Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nov. 20, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' 40 And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44 Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 45 Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
 If this passage scares you, it does not mean that you are a bad Christian or lack faith, it means simply that you are human.  Any judgment passage, especially one that, on its face, seems so incredibly connected to what we do or do not do in this life, should inspire some fear.  I honestly do not know what an appropriate or honest reaction to this text would be, if not something like fear or terror.  And while our first response to this passage is to begin a bit of moral calculus, adding up how much we have given to charitable causes, how much we have given to the church over the years, or how many hours we have spent caring for others, I actually do not think that this the best place to enter today’s story.  It does not seem to me that the intent of this passage is to inspire us to create yet another checklist, so that we may be certain of our place amongst the sheep, if you will.  It could just be the case that, in turning this passage into some sort of goal we must accomplish lest we be cast away from God’s presence forever, we have taken hold of the wrong terror, entirely. 
            And saying that certainly implies that there is a right fear by which we may be grasped, and I would be the first to admit that those two words, “right” and “fear” do not necessarily belong together, but please hear me out a bit.  What is most interesting in the passage, I think, is the utter surprise, what could call it down right shock, with which the sheep respond to Christ’s words.  “Lord, when did we. . .” they respond.  As if suggesting that Jesus might have gotten his rosters mixed up.  These people simply have no recollection of doing the things that Jesus has described.  They, it seems, have to take Christ’s words as the only evidence that they have in fact done what has been described.  They have no confidence in their own goodness, you see.  In no way do they march up to the judgment seat with any sense of entitlement or expectation.    The goats, on the other hand, seem a bit more certain that they have done what is required.  Yes, they too receive a shock, but it is the shock of those whose are getting less than what they think they deserve.  They are confident of their own righteousness, full of expectation that they will be rewarded and applauded for their lives of virtues, and make no mistake, they probably did lead these virtuous lives.  So really, then, what separates these two groups, for it is not some sort of conscious effort, some sort of intentional become a sheep-type program.  There is just too much surprise for that to be the case.  Neither party, you see, ends up getting what they believe they deserve. 
            And it is this utter shock, this complete surprise that might just ask the most important question of us. For what does it mean that the most important work we do is not something we are able to recognize on our own?  What might it mean that the very evidence of our salvation might, in point of fact, be hidden from our view?  Hidden so deeply, in fact, that we have no recollection whatsoever of actually having done it? What might it mean that Christ the King, the Lord of history, is himself hidden, that the one whose strong and faithful Word created the cosmos comes not to us in eternal glory, but in the rust and pollution of this old world? Yes indeed, he is hidden deep beneath the suffering of the hungry, the lonely and the ailing.  And even the way he redeems us, redeems the whole world, will be hidden under the brutality and betrayal of the cross.  Yes, it will be hidden not only because of human violence, but hidden because all the disciples will, in that terrible moment, run away in an epic fit of self-preservation.  For us, then,  what might it mean to stand suspended between heaven and hell with no recollection of whether we have done anything pleasing in the eyes of God? These are startling, yes, perhaps even terrifying questions, but here I think we have found the, shall we say, right terror of the text.  Why, one might ask, would God choose to do this to us, chose to work on us, work through us, in this way?
            The answer, I think, lies something in the fact that God cares for you, cares for the whole of creation as it actually is.  We see this all over the place in Jesus’ ministry: he loved and cared for actual sinners: prostitutes, tax collectors, the weak and the marginalized, the strong and the privileged. Christ loved actual people, not abstract versions of those people, though this does not preclude a call to repentance.  Christ loved and cared for those simply because, as the incarnate God, this love is what he does, who he is.  And I think this question of honesty is what is most at stake.  The baptismal call is precisely a call to this sort of honest love, but it can only grow out of having been loved first in this way by the Christ who seats you at his right hand simply because that is what he does.  We can only really begin to love this way we our projects of virtue and goodness have been shattered by Christ who not only will judge us, but as one of my seminary professors put it, was judged for us.  It is only when our own efforts to be good, when we realize our own checklists do not mean all that much, only when we realize that our neighbors are not objects upon whom we can work out our own righteousness, yes, it only when our illusions about ourselves are broken wide open by God’s grace, yes, it is only then that our neighbors, the least within and without us, become genuine, become fellow beloved children of God to whom we are called to care, and by whom we too are cared for.  It is at the cross that we can lay down the burden of our spiritual checklists and see that we have already been resurrected by the Christ whose merciful judgment, whose gracious gift is final and absolute. 
            And when that happens, when that grace cracks us open, as it will again here at the table,  we begin to see that which has been hidden in our quests for self-righteousness: the actual and genuine needs of our neighbors, and there is such incredible joy in that.  For when Christ enters into our midst, when he saves us by his mercy as he has again this morning, he creates within us the freedom to live for the actual needs of others, not the needs that we wished they had, nor the needs that we believe, if only they were a bit more like us, they would have.  All that is done, now.   Instead, what stand before us now is our neighbor, be they friend, family or enemy, asking for a bit of food, a shot at a living wage, a bit of attention, a warm cup of coffee or maybe just a listening ear.  And the incredible thing about the faith that you have been given is this: you are freed to love without reservation, without agenda, without manipulation.  You are free to love as honestly as you are loved, and enter more deeply into your humanity and into the humanity of others, however imperfectly and partially this happens. And make no mistake, dear people of God, none of this will feel significant to you.  It will probably feel quite the opposite, but that, too, is a gift.  Just ask the sheep.   In Jesus’ name, amen.

