Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
January 10, 2021 Worship Sermon - "Christ and Q"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
As I was driving home from work on Tuesday, I tried to so something that I know is foolish: I tried to take a photograph of the car in front of me. I did have enough sense not to try this while I was in motion. No, I waited until this red SUV came to a stop light. Then, I pulled out my phone and tried my best to get a shot of it. It didn’t work. The lighting was all wrong and the traffic signal changed and the car pulled forward. I few blocks ahead, there was another stop light and I tried once again to get a picture of the car. I was thinking of all the ways I could use the photograph. I would share it on Facebook; I would show it to you during this sermon; I would print it up and frame it and hang it on the wall in my office. Unfortunately - Boomer me - I’m just not very fast with my cell-phone camera and once again the car pulled forward before I could get a shot of it. The car made it through the next stoplight before it turned yellow. I, on the other hand, got stuck at the red-light and never saw the red SUV again.
What I wanted to capture in a photograph was this driver’s license plate. I wanted a photo of it because it made me really happy. I wanted to knock on this driver’s window and ask him if we could be friends. I wanted to encourage him to run for political office, because I would definitely trust anyone who put this on their license plate. What did the plate say? One simple six letter word: S-I-N-N-E-R
I loved this driver’s license plate because it proclaimed a truth that most of us try to hide. The truth is the driver of that car is a sinner… just like the drivers of every other car on the road… and every pedestrian and bicyclist as well. To be human is to be caught in a web of sin.
One of the great things about the racial reckoning that our society is facing right now is the increasing awareness that racism is structural. Just because a person doesn’t wear a KKK hood doesn’t mean that they don’t participate in a system that privileges some people over others. But it’s not just racism that is structural. All sin is structural. I hate climate change, but I still drive my car back and forth to church because it’s the quickest way for me to commute. I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. That’s the truth about me. And honestly, it’s the truth about all of us.
We are living in a time when many Christians seem to have forgotten that part of the Christian message: that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Instead, the Christian message has been distorted into this idea that humanity is composed of good people and bad people. And no one ever puts themselves in the category of bad people. No, bad people are always those people out there… and you can fill in the blank. Very often what makes people bad in our eyes is not their behavior, but the group they belong to. Bad people are those people who belong to a different political party… those people who practice a different religion… those people who belong to a different ethnic group. And once you have created a category for bad people, you can justify treating them worse than everyone else: those bad people don’t deserve the food, the shelter, the education, and the healthcare that I enjoy because they’re lazy and try to take advantage of the system, unlike us good people who work hard and do the right thing. To make matters worse, in our day we have media platforms that can reverberate with lies about those people we consider “bad”.
Like many of us, I watched in horror on Wednesday as a group of people who were convinced that they were the good people did something really evil. The people who stormed the capitol and attempted to overthrow a democratically elected government were convinced that they were on this right side of history. So, from their perspective, it didn’t matter than a majority of Americans disagreed with them. In their eyes, they were right, and they had a duty to save our country. When you hear many of the insurrectionists explain their actions, you realize how distorted their thinking has become by this us versus them mentality. In their eyes, the president-elect is either a communist or under the control of the communists who really run the Democratic party. In their eyes, liberals are not just people with a different economic or social perspective; no, they are Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Once people become convinced that they are good and that the people who differ from them are bad, truly awful things happen, like we saw on Wednesday. I have no doubt many of the people who stormed the capitol call themselves Christian.
I would never say that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. And there is no doubt that sin has been woven into our history from the beginning. But our founders were inspired by certain Christian principles, one of the most salient of which is the belief that we human beings are prone to sin. No one - not George Washington, not Abraham Lincoln, not Ronald Reagan or Obama or Trump - is beyond corruption. So, our founders created a system of checks and balances to prevent one sinful person from becoming powerful enough to destroy society. Somehow, though, many Christians have forgotten this. They have become so convinced that their side is right that they are willing to throw out the whole constitution and democracy itself in order to preserve the rightness of their cause.
We human beings are sinners. But here’s the good news: repentance is possible. John the Baptist calls us to repentance and so does Jesus. We are called to speak the truth about who we are and turn toward the One who can save us. Because of the structural nature of sin, we cannot save ourselves. But the Holy Spirit empowers us to resist sin and move toward a life of freedom.
Baptism is an act of repentance. At the beginning of every baptism, we ask the candidates to renounce the ways of sin that draw us from God. Which raises the question, if baptism is an act of repentance, why did Jesus, who was supposed to be without sin, undergo it. Perhaps it was so that Jesus could do what many of us try to avoid: perhaps Jesus allowed himself to be baptized so that he could identity with all sinful humanity. Instead of going through extraordinary efforts to prove to the world that he was without sin, Jesus put himself in the place of sinners. Instead of saying, “I’m good and you’re bad,” Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. That chasm between God and sinful humanity was overcome so that God truly dwells among us.
When we are baptized into Christ, we repent from our sins and we are covered with Christ’s righteousness. As we heard in our reading from Acts, baptism into Jesus Christ means that the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus in his baptism is now available to us. We human beings may be in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves, but Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to guide us into a life of freedom. And when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we become children of God. The voice of God that spoke to Jesus at his baptism saying, “You are my beloved son” speaks to us claiming us as God’s beloved children. We are God’s beloved children not because we are the good people, but because we have been forgiven in Christ.
In a minute, we will have the opportunity to affirm our baptism into Jesus Christ. I invite you to take this as an opportunity to remember who you are and what God has done for you. If you don’t already have a bowl of water nearby, I encourage you to get one as a reminder of the baptismal of your baptism into Christ.