Table of the Lord: Economics of the Kingdom: Good Shepherd Sunday, Immanuel in Alameda, CA
Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 15th 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alameda, California
Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 I Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10
The Table of the Lord
It is so good to be serving you with the Word of God once again, the way I did for you three months several summers ago. Now Pastor Bruce Johnson is taking you through your intentional interim period. I also took the intentional interim ministry training recently and I learned that the interim period between pastors is a crucial time for your congregation, for facing realities, preparing for new leadership, and taking commitment to new directions in mission and ministry. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and direct you in all that you do. Amen.
“I was glad,” when Pastor Johnson asked me to come and preach for you, “to come into your House of the Lord,” because your name, Immanuel, tells why. It means “God is with you,” “God is among you,” Christ, the Good Shepherd is really present here. As the text for this morning says, the Good Shepherd knows each one of you by name. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
“But now, thus saith the Lord, who created you, [O people of Immanuel], who formed you, [O, beloved of the Lord, all of you in this little flock]; do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name. You are mine” (43.1).
Yes, the Good Shepherd knows each of us by name, knows all our faults, all our troubles, and still gladly calls us his own, still forgives us, calls up ahead to swing wide open the gates of righteousness, opens the door to let us out and let us in, to be nourished with the provisions for God’s abundant life.
What we have to remember is that Christ is our Good Shepherd, even here in the interim period between pastors. Right now Christ is our door, our entrance into the abundant life, the great feast, the great end-time banquet that takes place in God’s House. Christ calls out ahead of us and the gates of righteousness swing open and we get to have the freedom to go in and out to drink of the still waters and feed in the lush green pastures.
In the commentary, that we pastors listen to in our Tuesday morning Bible studies to prepare for our sermons, because of our lesson in Acts, they said, don’t speak of economics. Why? Because it says that they shared everything in common; gave to each according to their needs and from each according to their gifts. How foolish can they be? We are in the House of the Lord and that does not mean these striking white buildings of this church, it means the reign of God. The House of the Lord means the reign of God. When we refer to the White House in this country, it stands for the rule and reign of the present administration. The name “Pharaoh” in the Bible means “the house of the king” in Egyptian and the Table of the Lord stands for the economics of the House of the Lord.
When we are baptized into the name of Christ, we drown and die to our old selves and are raised back up into our new Christ-like selves. We leave our society and enter the church, which can be understood as a way of life.
Entering that new way of life is what the resurrection is all about. Through the death of Christ we enter the abundant life, eternal life. Now, what happens when we die? All our earthly possessions, all our money, everything we had, become an inheritance for those we have left behind; not a tithe, not ten percent, nor one or two percent, but 100 percent goes to others, because we can’t take it with us. The more we believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, the more we suffer our baptisms, the more we leave an economy of scarcity and enter an economy of abundance. That move is accomplished by faith, which is the power of God, beginning to get to work in and among us.
That is why the first Christians shared all they had in common, because they had already been baptized. They had died with Christ and were raised up into the new fellowship called the church, where they lived out their faith in the newness of life as new selves, who could give and give, because they could go in and out of the House of the Lord and receive God’s body and blood, which is far more precious that money, from the Table of the Lord. Luther says that believing means having this abundance and not believing, leaves you with nothing. Seek first the kingdom of God, that is, the House of the Lord, and all these things will be added unto you. Make yourself number one and live selfishly and all these things will be subtracted from you.
In our society almost everything militates against a genuine Christian way of life. Mostly we are here on our own. Do you remember the silly B-movie, the “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman”? The actress, who was considered so beautiful in those days, died in her Beverly Hill home. She was only discovered about a year later! That is the gruesome nature of what we call rugged individualism. But Luther writes that we may have all been born from the womb of a woman and come into this world with a cry, breathing our first breath of common air. Whether we are kings, queens, celebrities, or poor people; we entered life the same way and we will all have a common departure when we die. Yet and still there is a great deal of inequality here and very little mutuality.
If I don’t take care of my own needs in this society, then I’ll go down the tubes, because we watch out for each other so little. We all have very heavy burdens watching out for ourselves, making a living, staying afloat. Those who don’t watch out for themselves soon get trampled underfoot.
As Christians, however, we follow Christ, who lived by faith. Therefore, we also have to grow in self-giving and sharing what we have in common. When we take our faith seriously, we soon find out that we go under. But that is the baptism of experience, the baptism of suffering, how the old Adam and Eve, our old selves die day by day and our new selves arise, our Christ-like selves rise up into being blessings for our neighbors, contributions to our world, those who renew our church and society by becoming ever more self-giving.
I’ll be the first to admit that that I have a lot of growing to do in this area. Perhaps you have to admit it too. I’ll give a beggar only a few quarters or perhaps a dollar. Luther says, if we really gave and shared in the abundance that our faith and baptisms freed up, there would be no beggars amongst us. Once or twice a year, I’ll put ten or twenty dollars into envelopes for Native Americans and I’ll drown in requests throughout the year for more. We get huge stacks of address labels, Native American blankets, (made in China), tote bags, cards and envelopes. “Didn’t you receive our free tote bag?” comes a reminder, because they expect a donation.
