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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pointing to Christ

Baptized and freed by God's love, our mission is to name the whole world graced by God and to let our whole lives - in church or not - point to Christ with freedom, love, and justice.

Vicar Erik Doughty, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist; text: Luke 1:57-67

A strong woman. A baby in a non-traditional family, with an unusual name. Gossip spreading through the area. A catchy song. What a great excuse for a festival, huh?

I’m talking about the birth of John, of course. John who was born to an infertile mom and an elderly dad; John who was named “graced by God,” instead of “Zechariah Jr.” John whose priest father burst into praise of God, in a song we still sing at Morning Prayer (page 303 in your hymnal, if you were wondering). And yes, all this set the neighbors chattering. Whoever heard of anything like this?

Today is about John, but John’s life and mission always pointed to Christ. So today is really about Jesus. And therefore it’s about our lives together and our mission in the world. How do we point to Christ with our whole lives? How do we name one another “Graced by God”?

Have you ever been named as a “bad kid” or “problem child,” or “difficult to manage,” or “stubborn,” or some other thing like that? Someone assigning you a name or role you did not want?

This past week I was chatting about my wedding liturgy with a pastor, who decided it was his role to rebuke me for the grave sin of living in a committed, loving, spousal relationship with my partner Scott. That pastor named me “Impenitent, unrepentant sinner,” and bound for hell.

While I find that I tend to live up to (or down to!) expectations, in this case I chose a different route. I told him that I was quite glad that all my sins had been forgiven just that Sunday, here at Mount Olive, by Pastor Crippen, by the authority of Jesus Christ. I don’t doubt that God’s grace to me is absolutely undeserved . . . I mean, I could list my sins for you (but I won’t) . . . there are enough to keep me humble . . . and yet, those do not become my identity. My identity comes from Christ even though, like John, I’m not worthy to untie a thong of Jesus’ sandal.

And I can say that my identity comes from Christ because my baptismal name is “Erik, child of God.” You can do the very same thing, claiming Christ’s identity, because Christ has claimed you. Each of you out there shares that “child of God” surname with me. Christ claims you in your sin, claims you in your difficult relationships, claims you in your issues with body image and health, claims you in the midst of joblessness or the job you dislike; claims you with your anger issues or your drug problem. You and I who know very well our own list of sins . . . we are together in Christ, all of us, children of God. We all are named with the gracious name of Christ that overrides any other label life in the world throws at us, the name of Christ which forms us into a holy community of faith and love despite all the reasons why that should be impossible, and Christ gives us a new focus, a mission together.

So when the forces of fear say, “You should be scared of gay civil marriage because your children will be taught about it against your will,” you, forgiven child of God, can laugh at such a ridiculous idea and you can tell people that you know lots of fine gay and lesbian folks, some of whom would love to be legally married to one another-- including your vicar and his guy! And you can take on a mission of telling people how your faith in Christ leads to a loving welcome of GLBT people in your congregation, and your life in general. And you can even be in a pride parade with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, the Atons leather club or with Dykes on Bikes or with PFLAG - parents, friends and family of lesbians & gays - or even with a whole bunch of Lutheran congregations. And you can continue in daily life to talk to your friends and neighbors about a welcoming faith in Christ - Christ whose light, love, and baptismal grace has welcomed you and continues to welcome others.

And when the forces of division say, “You should stick to doing things yourself, so you can control everything,” you, redeemed child of God, can affirm that control is not faith; you can say you are free in Christ to serve and to work with others for justice and peace, for the common good of all; you may speak about how we are stronger together as a body of believers; the body of Christ, in fact. You can tell about the Trinity, our God who values community so much that God chooses to live in community with us and even internally: Three persons, one God. You can speak about this congregation’s work with other local churches and organizations to serve our neighborhood; and about how the ELCA as a whole does amazing stuff around the world which one congregation could not do alone. You can relate our mission to love and serve neighbors here in this sometimes-struggling neighborhood and everywhere, our mission which is born of faith in Christ who did not lord it over us but who chose to become one of us, to live WITH us; to die and be raised FOR us; to reconcile and redeem the whole cosmos, even you and me.

Even if death comes around saying, “I am the end, and you can’t escape,” then you, baptized and cross-marked child of God, can bear the light of Christ which beams through even the darkness of death; and you will see that death is powerless against it, and against the community of the Church. We claim the dead as living fellow saints at our Lord’s table; they live, as we will, eternally in the love of God. Our mission is to share that love in word and action, wherever we are.

We here are baptized into community in Christ, and not just any old community, either. We are not an exclusive club but a hospitable and welcoming group, because it is not OUR welcome we extend, it is Christ’s. We know ourselves as a hodgepodge of quirky characters and stubborn sinners who are become brothers and sisters in Christ, sinner/saints by baptism, and so we care for one another, visiting in the hospital, helping in daily life, teaching the faith, modeling love of neighbor, feeding hungry people egg salad sandwiches at our community meal. We are living in the light and love of Christ, together, not because we are sinless or even perfectly repentant, but because Christ unites us as one people, frees us from the power of sin and death, feeds US with his very body and blood. And our mission, children of God, is to carry Christ’s freedom and strength and justice and peace out to the world.

So if you are marching with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus or the Atons or PFLAG or if you are riding with Dykes on Bikes today, or if you are staffing the Lutheran booth at Loring Park, do so in such a way that points to Christ.

Or if you are spending time with family and friends today, do so in such a way that points to Christ.

In all things, live in grace and freedom, share love, do justice. Not because you have to, but because Christ’s grace and freedom, love and justice is for all people, to build community, to give abundant life, to be light conquering darkness, and to cast out fear.

And if you hear of someone being named some awful thing, like “hellbound” or “impenitent sinner,” tell them you’re a sinner/saint, your church is glad to have sinners around, and this room is full every Sunday with slightly-odd and somewhat-quirky and absolutely sinful people who are saved and redeemed and beloved by God, marked with the cross of Christ. Gay folks are welcome here, the entire alphabet-soup of ‘em. And in fact ALL people are welcome here, sinners, saints, doubters, skeptics, the faithful, because if we’re honest, we’re all of those things, all the time. Our Triune God claims us in baptismal love, calls us to new life in Christ, feeds us at this altar, and sets us out on our mission together.

Our mission, like John’s mission, is to let our whole lives point to Christ, to “verb” the grace of God which names us, to make the Word of life, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, known. Children of God, you have heard and lived the good news that Jesus is light and life and love for all the world. As we walk together down Hennepin Avenue with rainbow flags to advocate for equality, or as we stand together in the undercroft feeding hungry people sandwiches or as we spend time together with friends and strangers, family of origin or family of choice, you and I are freed by Jesus Christ to celebrate this festival: to love and serve in every part of our lives. So whether you are strong or delicate, ordinary or a bit queer, whoever and wherever you are: Take up the duty and delight that is your Christian mission: name the whole world “Graced by God”; act and speak your faith. Do justice, point to Christ, sing Zechariah’s joyful song; and set your neighbors chattering with amazement at the fantastic and fabulous love of God.

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