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Month: June 2017

Happy Birthday, Church! (Pentecost June 4, 2017)

Happy Birthday, Church! (Pentecost June 4, 2017)

Happy Birthday! Church!
Pentecost Sunday— June 4, 2017
Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa MN
George Martin

 

Last Friday morning Caroline and I headed off for breakfast with Linda and Paul Schelin. We have a birthday club and that day actually was Linda’s birthday. We were meeting at the the Longfellow Grill on West River Parkway in Minneapolis which is next to the Mississippi river.

I turned on the GPS and followed it, until, until, until I thought it was wrong. I turned off 35E, and headed West on 110 and started up Highway 55 near the Minnehaha Falls. And then, And then I was lost.

Well I did find the West River Parkway and we found the Longfellow Grill. On my way home I followed GPS and it was much shorter and quicker.

Moral of the story: 1) don’t ride with me unless you want to get lost. 2) even though we know GPS isn’t always right, we still need to rely on some guides for our journeys in life.

Welcome to Pentecost Sunday, and our celebration of those who guide us in our Christian journey!

Happy Birthday Church! You know that “Church” is a favorite word for me. In Greek it’s “Ekklesia” and it simply meant some kind of political assembly or a gathering together of people with some shared interests. It just had never been connected with a group of people sharing a religious story though until Paul or someone in the early church, started to think of themselves as “Ekklesia.”

It’s a singular noun that can mean a particular gathering of people, a building, and yet it also bears the concept of many different peoples, literally all over the world. What’s most important is that “church” means “Story.”

And it means body. Paul tells us that we are collection of people with different stories all drawn together because of one story, who are to be unified by that story as we share a common life together.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

So today we are welcoming many new members to the Lutheran church of the Cross. Might we even call ourselves the Lutheran Ecclesia of the Cross? Well probably, we’d do so, if we wanted to confuse people.

But there it is: the word “church” in our title. This is a good Sunday to reflect on what it means to belong to “a church.” In our liturgical year this is also called Pentecost Sunday, drawing a name from a Jewish festival, which is approximately 50 days since we celebrated Easter.

So what does it mean to be “Church”? Well it means to be the continuing story of Israel. Ecclesia,—church— has its roots in Judaism. So all of us who are brought into this Jewish story, whether by birth, by baptism, or as some of you are doing today by acceptance of membership in the local church. As we are brought into this story we remember things that happened in Palestine, Egypt, Jerusalem, and in Galilee. As one theologian has said, “The Exodus of the people of God from Egypt is our Exodus as well, the ancestors of Israel are our ancestors; Israel’s memory is our memory.” [Page 240, Does God Need the Church?]

At the same time, this church and its story, constitute a new family on the face of the earth. It’s important to remember that when Jesus broke bread with his disciples, at what we call the Last Supper, with its clear allusions to the Passover meal, he was not eating it with his own genealogical family, which would’ve been customary. He chose his ragtag group of disciples for this mean. They are the same ones, who according to Acts surprised everyone by speaking the gospel in a variety of languages.

Thus the question from those who are gathered and who were surprised. We heard, “amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?””

Church almost by definition means speaking out and inviting in. So our mission, shared with churches in all places and all times, is grounded in the story of Israel, focused most clearly around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a story that calls people from the world, to share a way of life, and certain convictions about the way that life is lived, that speak profoundly and sometimes prophetically, maybe always prophetically, about the way life is meant to be lived.

One of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, says that through baptism we are “…made part of God’s counter history, counter kingdom, counter community.” And then he adds, “Moreover, we believe as we are made a people of such memory we offer the world a history not destined to repeat her murderous past.” [Page 168, In Good Company]

Church is thus the place that gives us a story to live. Notice I didn’t say a story just to tell. But it is a story lived with others, and clearly others that you might not know otherwise.

My friend, Hugh Magers, an Episcopal priest from Texas, who I worked with on occasion leading some conferences, loved to tell the story of Edna, an elderly member of Redeemer Church in Eagle Pass Texas when he was its pastor.

He said she was probably about the poorest member of the church. This is about 30 years ago. She lived on Social Security, $234 a month. “How do I know that?” He asked. “Well, she tithed. She gave $23 to the church every month.”

And she had a most special ministry. She polished the brass plaques in the church, which honored all the founders of the church, and some church leaders from the past. And that church was still composed of many of the descendants of the founders of the church, who would not stoop to polish the plaques, because they were too good for it. So Edna did what no one else wanted to do.

But every now and then Edna would have an idea of something the church needed to get or to do. And she would go to the vestry, the church council, and because those descendants sat on it, no one ever turned her down. And one day she had an idea that the church should start to offer a lunch, one day each week. She said if they would offer a lunch to the community she would wash each every pot and pan and all the dishes.

