Friday, October 11, 2013

Finding God's Focus

Breckenridge Lutheran Church, Breckenridge, MN
October 13, 2013—75th Anniversary
Luke 17:11-19

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Have you noticed how much unfocused pain and anger there is out there—floating around in today’s world?

It’s unsettling, how accustomed we’ve become to news reports about terrorist bombings or mass shootings that seem to pop up almost weekly.    Angst over the mess in Washington DC—a paralyzed, gridlocked Congress, a government shutdown—our national frustration with that has “settled in” like so much background noise.   And there are always multiple, personal versions of this unfocused pain….our prayer lists always brimming with new sufferers, fresh grief, the latest “situation” that makes us wonder if hope is still alive.

There always is lots of unfocused pain, unfocused anger, unfocused frustration in this world….

….and that’s exactly where this story of the Ten Lepers begins.  

Jesus happens upon a scene that was all too common in the ancient world:  a small leper colony, pitiable souls afflicted by a disfiguring skin disease that carried with it extreme social ostracism.  Lepers in Jesus’ day were treated like “the walking dead.”

I picture these wretched men constantly voicing their unfocused heartache, their unfocused longing for healing and restoration.   Day in, day out, whoever passed by could hear their distant moaning, pleading, imploring anyone who might come within earshot.

Wherever Jesus traveled he brought focus to such unfocused suffering.

For Jesus, voices of sufferers never get lost in the crowd….the cries of the injured and the sick never, for Jesus, fade away into so much “background noise.”

Jesus heard, Jesus noticed, Jesus saw with laser-like clarity each of these ten sorrowful men….Jesus allowed them to come into sharp focus…not merely to pity them, but to transform their situation…to dispatch them on a new journey from despair to healing.

And as that happened….as the ten lepers daringly took Jesus at this word and began making their way to the local holy man who could certify them as healthy….on the way to their restoration they were healed.

…so that, suddenly, the unfocused pain of these ten lepers was transformed into equally unfocused joy..  Ten men about as down on their luck as men could be—suddenly thanking their lucky stars!

But one of these men, for some odd reason, believed that more than luck was in play here.  This tenth leper—a despised ethnic outsider, no less—this Samaritan focused his rejoicing, realized this was not all happenstance, returned to Jesus, and gave thanks—focused thanks where thanks was due.

My dear friends, as we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Breckenridge Lutheran Church, I invite us to ponder all the ways in which this congregation, and indeed every living congregation, brings focus to all the experiences of our lives.

Congregations are communities of Christ where all that is unfocused in our daily lives becomes focused, properly focused, on the God who forgives, heals, restores, indeed resurrects us in Jesus.

Whether you’ve always realized it, Breckenridge Lutheran has functioned like a lens for your lives for three quarters of a century.  This congregation has offered focus to all that has come your way.

So children are born or adopted…wanderers, lost souls are found by God…and the natural rejoicing that accompanies such new life finds focus—time and again—when we gather around this baptismal font where hundreds of persons have been born again to a living hope in Jesus Christ.  

·      Think back--how many baptisms have you witnessed here at Breckenridge Lutheran?  

·      And as you embark on a mission planning process, how will the people of Breckenridge Lutheran move out even more imaginatively, more energetically to be God’s seeking, saving voice, hands and feet in this community?

But those who’ve  been found by God and baptized into Christ don’t just stay frozen in time.   We grow, we unfold, we learn in the community of Christ.  We’re more like rushing rivers than stagnant pools, thank God!  And all that growing and learning has found focus here as the scriptures have been opened, to add color and texture to the fabric of faith.  

·      How many Sunday school lessons, catechism classes, Bible studies, confirmation Sundays have you been part of here at Breckenridge Lutheran?  

·      And as you launch into the next leg of your journey together, what new paths of discipleship will you embrace as God brings focus to your lives by passing on the clarifying, vivifying “lens” of faith in Jesus Christ?

As this life of daring faith unfolds, though, we will continually encounter challenges and opportunities, roadblocks and open doors…..and all of that finds focus here as this community of faith tackles issues, jumpstarts new ministries, takes on risks and obligations for the sake of serving God’s mission. 

I’m struck by the fact that this congregation was born in the decade of the Great Depression, during FDR’s second term as president, on the eve of World War II.   Breckenridge Luthearn was birthed in hard times…and through the years you’ve weathered more hard times.  I still remember my brother-in-law Roger Johnson’s video footage from the flood of 1997, as Roger and Linda paddled a canoe from their old home on 8th Street down to where Krebs Motors used to be!  

Hard times didn’t prevent the founders of your congregation from taking the risk of starting a church.  They found focus in the Good News of Jesus Christ—focus that gave them courage.   During the flood of 1997, your congregation showed how Christians view hard times—as the raw materials for ministries of caring and hope, service that matters in the midst of a natural disaster.

·      So, how many brainstorming or planning meetings have you been part of here at Breckenridge Lutheran—generative conversations aimed at finding ways to respond to the challenges and opportunities plopped down in your laps?

·      And as you step forward from this anniversary year into God’s future, how will your congregation continue to make a difference in God’s name here in Wilkin County?

Death has also crept into our lives, time and again, as fellow travelers have been snatched away from us whether by disease or accident….and all that grief and loss and wondering has found focus here where hundreds of baptized children of God have been commended to the arms of their Savior. 

·      So please ponder:  how many funerals have you attended here at Breckenridge Lutheran over these past 75 years?

·      And how will your congregation continue to be one of those few places in the world where people are honest about death and even more honest about the Resurrection that God has in store for all of us, in Jesus Christ?

All along the way I’ve been describing….all along the way life throws both its best and its worst at us….and we respond constantly, in delight or despair.   All of that finds focus here in this house of prayer, because like the Samaritan, like the Tenth Leper we know Whom to turn to in the ups and downs of life. 

·      How many times have you prayed here in this place, bringing into sharp focus all the thanksgivings and intercessions you had within you?

·      And pondering the decades to come how will your prayers take you to the new places, the promised future that God has in store for us all?

So much of life that might otherwise pass by us in a blur or a haze becomes, focused, sharpened, clarified, “tuned up” here in congregations like this.  In a few moments we’ll sing about that in these words:  “Come, thou Fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing they grace…”  (ELW #807)

Thanks be to God for Breckenridge Lutheran Church!   Thanks be to God for this community of faith, gathered in this place week in and week out so that our eyes might be focused and our hearts tuned to sing God’s grace in Jesus Christ our strong Savior, compassionate Healer, loyal Friend and daring Guide.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

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