Saturday, June 18, 2011

All About the Future

75th Anniversary of Immanuel, Bejou, MN
Trinity Sunday—June 19, 2011
Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Matthew 18:16-20

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

I love days like this--church anniversaries--when we “militantly modest,” shy, understated Lutherans give ourselves permission to “cut loose.”  

I love how days like this feel like big old family reunions.  I love how we wheel in the old pastors, gawk at them, whisper to one another over who has gotten the grayest or lost the most hair.  I love how on days like this we look back, tell ancient tales, and relive episodes from our church’s past.  I even love all the “stuff”—the cookbooks, the wall plates, the ornaments and gizmos and nick-nacks that we let ourselves get talked into buying to remember our dear old church.

What I maybe love the most is the food—the big dinner (sometimes under a rented tent) and the cake and all the trimmings.  We Lutherans don’t know how to celebrate anything without eating too much—and today is no exception.

I love days like this, and I get invited to church anniversaries every summer, and that always surprises me—because usually I’m the most unfamiliar face in the whole crowd.   Makes me feel a little like a “reunion crasher.”   Why in the world do congregations like yours ask a total stranger to come and even preach on a day like this, anyway?

Perhaps it is because you realize a congregational anniversary is always about more than the congregation.   Deep in your bones, you recognize that Immanuel Lutheran Church isn’t your cozy club—your private preserve.   This whole, glorious history that we revel in today is about you and those who came before you—but it is also all about God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and everyone who belongs to God.  Today is about all the “operations of the Holy Trinity,” coming sharply into focus in one small corner of God’s vast domain.

Years ago I heard an anniversary sermon I will never forget.   The pastor brought into the pulpit an eight foot-long stick on which he had he had painstakingly marked off, in 100-year segments, highlights of the history of the whole Christian church on earth, from the Day of Pentecost down to the present moment.

The pastor used this wooden timeline to give us all a lesson in church history, scrolling through all the events that have defined Christianity, until he arrived finally at the last 100 year segment—the century in which his congregation had been in existence. 

To tell the truth, measured against the whole sweep of church history, the time this one congregation had occupied looked like a blip on a screen.

Which was precisely the pastor’s point.   The years a single congregation has been around--though precious us who love the congregation—are like a drop in the bucket of eternity.   So we would be wise, the preacher urged us, to keep all our anniversary reminiscing and remembering in proper perspective.

Well,  this morning I didn’t bring an 8-foot stick along with me, but I did bring along the scripture lessons for this Trinity Sunday, which point, in three specific ways to all the “operations of the Holy Trinity” that will help us keep this 75th anniversary here at Immanuel in proper perspective.

First, to keep us from getting too tightly focused on this single congregation, in this tiny village, God’s Word for today calls us to take a wide-angle lens view of all that God has been and still is up to across the panorama of the whole universe.

So, it’s good to hear the poetry of the Genesis 1 creation story, to see the cosmic backdrop, across which God’s “portrait” of Immanuel Lutheran  has been painted.  For the God who called your congregation into being in 1935 is the same Creator God who spoke all things into existence…

…the Lord to whom this congregation belongs is the one who according to our gospel lesson has “all authority in heaven and on earth.”   Wow!

There may be 1.3 billion persons in China who will never hear of Immanuel Lutheran of Bejou—but the Creator of all that exists, Jesus the Son who is Lord over all has called you, Immanuel Lutheran Church, to be one of his kingdom outposts.     Big enough for you?

Second, to help us resist turning inward (as can happen so easily in any congregation), God’s Word for today invites us to consider the entire web of relationships and connections that have made and still sustain Immanuel as the congregation that it is.

Relationships, you see, are in the spotlight on every Trinity Sunday.  Relationships, after all, are at the core of God’s very being.   God is “three in one” because God is a relationship of mutual self-giving in which the Father gives the Son, even as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son for the life of the whole world.

It is this Triune, three-in-one God out of whose abundance of love and relationships that Immanuel Lutheran Church was formed 75 years ago.    And that’s why for these last three-quarters of a century, you have continually tended relationships both within, but also outside of this congregation.   It’s what Christians do, after all—as persons who’ve been commissioned to expand God’s life-giving web of relationships, making disciples of “all nations.”  

So today, rather than risk getting turned inward, God’s Word bids us give thanks for all the relationships that got Immanuel going and kept it going, through thick and thin.   As I’ve gotten acquainted with your congregation’s history, I’ve been struck how often Immanuel has been threatened by forces that could have wiped you out.

Founded during the Great Depression, you had to reorganize yourselves in your first five years of life, recognizing that you would survive only in relationship with others…with neighboring congregations like First of Mahnomen and now Calvary of Winger….with part-time pastors who served here for many years…with financial assistance from the old ALC back in the 1970s…and, after a tornado struck Bejou, with the prayers and support of others who helped you put up a new church building that serves you still.

Your ongoing life, my dear friends, will be full and rich as you keep on tending relationships with God, with one another and with your fellow believers across this region, this country and this world. 

Third (and finally), lest we get stuck in nostalgia—looking back only--on this anniversary Sunday, God’s Word for today reminds us that God is all about the future—and that God’s mission is always beckoning us forward, toward the New Creation that God is bringing our way.

What we might miss, in this morning’s gospel lesson from Matthew 28 is the fact that here at the very end of the gospel is the first time the disciples show up since they forsook Jesus on the night he was betrayed.  As Matthew narrates Christ’s passion, the disciples run and hide like scared rabbits.   Only some women followed Jesus to the Cross and ventured to the tomb on Easter morning….the disciples are nowhere to be seen until these last five verses of Matthew’s gospel.

You’d think, under those circumstances, that the Risen Christ would turn back the pages of time and rub his disciples’ faces in their cowardice, reminding them of all the ways they let him down.   

But not the Risen Lord Jesus Christ:  he meets his disciples, some of whom still have their doubts, and he sends them—woefully inadequate though they may be—Jesus sends them out to turn the world upside down with the astonishing news of life, forgiveness and freedom.

The Risen Lord Jesus who commissions those scared rabbits is all about the future, all about what lies ahead, and his final words in Matthew’s gospel drive us and all who hear them toward this same future:  “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We will do some history-sharing, we’ll engage in a little nostalgia today here at Immanuel.  But may our looking back serve the purpose of charging us up, in order to move ahead, with our Risen Lord who is indeed all about the future.  

You may have your doubts about that future—especially now as you say goodbye to a beloved pastor and prepare to call a new pastor with your parish partners of Calvary.    But have no fear:  you will never be alone, never far from the One to whom has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

The future, your future here at Immanuel, is God’s future.  It’s a gift from the Living Lord Jesus who has death behind him, who has promised to continue being Immanuel, God-with-us, forever.

In his name.   Amen.

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