Sermon for 6/29/14 Matthew 10:40-42

** A note: we had a baptism at the church I serve on this day**

Every once in a while, the heavens open up, God smiles on me, and I get a gift of a fantastic scripture and a baptism on the same day! A text that talks about welcoming and a baptism; I should just say “do you see the connection??” And then say “Go in peace, serve the Lord” and we’d splash little Parker and call it a day. You’d walk out thinking “that was pastor’s best sermon ever–it was only 2 minutes long. It was amazing!!” And while I think the symbolism is fantastic, you know I can’t let you off the hook with a cheap sermon. Grace isn’t cheap.

I have asked you all more than once why you come to church. And I do this in the hope of encouraging you to think about the fact that the reason why you come to church  might be the same reasons someone would start coming to church. And as I am out in the community talking with people who are not members of Elvira Zion, or maybe even who once were members of Elvira Zion the thing I say over and over and over again is please come, you’d be very welcomed. And there is this great hymn (number 641 if you’re interested) called “All Are Welcome” and every time I sing it I think “really, really?!? ALL are welcome?” The chorus goes “all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

Of course, the verses are good too and have some great ideas. If we were looking for a new mission statement, it would be good to start with this song. In fact, lets look at these verses together. (If you read my last newsletter, you might have seen that I suggested reading the hymns as a way to draw closer to God. “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions.”

“Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true, where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew. Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace; here as one we claim the faith of Jesus.”

“Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet. Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us.”

“Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known. Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger.”

“Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter…”

And I think that in many ways we can say without hesitation that yes, Elvira Zion is described in many of those words. And, if we’re being honest, there are ways we can work on welcoming. Now, I want it to be clear, I am not shaming you. I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I feel that part of what I am called to do is to call attention to the places where we are falling short of the expectations that God has set for us. Where are the places that sin is prevalent and what are we going to do about it?

It’s easy for us to baptize Parker today and welcome him with open arms as “one of us” for several reasons: he’s a baby, how could we not, right? He’s got family lineage on his side, which isn’t a bad thing. And, he’s pretty darned cute. Of course we’re going to say “welcome!” It’s when it’s not a baby, or perhaps someone is a stranger, and maybe is a bit unattractive that we might recoil and say “well but….” and then hide behind tradition, or even worse, fear. What do we say to those who have hurt us that want to hear the good news of Jesus Christ so they start coming here? What do we say to those with questionable pasts that need a place of refuge and perhaps a safe place to get a new start? What do we say to those who struggle to place something in the offering plate but we are quick to notice the type of car they drive, or phone they have, or clothes they wear? What do we say to the divorcee, or the addict, or the abuser, or the drop-out, or…or…or…

Many times I have said this (or at least hinted to it) that this is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. If someone wants to come and hear the good word, or if someone wants to come to this table and be fed, or if someone wants to come to these waters and be splashed in promises never ending then guess what, I am not going to stop them. You did not call me to be your gatekeeper, you called me to be your pastor. If we want to be a welcoming congregation, we have to mean it. We have to welcome all of God’s people and not just the people that look like us, or that work jobs like we have, or that seems to have it all together because I can promise you this, my brothers and sisters, none of us in this room have it all together. We sure put on a pretty show pretending like we do, but really, none of us do. Church should be the one place where broken people can come, broken and then be made whole by water, body, and blood. It should not be a place where the broken feel like they can only come PRETENDING to already be whole. It doesn’t work that way.

Pretty soon, we are all going to make some promises to Parker. And at the core of what we promise him is this: we will always welcome you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or not done; it doesn’t matter if you’re here every week or we don’t see you again until confirmation; it doesn’t matter what you wear, or your group of friends, or what college you go to, or what box you check in the voting booth, or if one day you doubt the promises made to you in baptism. God’s grip on you is so strong it will never be broken. Even if you are never ever welcomed anywhere else, God will always welcome you. The best way we can be a place of welcome is to start seeing each other and everyone we meet just as we will see Parker today: a child of God, washed clean in the waters of baptism, called and claimed, loved, forgiven, and free. This font is full of forgiveness, and all are welcome.

Sermon for 6/8/14; John 20:19-23 Pentecost

It’s Pentecost which means we have to deal with that pesky Holy Spirit again. A few weeks back, I talked about the Holy Spirit a bit and how we struggle to talk about the Holy Spirit. It seems easy to talk about God the Father and God the Son, but God the Holy Spirit is a bit of a mystery for sure. Today again we hear stories of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, wind, fire, it sounds anything but Lutheran. It sounds, well, Pentecostal. We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit, at times, we don’t acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, and we certainly may turn up our noses at speaking in tongues. But here’s the thing, brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is the force that constantly moves in our lives, in our church, in our homes, in our world, reminding us and showing us the incredible and overwhelming power of God. The Holy Spirit is what keeps us grounded in the idea that there is something greater than us at work in this world. Thanks be to God!

