Installation

I have to admit I kind of surprised at being asked to
preach at an installation.
When I received the request to preach here today, my first thought
was, “I’ve only been ordained and installed for a year and a half
now—what could I possibly say to Jim, who’s a veteran pastor?
For that matter, what could I say to St. Paul’s, a community I don’t
know at all and a community which called their last pastor the year I
was born?”

So we don’t know each other—you guys and me. Let’s change that.
(I can already see members of St. Stephen clenching in
horror and a smirk building on (Pastor Judith’s face… he’s going to
talk about his cat.)
I have a cat.
She’s a tortoise shell—that means she’s black and two shades of brown.
These colorings break straight down the middle of her face-half black,
half brown—like a comedy/tragedy mask. And her name is Simul… short
for Simul Justus Et Peccator—or in English “Simultaneously Saint and
Sinner.”
I named her this not just because the name fits her face,
and her personality—but because I’m convinced this description of the
human condition—that we are both justified and sinner, simultaneously
sinner and saint—is not only accurate, but the key to Lutheran
theology and to our relationship with Jesus.

Hmmm, and you know what else it does?
It tells me something about you all—even thought I’ve not met most of you.
It tells me I know who I’m preaching to—a bunch of justified sinners,
just like me.
Let us pray

Yes, I’m preaching to a people who are justified sinners,
just like me.
We are at the same time in bondage to sin, death and the devil and
cannot free ourselves,
And
And
freed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Within us a civil war rages between these two halves—we’re like a
charioteer trying to steer two horses, one going north, the other
south. There is both a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde in our soul.

Or think of the first image we have of human beings—from back in Genesis.
We’re adam from adamah—humans from the hummus, earthlings from the
earth… and yet despite that lowly estate—being dust critters—we are
also breathed into, made alive by the breath of God. Dust animated by
God’s breath. Clay vessels molded and shaped by the hands of God and
made living by that same LORD.

We’re jars of clay.
Yes, jars of clay, as Paul claims. Fragile, brittle even.
Do you see yourselves?
A container kept on a dark back shelf—veiled—maybe the seal of our lid
is getting moldy and the lip of our spout is chipped.
Yes, fragile—a little broken even—
but fragile so that the extraordinary power of God is made plain.
That we can point to the God who found us and filled us to the brim
with Christ’s light—so that light shines out of the darkness and can
not be ignored—especially by others in that darkness.

Yes, I am preaching to a people who can empathize with the
people Isaiah is preaching to.
A people removed from their land, captured, and kept in Babylon for a
generation.
Yes a people paying double for their sins, knowing they are oh-so-mortal
like grass, withering in Babylonian heat,
gentle flowers fading in the timeless sun.
Looking out, looking home, looking to Jerusalem
Jerusalem veiled by valleys and covered by mountain-journey. So far
away—too far away.
Yes, far away and fading—yet Isaiah’s words come in a cool satisfying
breeze—comfort o comfort my people.
Brought near to home by God—God moving mountains and shifting valleys—
a way—a highway where there was no way.
A God greater than captivity—a word for us that will stand forever.
Yes, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd—gather us like a lamb
and carry us in his bosom—lead like a mother sheep.”

Wait. Pastor, there’s one other thing I forgot to tell you about us
being Simul Justus et Peccator.
Luther didn’t invent the idea. He got it from Saint
Augustine—who didn’t invent it either. You see, Augustine read
Matthew’s description of wheat and tares, and that the church is a
mixed body of sinners and saints
And he said “goodness, this is not just true of the church, but also
of each and every one of us, we are all individually
justified-sinners, just like the church is filled with
justified-sinners.”
But I don’t want us to let go of the previous insight too
soon—that we collectively, as the church, are a mixed body—filled with
people who themselves are saint and sinner at the same time.
That’s the miracle of the church—Somehow—even in our most vicious
moments of sin,
even when we are as far from loving one another as the sun is from the earth—
we’re still the body of Christ
and still sinners sought out by Christ.

Consider Simon Peter—the rock upon which Christ founded his church—or
at least another block-head-sinner like all the rest of us.
As Jesus went through the most traumatic of experiences—
betrayal, trial, and execution—
the time when he was most in need—
Peter denied ever knowing him.
Not once,
not twice,
but three times.
He betrayed his Lord and Savior, his Rabbi and friend.

Yes, Peter’s the Church.
After all we’re not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.
Yes, Sinners—l
ambs led by God through Christ Jesus like a mother sheep—
coaxed with gentle questions:
“do you love me?”
And gentle reminders of our fellow sinners in need:
“feed my lambs.”
“Do you love me?” Love your people—“tend my sheep.”
“Do you love me?” In the midst of your brokenness—
and the brokenness of this place and this time—
these people—
these Justified sinners—
“feed my sheep.”
Yes, three times these questions and three times the
lifting up of the flock of Christ,
This turns Peter around, forgives him and gives him a mission, “follow me.”

It calls all of us justified sinners into the ongoing work
of Christ.
Yes, we fragile jars of clay, we exiles peering into the
desert toward our home, we who deny Christ. filled and led,
forgiven and called to follow.
Called to baptize and witness, gather and dine, teach and
proclaim. Called to follow Christ Jesus.

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