Nov. 13, 2011

Matthew 25:14-30
14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

 “You knew, did you?” With that one pointed and teeth-rattling question, the last worker’s entire world is called into question.  Here he stands, yanked away from everything he thought he and yet without the courage to move forward into ventures unknown.  He stands, fearfully, suspended between an imaginary world that has been taken from him and a reality that is too vast, too wonderful for him to accept.  So he sits on the dizzying precipice of his indecision, and in so doing, loses everything, loses what he thought he had and loses a joy that he was just beginning to glimpse.  His prudence, his risk-avoidance, in the end, cost him everything.   He has, you see, effectively managed his way out of his master’s presence.  Not because of sloppy book-keeping or unscrupulous trading, but because of whom he believes his master to be. 
And so this morning’s Gospel is indeed a cautionary tale, but it is one that we have an incredibly difficult time wrapping our minds around, because in a certain sense, it is a self-contradictory cautionary tale.  The caution, you see, is against being cautious.  The third slave enters the weeping and nashing of teeth not because of his recklessness but because of his prudence, not because he takes his master’s gift too lightly, but because he takes it too seriously.  His assumptions are his unraveling and his caution takes him away from his master.  What, then, we might want to ask is going on here?  How exactly, did this man end up with his wages, and even the relationship to his master take away from him? 
Let us, then, reset the scene and follow this man as he walks into the outer darkness.   We can, like an episode of Law and Order, piece this mess together one step at a time.  So, then, back to the beginning.  We have a master preparing to go away on a long journey and he summons his slaves to him and entrusts them with his property, and this is perhaps the first problem in the third slave’s mind.  For the master does not give in a reasonable way.  Instead, he lavishes his property upon them.  One talent, you see, just one talent would be worth somewhere between fifteen and twenty years’ wages.  Put it another way, this man just received roughly 600,000 $, and his fellow workers are now in charge of million dollar accounts.  To put it frankly, this is not exactly a great business strategy on the part of the master.  In point of fact, it is eccentric, even a bit offensive for the master to be this generous. It would be like you all as a church turning over the entire Hegna fund to me with no instructions.   And sure, it says that each received according to his ability, but that is kind of like saying you won the lottery because of your algebra skills.  What the master has just done is stupefying, to say the least.   
And it seems that, according to the parable, given that the master provides literally no instructions, there are two basic responses to this action.  While we do not get a rationale for their actions, the first two slaves take what they have been given and immediately get down to business.  They invest and trade their way into millions more, correctly assuming that their master did not give them all this cash for no reason, and this, I think, is where the third slave begins his tragic descent.   He thinks himself out of the gift.  He refuses to take what the master has done at face value and attempts to find some motivation, some character flaw, that is simply not present in the master.  His crime, his tragedy, really, is assuming that the master is up to something, that there is a test standing behind the master’s gifts, and when you think that someone is out to get you, especially if that someone happens to be your boss, there is really only one way to respond: namely with fear. 
And it is this fear that edges the third slave closer to the outer darkness.  For it leads him to take what was an absurdly lavish gift and make of it a burden that he must protect at all cost.  What was meant to be enjoyed he has turned into a reality he must endure. Now, for us, taking money and burying it in the backyard might be a sign that we are need a bit of psychological counseling, but for this man, it is actually the safest action he can take with this money.  To bury the master’s treasure would mean that only he knew where it was, and should Roman soldiers come and stay with him, they would not have access to it.  In a word, the man does what is reasonable, prudent.  He does the equivalent of putting the money in an insured bank account.  While the master might have been reckless in the way the he has dolled out his cash, the third slave is intent on not doubling this mistake.  He will correct the master’s error.   He makes sure that, upon the return of his master, his unscrupulous and terrifying master, all the money that was given to him would be there waiting, and whatever bizarre test this turned out to be, he can be confident of passing it and getting back to the business of life as usual. 
And that is really the problem with this man.  In thinking that there was a test to be passed, in thinking that his master is someone whom he is not, this third slave finds himself with nothing, no money, no work, no master.  And it is not so much that the master takes from him these gifts, it is that the man never really had them to begin with.  For he never understood that the source of his master’s generosity was simply that, absurd generosity, and he never understood that the money given to him was not something he needed to protect, but was rather an opportunity.  His master and the way his master operated proved to be far too risky for this man, and so he foreclosed on this riskiness, but in so doing, cut himself off from the joy of his master.  For joy is, indeed, a risky proposition. 
And as we begin our discussions of stewardship, this is the only place to start, not with our financial situation as a church or as a people, nor with the sluggishness of the economy or with the unpredictability of the stock market, but rather with the insane, reckless love of a God who withholds nothing from us.  Indeed, a God who, in the cross of Christ, gives us even himself, tossing about the eternal joys of the kingdom as a sower throws about seed.  Yes, the question we are being asked is the same question asked of those three slaves, what does it mean to be faithful to a God who withholds nothing from us?  What does it mean to be claimed, in the waters of baptism by a Christ who, in sharing our flesh, in sharing our worries and our troubles, gives us the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace of his very presence?  What does it mean to be vulnerable to this God, to let the riskiness of his love sink deep within us?  For you, dear people of God, you have been given everything.  You have been given the kingdom in all of its fullness; you have been given the life eternal and the joy of your master.  Christ has made you his own and promises to never leave nor forsake you. It is all here for you.  The question, then, is this: knowing the Christ who awaits us, knowing the joy to which we are called, knowing the freedom that is now yours, knowing that all has been accomplished, that Christ is your future, what are we to make of the present?  In Jesus’ name, amen.   

