Sunday, October 26, 2014

Story Dwellers Who Become Story Tellers

Ordination of Kate Longtin Johnson
October 19, 2014
Grace Lutheran Church, Hallock, MN
Deuteronomy 6:4-9; I Corinthians 12:4-11; Matthew 28:16-20

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

My goodness, Kate, what a ride you’ve been on these last few years!  And what an amazing collection of titles you been accumulating along the way!

Not all that long ago you acquired the title MRS, when you and Frank married--though I suspect that (like most young women nowadays) you hardly ever call yourself “Mrs. Johnson”….

Then you picked up another title, MDIV.    Now that’s a strange one, especially when you say it out loud:  you’re a “Master” of Divinity, how’s that for weird?  And so audacious, too:  a “Master” of Divinity, a “Master” of God and the things of God—really??

And now in a few moments you’ll receive another title:  REV.   You’ll walk away from this worship service with that weighty, awkward word “Reverend” hung around your neck.  Even though you might not use it very often, others will--so, get ready for that!

MRS….MDIV….REV…..and oh, yes (how could I forget?), there’s one other new title you’ve acquired recently:  you got your MOM degree!  The arrival of baby Natalie, I dare say, has changed your life as much, if not more so, than all those other titles you’ve been acquiring….

….and, I hasten to add, your experience of being a MOM will shape how you live into this REV-business, more than you might imagine!

For, as you start to engage with the people of God in the New Beginnings parish, as you labor among them and with them so that Christ might be formed in them (Galatians 4:19)….you will do so as one who is fussing with and finagling ways to form this same Lord Jesus Christ, in dear, sweet little Natalie.

It is as if God bestowed on you your own little hothouse experiment, when God gave you Natalie.  

Please excuse the crassness of that—Natalie is surely more than an “experiment” or a Petri dish for faith formation….but she does embody in miniature (literally “in miniature”) what God is always up to as God implants Christ, nurtures Christ, forms Christ in all of God’s people, all of us, all the time.

Your Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy 6 shows how that happens, how God goes to work on us.   It reveals God washing over God’s people, and drenching them in God’s sin-forgiving, identity-bestowing, hope-engendering, faith-forming Word.

Think of it as “saturation education” in the Word of God--being soaked in the scriptures, “marinated” by the biblical story so completely that even if we aren’t always walking around with a Bible in our hands, we start to  “smell” and even “taste” like people who’ve been soaked in God’s goodness.

On the cusp of entering the Promised Land, after forty years of wandering in the Wilderness of Sinai, Moses is concerned here in Deuteronomy--concerned that the Children of Israel not forget.   Moses wants to make sure that when the good times roll, when there are two chickens in every pot, when peace and prosperity descend upon them—Moses wants to make sure that his people not forget where they had come from and Who had brought them all those good things.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

God’s vision, here in Deuteronomy 6, is that we be surrounded, washed over with, saturated in God’s story…and that that happen so comprehensively, so completely that God’s Story becomes eternally entwined with our story.

And that’s critical, because if God’s Story doesn’t define us, other stories surely will!
David Lose, one of your teachers at Luther Seminary, puts it this way:
In recent years, the presence and influence of the Christian story in contemporary culture has shrunk considerably. The proliferation of different and competing stories about reality—some of which are religious, while many more are about material wealth, nationalism, or ethnicity—has occupied more and more of our attention.  We may see these stories proclaimed on the front covers of magazines or more subtly hidden in the logo of a powerhouse brand, but they are all around us, each inviting us to subscribe to a particular understanding and worldview about what is good, beautiful, and true. Taken as a whole, the proliferation of all these different worldviews has crowded out the biblical story as the narrative by which to make sense of all others and rendered it just one among a multitude of stories.[1]

We who bear the Word of God, we who seek to center ourselves and others in God’s great Story, do so mindful of all the other stories that try to crowd their way in, take us over, define us.

And so the ministry to which we give ourselves, all God’s people but especially pastors of the Church, the cause that claims us is about re-centering lives in the only Story that is big enough, deep enough, gracious enough to do justice to God and to all of reality and to us--the Story of God’s love in lavishly creating us…..and graciously liberating us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection….and continually renewing us through the reviving breath of the Holy Spirit.

So, Kate, as you hold your child, your Natalie, in your hands….you see that happening.   At times it can seem so subtle, so imperceptible.   My grand-daughter, Olivia, (at 17 months) is now regularly starting to act the way Christians act.   When we gather around the table for a meal, we all clasp our hands together to pray—and Olivia has discovered that she too can fold her hands—and that when she does that all the adults around her go nuts!

We could write that off as mere habit, I suppose….like Pavlov’s dogs, Olivia is being positively reinforced by her family members.    But we dare not under-estimate the power of such habits, such responses.  These are the rudimentary ways faith is practiced for all of life…it’s how faith practices begin…practices that allow God’s story to shine forth, faith practices by which other, puny, ultimately ineffectual stories are crowded out.

You’re doing that at home, with Frank and Natalie, day in and day out.   You’re taking your daily dip into God’s great, all-encompassing Love Story right here in the parsonage of Hallock….

And now, as you start to trek down south to Alvarado and Oslo, you’ll be doing the same things….placing yourself at God’s disposal in order to submerge the people of the New Beginnings parish in this same story of God the Creator, Jesus the Savior and the Spirit who gives life.

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the little ways that happens….be on the lookout for God’s Story shoving aside all the trifling, bogus, dead-end stories that would claim us and those we serve.

As you take up this grand calling, that comes with the weighty word “Reverend” that we’re hanging around your neck this evening, please remember three things:

First, Kate, all your life, all your own story within God’s encompassing Story, has brought you to this point.   You didn’t sign up for this—God has shanghaied  you, called you, and set you apart for this.  If you feel as though you’re in over your head, that’s entirely normal!

Second, Kate, God has showered upon you all the gifts you need for this business.   And God hasn’t just given you enough of the gifts of the Spirit either.  God has given you the right complement of such gifts which, as our lesson from I Corinthians reminds us, always come with just the right degree of diversity within the unity in which the Holy Spirit operates.

And third, Kate, don’t forget that God’s goal in all of this—the outcome God aims for is that we and the whole people of God not just live within God’s Story….but that we share this story with others.   Lutherans have all too often downplayed how God always saves us in order to send us, as the stirring words of the Great Commission from Matthew 28 remind us this evening.  

In short, God is after Story Dwellers who can’t help but become Story Tellers!   And your ordination, Kate, places you smack dab in the middle of that for the rest of your life.
In the name of Jesus.   Amen.       

[1] David Lose, “Stewardship in the Age of Digital Pluralism,” in Word and World, Rethinking Stewardship special issue (2010), p. 112.