Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Welcome home! Welcome home from cabins up North, from vacations around the country, and your children’s weekend sports tournaments. Welcome home to Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church on this Rally Sunday! While you were away, 14 couples tied the knot here in this place. Two children were baptized and began their Christian journey. One funeral was celebrated to mark the end of a colorful and productive life. And while you were away, we listened to the stories of the saints from Sts. Bonifacius, Bartholomew and Barnabas to Sts. Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene. Yes, we meditated on their deeds and acts of faith, and their lives and deaths. As Martin Luther said, “Next to Holy Scripture, there is certainly no more useful book for Christendom that that of the lives of the saints.”
Even now, we are reminded that the saints continue to encourage and inspire us from afar. As the author of the Letter to Hebrews writes, since “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we are to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and to run with perseverance the race that is set before.” It is an important metaphor for common journey. The Christian faith, you see, is not simply a good confession it is a noble race, and a way of life. For the saints of old, and those living still, serve as the models of how we are to live.
Believe me, this is good news for this pastor. It means that I don’t have to be the only model of a godly life in the congregation. Of course, I am used to the teasing. It’s said, “You might be a good pastor if- you’ve ever been tempted to take an offering at a family reunion. Yes, you might be a good pastor if – you prefer talking to people with their heads bowed and eyes closed and are not tempted to wake them up. You might be a pastor if you think that an alternative to reading your children a bedtime story is reading them a good sermon.” But my friends, you and I, we have all been called to run the race, and to live lives of faith for other to see. It’s why we the need the support and encouragement of the church community.
As the author Letter of Hebrew, draws to a close reflecting on the lives of the saints of old, he writes that you and I have been to be God’s saints in this world. It is a noble, exalted calling? But if we are to be God’s holy witnesses for others, how are we to live our lives?
The author of Hebrews suggests five practical and essential qualities for the Christian community to live out its faith. They are: Love, Hospitality, Sympathy, Purity and Contentment. These are, however, not meant to be empty platitudes, but they are meant to be help us measure the height, width and depth of our faith. So how will you know if you’re hitting your mark? It’s a good question. In the Benedictine religious order, brothers and sisters are encouraged at the end of every day to meditate upon two basic questions. “Today, did you see Christ in another person? And second, today, did another person see Christ in you?” Let us now consider these qualities of the Christian faith.
The first mark of Christian living, the Letter to the Hebrews states is mutual love and respect. “Let mutual love continue.” When God’s faithful people face hurdles on the road, they often turn to unhealthy patterns. Of course, Christians should draw together with a common mission and vision, but instead they find themselves fighting over the most insignificant things. The church becomes its own worst enemy. It is for this reason that many churches today are viewed negatively by the unchurched.
I am reminded of my dear friend Bishop Lowell Erdahl and his twin brother, Arlen Erdahl. The one was a democrat and the other was a republican. The one was became bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod, and the other represented Minnesota’s First Congressional District. They returned to their alma matre St. Olaf College to receive a special award for service. When they were introduced, the speaker said, “Welcome to the Erdahl brothers. One was elected to Congress and the other went into politics.” The author of Hebrews teaches us that the first quality of Christian living is mutual love and respect. As we have been reminded in the stories of the saints of old, including the apostles, you don’t have to be in complete agreement with your neighbor in faith to work together. So ask yourself this day, “Did you see Christ in other people?” And then ask, “Did others see Christ in you?”
The second mark of Christian living is hospitality. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The early Christian church was a church of open doors. They were not public buildings which we were accessed by great websites and “googling the internet.” The house churches were dependent upon the personal invitation and hospitality.
Hospitality continues to be the mark of Christian living today, but many church members find it difficult to show hospitality to strangers. Closing the door after a polite hello, may be your most natural behavior. We all have to learn to do better and more. Christine Pohl concludes in Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition that, after giving food and drink, the most important thing we can give another person is our full attention. To welcome the stranger truly, you need to listen attentively to their stories. For it is their stories, that they are offering you God’s blessing. If you do not open yourself- you will never know the blessing God has for you. Even if it’s only a brief encounter, it is important to give someone your undivided attention. So ask yourself, “Did you see Christ in another person today? And did they see Christ in you?”
The third mark of Christian living is sympathy for those in trouble. “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them, those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves are being tortured.” As we have heard in the stories of the saints, the early Christian church was a persecuted church, but faithful believers never lost touch with those in prison- even to the point of death
The great Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyen spent part of his life in a Soviet prison camp in Siberia. At one point he was so physically weak and discouraged that he hoped for death. The hard labor, terrible conditions and inhuman treatment had taken its toll. He knew the guard would beat him severely and probably kill him if he stopped working, so he planned to expedite his death by simply standing and leaning on his shovel. But when he stopped a fellow Christian reached over with his shovel and quickly drew a cross at the feet of Solzenhitsyen, and then erased it before a guard could see it. Solzenhitsyen would later write that his entire being was energized by that one little reminder of the hope and courage we find in Jesus Christ. The mark of Christian living is sympathy for those in trouble, “Did you see Christ in other people today? And more importantly did they see Christ in you?”
The fourth mark of Christian living is purity. “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” The saints of the early church brought into the world a new ideal of purity. Marriage fidelity was not practiced in the ancient world. For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, the marriage bed was symbolic of all the honorable virtues of living and walking close to God. A Christian cannot say one thing and do another The Christian faith is to be the true witness of how God desired his beloved children were to live in this world- honorable, loyal, kind, generous, committed and faithful. So ask yourself, “Did you see Christ in other people today? And did they see Christ in you?”
And finally, the fifth mark of Christian living is contentment. “Keep your lives free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” John Galbraith said, “Money ranks with love as man’s greatest source of joy, and with death as his greatest source of anxiety.” Unfortunately, Christians are not free from the love of money- and when such love is left unbridled, it cheapens the contentedness that God offers. We must learn and train our thoughts and desires- to be satisfied.
Back in the depression days of the 1930’s, a newsboy was hawking papers on the streets of New York. He stood on an iron grate outside a building in order to catch some of the warm air which was coming up from the basement. He had no shoes or socks and thus was continually shifting from one foot to another and shivering in the cold. A pastor’s wife happened to come by, and although she also was extremely poor, she felt compassion for the little guy. Taking him by the hand she led him into a neighboring dry goods store. She bought him a pair of warm socks and also a pair of shoes. After he had pulled on his socks and his shoes, he grabbed his papers and immediately ran out of the store and began to sell the papers once again. The pastor’s wife was somewhat disappointed by this. She thought at last he would say, “Thank you.” But with a shrug of her shoulders she left the store and once again walked by the newsboy standing on the street. As she went by him, the little fellow grabbed her sleeve and asked her a question. “Are you God’s wife?” The woman was rather taken back by the question but she stammered, “No son, I am not God’s wife, but I am one of his children.” “Oh,” said the youngster, “I knew you must be some kin of his.” Did you see Christ in other people today? And did they see Christ in you?”
Love, Hospitality, Sympathy, Purity and Contentment, are these the qualities of your life? Are they visible for others to see? Why are they so important you may ask? It is in your faithfulness, it is in your imitating this life that Christ is being made known to others through you . It is in your faithfulness, that you are becoming God’s holy messenger- yes, entertaining angels unaware. And through you, Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today and forever, is being made known. My friends, there is no greater calling and no greater work. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.