A Sermon Preached on Sunday, June 14, 2009
New Creation… Water + Welcome
In a week full of overcast rainy days and thunderstorms, it is easy to get bogged down in the gloominess of the weather outside, the water in our basements, and the storm clouds of uncertainty looming over nation, church, and individual lives. It seems that all of creation groans as it struggles to keep its collective head above water. But creation has always struggled to keep its head above water, from Noah in the flood, to the Israelites escaping slavery through the Red Sea, and Jonah fleeing from God in a wave tossed boat and then the belly of a great fish.
But the struggles of late have been pretty intense…
Two Sundays ago Dr. George Tiller was killed as he served as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church while his wife, Jeanne was in the choir. Tiller’s death was hailed on pro-life websites, while others asked what kind of church would welcome and accept a doctor who performs abortions as a member of their faith community.
That Wednesday Gov. John Lynch who personally opposes gay marriage, signed legislation replacing the Civil Union law with a Same-Gender Marriage law. A law with language that gives clergy and religious institutions legal protection to choose not to marry same-gender couples in their faith communities.
Last Sunday at our congregational meeting we learned that a previous restriction regarding use of pastoral discretion for blessing civil unions/marriages of same-gendered couples at CtK was rescinded. We also affirmed that a team will facilitate dialog and education regarding whom we welcome in this faith community.
On Wednesday Stephen Tyrone Johns was killed by a rifle-wielding white supremacist. The very person he held the door open for in welcome while working at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Johns’ death was called heroic as he protected schoolchildren and other guests visiting the museum.
And today, here and in churches around the world, we hear from Paul’s second letter to the faith community in Corinth that in Christ, we are a new creation! We are reconciled to God and to one another. We are washed clean and our old ways are tossed aside. We are asked to wonder… what kind of church accepts abortion doctors, blesses same-gender unions, affirms the welcome all persons and is about living outside ourselves.
+ + +
So who is truly welcome here in this faith community? Are we able to accept children of God…?
- If they are Asian, Hispanic, Black, or White;
- If they are male or female or transgender;
- If they are three days old, 30 years old, or 103 years old;
- If they never stepped foot in a church; or if they are Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Agnostic or life-long Lutheran;
- If they are single, married, divorced, separated, or partnered;
- If they are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual;
- If they are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Socialist, or not registered to vote;
- If they have, or had, addictions, phobias, abortions, or a criminal record;
- If they own their own home, rent, live with their parents, or are homeless;
- If they are fully-abled, disabled, or a person of differing abilities…?
(Building an Inclusive Church: A Welcoming Toolkit by Rebecca Voelkel, Vicki Wunsch, and David Lohman, www.welcomingresources.org)
Who is welcome here initially seems like an easy question. Faith communities as people of God are called to minister to all people, knowing that creation is often hurting and unwelcoming. As a new creation, we are challenged by the Gospel to live out our baptisms in a world of alienation and brokenness. God calls us to reconciliation and wholeness as the body of Christ as Paul shares in verse 18, “…this is from God who reconciled us through Jesus Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
In the year ahead, this congregation will wrestle with these challenges as they relate to welcome. I am leaving you with a internship project report titled “Enhancing the Guest Experience: Welcome, Invitation & Integration at Christ the King,” and there will be dialog and discernment to determine where this faith community stands in terms of whom to welcome. What does living out God’s call to be a radically loving and welcoming place, centered in the Good News of Jesus Christ mean here in this place? Who from the list I read earlier will you offer a sincere welcome, break bread with, provide care to, accept and live outside ourselves with in faithfulness to the Gospel here in this place?
+ + +
The abundance of water this week that soaked our lawns, drenched our gardens, and helped wash away the allergens of spring, also reminds us of our baptisms. Our creator God, whose wind, breath and Spirit moved over the waters and with the Word created the world sends water to refresh and satisfy all living things. God in the beginning and throughout time uses water to bring new life and sustain creation.
- Water delivered Noah and his family.
- Water delivered God’s people from slavery into freedom.
- Water delivered Jonah to where God wanted him to do God’s work.
In our second reading today, Paul doesn’t use the image of water directly. But begins the opening verses of chapter 5 (verses 1-6) with images of shelter. God provides shelter to dwell with God on earth and eternally in heaven, and the image he uses is a tent. God tents with us God’s people. I don’t know about you, but Kay will tell you that whenever we use our tent, there is always water involved. There was rain during the CtK Camping weekend last summer, and even though she didn’t join us for Synod Youth Campout at Hammonasset, hurricane Hanna certainly did!
Whether we are at home or away at camp, with loved ones, those we disagree with or even those we despise, God provides shelter for us always. Whether there are storm clouds or sunshine, driving rains or wind that blows the tent away, God is with us always. God protects us from the storms of raging water and clothes us in heavenly dwelling. God is with us through the guarantee of the Spirit and the incarnation of God with us as Jesus the Christ.
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul who sees everything through the perspective of God’s action in Christ reminds God’s people that because of the love of Christ, we can no longer live for ourselves but only for Christ. Christ is no longer just the mediator of our vertical relationship with the Father, but also of our horizontal relationship to the world. Because Christ died for our sake and was raised, we no longer see anything the same. (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: II Corinthians, Frederick W. Danker. Augsburg Publishing, 1989)
Though we regarded Christ from a human point of view, because of the resurrection, he is a new creation and our perspective changes. God loves us and reconciles us to God through Christ and we are a new creation as the body of Christ. We can now see the world in proper perspective, through the eyes of Christ. Paul reminds us that we too are a new creation and our lives have new focus and purpose.
+ + +
In the stagnant water of the river, Jesus was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit. In the living water of Jesus, God satisfies all our thirst. In the saving water of baptism, God’s Word creates us anew and opens the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life. In the water and the Word we receive the baptism of Jesus’ own death and resurrection. In our daily routines of washing our faces and splashing in the puddles of life, the old creature in us dies, the dirt and pain of our sinful nature is cleansed as we remember our baptisms and that we are created anew. (Luther’s Small Catechism, Timothy Wengert, editor. Augsburg Fortress, 2001)
Last week we celebrated the Trinity and as we gathered to worship, we remembered and gave thanks for baptism. It was a joy to share the life giving water with and on you as we processed. It is also a joy to open a worship book and find watermarked pages, knowing that the book and person holding it was reminded of their new creation through water and Word sprinkled on them.
Last week we also placed a bowl filled with water on a pedestal on the floor in front of the altar. As you came forward for Communion this was a personal moment for you to remember your baptism. But for me this was an opportunity to see the body of Christ come with foreheads dripping and wet hands outstretched to receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Baptism and Holy Communion, the means of grace were intermingled, the earthly elements and Word of God poured-out, shed and broken for you. New life in clean hands!
Having splashed, eaten and drunk in Christ, the old having passed away, we are bound together as the church.
- We are filled with and sustained by the breath of God that blows into and through our very being as the Holy Spirit.
- We seek repentance, reconciliation, and resurrection for ourselves and for the sake of all creation.
- We experience the rhythm of worship and the mission of the church that beat on in our hearts.
- We gather around bath and table to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, so we can respond to God’s call to share Christ’s love and saving grace with the world.
You see, it’s not about me, or you, or any individual for that matter. The world does not exist in order for us to find faith on our own, or dwell in a solitary individualistic spiritual life, but rather for all of us to find our identity together in Christ. Together as the body of Christ, we are a new creation, the love of Christ urges us on and listen, look, and see… there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; everything has become new!