Let your lives follow your lips
- Order of Service: Rite of Baptism, p12 and Word and Sacrament, p26
- Lessons: Acts 8:26-40, 1 John 3:18-24, John 15:1-8
- Hymns: 143, 161, 167, 157
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Not too long ago in Bible class someone brought up the Mormon church. In the course of discussion I noted that Mormons have a good reputation in the United States. People know Mormons as a family-oriented church and as good neighbors. This led someone to ask, “How come that’s not what the Lutheran church is known for?” Good question. Especially because Lutherans are Christians and Mormons aren’t. If anyone should be acting like good Christians, it’s the Lutherans, not the Mormons.
This plays right into one of the great charges hurled at the Lutheran church by our Roman Catholic opponents from the very beginning of the Reformation. Followers of the pope said, “With your grace alone and faith alone talk, you Lutherans teach people that they shouldn’t do good works.” Luther’s partner in reform, Philip Melanchthon feared this as well. He feared that people would hear about grace and free forgiveness and use it as a license to sin and do whatever they want. Melanchthon feared that people would say, “Good works are evil.”
To be perfectly fair, if you read the Lutheran confessions, if you read Luther and other faithful reformers, the farthest thing from the Lutheran mind was to eliminate good works from the life of Christians. Read Luther’s explanations to the Ten Commandments in both the Small and Large Catechisms. “We should fear, love, and trust in God that we…” do stuff. Serve God. Honor preaching. Respect authorities. Not hurt people. Live chaste lives. Don’t steal. Don’t gossip. Don’t covet. In other words, Lutherans have always been in agreement with the words of John before us today. Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth….. [W]e obey His commands…. [We] believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and…love one another as He commanded us. We could rephrase John and say: Lutherans let their lives follow their lips. Put it another way: Lutherans, Christians, do.
We see beautiful examples of it today. Today Christians bring their child and grandchild to the font for Baptism. Lennon’s mom and grandparents do what Christians do, they give the Holy Spirit the chance to do His job and create faith through Word and Sacrament so that Lennon becomes a child of God. And throughout the pews are Christians doing what Christians do, giving the Holy Spirit the chance to do His job and create and strengthen faith here in church and at God’s altar in the Sacrament.
Perhaps now you’re expecting the usual exhortation to come and hear and go and tell, to do evangelism, to come to the Sacrament more, to read your Bibles more at home, to attend Bible class, sign up for this committee and that board, and volunteer for this or that event. Ok, there it was. Christians do those things too. I want you sharing your faith in the world. I want you receiving Christ more and more in the study of His Word and the eating of His Sacrament. I want you not just praying for, but doing the work of the church. I want the families of newly baptized children to further nurture their child and themselves in the Word, not just get the Baptism done and be done with it. That’s loving not just with words, but with actions. And you’ll never hear me speak against them. Christians do that: gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.
But too often we’ve stopped there. I’m guilty of that. I’m guilty of talking about the Christian life as if it centers around this building and this place and doing things at this place for this place. I’m guilty of turning this church into a monastery, the one holy place in your life. Which is probably one of the reasons Lutherans aren’t known as the best, most family-oriented neighbors. Because in so doing, in saying, “Just come to church and get the Sacrament,” we’ve potentially misled people. We’ve allowed people to compartmentalize things. We’ve let them earn a different reputation for Lutherans. Perhaps to some we’re the “I don’t have to do that because God hasn’t specifically told me to” people and to others we’re the “I’m able to do anything I want because I’ll just come and get forgiveness on Sunday” people. Oh, I’m not saying all Lutherans are raving and ravaging pagans and hypocrites, at least not in any greater proportion than other Christian denominations. They have hypocrites and pagans in their midst too. But by describing this as the only holy place in your life, or the things that happen within these four walls or the direct one-to-one evangelistic work as the only holy things you can do, as if mowing here is more important than mowing at home, we’ve somehow made all other things seem to not be a part of the Christian life. We’ve let Lutherans be known as the drinking, card-playing, smoking, swearing Christians. We revel in our freedom in Christ, sometimes too much. We’re so afraid of being too legalistic and pietistic and works righteous, that we almost go in the other direction. We’re so worried about letting the social gospel take over and becoming a political congregation only trying to save people’s earthly bodies, that we almost ignore doing things in and for our community.
Maybe we’ve forgotten just what kind of actions go along with our pious words spoken here in church, the actions that flow from the faith the Spirit gives in Baptism and strengthens through Word and Meal. In case we have, John talks about it. He says we obey God’s commands. He says we love one another as he commanded us. That’s generic. And that’s fine. Because generic, general commands eliminate our wiggle room. If God commanded it, we do it. If that person is our neighbor, we love them. But, since we sometimes wiggle out of general commands, John gets specific too. In 3:16, he says, We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. And in 3:17, If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
The whole package of faith is the whole Christian life. Our lives follow our lips. Yes, it begins here. Your Christian life began at the font, where you died and rose with Christ. Then, on a weekly basis you hear the Word of God and feed on the body and blood of Christ to hit the reset button in your sinful life. You study the word as children and adults in Bible classes. You nourish that during the week in your own private or family reading. But it only begins there. Those words that your lips frame flow into and then out of your heart. The body and blood of Christ that comes into your body and fills your stomach provides the spiritual energy that moves you throughout the week. This love that God lavished upon you doesn’t just quiet your conscience by announcing the forgiveness of your sins, but it sends you back to your homes, your neighborhoods, your schools, your work, your world filled with love and acting out in love for others. John said that too immediately preceding our text: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
Our faith really gives us no choice except to destroy that charge hurled against you: “Lutherans don’t teach and don’t do good works.” Exactly the opposite. Bound to Christ, united to Him by faith, washed clean by His blood, all we can do is do exactly what Christ did. He laid down His life for you. We find ways to give our lives for our brothers. He forgave our sins. We forgive as he forgave. He took care of people’s bodies and souls, so do we. We can’t ignore the body or the soul. So, Coleman’s, Lennon’s relying on you right now for everything. He can’t eat. He needs you to feed him. And you will. He can’t walk. He needs you to take him places. And you will. He can’t read the Bible or get to church. He needs you to act like believers for him so that one day he can do the same. And for the rest not bringing children to the font today, as Luther says, you have enough to do in simply obeying the Ten Commandments in your own corners of the world.
But I fail! And so John says when our hearts condemn us, as they so often must, then we turn not to more words and deeds of our own, not to foolish vows to work harder, live better, be gooder, but rather to God who is greater than our heart, the God who knows everything, the God who loved you not just with words – “Oh, I’d love to help you,” – but with actions, “Here is my Son to save you.” The God who simply says, “Believe in my Son Jesus. He did it for you. He loved you. He cared for you. He lived for you. He died for you.” That’s the command of God: Believe. Cling to Christ. When you sink into the depths, as Peter did, look to Christ who extends His pierced hand. And then marvel that from Christ flows the rest. He makes your faith do what your faith does naturally. Just as apple trees naturally produce apples, through faith in Christ, your life will follow your lips; your deeds will follow your creed. And your creed is simple: Jesus Christ laid down His life for [me]. Amen.