Thursday, January 27, 2011

epiphany 3 a 2011 sermon

Epiphany 3a Sermon
1st Lutheran Church of the Trinity,
Trinity Winter Chapel
Chicago, IL
Rev. Tom Gaulke

Day's Texts:
Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus, the Christ.


In chapter 22 of Matthew's Gospel,
Jesus is approached by a lawyer,
from among the Pharisees,
and the Lawyer asks him:

"Rabbi, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

To which Jesus responds:

"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it:

'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
(On these two commandments hang all the Bible).

These ethical teachings:
Love of God
and Love of Neighbor,
I believe,
are the central teachings of Christ,
And, in a greater sense,
these teachings are the guidelines, the standards, the canon,
by which Christians must judge
whether, ultimately,
an action or attitude is Christian
That is:
(whether it is faithful to Christ's teachings)
or not.

The Good News of the Kingdom
of which Christ begins preaching in the Gospel reading today,
and the News which Christ will continue to proclaim,
throughout the Gospels,
I believe, is expressed most clearly,
and accessibly
(at least to my ears),
in two parables:
(those stories that Jesus uses to “paint a picture of God's Kingdom on the windows of our souls.”)

The first is the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The second is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

In the story of the Good Samaritan,
After finding a man, on the side of the street,
beaten and robbed,
and left for dead,
a man who,
presumably because of his demeanor—or something,
(Maybe he smelled like alcohol or had ripped up clothes.
I don't know.),
was simply passed by
by both
a bishop and an ethicist,
(a priest and a levite in Jesus' language)
folks who had molded their lives around the study
of theology
and family values,
folks who went to mass every morning,
but who failed to be affected by the call to love God by loving neighbor...

After being passed by
by his holiness the bishop, and the Rev. Dr. Whoeverhewas,

Finally a "lowly" Samaritan showed up.

Moved by love for his fellow human being,
The Samaritan stopped, embraced the man,
and saw to it that he would return to health.

A simple story of human love and compassion.

The other parable,
that speaks quite clearly,
I think,
in regard to Christ's teachings about
Love of God and Love of Neighbor,
or Love of God through Love of Neighbor,
Is the Parable of the Prodigal Son,

You might know the story.

In this parable,
a young son declares his father "as good as dead,"
by asking for his inheritance
from his father
before his father really is dead.
the kid disowns himself,
slapping his father in the face.

He takes his father's money,
blows it on prostitutes and drugs and other “dissolute” living,
and ends up working for a guy who isn't consistent about paying him on time,

To make ends meet, he starts eating the
slop he's supposed to be feeding to the pigs,
a gig he got as a day laborer.

Eventually, if You know the story.
You know that this young man decides to go home.
In hopes of proposing to his father
that in exchange for letting him move back in,
he'll work for his father, as a slave.

Upon his attempted return,
the father in the story sees him far off.
But before he even sees his father,
his father sees him,
and runs to him,
the father throws a robe on him,
kisses him,
embraces him,
throws him a party,
and invites him home,
as his son.

This son of mine was lost but now is found, he says.
He was dead, but is now alive.

Illustrated in these (and other) parables,
I believe,
is the kind of embracing and reconciling Love that Christ calls all people to participate in, in the Gospels.
the love Christ was calling all the people to
when Christ moved to Capernaum by the sea of Galilee,
to begin his public ministry,
echoing the message of John the Baptist:

Repent! Be revolutionized! Have your life radically reoriented.
For the Kingdom of God is so close to you,
the Kingdom of God is so among you,
so inside you, so near, that you can touch it with your hands.
The Kingdom of God is at hand...

The call to be changed is the call away from making
one's self
ones preferences
one's tastes
one's self-interests
one's worldviews,
ones whatever
the center of one's universe,
and the call, rather,
for God to be made the center of one's universe.

And if God is at the center,
Every one of one's neighbors is at the center,
Because to Love God
is to love one's neighbors.

If you've been following your news about Christianity,
this week,
(which I know all of you do every morning when you check your email)
you may have noticed that
(from this past Tuesday, the 18th—
which was the feast day of the Confession of St. Peter,
until this upcoming Tuesday, the 25th,
which will be the feast day of the conversion of St. Paul),
that we are in the midst of,
the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,
as declared by the World Council of Churches.

Such weeks are important,
If love of God and love of neighbor
are our standards for judging what is Christian,

then, certainly,
Christians have, throughout Christian history,
been some of the most un-Christian people you'll have ever met.

It's no secret that
Often times, rather than the church being marked
by stories of compassion and reconciliation
which the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son illustrate,
Rather than the church being known as Christians by their love for one another,
and their Love for God,
the church, and Christendom,
has often been better known,
as something quite the opposite:

Christians have often been well known
For exclusion, rather than for embrace
as modeled by the Samaritan and the Prodigal's father.