Well the vestry approved her idea, and when they started this lunch program the day school children of the church we’re coming. Then lots of business folks showed up every Friday. It was, it turns out, a source of evangelism.

And Edna never had to wash a dish. Those descendants washed those dishes, too embarrassed to let Edna do it.

You see when to take this biblical GPS story as your story, you cannot be the same again, not that you’d want to be the same as you once were. Here we make commitments to each other, that aren’t written in some contracts with mutual obligations and requirements. This is a story that is a journey trod by people like Abraham and Jacob, who had no idea that they would become the people they became. And they never wanted to go back, either.

You see in church we don’t stay the people we once were. Yes we go in and out of the world, that draws us back at times, but coming here, where the Edna’s of the world live, you get changed. Thank the Lord for this.

And here we meet one another when the road gets tough and really difficult. We’ve just had three funerals here in two weeks. That’s a lot of bars offered at each reception. But more than that is the embrace of those who’ve experienced a grief that will not just pass away. So we walk with one another into the darkest valleys of life; for we are the hands, the heart of God. We are the body of Christ. Unified through baptism to be Christ for one another.

And the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we also celebrate on Pentecost, is that agency of God that brings us to discern the call to serve. If the Spirit does nothing else it challenges the presumption of “individuality”— just be yourself and do your own thing. It is the Holy Spirit I believe that turns our narcissistic, self-embodied story inside out. So that we see “others.”

To those we are welcoming let me warn you, but know this warning is actually an invitation. In the life of the church we all called to be vulnerable to each other. We need the story of the other brother, the other sister, no matter what it is that they are bringing here.

And Jesus told his disciples what they could do with those other stories. Especially if “forgiveness” was required. They were commissioned, as we all are, to offer forgiveness to one another.

And then at the very end of the Gospel, what we heard this morning, the same one where he breathed the Holy Spirit on them, Jesus said, “Whatever sins you retain, they are retained.”

The Greek word for something that is “retained” is “krateo”. From it we get our word “crate.”

So whatever sins you crate, you get to keep. It’s your crate. And whenever we start to harbor the sins of others, and carry on our remembrance of wrongs, it eats away at us. Drives a wedge in community. And it’s there, until, until, as many in the world of recovery know, its there until you take the 5th step and beyond. To ask for forgiveness and to give it.

A final word to our newest members. May you find this to be a forgiving community. Where you are always welcome no matter what.

May you find yourself making some commitments to serve and to give that help you define more and more what it means to belong to the church. (We will ask each other for those kinds of commitments.) The

May you find here real peace and joy. Worship that inspires. Study that challenges. Mission enterprises that lead you to greater service and in which you get your hands dirty, or maybe like Edna you polish some silverware, or get them really clean because you washed a lot of dishes. Such is Church.

Watch—Wait— Witness (May 25, 2017 Easter 7)

Watch—Wait— Witness (May 25, 2017 Easter 7)

Watch—Wait—Witness
Sermon for 7 Easter—May 25, 2017
Lutheran Church of the Cross, Nisswa MN
George H. Martin

Three words: Watch, Wait, and Witness. All coming from our lesson from the first chapter of the Book of Acts.

Watch:

Why do you disciples keep starring into the heavens? That’s the question two angels ask the disciples who just saw Jesus ascend and disappear into the sky above them. What’s behind that question? I think it’s a fairly simple answer.

We need to be looking around us. It’s staying in the world where the disciples are suppose to be. That’s in our Gospel as well. We are in the world. And here for a reason. And here to watch.

I want to remind you that when we gather in community for worship how much of our worship is based on seeing, and acting, and walking, and standing up and sitting down, and its involves lighting candles, and carrying a cross, and the various places where people stand, and there are different books we use, and then there’s the bread and the wine, and our hands reaching out to be fed.

That’s behind these boxes that Kari Erikson has created for parents to use with their children in worship. They can light their own candle. Make out their own gift to place in the offering. Write out a prayer concern. Follow along the reading in their own bible.

The one thing many of our smaller children can’t do is receive communion. But we’ve been writing to our parents that their children are welcome to receive when they give approval. And why? Because baptism is all you need to be qualified to receive communion. Let me tell you: our children, the little ones, are watching us receive bread and they don’t understand why they can’t have what is clearly a piece of bread. Only here in their short time of living, and being part of family, are they excluded from eating. Pastor Kari and I are welcoming children of any age to receive. Many a parent has to pull back the hands of their child reaching for the bread. It’s OK by us if they receive. We want our parents to know this. And for all of you to understand that as they receive and share fully in worship they are growing up in Christ alongside of us.

Now the wait part: They were to stay in Jerusalem, and they did stay in prayer. All before the day of Pentecost, which comes next week.

