All posts by Pastor Karl Hanf

The Surprising Kingdom of Heaven

The text for this sermon is Matthew 13:31-33.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. Just a tiny little thing. You can’t hardly see it, but once it takes root in our garden, it becomes a big, thick spread out bush. Unexpectedly, this tiny seed creates a space for birds to build a nest and live abundantly.
In fact, few farmers in Jesus’ day planted mustard seeds. Instead they treated it like a weed, getting rid of it whenever they saw it. A few years back I fired my lawn care company and decided to do it myself. I couldn’t do it any worse, right? You know what happened, a little bit of crabgrass in the corner of the yard took over my entire lawn. This is not what a good looking yard in Pickerington looks like. In Southern Florida though, this is what all the lawns look like. I got to thinking, it is green after all, and takes a lot less care and costs a lot less money. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a little piece of crabgrass that takes over a yard surprising the homeowner because he never knew that is exactly what he needed all along.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny bit of yeast that is hidden in three measures of flour by a baker. That tiny bit of yeast turned fifty pounds of flour and water from a wet, heavy mess to something light, fluffy and ready to bake. The baker made enough bread to feed 150 people, not just a little but abundantly.
In fact, Jesus wasn’t the first rabbi to use yeast as a metaphor. Yeast showed up in scripture and in teachings by rabbis as evidence of the power of corruption. Just a little bit of yeast changes everything. Kind of the one bad apple ruins the whole bushel metaphor. Jesus isn’t using yeast as a bad apple metaphor though. He is suggesting that we can be surprised by just how good and delicious a little change can be. A good jug of cider begins with one bad apple.
My wife makes big pots of soup in the winter nearly every weekend. In those that start with chicken or turkey, she puts a few spoonfuls of horseradish after they are cooked. Now, I wouldn’t use horseradish to clean my shoes let alone spice up my food. I can’t hardly stand to open a jar of the stuff. However, when it is dolloped in a huge pot of chicken noodle soup, it gives it a zest, and a zing that is delicious. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a vat of soup that the sly wife hid a spoonful of horseradish and when her husband ate it he declared it was the best bowl of soup he had ever had.
Usually when we talk about these two parables, we emphasize the slow but steady and positive change of a mustard seed transforming into a tree or yeast transforming flat dough into fluffy dough. Great things come from little beginnings. Don’t judge the potential of something based on the size it begins. Congregations see themselves in this parable all of the time. We might not be big, but all we need is a mustard seed of faith and watch out what God can do. The church can even sound triumphant when they talk about these parables. Paul planted a few churches along the Mediterranean and before you know it, 2000 years later, a billion Christians in the world. Just a little mustard seed in Corinth, is all it took.
Not judging something by its current size might be wise words to live by, but not the point being made by Jesus in these parables. His focus was not on the plodding growth of a seed or the invasive ability of yeast. His focus was on the surprise. A little seed can overtake your garden, giving you something beautiful you never expected. A little bit of yeast can make fifty pounds of flour puff up into enough delicious dough to feed 150 hungry men. Jesus was comparing God’s promised Kingdom not to something grand and glorious but to an obstinate weed and a corrupting bacteria. Yet, that weed and bacteria overtake and transform wherever they are planted and hidden creating something wonderful from what had been something predictable.
Weeds overtake gardens when you don’t notice them or you underestimate their ability. Yeast works invisibly on the flour changing it so it can become bread. The surprise is because you didn’t know this was going to be the result. Remember the baker hid the yeast in the flour. The Kingdom of Heaven is like this too. God is at work in our world in exactly those moments when we think God has taken a cigarette break and not paying any attention at all.
Where is God in the midst of tragedy? Where is God when my spouse dies? The Kingdom of Heaven is working within our world in surprising ways that might be hidden if you aren’t paying attention. The Kingdom of Heaven can be seen in the weeds that prepared and served the funeral dinner, the yeast that sent cards of condolences, the branches that enveloped her in the grief group, the risen worship on All Saints Sunday.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a first year teacher that was assigned a failing classroom and by the end of the year all the students had passed their standardized test. How could one teacher make that kind of difference? The Kingdom of Heaven is like the funeral of an 80 year old bachelor who had lived in the same apartment for sixty years and at his funeral 500 people attended. Who knew this quiet guy had intersected with all of those lives? The Kingdom of Heaven is like Mel Tillis who stuttered all of his life and became a beloved country singer. How could his source of frusration become his greatest gift? The Kingdom of Heaven is like a former atheist, a former promiscuous alcoholic, with tattoos covering her six foot lanky frame and a mouth that seems unable to avoid cursing every third word becoming the most popular Lutheran pastor in America today for her radical ideas on what the Kingdom of Heaven might look like.
