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Tenth Biennial Convention of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
July 21–24, 2005
Winnipeg Manitoba

In Mission for Others

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Sermon for the Opening Eucharist

Texts

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25

Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:39-48

Sermon

Grace and peace to you from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


God's kindness to us is never-ending.
From the liturgy of baptism to the last words said over the dead, we are assured that we enjoy a place in the heart of God.
We are the beloved children with whom God is satisfied.

How does one portray that relentless merciful kindness?
In 2001, a young artist at Red River College here in Winnipeg brought us the design that has become the convention logo.

A gentle bird cradles the world.
I see in that embrace a deep tenderness.
There is no other vocation for this bird than to care for its charge.
This bird lives entirely for the sake of the world.

So many passages come to mind when I look at this icon.
I hear Jesus saying: " Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NRSV)

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…! (Matthew 23:37 NRSV)

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17 NRSV)

…just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water [of his baptism], he saw…the Spirit descending like a dove…And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:10-11 NRSV)

God cradles us like a doting mother, nurturing and teaching us how to live our lives for others.

Could a mother forget her nursing child or fail to love the infant who came from her womb?
Even if such a mother could forget, I will never forget you.
A picture of your city is drawn on my hand.
You are always in my thoughts.
Isaiah 49:15-16

This convention leads us into the 20th anniversary of the founding of the ELCIC.

That founding convention was held in the belief that there was a challenging future awaiting Canadian Lutherans.
We were driven by nationalistic motives: We longed to be an autonomous Canadian church.
We longed to express our Canadian sense of mission.
Canadian composer Paul Anka wrote I did it my way.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau had filled the Canadian political stage and excited many.
We wanted to be a made-in-Canada church.
We were not in mission for others; we were in mission for ourselves.

Canadian culture looked like a blank canvas on which you could paint your version of the meaning of things.
But it meant that: Christianity no longer held the monopoly on meaning; Christianity no longer held the monopoly on morality.
Continuing volumes of immigrants caused our nation to become the home of many nationalities.
They brought with them their own active religious lives.
Other believers competed for space to paint their versions of the meaning of life on the cultural canvas.
No one was more shocked by this reality than former BC premier Bill Vander Zalm.
Shortly after his election, acting on his conservative Catholic convictions, he installed a prayer chapel in the BC legislature.
He envisioned it as a place of Christian prayer.

Less than two weeks later he closed it because the chapel was being used by neopagans.
He was not about to allow that in his place of prayer!
It was thought by some that Premier Vander Zalm was going to reverse the onset of secular society and give back to the church its moral dominance.
A variety of pastors had been campaigning for Vander Zalm's election from their pulpits.
Where Trudeau tried to separate morality and politics, Vander Zalm tried to bring morality and politics closer together.
A similar initiative is underway in the United States.
Some conservative Christians and conservative politicians have become nearly indistinguishable for one another.
I hear conservative faith groups expounding American political foundations as sacred beliefs.
And I hear politicians appealing to so-called Christian principles as the foundation of their political goals.
This is a long way from the days when conservative Christians criticized so-called liberals
for their involvement in socio-political activities and told them to stick to preaching the gospel.

In a climate like this, it is hard for the church to know what its mission is.
Christians who want to be in mission are confused by messages that sound evangelistic,
but are really about politics.
The core of this confusing religious/political message is the belief that the church either must dominate society or have nothing to do with it.
Getting in bed with politicians is a strategy for gaining control.

The premise is that the world is such an evil place God will destroy it in order to save the righteous.
If you can't get control, then you want to make sure you're on God's side so that you aren't left behind when Armageddon comes.

Sisters and brothers, nothing could be further from the actual gospel.
The reason Jesus was crucified was because he resisted taking control.
Jesus was glorified because he surrendered himself to the world in the confidence that salvation was in God's hands, not his.
Jesus did not see the world as evil.
He saw it as a place of suffering where evil was done by self-interested human beings.
The world is dangerous in some places.
The world is dangerous wherever the will to dominate is so strong that some must be destroyed so that others can have their way.
That's true whether the force is wielded by religious people or secular people.
Religious warriors and government soldiers are the same thing.
Each is willing to destroy others for the sake of the cause.

Not Jesus!
He saw that people pursued their own individual salvation to the neglect of the poor and rejected in his society.
The Ten Commandments had been given to Moses as a model for a new kind of political and economic society.
They were to be the opposite of Egypt that had enslaved so many.
Some people trivialized the commandments into nothing but religious rhetoric and ignored them as a way to ensure a full life for all citizens.

I sometimes feel that way about the Eucharist.
The amount of bread and wine we give each person is less than a morsel, just a ritual.
Sikh communities, on the other hand, serve a full meal in their Gurdwaras every day!
Everyone is welcome.

In tonight's Romans text we hear Paul hoping creation can be restored to its intended purpose: to host human society in a climate of justice and peace.
Paul did not live in a Christian world. Paul lived in a multi-cultural, multi-religious world like ours.

He considered himself a Jew, a reformer of his own religious society within that world.
He did not condemn the world, but he ached over the abuse to which it was subjected.
In the gospel reading Jesus calls upon us to see the world as communities of people
who need support and nurture; communities of people to die for.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1932, wrote a reflection on Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.
He said that when Jesus gazed on all the kingdoms of the world, he knew he could be their ruler, but he would have to go down on his knees to the devil if he wanted such control.
If he accepted the offer, he would become a slave to his own ambition and the ambition of those who desired him so eagerly.
So he remained the free son of God even though he knew what that meant.: It meant being misunderstood; It meant hatred, death, and the cross.
But Jesus chose this way from the very outset because: It is the way of obedience; It is the way of freedom; It is the way of God.
For that reason it is the way of love for human beings.

This is Bonhoeffer's conclusion:
Any other path—be it ever so pleasing to people—would be a way of hatred and of contempt toward human beings, for it would not be the way of God…. Because it is the way of God through the world [that Jesus] chooses… the way to the cross. And we are going with him, as individuals and as a church.

Like-mindedness with other Christians is not a requirement for someone to receive the church's ministry.
In fact, Jesus advocates the opposite.

Jesus calls upon us to be in the service of those who cannot repay us.
Jesus calls upon us to be in service in ways that convey no benefit to ourselves.
We are called to be salt and light in the world not to make others like us, but to declare them beloved children of God in their own right, in the circumstances in which they have been given to live.
We are to use our understanding and experience of the gospel in order to set others free from slavish servanthood to the world's empty promises about superiority, admiration and respect.

The apostle Paul had to learn the same lesson as the rest of us.
He had been beside himself with anger and frustration.
His Pharisee faithfulness was not delivering the victory he and his peers believed in.
So he took it out on the Christians until Christ himself showed him that Christians were not the cause of Paul's pain.
The world was in pain and Paul was simply becoming aware of others who bore it.
After meeting Jesus, Paul not only began to support the church,but he developed a new compassion for the world.
This is the call to mission I hope this church will hear: Ware not in mission for ourselves.
We adore Christ and, in imitation of him, we commit ourselves to be in mission for others.

Amen.

Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop

In full communion with The Anglican Church of Canada
© Copyright 2007 Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada