Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 13:8-14
There is a viral phenomenon that is sweeping the country, and it is called “The Ice Bucket Challenge.” Has anyone here NOT heard of it? Has anybody here taken the Ice Bucket Challenge? So you know how this works, right? Someone issued you a challenge – which you apparently graciously accepted. And you got wet, right?
So here’s how it works. The person who accepts the challenge – in turn issues a challenge to whomever it is that they call out to take the Ice Bucket challenge. What follows immediately is a bucket of ice water – or cold water poured over their heads– or maybe even immersion in a cold swimming pool – or in John Christopher’s case – both. Fully clothed! And you have to take a video of it – post it on Facebook – YouTube – or wherever – and make a donation to raise awareness and provide funds to help find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. It’s also known as Lou Geherig’s disease.
President George W. Bush accepted the challenge – his wife Laura did the honors of pouring a bucket over his head – and then he challenged President Bill Clinton. I have no idea if President Clinton accepted the challenge or not.
I have been challenged by one of our congregation’s disciples. Thank you Pat Massey! But I’m afraid thus far I have disappointed you. One of the worst feelings I hate to feel is the feel of wet clothes on my body. Absolutely can’t stand it. And I cannot stand to be cold. So… if you think I’m going to stand up here and let a bucket of ice cold water be poured over my head – ain’t goin’ to happen. Besides, it would damage the carpet, and ruin the wood floor up here. So, sorry Pat.
And as I understand it, as of this past Wednesday, the ALS Foundation has raised over $107 million dollars to date. By the way – for those who accept the challenge – the contribution is to write a check for $25 to the ALS Foundation. If you do not accept the challenge, it’s $100.
So let’s see. Cold, wet clothes – $100. Cold wet-clothes – $100. I’ll let you decide. What do you think? What would you like me to do? That was a dangerous question, wasn’t it! OK – the best I’ll say right now is, I’ll think about it. I have been issued the challenge – and I will – think about it.
Now, I understand that to be called out – to be challenged – to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge is to be tagged. Tagged. That’s the word that’s being used. Anybody here ever play tag? Yeah. To play the game, you DID NOT want to be tagged, because then you would be “it.” And nobody ever wanted to be it.
But now – to be tagged – means that someone thinks enough of you to include you in this thing that is sweeping the country. As much as I have been hoping that no one would tag me for this challenge – I can only say that I feel honored that I have been tagged. So thank you, Pat. Again – I’m still thinking about it.
May I suggest to you that all of you – with this new understanding of what it means to be tagged – all of you have been tagged. And I’m not talking about tagging you to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. No. I want you to know that you have already been tagged. You are already walking wet. In the water’s of baptism – God tagged you. That’s where God tagged you and named you and claimed you as His own.
So last week – I issued a different kind of challenge. I challenged everyone at worship last weekend to read Romans 12:9-21 and Acts 2:41-47 every day this past week. Now, I’m not going to ask how many accepted that challenge, because I myself forgot to read those texts on Monday. But I did remember the other days of the week. I issued that challenge because I want us to learn what it means when I say that we are Romans 12 Christians living in an Acts 2 church.
I like the Romans 12 and Acts 2 passages because they tell me what it looks like when we say that we have been tagged by Jesus Christ. But you know, today’s reading from Romans 13 and what Jesus is telling us in our reading from Matthew, are also great passages to tell us what it means to be tagged. And I say that because – this new understanding of what it means to be tagged – is to accept a challenge. In this case, let’s call it a God-shaped challenge.
And it has to do with our reading from Romans – as well as what Jesus is telling us in our reading from Matthew about being reconciled to someone who has hurt us– well – it’s all about being tagged. You see – we are not defined – disciples of Jesus Christ are not defined – by pouring a bucket of ice water over our heads. So what do our readings today tell us about what being tagged looks like? This God-shaped challenge can be discovered in our reading from Romans.
The very first line in our reading from Romans – Romans chapter 13 – says this. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Owe no one anything except to love one another.
It’s one thing to have someone dump a bucket of cold water over your head. But imagine what it would be like if we – taking the word of God seriously that we heard read to us just a few moments ago – to owe no one anything except to love one another – what do you think would happen if we were known for our ability to dump buckets of love over people’s heads! Huh? Instead of buckers of ice water, buckets of love. What do you think might happen?
Remember our new definition of what it means to be tagged: it means you have been offered a challenge. Friends – I want you to know that you have been tagged. You have been tagged by the love, grace, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You have been tagged, and now – you’re it! Can you imagine it? You’ve been tagged – we’ve been tagged – and now it’s our job – it’s our calling – to tag everyone we meet with that same love and amazing grace that God in Jesus Christ shows to us.
Buckets of love!
And here is the Good News! When the waters of baptism were poured over your head – or when you were fully immersed in the back yard swimming pool – or in the full-immersion baptistery of some other church – doesn’t matter how, where, or when that baptism occurred. In baptism, you are tagged – and God has given to you His grace – His underserved love and favor. And He reminds you – He reminds me – of that love and that grace and that forgiveness – over and over and over again.
Listen! We love because God first loved us. So maybe you as a Christian have already allowed other people to pour buckets of ice cold water over your head – or like me – you’re still thinking about it. Or maybe you have chosen to do something else. Like you’ve already decided to join hands with other Lutheran Christians at Town Line Lutheran Church in Alden early this [Sunday] afternoon to put food packages together to help feed hungry people. Whatever it is that you do – I know that you do it specifically because you have been tagged by God’s love in Jesus Christ. And you are taking Paul’s challenge – this God-shaped challenge – to owe no one anything – except to love one another. And that includes what Jesus is telling us today – to be reconciled to that brother or sister in Christ who has harmed you – or perhaps that brother or sister that you have harmed.
By the way, I find it interesting that Paul in this lesson from Romans 13 says that those who have love for others have fulfilled the law. Listen again to what he says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
And here Paul lists some of the laws that we know as the Ten Commandments. And he summarizes all of these by saying that these, “…are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Well, where have we heard that before? Yeah. Right here! It’s Jesus who says, “Love God. Love your Neighbor.” And then we throw in, “Because nothing else matters.”
One more thing. Sunday School starts this weekend, and our theme for the kids this year is “Let your light shine.” That’s just another way of saying, “Love God. Love your neighbor” or “Tag, you’re it!” So tell you what! I’m going to let my light shine. And – I want you to know – I’ve thought about it. In fact, I’d already made up my mind about this on Wednesday of this week. I’ve been tagged – and I accept the Ice Bucket Challenge. I will do this in memory of our brother John Fahnestock – a disciple here at Zion Lutheran Church – who lost his battle with ALS 8 years ago.
SO – after the 10:45 service, during the Sunday School picnic. So if you’d like, you can come with your cameras or video recording devices. You know – it’s a wonderful thing to be tagged. A wonderful thing to be “it.” To be thought of. To be remembered. To be included – by Jesus Christ. You have been tagged – remembered – thought of – included by Jesus Christ.
In other words, you have been tagged. And that’s the Good News. Tagged by the love, grace, mercy, peace, pardon and forgiveness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ poured his life out for you in buckets. So now you go and pour your life into someone else. No matter what that looks like. No matter where that takes you. Whatever that means for you. No matter how much it costs. Learn what it means to owe no one anything except to love them.
So… Tag. You’re it. Amen