Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 2 – Baptism of Stephen Levet

13 June 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 14:15-24

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

If we were to ask a person at random who the very best Christian in this church is, I would guess that the most overlooked candidate would be the newly baptized Stephen Levet. But he is the Lord’s ideal of a Christian.

Stephen Levet does not bring anything of his own the Church. He is not a pastor or theologian. He is not a school teacher or Sunday School instructor. He has never served on a board or given a dollar to the church. In fact, the only thing he brings to the font with him is sin – the inherited inbred sin that curses all of us to death. The same sin assumed by our Lord on the cross. The same sin whose forgiveness is given voice by the church’s proclamation under the authority of Christ.

Stephen Levet is the ideal Christian. The Lord said as much when He shocked His listeners by answering the question: “Who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom” by placing a child in their midst and telling everyone to be like the child. For indeed, the first will be last, and the last, first.

And while serving the church, working for the kingdom, and sacrificially supporting the congregation are all good and noble works – they do not make a Christian worthy, and those good works certainly do not earn salvation.

Some will protest that little Stephen was compelled to come here. He did not decide on his own religious belief. His parents carried him to the font. And they even answered questions about his faith on his behalf. The pastor held him and poured water on him. Stephen was not in a position to refuse. He was indeed compelled.

And compulsion violates our sense of freedom.

But God’s kingdom offers not a freedom of the will, but a freedom from sin, freedom to be in communion with God, and the freedom to live forever. The truth has made Stephen, and all the baptized children of God, free.

It’s not the child, but the adult that allows excuses to get in the way of faith. Our Lord tells a parable about a great banquet. We might also call this the Parable of the Excuses. We grownups are good at making excuses. And in fact, the excuses in the mouths of those invited to the banquet don’t sound unreasonable to us in the modern world.

The first invitee declines the master’s invitation because of a land deal. We can’t really expect people to reschedule the closing on a house or a meeting with a real estate agent for the sake of coming to church.

Likewise, the second man declines the invitation because he has a perfectly reasonable excuse: he has to work. He has made a purchase of some farm equipment, and he has to have a look. One’s job is important, and the master’s invitation is just going to have to be put on hold.

The third man is placing family life ahead of the master’s invitation. After all, no modern person would deny that a wedding and honeymoon is a reasonable excuse to turn down an invitation to “eat bread in the kingdom of God.”

It is as shocking to us as it was to our Lord’s listeners that the master in the story (symbolizing the Lord Himself) “became angry.” For in our sophisticated adult world, we have to have our priorities. We’re very busy and important people. We’ll get around to the Kingdom of God when we don’t have anything else more important to do. And Jesus is not supposed to be angry and disapprove of our choices.

But notice that our newest Christian, Stephen, offers no such excuses. Granted, he is sinful, he is selfish, he has a will at odds against the Lord’s Kingdom. But at the same time, he is not swayed by real estate, work, and family obligations. He knows better than any of us what it is to trust, and as of yet, knows nothing of so-called self-sufficiency. He is content to be held and fed by his parents – and this humility, dear friends, is a picture of the Christian life.

There are genuine times when matters of this world simply have to be attended to. The Lord is not insensitive to our needs. Far from it. The Lord is gracious and merciful. The Lord took on flesh in our fallen world – a world of government forms, deadlines, demanding bosses, family life, standing in line, doctors’ appointments, and every manner of responsibility – many of which are part of Adam’s curse. But the Lord’s Kingdom is not something to take for granted, to place at the end of the queue, a thing that we participate in only if and when we have nothing better to do.

The Lord is offering us gifts, dear brothers and sisters. Gifts! Greater gifts than anything this world can offer. The Kingdom of God is the one place where we do get something for nothing, and the thing we get has no comparison to anything offered by the world.

Stephen took part in that glorious Kingdom this morning at the font. For unlike those who made excuses, he is part of the multitudes from the east and the west that were compelled to come to the water of life.

The Lord’s Kingdom is filled with the weak and hurting, the castaways and the misfits. The invitation goes out to all of us “poor and crippled and blind and lame.” He drags in the sin-sick and the humble, the little children, the suffering, the struggling, and those the world considers worthless. Jesus goes out “to the highways and hedges” and he “compel[s] people to come in, that [His] house may be filled.”

That is the Good News, dear friends. The baptismal compulsion of little Stephen as a disciple of Jesus in the Lord’s Kingdom is the very picture of a gracious God. And so are our own baptisms. In the Lord’s Kingdom, there is no seniority. The greatest in the Kingdom is the little child. The worker hired in the eleventh hour is given the same wages as the one who has labored his whole life in the heat of day.

It is by His grace that we receive His gifts, that we see the eternal value in eating “bread in the kingdom of God,” in attending the Lord’s banquet and kneeling “at table with Him” and hearing His Word. And even when the world’s business and busyness presses in on us, we can look to our Master for food and care, in the same way that our newest brother looks to his mother and father.

Let us rejoice and be glad, for we have been invited by a Lord who is so kind as to compel us. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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