Sermon for A Pentecost 14 Based on Matthew 18:15-20.

Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present. When the human spirit soars with care for the neighbor under its wings, it is easy to overlook that God is in the wind. When the human spirit is gladdened by reason serving compassion, all is wonderful and often God smiles anonymously off in the shadows. And when reason serves ideology and the self, and not compassion, humanity is diminished, hate flares, and God is often then kept at a distance, if not angrily ignored. But the reality is that bidden or unbidden, God is present. Whether we ask for God’s presence or not, God is here. It makes a difference to remember that in whatever we do, wherever we are.

Most of the time, of course, we do not remember that. Most of the time we think in secular terms, as if God has nothing to do with the world unless we actually ask God, with even a formulaic slogan, to have something to do with the world. Oh, of course, we pray that God would be involved. But I am of the mind that God cares enough to be involved without our asking. Our asking, in fact, is probably more about bringing our own minds more into accord with God’s mind than telling God to “look over here, you missed something!”

In fact, isn’t it rather silly to suppose God is at our beckoning? How would God be God—that greater than which nothing can be conceived—if God were involuntarily subject to our demands? Isn’t it rather silly to suppose that God could be absent or uncaring as God unless we pulled the right strings, did the right things, and said the right things so to compel God to be somewhere where we think God not? I call this behavior our practical atheism. It is a practical atheism to live as though God is not, unless we invoke some sort of word ritual to command God to show up. It is a practical atheism, for example, to suppose that the lack of prayer in public schools drove God out of schools. In fact, it is practical atheism to talk about God in the third person as if God is not in the room listening.

God is here. God is Emmanuel. God is with us. God especially has made clear that God is with those in the most desperate of circumstances, with those who have nothing to utter but a groan of travail. God is with the least and with the suffering. And if God is with the suffering, then God is with those, too, who suffer at the hands of those who think they do divine things by calling on God with prescribed words, as if God were not present until the magic men (usually it was males) pulled out all their power stops and told—TOLD!—God to do their bidding.

Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit. Not only is God present whether we speak of and to God or not. We who are baptized are in a different state of being than others. I am not like “normal” people. But then you already knew that. But, guess what, you are not “normal” either, if “normal” means that we go through the world alone without God and without each other. You are baptized. You carry the name of Christ on your brow. You belong to God. Forever. It makes a difference to start with that truth, too.

If we hear these words from Jesus today as if we are practical atheists, as if God is afar off, then, yes, we take them and use them as power tools to decide on our own who is in and who is out. We’ve had quite enough of the church treating people that way, thank you very much NOT. But if that last word is taken as the presumptive word, that Christ—whose cross and liberation are planted in the very thick of the most challenging times and places of human existence—that Christ is God with us always, then Christ’s pleading word is to treat each other in the understanding that we have been bonded together with God and each other, forever. And more, that even when we forget and start acting as if God is not in the room, as if God is not even within earshot, well, guess what, no matter how we speak, and how unjustly we decide things, and how awful even the church treats others, God is there. God is here. Always with us. In a staff meeting. When helping at the shelter or mucking out. At pillow talk. When we’re griping or tweeting furiously at the latest outrage. God is there/here also in spite of us, at similar instances and places and more. And that is precious good news.

So now, where and with whom do we need to reconcile; how shall we grow in the love we cannot escape?

Duane Larson   Christ the King Lutheran Church   Houston TX   September 7, 2017