* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on September 3, 2017 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Texts for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost:
Jeremiah 15:15-21 + Psalm 26:1-8 + Romans 12:9-21 + Matthew 16:21-28
Please pray with me this morning, church:
We thank you for bringing us together today.
Thank you for being with us this past week.
Give us eyes to see, Lord.
Help us to see you in each other,
And in the acts of love and service toward our neighbors
And toward those we may not know so well.
Help us to show Christ in our world.
How are we feeling, church?
Are we hanging in there?
If you’re like me, you’re just now starting to realize that today’s Sunday.
And yesterday was Saturday.
And anything that happened last week…well, it’s basically a gamble on whether or not I could tell you on what day it actually happened.
Y’all sure do disasters on a whole different level down here.
But, for me, as massive as the size and scope of this disaster was, to see Houston, and Missouri City, and Sugar Land, and Richmond, and all of Texas show up like we did afterward, was even more impressive. In the outpouring of love and care and concern and generosity, I watched all of the Gulf Coast start to be transformed by the showing up of Christ this week.
I saw Christ in the rescues, in the sheltering, in the feeding, and in the caring.
I saw Christ in the cleaning up of streets, in the mucking out of carpets, in the cutting up of drywall, and the drying out of houses.
I saw Christ in the outpouring of generosity, in neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers, in people helping people, and in folks giving whatever they had to help someone else who had lost everything.
And we are just getting started.
Giving to those who had lost.
Losing to gain.
What an absolutely perfect illustration for our Gospel this morning, “If any want to become my followers—my disciples—let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me… Those who lose their life for my sake will find it…”
Church, the life of discipleship, to truly follow Jesus, is a life of giving up. And I don’t have to tell you—you who are gutting your homes, you who have returned to soggy baseboards, you who are pulling up carpet and deciding what’s worth trying to salvage and restore and what we can bear to let go of—I don’t have to tell you what giving up means. I don’t have to explain to you who were and are displaced from your homes for any amount of time what a life of giving up looks like.
And…and…we are here, friends. We are here, and we are worshiping, and yeah, maybe we’re a little worse for wear, but we are here, thanks be to God. So there are some who need what we have. They need our time, they need our energy, they need our muscles, they need our kindness, they need our help, and yes, they need our money. Because when you’ve lost everything, you’re thankful that you have your life, but it takes some resources to get back to place of just surviving.
We are blessed, church. We are blessed and we are thankful and we are grateful. We are blessed…to then be a blessing. It is a blessing to get to be Christ to our neighbors and to those we might not know so well. It is a gift to be able to give because we have been given. This is the beautiful transformational work of being and showing Christ to the world. It is a holy privilege to follow Jesus into the places of struggle and devastation, and to be called and entrusted with the incredible gift of showing the love of Christ in those hurting places.
What about you, church? Where did you see Christ this week?
In our reading from Romans, St. Paul begins laying out the guidelines for what living together in a peaceable community looks like. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. calls this the “beloved community.” It’s a community that lives for the sake of everyone else. It’s a community whose concerns are first and foremost for their neighbor. It’s a community that loves genuinely, that holds fast to what is good, that contributes to the needs of all, and shows hospitality to strangers.
The beloved community is a people who are actually being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
Living cruciform lives—lives that are cross-shaped—is what we are called to as disciples of Jesus. They are lives that are patterned on the way of the cross. It’s the way of compassion – of suffering with.
It’s the way of losing your life to gain it.
Of giving of yourself, so that others would have.
This is what it means to truly follow Jesus.
Brother Martin Luther, that dear Reformer, described being sinful as living incurvatus in se, or being “turned in on oneself”, literally navel-gazing. So sin, then, is a preoccupation, an infatuation with oneself and one’s own wellness, without any regard for others.
And as I was listening to the radio this week, the reporter relayed a comment he heard earlier, he said, “You know, it feels like it’s been quite a long time since we’ve all been on the same page.”
He was right, of course, but as I think about the past 2 weeks, it’s really been extraordinary how much on the same page we’ve all been.
I mean, it was just 2 weeks ago that our collective eyes were turned toward the skies, as we marveled at the way that a certain celestial alignment could make the noontime look like dusk.
And it was just 1 week ago that those same collective eyes turned toward the southeast and looked on with shock and disbelief as a destructive force slammed into our coast and turned Houston into a swamp.
Extraordinary events, capturing our collective gaze, and forcing our collective eyes first upward, then outward. Gazing at the skies and then at our neighbors, instead of our navels, if only for a moment.
Remember what that gaze feels like, church. Try and keep your eyes fixed outward in the days, weeks, and months to come. Because to follow Jesus, with his gaze fixed on Jerusalem and on the cross…to follow in the way of Christ…is to recognize that when we love and serve one another we are loving and serving God; and when we all give what we can, we’ll find that there is more than enough to share, more than enough for all to live and flourish, more than enough love, food, money, time, energy, and resources; and when we live lives turned outward toward each other, when we truly see each other, we are seeing Christ.