Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A couple of years back in the prior parish that I have served, Calvary Lutheran Church in New Windsor, Illinois, we were in the weeks leading up to our 140th Anniversary and were making some final preparations and getting our special guest invitation list in place. During a telephone conversation that I had with my Bishop at the time, Bishop Gary Wollersheim, a very faithful man who truly loves this church, I shared with him the excitement of having all of these people in church and really wanting this to be a meaningful celebration, asked him what, if anything more, I should do with them all there.
His response was very simple. “Kick them out.” he said.
Needless to say, panic washed over me. My first thoughts were that if I kick everybody out of church, my end of the year reports back to his office are not going to be so very glowing.
But I know where he was going with this. He was inviting me to use this unique opportunity of celebrating this milestone and having a full church to remind all of us that we are a missional church. What we do in here feeds us, empowers us, fills us, and arms us to take our message to the street. Because if we don’t take what we do in here out there, what’s our purpose for being here in the first place.
And this is an ideal which holds true for all facets of our lives. As parents, maybe we send our kids to basketball camp. For what purpose? So that they can become better basketball players and assume roles of being major contributors on the basketball court. If we spend all of this time and money transporting them to camp and at the end our child says to us that he/she has no further desire to play basketball, we’re not going to be very happy, are we? It will all have been a big waste of time and money.
Our worship experience is no different. In the gospel text that’s been chosen for today, Jesus makes a very clear command for his disciples, which includes you and I: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Jesus, who was known for sometimes saying things that would lead his disciples on a wild goose chase trying to comprehend what he was meaning, is concise in this matter. There is no gray area here. Jesus is making a command, and if we say that we are his followers, we are expected to carry out that command.
But before we do carry out this command, I think it’s important that we also dwell on the words that are wrapped around it, the words that he speaks before and after sending us out. The words that Jesus shares prior to making this command are, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” and immediately after commanding us to go Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What this means is that the Jesus that we experience here in worship, latches on to us and goes out with us, whether we want him to or not. Maybe we just want to leave him here and check back in with him next week, but how often during the course of the week do you find yourself humming or singing one of the hymns that you had sung in church the Sunday before? How often does the scripture or the sermon or a sermon illustration or one of pastor’s bad jokes click with you as you carry out your work or daily chores. How often have you encountered a fellow church member whom you have prayed for at church in the store, or at the YMCA like Matt Vanni shared with us in his faithful response story last week and were able to engage in conversation with that person based on the prayer experience? The church in worship is our means, my friends, not the end. The church in worship is training for Christian discipleship, which is what Christ ultimately calls us to.
I think that is so important to remember. The church in worship is training for Christian discipleship. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that we get bogged down in the legalities of the church.
We keep track of who comes to church and who don’t ever see. We keep records of who communes, who gives, who participates in Sunday School and who’s met all of his/her confirmation requirements. We know the money that comes into the church and from where it comes, and we know where the money goes out of the church and where it goes. We go to great lengths to have order in what happens in church.
But the true measure of our Christian identity is what we say and do after the last hymn has been sung and the benediction has been shared. The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a wonderful and shining example of that very identity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Professor of theology at the University of Berlin in Germany in 1930’s. At this time German Christians were divided over Hitler. One group allied themselves with Hitler, they wanted a “pure” German nation. They formed an official German church which supported Hitler and banned Jews from holding official positions in the Church. Bonhoeffer was among those who could not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish, radically German vision. With others he set up an underground church which explicitly refused to ally itself to Hitler’s Third Reich vision. It was dangerous. In 1937 Bonhoeffer was sacked and fled to London. Two years later Bonhoeffer’s faced with a choice. He’s been offered one of the most prestigious theology appointments in the world – lecturing at Union Seminary in New York or returning to Germany to head up an illegal, underground seminary for the churches who refuse to go along with Hitler. He decides his faith is meaningless if he takes the easy option, and so he heads back to Germany and finds Hitler so evil that he abandons his commitment to nonviolence and gets involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, the well documented Valkyrie plot. The plot fails and in 1943 Bonhoeffer is arrested. In prison he leads worship services for his fellow prisoners, until the fateful day April 9, 1945 when he’s executed by the Nazis, mere hours before his would be rescuers arrived.
Through all this what distressed Bonhoeffer was the way so many Christians could sell out to Hitler’s evil vision. How could people who owned the name of Christ so betray Christ? How could they pray in a church which banned Jews from holding office? It convinced Bonhoeffer that religiosity in and of itself was worthless.
It didn’t matter how fervently a person believed in Jesus, how many times each day they prayed, how earnestly and sincerely they sang hymns on Sundays. In the end the measure of spirituality is not how we are in the church but how we are in the whole of life. In the end the measure of spirituality is to live in the world as a man or woman who is for others.
The goal of worship, my friends, is to be reminded and empowered to live in the world as a man or woman who is for others. Everything in our worship experience leads to this. We confess of our sins and receive forgiveness as an assembly. We sing together. We pray together. We break bread together. We are condemned by the Word together and we receive salvation by the Word together. And when all is said and done, what we find is that worship is not something that is done for me, but is done for all, whether present here or not.
One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold.
The young woman dropped a few coins in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street.
The young woman also began to feel angry, angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let these sort of things happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?” And then, to her surprise God answered. He said, “I did do something. I created you.”
My friends, the goal of worship is to prepare us to give glimpses of the Kingdom of God the we experience here to those who are outside our walls. Grace and Peace to you as you carry out this command of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.