I wrote Sunday’s sermon in the form of a letter to my congregation based on the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome (Romans 1:1-17). The letter was read aloud by the lay worship assistant, interspersed with commentary by me. Here is just the letter. You can hear the whole sermon – letter and commentary – here.
From Dave, a servant of Christ, called to be a pastor and ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament – means of grace for the people of God. My authority to preach and preside at the sacraments does not come from myself. Ordination is an act of the church. The church is the baptized people of God, the Body of Christ on earth.
The Gospel I have been called to proclaim is nothing new – it was promised in the time before Jesus as recalled and recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God, fully God and fully human, savior of each of us, hope for the world, and reconciler of the universe.
It was in his death and resurrection that Jesus most clearly proclaimed his identity. By his submission to death – even though he is God in the flesh, even though death is the penalty for sin and he never sinned – he showed the depth of his love expressed in humility and service. By his resurrection on the first Easter, he demonstrated that sin and death have no power over him nor any over his people. In baptism his death and resurrection become OUR death and resurrection, and we are freed from sin and from its ultimate consequence, death.
So I write to the people of Christ, both the church and the Savior: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank God for you every day. One of the most important parts of my call as your pastor is to pray for you. I pray for God’s will to be done through you as individuals and as a congregation.
There is something I am called to do that is even more basic than prayer, though. When I was experiencing a call to ministry and was not sure what I was going to do about it, I met with a pastor I trusted. I asked him about the work of being a pastor, specifically what was the most important thing. He said it was simple . . . love the people you are called to pastor. That has been and will be my guiding principle, remembering that Christian love is more than a feeling; it is love in action.
Ministry is not what the pastor does, though. Being church is about being in ministry together. All of us have gifts and talents and ideas – we all have the same Holy Spirit living inside us, inspiring and empowering us. In baptism we became members of Christ’s church, and we were called to ministry. We are all ministers of the Gospel.
Being church TOGETHER is vital not just to our collective ministry but also to our personal faith and life. Christianity was never meant to be practiced alone. Sure, you can find and worship God anywhere, but only by being church can we encourage each other and combine our various gifts to BE the Body of Christ in the world and for the world.
The most precious thing we have as the church is the Good News About Jesus Christ – the Gospel. That Gospel of grace is what makes the church different from any other organization in the world. It is our reason for being.
The Gospel is the power for our salvation. It is power that comes from God, not from anything we do. The Gospel is God’s righteousness, not our own. We are saved by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We receive this salvation by faith, but don’t think that faith is something you do, either. Faith is created in us by the Holy Spirit. So our salvation is totally through God’s Grace – it is totally a gift of God. There is nothing we can do to earn it . . . that’s good news indeed, but the reverse is also good news – there is nothing we can do or not do that will cause God to stop loving us. As Paul writes in Chapter 8 of Romans, there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God.
There are times when God is difficult to see, but God is always there. When you were baptized, God promised to be with you always, to walk with you and to be there inside you though God’s Holy Spirit. And God ALWAYS keeps God’s promises. The Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness. We know we can trust God, especially because God kept promises all the way to death on a cross. And then the resurrection happened. Just as God had promised!
In these recent days it has indeed been difficult to see God. Where is God in an earthquake in Nepal that takes so many lives, or in the turmoil in Baltimore? One way to answer that question was provided by Fred Rogers – you know him better as Mr. Rogers. You may not know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister. He often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
Look for the helpers – in Nepal, in Baltimore, in hospitals and hospices, in our own lives of struggle. Look for the helpers, it is in them that we will see God, it is in them that we will see the Gospel lived out.
Friends, here is one place I have seen the Gospel during this troubled week:
Bishop Martese Cromartie, whose Facebook page identifies him as President of Prophetic Deliverance Ministries, Inc., travelled the streets of Baltimore with a camera on Tuesday and photographed the cleanup from the riots the night before. One of those photos went viral . . . Maybe you saw it on Facebook or Twitter or on television.
It shows an African-American youth. He looks like an elementary school student, no more than 10 years old. He’s wearing a brown sweater. He has three bottles of water cradled in his right arm, and with his left hand he is reaching up with another bottle. He is offering it to a white police officer, one of a line of police officers in full riot gear – shields, helmets, masks.
In his original tweet of the photo, Bishop Cromartie wrote that the picture, “speaks volumes.”
Yes indeed it does! When you look at that photograph, at the young man who wants to make sure the police officer is all right, at the police officer who is there because he has sworn to protect that young man (and others in his community), you will see the Gospel.
It’s the Gospel as Paul talks about it in the first Chapter of Romans – the Good News that has the power to transform. Good News about God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Good news about grace in the midst of a world that is fallen and riven with sin. The Gospel is reconciliation of enemies, it is the power to transform.
The picture by Bishop Cromartie is all of that. The young man with his simple offer of water is grace and reconciliation and can transform you just by gazing at it. I don’t know if that young man is even a Christian – or the police officer either, for that matter. But the picture shows us the Gospel just the same – it shows us the presence of God’s grace and goodness even in the midst of trouble and chaos and suffering.
That is the Gospel we are called to live out together. The Gospel isn’t an idea or a doctrine, it is a way of life – life empowered by the good news about Jesus Christ. It has been a tremendous blessing to live out that Gospel with you over the past almost six years. As we move into the future together, let us be even more diligent in seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we strive to BE the Body of Christ for each other, for our community, and for the world.