Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Punch Drunk Sowers

The following "address" was given to the leadership and boards of Redeemer Lutheran at the end of May during a long-term planning session.  Unfortunately I didn't record the audio (which was much better) but this will have to do. 

Witness, Mercy, Life Together.  This is the new synodical emphasis.  It’s not a program.    And if it ever  becomes one, we have failed.  These are not intended to be empty words on a page.  For Witness, Mercy, Life Together - are not empty words in Scripture.  This is the life of the Church because it is the life of Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church.  It’s not so much about what you do but who you are.  Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia are living, breathing, active, life-giving words.  These are loaded, theologically dense Greek words which form the three-fold emphasis; but long before they graced the cover of the Lutheran Witness, they shaped the very life of the Christian Church, from the first days in the book of Acts to the present, from the farthest four corners of the earth to 16351 Springdale St.

Redeemer Lutheran embodies Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia. This shapes the life of everything we say and do here at Redeemer, from VBS to preschool and from youth to the many boards and activities.  You will hear from Pr. Harmelink how this has looked over course of our history and together we will, Lord willing, continue to live the life of God’s faithful people here at 16351 Springdale St. and the surrounding community.
Witness – Martyria.  Typically when you hear this word the lions and burning crosses of the Coliseum come to mind. However, confessing the faith is not only for the dead; but for the living.  Martyrs do confess the faith in the face of death.  But just as important, Christians are every day martyrs, that is to say, you are witnesses – in the places God has called you – in your vocations.  A martyr is a witness, one who confesses, believes and teaches the truth where Christ has called you, and placed you as his masks, in and out of the Church.  Martyrs are found in the grocery store, on the playground, in the choir loft – anywhere you have been placed by virtue of your Baptism into the death of the Martyr par excellence, Christ.  He has martyred you into the Kingdom of Heaven, from death to life, by His death on the cross.  When Christ calls His Church, He calls her (Matthew 28) to make disciples by baptizing and teaching.  And Christ never leaves His Church without the promise: "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age, in Samaria, Judea, and Jerusalem and to all the ends of the earth."  The Church is in her fullness here at 16351 Springdale and yet her fullness does not end at our doors, but extends throughout the Holy Catholic Church as Christ gives her His very life blood through the Water, Word, Spirit, Body and Blood.

Mercy – Diakonia – is compassion, care, love and more.  It is the very life of Christ.  So many times in the Scripture, diakonia encompasses mercy in body and soul – and it must be in both body and soul – neglecting one over the other only diminishes both.  This is precisely how Christ cares for His people, in body and soul.  He sees the needs of the people – not just the people, who are easy to love, but the unlovable, the outcast, the sinner – and He has compassion on them.  The Greek word is splanchnon, an utterly visceral, guttural enactment of mercy and compassion for the neighbor in need. Mercy flows from the cross of Christ to us and from us to the neighbor and right back to the altar, right back to our Life Together in the Body and the Blood of Jesus.  His Table is what gives our tables their very purpose and being in life.  And we are called to show mercy not only to the poor and needy on the other side of the country or the world, but the other side of the street, in our alleys and neighborhoods where.  We need mercy that hits close to home.

Life Together – Koinonia - is used around forty times across the Gospels, epistles, and Acts.  Koinonia isn’t just the fun stuff – the picnics and parties, etc., which are essential to congregational life together - but every activity that the Church is gathered together for, especially (in fact inseperably so) given that the Bride of Christ has Life Together only where her day to day (week-in-week-out) life together is bound up in the very Koinonia that comes by way of relationship to/in Christ.  I challenge you to find an expression, metaphor or illustration in the Scriptures where the body of Christ, His Church, is spoken of individualistically.  Frankly, I think you’ll come up disappointed, but you're welcome to prove me wrong.  The Scriptures simply don’t speak of the “me” or the “I” the way our narcissistic culture does; it is always the body, the bride, the one, the holy people, the royal priesthood.  Koinonia is best and most tangibly known in this life (and the next) at the Lamb’s High feast, the Lord’s Supper.  We have fellowship with one another because of His fellowship at the Table.  Remarkably, koinonia also is used for alms-giving in the early church, especially Acts and the letters of Paul.  This is more than a common word-connection. The alms (koinonia) we share in the body of Christ are united with our koinonia in, with and under Christ at His high altar. 

These three words are the life-breath of the Church because this is the life-breath of Christ, who is the Lord of the Church.  They are inseparable as Christ is from His Church.  And this is a blessed, union.  Be fruitful and multiply!

No wonder all of these words are also found (implicitly if not explicitly) in both the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Word is sown recklessly, prodigally, liberally to all.  There’s no soil testing necessary.  We don’t need to find the so-called “soft soil” for there is none.  Scripture is abundantly clear: there is no such thing; it’s all the same rocky, hard soil of unbelief.  Thankfully it is the same creative Word that is implanted, nurtured, and grown by the Spirit.  That’s His work; our work is to spread the seed, water the seed with the same reckless love as the Father.

I know it can seem overwhelming.  If we were left to our own selves it would be.  There’s good reason Luther once compared the Christian Church to a drunkard stumbling from one wall to the next.  When it comes to Redeemer Lutheran, and the work our Lord has called us to, there are two walls - two great temptations - we must avoid.

On the one hand we are tempted to think that this work of Witness, Mercy, Life Together, of sowing Gospel seeds, being merciful, and so forth – is entirely dependent upon numbers and growth  and success – as if we could quantify the work of the Lord in that way.  However, the Church is not called to count success in the same way the world counts success.  We count it in seeds sown.  You may never see that little preschooler or Sunday school child, or homeless man again; but the seed of the Gospel has been sown, mercy has been shown and for a short while (and perhaps longer) they have been a part of our Life Together.

The Augsburg Confession puts it this way:
    So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.

And on the other hand we are tempted to leave these three words - Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia - on the page where we found them this morning.  And if that’s all it is – if these words are just a slogan and nothing more - then we are better off staying home for these are dead words.  If we think that just by talking about Witness, Mercy, and Life Together that we have actually fulfilled what we are called to do, then all we have is dead faith.  These words are not empty and therefore neither are you.  You are filled with the life Christ breathes into you by His Spirit.  God has called us to clear witness and caring service – together.  These are words to live by.

Yes, it may seem challenging, but take it one person at a time: one VBS child, one preschooler, one youth group member/friend, one adult catechumen, one visitor, one homeless person – whoever the neighbor in need may be.  Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia are all yours by virtue of Baptism.  We have been “martyr-ed” from death to life, “mercy-ed” into mercy for mercy, “koinonia-ed” in Christ for the sake of our congregation and the community.

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