Editor’s note: Our Leadership Council and Worship Committee are developing plans to reopen our sanctuary for worship after this long season of social isolation, which was made necessary by the Coronavirus pandemic. But again this week, we join in worship by way of a pre-recorded video. The service is led by Interim Pastor David Mueller, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Brian Schmidt, worship assistant.
This week’s Virtual Choir includes Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. Additional voices on “The Lord’s Prayer” are Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley and John Nichols.
The link to the pre-recorded service on YouTube is below, along with the text of Interim Pastor David Mueller’s sermon.
“It’s NOT So Simple” (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor
Every day is for Christians a time of acknowledging the Trinity, whom we cannot explain, but can proclaim. For a millennium, the Church has designated the Sunday after Pentecost as “Holy Trinity Sunday.” It has been a tradition to confess the Athanasian Creed on this Sunday, one of the three “Ecumenical” Creeds in our Lutheran Confessions. That tradition has waned because the Creed is repetitive, long and tedious to confess.
When I first looked at lessons a while back, I thought the second lesson was the familiar 1 Corinthians 13, only to discover later that it is 2 Corinthians 13. I have come to believe this lesson is no less significant than 1 Corinthians 13 about love.
In his letter to the Ephesian Church, Paul wrote: “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” (4:2,3)
The importance of unity within the Church cannot be overstated. In Matthew 12:25, we read: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” I mentioned a short while back that in His “High Priestly Prayer” (John 17) Jesus prayed that His believers be one even as He and the Father are one. Sadly, this prayer of Jesus has been not yet answered.
But God is One. The three persons within the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — are together in God’s work with us. We have consigned the Creation to the Father, Redemption to the Son and Sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Jesus saving us on the cross is not in conflict or competition with God’s creation, nor with the movement toward holiness in the Spirit. Being “saved” means a greater and deeper appreciation and stewardship of the earth and a special need for Spirit-led fire power. It is in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we are to seek to reach, teach and baptize people in all nations.
We Lutheran Christians ought to be especially aware of and sensitive to the buildup of tensions and tests of truth within the Church. By the late 15th Century repressed tensions had been building up in the Western Church for a long time. When Luther came along, did what he did and said what he said, there was an explosion of sorts. On the positive side, there was a return to faith and away from ecclesiastical regulations, the keeping of feasts and fasts, and a plethora of other required behaviors. On the negative side, the Church became divided as ever.
As Americans, we ought to be especially aware of and sensitive to the buildup of tensions, especially over taxes, which led to the Revolution, hardly a non-violent protest. And please, I say it with sadness, but America since has been one of the most violent nations on earth and at this moment are The Divided States. One wonders if the Civil War settled anything!
Regardless of political perspective, most people with a heart deplore the violence extended to George Floyd and especially others of color who have suffered a similar fate not just in recent years but for centuries. America’s “Original Sin” of racism is a cancer. It would seem that no amount or type of political chemotherapy or targeted radiation can cure it.
That is where we Christians come in. We know full well that it is about hate which cannot be legislated away. Only changed hearts can destroy hate, hearts which have known and shown love. That is 1 Corinthians 13, unconditional, unmerited and — unfortunately — often unwanted love.
But in 2 Corinthians 13, Paul wrote, directly to the congregation there but by implication to anyone else: “Put things in order.” In other words, establish priorities; know what really matters and what does not. The liver, the kidneys, the spleen, the stomach, the heart, and yes, the brain of a black man are all the same color as mine. Excuse the anatomical metaphor here! How much, if at all, is the skin color to matter? And did not God create all of us, seek in Christ to redeem all of us, grant the Spirit to lead and empower all of us? Hate, discrimination, denigration are always very bad priorities leading to extremely bad and deadly outcomes.
“Agree with one another!” In the Church this ought to be easier than in the secular political world. Capitalist economic systems are governed by self-interest, while faithful ecclesiastical systems are governed by community interests.
For believers, it is simple. If you and I believe in Jesus as Savior, the rest is secondary. If I forgive you and you forgive me, what do we have to fight and disagree about? In the Lord’s Prayer, God does it all, except that we forgive as we are forgiven. I realize I am being idealic here because in my lifetime, the Church has been divided as ever. More than anything else, that ought to deeply concern us. Some of the people I disagree with these days most vehemently are those who call themselves Christian. I do not — cannot — believe Christians should ever celebrate what separates.
“Live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you.” The implication here is plain. If we live in conflict and division the one thing we can absolutely count on is God’s absence! In the Prophesy of Amos (5:14) we read: “Seek good and not evil that you may live, and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.”
St. Paul wrote the same in Romans 12:9: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.”
“Greet one another with a holy kiss!” There was never anything sordid in the Middle East about sharing kisses. Sure, Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss that was anything but holy. In holiness, would you kiss your worst enemy?
None of this is easy, is it? It is easier to hate and kill.
On a personal level, I am not a racist, nor, thank God, are any of our adult children or grandchildren. I will vouch for that. But my family, like yours, lives in and has privileges that people of color, poorer Caucasian people and some others do not have. On a whole lot of different levels, it is killing them and to be frank, it is killing us, too. This is systemic racism.
Now if we truly believe that Jesus did not die simply to save me from my sins, but died for the sins of the whole world, then that is a world which is not operating in a righteous and just way. It is a nation and world which needs forgiveness.
SMLC [St. Mark’s Lutheran Church] is also a system, as well as a collection of forgiven sinners. Paul refers to the Church as a body, which, if all parts are functioning, is healthy. If a leg is not doing its part, then we limp. Attending to the leg, for the sake of the whole body, is the smart thing to do.
Especially now people of color are crying out, certainly not for the first time. The repressed anger and frustration are being expressed. It is good for the American system for all of us to hear the cries and attend to the injustices and disparities. Otherwise we all are brought low and fall down. That is the way a political system like ours is supposed to work. If not corrected, divided we fall!
Listen again to the Prophet Amos (5:15a & 16): “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate…. In all the squares there shall be wailing and in all the streets they shall say ‘Alas, Alas!’” The days of Amos are right now!
In so attempting to listen and seeking to respond appropriately and effectively, as Christians and as Americans, we do not have to accept violence and looting by the few who would destroy rather than construct a more perfect union.
Today, in a special commemoration, we acknowledge and celebrate that all of God is for and available to us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are being attacked from without by a virus and from within by a cancer. Both are deadly. We are a people of life, eternal life. We do not just live abundantly but share generously of our privileges.
“Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy (if virtual) a kiss…. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”