Old Testament Lesson Deuteronomy 7:6-9
Second Lesson Romans 8:28-39
Gospel Lesson Matthew 13:44-52
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Epistle lesson just read. [Romans 8:28-39]
Did you happen to see the Lutheran Reporter this month? On the front page was a picture of the Rev. Gregory P. Seltz, the speaker of the Lutheran Hour. Or, I should say, the former speaker of the Lutheran Hour, because he’s accepted a call to be the first ever Executive Director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty in Washington D.C.
You might ask what that’s got to do with the Epistle reading today. You might ask if it’s appropriate to talk politics from the pulpit; and I would tell you, “No!” It’s never appropriate to talk politics from the pulpit. The pulpit is the place we hear God’s word applied to our lives; not Republican lives, not Democrat lives, not Libertarian or Alt-Right or Alt-Left lives, but Christian lives.
Lives lived as followers of Christ; lives in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. The lives of those who’ve lost their lives given over to sin and now, having been reborn of water and the Spirit, live lives led by God.
And so, again, you may be asking what the new Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty has to do with the Epistle today. This ‘Center’ is placed in our nation’s capital to ensure the voices of our churches, schools, and universities are heard; voices that stand firm in the faith despite being surrounded by a society that persecutes them for proclaiming Christ crucified and risen.
Now, that’s not what you hear in the news is it? In the news we hear about Supreme Court rulings in favor of a Lutheran school in Missouri that claimed discrimination because the state wouldn’t give them the same funding as public and other private schools in order to improve the safety of their playground (because they were owned by a church).
In the news you hear about Christian bakery owners in Oregon who lost their business because the state said they discriminated against people based on their sexual preference when they wouldn’t participate in a gay wedding by creating a wedding cake for the reception. You hear about a Christian florist in Kennewick Washington who is being tried for discrimination for not participating in a similar wedding by creating floral arrangements for the event.
You hear about Christian schools and churches being taken to task for not having gender neutral bathrooms. You hear Christians called intolerant, hateful, backward-thinking, and anti-progressive because we don’t conform to the views of society.
But this is nothing new; the church has always been counter-cultural. Christ Jesus lived a life that was counter-cultural, and we’re his followers. This is not an easy thing. This is not even a very safe thing in our world today. To be counter-cultural is to be open for persecution, for rejection, for much more than simple criticism; and yet, counter-cultural we must be. We must follow God and not man.
But even so, do we really need a Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty in Washington D.C.? What about the words we heard in the Epistle today? Don’t they count? What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? And again: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?
God is for us, and yet, our society does bring charges against us. We’re charged with being against women’s rights because we oppose abortion. We’re charged with being haters and homophobic because we oppose gay marriage. And, we’re charged with being backward, ignoring modern scientific proofs in favor of outdated scientific evidence, because we oppose laws that say gender is a matter of personal mind and conscience, not a matter of God’s physical creation.
These charges are meant to vilify our counter-cultural worldview; but the charges ignore scripture. It’s not coincidence that abortion rises in a culture that rejects the Christchild. Every child is sacred through Christ, the one through whom the world was created, and the one who entered the womb of Mary. Every marriage is sacred. It’s the way through which God creates, even now; and it’s doubly sacred by Christ, who changed water into wine, blessing marriage, and anticipating the Lord’s Supper, the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb.
As Christians, we know that every birth is the celebration of the Christchild, and every marriage a celebration of Christ our Groom. Our own life is not separate, or an ‘add-on’, or a living out of a code. Christ is our life, and our lives are wrapped up in him. God has written his law on our hearts and we know that this law is much more than a command or injunction, but it’s life itself, our living in Christ into whom we are baptized.
Life matters, because it’s Christ who is the life, not as an ‘add-on’, but as the essence of life, like the vine is to its branches, like a body is to its head. To abort the child or to distort marriage is to abort the Christchild and to divorce oneself from Christ himself.
When we proclaim Christ to the world, these are the truths that we confess. When we follow Christ, our voices must be heard; for the good of our neighbors, for their salvation. The Apostle Paul told us: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Sometimes working together for the good doesn’t come easy; but we are called, not just invited, but summonsed, commissioned, enlisted, by God himself, and as followers of Christ we must heed the call.
Again Paul asks us: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. And yet it seems that they do bring charges, and they do condemn; but they bring their charges to human judges. We are judged by the only true judge, God himself; and he doesn’t accept the charges of men because he’s already justified us; and for the sake of his Son, in his eyes we’re acquitted of all our sins. For the sake of his Son, all your sins are forgiven.
God has called us to be counter-cultural. He’s called us for his purpose and he’ll ensure his purpose gets done. In his holy Word, God has given us both Law and Gospel. The Law teaches us what we are and what we are not to do; the Gospel teaches us what God has done, and still does, for our salvation. And so our voices must be heard speaking both Law and Gospel. The Law doesn’t make us very popular. It often brings persecution and rejection. But both are necessary to proclaim Christ crucified and risen.
The charges against us are like burning arrows piercing our flesh, but the victory is ours because we are in Christ. Christ has promised to be with us always, not just on Sunday during worship and Bible study but always; and because we are in Christ, Paul can say to us: I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Christ’s service,