This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at the joint service of St. Christopher and St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2021. St. Christopher has been worshiping at St. Matthew’s since they lost their building in the end of the litigation.
St Christopher FW with St Matthew’s Lutheran December 12, 2021
I want to begin this morning by expressing gratitude on behalf of the Episcopal Church, this diocese, and St Christopher’s to the good people of St Matthew’s, Pastor Lesley, and Bishop Erik for your gracious and generous hospitality. With a warmth that characterizes your tradition, you have received into your midst a people who are grieving significant loss. And you have been patient, and kind, and loving – and you even moved your Sunday morning service times, the sacrifice of all sacrifices. We gather today with gratitude.
A relationship between Lutherans and Episcopalians is a natural fit. We may come out of two parallel but different reformation movements, but we share much in common. And I’m grateful for our common mission, which is grounded in the one baptism.
There is much to celebrate today: baptism, confirmation, installation of a new pastor, two traditions worshipping together, and the Season of Advent. So, I’m mindful of a particular dictum: preach about God; preach about love; preach about ten minutes. Erik and I have made a deal to keep our total to ten minutes. We shall see.
So, I thought I would tell a brief personal story about my first experience of our Lutheran – Episcopalian relationship. I attended seminary thirty years ago at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. It was, also, the Lutheran Program of the Southwest. On the same campus we shared certain classes like Bible, and biblical languages, and homiletics (preaching), and Clinical and Pastoral Education. And, we shared some professors.
The professor of Homiletics was a Lutheran named Dr Hilmer Krause. He died earlier this year. I will never forget him, nor his influence on me personally.
So, our preaching classes were designed to have four or five seminarians in a classroom setting, along with a podium, and a camera, and our professor. We each took our turn in front of the camera, our professor, and our classmates. If you think that sounds intimidating, you would be right. Add to that the presence and voice of a professor who reminded me of George C Scott as General Patton.
One particular day a classmate preached a homily on the assigned biblical text for the week. He captured our attention with a good story, connecting it well to the biblical passage. The sermon was delivered clearly. It was relevant. He met us where we were in life.
He finished the sermon. We all sat there in silence. It seemed like a long, long silence. And finally, from the back of the room Dr Hilmer Krause thundered, “Where is the good news?”
He said, “You just told me what’s wrong in the world, and then you told me what I need to do about it? That’s not good news! The Good News is what God has done, what God is doing, what God promises. Where is the good news?”
Not being one to simply make his point and move on, Hilmer stayed with that theme for a while. It was like he had been waiting for the opportunity to make his point – an opportunity he knew would come eventually. He would go on to tell us, “I don’t go to church to be ‘should upon.’ I go to hear the Gospel.”
There is no tradition that understands Good News better than Lutherans. You even have it in your name: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – evangelical meaning Gospel or Good News. You are rooted in it, as well. From your beginnings, it’s not works that save us, it’s grace – unearned, unmerited grace.
In the birth, life, teachings, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the undeserved forgiveness, unmerited grace, and unconditional love of God is revealed.
That’s the Good News the angel will announce on Christmas Eve. That’s the Good News that changes lives and changes this world. That’s the Good News baptized people are called to embody and proclaim. And yes, when we embody this love we might actually be “good news in the flesh” to somebody else.
Where is the Good News? It’s in a lot of places and people if we look. Sometimes you don’t have to look very far. Episcopalians gathered here today can testify that the Good News of God’s love is embodied in some Lutherans named St Matthew’s. And for you, we give thanks.