Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sermon: July 12

“There's no such thing as a free lunch.”

A phrase that dates back at least 80 years but hints to a practice when free lunches were offered to entice the consumer to come into the saloon in the 19th century. Those free lunches would be very salty and the consumer would then purchase the drinks. We’ve come to understand that you can’t get something for nothing, there is always a cost, and there is no free lunch.

There's also no such thing as a free lunch for our faith either.
As (pastor, author, martyr) Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter in 1942, explaining his participation in the Resistance in Germany: “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and action.”
The author, Eric Metaxes, summarizing the philosophy of Bonhoeffer, puts it this way, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.” Our faith life is meant to be lived out! Our baptismal faith is not a safe talisman but a call to live as God would have us live.

John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, baptizing many, proclaiming a message of repentance. He was certainly noticed by the authorities. He did his ministry by the Jordan until he proclaimed the King’s marriage was not right. The King had him arrested.

As he sat in prison, after he had spoken against the King and his new wife, did he know his fate? Did he think he would he be released?

I suspect he knew he would not get out. That his truthful words had so unnerved the royal couple, that he would pay the price… and Heordias, Herod’s wife got her wish, and John the Baptizer was killed.

John stuck to his belief and his message… repent, even as he must of known that it might end his life. His story is a foreshadowing in the Gospel of what would happen to Jesus. It is also a story that we see in the lives of others, there is a price for faithfulness…

In the spring of 1939, 47-year-old Paul Gruninger was a police officer in St. Gallen, a picturesque Swiss town near the Austrian border. Gruninger was quiet, church-going, non-confrontational, conservative. He had served with the Swiss Army in World War I, obtained his teaching degree and settled into a position at an elementary school where he met Alice Federer, a fellow teacher. They married and began a family.

At the urging of his wife and his mother, Gruninger applied for a better-paying position with the police department. The job was largely administrative, involving completing reports and arranging security for visiting officials. Or so it seemed.

But one morning in April 1939, Gruninger went to his office to find his entry blocked by a uniformed officer. "Sir, you no longer have the right to enter these premises," he was told. His credentials were taken from him; he was ordered to return his uniform. An investigation had discovered that Gruninger was secretly altering the documents of Jews fleeing Austria for safety in Switzerland. When the Nazis came to power in neighboring Austria, Austrian Jews headed to the Swiss border. To avoid confrontation with the Nazis, Swiss police were directed to deny any Jew entry into Switzerland - but Officer Gruninger would make minor alterations in their passports to allow them to enter safely. A few strokes of Gruninger's pen saved hundreds of lives. It was a small action but one of great personal risk.

And Paul Gruninger paid the price. He was dismissed from his position. Charges were filed against him. False rumors circulated that Gruninger had demanded money and favors from those he helped. Shunned by his neighbors, Gruninger peddled raincoats, greeting cards and even animal feed until he died, broke and disgraced, in 1972.

Gruninger was an unassuming man whose faith and family were formed in a world in which anyone who saw what he saw, "the heart-breaking scenes . . . the screaming and the crying of mothers and children . . . could not bear it anymore . . . [and] I could do nothing else [but help!]."

Paul and Alice were buried together near St. Gallen. A plaque was placed on the grave. It read: Paul Gruninger saved hundreds of refugees in 1938-1939. At his funeral, a rabbi read from the Talmud: "He who saves a single life, saves the entire world.” From Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times by Eyal Press.
To which I say Amen.

Paul Gruninger, a righteous gentile, put aside the safe convention of his life for the sake of others, and like John the Baptist, knew it would cost him dearly but he lived as faithfully as he could. Living out our faith has a cost.
Again in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words - “I'm still discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.” That is faith.
Today, Jacob Mason Holz will be baptized into that faith. A faith that he will see lived out in his family and friends. A faith that calls each of us to confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with all in his eternal priesthood.

As Jacob grows, may he see in all of us, a faith lived out with the courage and righteousness to follow Jesus and share the light of Christ when darkness threatens to snuff that light out in our own time and place.

May we follow in the faith we each were baptized into, knowing we too must live and serve like John the Baptist & Paul Gruninger, not knowing what it may cost us, but have the grace and power to faithfully accomplish what we ought to do. Amen.

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