The Christian Life

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

My mother – God love her.

When I got to the age when I would sleep over at a friend’s
house,

 Or go out
to dinner with the neighbors,

 Or go to
birthday parties down the street,

Just before I would leave the house,

 And as she
was invariably fixing my hair,

Straightening my collar or reminding me to tie my shoes,

My mother would always give me the same instructions:

 Remember
your Pleases and your Thank Yous,

 And be a
Good and Fine Christian Child.

Be a Good and Fine Christian Child.

What does that mean?

 

What does it mean to be a Christian?

 

Two self-professed Christians are running for President of
the

United States

.

George Bush and John Kerry have both talked about faith

 As a deeply
personal and influential presence in their lives.

John Kerry has talked about growing up in the church,
serving as an altar boy,

 Considering
the priesthood and being inspired by Catholic social teaching.

George Bush has described his conversion, the importance of
Bible study and prayer,

and his sense that faith that guides his actions.

And though each candidate ends many a speech with, “God
bless

America

,”

 Many of
their faith-inspired policies and perspectives are quite different.

And so, the question again:

 What does
it mean to be a Christian?

 

What does it mean to be a Christian?

The 1960s Christian youth anthem sings,

“They will know we are Christians by our love.”
 Love – is that what makes us
Christians?

Or beliefs? Do our
stances on abortion, prayer in school, war, capital punishment,

 Aid for the
poor, the environment – do these issues make us Christian?

Or is it actions? Serving others, studying our Bible, praying daily,

sharing the Good News, doing good works.

What is it that makes us Christian?

 

Well, I doubt it is anything that we do.

 

Being a Christian is nothing more than being baptized.

Being made a Christian is God’s act –

 God reaches
out to us in baptism,

 Claims us
in Water and Word,

 Wraps us in
his wet and comforting embrace

 And says,
“this is my child.”

We didn’t do anything for it,

we didn’t do anything to complete it,

we didn’t do anything to make it stick.

It stuck because God has acted –

 We are
baptized children of God,

 Members of
Christ’s church,

 Part of the
family of faith that stretches from the cross to today,

 Across the
world and across the street –

 We
are connected and made whole by God who acted first in our lives.

All who are baptized are Christians –

 There is no
hierarchy in the eyes of God.

Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism, reminds us that this
act of God in baptism

 Is a great
comfort for us.

When we are afflicted by sin or distress or doubt,

 When we
question our Christian identity or the gift of grace,

Luther suggests that we lean on the promise of baptism and
say,

 “But I am
baptized! And if I have been baptized,

I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal
life,

both in soul and body.”

Dear friends, we have this promise of life and love,

 From our
Lord Jesus Christ, who has claimed us in baptism and made us his own.

 

So the question is not what makes us a Christian, but who.

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, the beloved Son of God,

 Has made us
into his own, and we bear his name – Christians.

We can’t shake it. This promise is permanent. We are
God’s Children. Period.

 

From here on in, the discussion about what it means to be a
Christian

is second order stuff.

Salvation is secured, the promise is firm.

But how, dear friends, do we walk or live or act in this
world as Christians?

 

Don’t expect much of an answer from me.

John Kerry & George Bush – is one candidate “more
Christian” than the other?

 Well, both
are baptized children of God.

 If being a
Christian is defined by the one who makes us whole,

 Not
by our acts or faith or life,

Then both are Christian and any religious evaluation of the
candidates becomes tenuous.

And what about my mother’s instructions?

 If I went
to a friend’s house for dinner

 And forgot
a few pleases and thank yous,

 And
even if I misspoke or in some way strayed from my mother’s directive to be a
good and fine Christian Child,

 I was still
a Christian – for Christ has made me that way.

 

You see, we often want to say that Christians

have a specific moral or political or behavior code to which
they must adhere. 

A Christian President, some think, would act or lead in a
certain way. 

Christians live, act, think, believe in specific ways,

And this code of conduct can lead to a litmus test.

If you don’t live or act or believe in this particular way,

 Perhaps
you’re not a Christian.

All of a sudden, we get into a game of moral comparison,

Evaluating others for their degree of religiosity or piety.

A hierarchy is created – the strong in faith at one end,

 The weak on
the other end.

 

In today’s Gospel text, our Pharisee friend seems to fall
into a similar trap.

He is blessed with the ability to tithe – to give 10% of
everything he has! –

 And to
practice great spiritual discipline – fasting twice per week!!!

He’s following the accepted code of behavior for believers.

And yet, for all these wonderful faith-traits –

and they are wonderful and admirable – we should be so
devout! –

 He’s
mistaken a bit.

His mistake is not in his acts of faith, and not even in his
pride of those acts –

 His mistake
is in making a distinction between him and his fellow believer,

That somehow his acts of faith made him better or stronger
or higher

than his fellow worshipper.

 That
somehow his piety,

his religious adherence separated him from the others,

like separating the varsity players from those who couldn’t
even make the JV squad..

There in the Temple,

The Pharisee separates himself from the tax collector and
stands alone in the front.

 Yet before
God, they are the same,

 Standing in
the same place.

 

And what about our tax collector?

Something drove him to that place –

 We don’t
know what it is,

but this man who conspires with the occupying foreign army

was driven to prayer.

He doesn’t even look up or lift his hands,

 As was the
manner of prayer in his day,

 But just mutters
a few repentant words, echoing Psalm 54:

 Lord have
mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

And what happens to this man? 

 Jesus says
he walks away justified.

Chances are he knew it, too.

I doubt he prayed and just left the Temple feeling as
miserable as when he entered there.

No, I am sure that he heard or experienced or otherwise saw
the Good News –

 That his
sins are forgiven, that his live is renewed,

 That
despite his shortcomings, God has claimed him.

It is as if God said to him,

Dear child of mine, your life and your relationship to me

is not put at risk because of your sins.

I am in charge of this relationship, and you are mine –
always have been, always will be.

 Hear this
Good News – you are renewed, you are alive.

Go, walk and live in my grace, my joy, my love.

The tax collector’s prayer recalls what in the Large
Catechism

Luther calls the essence of a genuinely Christian life –

 To
acknowledge that we are sinners and to pray for grace.

 

And so, if we want to say anything about the Christian Life
today,

 It has
something to do with confession and receiving forgiveness.

Christians are a people in need of forgiveness,

 And as such
the Christian life involves hearing that Good Word of forgiveness.

We, dear friends, are nurtured by that Word,

 That Word
that reaches out and tells us that we are God’s children,

Standing together, side by side, equal before God,

 That we are
forgiven, that we are justified,

that we are made whole by Jesus Christ.

So here we are, Christians, filled with God’s love and
gifted with grace,

We are tax collectors gathered together to confess and we
are gathered to be forgiven.

And that is Good News. Thanks be to God!

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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