At our last church council meeting, I handed out small post it notes to each council member and then gave them this question: what is Elvira Zion rich in? I wanted to think of it as a conversation about stewardship, which it was. But, as I started to think about it, I really think it can also be a conversation about the ways we feel and see the Holy Spirit moving in this place. And lest you think it’s not moving, it really is–can you feel it? So we shared those ideas among each other and then I posted those post-its on my door. I wanted them some place where I could see them every day. I wanted a visual reminder as to how rich we really are.

It’s time to stop apologizing. It’s time to stop trying to cover up the Holy Spirit’s work. Let me explain what I mean. It’s time to reclaim the “E” in ELCA–evangelical. Let’s stop apologizing. “Well, we’re just a small country church.” Or “well, we’re out in the middle of the country.” Or “I’m sorry you have to drive out here.” Maybe you’ve even said (or heard) “if you don’t have anything else going on this Sunday, maybe you want to come to church with me…you know, if you’re not too busy.” Ho-hum. Enough! I love you. I am proud to be your pastor! I think the things that God, through the Holy Spirit, is doing in this place are amazing. I want everyone in like a 3 county area to know about it. We’ve got amazing things going on here and it’s time to stop apologizing for the work of the Holy Spirit.

So when I asked the council what we were rich in, the answers delighted me and made me almost burst with the Holy Spirit. We’re rich in tradition, in leadership, in fortitude, in community service, outreach, and the list goes on and on and on. These are things that the Holy Spirit is doing. Pentecost is not just one day a year, brothers and sisters. The Holy Spirit blows and stirs up around here on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s a life changing idea like our food pantry. Sometimes it’s an idea that may not work out but at least we listened to the Holy Spirit and took a chance.

There are those in our communities who are hungry to hear about the good news of Jesus Christ. We are all witnesses to the changing and reforming work of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, you’ve been claimed and God is not letting go. That cross, put on you in baptism, is like a signal to other people. This is your “witness” signal. It’s time to stop hiding in witness protection, ashamed, afraid, or timid to talk to people about God and our faith. Instead, we need to be bold witnesses, alive with the spirit, on fire for Christ. When the world looks at us are they really seeing people who are claimed by God and people who believe they are claimed by God? Do you believe you are claimed by God? Would people believe that you think that just by knowing you? Are you the type of person that people look at and think “there is something different about that person…I don’t know what it is, but I want it.” It’s the Holy Spirit.

Being Holy Spirit people, which is what I think we are, what we can be, and what we will continue to be, is more than being part of a club. The church is not a club. The Lions, or Masons, or Scouts or whatever…they’re all great volunteer organizations. But the church is not a volunteer organization. God has a hold of you and is not letting go. The Holy Spirit is the same way. Sometimes the Holy Spirit grabs hold of you, we may not have an idea of where it is going to take us, but we just hold on, trust God, and go.

Being Holy Spirit people means being willing to trust God. Being Holy Spirit people means that we have to say “we don’t know if this is going to work, but we’re willing to give it a try.” Being Holy Spirit people means that we stop apologizing. There is something exciting going on at Elvira Zion Lutheran Church. What makes you excited to be a member? What keeps you coming Sunday after Sunday? Don’t you want other people to know? Some of you have said to me, “I tell my friends…come and see! Just one Sunday, I promise.” That’s all it takes. Being Holy Spirit people means that we allow ourselves to dream.

Dreaming isn’t just for kids. I’m not talking about fairy tales or happily ever after kinds of dreams, although those are nice. What I am talking about is quiet, whispered, hoped for dreams that you only share with God. It’s usually something that starts with “wouldn’t it be great if…” but then we doubt ourselves, our abilities, or even God and say “but that will never work.” We might as well say “but God doesn’t move around here.” I want you to leave your doubts aside for a moment. I want you to trust that God is moving in this place through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As you came in today, you got a 3×5 index card. I am going to give you a few moments to write some thoughts on this card. I want to hear from you. We will collect these during the offering but the only person to see these will be me. This is a judgment free zone. Here are some questions to get you moving: what are your dreams for Elvira Zion Lutheran Church? How do you see the Holy Spirit moving in this place? What makes you excited to be a member of this church? Now, let me make it clear that this is not “Pastor’s to-do list.” The Holy Spirit empowers ALL of us. Dare to dream. I will give you a few moments. Now, if you don’t have any ideas, it’s okay. But, I give you permission to dream and dream big! Then, be prepared for the Holy Spirit to move.