Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sermon for June 19, 2016: To KNOW and to GROW, Coming Out.

The following sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson, on June 19, 2016, at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA. It is the fourth sermon in a 6 week series on Galatians, entitled TO KNOW, and TO GROW. 
Galatians 3:23-29
23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ,

This morning, just as we have for the last three weeks, we read from Paul's letter to the Galatians. This is a letter Paul wrote thousands of years ago to the churches of Galatia and it's a letter, which by the power of the Holy Spirit speaks to us today. 

Paul wrote this letter so that people, whether they be Galatians or Christ the Kingians, would Know and Grow. So that these people would KNOW their identity as the People of God and so they would GROW in what it means to be a people with such a holy identity. 

Now, one thing that may be overlooked in our 'knowledge' about being the people of God, one part that we might take for granted is the greeting that Paul uses in his letter, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ," the same greeting which I gave at the beginning of this sermon. As the People of God, these words remind us what it is that makes us such a people, the thing that initiates this relationship, and that thing is God's grace and peace given to us out of love. It is God's grace and peace, given to us not because of how good we are, or how great our children are, or what country we come from, what religion we necessarily practice or even who we love, rather it is given to us because we are in need. God's grace is given to us because we are all sinners.  The whole point of grace, is that it given to someone who's done something wrong, not someone who's done everything right. So we remember, as the People of God, that this greeting, and the grace it bestows, is where our faith comes from and it's where our faith grows from. 

Apart from grace, there is "the law" as Paul puts it; the law which would have us do all the things that God wants us to do, the law which would have us do everything right, the law which is subject to endless interpretation, the law which greets us in a different kind of way: "YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW." or "DO YOU SWEAR TO TELL THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH..." or there is always this greeting, which I know from more then just the movies and TV, which I know from actual experience, "DO YOU KNOW WHY I PULLED YOU OVER? The law isn't really concerned with my own personal well-being, or anyone else's for that matter. 

While the law is good for the general ordering of our society, it can't give us grace or love. The law can point out our wrong doings, it can accuse us, it can uphold our rightness over and above someone else, it can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, but it doesn't build relationships. The law doesn't make us People of God or keep us as people of God. 

Yet, we do give thanks for the Law, God's Law. The law which tells us to love the Lord, our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind; and to love our neighbor's as ourselves. We give thanks for the Law, because through it's commands, it does have the ability to keep us safe, somewhat. Recently, I've been given new insight into what Paul is saying to us regarding the Law as our guardian, as keeping us safe. This insight came to me through work with the Holliston Drug and Alcohol Awareness Coalition, and in hearing different people's stories. One theme that has come up recently, is the story of parents whose children, while struggling with addiction, have either been locked-up in jail or prison, or spent time in in-patient rehab. Troubling as it is, for parents who are in a constant state of crisis, worried about where there child is, where they are spending the night, or even if they are alive, having some security that there child is at least safe, brings some relief. While a parent never dreams of wanting this for their children, this type of "law" watching over their children is far better than the alternative.

This idea of law as our guardian, can be very useful to us, and help us to get through some of life's toughest moments, especially when the love that we bear becomes so painful. But being locked-up, is not how parents want their children to live, it's not how any of us want to live, it's not how God wants us to live, it's not how we are created to live. 

WE KNOW: God didn't make us the People of God to put us into a prison of rules and regulations. We have been made the People of God so that we can love God, love each other, and KNOW how much we are loved. 

WE KNOW: It is by the grace and peace given to us by Jesus Christ, that has made and formed us as that People of God, and that it is through the waters of baptism where we are clothed in Christ.

Indeed, it is sheer grace that makes us the People of God, and in Christ, that grace is among us. This grace forms us as the People of God to become One, to grow together, with God and with each other. By this grace we have been made the People of God so that when sin comes knocking at our door and greets us with such tragedy as the events in Orlando last Sunday, or the events in Charleston last year, we don't ignore it. When we see and hear of our sisters and brothers, of our fellow children of God suffering, being persecuted, having violence done against them just for the sake of who they are, by the grace of God we are called to join with them in their suffering, called to love them, called to be One with them. By the grace of God, as the People of God, we are called to be the Body of Christ with them. A body that knows suffering and death, but that most surely knows resurrection. 

Here in the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it is grace that has helped us see the pain and suffering of so many people who love someone of the same gender, or who don't fit neatly into traditional expressions of romantic love, have gone through, physically, emotionally; externally and internally. It is grace that has helped us as a national church to break open some of these "prisons", which never should have been there in the first place, and allowed us to be blessed with the gifts of so many of our sisters and brothers in ministry. 

It is this same grace, which has brought us this far, which helps us to see the persecutors of such crimes, and KNOW that we offer grace to them as well; as hard as this may seem. God's grace is intent on bringing us together, on making us One in Christ; where there is no longer slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, but only One. 

Truly, we have been clothed in Christ, so that we can remember what God's grace has done and so that we can be this grace for the world. This graceful living isn't easy, if it was, it would just be how we always act. It isn't easy, even for us, who hopefully hear of this grace everyday, who are on the receiving end of this grace. Living in grace can be hard, and it's why God is constantly at work in us. God is working by calling us together, and feeding us with his body and blood, so that we may KNOW what it is that makes us the People of God. So that we may KNOW our brothers and sisters, so that we may KNOW that God's love is what wins!

God's grace calls us together so that we may KNOW we are the People of God, and God's grace calls us together so that we may GROW. WE GROW in coming out to this grace. WE GROW in realizing that our pain and suffering, our shame and guilt, that our shortcomings, our sin, is an affliction that we all share. WE GROW when we come out in our pain over loved ones who are lost or our own lack of control over things, and share it with each other and with God. The many afflictions in our lives, the things that cause us to suffer are not things that should separate us, and they certainly don't stop us from being the People of God. These things are only the places in our lives where God's grace is at work, driving out that which works to separate us, and bringing us into relationship again and again. WE GROW in coming out to God's grace, so that it can take our inner-demons, the ones that we all have, the ones that we pass on to each other and even to our children; so that this grace can break down the walls that separate us, and light can shine in the dark places of our lives and world. 

WE GROW by coming out to God's grace, and remembering that it is not how we act that makes us a People of God, but how we are loved. As we remember that fact, as we experience it, as we share in it, we see that we are indeed clothed in Christ, that we have been made One in him, and we rejoice over all that God has done!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 
Amen

Galatians, we KNOW:
That the Gospel message is given to us by Jesus Christ, is about Jesus Christ, and it reveals Jesus Christ.
That Jesus Christ came to do something, to give himself for our sin and free us from this evil age. 
That Jesus Christ comes not to the healthy, but to sinners; sinners like Paul and sinners like us, to transform us and give us new life, to give us his life. 
That we are justified not by works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
God didn't make us the People of God to put us into a prison of rules and regulations. We have been made the People of God so that we can love God, love each other, and KNOW how much we are loved. 
It is by the grace and peace given to us by Jesus Christ, that has made and formed us as that People of God, and that it is through the waters of baptism where we are clothed in Christ.
and we GROW:
By considering the question that Paul asks about who we serve, and whose approval we are seeking. Is it the approval of God, or is it humans? 
By learning to trust in grace, and not our own human abilities and ways of doing things. We wrestle with the words of this quote from H. William Gregory. "Trust, and not rigidity is what defines the will of one converted by Grace." 
By opening ourselves to the presence of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, in our lives, and allowing him to live in, with, and through us.
By realizing that our pain and suffering, our shame and guilt, that our shortcomings, our sin, is an affliction that we all share.
By coming out to God's grace, and remembering that it is not how we act that makes us a People of God, but how we are loved.


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