Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Go Home and Tell What God Has Done

Sermon preached Sunday, Pentecost 4, Proper 7C, June 20, 2010.

     Listen again to some of the words from the pen of Martin Franzmann.  Truly the poetry of “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” is rich and powerful.  But that is what you expect when you come to church.  You expect to sing hymns, pray prayers, confess sins, listen to the Word and a sermon, come to the altar for Holy Communion, receive a blessing and go home.
    As a child I grew up thinking that church was a place you went and that when the benediction was given worship was over.  I could not have been more wrong.  One of the great fallacies of the faith is that worship ends at the door of the Church – that when it is over, we go back home to our old ways, to commit our same old sins, and to the regular stuff of daily life.  It was not the fault of my parents, or my Sunday school teachers, but somehow I got the screwy idea that after Sunday lunch, church is done, worship is done, and the routines of life return.
    Perhaps this is our greatest failure as a Church is that we have somehow or other taught our folks that worship ends with the benediction, that it is over when you shut the door as you leave the building.  What a false idea!!  The worship that goes on after the benediction and after you leave this campus is NOT a substitute for what we do here on Sunday morning, but the extension of what God has begun among us in His Word and Sacrament.  What happens beyond those doors flows from our encounter with the living Christ in the voice of absolution, the Word that does what it promises, and the Sacrament that feeds us heaven’s bread and salvation’s cup.
    In the Gospel lesson for today you heard how Jesus healed a man with demons.  It was a dramatic event.  A near naked man had been living as a wild man among the graves and when Jesus crosses his tracks, the demon spoke to Jesus in the man's voice.  "Get away from me and do not torment me," the demon cried out to Jesus.  In a powerful show for force, Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs who rushed over a cliff into the water and drowned.   As a grandson of hog farmers I have a little sympathy about those who owned this herd of pigs... but that is something for another sermon.
    Today we focus on the man whom Jesus set free from those demons.  The man whom Jesus had cleansed of demons wanted to go with Jesus, literally to join the band of those who went where Jesus went.  It was an understandable request.  He had been a pariah among the people of his town for some time.  He was abandoned by his family and friends.  The people there would not quickly forget this man's demonic possession and would naturally want to steer clear of him.  He might find more acceptance following Jesus and Jesus might point to him as proof of His power, but Jesus would have none of it.
    Jesus tells the demoniac whom He healed to "Go home."  What Jesus was telling this man is that the place where this man would best serve the Lord was right where he lived.  "Go home," says Jesus.  There are those who believe that in order to serve God you have to leave home but that is not what Jesus said.  There are those who believe that in order to serve God you have to do what a Pastor does but that is not the message we get from Jesus.  The worship that begins in the assembly of God’s people is completed in the places where God’s people go when they leave God’s house.  In the house of God, the Pastor is your priest but in your house, you are the priest and that home is the first place where God has called you to declare what He has done.
    It might be easier to share your faith with a stranger than with people who know your past, know your faults, and know your history, but this is where God has placed you to serve.  The worship service does not end at the benediction but it continues as you go home and do God's bidding, fulfilling the royal priesthood of all believers within your household, in your neighborhood, and in the world around you.  Don't expect the Pastor to pray in your house or fulfill the call to witness to those near you.  This is YOUR responsibility.  You are God's priest in your home, neighborhood, and world. 
    The truth is that I don’t hang around with many unchurched people.  I hand around mostly with you and I would prefer to believe that you are churched, that you are believers.  My ministry is to equip you with the Word and Sacraments so that you can fulfill your priestly calling.  And you live your lives around all sorts of people who do not know Jesus Christ.  This is no accident but this is the domain where God has placed you and each of those around you who does not know Jesus Christ is an opportunity for you to fulfill your calling of witness and service.
    What does your priestly ministry look like?  On Sunday morning the Pastor wears vestments and we sing hymns and hear sermons and give offerings and pray and receive Holy Communion.  But when you leave this place, your priestly ministry is a little different.  You pray and witness, serve and care for those around you, declaring what God has done in Christ!
    Going home is not the end of worship on Sunday morning, but a change of venue and a switching of roles, as you fulfill your priestly duties of witness, service, intercession, and care for those in your household, those in your workplace, those in your school, those in your community, and, indeed, throughout the world. 
    What do you say to those whom God has called you to serve in His name?  Jesus gives us the answer.  Declare what God has done.  Not how you feel or what you think but what God has done.  What has God done?  He has delivered you from the demons of sin and death by the sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.  He has granted you the Holy Spirit so that you might know Him, believe in Him, and have the courage to declare His redemption to the world.  He has enabled you to live in faith this mortal life, to live with Him as His own possession, and to live for Him for the cause of the kingdom of God.
    This worship responsibility is not in competition with what happens on Sunday morning but flows from this place where you encounter Jesus Christ and His liberating grace through Word and Sacrament.  What you do as a child of God in service to Him is not a substitute for what happens on Sunday morning but the extension of Sunday morning where you bring Jesus Christ, into your homes, workplaces, schools, shopping areas, and neighborhoods.
    Fathers, let me speak pointedly to you this Father’s Day.  You are not fulfilling your fatherly duty when you provide everything for your child’s physical health and welfare and fail to speak Jesus Christ to them.  This is your fatherly duty... in the home God has placed you there to proclaim what Christ has done.  This is your worship – to take what happens here and declare it at home, to your children, in the workplace, among your friends and family, and to the world. This is the responsibility of fathers, of all parents and of all Christians.  My priestly service as Pastor primarily takes place within this house of God but yours brings what has happened here to the whole world around you.
    In the Gospel lesson we heard Jesus tell a man to do just that: Go home and declare how much God has done for you...  And what happened?  Scripture tells us that he went away proclaiming through the whole city how much Jesus had done for him...  What about you?  Amen.

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