GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
Ken Haugk, the founder of Stephen Ministry, recalls, “While in graduate school, I taught an introductory college psychology course at a community center. All my students were black. In fact, almost everyone connected with the community center was black. From the time I arrived at the center until I returned home, I rarely saw another white person.
“Going to the classroom one evening, I saw a security guard coming up the stairs toward me. He was white. My immediate response was a friendly “Hello!” He responded in kind. After we passed, I wondered about my enthusiastic greeting. The reason for it—and probably his as well—was that we were both Caucasian, surrounded by people who were not.
“Such behavior based on color indicates that there is a certain commonality or community transcending any previous contact or lack of it. There is a certain shared experience in being white, as there is a certain shared experience in being black.”
It may be uncomfortably hearing about this experience of Dr. Haugk based on race or color. But it is true that we are drawn to people with whom we share common background or experience. I know when I came to Central Lutheran Church, I was glad to meet here some folks who came from my hometown, Moorhead, Minnesota; had attended or graduated from my college, Concordia; even some from my home congregation, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church—well, the former was Wally Swanson; Karen Berg; really all the rest amount to Norma Vettrus. I was glad to share connections with many of you—it made me feel at home.
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This summer I had the privilege of attending the Stephen Leaders’ Training in Pittsburgh. Most of the other attendees seemed to be Methodist or Presbyterian. Then I met a fellow from Atlanta, Mike. On his name tag, I read “Lutheran.” Well, it seemed like I had met someone from home. He told me he was new to the Lutheran Church and maybe wasn’t all that Lutheran. It didn’t matter. I felt like I had found a friend. Being Lutheran was good enough. Some of our Central youth were in San Antonio this summer at the Lutheran Youth Gathering. They were amazed that there were so many other Lutherans in this country. Alex remarked that it was wonderful being with so many other Lutheran young people. I guess it may feel lonely being a Lutheran here in Eugene. It felt that way for me at Stephen Leaders’ Training last summer.
And it sometimes feels lonely being a Christian too. We just got back from Japan. I don’t think I have found nicer people anywhere in our travels. Kind and hospitable, ready to help a family of lost Americans who couldn’t speak their language or figure out their signs. We asked one woman on the street for help our hotel in Kyoto. She couldn’t read the Romaji, the English alphabet writing for the address but she could read the telephone number. She pulled out her cell phone and called to get directions. In Inuyama, a little boy of about seven or eight got off the bicycle he was riding to walk us to the train station. It was a good eight blocks away. One man had been golfing out in the country. He saw we were befuddled and rode with us and showed us how to change trains to get back from Ise. None of these people spoke English, but all were kind and helpful. But few of the Japanese people are Christians—maybe two per cent. I remember riding the subway in Tokyo and across from me was a young man wearing a tee shirt with these words: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with your God?” I don’t know if he was a Christian, but to wear a shirt with these words from Micah, made me think that sitting across from me, someone half my age, was a brother in Christ. I felt a commonality that I didn’t usually feel.
What we have in common here at Central Lutheran Church and across the country and world is our faith in Jesus Christ. St Paul writes to the Galatians,
“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male or female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
We do not find our common ground in similar background or ethnicity—we may have come from the Midwest or have Norwegian, Swedish or German background but that is not why we are here today. It is not because we have similar educational levels or political ideas or social standing. We aren’t all alike. We don’t think alike or even believe alike, but we are here because we all believe in the Lord Jesus. We are united through our baptism in the name of the Triune God and we are one as we gather in the supper of the Lord. We are one in Christ.
I was the interim pastor of Christ the Mediator Lutheran Church in Chicago for almost two years. Christ the Mediator is a small congregation on the Southside. Perhaps two thirds of the membership is African-American, one third white. Many of the members were professors at the University of Chicago or the Lutheran School of Theology, some were students; many others had little formal education. Some lived in posh apartments with a view of Lake Michigan. There were some who lived in the projects. While I was interim pastor there in the mid 1980s, I met my first person with AIDS. He was welcomed into the congregation. Christ the Mediator was the first congregation I knew where gay and lesbian people were welcomed openly. There were many reasons why it should have been a divided congregation, but it was perhaps the most unified church I have ever been with because they knew who they were and whose they were. Those people knew that as different as they all were, they were united in their faith in Christ. They gathered around God’s Word and the sacraments, and that was enough.
Today is Chi Rho Sunday. If you had been at the first service you would have heard Dr. Daniel Falk preach on the authority of the Bible. We have heard him at the various Chi Rho lectures and will again this afternoon. In our texts this morning we see that the Scriptures are centered in Christ. As Christians, we find our center in Christ, our unity in the Lord Jesus; so does the Bible. The Old Testament points forward to Christ. The first lesson, from Isaiah; speaks of the suffering servant, the Messiah who would bear the sins of the world and be put to death. The Hebrews lesson shows how the writer of that book went back to the Scriptures, the Old Testament, to find there a type of Christ in a king and priest of Salem named Melchizedek. He used those Bible passages to explain his message. It is called Midrash—the Bible interpreting itself by using other Bible passages.
We as Lutherans use the same principle in interpreting the Bible. We do not have any authority designated to interpret the Bible for us, not a pope or the bishops or pastors of the church, not church conventions, not even biblical scholars. All these can offer insights but stand under the authority of the Scriptures not above the Scriptures. Nor do we hold to any doctrine of individual discernment and judgment. The Bible is not subject to the ideas and ideals of any individual.
Thomas Jefferson could expunge all parts of the New Testament to arrive at a Jesus that he found believable and in whom he could believe—he literally cut those passages out of his Bible; but we are not called to delete the parts of the Bible we don’t understand or don’t like. We do not sit in judgment upon the Scriptures; they sit in judgment upon us. But if we hold to the hermeneutical principle that the Scriptures interpret themselves, then we will find that the center of the Scriptures is Jesus. We understand what the Scriptures are telling us as we look to Christ and see there the love of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting offered us by God through Jesus Christ.
When we see Christ at the center of the Scriptures, we are humbled. We have a suffering Lord who loved us enough to take our sins and tell us that by His stripes we are healed. The divisions that we have as humans between us and God and between us as fallen creatures are reconciled in Christ. We are people of a book that tells us that God is love not hate, that proclaims faith as the way to abundant life not anything that we are or must do, that tells us we are one people no matter who we are because of whose we are.
At the center of the Bible is Christ. At the center of the Church is Christ. In the center of our hearts is the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.