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nov. 6, 2011

Matthew 5:1-12
1  When Jesus  saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  2  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  3  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  4  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  5  "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  6  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  7  "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  8  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  9  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  10  "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11  "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely  on my account.  12  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

She was always there.  I cannot remember ever being at St. John’s Lutheran Church without seeing her.  From Sundays mornings to those times during the week when my little brother and I would tear around the fellowship hall while my dad wrote sermons in his office, she and the church in which I grew up are basically one entity in my mind.   Now none of the work that she did was all that extraordinary, buying doughnuts, making coffee, cleaning up when even my father, that is the pastor, had already gone home, or organizing the food and clothing pantries, sorting through second hand goods and canned foods, hardly tasks that receive much attention. Hers was a life that one barely noticed, and I think the church basement was indeed her most natural home.  I remember once, visiting her in her small trailer on the north end of town when I was a teenager.  I was there with my father and for the sake of full disclosure, the whole thing made me horribly uncomfortable.  I did not like the faintly sour smell of the place or what it meant that she lived alone there, her husband having died several years earlier.   I just wanted to leave.   And since we are telling the truth, let me say this, I don’t remember ever feeling as though she was a particularly warm or caring person, even though she always gave my siblings and me a card full of money on our birthdays. Such is the fickleness of young children.   And again, because we are here telling the truth, let me make a confession.  When my father told me that she died a few years back, it hardly made an impact.  Sure I thought about her for a few brief moments and said a prayer of thanksgiving for her life, but that was basically it.  In spite of her devotion, her incredible care for the church, she did not merit much more than a passing thought.  And realizing this only makes me sad. 
            And today, as we gather in remembrance of all the saints who have gone before us and now wear the robes of glory, I think we would do well to think through this concept of sainthood a bit.  No doubt, when we hear this word, saint, we immediately think of women and men who have lived extraordinary lives for the sake of Christ’s gospel.  We think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Dorothy Day who started the Catholic worker movement.  Or perhaps our minds drift towards those early confessors and martyrs in the church whose faith in Christ cost them everything.  And while there is no doubt that all of these would certainly fit the category of saint, we do ourselves a great disservice of we think only in terms of the extraordinary.  For hear again these words of Jesus as he gathers his disciples: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek,  blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness , blessed are the merciful,  blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,  blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely  on my account.”  This reads like a laundry list of the downtrodden and the excluded, those who simply do not have enough, enough time, enough money, enough gas left in the old tank to set the world ablaze with their piety and devotion.  