Sermon – August 9, 2015 – Installation of Pastor Maggie

Installation of Maggie Falenschek
August 9, 2015

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I bring greetings to you from all your sisters and brothers in Christ across the Central/Southern Illinois Synod of the ELCA. If you have been here when I have been here in the past you have heard my brief overview of the synod. We are roughly 130 congregations in central and southern Illinois. Our synod territory covers 75% of the geography of Illinois. We go east and west across the state, as far north as Bourbonnais and Kankakee to the east and Nauvoo to the west, and south all the way to the tips at Cairo and Metropolis.
It is wonderful to be with you again. A bishop has the privilege of being the presiding minister at installation services in a lot of churches. You were there in spirit with me at all those others, and I hope that you sense the presence of all the churches of our synod here with you today.
I like to watch the old Perry Mason crime drama TV shows. I’m talking the classics, the ones made in the 1960s – with Raymond Burr (a young Raymond Burr) as the brilliant lawyer Perry Mason, Barbara Hale as his savvy sidekick/secretary Della Street, and William Talman as the prosecuting attorney Hamilton Burger, the poor guy who is always outsmarted by Perry Mason. Before they were easily available on the web, I recorded over 100 Perry Mason episodes recorded on DVDs. In I don’t know how many episodes, there comes a point in the courtroom when Mason is questioning a witness and Burger interrupts Mason and shouts, “Objection – the question is irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial.” Burger’s claim is, of course, that Mason’s question has nothing to do with the case. (The claim is that) there is no connection between what the court needs to know and what Mason is talking about.
I wonder how many people consciously or unconsciously operate with a similar impression of Christianity: “There is no connection between how a person actually gets along the world and what Christians say about God. Christian talk about God – even if it is true – is irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial.” I almost never hear this said outright; someone is more likely to say it to you than they are to say it to me. And my sense is that many people who think this way are not being hostile to Christianity, just honest about the sense of disconnect that they have.
There is truth there; disconnect is an issue; and actually I have listened to Christian friends wrestle with their sense of disconnect. But what if the truth runs in the opposite direction? What if, when there is a disconnect between the gospel message of God revealed in Jesus Christ and the everyday choices I make and actions I take, the problem is not with what we say about God, but the problem is with me? What if the problem is that my everyday choices and actions are irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial?
A disconnect between Christian belief and real, lived life is exactly what the writer of Ephesians wants to fix. The author – traditionally understood to be the apostle Paul – wants his hearers to make the connections between their new relationship with Christ, on the one hand, and real living, concrete behavior, on the other hand.
Ephesians divides into two halves: chapters 1 through 3; chapters 4-6. The first half assures the Ephesian Christians of what God has done: that God has loved and redeemed them. The second half picks up the question, “Now what?”
Paul spends the first three chapters pouring out the message of salvation – what God has done and is doing for us. Salvation is a gift, a free gift that God gives as gift of boundless love. Ephesians 2: 4-8 summarizes it:
Ephesians 2:4-8 God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
We never grow out of our need to hear this. We never grow out of our need to hear God’s grace. It is the soil out of which everything that we do that is fruitful grows – to use an illustration that alludes to your farm. So – I tell you today, by the authority of Jesus Christ: no matter who you are, or where you have been, or what you have done, Jesus knows you and gave himself up on the cross for you; no matter what your sin, no matter what burden you bear, no matter what sort of chaos, brokenness, or evil you may be experiencing, Jesus has taken it all to the cross with him for you – because he loves you. In this you are made alive together with Christ.
Pastor Maggie, you will have one, core message in all the sermons you preach, the classes you teach, the youth and families that you mentor and nurture here at St. Matthew. You will express this one, core message in hundreds of ways but it will be one message: God’s full and free grace for sinners through Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
From this Ephesians 1–3 message, we have the basis for Ephesians 4-6 daily living concerns.
As I said, Ephesians chapters 4-6 pick up the question, “Now what?” “OK, I believe that Jesus died to free me from sin, and that God raised Jesus from the dead; I believe that Jesus makes me alive; now what?”
The apostle’s answer is, “You are God’s redeemed people. Now act like the redeemed people God has made you through Christ.” Here is the interesting thing.
What sorts of people go to church? Look at the kinds of people who were coming to church in Ephesus.
• Apparently some of them were given to lying. The apostle Paul writes, “It is time to put away falsehood, and let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”
• Apparently some of them had anger issues. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
• Apparently some of them were taking stuff that doesn’t belong to them. “Thieves, give up stealing. Get a job.”
• Apparently some of them didn’t filter everything they said. The translation I read calls it, “evil talk”. Literally, the expression is “rotting word”: “Don’t let any rotting word come out of your mouth.” It is a broad figure of speech that covers obscenity, threats, and gossip.

(This is) not very flattering of people made alive together in Christ.
Paul insists that there is a connection between what we believe as Christians and how we behave. Lying isn’t wrong just because it breaks a rule or a commandment. Lying shatters Christian community – even little lies – they tear apart the body of Christ. Stealing destroys trust, in addition to harming the victim. Anger gives the devil an opening. Rotting words grieve God.
The apostle’s message is “shape up.” Be imitators of God. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”
In verses 31 and 32, Paul lists representative vices and corresponding representative virtues: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (He is) tying us back to chapters 1-3.
Without the connection Ephesians makes between what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and what we do toward others, Christianity becomes just one more moralism among many moralisms: “irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial.”
Here is the point. In Ephesus, the people in the church included people susceptible to lying, anger, stealing, and bad mouthing. Yet God loves them. And God loves them doubly. God loves them enough to receive them as they are – that is the gospel of God’s free grace; at the same time, God loves them too much to leave them as they are – that is God’s interest in their behavior.
How do we put away problem anger, as well as all the other things – bitterness, wrangling, and slander – especially if they are deeply ingrained? How do we produce truthfulness, kindness, and forgiving one another? In the end, we don’t. God does. We cannot transform ourselves. It is God’s grace. It is the loving and transforming power that comes from outside us. God transforms our minds and hearts and desires. It flows from genuinely trusting in God’s forgiveness, believing as Ephesians 4 says in the God who “in Christ has forgiven you.”
All of you here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church – Pastor Bob, Pastor Maggie, all of you – in a few minutes you are going to make promises to one another – big promises.
Pastor Maggie, among your promises today you will promise to love, serve, and pray for God’s people here, to nourish them with the word and sacraments, and to lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living. Really. Really. My prayer for you is that you will keep those promises. At the same time, I know that as bright and talented and willing as you are, that is not enough to keep these promises. Your trust in the God who “in Christ has forgiven you” will do it.
People of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, among your promises today, you will promise to receive Pastor Maggie as a messenger of Jesus Christ sent to serve all people with the gospel of hope and salvation, and to pray for her, to help and honor her for her work’s sake, and in all things to strive to live together in the peace and unity of Christ. Really. Really. My prayer for you is that you will keep those promises. At the same time, I know that as excited and gifted and willing as you are, that is not enough to keep your promises. Your trust in the God who “in Christ has forgiven you” will do it.
Today is a wonderful day. It is a joy and a privilege to be with you and to share in this journey together that you begin today.
You do not make this journey alone: your coworkers in Christ across the synod and in the ELCA walk with you – that’s what bishops are for.
These are God’s beloved people, Pastor Maggie, care for them, respect them, and treat them well. This is God’s beloved pastor called to you, people of St. Matthew; care for her, respect her, and treat her well.
Amen.