Monday, July 28, 2008

Gathered, Transformed, Sent

Centennial Service at Calvary, Bemidji
July 27, 2008
Acts 2:37-47

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

What’s the difference between a person celebrating her 100th birthday and a congregation observing its centennial?

Well, the difference is that when a person turns 100 everyone worries—either about starting a fire from all those candles on the birthday cake OR they worry about the honored guest having a heart attack trying to blow out all those candles!

The 100th birthday of a person often marks the “end of the line,” the culmination of a life.

But when a congregation celebrates its 100th birthday, you ship the bishop in to preach so that (as Pastor Trandem was quoted in last Friday’s Bemidji Pioneer) “we can cast a vision for the next 100 years.”

Yikes! Steve—what an assignment! Thanks for not low-balling anybody’s expectations for this morning’s sermon!

Pastor Trandem talked that way, though, because, as the lifespan of Christian congregations go, the first 100 years is really just a good start.

The life of a congregation, you see, transcends the lives of its members. You aren’t the same Calvary Lutheran Church that got started when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. God is forever replenishing the church….God is continually gathering, transforming and sending his church.

Gathering, transforming, sending….those are words you’ve been lifting up in this Centennial year. They not only sum up your past—but they are clues as to how God will move you toward your bicentennial as Calvary Lutheran Church.

What will get you to the year 2108? Three things in particular: the gathering, transforming and sending work of God.

First, God will keep gathering you.

Wherever God is at work, God is always gathering his people….calling us out of the world…gathering us around Word, sacraments and mission.

Our God has always been a gathering-God. In our text from Acts, chapter 2, we see God gathering the church from every nation under heaven, drawing people together through Peter’s preaching, leading 3000 persons to Holy Baptism…

….and the first mark of that newborn church in Jerusalem was their determination to continue gathering. Verse 42 of our text says that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” God doesn’t deal just with solitary, isolated individuals. God gathers people in, gathers persons together, gathers them unto himself.

The very first thing Calvary Lutheran Church did back in 1908 was to gather. God assembled, from among many Bemidji-ites, a congregation called Calvary.

And as long as people keep gathering here, there will be a Calvary Lutheran Church. To help that happen you have recently invested in your gathering place, your building and grounds—not ends in themselves, mind you, but means to the end of gathering around Word, bath, meal and mission.

But gathering is just the first thing—the prerequisite, if you will, for all that follows. For when God gathers you, God also transforms you.

Here in our text we see how those listening to Peter’s Pentecost sermon were “cut to the heart.” The gospel had “gotten” to them, gotten under their skins, disturbed and unsettled them, opened them up to ask: “What should we do?”

A question like that invites God’s transformative work, because transformation starts with discontent with the way we are, discontent with the way things are in this world.

On the day of Pentecost, that transforming power was more than evident. People, cut to the heart by the story of Jesus, asked “What should we do?”

And notice, please, what Peter didn’t say. Peter didn’t say: “Oh don’t worry about it. God accepts you just the way you are.”

No! Although Jesus Christ indeed HAD saved them all with his precious blood, freely shed on the Cross of Calvary….God’s great work still needed to “come home” into the troubled hearts and unsettled lives of these people…

…and so Peter responded with this gracious invitation: “Repent—which means ‘turn away from all that separates you from God’…”

“Repent,” Peter said, “and be baptized every one of you every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Dear friends, before we ever get it in our head to go looking for God, God has been long on the lookout for us, finagling all sorts of ways to get to us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us—Christ did the heavy lifting, Christ procured our salvation…

…but all of that reaches its destination when our hearts are cut to the quick, when we become so unsettled with our sin and the world’s waywardness that we become open to God’s transforming work in our lives.

This congregation, Calvary Lutheran Church, has been, is and shall be a dangerous place—dangerous in the sense that we are changed here. The fragmented pieces of our tattered lives are knit back together here because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

What will the next 100 years look like for you at Calvary? These years will be filled with God’s gathering, transforming work in your midst….and all of it, so that you might also be God’s sent people, bearing Christ wherever you go.

Gathered, transformed, sent! Here in our text the people of the first church in Jerusalem obviously didn’t keep the Good News to themselves. God’s love spilled over, through them, into the wider community, with the result that, as it says in v. 47, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

I’m convinced that if Martin Luther were alive today, living here in North America, he would rewrite that part of his Small Catechism about the Holy Spirit calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying us.

If Luther were a pastor here in North America in 2008, Luther would add “sending” to that great list of Holy Spirit verbs.

You see, when Martin Luther lived in Germany, between 1483 and 1546, he assumed that almost everyone in the world had been baptized, had heard the gospel, could be called (at least in some sense) a Christian.

Luther was only 9 years old when a guy named Christopher Columbus found out that there was a whole, much bigger world “out there” in which everyone was NOT baptized or acquainted with Jesus Christ.

Unlike Martin Luther, you and I no longer live in “Christendom.” We cannot assume that everyone around us knows Jesus, believes in Jesus, has come to Jesus in faith. We live in a vast “mission field.” Just this past week I heard that 50% of the residents of Beltrami County are unchurched—and that 50% of the folks in your county also live in poverty.

So here’s the upshot, the payoff of all the gathering, transforming work God has been and will keep doing in your lives: God does all that in order to send you. The sending is what God is after.

I know that sounds scary, so let me suggest that you start close to home, and then work your way out from there.

My friend Bob (not his real name) is an active disciple at Our Savior’s in Moorhead where I served as senior pastor before I became bishop. My friend Bob once told me that there was a time when he seldom came to worship. On Sunday mornings he was AWOL most of the time….

…Until someone near and dear to him got under his skin and cut him to the heart. This person simply said: "Get up, get out of bed, and help me get these kids of ours ready to go to church. If you want them to turn out to be the kinds of kids God can be proud of you need to start coming with us, you need to keep the promises you made when they were baptized, you need to start showing up."

And Bob has been showing up ever since. No church committee made him the object of a campaign. No ordained pastor "got through to him." His wife just called him to start living by promises he had already made. Bob got back in the picture because God sent his nearest neighbor to him—God sent Bob’s wife to bring him back into the fold.

Here’s why God gathers and transforms you in this community called Calvary Lutheran: God does all that in order to send you to your neighbors with the good news of Jesus Christ.

And that’s what will get you to your bicenntenial: God’s going to keep gathering you, transforming you, and sending you. So---hang on to your hats—and enjoy the ride.

In the name of Jesus.

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