Right when we think we got God figured out, God surprises us with something we never expected. Trust God who planted a weed on the edge of the lawn of the Roman Empire and changed all of creation. Trust God that introduced a little yeast in the religious establishment that preached law, judgment and death and gave them a new song of grace, forgiveness and life. From the weeds and the yeast of Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven surrounds us today in great and unexpected ways.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a dying church that fought closing their doors for years then one day trusted the resurrection and let death happen. They sold their property and used the money to go on a mad spending spree, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars joyfully away to ministries around them. The Kingdom of Heaven is the woman with Job like losses that catch your breath when you hear them. She joins a congregation in the midst of her grief and because of her generous spirit, her willingness to be vulnerable and honest in her pain, her smile and grace becomes a source not of pity, but inspiration and healing for others. The Kingdom of Heaven is the former client of a food pantry when she was a young single mother in need who ends up running a food pantry forty years later returning the smiles, grace and support she relied upon once herself. We can’t make this stuff up. The Kingdom of Heaven changes everything, maybe not in ways we expect, but always in ways that bring abundance and life to the creation. Amen

Lives Lived in Spirit

The text for this sermon is Romans 8:1-11.
We are to be dead to the flesh and alive to the Spirit. We are to live lives in the Spirit not fleshy lives. Pastor John Mittermaier is a retired pastor in Circleville, my previous call, who is anything but fleshy. He is the sort of person that many people my age and older imagine when they picture a picture. Tall, solid frame, neither too fat, gluttony being a sin, nor too thin, which would be an abuse of his body, which is a temple. I only ever saw him in a suit and tie. Surely, he had other clothes, but I never saw them. He said little in conversation, but when he spoke he did so deliberately and with authority. People listened because he was properly judicious with his words. He had a kind smile that we enjoyed when it shone upon us.
He could show displeasure, too. I know this because I was the frequent cause of his displeasure when I led worship. In worship he would sit straight as a rod in the second or third row, intently and deliberately participating with that rich pastor’s voice. When I would make one of many errors leading worship I would hear a nearly inaudible sigh. I would look and his eyes would be closed and his head, down as if he had been wounded. I had disappointed him, again.
For many years, I was sure he was the most spiritual person I have ever known and in contrast I might be the most fleshy person every ordained. It was hard for me to imagine Pastor Mittermaier drinking too much, eating too much, or looking too long at an attractive woman, sinfulness that tripped me up often. While he always looked sharp and well dressed, I come from the generation that invented casual Fridays, men convinced that short pants are no longer just for children. I no longer even own a suit. He is judicious with his words while I throw them out as quickly as they come to my head, including even the four letter kind at times. I am sure strangers guess that he is a pastor or a retired judge or something, while strangers usually think I am pulling their leg when I tell them what I do for a living.
We are to be dead to the flesh and alive to the Spirit. We are to live lives in the Spirit not fleshy lives. The worrisome part of this teaching for me is that what separates me from Pastor Mittermaier seems to be how spiritual he seems and how fleshy I have become. I always imagined a spiritual life to be one that floats above the rest of us, in the world but only kind of sort of, not troubled by the same things that trouble the rest of us. Serene and peaceful describe a spiritual life and lets be honest here, no one has ever described me that way.
My reading this week helped me understand that for Paul, fleshy lives were not the same as earthy lives or crude lives or sensual lives Paul didn’t have in mind my fleshy sinfulness of gluttony, lust, cursing and general social ineptness. I don’t doubt that Paul would have been as vexed and disapproving of me as Pastor Mittermaier, but that is not his point here. Living by the flesh is about the orientation of our lives. People who live fleshy lives are primarily concerned with their own well being, their own status, their own honor. Their lives always look toward themselves. In the end, they are their own ultimate concern.
