Skin in the Game


Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Prayer of the Day: O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1.”

The Wall of Moms is a group of women who identify as mothers. They first demonstrated at George Floyd protests in Portland, Oregon and have since grown in number, organizing protests in several other US cities. Hundreds to thousands of these women have participated in the movement since then. These unarmed mothers demonstrate together against police violence against black Americans, linking arm and arm and facing off against riot police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets. This is perhaps the most graphic example I have seen recently of persons “presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice.” It is one thing to hold strong opinions about justice. It is quite another to put your life on the line for it. These women recognize what we all should know: that when it comes to combating racist violence masked as law enforcement, everyone’s skin is in the game.

It is worth asking ourselves, individually and as a church, what we are willing to present as a sacrifice for God’s reign. How much is your congregation and the ministry it does worth to you? Is it worth a trip to Disney World? A cruise? A new car? How much are our congregations willing to risk in order to become reconciling presences in their communities? How many of our churches are willing to open their doors to homeless people? Provide a safe space for teens who are struggling with their sexual identity? Welcome and shelter persons in danger of deportation? And what of our regional and national church expressions? Are they prepared to do more than issue preachy/screechy social statements condemning racism and commit a meaningful portion of our material resources to supporting the mission and ministry of black churches that are on the front lines of combating racism?

We in the Lutheran tradition have a hard time calling for sacrifice. Anything that sounds like “works righteousness” or “legalism” scares the bejesus out of us.  Paul doesn’t seem to have that problem when addressing the Roman church and neither did Jesus when he spoke with his disciples. “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25. Loss there must be for God’s reign to come and those of us who have known only privilege will feel that loss acutely. A world in which all have their daily bread doesn’t look very attractive to those of us who are accustomed to having so much bread in store that it goes stale before we can eat it all. We cringe when Jesus says, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Luke 14:33. How does that square with our insistence that God’s salvation is by grace alone?

It is helpful, I think, to ask ourselves: “From what and for what do we need to be saved?” If the answer to the “from” question is “the wrath of God,” then, yes, salvation is and must be by grace alone. But God’s wrath does not seem to be our problem. Rather, it is our own wrath against each other, our own hostility against people we perceive as threatening us, our own lifestyle of reckless consumption that brings our planet to the brink of ecological ruin. What we need is to be saved from ourselves and the oppressive structures that impoverish the many to enrich the few and plunder the earth to feed our insatiable appetite for more. Sin doesn’t enrage God, but it wreaks havoc upon us. Or perhaps it would be better to say that sin does enrage God, precisely because it wreaks havoc upon us and God’s good creation.

Make no mistake about it, God forgives sin unconditionally. Jesus’ resurrection is a pledge that nothing we can do, however hateful and destructive it might be, will extinguish God’s love for us and God’s determination to save us. But forgiveness alone will not save us. And that brings us to the “for” question. We have been forgiven and spared from the fate we deserve so that the “mind of Christ” may be formed in us, as St. Paul would say. Philippians 2:5. That, according to Paul, is the whole point of the church. It is to be a community formed by its worship and practices into the Body of Christ and presented as a living sacrifice for the sake of the world. That means offering ourselves up, individually and corporately, for the sake of God’s gentle reign. If that means divesting ourselves of privilege, wealth and control, so be it.

The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we still have not “resisted [sin] to the point of shedding []our blood.” Hebrews 12:4. Yet that day may come and perhaps has arrived already. When I see a wall of moms facing off against the machinery of oppression, I am forced to ask myself whether the relative safety I enjoy has been bought at the cost of Jesus’ call to discipleship. “The Word became flesh,” the gospel tells us-which is another way of saying that in Jesus, God has put God’s skin in the future of creation. Nothing less is required of those who would be Jesus’ disciples.

The following poem by John Oxenham reflects the heart of one formed by the mind of Christ and prepared to put some skin in the call to discipleship.

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
With your eager face and your fiery grace?
Where are you going, Great-Heart?

“To fight a fight with all my might,
For Truth and Justice, God and Right,
To grace all Life with His fair Light.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To beard the Devil in his den;
To smite him with the strength of ten;
To set at large the souls of men.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To end the rule of knavery;
To break the yoke of slavery;
To give the world delivery.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To hurl high-stationed evil down;
To set the Cross above the crown;
To spread abroad my King’s renown.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To cleanse the earth of noisome things;
To draw from life its poison-stings;
To give free play to Freedom’s wings.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To lift To-day above the Past;
To make To-morrow sure and fast;
To nail God’s colors to the mast.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To break down old dividing-lines;
To carry out my Lord’s designs;
To build again His broken shrines.”
Then God go with you, Great-Heart!

Where are you going, Great-Heart?
“To set all burdened peoples free
To win for all God’s liberty;
To ‘stablish His sweet sovereignty.”
God goeth with you, Great-Heart!

Source: This poem is in the public domain. John Oxenham (1852-1941) was an English novelist and poet. He was born in Manchester, England. Oxenham began his career as a publisher. He traveled extensively in Europe and North America as part of his publishing duties, ultimately deciding to devote his life to writing. He completed his first book in 1913 and, by the end of his life, had published more than 40 novels, poetry books and essays. You can read more about John Oxenham and sample more of his poetry at the All Poetry website.

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