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Sermon for the five Synod Conventions/Assemblies, 2004
Ephesians 3:14-21
Luke 6:17-23

Grace and peace to you from
the One who is,
the One who was, and
the One who is to come.

I want to thank every one of you for the faithfulness you have shown
to the church of Christ in this synod.

I think it was easier in the early days
when our parents and grandparents were immigrants.

Making a living was harder, but life was simpler.

There isn't a senior here who doesn't remember
the Great Depression and the dust-bowl years:
their sons had to ride the rails
like hobos looking for work.

But most of the people in the community were members of the church,
so church values were dominant.

That didn't mean everybody kept to them,
but for the most part,
the church was seen as the place
where you learned right from wrong and
the kind of behaviour that kept the community together.

But the 30's did something to people in Canada.

Going to church began to decline as a percentage of the population.

In recent years that decline has been dramatic.

It is more complicated for us now,
because the church no longer sets the values of our society.

What we consider to be right-side-up according to the gospel,
is upside down according to secular values.

So agreeing to be disciples of Christ
means agreeing to live in an upside down way.

It's a little like this:

When light comes into your eye it passes through the lens,
which turns the image projected on the retina upside down.

Almost everybody's brain is programmed to edit that image
and turn it right-side-up again.

However, a small number of people
are missing that editing software in their brains,
so they see what is projected on their retina.

It's fairly simple to correct the problem with special glasses.

If you want to have fun some time,
try wearing a set of those glasses
while you're serving coffee to your company!

The gospel changes our way of seeing the meaning of life.

Corrective lenses have been applied to our spirits
so that we recognize that
what seems normal to a lot of people
is really an upside down image of the real thing.

Today's lessons from
the Letter to the Philippians and
the Gospel of Luke
make that very clear.

It's not that most people mean to be uncooperative with God,
but the direction of Christ is not the direction
in which the world keeps drifting
when it goes unchallenged by the governance model of God.

The governance model of God keeps dropping out of popularity.

The way the popular world sees things,
it is important for you to get and keep as much as you can.

The way the popular world sees things,
you ought to have pleasure most of the time.

The way the popular world sees things,
you should succeed in most of your plans.

The way the popular world sees things,
you should have nearly total personal freedom.

The way the popular world sees things,
what others think and want should concern you very little.

All of that would be fine if we were each
a completely independent, unattached person.

All of that would be fine if every human act
were only neutral behaviour,
like that of a wild animal
but like isn't like that,
even for wild animals.

I remember the year the Lower Mainland of BC
experienced an influx of snowy owls from Alaska
because the lemming population was severely depleted.

The owls came south to look for food
and got into a turf war with the bald eagles
as well as posing a threat to peoples' house pets.

The early theological fathers of the Eastern church
spoke about the Father, Son and Spirit as a community of three,
who seek to include all humanity
in the experience that the three of them have with each other.

It is not that all life is connected,
but that all life exists only in and through God.

Life has become disconnected
and God wants to bring it back together.

And so the way life really looks is the way the gospel sees it.

The way the popular world sees it is upside down.

We see it different,
because the life, death and resurrection of Christ
gives us the corrective lenses to see things in a new way.

I'm not talking about new religious rules for a new morality.

I'm talking about a new willingness
to give ourselves for the sake of all those others
whose life is also rooted in God.

There can be no command that will bring this about.

It can only come from a heart transformed by the sight of Christ
opening his arms to all people
while those arms are nailed to the cross.

The overarching way of life for the Philippian church
was not to be one of self-interest,

but the way of love as Jesus defined it—that is—
the willingness to meet the needs of the other person.

The overarching way for today's disciples of Christ
is not to get as much as you can,
but to show solidarity with those who do not have the basics.

The overarching way for today's disciples of Christ
is not to maximize personal pleasure,
but to feed the hungry around you.

The overarching way for today's disciples of Christ
is not to expect personal success,
but to find ways to care for those for whom the system has failed.

The overarching way for today's disciples of Christ
is not to be popular,
but to have the courage to risk unpopularity and personal loss
in order to be faithful to the vision
that we see through the eyes of Christ on the cross.

None of this is because Christ hates the well-to-do or the happy,
but because focusing on those things to the neglect of the others separates one from the reality God created
and from realistic communion with the God
who gives like to people by grace.

That grace is motivated by the very same attitude of love
that Christ demonstrated and urges us to strive for.

That striving on our part will not save us,
but it will give us the eyes to see where our salvation comes from
and will free us up to follow that way of life
when the messages all around us urge us to go in the opposite direction.

The Gospel has rooted us in God's reality.

Rooted in that conviction,
we are free from following smoke and mirrors and
we are free to let life lead us through ways uncontrolled by us
so that we may be faithful to Christ.

Our church's way of life has been preoccupied
with its own success and survival
and has not prepared for the way the world has turned out.

We have lived on an island as if it were the mainland
and have defined those around us as the outsiders.

In doing so, we have made ourselves outsiders to God
because we have rejected the way of the cross
and have not opened our arms to all.

We have been welcoming and generous only by default
rather than by intention.

We have not taken many risks with life in the public forum.

We Lutherans are rooted in the right stuff.

Lutheran theology gives us a solid basis
for the exercise of stewardship in the secular world.

The Gospel gives us freedom from anxiety
so that we can take some creative risks for the sake of others.

Failure is not defeat,
but a sign of fighting the good fight
armed only with the weapons of faith.

The death of their ambitions on the cross meant
the disciples were no longer standing in God's way.

God reshaped them.

Christians became a community of witness in Roman society
where the best minds in that society
sincerely believed they were an evil threat.

We have no choice but to be rooted in this world.

We are made from the same stuff as the rest of our society.

It is not easy to be free to think of the church in a new way.

But the Spirit has wings.

The Spirit grasps us by our uplifted hands
and nourishes us the way sunlight nourishes a tree through its leaves.

The earth nourishes life,
the Spirit tells us what that life is for.

There is a right-side-up to all of this.

Put on your gospel glasses and take another look!


Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop

This sermon was written for the 2004 Eastern Synod ordination.

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