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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Matthew 25:31-46
A voice pleaded between hacking coughs: “I’m a good person pastor. That matters to God doesn’t it?”I’ll be OK for heaven, right? I mean there are a lot of people who have done bad things, terrible things and I have been a good person, a good father. I’ve been kind. How could God not let me into heaven?”

A hacking cough. Lung Cancer. Facing tricky surgery, Bill was flat-out scared. Nurses prodded and poked. An IV line was rigged. Endless questions, releases to sign. More questions.
“Are you wearing any dental work?”
“Have you eaten anything since midnight?”
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“”What are you here for?”
“Surgery,” Bill coughed.”They’re taking part of my lung.”
“Which lung?”
“How the hell should I know,” Bill said. “The one with cancer in it.”
“Left lung,” a nurse said. Heads nodded in agreement.
Things were speeding up now.
EKG beeping for each heart beat.
He took my hand for prayer and for a moment everything just stopped and waited for us. What a powerful thing prayer is and can be. A time to speak of grace beyond measure; un-earnable, unattainable, unmerited by our goodness no matter how much we have banked in kind deeds and compassionate living. A time to lift up the assurance of God’s promise written in each of our hearts through Holy Baptism.

I am sure God loved Bill’s good deeds, but in claiming Bill as his own through his Baptism into Christ Jesus, God loved Bill with a saving love we call grace that all the good deeds in the world cannot buy or earn or claim. .

We read: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world

How is everyone feeling about your Baptism right now?
Pretty good?
Great even? Strong? Hopeful? Terrific?

A woman comes into my office with a baby. She wants to talk about Baptism.
“I want my child to have a blessing she said. The rest of that stuff, I’m not sure I buy, you know. Sins forgiven and eternal life and Child of God. All that church stuff. But I believe that it is a blessing and I want her to have it.”

How are you feeling about your Baptism? Pretty good?
To me a blessing is God shinning the light of God’s favor upon that which is blessed. Of sanctifying it – making it holy.

A blessing is fine, I tell her, but that is not what Baptism is, thank goodness. That doesn’t begin to describe what it is.
“You believe what you want to believe,” she said. “I believe that it is a blessing.”

The Lutheran understanding of Baptism, is that it is life from death. Forgiveness of sins. The promise of the Kingdom. One becomes part of the household of God. Salvation – the outpouring of God’s grace – so much more than merely a blessing.

But it would take more than a single conversation on an impatient afternoon with a fussy child in tow to explain. To teach. To offer another view, another possibility. Whatever she believed would not impact the thing itself. What God would do for that child in Baptism did not depend upon what the mother thought it was. Baptism is God’s act for us, not our act for God. It is what God does. God accomplishes. What it frees us to do.

Freed from the need to earn our salvation, an impossible task that would leave us in fear and worry our whole life long, instead we have been set free to see Christ in others. Not the people that we choose, but those whom God has chosen to place in our path, in our life, before us today, tomorrow, and every day. Strangers and friends, neighbors and co-workers. Children and adults. People completely different from us and perhaps sometimes, rare to be sure, even like us.

Richard Jensen, writing about this text, keyed me in to something that I think we need to hear. He points out that the sheep are utterly surprised that the things they did served the will of God. They were completely surprised that those things that they did were anything special. But when Lord, they say, when did we do those things for you?

The very people who take this text to heart don't even know that they are serving anyone, especially Christ. They have come to so embody the Christian life, freed by God's grace, that serving and loving neighbor is as natural as breathing. They have become as Paul writes in Ephesians "imitators of Christ."

I think this morning of little Natalia Santiago giving up her hair for “Locks of Love” - for the sake of a complete stranger . I think of Lyze in the early stages of another mission trip through school – this time to Honduras. Folks serving the homeless, the hungry, buying clothing for those without, the list goes on and on.

This parable isn't meant for us to figure out if we have been sheep or goats and plan for the afterlife accordingly, but rather offers for us a glimpse of what life lived as children of Kingdom, should be. It can be an uncomfortable and messy life, can't it? I think of Mother Theresa lovingly collecting up the neglected and rejected dying on the streets of Calcutta and caring for them along with her sisters during their final days and hours. Instead of dying in the gutter amid refuse and mud, they had clean beds. Instead of dying in filth, they were bathed and had their hair washed and combed. Instead of dying alone, they died among those who loved them because for Mother Theresa and her sisters, THEY WERE CHRIST.

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

That my friends is what Baptism has freed us to do.
How are you feeling about your baptism, right now?

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