Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord
My mother – God love her.
When I got to the age when I would sleep over at a friend’s
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:
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
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,
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
their faith-inspired policies and perspectives are quite different.
And so, the question again:
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
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 –
out to us in baptism,
in Water and Word,
Wraps us in
his wet and comforting embrace
“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 –
baptized children of God,
Part of the
family of faith that stretches from the cross to today,
world and across the street –
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,
question our Christian identity or the gift of grace,
Luther suggests that we lean on the promise of baptism and
“But I am
baptized! And if I have been baptized,
I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal
both in soul and body.”
Dear friends, we have this promise of life and love,
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
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?
are baptized children of God.
If being a
Christian is defined by the one who makes us whole,
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
a few pleases and thank yous,
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
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,
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! –
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
mistaken a bit.
His mistake is not in his acts of faith, and not even in his
pride of those acts –
is in making a distinction between him and his fellow believer,
That somehow his acts of faith made him better or stronger
than his fellow worshipper.
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.
God, they are the same,
the same place.
And what about our tax collector?
Something drove him to that place –
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:
mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
And what happens to this man?
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 –
sins are forgiven, that his live is renewed,
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.
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
Luther calls the essence of a genuinely Christian life –
acknowledge that we are sinners and to pray for grace.
And so, if we want to say anything about the Christian Life
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 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!