What defines a fleshy life is not sinful behaviour with a small “s”, but rather selfish behavior. A fleshy life might follow the law of God scrupulously, uphold the social expectations of their community meticulously and share their resources to the needy generously through good works. What makes them fleshy is that they do these good things to bring themselves honor and status, not for a love of God or creation. They are building themselves up. They use the laws of God to exclude others, creating a world of sinners and saints, losers and winners, saved and condemned. Fleshy lives bring death because their quest for honor and advantage poison every relationship.
The difference between a fleshy life and a spiritual life is not determined by a tally of sinful or stupid behavior but where it is lived. Spiritual lives are lived in Christ. The Good News is that in the waters of baptism we promised to live our life in Christ, which means in the body of Christ, the church. People who have been gifted with the Spirit live differently and act differently in the world, but not in the typical way you might think. They live together, always in relationship with God and with each other. Putting God’s needs and hopes always before their own. Putting the needs of God’s people always before themselves. This is the only formula for a spiritual community and it is the only way to live a spiritual life.
The indicators of a spiritual life are not serenity and peacefulness, nor boorishness and sloppiness, but rather where it is lived. To live a spiritual life, we must live our lives with other people committed to living a spiritual life. People who remind us that we don’t live for ourselves, we don’t live for others, we live for God. For us to live in Christ here together at Messiah, our church must be Christ like. We can’t do ministry here for recognition, power in the community or to grow the amount of butts in our pews. The question we ask together is not how is Messiah glorified by our ministry, but rather how is God glorified by our ministry. The gifts of the Spirit are given to individuals but not to lift up their life. They are given to individuals to build up a community of people living in Spirit. This is what we are about here. Trying to build a community that is so Christ like that if we live here, serve here, worship here, share here, laugh here, cry here, sin here, fall short here, fail here, we do so always in the midst of Christ. Together we trust the promise that if we live our life here, it will be a spiritual life and not a fleshy life.
Fleshy lives are lived alone and turned inward. Lives lived in the Spirit are lived in community, turned towards God and God’s creation. Signs of fleshiness my life are not when I continue to laugh like a five year old when loud noises come unexpectedly from my body. My fleshiness is longing to be that perfect, well spoken, appropriately dressed and presented Pastor Mittermaier. This is not fleshy because he is a bad pastor to want to emulate. It is fleshy because I want to be like him so that I can enjoy the same status and honor that he commanded when he came into a room.
We are who we are. We don’t need to be perfect to live a life in Spirit. As long as we live life in Christ, in community, with each other, God will help us find a whole life. It may never be the life that we imagine, frustratingly full of rough edges that we long to be smoothed. But who knows, maybe our fleshiness is exactly what a body of Christ needs to be made whole. Amen

Telling Secrets

The text for this sermon is Matthew 10:26-27.
Telling secrets. In college, I used to watch Days of Our Lives. I am not proud of this. I am just putting it out there. We’re telling secrets today. My girlfriend Paige, her mom and my mom had watched this soap for years, so I had some familiarity with the characters, Hortons, Bradys, Beau, Hope, Marlena, Roman, Stephano. In defense, this was 1983 and Duck Dynasty wasn’t even a thought in a TV executive’s head.
Behind the tension in nearly all of the stories in Days of our Lives was secrets. Caroline had had an affair with the villain Victor Kiriakas and their son was a handsome boy named Beau Brady. Brady not Kiriakas because Caroline never told either the father or child the truth. We all found out about this when Beau was a grown man, but of course Beau didn’t know. The whole time he is thinking he has good Brady blood, when really evil Kiriakas blood is pulsing through his veins. Caroline his mother is trying desperately not to let him find out her secret because he will be angry at her. While I am yelling at the screen, just tell him already! You are only making it worse. The longer you keep this from him the more angry he will be when he finds out. Pick the scab and be done with it. I learned at 19 by watching Days of our Lives that secrets are evil, corrosive to relationships. The only way to destroy the power of a secret is by taking them out of the darkness and bringing them into the light.
