Saturday, April 7, 2018

Beautiful Feet

Ordination of Laurie Lynn Albertson
Trinity Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes, MN
Isaiah 52:7-10

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

If this sermon had a title it would be just two words:  “Beautiful Feet.”

Beautiful Feet?   Really, now?   Truth be told, most of us (myself included) would hesitate to slap those two words together because, frankly, we’re embarrassed by our feet—especially ashamed of how our feet appear to be anything but “beautiful.”

Beautiful feet?   To many of us that actually sounds like an oxymoron—you know:  a contradiction in terms—along the lines of :   “living dead” or “crash landing” or “civil war” or “jumbo shrimp.”

And yet our First Lesson for today, from Isaiah 52, weds those two words together:  “How beautiful are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news…”   What was going through Isaiah’s mind when he put those two words together?   And why, centuries later, did the Apostle Paul quote this passage in the 10th chapter of his letter to the Romans?

What is so beautiful about these “beautiful feet?”

Well, for starters, the feet Isaiah described were beautiful because they were so eagerly anticipated.   

Beautiful feet are longed-for, anticipated feet!

The picture the prophet paints here is pregnant with pathos.  Old watchmen who should have cashed it in years ago, old watchmen who should have  been retired and living off their Social Security…..old watchmen are standing lookout on the ruins of the walls that once surrounded their holy city, Jerusalem before it was sacked by their enemies, the Babylonians, in 587 B.C.

Old, over-the-hill watchmen ache with longing for some shred of good news, some slender sign that the Lord might yet vindicate his exiled people, that the Lord might even bring back a remnant to Jerusalem, from far-off wicked Babylon, in order to repopulate the Holy City.

Picture these wizened, ancient watchmen on the crumbled walls of Jerusalem, doing what watchmen do best—that is:  watching, gazing off toward the northeastern sky, looking to the mountains between sacred Jerusalem and sinful Babylon, stubbornly waiting, eagerly anticipating a messenger whose winged feet might bring good news to famished, ravaged Jerusalem.

What makes these feet beautiful is that they are anticipated feet, creating the footsteps that the faithful watchers on the walls are pining to hear.

Dear Laurie, in the pastoral ministry that you’ve already been trying on for several years, you have no doubt come to recognize when members of your flock long to hear your footsteps on their front steps, your knock at their doors.   For truly, this world is filled with folks just aching to hear someone’s footsteps….folks deeply longing for a sign—any sign!--that God is alive and well and has everything in hand.

God’s gift of hope and new life and a fresh start is what people are looking for, longing for, aching for.    People right now are living in anticipation that someone will come along, bursting with the joyful tidings that God is making all things new, setting the world right, restoring all things for the sake of the crucified, resurrected Jesus Christ, our Savior.

The bearing, the bringing of that news--so eagerly anticipated!--is what makes your feet beautiful.

Second, the beautiful feet of which Isaiah speaks are beautiful because they come from someplace else—those feet aren’t from around here.   These feet are beautiful because they make their way toward us from beyond us:   bringing a message that isn’t “old hat,” bearing astonishingly good news that isn’t already at our fingertips.

No one needed to tell those venerable old watchmen on the ruined walls of Jerusalem that they were fresh out of hope.   They already realized the folly of poking around in the rubble at their feet, combing through the ashes for some hint, some glint of good news that they might somehow “gin up!”

Those watchmen didn’t look deep within themselves for good news.  No, they were on the lookout, necks craned toward the distant horizon, pining for a liberating word that could only come from beyond them.

Dear Laurie, there are folks in this broken world who are utterly empty, fresh out of hope, incapable of producing the very good news they long to hear.

There are persons who’ve had it up to here with self-help quackery or the nostrums of “look-deep-within-yourself” counselors.   They get it:  they understand that the terrors they face and the death that awaits them simply cannot be remedied by any do-it-yourself project of their own making.

All of which is to say:  we are surrounded by persons who hunger deep within themselves for good news that can only come from outside ourselves.   Martin Luther used a Latin phrase, “extra nos” which means literally “from outside of ourselves.”  

Luther reveled in the “extra nos” of the gospel, the outside-of-ourselves-ness, the sheer breath-taking graciousness of what God has done, is doing and will keep doing through a Savior named Jesus who ceaselessly delivers forgiveness for every failing, freedom from every fear, and a future without end.

What makes your feet beautiful is that they’re feet that follow a Savior we didn’t manufacture, a Redeemer who isn’t from around here, but who showed up here in the fullness of time, to bestow on all of us gifts beyond measure—pure grace with no strings attached.

Third, the feet that Isaiah calls beautiful, are feet on the move.   A single snapshot of these feet will never do them justice.   These feet simply are never “frozen in time.”  No, it has to be a moving picture, a from-there-to-here dynamic image of feet in motion, feet coming to us, feet accompanying us in our journeys.

Laurie, you already have been living in the 21st century reality that “church” is about so much more than getting people to come to us.   You’ve been putting into practice what it means for church to be out-and-about, “on the go,”  leaving our treasured church buildings, moving out, finding those whom God is calling, accompanying them in their faith-filled journey toward God’s New Day.

Your feet are beautiful, because they’re feet on the go, feet that head out to where folks actually live,  feet that fall into step with them and accompany them in the adventure of a living faith in a hurting world.

Now, I realize, that really none of what I’ve said is exactly new to you, Laurie. 

You’ve been about the good work of pastoral ministry for a while, growing deeper in your awareness of how persons long for the gospel, how people are hungry for good news that comes from beyond themselves, how “doing church” in this 21st century always involves getting off our butts, not waiting for others to come to us, but continually seeking them out in order to deliver to them the always-fresh, ever-new message of Jesus Christ who died for us, Jesus Christ who was raised for us, Jesus Christ who will come again to make us and all things new.

You already get all that, Laurie.  You’ve been growing into this ministry for years.   So what makes this day so special?

I think it’s simply that God is “sealing the deal” for good, spreading some sweet frosting on a delicious cake--in such a way that you joyously, unreservedly can’t help but respond:  “I will, and I ask God to help me.”

Thanks, dear Laurie, for giving us the privilege of sharing this holy day with you—and for allowing us, on behalf of Christ’s whole church, to promise to be there for you, for as long as God gives you faith and life and hope to keep setting your beautiful feet in motion, always in God’s service, for the sake of all to whom God sends you.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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