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Diocese of New Westminster Synod

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Luke 24:44-53

Warmest greetings from your cousins,
the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

One of the most joyous events in the life of our church
was to begin the new millennium with the Waterloo Declaration
in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada.

The relationship between our two churches
has been one of generosity and sharing.

When Gerhard Preibisch was ordained into the office
of bishop of the British Columbia Synod,
we were the beneficiaries of that generosity
on the part of the dean and bishop:

Because we own mostly small church buildings,
we were invited to hold the service
at Christ Cathedral in downtown Vancouver.

Thank you for the relationship of sharing and service
that has grown between our two churches.

I had rented a van for that occasion so that the other five bishops and I
could ride together from the service to the hotel and the airport.

Prior to the service I had parked the van in the parkade next door
and I had exited through a side door.

In order to return to the parkade,
we had to enter through the lobby of the building above it.

First, I picked the wrong building.

Next, the main elevator took us
to a completely different part of the parkade
than where I had exited.

There we were, six Lutheran bishops in our black clerical outfits,
carrying bags of vestments
and wandering around in puzzlement,
going up and down parkade ramps in search of a vehicle
the others had never even seen.

The other bishops had arrived independent of me,
so I was the one who had parked the van
and was expected to lead the rest to it.

It was pretty hilarious;
the stuff of which Monty Python skits are made.

The editor of Canada Lutheran was with us as well.

He entertained himself by making jokes
that the person responsible for vision and direction in this church
couldn't find his own car in a parkade.

The fact is I often get lost once the sun sets.

I lose my sense of direction and my orientation
when I can't see the landscape.

So it seems to me that this humorous bit of self-discovery
provides me with a way to approach the texts for today's worship.

When you can't see the forest for the trees,
your orientation to the journey can be offset
by a single tree that looks important but isn't.

To use another metaphor,
you lose the ability to tell a red herring from a real fish;
you lose the ability to keep the main thing the main thing.

Today's texts seem to me to be affirmations
of what is central to the decision-making of the church.

As Jesus leaves the church's leaders behind,
he wants to make sure they know what the main thing is.

It's about seeing beyond the immediate :

Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…

Luke 24:45-47 (NRSV)

[God's] power [was put] to work in Christ when [God] raised him from the dead and seated him at [God's] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And [God] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

Ephesians 1:20-22 (NRSV)

Central to the church's mission is Jesus Christ
and how Jesus understood God's way
for human beings to participate
in the expression of God's reign on earth.

It was not to be a reign of conquest, victory and domination,
but a reign characterized by openness to the other,
surrender of self and
absolute trust in God's promises,
no matter how remote the fulfillment of those promises appeared to be.

It is not that God does not have power.

It is that God's power is not made known through domination.

God accomplishes what God does
by recruiting human hearts with love,
not overpowering them by force.

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Luke 22:25-27

God approaches all humans,
whether they qualify for God's righteousness or not,
and offers them a place in the scheme
of fulfilled human community and belonging.

This is how we Lutherans talk about God's grace.

We mean that humans have a right to a place in God's heart,
not because they deserve it,
but because they need it.

However, this way of salvation appears as weakness
to the world's dominators,
including those who are religious,
so they end up opposing God.

They end up refusing a God who will not kill sinners.

God ends up being killed instead—
by the disapproval of the very people
who claim to contain God in their dogmas and rites.

Thanks be to God, as the letter to the Ephesians so boldly says:

God put this power [that looks like weakness] to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…

Ephesians 1:20-21a (NRSV)

Far above all the red herrings of human politics.

If I am to express the core of the faith on behalf of this church,
then it must always be an expression
that keeps central the reason why Jesus went to the cross.

Jesus went to the cross because he resisted the temptation
to become one of the world's dominators and, instead,
chose to seek out and redeem people
through a gracious invitation to taste and see the goodness of God.

In his journey among his people,
Jesus found faith expressed among the so-called "unclean"
and faithlessness among the so-called "righteous."

Unlike me, God does not lose orientation when twilight comes.

There is an old and often-told story
about a debate among rabbinic students
as to when one can determine that it is dawn
and that the Sabbath is over.

One student theorizes that it is when
you can see two shapes against the horizon
and determine that one is a tree and the other a human being.

A second says it is when you see two trees against the horizon
and can tell one variety from another.

Then the rabbi says, dawn comes to humanity
when one can look at a human being and see in that person
a sister or a brother.

In other words, the will of God is not about distinguishing,
but about including.

It is the world's people who are God's children,
not only the church's people.

That is a basic premise of the gospel of Luke
and the realization to which St. Paul came after his conversion.

It is that purpose for which Jesus died.

If we are to keep our orientation to the gospel
and not get lost in the confusion of religious trees,
we must keep our eye on the cross and the radical inclusivity
for which Jesus died on it.

God is not misled by trees that look like they shade the right route,
when, in reality, they point you to places
that deny the freedom of the Spirit.

Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit is utterly free
and that Nicodemus, an esteemed and moral religious leader
was the one denying the Spirit expression
and therefore living in the dark.

Jesus died on the cross, not because he wanted to,
but because it was the only way to deny the forces
that would have co-opted him
into serving a different call
than the one from the Father.

His freedom to choose the painful route
left him free of the domination of dominators.

I wish you every blessing at this synod,
as you face the difficult circumstances that confront you.

May the servant posture of Jesus Christ
be your posture toward each other.

To quote from Ephesians one last time:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints…

Ephesians 1:17-18 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you all.
Amen.

This sermon was prepared by Raymond Schultz, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for the Diocese of New Westminster Synod 30 May 2002

 

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