Reflecting on the Journey
Being ‘Lutheran’ means being rooted in god’s amazing grace!
For those of you new to us, who may not know our story, going on two years ago, now, we sold our building of sixty-some years to another congregation. And since then – or at least, up until last March, we were worshiping in what was, at one time, our fellowship hall. So, for twenty-two months, we’ve been taking our time. Letting the dust settle. Catching our breath. Regaining our footing. And slowly moving forward. Starting over. And we’ve used this third Sunday of the month as a chance to think about the journey we’re on. Nothing scripted. Nothing choreographed. More impulsive, spontaneous, than anything.
A little over a year-and-a-half ago, a designTeam we’d formed came up with three words that serve as our coreValues. Bottom-line things that make us who, that make us what, we are. The words? Christ! Charity! Community! And since then, we’ve been mulling them over … and over … and over … Last month, the congregationCouncil had its chance to add six words of their own. A half dozen adjectives that will help us figure out what comes next. They are … Lutheran, Regional, Accessible, Diverse, Unexpected, and Sustainable. Let me repeat those. Lutheran, Regional, Accessible, Diverse, Unexpected, and Sustainable. This morning, we’ll spend a few moments on that first one … Lutheran. My apologies to the writer of First John … “What we will be has not yet been revealed, but what we do know is this: we will be …” Lutheran! We will be Lutheran! That’s what the council hoped to underscore. Not Lutherans – noun – but Lutheran – adjective!
You see, back in the good old days, when our grandparents, when our great grandparents, came to this country, being Lutheran had more to do with pedigree and bloodline than it did Jesus and church. Don’t get me wrong. Jesus and church were important, to them. But what was more important, still, was the way we spelled our last names. What was more important was the color of our eyes and of our hair. What mattered was what part of the homeland we came from. The language – the dialect – we spoke. It was about the food we ate and the songs we sung and the clothes we wore. It was about customs and habits and rituals that had made them them! Those are the things that brought them together. Those are the things that kept them together. Especially in a new land.
Midland Lutheran Church – back in 1952 or ‘53 when Midland Lutheran Church began – didn‘t start, simply, as a Lutheran church. It began as a Norwegian Lutheran church. But as we – their children and grandchildren and their grandchildren after them – became more American and less Norwegian, things changed. Church became … more challenging. And what was true for the Norwegian-Americans was true for the Swedish- and the Finnish- and the Danish – and the German-Lutherans, as well. But, when the congregationCouncil says, “We will be Lutheran, that’s not what they mean. Those days are gone forever.
And when they say ‘Lutheran,’ we don’t mean the style, the way, we worship. Candles. Robes. Stained glass. Organs. In my lifetime, we ‘Lutherans’ have had four hymnals. Blue! Red! Green! Cranberry! Each different, more or less, from the one before. Each doing things the way we’d never done them. Bringing its own questions. Offering its own challenges. But for generations, that was enough, for us. For centuries, all that was more than enough. But …
… it is enough, no longer. The world’s changed. Life’s different. And the church? The church has changed with it. So today, when the congregationCouncil says that we will be Lutheran, they’re talking about that thing – that one thing – that has made us Lutheran, right from the start. They’re talking about our gospel! Our gospel and our god! Decades after the reformation began, Luther was asked, “Why?” His reply … “I am seeking and thirsting for nothing else than a gracious God!” I am looking for nothing less than a god who loves me! Who loves me and everyone like me! And while Luther searched, god found him!
It’s our message that makes us Lutheran! It’s the gospel! That good news! And yet, how often we take it for granted. How many times, we walk over the field in which that treasure lies buried beneath our feet! How many times, the pearl of great price lies right under our nose. That message of god’s grace! Of god’s grace and mercy! That’s what made us so threatening, so dangerous, back then. In the beginning. At the start. And that’s why they called us Lutheran. It was meant as an insult, a slur. But we went on proclaiming Christ. Christ crucified. And we wore the label as a badge of honor.
But then, that’s why we’re here. That’s why we’ve always been here. And after five centuries, after a half a millennium, that’s why we’re still here. We proclaim the love of god! Period! We proclaim the love of god! Exclamation mark! This is who we were; this is who we are; this is who we will be! As it was, is not, will be forever! We might not speak German, anymore. And we might not eat sauerkraut, except on the occasional hot dog. But we are, still, Lutheran! Pastors may not be wearing robes. We may not be singing hymns or sitting in pews. But we’re, still, Lutheran! Lutheran because of the message! Lutheran because of the faith! We’ve sold the building. And we’re using what we received as a down payment. A down payment on the mission. A down payment on the ministry. Of a congregation becoming! Of a congregation being born again! Not, so much, for us. But for those who follow us. For those who come after.
“In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake … for his sake, god forgives us! God forgives us all!” When we say the word ‘Lutheran,’ that … that is what we have in mind. Not a time. Or a place. But a proclamation! A promise! Will we grow? I don’t know. Will we succeed? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not why we’re church. That’s not why we’re here. We’re church, we’re here, to say the things god tells us to say! The things god has, already said! We’re here to do the things god tells us to do! The things god has already done! The very things god is, still, doing! If we do grow, if we do succeed in the process, all well and good. But that’s not why we’re church. That’s not why we’re Lutheran.
My friends, we’re here to proclaim grace. We’re here to believe in the charity. We’re here to become the love. And the world, again, snarls and calls us Lutheran, well, we, too, will wear the charge with humility and dignity and respect. Lord, keep us steadfast … That’s the song they taught how us to sing. Keep us steadfast in faith … keep us steadfast in hope … keep us steadfast in love … But especially, Lord, especially, in the love. For without that, without that there is no tomorrow!