the Baptism of Our Lord

Acts 10. 34-43
Unlike the chicken and the egg, we know the cause …
god’s love for everything!

Growing up, I’d always thought it was more a game, a joke, than anything. A question that, simply, had no answer. “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” At the time, I’d no idea it was a piece of serious philosophy. Something thinkers have pondered for nearly two thousand years. “Causality dilemma” is the official label. It’s a metaphor for those things, for those times, we can’t figure out what is the cause and what is the effect. What’s the action and what’s the reaction? What’s the stimulus and what’s the response. It’s all there in the question. “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” Of course, for centuries, for generations, there was no answer. There was never meant to be. Then came the evolutionists. “The egg,” they said. Meanwhile, the creationists say, “The chicken!” And for a while, that – sorta – settled it.

Then, today, comes the passage from Acts. In particular, chapter ten, verse forty-three. And the dilemma rears its head, one more time. What came first, forgiveness or faith? What comes first, forgiveness or faith? Which the cause and which the effect? “All the prophets,” Luke writes, “testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” We read the words and it seems obvious. In order to be forgiven, you must – first – believe! And that’s, exactly, how popular religion understands it. Especially the religion that’s popular, here in the U.S. “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me!” That’s our creed! Accountability! Consequences! That’s the American way!

Everything in life’s a tradeoff. It’s all a transaction. A this for that. A quid pro quo. A something for something. Believing for forgiveness. Faith for salvation. We love god, so that god loves us. It’s all an exchange. A swap. Nothing’s free. According to popular religion, there is no dilemma, no predicament. It always begins with our choice. It always starts with our choice. It’s our action that brings about god’s reaction. And according to Acts 10. 43, it’s only biblical. And not just biblical, it’s American! As American as baseball and apple pie! We grow up knowing that nothing is free. That everything has a price. … including god! Like I said, that’s the popular religion. But, if you haven’t noticed, we’re not one of the more popular congregations. At least, not in this part of the country. And, to be honest, we’re not one of the more biblical ones, either. And that’s okay! For us, it’s not the bible that’s our heart and soul. It’s the gospel. It’s the good news of Jesus and his love. And when that’s the case, sometimes things aren’t what we expect …

President Coolidge, about a hundred years ago, said that the chief business of the American people is business. And it’s still true. Maybe, even, more so. We run everything as if it was a business. We run the government as if it was a business. We run our schools as if they were a business. We run the church as if it was a business. And that’s the problem. That’s the problem. The church isn’t a business. It’s the body of Christ. It’s the kingdom of god. It doesn’t sell anything. But everything – everything – it gives away. That’s what love does. That’s how charity, how grace, works.

That’s the reason the ushers don’t bring the offering forward, on Sunday mornings, after the plates have been passed. I don’t want any confusion that it’s the cost of admission to the Supper. If it was up to me, the offering wouldn’t, even, be a part of worship. Everything god gives us, in this place … Everything god gives us … here … how … costs us nothing! Nothing’s traded! Nothing’s bought! Nothing’s sold! We’re not forgiven because we’ve done something, because we’ve done anything, to earn it, to deserve it. That’s not how it works. We believe we, first, are already forgiven. And because of that, we believe! We love … because god first loves us!

In this place … at times like this … we have a very clear understanding of what comes first! Of whom comes first! It’s always god! Always father, spirit, and son! That’s why we baptize infants. Not because we’ve always done it that way. But because god always acts first! Acts first so that we have something – someone – to believe in! Something – someone – to react, to respond to! Contrary to popular opinion, it’s a gift! It’s all a gift! For us, there is no dilemma! No confusion! No uncertainty! What comes first? What comes first! Forgiveness or believing? It’s always the forgiveness! No guilt! No fear! No threats! No warnings! There’s only gospel! Only good news! Raining down from heaven onto the world! Into creation!

“In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake … for his sake … we are forgiven! It’s not something for something. It’s not, even, something for anything. It’s something for nothing. Always something for nothing. And then … then, we believe! Believe and do the same for those around us! Like I said, last week, there is only one thing – only one thing – we take literally! And that is the gospel! There is only one thing, for us, inerrant, infallible. And that is the good news! God loves us! Period! God loves us! End of sentence! God loves us! All of us! No ifs, ands, or buts! The church is not a business! Forgiveness isn’t the supply; believing isn’t demand! There is no dickering. There are no deals. No quid pro quos. No transactions. Here, in this place, there is only gift. Omnia et nihil! Everything for nothing! Love is the cause; and believing … believing the result!

So, which came first? Chicken? Egg? Forgiveness? Faith? Here, in this place, it is always – always and forever – the grace and the mercy, the love and forgiveness, of god …