These are the ones on the wrong side of history, those who have been left behind, whose lives are barely visible amongst the rubble of disappointment and expectations brutally rebuffed.   Now what Jesus is doing here is not voicing some hopeful expectation, but rather he is creating blessing, creating sainthood in the least likely of places. For when Christ speaks, he creates.  He is sainting the ordinary and the unnoticed, those whose humble lives of Christ-filled hope are real and genuine, though they may go as unvalued as a woman in a church basement.   For really, who compiles stories about, who remembers the meek and the broken-hearted, the miserable and those who suffer in silence, simply hoping that tomorrow will be a bit more bearable than today?  Who names and remembers the anonymous? Who would dare to call these saints?
            Well, the answer to that question, is as simple as it is radical.  For the answer to who remembers, who cares for the poor and the unnoticed, for the ordinary as well as the heroes of our collective histories, is the same as the one who has made them saints to begin with.   For it is Christ who remembers and cares for all, including the unnoticed and the ordinary, and because of Him, their memory, their presence, is inscribed into our gathering, for he bears them to us.   It is Christ who gathered the poor and the lonely, the desperate and the fearful, yes, who brought all these to himself and gave them the blessing of the Most High.  Yes, it is Christ who takes us, and takes what we may believe to be too ordinary, too mundane, and makes of them lives of sainthood.   It is in the gentleness of Christ, in the love that he has extended to us all, in his deep yearning that all would come home to the Father, yes, it is only in this comprehension of Christ’s love and care that human sainthood can begin to make any sense.  Indeed, before sainthood is anything else, it is the faith that clings to Christ in his goodness, the faith that recognize his presence in the small undignified moments that together make up this life.  Sainthood is the recognition that we are loved and remembered by Christ, not just in moments of incredible strength, but most especially in moments of weakness, fear and pain, in moments when our poverty of spirit threatens to overwhelm us.  Sainthood is the sure knowledge that though our lives are awash in the ordinary, they are also the place where Christ is active, calling us to himself and to those mundane needs of our neighbors.
            And that, that changes everything.  For sainthood means not storming heaven with our own self-created goodness, but staying here, staying in the church basement, staying here in the complexity and ordinariness of life, for that is where Christ and our neighbors are.  It means that you have been sainted in your baptism, and that you are being made pure by the hope of ceaseless glory that awaits you.  It means that any act of love, no matter how small or how hidden from the world’s gaze, is indeed the act of a saint.  Yes, the saintly act of caring for a grandchild or a lonely student, the saintly act of giving a meal to the hungry or  welcome to the stranger, or an act of unacknowledged generosity, the saintly act of inviting someone into the grace of Jesus Christ,  the saintly act of loving without expectation or agenda.  And you, you are these saints, for you have been purified by what poet Emily Dickinson called that thing with feathers, hope.  And your hope is certain, for when Christ Jesus is revealed in the fullness of his love, a love that spans eternity and yet grips even the smallest of moments, you too will become what you already are: saints of the Most High, beloved of Christ Jesus.  And oh that woman, her name was Dorothy Hill, and she now basks in the eternal splendor of the Father.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oct. 30, 2011

Romans 3:19-28
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 

John 8:31-36
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33 They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" 34 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

