The Creative and Promised Life We Receive with Christ in our Hearts, a Sermon for August 9, 2015
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 9th of August, 2015
Kings 19:4-8 Psalm 34:7-8 Ephesians 4:25-5:2 John 6:35, 41-51
The Creative and Promised Life We Receive with Christ in our Hearts
You may not have heard this song:
Be kind to one another, be tender-hearted too; forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you. These words are very precious. They’re also very true. They are found in the Bible: Ephesians 4:32.
An African American teacher in our Vacation Church School and Day Camp in St. Paul’s Coney Island taught us that song. She came to work in our school and day camp with her friend, who was a small but strong woman, who became our bus driver. These were the first jobs these women had, which our church provided for them. Later she worked in security for the Parks Department and her friend became a bus driver. Her husband had married her down South and brought her up to Brooklyn keeping her like a captive in their apartment in a thirty story high-rise. He refused to let her out of the front door to start working. She had to have a fist-fight with him to get out of the door, but then after starting with us, she entered the work-force.
Those are memories. But we need to make things happen here today so they become future memories for tomorrow. To start something where there was nothing is a divine prerogative. Some of you have helped out Pastor Doris Ng in Grace Laotian where she had a one week music camp. A six to eight week Vacation Church School and Day Camp like we had in Coney Island would not work here, because we don’t have oodles of deprived children trapped in projects with nothing to do all summer. But we could have a music night with an open mic on Fridays. If we all picked it up, we’d be surprised by what could come of it. A whole throng of people, young and old gather for the open mic at the East Bay Coffee House in Old Pinole and it seems to be like a mission headed toward becoming a church. Just before Pastor Marty started here at Christ Lutheran in 1974, the congregation started a Senior Center. Now there are two Spanish classes, a German class with Sylvia its teacher, regular speakers, a wonderful dinner; and last time I counted, 24 people learning how to play the Ukulele. Don’t you wonder what Christ will make of Brewing Hope that Pastor Barbara is shaping? Or what might come of our choir singing in Bethlehem Lutheran Church and their Gospel choir singing here at Christ? Wow! Hold tight. God is not finished with us yet.
But the same also goes for your calling out in the world. You may want to get the capital together to start a business; then your enterprise becomes something where there was nothing. But it has to be designed to fill a real need and not be a mere façade rigged up to rip off people. My son received a loan offer from an outfit call Springleaf. Their slogan: Lending made personal. Their interest for a $5,250 loan was first 35.61%, then on a second try, 32.53%. “Get a fast, friendly, affordable loan,” they write! Anything over 5% can be considered the sin of usury, because it is theft. For four years he would have to pay $1,166 a year to pay for that small amount of money. Where is the consumer protection agency?
Our lesson says, “Thieves give up stealing; rather labor and work honestly with your hands so as to have something to share with the needy.” In Coney Island the Mob gave loans. We were not supposed to call them the Mafia, but the Mob. They were loan sharks, but they didn’t charge 35%. Of course, they would break your legs or shoot you if you didn’t pay up.
A business should not be a thin disguise designed to rip off people. A company came four times to fix our refrigerator, charged thousands of dollars to the maker who guaranteed it and never fixed the problem. Another company was honest and really fixed it in two visits.
A good company meets a need and honestly fills it; but it really requires those who start it to work very hard; at least at first. With his partner one of my sons started two vegan restaurants called Sluggos, one in Pensacola and one in Chattanooga. They only hire musicians, who receive their livelihood from their work together and they then go out and do their musical gigs and tours. He found a way to help artists who can’t make a living nowadays with their music.
Being creative is part and parcel of having the marvelous freedom of Christians. The guidelines that Paul gives us are not so much obligations as gifts. Christ comes and lives in our hearts by faith and that makes it so that we will never ever be hungry or thirsty again. “By the power [of Christ] at work within us, [God] is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.” That is real. I can witness to it. I remember how we took our first bus into Coney Island and the way 66 children packed it and seemed to be hanging all over it coming to our first day of vacation church school and day camp!
God can do great things because we get a change of heart: from one that is not to be understood, desperately corrupt, and deceitful above all things to the living and vibrant heart of Christ, throbbing with compassion for the needy and lost in this world.
So these strictures in Ephesians are not obligations, but descriptions of our new life in Christ. We put away falsehood, like Jon Stewart, and speak up when we smell the baloney. (I can’t use the language of the Daily Show), but we should certainly be able to discern the phony news and deceptive politics from the entertainment that masquerades as news, real politics, or real advice on the business channel. And that of course also goes for worship. We can’t replace worship with entertainment. We enter the presence of God and we open our hearts so that God can transform them. Then we worship Christ and him crucified, so the cross is always in our midst. And we confess our sin to be forgiven to overcome our sin so that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
For example, it is all right to be angry. But it is no excuse for becoming irresponsible. And we have to bring up what is upsetting us and talk it through. When we remain angry over many days, then it can grow cold and turn into apathy and hatred. We still don’t know how to cure the common cold, but Paul tells us how not to catch a spiritual cold. Paul wants us to imitate God and live in love, the way Christ loved us. That is the promised life!
Elijah was fighting for this very same faith way back in the Old Testament; the faith that promised us Jesus Christ. Queen Jezebel introduced the fertility religion of Baal worship into Israel and elected 95 priests for Baal worship. King Ahab and Jezebel were out to kill Elijah and he was on the lam. He had come to the point of utter exhaustion under that broom tree, a kind of juniper that grows in the desert. But an angel baked bread for him on hot stones woke him up, bid him eat, and gave him a jar of water. But because he still could not get up, she gave him seconds. On the strength of that food he was able to journey to Horeb, the Mount of God, for forty days and forty nights. The number forty is short-hand for a time of suffering.
That is the food that Jesus is also talking about. He is the bread of heaven. He feeds us with his own self, offers his life for us. Thus his body is food indeed and his blood drink indeed. We receive him through the word that is preached. Hearing the word of God we receive him into ourselves as we digest his word, which is the bread of life come down to us from heaven. In his writing, “The Sacrament of the Body and Blood – against the Fanatics” Luther says, “Again I preach the Gospel of Christ and with my bodily voice, I bring Christ into your heart, so that you may form him within yourself.” When we die with Christ in our hearts then we are also raised in his resurrection. But even here and now Christ within us strengthens our hearts and therefore not only to go through everything here on earth, but also for the life that we will be raised to live on that day. Christ with the strength of God also has the power to take humanity out of today’s nose dive and raise us all up to be new creatures, making everything new, like watching an early morning sunrise and seeing the world become new and everything in the world coming alive again. So we too can get up in that great day that the Lord has made and imitate God by making something out of nothing. So let’s have communion together here and anticipate the great banquet to come, when we share the bread of heaven. Amen.
 Cf. Ephesians 3:20.
 Jeremiah 17:9.
 Timothy Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 319.