Monday, March 29, 2010

A Surprise in Tennessee

Palm Sunday brought to its close our 50th Anniversary Year at Grace Lutheran Church.  We began with Dr. Dale Meyer, included Dr. Paul Maier, and ended with The Rev. John Nunes as Guest Preachers.  Today is that actual 51st Anniversary date but, well, we transfer things in the Church when the calendar does not fit our needs...

First let me express our thanks and appreciation to those who worked so hard during this anniversary year of celebration (especially Kay Haase, who chaired the committee).  Let me also express our thanks and appreciation for the good words brought to us by Meyer, Maier, and Nunes.  Just in case you were not there or were not listening, each of them spoke very highly of this congregation, grateful for the liturgy and music, supportive for the strong sense of mission, and encouraged by the welcome and obvious connections they felt as someone new coming into this parish.  I am personally grateful for the supportive and encouraging words they spoke about my own ministry here.

My point here is not to puff us up.  My point is to challenge us.  For a long time I have felt that we do not appreciate all that God has done and is doing in, with, and through us.  We think too small of God and of ourselves.  We are constantly aware of limitations but not so fully aware of the unlimited grace of God that has abounded throughout our past and will certainly abound in the today and tomorrows to come.  We have grown accustomed to the good liturgy, good music, and Gospel preaching and teaching that these individuals recognized as our strengths.  Indeed, our greatest weakness is that we seem intent upon diminishing what we could do and what we should do as a congregation of people set apart by God for His purpose.

Pastor Nunes directs Lutheran World Relief -- a giant enterprise of development and support.  He meets with all sorts of people all the time (many of them news making politicians and celebrities).  He has literally flown all over the US to bring the good word of the good work of LWR and has preached in hundreds of parishes of all sizes and kinds.  He acknowledged that he was surprised when he came to Tennessee.  He did not expect to find a parish so filled with the life of the Spirit, with the good news of the Gospel, with the richness of a vibrant and authentic liturgy, and so much going for it.  He was surprised.  We were surprised because we do not see ourselves quite as He sees us.

Although I am speaking of this parish, I think my words hold true to many parishes of our church body.  We presume that better things are happening elsewhere and we diminish what is happening among us and through us.  I believe the time has come for us to stop assuming that we are too little, too lacking in resources, too off the beaten path (in the South) to invite and welcome new people...  I believe that we need to look into the mirror and see what God has given us, what we could do if we really marshaled all the resources of His grace, and what we should do as the Christ's Church and people in this place.  I only wish that we could see the surprise that Pr. Nunes saw and take to heart its possibilites...

What could we be if every one of us were in Church on Sunday morning?  It begins with the surprising expectation that everyone SHOULD be here every Sunday (and this we do not yet have).  We are too content to let people drop out and too slow to go after them and to hesitant to challenge them about where the people of God belong on the Lord's Day.  What could we be if every one of our children were in Sunday school and every adult in Bible study each Sunday?  It begins with the surprising expectation that this IS where everyone should be (and this is something we do not yet believe).  So we allow these things to be optional instead of essential to our individual lives in Christ and our life together as His people, His Church.

What could we be if every one of us gave faithfully, sacrificially, and cheerfully to the work of God's Kingdom?  It begins with the surprising expectation that all we have comes from and belongs to the Lord and that its most important purpose is for His work and His glory (which we do not yet believe).  So we limp along toward the work of sharing the Gospel, extending the compassionate care of Christ to community and world, providing the people who might effectively lead and support this work, and caring for this marvelous facility.

We expect less of ourselves than we should... Pr Nunes was surprised by what he found here... I wish we all were surprised like he was... for them we just might do a better job of using these God given resources...

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