Saturday, February 03, 2007

Epiphany 4 - Matthew 8

(wma audio download here)

(and this is typo city!)

Well, I’m not going to talk about the Superbowl today, because something bigger happened last week. Last week, you, the congregation of Our Savior Lutheran Church, did a very brave thing. In one, bold move, you committed yourselves and all your resources to Jesus Christ, unequivocally. You took a blind step of faith, which may or may not bode well for the future success of this congregation. But that’s precisely why it was a step of faith. It was a decision based not on the reasons of the world, but on the simple mandate of the Word of God: Go. Teach. Baptize. And, yes, remember the poor.

It’s pretty stinkin’ cool. You said, “to heck with all this ‘trying to survive’ stuff, and all this ‘stockpiling our money in barns’ fearfulness. You said, ‘what good is it to be Church if, in order to keep ourselves going, we’ve got to stop being Church?’ And so you voted, unanimously I might add, on the first vote, to do two incredible things.

You voted to walk away from the building which you’ve called home for well over a decade in order to seek out not only a more manageable space (as if it were only about money) – but to seek out a space more conducive to the present time and context. You gave up being the militia cult hiding in the hills of south Dakota in order to be the prophet in the streets. You indeed are risking yourself, your very lives, rather than defending them.

And in doing this, you also voted to purposefully lose your money, maybe all of it. Who knows? But this is no gambling on horse races or even building a bigger barn for your own pleasure. You voted to do something almost unthinkable to most struggling congregations. You voted to start giving money away…to the poor.

And all of this, together, is, from the world’s perspective, a tremendous risk. To the eyes of any logical, humanly-minded person, what you have voted to do is idiotic. It makes no sense. You’re going to spend the money this congregation scraped and worked for in order to build itself a building on a store dedicate to aiding the poor? And you’re going to worship in the back? Why, that’s almost like they were doing in the first century? Isn’t that stepping backwards? The likelihood of this endeavor actually making money is not merely small, it’s practically impossible. Especially for the first 2-5 years, every single year, you are going to be simply giving money away, one way or another using this very land as principle for the balance.

Wait…I should amend all that just a little bit. You are not spending the money the saints of this congregation passed scraped together for a building. You are taking the money this congregation gave to God, and, rather than use it on a building that only a handful of people can use, you are going to help poor farmers and craftsmen in 3rd world countries feed their children and families by the work of their hands, and, what is more, you will with the same stone be opening a door for the unsaved people of this county to walk in the front doors of the Church. And frankly, if you spend every last penny that has been scrimped and saved, then and only then can you say that you have succeeded. Then, as worthless servants, you will have done your duty. Then, as sinners, you will be at the mercy of God (as you should be) rightly praying “give us this day our daily bread.” Then, you will know what it means to live by faith.

In this way, dear friends of Our Savior Lutheran Church, this means that no matter what comes, you can know that this congregation, at the behest of God’s harsh law, which I have no doubt wielded like a blungeoning tool among you this past half year – this congregation refused to content like a miser over his gold, counting it again and again until his cold heart stopped beating. No. You, the holy, catholic Church, have been blessed by God’s Word of forgiveness in Christ, and thus freed from that horrible, pitiful end. Like old man Scrooge on Christmas morning, you suddenly opened your eyes, and, while you are not yet dancing in the streets, you have, as I said, voted, unanimously to being sacrificing time, talents and treasures which before this time lay locked up in that kitchen, or somewhere darker still.

For any congregation to make such a decision as this, to truly put everything on the line and say, “Well, God. It’s up to you,” – this is an act of faith. And I, as your Pastor, am very proud of you.

Of course, I’m nervous too. Like I said, we’re basically about to start giving money away – and much of it we probably won’t get back. And if we do, it will be our job and duty to just give it away again! Maybe that will mean owning another building in order to do so. Maybe it won’t. But in any case, there is every possibility and, in fact, probability, by worldly standards, that the money will one day run out and we will be left destitute. Against this end we must pray, and trust in the Lord’s mercy to sustain us. But we must also remember firmly that there is an equal probability that tomorrow won’t even come, for our Lord Jesus could descend from heaven to end the world this very night – even before we act on our plans.

And this is precisely why you have pledged to do the right thing. And this bold, right thing, with prayer and in faith, right thing will be a benchmark for our community for years to come. Even as we are calling our new actions Project Resurrection, our very hearts and minds have been resurrected with our Lord Jesus Christ, to see the world in a new light, a free light, a light which says to the fears of the world, “Leave off. You have no power here, for here, faith in Christ and in his Word rules!”

And all of this has very much to do with our Gospel lesson for today. It is a famous one. Jesus calms the storm.
And I have no doubt that as often as most of us have heard it, we have also heard it explained something like this: Jesus has the power to calm the storms in your life. The storms are something like doubts and fears or problems in life, and, so the interpretation goes, if you will just trust in Jesus, then he will overcome those things for you.

That would all be really great, if only it were true. But it’s not. There is no promise in Scripture that Jesus will calm all the storms in your life. Jesus doesn’t always make hard times. Even doubts or sins don’t go away, at least, not in the present evil age. The disciples had very little faith when they sat frightened in that boat, much as we likely sit frightened in the face of our journey to come. And the point is not that we should learn to wake up Jesus so that he makes it all work out. The point is far more amazing than all that selfish in-gazing.

The reality of this text demonstrates that Jesus doesn’t just have the power to calm the storms in your life. Jesus has the power to calm storms. Jesus can make waves and wind lie down at his very command! Who is this man who walks the road with us, who teaches the Truth to us, who died on the cross for us? This is the Creator of heaven and earth, who crafted clouds and hills and trees and stars with his voice. And look, he is here, in our midst, by his Word, in the flesh by his body and blood, in our hearts, by his Spirit.

This, truly, has both no bearing and absolute bearing upon our “little faith” pending move into Clinton. Investing our talents and monies in mercy to the poor is no guarantee that our storm of congregational survival will suddenly be healed – though that certainly is our “little faith” prayer! But the point is so much bigger than us! The Lord of the heavens and earth is a God who has not stopped every little storm on every little sea and in every little heart because he has taken his great power and done something far greater! He has stopped the breaking of the universe. Lifting up his hand into the crack which had breached existence itself, submitting that hand yos piercing and bleeding, as an atoning sacrifice for all unfaith and little faith, He has held the breach at bay and brought the good of creation back together in himself. That is what his resurrection means. He conquered death! Where the whirling creation was spinning out of control, he said “Peace, be still,” and, see it or not, believe that it is, for it will be seen as just that forevermore on the Great Day when He comes again.

We, his disciples, can do little but sit and marvel, as we struggle with our measly little trials, worried more about bank accounts than about those who have not heard this great news! Has he been with us so long and we yet do not know him? Look, he is Jesus. There, on that cross, dying for your sin, is the man you voted to put your trust in last Sunday.

As one, you have laid your monies and your mortgages at his feet. Was it because you, like the disciples, were afraid of the storms you saw coming? Was it because you know that evangelism and serving the poor are simply the right things to do? It doesn’t matter. With your little faith, given by the Law and Gospel of God, it has happened. Repentance has made our community reliant upon Christ once again. And you are forgiven for the rest.

The truth is that the One who controls the wind and the waves has taken control of you, and of this congregation. Now, all things are possible: Death. Life. Both. And then some. You are in the boat with Christ. Though we succeed or fail, though we shrink or grow, though we live or die, no storm, even death, will ever sink him. In that word, even you of little faith, have nothing more to fear.

In the Name…

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