Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Too casual to be worthwhile?

Sermon preached for Epiphany 3A, on Sunday, January 26, 2014.

    We have all received those invitations that say "Come as you are, leave when you must."  These casual gatherings have no set schedule in which you dress for comfort and expect to have a good time.  It has become common to invite people to church with the same laissez faire attitude about what happens there.  We dress for comfort, arrive late, leave early, and expect to be entertained; some call this worship.
    In contrast to this, we encounter our Epiphany Lord calling disciples and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  According to our Lord, we dare not come as we are but wear the clothing of repentance.  We come not at our convenience but because today is the day of salvation.  We come not to be entertained but to confess our sin, to be forgiven in Christ, and to walk in His way the cross shaped path of life in the obedience of faith.
    Jesus calls us to repent.  The message here is clear.  We cannot come as we are.  There is something wrong with the way we are.  We are rendered unclean by our sin and death has claimed us.  The work of the Holy Spirit is to awaken us to the knowledge of our sin and to the death that has become our prison.  What is comfortable or convenient pales in the face of this great need for redemption and new birth.
    Jesus calls to us because the path we are on is a dead en path.  It leads only to one end.  To death now and death forever.  The call of Christ is the radical call to turn around.  Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes and hearts to hear and see what must be done.  Only the Holy Spirit can move us from the way of death to the path of life in Christ.
    Jesus calls us to the Kingdom of God.  From an aimless wandering toward the empty promises of pleasure and happiness, escape and entertainment, we have been called to a purposeful life – directed by the Holy Spirit to the appointed end of everlasting life within the Kingdom of God.  Here death can no longer threaten us and here our sins can no longer accuse us.  Life in the Kingdom of God is life made possible, sustained, and directed by nothing less than pure grace.
    Jesus calls us to follow Him.  Freedom is impossible as long as we are captive to sin and walk on the broad boulevard of death.  This freedom is an illusion.  We think we are free to choose what makes us happy but this is the living lie of the devil who hides the destination of death that is behind this illusive freedom.  Only when we surrender our stubborn wills to Jesus are we truly set free.  The Spirit is at work exchanging the lies that kill for the truth that gives life, for the sins that hold us in bondage for the grace that forgives and set us free. 
But this freedom is worthless unless it directs us to Christ and willingly surrenders our will for His gracious will, our pride for the humility of faith, and our independence for the dependence upon Christ that redeems the lost forever.
    Jesus does not call merely for the repentance of the heart but for the repentance of a life.  We have a new vocation.  To the disciples of old our Lord said He would make them fishers of men.  That is to say that faith does not add something to whom we are but involves the radical redirection of our lives as only the Holy Spirit and only grace can do.  Lives once lived only for self, are now lived for Christ.  The life of doing it my way becomes the life of willing and joyful service to the Lord.  Faith surrenders our purpose and claims God's purpose as our own purpose and goal for all that we are and hope to be.
    Jesus gives to us new power.  Where once we thought power was defined by threat, we discover the greater power of the Gospel – of Him who lived in humble service, obedient to death on a cross, in the great exchange of the rags of our sin for the glorious raiment of righteousness in Christ.  Our Lord died to give us this Gospel.  He lives to speak it in His Word and deliver it in water, bread, and wine.  The Gospel of the Kingdom speaks the end of sin's reign, the death of death itself, and the birth of a new life joyfully lived in service to God and neighbor.
    We are gravely tempted by the idea of a casual faith, a casual church, and a casual Christian life.  There is nothing casual about sin and death.  There is nothing casual about the Kingdom of God.  We have for too long told ourselves the lie that whims can substitute for real repentance, that our occasional attention can substitute for the whole of our lives of discipleship and faith.  We have for too long accepted the fallacy that the Kingdom of God must work around us – our wants, our likes, our preferences, and our desire for convenience and comfort.  It is to this casual approach to religion and faith that our Lord speaks His call to repent and follow Me today.
    The pews of the Church are not empty because call to repentance and faith have been made too difficult but because our casual approach to God offers no compelling reason for anyone to give the Church a second look.  I am not suggesting that we put artificial road blocks in the path of those who might consider the faith but that we have minimized and diluted the call to repentance and the Gospel of the Kingdom so that it hardly seems necessary to believe or belong at all.  We may be fruitless because we have unfaithfully proclaimed the Gospel to a world which gave it the once over and found nothing urgent or compelling there at all.  This is not the fault of Christ but our own failing.
    The glory of this call of our Savior is that He has promised to provide all that we need.  He gives to us the Spirit so that our ears hear the sound of His voice and recognize Him with faith.  He gives to us the clothing of holiness in the waters of our baptism so that we might be holy in Him.  He gives to us the path of life in the shape of the cross so that we might know how to live that it may be well with us and we may live long.  He gives to us the food of the supper that His strength may be made perfect in our weakness and we may be restored from weakness in the face of temptation.  And in response to all He has given, faith returns nothing less than our all.
    There is a common phrase today.  “Whatever!”  There is nothing whatever about the Kingdom of God, about the holy ground of God’s presence among us in Word and Sacrament, about the call to repentance and the promise of absolution, about the direction of new life born from baptismal waters, and about the vocation of the baptized in worship, witness, service...
    Today we hear the call of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit add the only word that can or needs be added to this call to repentance, faith, and life under the cross.  Amen.

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