Calvary Lutheran Church, Perham, MN
50th Anniversary Celebration
February 7, 2010
This is a pretty amazing “elevator speech” that Jesus delivers in Nazareth’s synagogue.
If you’re not familiar with that term, an “elevator speech” is a short description of what you do, or the point you want to make, presented in the time it takes an elevator go to from the top floor to the first floor or vice versa. “Elevator speeches” usually last no longer than 30 seconds and contain fewer than 130 words.
Jesus, however, doesn’t need half that many words to sum up what he is about in the world—what his mission and ministry will accomplish among us.
Speaking in the synagogue he grew up in, Jesus inaugurates his ministry by doing what adult Jewish men did in synagogues. Standing in the midst of his neighbors, Jesus unrolls a scroll, finds a passage from the 61st chapter of the prophet Isaiah, reads it aloud, then rolls up the scroll again and sits down to offer his comments on the text.
And what does Jesus say in his “elevator speech?” We can sum it up in six sound-bytes.
First, Jesus is under orders. He is possessed by the Holy Spirit who has set him aside to do God’s work.
Second, Jesus ushers breathtaking good news into this bad news world.
Third, Jesus’ delivers freedom. The original word, often translated “forgiveness,” is tied even more closely to being turned loose. It’s the same word Jesus uses in John chapter 11, when he gives orders that Lazarus, called forth from the tomb, should be “unbound”—turned loose, set free.
Fourth, Jesus pierces through darkness and opens blind eyes.
Fifth, Jesus proclaims—not God’s unremitting, well-deserved judgment…but rather: God’s astonishing grace and favor. Jesus doesn’t represent the “God will get you for that” way of the law. Jesus speaks for the God whose power is shown chiefly in showing mercy.
Sixth, Jesus does all these things NOW. His one-sentence commentary begins with “today.” Imagine that—the first time Jesus speaks as an adult in Luke’s gospel, he starts with the word “TODAY”--“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Wow! What an elevator speech! All the sermons that have ever been preached on this text can’t hold a candle to the original, straight from Jesus’ mouth. In just 60 words in English translation, we get the whole enchilada. We see, hear, experience the sum total of Jesus’ life and ministry.
But not only that.
This isn’t just a once-upon-a-time “elevator speech,” to remember what the historical Jesus was like when he walked on this old ball of mud.
No, these 60 words encapsulate, they capture what Jesus-alive-in-the-Body-of-Christ is still very much up to, right here and now, even today in our very midst.
For this isn’t just Jesus’ “elevator speech.” It is ours as well. Jesus Christ—the same One who was crucified, buried, raised from the dead—is alive in us. Jesus is still pursuing his mission among us, especially here at Calvary, as you observe your 50th anniversary of witness and service in Jesus’ name.
Here’s the deal: these same six bullet-points apply to you and me, who from the day of our baptism, have lived “in Christ” in this world.
First, we didn’t get ourselves into this business—we didn’t sign up for it or volunteer for it. God singled us out. God summoned us to be his people. Calvary didn’t create itself as a congregation back in 1959—but like all communities of Christ, you were called into being, through other members of the Body of Christ, and anointed with the Spirit.
Four months ago my wife Joy and I spent some time in our companion synod, the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church in India. There we were--about as far away from northwestern Minnesota as you can get and still be on planet Earth—surrounded by people so different from us—little children eager to touch our skin to see if that pale white color would rub off. But everywhere we went we knew what mattered most—that the same Holy Spirit had called us, brought us together, and set us apart for God’s work.
You and I and everyone here at Calvary are Spirit-driven, under orders.
Second, Jesus-in-us still brings good news into a bad news world. That’s true, isn’t it? We’re desperate for good news—sick to death of economic recession, unemployment, global climate change, earthquake victims, a future that seems utterly cloudy and uncertain.
Just this past Friday I woke up in a blue funk. Weary of the turmoil in parts of the ELCA, worried about an ugly year-end financial report for our synod, I turned on my car’s radio—only to hear a whole litany of grim, bad-to-worse stories. I hankered for just a shread of good news. At least I didn’t own one of those recalled Toyotas—at least gospel of Jesus was still true.