Especially in the United States, Christians have been known
for schism and division rather than for compassion and reconciliation
(or unity),
we have often times been well known
for passing those left for dead on the roads of life,
and refusing to be re-centered in care for the beaten,
and down-trodden,
and poor;
and, rather,
resigning to simply centering on- and fending for-
even at the expense of others...

Christians, in the most shameful instances,
have even been well known
for the promotion of hate
and even the killing of folks unlike themselves,
[ i.e.: KKK, Westboro Baptist Church, (self-i.d.'ed "Christian" groups) etc. ]
rather than the message of radical and transformative love
that permeates Christ's teachings in the Gospels...

Again, throughout Christian history, Christians have been some of the most un-Christian folks you'll have ever met.

in those cases,
and there are still many today,
we still hear Christ's call:

to repent / to be re-centered / to be re-formed!
For the Kingdom of God is so close you can touch it.

Our text from First Corinthians, this morning,
serves as a reminder that the church has never been united,
and has always had conflicts and divisions.
(Despite beliefs to the contrary).

Of all the things for a congregation to be divided over,
The first century church in Corinth was arguing over who was better
as a Christian
because of having been baptized by a better Christian baptizer.

"I belong to Paul," some would say. "I belong to Apollos." "I belong to Cephas."

Folks were taking the Identity they were supposed to have received in baptism:
as a daughter or a son of the living God,
as a member of the Body of Christ,
and cheapening and perverting it to the point of associating it with who presided at the Baptism.

(This will actually be a recurring theme throughout Christian history).

I belong to Paul—Paul baptized me.
I belong to Cephas,
and so on.
Using the ritual that was meant to bring UNITY,
to declare the baptized as one unified body,
to divide themselves.
To “puff themselves up” (as Paul will later criticize)
with a sense of importance and pride.

You belong to no one, but to Christ, alone! Paul screams!
Quit trying to amputate the body of Christ.

It would be like us saying:

Well, I'm Lutheran, or I'm Presbyterian,
or I'm a United Methodist or Roman Catholic or Pentecostal...

Sisters and Brothers: It doesn't matter.

One's denominational affiliation has nothing to do with whether one has been given the call of Christ to come follow me.

Jesus at no point in the Gospels asked James or John or Andrew or Peter to see their confirmation certificate or their proof of membership or their Lutheran Handbooks.

Because, again, sisters and brothers:
One's affiliation has nothing to do with one's participation in the call of Christ to love God and love neighbor.
And: to follow.

Nothing. At all.

(so Paul will argue throughout the rest of the First Epistle to the Corinthians).

And so we are reminded, this morning, as we sit in an ELCA Lutheran congregation, in the midst of the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,

receiving the same call from Christ as the disciples:

Follow me.

And the same call as all of Judea and Galilee:

to be transformed.
For the kingdom of heaven is so close you can touch it.
Love God.
Love neighbor.

Embrace, reconcile, forgive, and the Kingdom of God will be built among you.

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.



  1. so many things i needed to hear.

  2. Pretty awesome sermon. On one hand it is so good to be reminded that God accepts us as the Good Samaritan and the Father of the Prodigal Son did. It helps sooth that pain that comes from knowing that we aren't good enough compared to the law (even though Lutherans are supposed to be over that.) It also helps put a little swagger in our step when we walk back into a church/community after having made a mistake. There is an element of "Yeah, well, I effed up, but guess what- you're a bunch of unGodly hypocrites if you don't take me back anyway."
    Of course, the flip side of this seems to be true as well. Though we are not all the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church, we (Okay- I mean me) are sinful and arrogant human beings. Even if we stop and help people on the proverbial road 99 times out of a hundred, we still fail at perfect Godly love. Even if we welcome back a metaphorical Prodigal Son with only the tiniest bit of stomped down animosity, we fail in perfect Godly love. So, basically, we're screwed even when we try to be good.
    This, of course, just leads us back to Jesus. It is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can be clean. Interestingly enough, all of the other people who we didn't like- the men on the road, the Prodigal Sons, and even the Bishop, Ethicist, the unreliable Pig Farmer, and the prostitutes- are right there with us. This realization, that we are all sinners and in need of salvation, puts us on the same level as our "sinful" neighbors, and once we are on the same level as they are we are better able to allow God's love to flow through us into them.

    So, uh, sorry about mega-post. Obviously your sermon made me think, LOL.

  3. LIKE Donna's post!!

    Another book by Richard Foster - in this very spirit of ecumenism is . A 2010 edition just became available!

    Thanks be to God for such a great diversity of strength among the members of the Body of Christ, among all the people of God!!!


  4. The book title did not show up properly, sorry.

    It is, "Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great TraditionS of Christian Faith".

    Double cheers!!!