Saturday, April 12, 2008

Leaning Into Our Hope

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, MN
Dedication of Rebuilt Organ
April 13, 2008/Easter 4

Philippians 4:8
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

When God raised Jesus from the dead on Easter morning, a whole new creation began to dawn upon this tired, old world.

Easter—the resurrection of Jesus—was the down payment, the appetizer, the promissory note, the first fruits of a whole New Creation that even now God is surely bringing about.

Today, right now, even in this very moment…God is making you and me and all things new. In Christ Jesus the risen one, God is setting all things to right. God is unfolding a New World overflowing with light and truth and beauty and goodness.

But, of course, that’s plain to see—isn’t it?

Well, as a matter of fact--no it’s not plain to see.

There are, to be sure, bursts of beauty all around us. The Grand Canyon at dawn, the delicate wings of a monarch butterfly, the experience of compassion or forgiveness, the birth of every child. Beauty surprises us somewhere, somehow, every day.

But alongside all that, in the very next moment, something ugly steals the scene. An x-ray reveals a growing cancer, a crude remark flies through the air, a busload of teenagers flips over on I-94, parents bury their precious teenage daughter.

How do we hold those things together—the bursts of beauty that take our breath away, alongside the instances of ugliness that make us question whether there even is a God?

How do we, as people of Christian faith, hope and love….how do we live in a world that we believe God is renewing day by day….how do we live with the “one step forward, two steps backward” experience of evil’s stubborn unwillingness to surrender?

How do we live on the basis of our highest hopes, rather than our most gnawing fears?

We do that, I believe, by leaning into our hopes, by living every day as if the Final Day, God’s Day, God’s future is already moving in upon us.

Let me say that again, in a slightly different way: we live, as Christian disciples, as if the bursts of beauty all around us aren’t just “flukes” or mere accidents….but as if that beauty will finally be all that is. We live as if the ugliness that meets us now and then, has no future really—as if its day is surely passing—as if God in Christ will finally be all in all.

In short: we live as if what’s worth thinking about, what’s worth focusing on, what’s worth investing ourselves in are the good and true and beautiful things of God alone.

The apostle Paul, writing to beleaguered believers in ancient Philippi, writing to them from a jail cell no less, saw beyond all the dire circumstances that surrounded them and audaciously invited them to live in this way: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The gutter, and life in the gutter, might seem like your destiny….but now in Christ, your destiny lies somewhere else, in Someone Else. Get up out of the gutter and live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of Christ, your King.

But how, just exactly how, does that work? What precisely does that look like?

I think of the time about 15 years ago when I and a bunch of other Lutheran pastors all worshipped at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia—the church that Martin Luther King and Daddy King before him both served.

We were quite a bunch—lumpy, pasty, white folk—mostly from the frozen northland. We all had our sport coats on, we wore our hush puppies, we arrived on a bus in various shades of tan…

And we were met by the African American members of Ebenezer Baptist—all of them looking like a million bucks. When Sunday comes, you see, black church folks put on the ritz! The men were all spiffed up in white shirts, bold ties, polished shoes, dark suits with those little white handkerchiefs spilling out of their breast pockets.

And the women—my goodness, the women all looked like queens….all of them in flowing dresses, high-heeled shoes, and bouncing colorful hats. They wore golden jewelry that sparkled in the morning sun and not a few of them sported corsages, the likes of which we see only on prom weekend.

Even the youth, the teenagers who were ushering that day—even they looked like somewhat smaller versions of their extremely well-decked-out-parents….and each of them, each of the kids wore bleached white gloves on their hands as they handed us our bulletins, cheerfully showed us to our seats and then led us in worship that was well-planned, dignified, yet awe-inspiring, especially as they started “cooking” in the way that only African American worshippers can “cook.”

We lump, pasty, white northern Lutheran “spectators” looked and felt like a bunch of schlumps that morning….even though our average income was probably higher than that of most of our fellow worshippers.

How could that be? Someone told me later that it’s like this: in the African American church community, six days out of the week you may be someone’s cook, maid or laundress. Six days out of the week you may clean restrooms, you may work your fingers to the bone, doing stuff that white folk don’t want to do.

But on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, you are sons and daughters of the King, children of God—and you best look the part. On Sunday, you lay aside your ragged working clothes and put on your party clothes, you don the garb of your true identity. You live into the future you have in Jesus Christ—you lean into God’s tomorrow and act as though that tomorrow has already come.

That’s a snapshot, a taste of what it means, my fellow lumpy, pasty, white Lutherans of Fergus Falls….that’s a taste of what it means to think about, to focus on, to invest ourselves in the good and true and beautiful things of God.

And, all kidding aside, I’m guessing that that’s how you ARE already living your lives, whether or not it always strikes you that way.

So, you believe, you hope against hope, you trust that Jesus is risen and God is making you and me and all things new. THAT, in Christ, is now your “default position.”

And so you act on that hope, as well. You give yourselves to God’s global mission of rescue and renewal. You tell others about Jesus. You live the Jesus life, serving the lowly, giving yourselves to the poor.

And so that your believing and your acting might be more than mindless “activism,” so that it might have a basis that is constantly renewed in God’s hope, you worship, regularly, joyfully, lavishly—giving of your best to stake out space and time today that leans into God’s tomorrow.

Which brings me, finally, to this wonderful rebuilt organ, these fine pianos and other musical instruments and equipment that we are dedicating this morning.

Why do this? Of all the things you could invest yourselves in, why spend good money on a church organ, on pianos, on worship equipment? Why is that a priority for us?

It is, I think, because part of God’s mission among us is to create loveliness, to bring forth music that soars, to add to the bursts of beauty that God already sends our way.

Indeed, the loveliness, the beauty, the harmony God co-creates through us beats back the ugliness of this old world that surely is giving way to God’s New Creation.

The loveliness, the beauty, the harmony God co-creates through us….makes space and time for us to live now, with one foot already in God’s future. It allows us to live now on the basis of the new life that awaits us in Christ Jesus the risen one…as surely as we also do that when we tell others about Jesus, when we care for the poor, and when we strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

Worshiping God in the beauty of holiness might seem “worthless”—surely not worth all that we put into it, all that we invest in it. When we end our worship service—we may not have filled one hungry stomach, we may not have converted one sinner to Christ, we may not have reclaimed one young adult for God’s mission. Worship may seem, in that sense, “worthless.”

Except that worship always has value, in and of itself. For it lifts up God who is the Treasure of priceless worth….and worship lifts us up to this Beautiful Savior, our Lord Jesus. And if nothing else seems to have changed when our worship is ended, well then WE have changed, once more, changed “from glory to glory” as the old hymn puts it.
We give God our very best in worship, we invest in things like organs and pianos and “worship equipment,” simply because God the object of our worship, is worth our highest and our best.

It is because Paul enjoined us all when he lovingly commanded the Philippian disciples: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

No comments:

Post a Comment