I do not know how many of you caught this last Sunday evening, but on the television program Sixty Minutes,  there was an incredible interview with Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson.  Now, the fact that is authorized biography was published only three weeks after Jobs’ death would have made the interview fascinating in its own right, but there was more to it than that. In addition to sketching the private life of one of our time’s geniuses, his adoption and upbringing, how he started Apple Computers, the breakthroughs of the Imac, Ipod, Iphone and all the rest, Isaacson’s interview also revealed Jobs’ refusal to undergo surgery for a pancreatic tumor while it was still manageable.  The failure to do so and the hope that less invasive treatment techniques would work allowed the cancer to spread, eventually killing a man whose creativity and vision have forever changed the way that our culture functions.  When pressed by the interviewer as to “how a smart man could do such a stupid thing,” Isaacson responded that Jobs had a tendency towards magical thinking, believing that a problem can be avoided until it essentially disappears.  Now, it was this same sort of imagination and utter will power that led to some of the downright coolest gadgets that we now enjoy.  But it was also a blindness that, in very real terms, ended up costing Jobs’ his life.
            What is so very instructive about this story is that it demonstrates the innate human capacity for denial, and it is the same reality voiced by the question, “how could such a smart man do such a stupid thing?”  The trick, though, in attempting to answer that question is that it really has nothing at all to do with intelligence, but with something far more fundamental, something that we could begin to name as sin.   This denial is something that we humans all share, from little children to the late Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace.  You can see this everywhere in our midst, as we attempt to manage away guilt, to minimize pain, to believe that we are utterly in control of our destinies, both in the present and eternal sense.  Yes, this is the dark side of what it means to be human, this believe that we, like those Temple leaders battling Jesus, have not need of a freedom that is more radical than anything we can work up from inside ourselves, or anything we achieve through our politics, our creations and exertions of will and effort.  Yes, we can be dumbfounded by the Temple leader’s suggestion that they have never been slaves to anyone, given that the Lord first called the nation Israel out of slavery in Egypt, to say nothing of them being exiled in Babylon and then, even as they are having this discussion, occupied by the mighty hand of Rome.  No doubt, the Temple leaders are exercising a bit of selective memory here, but the issue runs deeper than needing to revisit their Intro to Jewish History course notes.  Instead, what we see at work is the same reality that kept Steve Jobs from getting that surgery; the blinding effects that sin has on the way the world is understood.  For make no mistake, this denial, this refusal to see the depth of the problem, this belief that, in the end, we can work it out on our own, this is something that we share with the Temple leaders, with a sixteen century German monk named Martin Luther and with that technological wizard named Steve Jobs.  For this is what it means to confess that we are indeed sinners; it means to face squarely the fact that we are in a mess from which we simply cannot extract ourselves, no matter our wit and wisdom, our proud religious heritage, whether we be children of Abraham or children of Martin Luther. 
            Thankfully, though, that is only the first act of the story, for here again these sweet words from St. Paul, “but now.”  Yes, this terror at our own mortality, this fear that we will be forgotten, that our greed and selfishness is all that is left for us, that is not the whole story, for there is yet another word to be heard. “But now,” and on these words, the whole of reality hinges.  “But now,” says St. Paul, “a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known,” and it is the righteousness, the freedom, that stands right in front of the Temple Leaders, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It is the righteousness of a God who has joined divinity to our flesh and from the cross offers us a freedom that is beyond our words, beyond our efforts. It is the freedom that comes from dying to our need to control and manipulate God and neighbor, and instead rising into the warm light of a Christ who gives without ceasing.  Yes, it is the righteousness that comes not from denial, fear or our futile attempts to manipulate the world around us, but a righteousness that allows God to be God, a righteousness that revels in the good things that God gives, and in the peace that the Christ lavishes on you all. Indeed, it is a righteousness that allows us to be honest about ourselves, honest about out fears and our failings, knowing that we are yet loved, yet cared for by the Christ who forgives sinners, and yes this occurrence, this realization that we are loved and forgiven by Christ, this will always strike us as strange, as bizarre.  In the words of Martin Luther, “For (Christ) is near us and in us, but always in a form which is strange to us, not in the appearance of glory but in humility and gentleness.”  And it is this strange mercy of God that empowers us to love one another, to love the whole of God’s creation without concern for whether or not we are being noticed. 
            And as we celebrate Reformation Sunday, which is really a celebration of one man, Father Luther, being found by this grace, by Christ’s strange and gentle righteousness, there is no better way to again enter the story than through the baptism of Lillian.  For this is one place, the font, where this righteousness gets enacted.  For it is in these waters, these waters that are joined to Christ, that Lillian will be put to death and raised into the new life of Christ Jesus.  And all this will happen to her before she can speak or decide, so intent is Christ on making her a beloved child of God that he will not wait.  And, truth be told, you and I are no different from this precious babe.  We, too, have been given a righteousness, given a peace, given a joy that we could have never anticipated or produced, that “strange” righteousness that comes from the Christ who is so very gentle, so very loving to us all.  So, then, dear people, enjoy this: enjoy the fact that God in Christ knows you more deeply than you know yourself and loves you totally and without condition.  Enjoy the fact that your lives are secured by the God of cross and empty tomb, and that the baptismal waters that were poured over you named as a child of God.  Revel in the goodness of your neighbor, knowing that they, too, are beloved of this God, and that we are now given the freedom to care for them without agenda or stipulation.  For the Son has indeed made you free.  In Jesus’ name, amen.