November 19th: November Jesus (Paul Strike)
November is a difficult month to be the church here in New England.
The world outside is in its dying stages—
The falling, crackling leaves, hibernating animals,
Cold temperatures, and the sun goes down at about noon, I’m pretty sure.
Students have papers and exams. Etc., etc.
In the church, we are in the final Sundays of the Season after Pentecost,
Leading up to Christ the King Sunday next weekend and then…
It’s Advent and then Christmas! Yay!
But, we aren’t there yet.
For now, we are beset by readings that talk about
The apocalyptic Day of the Lord,
Judgment, and darkness.
I ask, can’t it be Christmas, already,
So we can celebrate
Baby Jesus in his manger bed,
Rather than brace ourselves
For the second coming of Christ and the end of the world?
For now, we have this “November Jesus,”
Who tells apocalyptic parables.
Today, November Jesus tells a parable about
A master who throws his slave into the darkness,
Just for keeping his master’s money safe until he comes back! Right?
November Jesus warns his disciples:
Do not act like this third slave.
This Jesus has a difficult message,
And it is one we, as disciples of yes, this Jesus, must face.
So, what is Jesus’ message today?
It has to do with how we are to act as disciples
Before his return.
What has Jesus taught his disciples to do in Matthew’s Gospel?
One teaching is the Golden Rule. What is it? (pause)
“In everything do unto others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Later, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples to the towns of Israel,
Where he tells them to
“Proclaim the good news: the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
They are also told to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,
And cast out demons.
And, at the end of the Gospel is
The Great Commission:
Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and Son and Holy Spirit,
And teach them to obey everything that Jesus commanded them.
Cure. Baptize. Make Disciples. Give freely. In everything, do unto others.
These tasks are all part of the calling
Of the disciples.
This is quite the active life, isn’t it?
As disciples of Jesus,
We actively follow in the footsteps of the original disciples,
Proclaiming the Gospel and practicing the Golden Rule.
We are to be, as Jesus says, “the salt of the earth,”
The “light of the world,”
Wherever we find ourselves.
We cannot hide.
And we cannot let this life of discipleship to Christ,
The living God,
Get buried in the ground.
Individually, what if one of us decides,
I’m going to dig the gifts God has given me into the ground.
No more acting out the life of a disciple for me—
God’s grace is too important, and the love I have is too precious
For me to spend it and lose it!
Life can become an endless round of naval-gazing.
Oh, you have a headache?
Well, I only have a bottle of aspirin, and I bought them. Mine.
Ah, the holidays are a difficult time for you,
And you just want to be with someone?
Sorry, I have my own issues here I gotta deal with.
Oh, you might want to join this church of misfits,
And you want to hear what the church is about?
Well, I’m afraid to say something I shouldn’t.
Sorry, but such an attitude does not seem to fit Jesus’ call, does it?
We are called to give, to love, to proclaim, folks!
It’s just what we do.
Discipleship for us today as a church also ought to be active.
What if Bethesda Lutheran Church just decided,
We are going to do NO more baptisms.
We are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper NO more.
We are going to celebrate God’s grace NO more at Sunday worship services.
No more social ministry, shelter meals, etc.
The gifts that we have in the church will be safe in a hole in the ground.
We’ll still have our gifts when Jesus returns,
And our communion ware will be in mint condition
Without all that use.
But, that attitude does not fit Jesus’ call, does it?
Thank God we are called to baptize.
Thank God we are called to celebrate the Lord’s Supper,
Thank God we meet on Sundays to proclaim God’s grace,
And spread God’s love to the world through our ministries.
This message—that Jesus calls us to active discipleship—
Can feel a bit uncomfortable for us Lutherans.
After all, Martin Luther railed against what he called
“Works righteousness”—the idea that you could merit your way
Into right relationship with God
By doing lots of good stuff.
Luther would say, God has done it all! We cannot save ourselves!
However, Luther would not say that we are supposed to lead passive lives,
Secure in our faith, with our feet three feet into the ground.
In a letter to his fellow Reformation theologian Philip Melanchthon,
Luther famously said, “Sin boldly!”
It’s a quote that is badly abused when people take it to mean:
Your salvation is secure; therefore, go out and sin! Don’t contribute to society!
God won’t care!
Here are Luther’s words in context. Luther says:
“If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.”
Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ
Even more boldly!
I take Luther here to mean this:
You are a sinner. Recognize that as a clear fact.
But make rejoicing in Christ an even bigger part of your life.
We are called to live our lives as disciples with rejoicing,
Basking in the glow of Christ’s victory over sin and death for us.
God’s salvation for us is a gift,
And so is our life of discipleship, as much as it might seem like a burden.
We are called to always be aware of these gifts,
To live into our salvation as disciples in thought, word, and deed.
We cannot hide these Christ-centered gifts in the ground.
This is the message of November Jesus.
We have a serious calling as Christians!
But it is also a joyous calling,
May we, as the parable says,
“Share in the joy of our master,”
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Both now and forever.