Because Jesus likely never went to college, I am guessing he never watched Days of our Lives, but he was able to still learn the same lesson. “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; what you hear whispered proclaim from the rooftops.” This is part of a larger teaching of Jesus in Matthew about what is expected of being a disciple. Jesus tells disciples to be weary of secrets. The secret Jesus had in mind was not paternity issues like those revealed on the Days of Our Lives, but keeping secret your faith that Jesus is the Messiah. A disciple in the days of Jesus might want to do this because they would likely be kicked out of their family if they said such a thing out loud. It would have been a really big deal, thus better to keep it on the down low.
While it is a questionable use of scripture to relate this very specific passage in Matthew to a comment by Jesus on all secrets, I am convinced that secrets in general keep us from being disciples of Christ because they destroy trust in our relationships. How can we be Christ to someone, present ourselves as disciples of Jesus, if we can’t be trusted to be honest and truthful. The secrets we hold keep us from being honest with the people we love.
Even the minor secrets we keep have the power to damage relationships, especially those already troubled. For years, congregational pastors asked our Southern Ohio Synod to reveal the salaries of key staff people as we did in our congregations. They refused. Why? It made us wonder what was going on. What are they hiding? This secret chipped away at the trust between our Synod and congregation, that frankly already was on a rocky road because of questionable financial practices. When they finally did release the salaries, it couldn’t reverse the damage already done.
Often, we say we need to keep a secret because it would hurt someone we love too much to know the truth. Marriage counselors regularly tell spouses who have had a “minor” affair, not to reveal this. It would needlessly hurt the spouse when it was just too much to drink one night on the road and shrug things happen. I have trouble with this. I understand that it would hurt the other person to hear this truth. However, behind the lame reason for the affair, are the real problems in the marriage that led to the one night stand in the first place. A marriage might not be able to survive this secret coming to light, but at what price is survival? If the problems persist, the unfaithfulness is likely to continue, too. While the secret is kept hidden what is already broken is not being repaired. Even if someone us working hard to repair what is broken, it is a certainty that all of the repair will be lost when their secret comes to light down the road. While we might say we are protecting someone we love, more often it is just our attempt to avoid the consequences of our actions.
We keep our secrets because of shame. We worry what people will think of us if they hear our truth. These are the reasons for my secrets. I am not sure if there is anything about me that no one knows, but there are things that just a few people know. While I have no secrets about harm I have done to a member of Messiah or the congregation overall, I still will keep my secrets to myself. For I fear, if you hear them you will no longer see me as I want you to see me. On some real level, I don’t trust you to love me after hearing my secrets.
This is at the bottom of all of our secrets, isn’t it? Trust. We each work so hard to try to build a facade of who we want others to believe us to be, while desperately trying to hide who we really are. Our secrets reveal us and that is scary because we don’t trust that our friends or family or church will love us when they hear them. We don’t trust that the people who have promised to love us will keep their promises. We don’t trust God to keep God’s promises to love us no matter what.
Our secrets are like weights around us. They burden us. They fester and mildew in the damp darkness. It takes energy to conceal them, to lie, or imply to friends and family truths that we know to be falsehoods. They nibble at us. If we could let them go this burden could be lifted. Exposing them to the light might hurt at first, actions have consequences but freedom from their power over us would follow.
Begin today, by trusting God to hear your secrets and still love you. Believe that. But don’t just tell your secret to God in a silent prayer. Lift it up aloud, this is important. Pray it out loud for a time, until you get used to hearing the words echo that bring you such great shame. This will deflate some of the power from your secret and help you build up courage.
The next step is to trust a Christ filled person to hear it. Though you might not be ready to tell the world or significant people in your life, it is good to tell someone. To say the secret aloud, even to an uninvolved third party like me, deflates even more the power from the secret. Every bit of light cast into this darkness is good. To see a reaction of love not rejection will give you courage to continue on your journey to truthfulness. Even seeing a reaction of horror and disbelief, might force you to wrestle with the gravity, implications and consequences of your actions. Whatever happens when you tell someone, it will be a step towards healing. Of course the final step then is to tell the secret to the one who needs to hear it, the person you are keeping it from.
