Text: 20[Jesus said:] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
We come to the end of another Lutheran Schools’ Week. It’s been observed with cowboy hats, camping tents, sports jerseys and superhero outfits. It began with last Sunday’s service at Immanuel and now it ends here with ours. A very fitting way to celebrate “Life Together, Life Forever.” We’ve prayed together, learned together, reached out together, served together, and played together. If you haven’t seen the pictures and videos—especially from the wacky Olympics—you must check out the school’s Facebook page. They are priceless.
Life together is not always full of so many smiles, though, is it? As the saying goes, it’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys. Or, to paraphrase another saying, “People—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” We recently watched the movie The Martian. What a powerful reminder that life together isn’t luxury, it’s a necessity. Even if he had had all the supplies he needed, he still would have been desperate to make contact, desperate to get back together with his crew somehow. He still would have risked everything he risked.
At the same time, the problem with trying to live with other people is—other people. We focus primarily on the effect of sin in our relationship with God. Because of sin we are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Jesus came to redeem us, to bridge the divide, to buy us back and reclaim us as His own. But the effect of sin is also there in our relationships with one another, too. In fact, think about the 10 Commandments. How many of them are focused on our relationship with God? Three. How many are focused on our relationships with one another? Seven. In fact, that’s the distinction we make when we divide them into the two ‘tables’—the first table is about our relationship with God and the second table is about our relationships with one another. Those relationships with other people are just as impacted by sin as our relationship with God.
In the perfection of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and with each other until sin separated them from each other just as it did from God. Husband and wife would never experience life together in harmony with God and one another. That brokenness is seen very quickly in human history through sibling rivalry and, ultimately, murder. To this day, we live in the reality of relationships that are broken in all the things that we do to one another, everything that we fail to do, and, ultimately, they are broken once and for all by death. And, yes, that is part of the message that Lutheran schools share—that sin separates.
Of course that part is hardly news. If history has proven anything it certainly must have proven that people are not basically good. Whether it’s on a global scale or on an individual scale, the list of things you and I have done to one another and the good things we’ve failed to do is overwhelming. No, what is news is the amazing message that God intervenes in the broken creations with the promise that there will be life together again. Noah and his faithful family huddled together on the ark, awaiting new life together after the flood. The family of Israel anticipates life together again in the Promised Land. A remnant of Judah waits for life together after exile in Babylon. God’s people knew—they lived it again and again—that only He could bring about life together as it should be and that His promise would be fulfilled, ultimately, in the Messiah. Jesus has come and, by His suffering and death, fulfills all God’s promises and brings life now and eternally for all who believe in Him. That is the Good News that Lutheran School students, staff, and families, have the privilege of not just sharing, but living—well, starting to live, at least.
That’s one of the things that has long intrigued me about the gospel—the collective sense to it. Think about the way the Bible describes what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. He’s made you a child of God, right? A child is always part of a family. Part of a group. Part of a life together. What did our children sing again this morning? “I am Jesus’ little lamb.” It would be a very strange shepherd who possesses only one animal, wouldn’t it? Lambs are part of a flock. Part of a group. Part of a life together. We are the church, living stones built together into one structure which is a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
I have yet to find a description of what God has done for you and I in Jesus Christ that leaves us solitary, just me and my Bible, alone in our own little spiritual world. Even the simple statement that your sins are forgiven isn’t unaffected. How did Jesus teach us to pray? Forgive us our sins… as we forgive those who sin against us.
That’s where our life together flows from, doesn’t it? Whether we’re talking about our individual families or the family of God here at St. Paul and at Immanuel. It certainly doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, that we succeed in loving our neighbors as ourselves. For now, our life together is a reflection of grace. The ability to forgive because the sin that you have committed against me and I have committed against you had to be paid for. And it was. It was carried to the cross by Jesus Christ along with all the rest so that He could suffer and die for it. To restore your relationship with God and to restore your relationship with other people.
That is the special bond that we enjoy as Immanuel Lutheran Church and St. Paul Lutheran Church and Christ the King Lutheran School…. You know, it didn’t take me long to give up on trying to keep track of which of you are members here and which are members at Immanuel. It was obvious pretty quickly that, with all the family connections, all the back and forth, all the ties that we’re blessed with, that would be a pretty pointless effort. But you know, take all of that away, take away the growing up at Immanuel and marrying into St. Paul and vice versa, take away the family members who are still back there at that other place, there’s still a bond there. In fact, it’s a stronger bond than family, a stronger bond than blood. It’s a bond forged, so to speak, by water. It’s the bond that comes from not just being family, but from being brothers and sisters in Christ.
All of it flows from the Word of God. From baptism. Staff devotions and classroom devotions and weekly chapel aren’t just luxuries that we add in because we don’t have the kind of restrictions a public school has. They’re literally who we are. Last Sunday we started Lutheran Schools’ Week as you heard Pastor Reed speaking about speaking with authority—and, in fact, speaking with it himself. Today we’re ending Lutheran Schools’ Week gathered around the word. There really is no more fitting way to begin and end this observance.
In fact, I’d like to take that one step further. That’s not just true of our school and our congregations, it’s true of our families, as well. Jesus said that anyone who isn’t willing to give up their father or mother, brother or sister, sons or daughters, isn’t worthy of Him. That’s not because those bonds are not important. It’s because what He offers is so much more. To be honest, I wonder what people are thinking when they say that they won’t be in church on a holiday, for example, because it’s important to them to be with family that day. Now, let’s be fair—often it’s not an “either or.” Thinking back to the vast majority of people who have said that to me, they went to visit family and, all together, were in church worshipping with that portion of God’s family in that place. But, just on the face of it, if that’s really true, then that says something disturbing about Jesus’ place in their lives. If it’s more important that they be somewhere else than God’s house, perhaps they really aren’t worthy of Him?
But again, it’s not an “either or.” The great blessing of a Christian family is to have those bonds of blood added to the bonds of baptism. That’s why I’ve included an additional insert in your bulletin today.
“Life Together, Life Forever.” It isn’t just a slogan. It’s a promise. Whether we’re talking about our families, our congregations, or our school, we have been brought together, literally, by the grace of God—grace that even has the power to overcome all the ways we have wronged one another—gathered by and around His Word. May God always enable us to live together in that grace until the day when we are with Him forever. Amen.