September 10 Sermon Fall Fantastic Feast!

September 10, 2017


Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20



I can’t tell you how happy I am to arrive at today, something a certain someone a few years back dubbed summarily Fall Fantastic Feast.


It’s a cheery appellation, and the alliteration makes it all the more fun.



But I think I am happy today because in our rituals God’s abundance rises to meet our weakness.


We are stronger when we are together.


And I’d like to claim a blessing on the church, which is the people of God, which in wonky Lutheran terms is defined as the assembly of believers where the Gospel is preached in all its purity and the Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. (Augsburg Confession Article VII)


The German word for the assembly of believers is Gemeinde, which means community, which is a living and breathing collection of folks just like the ones who are in this space today and who are connected with other living and breathing folks who are gathering around Word and Sacrament throughout the globe today.


And it is on Sunday that our primary rituals sink into us, and sink us into the life Christ invites us into.  In our worship practices (hear that word “practice?”) liturgy is a kind of rehearsal for life.


In the face of the bad press that the word and idea of church gets and sometimes resembles, and in the face of the glibness some give to ritual, I want our being the church together in our Sunday-go-to meeting, and rituals in between Sundays here and in our homes to be enormously life-giving.


Thoughtful, passionate writer on liturgy Gabe Huck says Ritual’s work is this:


Through the measures of time—day by day, week by week, season by season, year by year, and also those measures of time that come from passage through life—a people may find their own self, their own soul. 


–from How Can I Keep From Singing? Thoughts about Liturgy for Musicians, Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, ©1989), p 23.


In this 500 anniversary of the Reformation, here at Bethesda we will draw attention to our heritage and its gift to the church, and the world.  You may have noticed small articles related to Lutheran history—today there’s one about the Bible being translated into German, so that people could read it for themselves and discover as Luther hoped the treasure of the Gospel speaking through it.


In his own reading of the entire Bible, Luther discovered that God was not tintent on punishing, not demanding an enumeration of all his sins, but exactly the reverse, passionate about mercy, intent on offering divine love, and that Jesus’ own life, teachings, death and resurrection enacted that opening of heaven’s doors on earth.


Let me ask: Do you need to know that you have a place in this world where you are safe, and released from your burdens?


Are there bitternesses and resentments that are festering in you, long-held grudges, and estrangements from those whom you have known as beloved family or friends?


In the Scriptures, brought to focus through today’s readings, God’s intense desire for mercy is to be mirrored in the life of God’s people. 


Luther felt that what was being heard by the people of his day was that there was little hope for them, so that they had to be on their toes all the time recounting all their flub ups and petty arguments and how they didn’t live up to expectations.


So with Luther together with his compatriot reformers reclaimed confession not only as a ritual in which to tick off all the sins that you could remember or conjure, but mainly and most importantly as a place to sound and to hear forgiveness. 


Rituals of forgiveness, this gift to the church was based on Jesus’ words in today’s passage from the gospel of Matthew where Jesus says “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  In Lutheran lingo it’s called The Office of the Keys (we heard a couple weeks ago Peter’s calling Jesus the Messiah, and Jesus giving him the “keys” to the kingdom, but Luther said this was a gift to the entire church).


Here’s how the primary Reformation document called The Augsburg Confession puts the importance of absolution, or forgiveness, sounded by a pastor, or by a friend:


We teach with great diligence about this command and power of keys and how comforting and necessary it is for terrified consciences. We also teach God requires us to believe this absolution as much as if we heard God’s voice from heaven, that we should joyfully comfort ourselves with absolution, and that we should know that through such faith we obtain forgiveness of sins. (Augsburg Confession Article XXV)


This importance of forgiveness, this Lutheran reworking of penitence, once considered by Luther as a sacrament on par with Baptism and Communion, was intertwined with what he is most famous for that is the emphasis on being justified with God by grace through faith.  Do you think that forgiveness is important?  Don’t you think it’s hard work? It takes great intentionality at least.


Someone who has helped me and others to think more deeply about forgiveness is Gregory Jones, a Methodist from Duke Divinity School currently serving at Vice-President at Baylor University.  He says:


The practice of forgiveness calls us willingly to do things with and for one another so that communion can be restored. Forgiveness works through our ongoing willingness to give up certain claims against one another, and to give gifts of ourselves by making innovative gestures that offer a future not bound by the past. Being forgiven requires an ongoing willingness to honor a new claim that has been made on us, to speak with a new truthfulness, and to live in a new way with one another.

–“Forgiveness,” from Practicing our Faith, edited by Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, © 1997), pp 134-135.


Henri Nouwen speaks of our need to forgive people for not being God, or not being everything we want them to be.  And when we do that, he says, then we can be open to the reflection of God that they indeed to possess.  That Nouwen!


I began by saying how happy I am to arrive at today.  I’d like to invite your commitment to being a reconciled and reconciling community in Christ.  I’d like to invite your engagement with rituals and true relationships that ask for forgiveness and readily offer forgiveness.  I ask that you allow God’s Word to permeate your ears and souls with passionate mercy, which Christ himself gave freely.


In St. Paul’s writing to the Romans, he sees community as being shaped by love.  Look around you and around the assembly here today.  See one another as wearing Jesus Christ and imagine how love looks as it is given and shared as a force to build up in the face of hate that breaks down. 


In our rituals God’s abundance rises to meet our weakness.


We are stronger when we are together.


Happy Fall Fantastic Feast!

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