If we wore our secrets on our chest for all to read, we would be quicker to forgive each other, realizing that we all share the same brokenness. If we could trust each other enough to hear our secrets and to love us afterwards, how much stronger a witness of Christ’s love could we be? If we accepted the consequences of our secrets but were not cast out of the church for them, what a radical looking community the church would become. If we could trust each other to love us no matter what, then maybe we could start believing what we say we believe, that God loves us no matter what. If we believed that, there would be no need for any of us ever to have secrets. Amen

Trusting God in our Transitions

The text for this sermon is Joshua 3:7-17
Do you remember when you graduated from High School? I don’t remember walking across any stage or receiving a diploma, but I remember vividly the unique feeling of the summer after I graduated. It was as though everything had changed and yet nothing really had changed. I was still the same kid that had to get a hall pass to go to the bathroom just a week before, but now my parents were letting me go camping for the weekend with friends, only, no adults. After graduation I was given more responsibility for myself and my future and also more freedom to make wise decisions and very, very, very bad decisions. I can remember the exhilaration of realizing how great the possibilities were for my life, but also real fear about whether I could realize any of those possibilities without some monumental mistake screwing it all up. Clear to me now, in a way not possible then, graduating from high school was a huge transition in my life.
All of our lives, as different and unique as they are, contain many of these huge transitions. Some transitions we understand at the time that nothing will ever be like it was before. Others, we only see in retrospect how much life changed after one particular innocuous event. The crazy thing about transitions is that in the midst of the change that we are swept away in, we are still the same person, with the same gifts, faults, wisdom and stupid thinking. The best gift any of us can receive in a transition is to be surrounded by patient, loving, and caring people centered on Christ and willing to walk with us as we navigate changes.
Our hope is that in the church we find those people. Which is why we emphasize transitions in our worship life together. They are moments to mark an event as important, to pledge publicly our support for our brother or sister, and to pray that God leads them where life seems to be taking them. This is what weddings and funerals are about. Baptisms of infants also contain our promise to walk with the parents bringing their child forward. Honoring graduates today gives us an opportunity to remind these young people, that whether they pop out of the gate running, or stumble for the first few miles, we will encourage and support them.
The church comes by this support of people in transition honestly. It is deeply embedded in our sacred scripture. The story we read in Joshua is about an important transition in the life of Israel. It occurs at the end of the forty years of wandering in the desert that God demanded of the escaped slaves of Egypt before they could receive the Promised Land. The Promised Land was not an empty space waiting for them. The seven nations of Canaan occupied it and they were well aware of the intent of the tens of thousands of Israelites that were on their border, the other side of the Jordan. The book of Joshua is a book of battles against those nations. It is interesting that where the Israelites cross the Jordan it is barren desert on both side. Transitions are like that, right. They mark a point where everything changes, but still so much stays remarkably the same.
The transition happens at the Jordan River. On one side they are slaves of Egypt. On the other side they will be inheritors of the Promised Land that is meant for God’s chosen people. We forget how difficult in the ancient world crossing a river could be, especially for thousands of people moving into enemy territory. There would be no bridges out in the desert. Individuals might cross on rocks lying in the river, but for huge masses of people this was impractical. Armies might be ferried across by boats, but this wasn’t possible for Israel either. Just like God helped the fleeing slaves of Egypt cross the Red Sea, God would help their children cross the Jordan, by stopping the river in her tracks.
The ritual God commanded of them in their crossing, is what is of interest to us today. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant to the center of the Jordan. Trusting that the waters would part for them and keep them dry. They stood in the middle of the Jordan with the Ark while twelve representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel placed stones in the center of the dried up river, around where they stood. Then the people crossed in the path of the priests, carefully moving around them as they remained standing in the center of the Jordan. Imagine the flow of all these people walking in the shadow of this mysteriously damned river. When all had crossed the priests carried the ark to the shore. There they built an altar to God, a memorial of twelve large stones like pillars. The Jordan was then released by God and flowed again.
This ritual was important for Israel. Everyone that crossed knew the difficult days of war ahead and had to trust the promise of peace in the future. Simply crossing the Jordan wasn’t enough, God wanted them to cross in a way that reassured them that God’s presence could be relied upon. The God who could stop a river from flowing, had their back. The twelve leaders of the twelve tribes who brought stones forward and built an altar at the end, was a reminder to all that they were a united community. Life was going to change drastically, but if they stayed together and trusted God in the lead, they would be okay.
