the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revisiting coreValues 1 & 2
The two things that determine who we are, what we say, and what we do are Charity and Christ!

A couple, three months ago, now, I decided to set aside the third Sunday of each month as a time to focus, not on a handful of verses from the bible, but on the journey we’ve begun together. In June, that focus was on the first of three coreValues, Charity. Last month, it was the second, Christ. And today, I’d planned on the last of the trifecta, coreValue number three, Church. I, even, had a rough draft all prepared. But then, last Tuesday morning, I was watching one of the morning news shows and all that changed. There’s a new book out and the author was making the rounds. Ben Howe’s the author. Writer, podcaster, film-maker. He’s appeared as a pundit – as a commentator – on CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews. He’s written guest columns for the Atlantic, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Beast. Mr. Howe is, also, a disillusioned evangelical. Not our kind of evangelical – as in Evangelical Lutheran – but the kind we always hear about on television, the kind we always read about in newspapers.

Well, the title of the book is The Immoral Majority, Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values. Needless to say, it’s all about the relationship between politics and religion – or is it religion and politics – in the age of Trump. And that is all I’m going to say about that! But as I listened to the interview, there was one thing that caught my attention. So much so that I wrote it down. Mr. Howe – that disillusioned evangelical – was asked why the Christian Right has doing what it’s done. He didn’t, exactly, know! “Especially when you know that Jesus died for your sins and that what’s waiting for you is something great!”

“Especially when you know that Jesus died for your sins 
and that what’s waiting for you is something great!”

I heard those words and all I could think was, “Huh?” Now I know he’s not a preacher. He hasn’t been trained in “doing” theology. He’s just one more disillusioned, disenchanted conservative Christian in this day and time. But I found it interesting, intriguing, how he described the faith! Bottom line, believing is nothing more than Jesus dying on the cross in order to get us into heaven! And those Christian values? They’re just those “biblical principles” we happen to apply along the way. It’s like a research poll I, recently, read. I wanted to see how many Americans still believe in heaven and how many still believe in hell. But it wasn’t the numbers that I found enlightening. It’s how they defined heaven and hell! For the sake of the poll, heaven “is where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.” And hell “is where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished.”

That’s the world we live in! The world in which we gospel-rooted Lutherans live and move and have our being! I’ve said it before and I’ll, probably, say it again … and again … and again … But there’s nothing about Jesus! Nothing about Jesus and nothing about love! At least, nothing about god’s amazing grace! Free, unearned, undeserved! Without apology, exception, excuse! God’s reverence of and respect for everyone and everything! A love we see and hear and feel in every thought, in every word, in every action, of Jesus! In every atom and every cell of his being!

And so, this month, I couldn’t go on to the next coreValue without underlining, without highlighting, without emphasizing, one more time, those first two! Charity! And Christ! Especially, Christ crucified! That’s the legacy we’ve received from the reformers! From Luther and Luther’s colleagues! From their students! From their disciples and their disciples after them! That’s why we’re here this morning! Charity and Christ! Christ and Charity! That’s who we are! That’s what we do! When asked that very question, “Why?” Luther’s reply was simple. Simple and the same. It’s Charity! And it’s Christ! It’s the two things about which the world around us – Christians included – don’t give a second thought! Doesn’t give, even, a first thought!

As people – especially as Americans – we live our lives fixated, obsessed, on the bottom line! On morals and ethics and principles! On don’ts and of do’s! We dot each i! Cross every t! Blinded, benumbed, by punishment and reward! Hell and damnation! Retribution and wrath! Those are the things we understand! The things we can sink our teeth into! And the one thing that we never seem to get around to, the one thing that never seems to matter, is the people. The one thing left out, the one thing omitted, is always the love. Always and forever the love! Unless, of course, we get something out of it. No, for us, love is just another word. And Jesus? Jesus is nothing more than another choice, another decision, along the way. And the church goes on and on and on. Sermons last forever. And it’s always about us. Always all about us.

And so, those first two coreValues .. Charity … Christ … Well, they’re more than just coreValues. They’re the breath and the pulse! The heart and the soul! The substance and sum! The reason and the rhyme! For everything about us! What we think! What we say! What we do! As a people – the people – of god! God loves us! Not just us, but everyone and everything! And Christ is that love in flesh and blood! Put those two things together, and you have gospel! Good news! And that good news raises us up! That good news makes us new! That good news sets us free! That good news becomes our reason for being! And life … all of life becomes a gift! The world, the cosmos, becomes a present!

It’s a message we take for granted. One we forget about. One we overlook. But it’s that message – and that message alone – that sets us apart. We need to remember. We need to be reminded! Over and over! Again and again! Word after word! Pinch after pinch! Sip after sip! Because without it, we’re no different than anyone else! There are only two things that matter! Only two things important! Charity and Christ! Christ and Charity! But then, when you get down to it, there’s, really, only one. Christ and Charity, Charity and Christ! They’re the same! Two sides of the same coin! After all, god is love, my friends! And love … love is god, as well!