Sermon for 3rd Epiphany
Our Calling as Christians
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
I have spent many hours this past week reflecting on our calling as Christians. How does God call us today and what is God calling us to do?
These thoughts were encouraged by this week’s Gospel lesson and there is a lot going on in this lesson – John the Baptist is arrested; Jesus makes his new home in Capernaum; Jesus begins his public ministry, calling people to repentance; Jesus calls four more disciples – Peter and Andrew and James and John; and, with them, Jesus begins traveling throughout Galilee teaching and proclaiming and curing sickness and disease.
These thoughts were also encouraged by the inauguration of our new President and the conversations I have had with so many of our members over this past week, with so many worried about the possible directions of this new administration. (And I do realize that there are some here who are not worried, who may even be pleased with the new administration’s possible directions, but please, I hope you can hear that there are many in our congregation and community who are quite concerned and even fearful).
There are two Bible texts that are primary for me as a Christian, ones I find helpful as I reflect on my calling as a Christian in this time and place. The first is from Micah chapter 6, verse 8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And the second is from Matthew chapter 22, verses 37&39 – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
These are the standards I try to hold to for myself. And, these are the standards I hope for from others who claim to be people of faith, whether they be Christian or Jew or Muslim or another faith. All of the major world religions teach people to love God, love neighbor, do justice, act kindly and walk humbly and, therefore, those are standards we can have for each other.
These are also the standards that I believe we should hold to for our leaders, leaders in our congregation and political leaders in all elected offices, including the Congress and our President. How do our and their actions show forth love of neighbor? How is justice and kindness and humility manifested in us and them?
Our Christian faith has a lot to say about politics and it informs, or should inform, what we can and should expect from our leaders.
How does now former President Obama look from these standards? How will the policies of President Trump encompass love of neighbor, justice, kindness, and humility?
Now, we are Lutherans and US Lutherans have a long history of studying social issues and then, through our church’s study and legislative processes, making former social statements on important issues – we have official positions on war and peace, the death penalty, the environment, health care, racism and more. We then use these statements to advise legislators at all levels of government. We have offices in Washington, D.C. and many state capitals for this purpose. We have certain standards for our community and nation and we do let our leaders know these.
For example, through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, we have a more than 75 year history of welcoming refugees into our communities – each year the Lutheran church sponsors more refugees in our country than any other group except the Roman Catholic Church, which is, of course 20 times larger than our church across the USA. We also believe that all people deserve the right to basic health care, that no one should die because they do not have health insurance coverage. And, we believe in equal rights for everyone, and that includes our Gay and Lesbian and Muslim neighbors. These are not positives or negatives about the new or former US President, they are basic moral and political commitments we Lutherans have made as a church, based on our faith and years of study.
Last Sunday afternoon a number of us from Mt. Olive had the privilege of attending the annual Lutheran/Episcopal worship service in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year we had both the Presiding Bishop of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the first woman to hold this position, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, the first African-American to hold this position, the Rev. Michael Curry. (We were able to host Bishop Eaton here at Mt. Olive last Sunday morning because she was coming to Los Angeles for this Sunday afternoon service).
The music for the MLK service was amazing and Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon was uplifting. Now I was once an Eagle Scout, so I especially liked Bishop Curry’s use of our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance – Curry held up this pledge and the promise of its last phrase – “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty and justice for all people – men and women, young and old, gay and straight, people of all races and nationalities and religions – liberty and justice not for some, but for all.
Our congregation has been so fortunate to have grown rather dramatically in membership and worship attendance over these past three years. Those who join here often tell me they were drawn by our wide welcome, a welcome to everyone. Our Lutheran church welcomes both men and women into ordained pastoral leadership which, of course, is one of the reasons I have been so pleased that we have hosted women intern pastors these past two years. We also welcome into ordained ministry, people who are straight and those who are gay. And that list goes on – our church, the Lutheran church and Mt. Olive congregation are places of welcome and acceptance, based on God’s wide welcome and acceptance of us all in Jesus Christ.
This is what we stand for as Lutherans – the grace and love of God for all, God’s undeserved love for us all, God’s love available to and for everyone.
And what is our response to such love? Love God, love neighbor, do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.
These are our standards for ourselves and our leaders. They are how we will view any and all politicians, this year and every year.
There is a wonderful story about Abraham Lincoln that I have shared with you previously, but it is worth sharing again today – During the height of the US Civil War Lincoln was asked if God was on the side of the Union in that war. Suggesting this was the wrong question, Lincoln responded with these words - “my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.”
And what is God’s side? – love of God and neighbor, justice, kindness, and humility.
Let’s hold ourselves and all of our leaders to these standards.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
January 22, 2017