This is what the best rituals in the church that mark our transitions do. They cause us to pause in a busy life long enough to thoughtfully consider an important moment in our life. They remind us God has our back in our anxiousness about the change we face. They gather the community around us to pledge their ongoing support when we will need it the most.
A memorable ritual for me was my ordination. It was the moment I became yoked to the church. I was ordained at Grace Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio, in the sanctuary where I was confirmed, married, baptized my kids, buried my grandparents and will likely say goodbye to my parents, too. The pastors who laid hands on my head in that ritual, who prayed fervently that I might be a good leader for the institution they loved, was our bishop at the time, Cal Holloway, Pastor Redfern who first championed my call when I was in his confirmation class, Pastor Jacobs who had become a loved part of the congregation after I left, and Pastor Kai Nilsen, who had become a model for my own pastoral leadership and now a good friend. The congregation gathered were people who had known me in Toledo since my childhood, friends from Columbus who wanted to encourage me, family who had always made me feel loved. I remember clearly kneeling in 1999 in that space, as the pastors and everyone prayed fervently for me and my call.
At the end of the ritual, I felt changed, ready for the responsibility God had called me to shoulder. At the end of the ritual I felt exactly the same, just as likely to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and make a mess of it. At the end of the ritual I knew regardless of my strengths and weaknesses, God had my back. God’s people were united to support me.
There is an important role that churches play in transitions for people of faith. As we enter our own Jordan Rivers, we should do so relying on rituals to give us confidence. There is liberating encouragement that is won from the evidence that God is paying attention. There is strength gained in knowing there is a community of people who want good from us, who believe in us, and who sacrifice to serve us. If we let God lead and surround ourselves by the people of God, God will find dry land for us. Amen

Three Beats to God’s Song

The text for this sermon is Acts 2:1-21.
There is a rhythm to how God works in our world. The heart of the Christian journey is to catch that rhythm, to move into it, and let it change you, your words, your thoughts, and your actions. This rhythm has three beats in the song God sings in our world and as many notes as people in God’s creation.
The first beat of this rhythm is the mystery of God that intersects with our world. What is God up to here? How is God found in our lives and our world? What miracle from God did we see today? The second beat is the witness of the people that spot God in our world. They connect the miracle we experienced with the greater story of God. They are the preachers, the prophets, the teachers, the prayer warriors, the faithful. They build a bridge between us and God. The third beat is us, you, me, her, him, them, all of us that experience the mystery, hear the words of hope that connect it to God’s story, then act, reform, repent, change who we are to match who God longs for us to be. Three beats, God acts, people witness, and then we change. Three beats, God, witness, us.
These three beats are behind every story in scripture. God acts and floods the world to cleanse it and start anew. Noah witnesses God’s judgment on the creation, but also finds God’s promise and hope for peace after the flood. Noah’s family acts, builds an ark, saves the creation, starts a new community centered on God. God acts and puts a child in the womb of the elderly Sarah. Abraham witnesses the vision that he will be a father of great nation dedicated to God. Sarah acts and makes room in her old age for the first child of these new people. God acts to give a new direction for the kingdom that Israel has insisted upon. Samuel witnesses to King Saul that he is no longer living in God’s story. David acts, anointed by Samuel begins his march to the throne.
Can you hear the beat? Boom, boom, boom. Boom, boom, boom. God acts, someone witnesses God’s purpose, we act. God, witness, us. The notes are different, the characters, the results, the change, they are all different, but it is the same rhythm. God acts in our world. God actions are connected to our story. The people change their direction after receiving this new blessing from God.
This is the rhythm behind the Pentecost story. God acts in a great and powerful way and God’s spirit lands on our flesh. It is like a rush of wind or a hot, intense fire that encompasses everything. God shows up in that room and makes God’s self-known. It is awesome. It is mysterious. It is surely God that does this. Boom.
The people wonder what just happened. How does that fit into who we know God to be? Are they all just drunk? Peter knows the words, to connect this Pentecost miracle of wind and flame to the story of God. This is God keeping God’s promise in Jesus he tells them. This is God’s presence, not in a temple, not on a mountain, not in heaven, not out there somewhere, but right here, right now. God’s spirit is within us now so that we can live and not die. God has not left us, but is with us powerfully by the Holy Spirit. Peter knows God’s story and how Pentecost fits into that story. Boom.
