Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Oh When the Saints Go Marching In.

There will come a day when I am no longer the pastor here at Concordia Lutheran Church.
My time with you is limited.
We only get to know each other for a short time on this journey of faith.
I am wondering what will be said of the time we have together.
What will be our memories of each other?
I am sure like all things in life there will be good and bad.
We will leave each other as saints.
We will have this time together and we will know that we spent time doing something that was holy and worth our time.
We will know that what we did together was not about our accomplishments, but it was about how together we experienced the grace of God.
We will know that what we experienced together was the hearing of eternal promises.
We came together around sacred stories, mysterious faith, and awed in reverence at the wonder and beauty of it all.

All the churches that Paul started had problems after he left.
He would write the letters we have in our Bibles to continue to support them, to encourage them, to remind them of their callings.
He wrote these letters to remind them of what God did in their presence.
Not one of those Churches was perfect, but they were all left in the hands of God.

This is what the Church is a collection of flawed people who come together to know “the hope to which Christ has called us”
We come together to bask in “the glory of knowing riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints.”
This is the best any pastor can ask for.

This past week I was at the Bishop’s convocation.
It is that time of year when pastors get together for fellowship, worship, and continuing education.
This year’s speaker talked about the need for us church people to get out into the world to see what God was doing.
The speaker told us that our problem is that we are asking the wrong questions.
We are wondering how to get people into the church, and what we should be wondering about is what God is doing in the world and how can we join in.
It was a good topic, and if you know me you know I am in favor of it all.
We should be out in the world joining God in God’s redeeming activity in the world.
But later that night I was hanging with some colleagues and one of them started saying something like, “We have to change the culture of the Church.”
This bothered me.
Here is why.
It is the assumption among some pastors that our job is to change people.
It is the assumption that our job is to take ignorant people who don’t know better and enlighten them about how God really works.
There are a couple of problems with this.
One is that it has been my experience in ten years in ministry that people don’t change.
I am not saying they don’t like change.
I am saying that fundamentally people don’t change.
We are who we are.
And that whoever the pastor might be at some time is not changing them.
My colleague said to me, “So you are telling me you have not changed since you were 18.”
Another colleague of mine who was standing nearby and who has known me since I was 16 said, “I can tell you he hasn’t.”
Here is the second problem with what was being said.
It assumes that none of you knew what you were doing before I got here.
And we all know that is simply not true.
Concordia for a long time has been a place that tells the world of God’s amazing love and grace.
This place has been blessed with saints since its founding.
I hear those tails of people who sacrificed and loved so Concordia could be a place of God’s people.
The fourth thing I think was wrong is that I am not sure that we are talking about anything new.
The idea that God is out there in the world is not a new idea.
It is an idea that has been around since Jesus day.
It was surely an idea in Acts.
The final thing that is wrong is that the Church is built not on the leadership of the clergy or the laity, but on God alone.
The foundation of what we are doing is built on the idea that God chose you to be the saints of the church, and on this God built a new people that are meant to be a God’s hands and feet in the world.

Today is all saints Sunday.
And we read the names of people who have gone before us.
Those are the people in our lives who we look to and find solace, but also examples of what it means to live a life in Christ.
And one thing about that list is that all the people on it had two things in common.
One they were imperfect people.
None of them did everything right.
Two, they were all loved by God.
That is what it means to be a saint.
It simply means that God loves us, and that even though we are imperfect we have a God who is working for our redemption.
And the Church is meant to be the place we come together to remember that very important truth.

I am well aware that in our world today the Church seems like a dinosaur from another era.
We sing old songs, we read an old book, we come and listen to someone else talk, we worship with people who are not only our age and income bracket.
We do things here that are really uncool.
I am well aware that lots of people think they don’t need it, or don’t want it.
Who wants to get up on a Sunday morning and be with people you may or may not like that much, sing songs you may or may not like, listen to someone give a lecture about things that may or may not seem relevant?
Maybe the Church had its time and people have moved beyond it.

But then I think about the list of names again.
I think about this time that I am here with you as your pastor.
I think about those things and I come to the conclusion that perhaps there are some things still worth saving.
That this old story about God saving God’s people is still worth telling, because we still need to hear it.
This hour on Sunday morning is so out of the ordinary of my everyday life that it is sacred to me.
This hour I am able to let everything else go, I am able to give thanks, ask for forgiveness.
I am able to lay down my burdens and reclaim my true self.
This hour of nothing new becomes sacred.
This does not mean I never want to try anything new; it is just to define what we are doing here together.
We are not changing cultures.
We are not changing lives or people.
What we are doing is remembering the inheritance that we are given.
We are remembering that through everything in our lives God matters to us and the world.

One of the people on the list today is Nils Johnson.
Nils was my college chaplain; I actually talk about him a lot.
(Sorry about that.)
I will never forget the first sermon that I heard Nils preach.
He said, “If it wasn’t for Jesus I would be dead.”
Nils had a son who killed himself.
I am not sure how you get over that, how you move on, how you live after such a tragedy.
I know that for Nils the only way was through his faith in Jesus.
I bet that with every person on our saints list today we could tell a similar story.
We could tell of a time in their lives when the needed something more in their lives.
We could also tell those same stories of our own lives.
When I look out on Sunday morning and see all of you what I think about is your story.
The stories that you have shared of failure or of triumph, stories of sin and redemption, the stories that you have shared about ways that God saved you.
When I leave here someday that is what I will remember.
I won’t remember if we changed the culture, or had some great program, or brought in lots of new members?
What I will remember is how God did some amazing things among this congregation of saints.
I will remember the stories that we shared and how we gathered to bask in God’s promises and love.

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