Living In Harmony

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December 5, 2010. Welcome to the Christ Lutheran Church podcast. Each week we will bring you a new message, a new sermon. In this first episode, Pastor Penny Holste preaches on Isaiah 11:1-9 and tells us how we’re meant to reach out to those who are different from us and live in harmony with them.


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We begin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The waters of baptism. I remember you. Well, I don’t really remember you, but I have a certificate that says I was baptized. I wonder if that’s what you want me to do, just to remember that once you washed me and it’s in my baby book, or do you want me to come back again and again to let you kill the arrogance within me, to let you put to death the ego in me, to let you wipe out all the things that make me think I might be a little better than the next person, a little smarter than the next person, a little nicer than the next person. Do you want me to come back again and again so that you can get rid of all the things that stand in the way and leave only what God has given me?


In our gospel today, John the Baptist did a strange thing. He baptized people who already believed. It was not a conversion experience. These Jewish people were Jews and they came from all over. I don’t know if you caught that, but there were crowds of them. And you have to ask what drew them to this strange man, this kind of wild man who wore the skins of animals and ate bugs and lived out in a desert. Why would people come and wade into the cold Jordan River and confess that they were sinners and have water poured on them? Why would they do this?


Well, John said something that caught their attention. He said someone is coming. He said a man of God is coming with fire to be a judge and with the spirit, and that resonated with them because they had been waiting. Those were turbulent times. They were turbulent times politically and religiously, and the people were hungry for this promise to be fulfilled that they had been waiting for for many years. And when this man, even though he was strange, came and said, “Now is the time, he’s coming, he will judge the world and set things straight,” well, they didn’t want to be caught unprepared. If God was coming to judge the world, they wanted to have their sins washed away. And so they came and confessed their sins and repented.


Well, most of them. There was this little group of Pharisees and Sadducees, and they came too. And actually the interpretation that’s more accepted says that they did not come to be baptized. They came to watch and maybe to criticize. But John really let them have it. He said, “You snakes. Just because your ancestors are Jewish and you are Jewish, or just because you keep the law so perfectly, you think that you have more right to God’s love than other people and that somehow you don’t need to confess your sins.” He said, “You should be reaching out to the very people you feel better than, reaching out listening to them, caring for them. God wants the fruits of your life to show that you are Jewish. He wants your lives to bear fruit, not what you’re doing.”


And you know, our lessons were all about the fruit that God wants, the harmony, that God wants us to reach out to those who are different, to listen and to care about them. We heard it in the Peaceable Kingdom in the Old Testament lesson, where even the animals will set aside their natural instincts to tear each other apart. We heard it when Paul talked about the Jews and the gentiles coming together, and you can imagine the hard feelings, the arguments, the bad blood between those groups. And yet Paul is asking them to set that aside and reach out to one another. That is what glorifies God, and you will be blessed.


Our baptisms are not something to remember in the baby book. They are something to remind us daily to confess our sins, to come back again and again, to be ones who reach out to those who are different and make peace. And what a world we have. It’s so divided, politically, racially, even in the world of sports if you listened to all the booing that LeBron James heard last week. There is so much division, and yet we are called as baptized Christians to reach out to those who are different.


It’s not easy. At our text study last Tuesday, a professor from Eden described a class that he’s teaching now. The student body is very diverse. There are blacks and whites, and women and men, and gays and straight, and people from different denominations and different countries, all in the same class. Now, his usual method is to lecture, and then in the last part of the class he has them break up into small groups and discuss the lecture. Well, he asked them to do just that and of course they all went to people just like themselves. So you have the whites there and the blacks here and the gays there and the straights there, and he said that the discussions weren’t very good. They disintegrated, they dissolved into talking about who won the game the night before.


So he decided to do it differently. The next time he said I want you to divide up and and spread yourselves out. I don’t want you to be with people just like yourselves. And they knew what he meant, so they did. And he said the discussions that came out of that heterogeneous group was so full of energy. So many ideas came out of those discussions.


God wants us to reach out to people who are different. God wants us to live in harmony with them. That is what brings God glory and that’s what blesses us. Last week, a professor from Webster University was meeting with some of us, and she mentioned her adult son who has extreme autism and he also has attention deficit problems. So much so that she said even now, as a young man, he’ll never be able to live on his own or even in a group home. But when he was a boy in school she went to the school district, the administration at University City, and she begged them to let her son be mainstreamed as much as possible. That is, that he could take classes with kids who didn’t have autism as often as it would work out. And they let her. And as a result of that, he was with the same people through all his years. Two of his classmates, a young man and a young woman, became close friends even though they didn’t have autism. And now these many years after they’ve all graduated from high school, they still are friends. And the young man has gone into the health field because of his experience, and the young woman said to this mother: knowing your son has changed my life.


When we reach out and live in harmony with those who are different, we bring glory to God and we are blessed. And that’s why it is because of our baptisms that God expects us to bear fruit, so that at school where there are people that you aren’t comfortable with, people no one else is comfortable with, they are the very people we are to reach out to. At work, those people who are abrasive. In the community, those people whose political views you do not agree with. They are the very people that God is asking us to reach out to, to listen to, and whether we agree with them or not, to love.


These next few weeks offer so many opportunities, because we are getting together with friends and family. And we all know there are people in our families that we’ve had arguments with, people we no longer talk to very much. This is the time. This is the time when we reach out to them and listen, maybe for the first time, and forgive.


This is the hard work, but the beautiful fruit that we are asked to do as baptized Christians, that brings God glory. Will we fail? Yes, again and again, we will fail. But that’s why we come back to baptism, because it not only kills what is arrogant in us, but it brings alive what is good. Jesus was there when we were baptized, bringing us out of the water saying, “I love you. I’ve always loved you, even before you knew right from wrong.”


And as we come back and repent, Jesus is there again raising us up out of the cold water and saying, “I love you. And that’s why I let people kill my ego and take away my livelihood and my comfort and my security and my friends, and that’s why I let people nail me to the cross, hanging there almost naked as people mocked me. I did it,” he said, “So that I could do this one thing: I could raise you up when you repent and say, ‘But I love you.’ I love you whether you fail or not, because in baptism I have made you my own.”


Thanks be to God. Amen.


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2010, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, audio, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, The Peaceable Kingdom, Isaiah 11:1-9