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Matthew 5:21-37 • February 13, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
I’ve been called a pretty committed optimist by many people over the years. I’m not sure that I think of myself as an optimist though. Being an optimist feels limiting to me. It feels too predictable. Too easy. And at times it places an incredible weight on my shoulders as I try to maintain control.
Instead, I like to think of myself as a seeker of the Gospel. I have had the great joy and privilege to participate in a few events recently that affirm what I think it means to be a seeker of the Gospel. One event happened yesterday when I was invited to participate in the ordination of a friend of mine into the priesthood of the Episopal Church. The gospel reading was offered in the middle of the community. I found that to be a profound and moving way to hear and receive the gospel.
The second event also took place yesterday as I joined about 200 brothers and sisters in Christ from across our synod for a day of conversation, study, and fellowship with the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson who was in Bismarck yesterday.
The third event I’ll talk about in a few minutes.
These events have challenged the idea of being called to be a seeker of the gospel. As a seeker of the gospel, I try to discover and lift up all of the ways that I see and experience and feel the good news of God’s activity in my life, in my work and ministry, and in all of my relationships – personal, spiritual, and professional.
I think that in many ways, the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew calls us to be seekers of the Gospel.
All of us have been an active participant at one time or another in Jesus teaching today. And I’m guessing that if you were listening to what I just said, you are either squirming a little bit in your pew or you are thinking of ways that you can justify that you have no connection with what Jesus is saying. So, let me offer it again in case you missed it – all of us, you and I, have been an active participant at one time or another in what Jesus is teaching today.
But you may be asking how in the world am I supposed to relate to this? I’ve never murdered anyone. I’m not divorced. I try to avoid swearing for the most part.
Jesus is serious here – that seems pretty clear. Jesus takes us to hard places that challenge us to look deep into ourselves, to places that many of us are often unwilling to go, in order for newness to begin and grow. All of us have committed murder. All of us have caused a relationship to be destroyed. All of us have not been entirely truthful at one time or another.
Seeking the Gospel is not simply a list of behaviors that we are supposed to try to obtain or rules that we are supposed to follow or laws that we must try to remember not to break. In order for us to be seekers of the Gospel and hear God’s yes given to us in and through Jesus, we are called to live our lives rooted in relationship. Relationship with God AND relationship with each other. Those relationships and the ways in which we engage them, affect who we are as children of God.
I was recently part of a First Call Theological Education workshop at Metigoshe Ministries in Bottineau. Pastor Dick Hendrickson, who grew up at Good Shepherd and has served for several years as the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Garrison, shared a wonderful story about Mr. Rogers during one of our worship times at this workshop.
I’m not sure if I ever openly admitted this before. And I know I’ve never admitted it in a large public gathering like this before. Growing up and even still today, I really enjoy Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. One of the reasons I enjoyed Mr. Roger’s as a child was often because of the great musicians he had as a guests on the show. And one of the reasons I enjoy Mr. Roger’s as an adult is because I think his teaching is about seeking the gospel. Seeking the gospel in the neighborhood, so to speak.
I don’t know how many of you know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian pastor. He tells a story in the book The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers (pg. 33-35) about an experience he had while in seminary. Pastor Dick shared this story with us at Lake Metigoshe. I share it with you today and give thanks to Dick for sharing it with me recently.
Mr. Roger’s was on a weekend vacation in a little town in New England midway through his seminary education. One Sunday, he decided to go and hear a visiting preacher in the town’s chapel. The sermon he heard that day was the worst sermon he had ever heard before. Mr. Rogers sat in the pew thinking, “He’s going against every rule they’re teaching us about preaching. What a waste of time!” That’s what he thought until the end of the sermon when he happened to see the person sitting beside him with tears in her eyes whispering, “He said exactly what I need to hear.” It was then that Mr. Rogers realized that something very important had happened that day. The woman beside him had come to worship in need. Somehow the words of that poorly crafted sermon had been translated into a message that spoke to her heart. On the other hand, he had come in judgment and heard nothing but the faults.
It took a while, but Mr. Rogers eventually realized that the lousy sermon he heard on that day turned into one of the greatest lessons of his life. He said of that day, “Thanks to that preacher and listener-in-need, I now know that the space between a person doing his or her best to deliver a message of good news and the needy listener is holy ground. Recognizing that seems to have allowed me to forgive myself for being the accuser that day. In fact, that New England Sunday experience has fueled my desire to be a better advocate, a better ‘neighbor,’ wherever I am.”
In a way, Mr. Rogers became a seeker of the gospel on that Sunday in a little town in New England. Maybe today is a similar day for you and I gathered in worship? A day when we need to be grounded again. A day when we need to stop for a moment so our need can be filled once again by God. A day when God says to us again that our life in faith is not about getting everything right or trying to climb a ladder to heaven filled with expectations that not one of us will ever be able to reach. Today is a day to become seekers of the gospel again.
As we live in relationship as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church we are seekers of the gospel as we celebrate Pastor Tim Johnson joining us in ministry this week.
We are seekers of the gospel as we discover new ways to provide musical opportunities for children’s choirs and a youth worship team in ways that we have never done before.
We are called to be seekers of the gospel.
Let us give thanks on this day and all days and never stop seeking on this journey of faith that we share in relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Amen.