So last week as we had a small group gathering on Sunday night, to affirm the importance of being in a small group, we had Sister Joyce with us. She is a dear friend of Pastor Ray Averson , from his days as Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Cloud. Sister Joyce taught us about “Centering prayer.” Not new to all, but to most of us. It involves sitting quietly, having a single holy word in mind, breathing in and out, putting aside as many other thoughts as possible, and just waiting for God. At first it’s hard. As one person said, “We sat there, Sister Joan said, for five minutes in total silence. It seemed like two hours to me.”

We had a chance to ask Sister Joan some questions and she made some observations about our time of praying. She said that she had sensed that Jesus was walking in our midst while we prayed.

Now I didn’t see anyone fall off their chair when she said that, but I thought that we tend to have a more cerebral rational approach to faith.

Jesus coming near to us? The Holy Spirit touching us? God tapping us on our shoulders? God speaking a word of comfort, or maybe even asking us to take on some task?

Yes. If we will give the Spirit some space in our lives, and will push away at the external noise, and our extensive near-ending “to-do” lists, and quiet all those other voices, there can be moments of serenity, of peace, and of confidence and faith. And knowing the presence and love of God. We must wait before we are sent.

Witness

Words of Jesus: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth.

First witness where you feel at home. That’s the meaning of a witness that begins in Jerusalem.

Judea signified something else: Then in those nearby areas where others live, but they don’t live exactly like you do, and may have an accent or look a little different.

I went to Hobart College from Toledo Ohio. Most of my classmates came from the East coast. Coming from New York City, about 300 miles away, this was the furthest West they ever come and ever intended to come. That was their Judea!

And then there’s Samaria: it’s those places where you have people who really don’t worship as you do; who’s ways of living, eating, and in so many aspects of their lives they are foreigners and strangers. and in some cases we may have been were taught to think of them as our enemies.

If that’s not far enough…go on to the ends of the earth. Where you know you’ll be challenged.

But what shall be our witness?

The traditional answer, ever since the 19th century was to send Christian missionaries to teach them or make them be Christians. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant here.

What if out witnesses isn’t words, or compelling arguments regarding matters of faith? But what if our witness is simply how we live the story that we know is centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus and with the gift of the Holy Spirit? Not what we know intellectually about that story, but how it shapes and forms the way we live our lives.

You all made a witness this morning. You drove here. You didn’t stay home.

I daresay if we look at your checkbook we’ll see that it speaks to who you are as a follower of Christ. Your daily calendar probably reflects the same with the time you spend as a volunteer, or the trips you make to help someone, or the cookies you baked and gave as a gift.

Yesterday we had a funeral service thanking God for Doris Knudson, who belonged here for over 40 years. So many of our paraments were made by her. Her busy hands as a seamstress and as a knitter told you who she was, and how much she cared for her church. The same can be said for Betty Jean Carlson who graced the life of this church with her high heels and her joy.

So our witness can be here. But it is to also reach out into the world.

Let me tell you about the name used within the Roman Catholic Church for the service of Holy Communion or the Holy Eucharist—the latter is probably the oldest name we have for this worship.

Roman Catholics call it The Mass. Do you know that the word is a corruption of the last words spoken at the end of the Latin Mass. Ite, missa est. Go. You are dismissed. So the Latin word “Missa” for “dismissed,” became the name of the service.

And in some ways it is a great name to use. Why are we gathered together here? Well it’s so we can be sent out in the world, in the name of the Lord, to be Christ in this world.

It means that we are a people to be formed into a life with habits grounded in a set of virtues, many of which are befuddling to a world shaped by theories of management and control; these will be the habits counter-intuitive to the thinking that force and the threat of violence are the preconditions for peace and community.

Jeremiah once said “Seek peace in whatever city you find yourselves in.” And Jesus would endorse that.

If they strike you with the left hand, turn your other cheek, Jesus said.

In a world that relies on violence and revenge, bring non-violence and offer forgiveness.

Now it’s not that these are easy virtues or habits, but they are the ones that represent Jesus. They are counter-intuitive. In many ways they are play ground rules, just not always extended into the rest of life.

So what is our witness?
Exclusion of others, or the embrace of others?
Fear of the stranger or welcoming the stranger?
Tolerating injustice or resisting injustice?

Do we build walls and tear down bridges or we do the opposite: we build bridges and tear down walls?

I had a dear friend, Philip Bozarth Cambell, an Episcopal priest who died way too young. I asked him one day why his license plate had the number 4 and the word “Bear” on it?

He replied: “Its’ what Alla and I had read at our wedding, from Colossians. We promised, you see,” he said, “to forbear one another.”

Let me close with a list of the virtues that describe the kind of witness we are to have to claim Jesus as Lord. From Colossians 3:12-17

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[b] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[c] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

 

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