We have to share for those who live in the Tornado Alley states and all those who are under water, not because they can’t pay their mortgages, but who are literally seeing their houses go under water! Let’s rally ourselves like the singer, Hank Williams, Jr. and help out all those poor people who have lost their houses and all their possessions! I usually give through Lutheran World Relief, but this time I would designate it for those southern states and for those being flooded by the Mississippi. I don’t believe that the world will come to an end on May 21st according to the Family Radio fellow, but mother earth has certainly become more hostile lately.
Our faith needs to grow so that we become more self-giving. Our churches need to grow so they can give more to instigate the mutual love that helps us share more things in common. We are speaking of the House of the Lord and the Table of the Lord and the common life in our country, whose economic realities do not at all reflect the abundant life promised us by the Good Shepherd.
But Christ is the door, the entrance into that life. The Kingdom Christ proclaimed will come. God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That’s the promise and God’s Word will not return empty.
This life on earth is certainly not heaven, but we needn’t make it hell. We can only have pre-figurements of heaven. It takes our faith to receive a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven, the House of God. Perhaps a movie metaphor is more helpful. We can’t experience the feature presentation of heaven here on earth, but we can surely see the previews of the coming attractions. Our faith can give us a preview of the coming attractions of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The only trouble with heaven is that you have to go through hell to get there. I used to say that and then I found that Luther had said it too. But what good is it, if your whole life goes through heaven and you end up in hell? For example, look at Bernie Madoff, who “made off” with tens of billions of dollars and who stole so much misplaced human trust as well. He had his high-life, but now he has had to watch his son commit suicide, while he chirps like a jail-bird in prison.
When we live our faith it is the power of God working through us. Just a little faith could make Immanuel start jumping, change this church inside out, and bring renewal with its abundant life.
But it’s paradoxical. That means that God first fulfills God’s promises in the form of their opposites. That means it gets right into our passion story. A little bit of faith brings a great deal of suffering right with it. That is what St. Peter is getting at.
What good is it if you suffer because you have done wrong? If you are only a consumer, if you just want opportunity and are filled with selfish motivation that our society enflames, then before Christ we are really thieves and robbers. To follow Christ means self-denial. It is the passion story. Pick up the particular cross that belongs to you, the one they are going to nail you on, and follow Christ.
Thus we too will suffer; but we rejoice in our suffering. It’s by the stripes inflicted on Christ that we are healed. All the blows and insults and injuries, all the abuse that we receive, when it is for the cause of righteousness, when it is for the sake of Christ, God will marvelously change it into the healing of this church, the renewal, the resurrection of his body.
Wow! You really have had to go through a lot here in this congregation. On your way to Emmaus, Christ tells you, “Don’t you see that the body of Christ has to endure all these things to enter through the door into resurrected glory?”
Not having to go through it, because of having done wrong, of having lived selfishly; but having to go through it because of having had a little faith, even as tiny as a mustard seed, that faith is the power of God working through you. Look, if by the stripes, the whip-lashes on the back of Christ, we are healed; then by his death on the cross, we receive life, abundant, everlasting life.
It is true that sometimes we feel beaten into the ground. But in no way will Christ break the bruised reed, nor will he quench the dimly, burning, flickering candle wick (Isaiah 42:3). No, with a little bit of faith, Christ cups his hands around your candle, lets your flame recover, so you can hold your candle burning brightly up in the darkness of this world once again.
It was in the night in which he was betrayed, that our Lord remained completely faithful to us. Because of his death on the cross, even when we die, we will go through the valley of darkness, the valley of the shadow of death, through that wonderful door, through the heavenly gate of Christ and be with God. The wonderful feast in the House of God around the Table of the Lord awaits us. And even here on earth, God allows has to experience the previews of the coming attractions.
Let us pray: O Lord, we thank you for your holy Word, Jesus Christ. Help us go in and out of it in good faith, beside the still waters that quench our thirst and into the rich and lush green pastures that feed us. Thank you for the tiniest bit of faith, because it is your almighty love working through and among us. Help this congregation and change its suffering into a deeper quality of your love and let it all add to the music of Immanuel’s witness.
To you, O precious Lord, our Good Shepherd. You, who have called us by name; You to whom we belong, you, who have swung open the gates of righteousness for us; you, the door, the entrance into the abundant life: we praise and thank you, that by your grace, we have been saved and we ask that day by day, you add to our number, those whom you are saving. Amen.
 Luther is quoting the Book of Wisdom 7:1-6. I render his words quite freely. Here they are verbatim. “Were we not all born from a woman’s womb, and were we not all cast wailing upon the earth, as is stated in the Book of Wisdom? There we read, ‘And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like that of all. I was nursed with care in swaddling clothes. For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all [hu]man kind one entrance into life, and a common departure.’”