I don’t know if the Bible or the Gospel of Christ is a valid testimony vis a vis whether or not Debbie and I should buy a new car, buy the car we’ve been leasing, or lease a new one. I’ve looked for the Book of Advice, or maybe the Book of Trivialities but I haven’t been that good at finding them, mostly because they are not there, precious little that has nothing to do with Christ or our relationship with God is in there.
Even the Histories of the Old Testament are the stories of God’s continuing care and concern for the creation, for those to whom God gave the task of standing steward over the bounty of the world and for those who have lived and loved and striven to seek God’s face throughout time.
For car advice I’d recommend Richard Seefeldt, he seems to pay a lot of attention to cars, or maybe Chuck or Craig Hammond, though from Craig you’re likely to hear a couple of verses of the gospel according to Mercedes Benz because that is what he does.
We have these understandings, these areas of expertise, of specialty and our agreement as a people is that we will listen to those who possess those rare qualities, that rare knowledge and we will operate under their watchful eyes.
But these are merely agreements between people, the understanding that some things are the way they are and that is that, be it theology, business and economics, politics, church history, we have certain expectations and understandings that we allow to govern us because when we hold them in common, they make things simpler, they allow the world we have to run smoothly.
Take economics. For centuries we have had the market and we have adopted it like a cute kid from an orphanage; we’re not exactly sure where it comes from but it’s pretty and well behaved for the most part and it enriches our lives when it is obedient.
What we tend to overlook is that the market is not a thing from God; it is not a natural occurrence that one might discover in some dark and lushly overgrown rain forest somewhere. It too is an agreement we make with each other.
We tend to think of the market as inviolable, serene and perfect but it has, in fact, been altered, changed, morphed, torn down and rebuilt in large and small ways ever since the dawn of capitalism because the agreement began to work less well for one partner or another.
But it exists as an agreement to serve the people who are in it, according to the agreement and so when it breaks down, it might be time to renegotiate the terms a little to fix things.
That is the nature of agreements between people, they occasionally need to be revisited a little, refigured according to new evidence, maybe a changing landscape, perhaps a change in leadership. It always amazed me that we make treaties that are supposed to be permanent and then get all indignant and surprised when one side or the other changes their mind.
Churches make statements and expect people to follow them never realizing that they are actually making agreements with their people. We will be this way, we will speak this way, we will act this way and we will worship this way and in the early times the congregation replies “and we will come to church.” The theologians who make these arrangements are serious guys, mostly guys, sorry, sometimes history is a little sexist, okay, a LOT sexist; they meant well, they thought out their statements, their agreements carefully. They made their agreements with the congregations with love in their hearts.
We make these agreements because we need to, we need for the world to work, for it to run efficiently, for us to be able to expect things and then have them happen, like stopping in at a Denny’s. No matter where you are, across the country, a grand slam breakfast is a grand slam breakfast, that’s the agreement, that’s the understanding, it makes life easier if we know what to expect.
Then they sometimes pull the rug out from under you, with the best intentions they slide the Grand slam between two slices of toast and call it a grand slamwich which is convenient, I suppose, but suddenly breakfast isn’t what we thought.
When we run into people with different expectations, when the world will not see things our way, according to our agreements, what usually happens is that we retreat back into our agreements, our worldviews and we wrap ourselves in the comfort of what we know and trust.
We feel as if the very ground we stand on is being threatened, is being called into question. We hunker down and defend.
Suddenly our human agreements take on greater power in our eyes. They are the bedrock of our eyes; after all, so they must be holy, they must be more than merely human agreements. Suddenly we begin to defend them with more fervor, after all, they are not just agreements, they are the truth with a capital T, and we have to defend the truth.
If you ever watch CNBC, this is how they speak of the marketplace. It is the only thing that is capable of saving us, it is able to decide what prices should be, what wages should be, what everything should look like.
And it has no sin. It has no bias; it has no capacity for unfairness. It begins to sound a lot like Jesus in its perfect, serene all-knowing beauty and grace.
