Mark 1:21-28 • January 28, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
This weekend begins the longest season of the church’s year – the time after Pentecost or Ordinary Time. It’s a season of the year when we will spend a significant amount of our time with Jesus and his disciples in the early days of their mission to share God’s grace wherever they are.
I’m also fully aware of the fact that for many families in our congregation this is not a season known as the time after Pentecost – it’s a season known as summer traveling sports.
I recently heard a story of a youth soccer coach who canceled a game because there was only one referee instead of three. It was a regular season game with 12-year old boys. He refused to use parent volunteers, as was often done in situations like this. Who knows why this man started coaching youth soccer, but somewhere along the line he lost his purpose for coaching kids. He missed the point that youth soccer exists so kids can have fun, exercise, and play soccer, regardless of how many referees you have at a game or whether or not those refs are parent volunteers.
It’s easy for us to get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it.
This weekend was the annual Synod Assembly of our Western North Dakota Synod. It’s an annual gathering of every congregation in the synod. Synod Assembly gives us a chance to refocus on the point, our shared purpose. Refocus on why we do what we do as a church. And, as we are renewed in that focus, we return to our congregations and communities to show others all that God’s grace has done and is doing.
One of the highlights of Synod Assembly each year is a video piece that is produced specifically for this event. It highlights much of the work that we do together as part of a church known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A church of more than 3.5 million Lutheran Christians in the United States alone that gather together in more than 9,000 congregations.
Since only 9 members of Good Shepherd who were able to serve as voting members at Synod Assembly have seen this video before today, I thought it’d be good to share it with all of you on this Synod Assembly weekend. It relates exceptionally well to our time together in worship today and the mission and ministry God is calling us into at Good Shepherd “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton begins this year’s Synod Assembly video by asking the question “What is distinctly Lutheran about our witness to the gospel?” The video then reflects entirely upon that question and what she most often hears.
Our understanding of grace as Lutheran Christians, as this year’s Synod Assembly video reminds us, is that God’s grace does not depend on us. One of the key theological lenses by which we have lived out our faith as Lutheran Christians over the past 500 years is that receiving God’s grace is not up to us. It’s not about us and never has been. Never will be either.
God’s grace is a pure and free gift to us from God.
In the 16th Century, church reformer Martin Luther – the reason why we call ourselves Lutheran today – went so far as to proclaim this about grace. “Grace does so much that we are counted completely righteous before God.” Luther wrote, “For grace is not divided or parceled out, but takes us completely into favor for the sake of Christ our intercessor and mediator.”
As Jesus heals the man who had the withered hand on the Sabbath day, the good news of Jesus Christ – God’s grace given to us, is on full display. Freeing the man once crippled to new found freedom in order for him to be able to share God’s grace in ways never possible before.
One of the roles of the Sabbath day was to set God’s people apart. In a reflection on this gospel story, one theologian said that “You could tell who the Jews were because they kept the Sabbath. So what sets Lutheran Christians apart?” They asked. “If someone walked into your home could they tell you were a follower of Jesus? If someone watched you go through your day would you appear somehow different or set apart from those who were not Christian?” [www.sundaysandseasons.com – lectionary illustration]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, here is the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ for us today – God’s grace is too big for any of us to contain.
It’s by God’s grace that you are here today.
And its’ by God’s grace that you will be sent from this time of worship today.
And it’s by God’s grace that you have been set apart to share God’s love with others you meet this week.
God’s grace is not limited only to people who you already know or who believe the right way or the same way you do.
God’s grace comes to all.
As people of faith, people just like you and me, we have joy knowing whom to thank for that gift. The gift of God’s grace. Amen.