It was good times, I've heard nothing except good things about the sermon. I was a bit worried as I went into the situation having only slept 4-5 hours the night before, and had wrote the sermon today only. But it ended up going well, I felt comfortable enough with my "audience"(this term is very problematic, but you get the idea) and was able to ad-lib a little.
Where do we find the good news this evening? “I never knew you; go away from me you evil doers.” Not an encouraging start.
This morning I roused myself up at 5AM to finally force myself to deal with these words of Jesus. Throughout the week whenever I had set aside time to work on this sermon I’d found an excuse to do something else, work on essays for class, read some in Jack Miles’ latest well written heresy “Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God”, or hang out with a friend down by the Willamette, watching high school students celebrate senior ditch day by intertubing and collecting smooth well worn rocks and snorkeling and splashing. Anything to avoid “I never knew thee.”
By 6:15 I had re-read all the verses for today, and had finished up the intro for the sermon. Yet I still ask, what can I say about a Jesus who rejects people who cry out to him, “Lord Lord?”
I suppose I could talk about this as a proof text for infant baptism. I could talk about how it exemplifies right practice for the Christian church. That is, baptism is an adoption into the family of God. Nothing we do, no choice we make, can break that bond. It isn’t about us choosing Jesus, crying out “Lord Lord,” but about Jesus choosing us.
I suppose I could talk about those so called Christians who were on campus this week and confronted people with a sign that read, “people who make me sick,” and listed, “Homosexuals, pedophiles, Catholics, deviant women” and so on./ There’s some good news. Those who twist the message of our Lord, those who cling to blinding sensational theatrics, instead of living out the lifelong path of Jesus and preaching the humbling good news of the lamb who was slain, to those that practice a pharasaic brand of Christianity Jesus will say, “Go away from me, you evildoers.”
I suppose I could talk about the yearlong mission to the United Kingdom that I will be going on starting in August. I will be either working at a youth hostel or assisting a pastor or priest over there. I will be doing the will of Our Father in heaven, building up a house of faith upon that island, preaching a word so powerful that it shall not fall when the tides come in, that is the Word of God found at the beginning of the Gospel of John, that is Jesus Christ. I could talk about that, but I’m too Scandinavian to see referring to my future good works as anything but prideful.
I suppose I could talk about this as a scary text for us Lutherans, us “frozen chosen.”
I have a confession to make. I have never prophesied nor cast out a demon. Jesus tells us that with the faith of a mustard seed we can thrown cliffs into the ocean, and yet we often hum and haw when asked about our faith. We often prefer to think spiritual things are what happen to other people, you know, the Baptists, and so ignore, miss, or hide our own powerful experiences of God.
I have more of a sermon prepared, I’m going to end up talking about the connection between faith and works, but first I’m going to give a little breath room for the Holy Spirit. How does this text speak to us tonight? Where have you found the good news in these verses?
In the end I’ve decided to tackle the seeming paradox presented to us today. As many of you know the Lutheran church is well aquatinted with Paradox. We proclaim each one of us is 100% saint and 100% sinner. We affirm that Jesus was completely human, and completely God. We hold that the Kingdom of God is already here, and at the same time say it is not yet here.
So it should surprise us little that there is a tension between Jesus saying: those that, “do the will of my father in heaven” are the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven and Paul’s formula of being, “Justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effecive,” and I emphasize this last part, “Through FAITH.” We have before us the classic problem of faith and works.
If we are saved by works why the messy death on the cross? If we ourselves can obtain righteousness and merit through our own actions what need have we of Jesus?
If we are saved by faith what do we do after we come to faith? Do we just sit around and feel good about how great we are because we were able to figured out this Jesus thing? Do we get re-filled by the idea of Jesus once a week at Church and not let it touch the rest of our lives?
As Lutherans we of course tend to transpose the problems of the Catholic Church during the time of the Reformation upon Paul’s writing. If we even hear the word “works” our ears prick up, our teeth set on edge. /We get an unhealthy compulsion to nail a thesis to something./ But this dichotomy of works and faith can be overplayed. When this happens the word “faith” becomes an abstraction. All of a sudden what matters is that we believe certain things, that we affirm certain creeds and memorize certain verses of the bible. None of which are bad, as long as they are not all Christianity is. But often faith becomes morphed into “belief”, thought, or philosophy. In some ways Christianity becomes nothing more than a mind game.
This isn’t the way it should be. Faith is something that changes ones life. Did Abraham show his faith in Yahweh by sitting on his butt? No, he went from Ur to the Promised Land.
When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land in Deuteronomy they didn’t just think good thoughts about God, they bound them, “as a sign” on “ their hand and on their forehead,” which we see Orthodox Jews doing even today.
In the Song of Songs, which is a poem about the love between two lovers, interpreted by most Christians as a poem about the love between Christ and his Church. The beloved, in this interpretation the Church, wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the lover, that is Jesus. She doesn’t just sit in her bed day dreaming about him; no! she sneaks out into the night to find her lover.
Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two verses 8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Did you catch that? We are saved by grace, that is God’s freely given atoning death on the cross for us, through faith, for works. And likewise it is written in the book of James, “Faith without works is dead.”
Grace and Faith are the things that save us from sin, but it is works that we are saved for. It is like that house Jesus talks about. The rock is faith in Jesus, but to have a house/ to live into faith in Jesus/ one needs to build, one needs to work, not for salvation, but because one’s idea and one’s deed are one.
Professor Falk, explains the relationship between belief and faith, and faith and works like this:
There once was a tightrope walker who plied his trade over Niagra falls. He would walk across the raging river, the spillover kept the rope wet and slick.
One day he showed up to his job with a wheelbarrow. He climbed up to the rope, set the wheelbarrow on it, and looked around. By then a crowd had formed, because they were naturally intrigued by the sight of this man oh way up high, a wheelbarrow swaying precariously on the tightrope. Then the tightrope walker asked,
“Does anyone believe I can wheel a person across to the other side?”
One loudmouth in the crowd shouted back, “Of course you can.”
The tightrope walker responded, “Hop in.”
That is the difference between belief and faith. Believing that Jesus went over to the other side and came back is one thing, HOPPING in, is another.
I have one last story to share. As most of you know I was transplanted to Eugene by way Cheyenne Wyoming, which is a rather… old western kind of town. In the summers we have something called “Frontier days” which is the world’s largest outdoor rodeo. A movie theater in Cheyenne was the only place I’ve ever heard someone give off a cowboy woop in response to action on the screen.
Now, I’m not exactly sure where the tradition started, my guess is it was a mixture of Summer Bible camp and the cowboy mythos of Wyoming, but at Christ Lutheran, the Church I attended in Cheyenne, when the Pastor closes the service with, “Go in peace and love the Serve the Lord,” the congregation responds not simply “thanks be to God,” thus acknowledge their belief in God, but “Thanks be to God and WEEE WILLL” acknowledging a faith in God.
So, to remember the difference between faith and belief, tonight when we close up services and it is said, “Go in peace and love and serve the Lord,” respond not just with belief, but with faith.