Calvary is and has been for half-a-century a “good news way station” in a bad news world. Folks come here confident that they’ll get a break from the bad news—that good news bursts through here, good news about Jesus.
Third, we who are Christ’s body today are in the freedom business. Having been set free by Jesus, we’re free now to turn others loose as well. Where sin chokes us, where death haunts us, where evil threatens us—Jesus in our midst says: “Unbind him—turn her loose.”
Your congregation makes me smile. There is always something good happening here —some freedom bursting forth. You don’t get bogged down in wouldas, couldas, or shouldas. You dream big in God’s mission—whether you’re growing pumpkins for a good cause, digging deep into your pockets for Haiti, heading up the local Feed Our Starving Children campaign, or participating in the great “Backpack” program combating childhood hunger, that I read about in the Fargo Forum this past Monday.
Lord knows there’s enough religion-as-usual out there that tries to put people into spiritual straitjackets. But that’s not what Jesus is about—and that’s not what you here at Calvary are about. You’re in the freedom business—you follow Jesus’ lead in bringing deliverance and release and great, great joy.
Fourth, Jesus in us is still beating back the darkness, still curing all varieties of blindness. We’re not just talking about physical impairments and diseases of the eye, either. The old saying holds true: “there is none so blind as the one who WILL not see.” Jesus here and now lifts the blindness of you and me and everyone else who is deep in the darkness of denial.
Calvary’s mission and ministry is about flipping the light switch and shining the Son-shine on our dark and dreary lives. You bring the light of Christ to bear in your vibrant worship, your trend-setting Christian education and youth and family ministries. Calvary has for five decades been reducing blindness, bringing light and life.
Fifth, Jesus in you and me is still announcing and enacting God’s favor, God’s deep passion and unconditional love. And there’s nothing abstract about that. It’s very real, concrete, and down to earth.
I scrolled through your church’s website, and was amazed by all the ways you at Calvary keep living out God’s favor in the lives of others. The page entitled “Service Opportunities” is exhaustive—and a little bit exhausting! You offer some amazingly fresh and creative ways of telling your neighbors that “God is for you, not against you”….whether it’s your “Fix It Ministry” or Operation Christmas Child or youth mission trips or the Stephen Ministry or the Quilters.
Sixth, Jesus in us isn’t waiting around for things to work themselves out or get better all on their own….but rather Jesus in us is bringing in God’s Kingdom of flowing mercy and gentle justice, here and now—TODAY.
Which is to say: there’s an evangelical urgency to what we’re about in Christ’s name. And anniversaries bring that out—don’t they? Our time on earth is so short. Since Calvary is “only” fifty years old, there are charter members still in your midst. They may well say things like, “My but the time has flown!”
Anniversaries let us look back, but they also beckon us forward…stirring up a sense of evangelical urgency about the next 50 years. Today we honor the missionaries in our midst, who have crossed borders with the gospel word and the loving deed in Jesus’ name. But, who’s here this morning who’ll be around when Calvary turns 100? Who’ll be the “missionaries” we give thanks for in the year 2059?
That question can’t wait, really. Our Lord Jesus, in his hometown place of worship, declared that TODAY—his words were coming true. In every moment, whenever Jesus’ words are spoken among us, that TODAY breaks into our space and time….even now, even here.
As you celebrate this anniversary year, it may seem that the focus is all on your “yesterdays.” But I invite you to hear in this powerful text Jesus’ own evangelical urgency that claims you and points you ahead toward God’s future, right now, right here, TODAY. God bless your life and ministry during the next 50 years, for Jesus’ sake.
Lawrence Robert Wohlrabe was born in Mankato, MN. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Luther Seminary awarded him a Doctor of Ministry degree with distinction.
Ordained in 1981, he served parishes in Willmar, MN; St. James, MN; and Moorhead, MN. He was also on the staff of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and the SW MN Synod ELCA, Redwood Falls, MN. Larry was elected bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod on June 10, 2007. He was re-elected bishop of the synod, to a second 6-year term on June 7, 2013.
Larry's wife, Joy, is retired after working many years as a hospital and hospice social worker. They have two young adult children, Erik and Kristen (married to Aaron) and two grandchildren, Olivia and Micah. Note: the views expressed here are Bishop Wohlrabe's views--not those of the NW MN Synod.