Power to Share
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9;
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
a sermon by Philip Van Dam
Both the Old Testament lesson and the Epistle call us to obey what God has told us to do. We have the words of God's will is there action behind it. There is an expression that has been used by many people in recent years: you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? We as Christians often do a good job of talking the talk. But we need to ask ourselves can we walk the walk, and if so, are we walking the walk? Can we do God's will, and if we can, then are we?
I think that when we ask the question 'can we do God's will', there are two answers for us. And these answers come to this question from somewhat different perspectives.
John Wesley approached this issue from the side of individual actions. He asked the question: Can I stop sinning for a second? Can I stop sinning for a minute? He was considering sinning to be discrete actions. When I rob I am sinning. When approached from this perspective we can see that people all around the world keep from robbing, or killing or lying. If we look at sin as discrete actions, then yes we can keep from sinning. But in our confession we say 'we have not loved you with our whole heart. We confess that we have not loved God perfectly. Sin in the Bible means to miss the mark. It is an archery term. It does not say anything about whether the person is aiming at the target. It just means that the person did not hit the mark. The person was not perfect.
And this is how the Lutheran Church looks at sin. Luther was told that when it comes to salvation you do all you can, and then God does the rest. Luther asked the obvious question: when have I done all I can do? And his answer was that we have never done all that we can do, so we cannot do anything for our salvation, otherwise no one would be saved. God does it all for us. God has done it all for us. We have been saved in the waters of baptism.
And this brings us to the second answer. Because we have already been saved, we are given power by the Holy Spirit to do God's work. In the waters of baptism we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so we are now able to serve God. It is still imperfect service. We still do not love God perfectly, but God sees it as perfect, and God is at work in us, making us more able to do God's will. So we can never do God's will perfectly, but we can do something for God.
I remember a person that waited to put some hinges on some cabinets until he could do it right. He waited twelve years. If doing things right means doing them perfectly then that time will never come.
This may sound depressing, but it is actually liberating. It is actually freeing. Because we can never do things right, we do not have to wait until we can them right. If something needs to be done, then we should not wait. My Dad said that if something was worth doing it was worth doing wrong. This was not an excuse for sloppiness. It was a call to action.
Luther said something very similar. He said sin boldly. Since we never do anything perfectly, everything we do is sin. Luther did not think that this was an excuse to sit on our hands and moan about our inability to act. A shoe company says something very similar. They say, "just do it". It still means the same thing. Don't complain about what you can't do, go do what you can.
So we as Christians still cannot do anything perfectly, but we can live lives of service to God.
But because we have been saved through our baptism we can do what Jesus has told us to do, even if it is imperfect. Now the question becomes do we? Do we actually obey what Jesus has told us to do?
In Matthew 25 we are told that we are supposed to feed the hungry. Are we obeying this when one third of the world's tuna catch goes to feed American cats while there are starving people? We are told that we are supposed to give drink to the thirsty. Are we obeying this when we use so much water on American lawns, and we pollute much of the rest of the water? Are we obeying either of these when we play golf since so much water and fertilizer is used to keep golf courses so green?
Jesus says that we are to welcome the stranger, but we distinguish between political refugees and economic refugees. Tell me, is a person less dead if they starve to death from economic conditions than if they are shot by a repressive government? Jesus says that we are supposed to clothe the naked, but we throw out many clothes that are in good condition, and we fill our closets with clothes that we don't need. John the Baptist said that if we have two cloaks,
and someone else has none, we are supposed to give one to the person who has none. Do we? Jesus says that we are supposed to care for the sick, and yet our poor get some of the worst medical treatment of any industrialized nation. Jesus says that we are supposed to visit those who are in prison, and yet the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has an extremely poor record in doing prison ministry.
We have left it to the conservative denominations, and the Nation of Islam.
Jesus prayed for the Church to be one just as he and the father were one, and yet we argue over minor issues. One denomination I heard about split over the proper way to do foot washing. One group said that there should be separate people to wash and dry, and the other group said that there should just be one person. But are we any different? There is a split forming in the ELCA
over some of our recent ecumenical agreements. When I tried to explain the
issue to someone outside the church he laughed because he thought I was
joking. When the church argues over such issues it just confirms the idea in
the minds of people outside the church that we are just a bunch of smug,
self-righteous, hypocrites, who can never agree on anything.
Is this what we want? Will people know that we are Christians because of our
doctrine? Will they know that we are Christians because of our nice
buildings? Will they know that we are Christians because we are successful?
Will they know we are Christians because we are growing? No. None of these
things will convince other people that we are Christians. John 13:35 says
that people will know that we are Christians because of our love. This love
has been given to us by Christ in our baptism. This love is in us because
Christ lives in us.
The natural result of love is sharing. Sharing food with the hungry, sharing
water with the thirsty, sharing our time with those in prison, sharing the
gospel with those who need it, are all the same. They are all results of the
love that is in us. We have been freed through baptism. We have been given
new life. We have been given the power to do something. We have been given
the power to share.