the sixteenth sunday after pentecost

“born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God …”
We don’t choose to be loved. We just are!

Last Tuesday was the thirty-eighth anniversary of my ordination. It happened here. At Saint Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, Carlsbad. A few years back, y’all surprised me with a party for my twenty-fifth. Letters from friends. Cards. Even a potluck. Since then, I’ve, simply, racked up another thirteen, one year at a time. This go-round, though, I dug up a picture of that night. One my dad had taken. Scanned it. Posted it Facebook. In case you were wondering … No, it didn’t go viral. But for me, it was enough. I got a bunch of “likes.” Some “loves.” Even a few “Haha”s. But there was one comment that caught me off guard. From a friend. A partner in the gospel. A colleague in ministry. Among the congratulations and amens, he wrote, “Thanks for answering the call!” “Thanks for answering the call!” And I have to tell you, I wasn’t sure what to say! I had no idea how to respond! “Thanks for answering the call!”

Well, it’s September, again. For me, this has always been a sentimental time of year. One season fading into the next. And for the moment, I wax nostalgic. Thinking back. Remembering. September fourth – a week ago yesterday – was my “little” brother’s birthday! Labor Day – last Monday – was the day my dad went to the hospital for bypass surgery! September seventh – last Tuesday – like I said, was the anniversary of my ordination! September ninth – three days ago – marked twenty years since I was installed here at Midland Lutheran Church. A lot’s happened. A lot to remember.

Some of you might remember, a few years back, I started a new tradition. Every year, around the time of my ordination, I started preaching a sermon on one of the themes that make me not simply Lutheran – through they do that. But that make me me! Me as a pastor. Me as a preacher. Truth is, it, probably, has more to do with my legacy, than anything! A ehile back, when I pointed to eight-or-so file boxes full old sermons, and told Lanie that, one day, they’d all be hers. She just smiled and rolled her eyes. So, I figured I’d make the effort to put together an anthology of my own. For what it’s worth. For my daughters. For their children. And that’s where my friend’s comment came in … “Thanks for answering the call!”

It reminded me of one of my obsessions, one of my fixations … theologically speaking. He thanked me for answering the call. Truth is, I don’t believe that’s how it works. Not for those in the pulpit. Not for those in the pews. Maybe in the popular church. Freewill. Independence. Self-reliant. All that. But we’ve never been all that popular. Not here in the bible belt. God doesn’t knock, waiting for us to open the door. God doesn’t call, softly and tenderly, waiting for us to answer. That’s not how faith works. That’s not how life works. Maybe in a factory, but not in the field. Maybe on an assembly line, but not in the world. Out here. Life. Just. Happens. Everything responds to something – to someone – else. Naturally. Automatically. No choices. No decisions. Only responses. Only reactions.

A seed doesn’t decide what kind of plant it will become. It already is! And then, that life is released … by the earth and the sun and the rain! And the same’s true for us! We’re consequences of our past! The result of a thousand generations. I’m Bob Barndt not because of my choices. I’m Bob Barndt not because of what I’ve accomplished and achieved. I’m Bob Barndt because of who my parents are. My parents, my grandparents, and their parents before them! I never looked in the mirror and said, “This is who I will be!” I’ll never wake up, one morning, and decide to become someone I’ve never been! It doesn’t work that way. I’m me! Captive! Bound! Not just to sin, but to who I am! To who I’ve become! And nothing can change that! No one can change that! Not even god! There’re no buttons I can push, no levers I can pull. No wands I can wave, no magic words I can utter. Sure, I can think and learn and dream. But even that’s nothing more than an expression of who I am!

And that’s the way it works with god, as well! It all just happens! Faith! Hope! Love! The gospel’s proclaimed! Good news administered! No choice, no decision! No preference, no selection! It’s simply because god is god! God’s faithful, so we believe! God promises, so we hope! God loves, and we love, too! Love everyone! Love everything! Just like Jesus! Because there’s no other response! That’s what we mean by predestined. Foreordained. It all just happens! No ifs! No ands! No buts! No unlesses! No untils! Just like in the beginning! God said … and there was! Darkness didn’t decide to become light! Water didn’t choose to step aside for dry land. But that’s the way it still happens! The way it still continues!

Luther tells us, that’s the hardest thing! Believing in our hearts, being convinced, that we have it all by grace alone! A gift! It’s all a gift! And if the gift depends on our coöperating, then it’s no longer a gift! Being loved just happens! No invitation! No altar call! No threat! No ultimatum! Only love! Only love! “Thanks for answering the call!” What I wanted to say is, “I didn’t!” I just reacted! We just responded! God through the gospel, god through good news calls! Calls and enlightens and inspires! And me? Us? We’re nothing more – and nothing less – than echoes and reflections of that voice! God doesn’t ask us for help! God doesn’t ask us for our permission! And god, certainly, doesn’t rely on our commitment and devotion. God just does it! God simply loves us … with all god’s heart! with all god’s strength! with all god’s being! And everything else comes from that! Everything else – including our answering – just happens!

Thank me for answering the call? Thank you for answering? My friends … My friends, it just doesn’t work that way!

MLC amworship 9.12.2021

MLC amworship 9.12.2021 — Time for worship! Come join us every Sunday at 10:30cst, right here on Facebook!

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, September 12, 2021