Archive for november, 2015

Sermon in the church of S:t John i Schweinfurt – The General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.

Nov 24

Sermon in Bavaria – General Synod opening service 2015-11-22. Rom 12:3-13
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Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ! What an honor it is for me to be together with you here at the opening service of your General Synod. It´s not only a personal honor for me but also an honor for my diocese – the diocese of Skara in south west of Sweden. It´s an honor and a sign of friendship and love. Thank you so much, and may God´s love fill you with strength and clear thoughts during your assembly!

In my diocese we have been talking much and are still talking much about ”being together”. What does that mean and how shall we live it? ”Together” is a keyword for Christian life and Christian love and it´s exactly what Paul speaks about in today’s text from the letter to the Romans. “Together” is a love that is like blood floating in the veins.

The words from Paul’s letter to the Romans are a wonderful text with a marvelous message to us here today. Paul starts our text with talking about how we should look at ourselves – not with too much self-esteem. It´s of course right in one way and wrong in another. It´s right because we are sinners. We are all part of the sinful world which means that we are all part of the struggle between good and evil – a struggle which takes place within each one of us and we all have to affirm Gods call of us to be on the good side.

At the same time Paul is “wrong” because we live in the grace of God which means that we are at the same time righteous and sinners. Simul justus et peccator. That is how we shall look at ourselves. We are justified through grace alone. This is important. Grace is the key-word for Martin Luther as you all know so well. But it´s also the keyword for us. Grace is something that comes from God. It´s not something that we can gain through good deeds. It´s not something that is for sale. No, God´s grace is a gift from God through his creation, through his deliverance of Israel and primarily through Jesus Christ, through his life, through his teaching in words and deeds and through the greatest deed of all – the death on the cross and the resurrection. In God, in God´s grace shall we live, shall we breath, shall we walk, shall we work. We remember what Paul said at the Areopagus: ”In him we live and move and have our being”. (Act 17:28) This is a gift from God and we call it grace – grace alone.

When we live in this grace we see clearer that we belong together. Probably you don´t agree on every point during your General Synod. If so, I recognize this from the General Synod of Church of Sweden last week. We did not agree on every single subject but we belong together. It is important to see that we all have gifts which contribute to the Church – the Church with capital C – a Church which is the body of Christ, a Church that we build up together in unity in diversity with Jesus Christ in our midst. So try to look at each other as gifts to each other. Try to look at your self as a beloved sinner who can contribute in building the Church together with the Lutheran brothers and sisters, first of all here in Bavaria.
What type of gifts did Paul think of? Prophesying, service, teaching, exhortation, consolation, leading and acts of mercy. It was seven gifts. Everyone had something to give. It is still so and we need to improve our ability to see each other’s gifts and to see our own gift. The gifts are not personal in the sense that you can use the gift for yourself, for your own wellbeing. No, the gifts are gifts of Gods grace not only to you and me, not only to each one of us so we can be popular, so we can gain success, so we can be famous. No, no, no. The gifts are gifts of grace for the Church, for the body of Christ, for the Kingdom of God. Everything that we do with the gifts that we have been given is for the Kingdom – the Kingdom of God in Bavaria, in Germany, in Skara, in Sweden, in Europe, in the world.

Paul is also talking about serving the Lord. What does that mean? Serve the Lord. This is the motive for all Christian conduct. Instead of kyriō, some MSS (D, G) read kairō, “serve the hour.” If this were the correct reading, Christians would be urged to meet the demands of the time in which they live. To serve the Lord is to serve our sisters and brothers no matter where they come from, if it´s from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Palestine or from other countries. You Germans have an open heart and many of us in Sweden admire your decision to receive so many refugees. We try to do the same and I think this is a good example of how we, in our time, can practice Christian hospitality and in that way serve the Lord. To be a Christian is to be generous and welcoming. It is to serve the world, to contribute to the healing of the world, “to make it a better place for you and for me and for the entire human race” as the pop-singer Michael Jackson put it in a famous song called Heal the world. Then we have to live the gospel, not only talk about it, not only in words proclaim the King but also in deeds make the Kingdom of God a visible reality. To serve the King and to serve “the hour” is the same thing because it´s in the hour, in our ”now”, that we meet all the needs of our brothers and sisters. When we serve them we serve the Lord, then we live the gospel and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Love then, is a word that some people are so tired of. It is a four letter word that is worn out. Why do you always speak about love – can they say. Speak of something else or, at least, let us understand and really hear what you mean. The answer is that love is the foundation of our existence – as I said in the beginning of this sermon – it is like the blood in our veins. It was out of love that God created the world and continues with the ongoing creation. It´s out of love that God sent his only Son who showed us God´s love – God´s life giving love through Jesus life, his teaching in words and deeds and his death and resurrection. It´s out of love that Jesus is in our midst today through the Holy Spirit. But love is also the foundation for unity. I spoke about the word ”together”. It can act as filter through which we can Filter everything we do. What does together mean in parish work, with children, with young people, with adults, with old people? What does ”together” mean in relation to other churches, in relation to our catholic brothers and sisters, in relation to our reformed brothers and sisters, the Orthodox brothers and sisters and so on? We really do have so much in common. We share the Bible, we share the baptism, and we share our belief in the triune God. We share the possibility to pray to God. We are already together but we need to remind ourselves of this.

What does ”together” mean when we come to people of other faiths? Is God Christian? Is God Muslim? Is God Jewish? The answer is no. Is God religious? The answer is no. God is God and God has shown himself for us in a unique way in Jesus Christ. Jesus is true God and true Man. But with our Muslim, and Jewish, and Hindu brothers and sisters we share the same God because there is just one God. The God of love who challenges us to live His love.

Dear brothers and sisters, dear part of my Lutheran family, we belong together as brothers and sisters. We are a unity in diversity. We need to start living this, in the local parishes, in our local churches. Paul challenges us, and of course totally influenced by Jesus, to live this love. Not only among those who think exactly as we do, or as I do. The unity in diversity is to be lived together with all Christian brothers and sisters no matter what denomination they belong to. And the challenge is even greater – the challenge is that this unity in diversity shall include all people, so that we see that we are all part of God´s creation, we are all created by God in his image. (Gen 1:26)

So what is the way forward, the next step? First we have to read the Bible more deeply – to re-read through the light of God´s love. We have to be thorough with the texts, to come underneath the texts and see how the texts speak to us about how to be human, driven by God´s love and God´s grace. I don´t know how often you read the Bible, but we all, including my self, have to do it more – and share the texts and our thoughts with each other and try to live the word, because it´s a living word and it can make us alive.
Secondly we have to pray, pray to the Father, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit – and pray constantly. Come Holy Spirit and renew your creation, renew me, renew my church and send me as your tool to make the world a better place. That is a prayer that we can use every day. We can pray with open hands as a sign that we are prepared to live, really live as Members of the Body of Christ.
The third point is that we have to work together for the togetherness of our church, our churches, our religious people and our world. It´s easy to talk. I have talked for quite a while now. But we can´t just talk. We have to walk and work. We can´t wait. Paul says: Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Rom 12:11) Let´s continue to do that, to live that, in love. And let´s do it together – as brothers and sisters. Let us truly live the unity in diversity. For the sake of our world, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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