Jesus makes us part of the Triune mission to the world. Empowered by his Spirit, we are sent in Jesus’ name to speak of the love of God the Father which reconciles us to him and unites us as God's people. We are Jesus’ body in the world, in mission to the world, so that all may know God as Father.
But how can we say that we want to make disciples of people for whom we will not speak when they are endangered?
Sermon, Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And God said: Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Scientifically we know that humanity is part of the animal kingdom, a mammal among mammals. But from Scripture we understand that we are set apart from the other animals and we are not simply a mammal among mammals. Human beings are created in the image of God. This does not mean that God looks like a human being. But it does mean that out of all the animals, man has the capability to recognize and know God, to hear God’s word and respond to him in praise and prayer. This dignity also obligates humanity to live with the animals and protect the natural world which it shares with the other animals.
It also means that each human being is to be protected because each bears the image of God. In Genesis 9(:6), the prohibition of murder and its judicial punishment is given for this reason: For God created humankind in his own image.
Not only did God create man in his image; God became the image of man. God became human, taking humanity into himself. God does not look like a human being, but because of what we call the ‘incarnation,’ when we see Jesus the human being, we see God. This is what we confess in the Athanasian Creed, ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh.’
I move from the pulpit to the floor to preach this sermon, because I don’t wish to talk down to anyone. That is not what the pulpit is for, but all of us have been talked down to so often in the past several weeks by authority figures that I feel it’s important for me to do this now. I am speaking to people I love and respect.
In January, I, with my wife Rebecka, to Washington D.C. to the March for Life. I did so, not because I agreed with the political views of everyone in attendance. We went because each person is created in the image of God, and is a unique, unrepeatable creation. When we say ‘human life in the womb is sacred,’ and ask our government to recognize that human life in the womb is sacred, and order itself to protect that life, we act out of the faith taught us in the Holy Scriptures. We act in faith that Jesus himself assumed flesh in the womb of Mary, his mother.
This week, Rebecka and I went to East Liberty to stand with many others in a Vigil for Justice. I did so, not because I agreed with the political views of everyone in attendance. We went because each person is created in the image of God, and is a unique, unrepeatable creation. When we say a black male’s life is sacred, and ask that our government recognize that the lives of black males are sacred and order itself to protect those lives, we act out of the faith taught us in the Holy Scriptures. We act in faith that Jesus himself assumed flesh in the womb of Mary, his mother.
Racism is a grave sin because it denies that God created humankind in his own image and shared the flesh of humanity in Jesus Christ. Instead racism implies that human beings are distinct because of ancestry, appearance, or culture, and that there is a hierarchy of human beings. Indeed, those who are truly racist question whether people of a certain race are human beings. But it is unthinkable that a Christian should be a racist, because insofar as a Christian discriminates against another because of race he or she denies the faith of the Church, which says that Jesus Christ became flesh – not white flesh, not black flesh, not Jewish flesh, not Gentile flesh, but human flesh. If one discriminates against a fellow human being, one discriminates against Christ. Therefore, it is unthinkable that a Christian should be a racist.
So far, so good. I was taught from my youth, in home, in school, and in church not to make judgments based upon race. I have taught this consistently throughout my eighteen years of ordained ministry. But I have come to a further conclusion in these recent days, that it is not enough for me, not enough for the Church, to simply not be racist in my own mind and heart. The Church and her pastors must speak to society when black males like George Floyd and others are unjustly deprived of life and when the society needs reform so that they are no longer unjustly deprived of life. We must do this, not because we are a social justice organization, and we are not an arm of a political party. We must do this not because the members of the Church are liberal or conservative.
We must do this because Christ gave the Church a mission to the world, to make disciples of all nations, and we are participants in this mission.
We believe that God the Father sent the Son to share our humanity. The Son suffered death for our salvation, and prayed to the Father to send the Spirit to gather a people from all nations. God the Holy Trinity is the source of mission and the original missionary.
But how can we say that we want to make disciples of people for whom we will not speak when they are endangered? Let me put it another way – if George Floyd had been a member of our congregation, if he had sat here with us week after week, praising God with us – or even had he once been among us, then become mired in addiction and crime, as some have said that he was – if he had been one of us, then we would be outraged at his murder. We might be marching in protest because we loved him and because he was our brother in Christ and because if he was killed in this manner, we might just as well be killed. But since he was somewhere else, someone else, are we to be satisfied with saying well, yes, his murder was probably wrong, but focus on riots, which should indeed be stopped, and on condemning those who blame all police for his murder? But once the riots have stopped, will we speak? Or are Christians content with a world in which people like us are secure when others are not secure?
The Gospel of Matthew notes that when Jesus was on trial before Pontius Pilate:
When Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves.’ (Matthew 27:24)
Pilate was more concerned about riots than he was about an innocent man. If we use riots as a reason to justify ourselves and blame others, and as an excuse to be silent, we repeat Pilate’s error, washing our hands of responsibility for innocent blood.
If we are silent, I go so far as to say that we deny Christ. Those of us who are White American Christians would therefore show by our actions that we do not care enough about Black (or Brown, or Tan) Americans to risk listening to their fears, their experiences, and their hopes. We would show that we deny their essential humanity, and that we do not believe that they are made in the image of God, as we are made in the image of God, and that Christ did not take on their flesh, and that we have no mission to make them disciples with us.
And so we as the Church dare not do those things and deny our Lord and Savior. Instead, as Luther explains the Fifth Commandment, ‘We are to fear and love God, so that we do not endanger or harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.’
Matthew Harrison is the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church not known for its liberal viewpoints. He released a statement last week. It reads, in part:
‘We weep for George Floyd, for his family and loved ones because he was robbed of life. We weep for our nation. We weep for those across our nation who believe their only recourse is destruction. We weep for police officers everywhere, who carry out their honorable vocations with courage and goodwill but find their task infinitely more challenging and dangerous in the wake of the sad events in Minneapolis. We pray for the safety of all and the welfare of those who have lost property and livelihood. We pray for the police who must stand against mayhem. We support the First Amendment rights of the peaceful protestors.
We deplore injustice. We deplore destruction, robbery and doing physical harm to others. That, too, is injustice. We plead to citizens and governments of this nation for communities beset by poverty, crime and injustice. We plead for rational and unifying policies that will end injustices and address social breakdown, lack of economic access, and other factors that fuel anger, hatred and dissension.
We shall pray, but we shall do even more. We shall follow the ancient mandate of the prophet of Yahweh: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
And we shall proclaim Christ, “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).’
Let us go to the Holy Communion today with repentant hearts; for only those who repent and confess their own sins and believe that Jesus Christ died for their own sins are worthy to receive Holy Communion. I confess that I have too often made faith simply a private individual matter between ‘me and God,’ and not understood how I am sent to all others to make disciples. I pray that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, would forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may delight in his will, and walk in his ways. Then, even with my sorrow and perhaps my shame, I shall receive him with gladness, for while I was yet a sinner, though I am yet a sinner, Christ died for me.
Thank you for listening to me today.
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz , Pastor
St Stephen Lutheran Church