Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sermon for 3/11/2020: Midweek of Lent II (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Unity

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week, meditating on being Christians in an UnChristian world, St. Peter told us that our identity as baptized children of God means we are called to holiness, a life set apart from what the world believes and offers. In chapter 2 of his first letter, Peter builds on that identity. You are meant to be holy, but there’s more to the story—more blessing, more grace. When you are baptized into Christ, you are baptized into a community, into a Church, into “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.” That also is your identity, a reality greater than just being on your own, or just “you and Jesus.”
            This is not an original concept from Peter. All of Scripture speaks of God’s people as a group, a community, a family. When there are individuals, like Moses or Abraham, they are called to be the beginning of a community, or one will be formed around them. In the beginning God said, “It is not good for man to be alone;” that is still true. In all times and places, God gathers the solitary together. You are not on your own; you are part of a family, one that God has been building from the beginning; one which includes you, people long gone, and people yet to come. Time and place are no barrier to God. And so, Peter says, you are “living stones.” Those stones “are being built up” together into “a spiritual house,” which is built on the foundation of Christ, “the chief cornerstone.”
            Even though this is not a new teaching, it is a particularly challenging one, especially since our culture values self-sufficiency and treasures self-achievement as perhaps never before. This is aided by technology, which has created the paradox that we live in today. Technology has made it possible to communicate quickly with people around the world, yet we prisoners to the devices in our hands, chained to our chairs, seldom meeting each other face to face. We have thousands of virtual friends, and yet we do not even know the people who live next door. The neighborhood church used to be the place of gathering and socialization; now social media, chat rooms, and video interaction have tried to make the Church obsolete. The world has never been so crowded, and yet people have never been so alone.
            I’m not blindly bashing technology. I met my wife on the Internet. Technology is a good gift from God. Like any other gift, it is only evil when we make evil use of it. While technology was not nearly as advanced in Peter’s day, those Christians also found themselves alone and separated because persecution had scattered them to the ends of the earth in fear.
            Yes, we are more than how we define ourselves. But we are also not defined by our location or our friends list. True unity exceeds the divisions this world and its prince can erect. Our unity is in Christ. We are members of His Body, joined to Him through water and the Word, forgiven and raised with Him to new life. Peter summarizes that by calling you “a living stone.”
            Let us ask the good Lutheran question: What does this mean? It means you have been put where you are by the Builder. You fit there. You stand on the shoulders of the ones under you; you support the ones above you; you stand side-by-side with those next to you. Those stones around you might have pointy edges, rough spots, holes, bumps, and all kinds of imperfections. That doesn’t matter; you have them too. They are different than you, but at the same time they are one with you in this Church, built by Christ. Without you, there is a hole. You belong here.
            It may not always seem that way. You may seem smaller than some other stones, or older, or not as strong, or not as beautiful; but you matter here. This is where God has placed you: resting on Christ the Cornerstone and linked to fellow living stones, your brothers and sisters in Christ. What we do, we do together. What we do affects others, whether we realize it or not. Again, it’s not going to be easy. Peter’s hearers were scattered all over an unchristian world; you and I will leave this place today and live in the midst of a world increasingly hostile to Christ, His Word, His values, and His people. What we do and how we live does not depend on whether or not the world is friendly or receptive to us. It is simply how we live as this Body, this building of Christ, for the glory of His name.
            What if others do not live the same? What if they repay us evil for the good Christ does through us? What if they do not help, but hurt? It doesn’t matter; they did the same to Jesus. He will sustain you through trial and hardship and persecution—even to a martyr’s death. He sustains you through communion: communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and, more importantly, communion with Him through His Word and His own body and blood. So do not neglect the Word of God. It is your “pure spiritual milk,” and it will sustain you and strengthen you. Hear it; read it; pray it; be washed in it; eat it. For indeed “you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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