Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
INI + AMEN.
There’s all sorts of religion out there. Jesus talks about that today: “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” “Offering service” means “offering worship” or even more loosely, “doing religion.” Naturally, human beings think that’s how it goes. Do stuff for god and get something in return: heaven, stuff, money, power, crops, whatever. But what about the “one holy Christian and Apostolic Church” that we just confessed in the Nicene Creed?
Is the foundation of the Church something you think or do or say? Is what happens here because of you? Is what you do why the Church exists? Or, think about it this way: when you breathe and you feel it, you can control your breath, but if you don’t think about breathing, it goes on. You breathe whether you think about it or not. Your heart beats whether you want it to or not, and the same goes for digestion, blood circulation, and how your bones take shape. Do you or don’t you do these things? Well, you do, but yet you don’t, do you? As much as you want to believe you can control yourself, choose your thoughts, emotions, words, and actions, in the end, you don’t have to decide to switch your brain on, or your heart, or your toes. It just happens all at once, and you don’t have much of a say about it either way.
In the same way, the Church is and stays the Church whether you decide it is or not. You don’t decide or choose to turn Jesus on or control the movements of the Spirit. You don’t get to decide when God enters and leaves the building, or what He does in the meantime. He just goes and does everything that makes the Church the Church, all at once for you. The Spirit gives you God’s love in simple earthly words, water, bread and wine. Jesus gives Himself to you as Gift in this way through these means, whether you’re aware of what He’s doing or not. Like Abigail Rose this morning. You can pull out a microscope to dissect it or blind yourself to ignore it, but it doesn’t matter. God will be God for you in the way of Jesus, in the way of the Good News that He forgives and loves you, in the way of comfort and hope, and Gospel preachers, and Sacraments, and selfless love. He does this for you all at once, and it’s all connected underneath what you can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. Now, if that upsets you or you don’t like that, well that’s just too bad. It’s pointless for you to worry because you don’t decide or choose how God will be God for you, for your benefit. He didn’t ask you about how He will set up His Church to be the place where He does His Christ-Jesusing for you.
Now, if you’re a religious person who believes God chooses to make you the foundation of the Church, or that He makes what you do for Him the reason the Church exists, then this is the biggest bad news of all, and it should come as no surprise to you at all that Jesus says religious people will kill those who lean entirely on Him for their every need whether it’s faith needs or plain old life needs.
It should come as no surprise at all that religious people think they’re offering worship to God when they kick out, banish, and even kill those they’d call deluded, those few who believe Jesus’ faithfulness is given to you as gift, and this gifting results in you having faith. Jesus’ selfless love is given to you as gift, so that you can love each other selflessly. Jesus’ works and ways, His suffering and death, everything that is Jesus’—even (and especially) His resurrection—is given to you as gift so that you don’t have to worry if He will still be here for you later today, or tomorrow, or next week, or at the minute of your death.
What do you do when God sends you a preacher to announce the Good News that the Church that Jesus Christ founded and preserves to this day doesn’t depend on your doing for God or each other? Well, you could tune him out. Be silent about what God’s doing through him. You could also shoot the messenger, of course. (Please don’t do that!) You could make your thinking, talking, and doing bigger and bigger, and all His doing for you smaller and smaller. Less Gospel, less gifts, less selfless love. In other words, more you and less Jesus for you.
But that’s okay. If some do that, the Church exists whether you shoot the messenger or not. Jesus will still be Savior and His Gifts will still be given away for free, and faith, hope, and love will grow and thrive whether you want them to or not, because you can kill the messenger, but you can’t kill God… Well, not again, anyways.
But for you who cling to Jesus, who believe you must decrease and He must increase, who confess, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” here’s the Good News: The foundation of the Church is the water and blood that spurted from Jesus’ pierced side. The reason the Church exists is because God’s Spirit sends Gospel preachers, “enlightens [you] with His Gifts,” declares you “holy,” and “keeps [you] in the true faith.” “In [His] Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all [your] sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise [you] and all the dead and give eternal life to [you] and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
So, despite those who say there’s gotta be something else, who try to convince you that you’re missing out on something by making the Church all about Jesus and His gifts, ignore them. Pay attention to the Font and the Altar and the Pulpit. Enjoy loving and forgiving each other Jesus much. And when the religious leaders and their followers insult you, scold you, vilify you, kick you out, or even kill you… Well, celebrate, because they did the same thing to your Lord. And remember how that turned out. Three days later He exploded out of the tomb, and since He makes you a part of that explosion in Baptism, that’s your gift, too. Resurrection from death is your destiny. Now, that’s Jesus’ “religion.”
INI + AMEN.