Tuesday, August 13, 2013

At an Unexpected Hour

What follows is the final sermon preached at Saint Peter's Church where I spent the past year serving as Vicar. Primarily on the appointed lectionary Gospel message for the day, Saint Luke 12: 32 - 40, the sermon also reflects some thinking I've been doing after reading an article from the The Atlantic entitled "The Rise of the Christian Left in America." I'd love to hear what you think.

So I’ve been struggling greatly this week folks... I’ve been struggling for one because this is my last day with you all at Saint Peter’s. It’s certainly been a heck of year and we’ve gone through a lot together... we’ve gone through tragedies like Superstorm Sandy, a horrific school shooting in Connecticut and the Boston marathon bombing. On a parish level, we’ve gone through difficult financial decisions, the hard work of creating a new mission statement and the beginnings of a new covenant relationship with Sion Luterana Iglesia. We’ve also experienced great joys together... the Supreme Court affirming marriage equality, a historic presidential election where women and minorities rocked the vote like never before, the election of Pope Francis and subsequent new hopes for reform... wow, what a year. We’ve been through a lot together, and I’ve really been struggling with having to say goodbye.

I’ve also been struggling with what to say to y’all tonight. I mean, at the end of such an amazing year living and working amongst the faithful community of folks at Saint Peter’s, you’ve all sort of left me speechless, in the best possible way. What could I say to a vibrant, Spirit filled community that could possibly inspire such an already truly inspirational group of people? What I finally realized at around three this morning is that all I could really do is provide you with a simple observation about the situation find ourselves in, in this time, in this place, in this city. All I can do is briefly lay out what in my humble opinion is really going on.

Simply put, we live in the most unexpected of hours my sisters and brothers, and you as the people of Saint Peter’s have your lamps lit strong and bright. We live in the most unexpected of hours, and you as the people of Saint Peter’s have your lamps lit strong and bright. So, you might wonder what I mean by living in the most unexpected of hours? Well, as one of the more social justice oriented “mainline” Christian traditions, us Lutherans along with Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopals and the like have presided over a near half-century of declining membership in America. And actually, after decades of strong growth, our more conservative “Evangelical” sisters and brothers in Christ are beginning to experience decline as well. While it may not be a major conversation in day to day life, it does seem as a sort of given in our contemporary Western culture that the Church, and organized faith communities in general, are decreasing.  Many Christians fear that we’ve entered and will continue to live in a secular, even atheistic age.

Yet, as Jesus promises to us in today’s Gospel message, the Son of Man comes at an unexpected hour... and in the face of such adversity, in face of such fearful decline, I humbly observe that we are just now beginning see the first glimmerings of such an unexpected coming. Ya know, only a year and a half ago, a sitting President of the United States specifically cited his Christian faith as a reason for supporting marriage equality, something that would have been unthinkable even a decade earlier. In recent months, churches throughout the United States, including many Evangelical groups, have boldly supported comprehensive immigration reform that is in the best tradition of Christian welcome. We now have a pope who has washed the feet of a Muslim girl, who has thrown off the shackles of opulence by declining to live in the Apostolic Palace and most recently exclaimed that he had no authority to judge folks of different sexual orientations. My sisters and brothers, the glimmerings of Christ coming, as He always has, at the most unexpected of hours and reforming His Church into a more compassionate body that stands up for the full humanity of all God’s children are clearly visible, and that is profoundly good news.

And, in the face of such glimmerings, in the face of the Son of Man coming at the most unexpected of hours, you as the people of Saint Peter’s have your lamps lit strong and bright. Just look at all the exciting things that have happened here in the last year... despite continued decline across the synod, stewardship and membership here has grown. More importantly, at a time when most Lutheran churches still can’t figure out how to live as multi-cultural communities, Saint Peter’s is doing it, both through its new covenant relationship with Sion and its longstanding diverse membership.  Saint Peter’s has also strengthened how its acts as a resource for the local community, greatly supporting the arts, a senior center, AA groups and the Momentum project as it has for years. And just this year, Saint Peter’s embarked on a new ministry of boldly standing up against oppression and accompanying our immigrant community as it advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. There are of course challenges ahead, and new opportunities, especially for evangelism and outreach should be explored, but wow... As Christ comes to revive His Church at the most unexpected of hours, the people of Saint Peter’s have their lamps lit strong and bright, ready to respond.

And folks, despite the amazing place we find ourselves in as a community of faith, responding to the work of Christ at the most unexpected of hours, that’s not even the best part! The truly Good News is that the heart of the matter isn’t even how our lamps our lit, bright and strong as they be... the truly Good News is that not only is Christ coming at the most unexpected of hours, but that He promises to continue joining us again, and again, and again no matter what sort of long, oppressive night we find ourselves in. If you look at today’s Gospel message again my sisters and brothers, we’re not encourage to light our lamps and get dressed in order to prepare for battle... no! It’s not about what we’re doing at all... we’re supposed to prepare for a party, for a most bountiful of banquets, where God turns the expected order of the universe on its head and serves all Her children... feeding us and in fact freeing us from whatever may seek to oppress us, through the work of Her liberating love in Christ. Amen.

God's peace,

Dustin currently is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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