace through faith. When Luke writes of life and the body beingmore thanfood and clothing, he uses the Greek word pleión (pli-own). Pleión here is used to qualitatively compare two things in such a way as to say that life is more excellent than food and the body is more excellent than clothing. God knows that His gifts are more excellent than anything we could ever ask for or imagine, so in this text Christ is imploring you and imploring me to focus and cling not to the temporal things in life, but to focus and cling to Him. Jesus Christ. The incarnate Word of God. God enfleshed, with and among us.

“Consider the birds. They don’t sow or harvest. They don’t store up for themselves. But God takes care of them. Consider the lilies. They don’t work 40+ hours a week. But even the great kings of Israel were not adorned like them. But God looks after birds and flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow … and he will look after you in such a way, but to an even greater extent, because you are precious to Him.”

Christ knows that you and I are like the disciples, that we may feel wrapped up in a worried, anxious life. Like Job, we may wish our words and deeds were engraved in a rock forever. We may get wrapped up in defining who we are, drawing our value and sometimes our identity from where we work, what we eat or wear, or where we sit in the vast and varied social strata of daily life. But as we are going through life’s tumults, toils, and snares, individually and together as a Church, trying to determine our own sense of identity, our own sense of who we are … As we are doing all that … Jesus Christ is here, and is chiefly concerned with the disciples, and you and I, becoming aware of whose we are. The eternal Word of God, that spoke creation into being, knit you and I individually as dynamic, beautiful people in God’s image, and then … God knit you and I communally together in this place, as the people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

Our Heavenly Father, through Christ Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit knows you beloved child. And the Triune God wants you to rejoice and relax in that state of being known. God wants to you to grow in that peace. Growing to love, and to forgive, and to serve, and to know who we are to become. Jesus knows that he has given you a new heart. God takes care of ravens, lilies, and even those geese on North Prospect. God will even more extravagantly take care of you, His beloved and precious child. Don’t worry about food, or clothes, or whether the Bears will ever figure out how to play football, or any of these trivial matters. Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

Thy Kingdom come. What does His Kingdom look like? It looks like forgiveness and mercy and grace for those in need. It looks like caring for the stranger and the neighbor who may struggle to have food or clothing, to have a home or family. It looks like feeding those in need; feeding them with food, feeding them with eye contact and conversation, feeding them with hugs and prayers, feeding them with the recognition that God has also created them in His image. Most of all, God’s Kingdom looks like the cross, where Christ emptied Himself for us, wholly … and completely … withholding nothing.

You, beloved child, are God’s treasure and on Christ’s cross, God’s heart is with you.

 

God takes delight in giving, you and me, a place and a calling to live and move and have our being in such a Kingdom. Christ gives Himself to you and to me on the Cross, and in His Word, and at His table, so that you and I might be whole. That we might know who we are, whose we are, and who we are to become.

This life and salvation that God delights in offering to you and me, is not a new thing for God. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Today we celebrate the harvest of our stewardship, our offerings and talents, and acknowledge that God’s love in Christ has been, remains, and will continue to exist among us here in this place. Acknowledging and rejoicing that through Christ’s death and resurrection, this community has been called, forgiven, fed, and sent, to offer Good News to all people. For we know that our Redeemer liveth, and that on the last day, yet in our resurrected flesh, we shall see God in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.

Thanks be to God. Amen