Or churches. Churches like to point and to snicker and criticize at the way we all do stuff. I think video screens end up being little more than extensions of our own televisions and I think we really watch enough television so I snicker at those who worship via video. Others think, let me expand that, other Lutherans think that reading all four scriptures is just nuts and that nobody has the patience to listen to all of that scripture and just the Gospel is fine for them, maybe a little Paul and so they snicker at our love for the Word of God, for all of it.
We have the agreement about how we do things and when someone does it another way, we don’t try and see if they know something new, something we hadn’t thought of before, we retreat to our own agreements and from the safety of their embrace, we look out at the world.
We retreat so far into our own agreements, elevate them to the sinless level of Christ; that we forget that they are just the agreements we made with each other. They serve our relationships here so well because our relationships here are so flawed, so shot through with sin that they need agreements and decisions and limitations and boundaries and definitions that include and exclude.
Without those agreements, all churches might worship together, in the love that Christ speaks of with God in this morning’s Gospel reading, apart from the world yet with our eyes focused on the world and its problems so that God’s will might be done and not ours, God’s will that will should be saved.
That’d be strange, strange and wonderful for us to set aside all of the arguments that are not based in the Word of God but rather in the agreements we make between each other. If we set aside the agreements, the pointing of fingers and the snickering or the condemnation, then we might see what God is all about, how God is at work all around us, how God’s love for us is not a sometimes thing the way our love is.
According to our agreements, when you sin you are outside of the congregation of the righteous but if God operated that way then everyone would be outside because there are none who are without sin. But if it is God’s will that all should be saved, that all should be brought inside, why would we make an agreement that thwarts God’s will and holds some at bay until they satisfy our agreements?
We make no agreements with God. Let me say that again, “We make no agreements with God” period. There is no negotiation, there is no give and take we do not get to hold fast to those parts of the Bible that we agree with and leave the rest behind.
We may make them amongst ourselves from time to time to make the world run a little more smoothly, to mitigate the effects of sin in our lives, but we do not bind God to our agreements, God is grace and grace is free and what we have to do is to accept it. Accept the love of God for what it is. It is undeserved. It is limitless. It is salvation. It is Christ.
Christian and Samantha make no agreements this morning. When I was baptized I was in my thirties and still, I made no agreements. I didn’t promise to be eternally faithful and to live inside the rules all the days of my life. I would have been lying and it would have been weird in any case to confess my total inability to keep the rules all the time at the beginning of the service and then promise to keep them later on.
We make an agreement as a people here today, but between Christian and Samantha and God there is already the bond of love. Sure, for the most part they think that God looks a lot like Wally and that love feels a lot like Tracy but their understanding is not what brings them here today.
It is the love of God, the love that would not abandon us, even at the cost of the cross, to the pain of sin and death, the love that crossed the boundaries and broke down the borders between peoples, between those who thought they were lost and those who knew they were not, between the righteousness of God on high and the swirling mass of human sin that is us. That is what brings Christian and Samantha here this morning.
Because it is not our ability to agree that makes salvation real. The final vote is not cast by us in this negotiation because there is no negotiation. When Jesus strode into the River Jordan and cast His divine lot with us He simply declared that it was true, our fates are joined with His, we who fritter our time away making and breaking agreements with one another.
Between us here there is an agreement. We will support and nurture. We will pray and love. We will teach and preach and wrap them in the love of God in Christ Jesus so that there is never any reason to doubt.
Between Christ and the Francis Twins, there is only Yes. The Yes of God made holy, made perfect in Christ. God’s testimony is greater than the agreements of mankind and God’s testimony is that Christ came to save, one for all and we need not agree any more than we need agree that fire is hot or that the sun is bright.
We just accept what is true and trust that even when our earthly agreements lead us from a perfect path, and all earthly agreements lead us in one way or another from the perfect path, then Christ is there, eternally forgiving, eternally saying yes, eternally welcoming us. We welcome Christian and Samantha this morning into this fellowship by the grace communicated in the sacrament of Baptism, but we are simply enacting in flesh the promise of God, already made on the cross and fulfilled in the empty tomb, that all might come to confess His name.
May it be so.