It's All About That Grace
A little over year ago, I sat in a nearby church at Dean’s funeral.
Dean had died suddenly, in his late 50’s—a shock to everyone.
He was a gregarious guy, and had many friends, and so people gave a number of remembrances.
The word most often used to describe Dean was “authenticity”
but I think a better word for Dean was “unapologetic.”
Because Dean was not only a generous guy who would give you the shirt off his back
style your hair for free, or cook you a sumptuous feast--
he could also be a piece of work.
For example, a dear friend shared a story about a time when he broke his leg and was in a cast from hip to toe.
He worked at one of the area insurance companies with Dean--
one that was notorious for not having enough parking.
On a good day you could get into the parking garage.
On this day, Dean’s buddy had parked in the garage, navigated the stairs and the long expanse of parking lot
--on crutches—with a backpack-- and had just reached the side walk to go inside
when up drives Dean into the circle right in front of the main building,
parks in a handicapped space, and waltzes on by, saying: “Stinks to you!”
It was a great funeral.
You may think me a little nutty for even having a category like ‘great funeral’—but there is such a thing.
It’s when the good news is proclaimed in the life of the person who died
and in the words and prayers shared in the funeral.
And that’s what Dean’s funeral was.
No one tried to sanitize Dean. He could be a faithful friend and a self centered jerk.
And yet we prayed the same prayers that we would have for Mother Theresa:
“receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
into the glorious company of the saints in light.”
Dean was a perfect example of being a sinner and saint at the same time.
We Lutherans have made a big deal of this in our theology, even quoting it in the Latin
simul iustus et peccator—simultaneously saint and sinner.
It means that we do not require people to be ‘cleaned up’ before they come to worship
we do not live by exacting standards
we expect that people will sometimes rise to the occasion
and reflect God’s generosity and Jesus’ selflessness
and at other times, get fearful and stab others in back.
We accept ourselves and others in our imperfections, because God first accepted us.
The message was absolutely clear at Dean’s funeral:
If God can love and accept a guy like that, then God can love and accept a schmoe like me.
It was very good news.
It’s this Good News that is inspiring our church to reach out to others.
I was just at Bishop’s Convocation this week, a three day meeting of New England Lutheran pastors,
and I met the most amazing young pastors at work around our synod to bring Good News to others.
I met Britta and Angel, each working at Spanish speaking mission churches in greater Boston
I met Robin, serving church in Cambridge MA reaching out to “Tech Bros”—
the east coast version of silicon valley, where only 3% of the population goes to church.
I saw Tiffany— the mission developer who works among the poor in Dorchester, South Boston
and Mark and Sarah Huber, whose youthful church at not even 10 years old in Marshfield MA
is now worshipping 120 at three different times on Sunday.
These pastors and their leaders have realized there is a great hunger for the message of grace for us sinner/saints
and they are sharing it in all kinds of places.
Sinner and Saint—it’s even the name of a Lutheran church in Denver.
Nadia Boltz Webber is the lead pastor there—she spoke at our convocation three years ago
and was just featured on the Faith Middleton show on public radio this week.
Our youth remember her as the best speaker at the 2012 Youth Gathering,
and now she’s giving lectures all around the world.
Nadia has sleeve tattoos and a story of rebellion and alcohol addiction—
and of God’s incredible grace to have loved her through it all.
Now she’s a Lutheran pastor who requires no one to ‘check who they are at the door’ of church—
they are welcome no matter where they come from or how they look or act.
The truth is, despite the lower numbers of people in church
despite the bad rap the church has because of intolerance toward gay and lesbians
or scandal or because it’s full of hypocrites
people still crave the Good News
It is counter cultural to hear they do not have to launch a program of self improvement to earn God’s love.
They do not need to lose 50 pounds
or drive a certain kind of car
or work a certain job or put on their Sunday best
or smile when their life is falling apart.
They can come to Jesus as they are
knowing that God has accepted them at their best and even at their worst.
This is a message that the world is hungry for—
and our church is sharing it, here in New England.
At OSLC, we also share the Good News of God’s acceptance of us, just as we are.
As Larry has said, Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
In our testimonies when we pass the microphone
people have been honest about illness, struggles, and risks in their lives
folks feel comfortable to cry when they are moved here
people actually sing, even if they don’t have the best singing voice.
You don’t have to be a certain age to serve here, or being able to walk or see
is not a requirement to be a full participant.
By our inclusion we show that God accepts and uses each of us in our strength and weakness.
This is Reformation Sunday, a day when we lift up that we are “justified by grace as a gift”
as it says in Romans.
God accepts us and loves us not because of our efforts of trying to be good
but because God chooses to love us—and chooses it again and again.
God loved us so much that God sent Jesus to be among us, even to suffer and die with us.
God chose us with an everlasting love, and there is nothing we can to augment it or change it.
Dean’s funeral was a great message – God loved Dean, and God loves us, as is.
That’s what we stand for, and what we strive to live.
That’s the Good News the world needs to hear, and we need to share.
Children’s Sermon: Blind Barty
I would like you to help me tell the Gospel story today.
Barty had always had an inquiring mind. Show me how Barty would look:
He got down close to the ground to inspect ants at the work
He put his eye up to the hole in a tree to see what was inside
He even squinted to see the tiny stitches in his grandmother’s sewing.
Barty was interested in everything.
But Barty’s eyes were weak.
and the more he used them, the more they failed.
By the time Barty was your age, he could no longer see.
Put on these glasses to see what it was like (have kids put on sunglasses/3D glasses)
In Barty’s eyes, everything was a big blurry blob.
People began to see him that way too—
no longer was Barty the smart kid or the boy who could sew or even Timaeus’ son,
he was just Blind Barty—good only for begging.
One day, though, Jesus came by the road where Blind Barty sat begging.
Of course Barty had heard about Jesus— he was a healer!
So Barty started shouting, Son of David! Have mercy on me!
Can you shout that with me: Son of David! Have mercy on me!
But people tried to shut him up.
Barty kept on calling— join me--- Son of David! Have mercy on me!
and Jesus heard him.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
What do you think he said?
“Let me see again!”
Do you know what happened?
“Your faith has made you well.”
Jesus’ job was about healing people and the world around them.
It’s our job too.
Whenever we share with the hungry or pray for the sick or visit the lonely
we are helping Jesus heal the world.
So now it’s time for us to take off our glasses.
Let’s say Jesus’ words as we take them off:
“Your faith has made you well.”