Today, the words you read are not my own, but rather the words of my 16-year-old son, Max. I first heard these words this morning, as I sat in the congregation of St. John’s Lutheran Church, during the Youth Sunday service. Today, the youth presided over all aspects of the worship service. And they did an amazing job. We are blessed to have a great group of active young people, and I was proud to witness their service and commitment to their faith. I was even more proud that two of my own children were participants in the service this morning. Aaron, my 14-year-old, sang a solo during the anthem and the psalm. His voice is his gift, and it was beautiful to hear him share it. And Max offered his gift of faith, rock solid even at this young age, through his words, which he shared during his sermon, and through the confidence that he had as he led the worship service. He has graciously given me permission to post his sermon here … from his lips to God’s ears.
” The other day I was talking to a few of my friends about religion, and one of them was trying to convince me that there was no God. He argued that if God really existed, he would smite the non-believer right then and there. I informed him that God has better things to do. This is the same argument I use against many of the so-called “sins” that people are persecuted for today. In a world full of murder, theft, and rape, I find it hard to believe that our one and only God can find the time to judge people on the grounds that their lifestyle is a little bit different from yours or mine.
When I was asked to preach the homily today, I really didn’t know what to expect. I wrote it pretty last-minute, and I hadn’t even read the passages assigned to me before yesterday morning. But when I did finally get around to reading them, I suppose the passage that stuck out to me the most was in Jeremiah. God promised “woe to the shepherd who is destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” The modern atrocities of the world instantly came to mind. Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan…images of each began to flood my mind.
God promised to reunite his scattered sheep. And yet, this reuniting is nowhere near complete. The refugee torn away from his homeland is still missing. The children whose parents have been killed by disease or murder…still scattered. Thousands of years ago, God promised to reunite his people; and yet, we remain divided… families torn apart. And all too often, they are torn apart by the evil of man.
When people ask me why I believe in God, I describe to them a short moment during a rather difficult part of my life, in which I felt a sudden peace, and I knew that everything would be okay. But for some of God’s people there is no peace, and there never will be the feeling that everything is okay.
Jesus was persecuted for being the Messiah, a victimless crime. In fact, his crime was doing nothing but helping the poor and weak. Yet man chose to murder Jesus. For nothing more than healing, they chose to murder him. And yet, as he stood dying, he begged God for these people’s forgiveness. No one but a truly strong man could ever beg for the forgiveness of his murderers; no one but the truly innocent could desire such a generous reward for the men who killed him.
And yet, even now there are people persecuted for victimless crimes: the prostitute just trying to make a living, the homosexual murdered for the crime of falling in love. Some of these persecutors make the argument that they do this by God’s will. Have they learned nothing from Jesus’ teachings? The true criminal who stood next to Jesus as he died was ensured, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What right does man have to choose who enters God’s kingdom and who does not when even the criminal is ensured a place in paradise, when even the Lord’s own executioner deserves forgiveness?
Too many people have given me the argument against God, that if God really existed, He would smite the non-believer right then and there. Don’t you think God has other things to do? Does God really take the time to judge those in love, homosexual or not; or those trying to make a living, prostitute or not, or the atheist? Even the followers of the Islam faith are persecuted for having different beliefs, which is the same crime Jesus was punished for.
God promised to reunite his scattered sheep. It is true that He is stronger than any of us, but sitting around and simply saying “God can handle it” will not help anyone. I speak to you today not as a means of accusation, or even with the intent of causing guilt; but as a cry for help, on behalf of the scattered sheep. I know personally I have not always been the best at standing up and taking action. This is not to say I haven’t tried, but the majority of people are not on our side. Both the persecutor of the innocent and the lazy, who think someone else will handle it, fight against us. Nonetheless, it is time I stop arguing with the truly righteous path, complaining that if life were a little bit different, I could help people.
If Jesus can forgive the executioner, then there is no excuse not to forgive. We all have moments where we are wronged, and we’ve all wronged in ways that we think we can never let go. We use expressions like “go to Hell” so nonchalantly these days. I know I personally have said such things on far too many occasions. And if I can learn to let go of such things, and welcome those who have wronged me as family into my life, then I know that the self-appointed vigilante can stop with the abomination he has been performing with his persecutions and welcome his innocent victims as family into paradise.
I think that with God’s help we can work to bring together God’s sheep. Even if we have no money or time to spare, there are ways to help: donate an old coat, sign petitions to legalize the victimless crime. Sometimes even a smile and wave to a complete stranger on the street can do wonders for them. Most importantly, always when we look at someone, can we see in their faces that they are just as good, just as wholesome, just as worthy of salvation as we are.
After all, that’s what Jesus the King of Kings teaches us.”