And the people act. They saw the mystery of God’s action. They hear the story of God’s promise. They change how they live in the world. They create the church to bear one another’s burdens, to lift each other up, to love their enemy, the least and the lost. The love of the early church was so crazy that their neighbors literally thought they were out of their mind. They died to what this world said was important and began to live to the new world the Spirit opened up. They were transformed. Boom.
Glenn Harris shared a powerful story last week. I had asked Glenn to tell the congregation why he supported the sanctuary renewal project in a temple talk. Last Sunday he didn’t talk much about padded pews, an expanded and modern sacristy, less clutter, or better sight lines for worshippers. Instead, he told us about a mystery of encountering God in this space in the back row of a Christmas Eve service when all he could see were hundreds of strangers holding a single candle in the dark. As he was grieving, crying out to God, angry at God, devastated by the loss of his mom, those single flames piercing the darkness as people sang Silent Night, got to him. God was here. Boom.
He didn’t receive any answers he had come to that night to find. Why had his mom died? Why couldn’t he get to her bed before she passed? Why had she suffered after living such a good and faithful life? He did though connect that mystery, that Christmas Eve night with God’s story. He knew that Christmas Eve God sighting was an invitation back to the body of Christ. In the church, his grief could be shared, his burdened lightened, his flame of faith connected to the hundreds of others who call this place home. Glenn made the connection between that night and God’s promise. Boom.
He changed. He became not just an occasional worshipper when it fit into his schedule, Glenn, Kim and Rain have become integral to who we are, leading ministries of teaching, enthusiastically serving the least and the lost with us through meals to the hungry, hospitality to the homeless, clothes, food and furniture to those in need, plus leadership in council and on our landscape group. By the following Christmas Eve, Glenn, Kim and Rain had reordered their lives so completely they were one of us, the church. Boom.
This is God’s rhythm, three beats. This rhythm plays behind our life together now. God is in this place. God can be seen in this community, the church. The mystery of God is in the beauty of our worship. Who could deny God’s presence when taps echoed here a few weeks ago? The mystery of God is in the new faithful servants that God sends us weekly. 75% of our leadership is people like Glenn who have been here less than ten years. The mystery of God is in the thousands of people every year that we serve in shelters, Joseph’s Coat and HEART, homeless ministries and many others.
The beats of God’s rhythm are here. What Glenn found out that Christmas Eve and witnessed last week, I am here to witness today. Our voices are that second beat. Listen. God is declaring life here while the entire world talks about the death of the church. People are being blessed and finding hope here. God’s mystery is felt by visitors in our pew, by strangers we serve, by faithful members every day. God is here. Boom.
We are the final beat to this rhythm at Messiah. So, what are we going to do about it? God has showed up. We have made the connection. Now we need to act. Change. Stop trusting in the scarcity of the Kingdom of Man and trust in God’s kingdom full of abundance. This place is holy, this sanctuary and I will take off my shoes within it. It is not enough for us just to say we believe. God is calling for our transformation, a reordering to match the power and mystery of God’s presence here. You, me, him, her, us, we, the church are that third beat. Boom.
God is here. Like a rush of wind, it looks like God has been blowing things around up here for a number of years. When God acts, things change and this worship space testifies to that. New organ, new piano, new drums, new electric piano, new screen, none of that was up here ten years ago. None of it. They are all gifts from God that have radically changed our worship space. While some may grieve that change, none of us should grieve without hope. There is no going back, only forward. God has acted in this place. Now, it is our turn to act, to respond.
If we didn’t have the resources to clean this place up, then God would be okay with that. We could worship on hay bales and dirt floors and lift a good voice to the Lord. But we do have the resources. It just calls for us to make different decisions with our wealth. It calls for us to act. We are the third beat. We can do this. God knows we can do this. The mystery of God is here.
There are three beats. The first beat, God acts in Messiah bringing us a richness of gifts in new people. The second beat is the story of life this has meant. These people have made us vibrant, diverse and alive. Now, it is our opportunity to be the third beat, to change this place to welcome so many more that are longing to hear the Good News. Listen to this music, the rhythm of God and prepare to make a good sacrifice to God and God’s church.