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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 22, 2015, 50th Anniversary Sermon

Gospel: John 18:33-37 
1st Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
2nd Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

A couple of us were joking the other day about changing the name of our church. Don't worry, we're not serious, but the word “king” is so removed from most people's experience that it can be hard to relate to, and then we've got it twice! We don't have kings, so we don't know much about living in a kingdom. Most of what I have gleaned about kings has come from fairy tales or Shakespeare plays. So far I've learned they are either really good or really bad, lots of times regular peasants are smarter than they are, and they are concerned about gold and who their daughter is going to marry. Is that what people think when they see our church sign or look at our website? It's a pretty male-centric name for a church in which women have such an important role. I do like that our name is focussed on the positive, that it is focussed on God. And I'm really glad, no offense to anyone else, that we aren't named First Lutheran or English Lutheran or something really stuffy. Our language has limits and it can be hard to find words that stand the test of time and convey what we're really about and who God really is.

There are actually many names for Jesus in the reading from Revelation this morning, because the writer was trying to make a long enough list that there would be something we could connect with, that would make sense. Some of these names are more Hellenistic, others are more from the Hebrew tradition. The writer covers a lot of bases with the various names for God offered here. We could be Faithful Witness Lutheran Church, Firstborn of the Dead Lutheran Church, Ruler of Kings Lutheran Church, Alpha and Omega Lutheran Church, or Almighty Lutheran Church. All of them have their limitations, don't they! And don't even get me started on how limiting and misunderstood the term “Lutheran” is! 

So here we are at Christ the King Sunday, and our 50th Anniversary, still asking who God is and who we are. And we get to look over the whole history of this congregation, share memories with guests from over the years, and experience a worship service that was similar to the first one ever, and read these ancient scriptures about what it means that Jesus is not only a king but the king of kings. What does it mean that we pray every week, “Thy Kingdom come?” What does it mean to live in and long for the Kingdom of God.

People are hungry in our neighborhood. 117 families came here this month to get food. We live in a world where at least a third of our food gets wasted from the farm, to grocery stores, to our refrigerators and cupboards, to our plates. We waste all this food and there are people who could really use it. Thy Kingdom come!

We had all these families come through this church this month, sitting in a warm environment, building community, helping each other. One long-time client came in to the office with an offer to put out the signs that we place in the parking lot on distribution days to make sure that our volunteers who have a harder time walking have a place to park near the building. He shared that he's lost about 50 lbs. He's on the last possible chemotherapy and he will probably die from it. We talked and shared each other's pain. We prayed. And then as people went to pick up their turkeys that were provided through the generous gift of one of our volunteers, they thanked us over and over, saying how much this meant to them. God's Kingdom is here.

We are destroying our planet, using it as a dump, stripping it of natural resources, ruining habitats, burning fossil fuels, and changing our climate. Storms are getting stronger. The ocean is rising. Coral reefs are dying. People are getting sick from pollution. We're in a mass extinction. Thy Kingdom come.

And people are getting together to make a change. Some are taking the pledge not to use pesticides in their yards. As a Master Gardener it is part of my responsibility to make people aware of the dangers of pesticide use and what the alternatives are. Some are using solar or wind power. Some are doing beach and waterways cleanups. Some are downsizing their households or going to only one car in their household. Some are dangling from bridges to see that oil exploration vessels can't pass. Some are planting gardens and trees. Others are riding their bicycles or taking mass transit. I was grateful the other day, when I had an appointment downtown, to park at the end of the Orange line and let the Max take me to my destination. God's kingdom is here.

We are a small church. Sometimes we get insecure about our future. Our average age is getting up there. We don't have Sunday School. We don't have a lot of money. Thy Kingdom come.

Yet, we're not alone. Look at all the lives we've influenced and have influenced us. We're much bigger than just who comes here on Sundays. You all are out there visiting the sick and homebound. This congregation more than tithes to other ministries, such as Backpack Buddies, the Pantry, and Lutheran World Relief. People here really care about each other. We're in partnership with other churches. And we're not just existing and making sure we survive, but we are listening to Jesus and responding to the needs of our neighbors. God's kingdom is here.

We're watching our presidential candidates duke it out on TV every other week to try to gain power and influence. They are blinded, sometimes by greed, sometimes by fear, and other times by pride or hubris. Sometimes they tell us what we want to hear. Sometimes they are so hateful and angry. Not many of us see anyone we can relate to or respect. Thy kingdom come!

Grassroots organizations are working together to make changes in our neighborhoods. Neighbors are helping each other. And we're all rolling our eyes at these candidates. We know by now that none of them can save us. But we have power to make a difference when we know each other and work together. So that's where we're going to put our energy. We have a new Social Justice Committee. Through MACG, we are looking into ways we can work together with the young moms from Madonna's Center down the street to make policy changes so they can get housing for themselves and their new babies, even if they aren't 18, yet. God's Kingdom is here.

God's Kingdom come! God's Kingdom is here. This is the already and not yet of the scriptures, God with us and God's reign not fully realized. It is frustrating and confusing to live in the in-between, but it also is a better way of thinking about our complex situation than saying it is all or nothing.

The word King doesn't cover it all, by any means. But it does come from the same root as the word “kin,” like family. And some have replaced the word Kingdom with Kindom in Christian prayers, to say that it isn't about a male person who happens to inherit a throne, but about a family of people who care for each other and make sure that each person is valued and loved. That's the good news for this morning. Wherever we worship, however we serve, we are in God's family, created good and loved and given abundant life. So maybe Kin Lutheran Church might be appropriate. Or I was suggesting Servant of Servants Lutheran Church, then at least we would be SOS instead of KOK. I think we'll stick with our name for now. Our community knows us by that name. And it is not just about us, but about the 50 years of servants that have gathered under this name.

About two weeks ago, a van pulled up in front of our house and a couple of women were standing on the sidewalk, looking up at our tree and talking quite excitedly. We were just pulling in the driveway and getting our groceries into the house. They were visiting from out of town. They lived in our house as little girls. Nick showed them the backyard and they talked about climbing a cherry tree that used to grow there. Thankfully I had done two loads of dishes that morning, so I could feel mostly comfortable inviting them in. They were so surprised and delighted. They were so polite, they never would have asked to come in. They talked about hiding in the cupboard and falling out of their bunk bed. They walked around the house reliving their memories and taking pictures to show their ailing mom back home. I had always wondered who lived there, and now I know one more piece of the puzzle. 

Well, others have lived here, and these are our guests who have come to look around and share memories and worship God together. I have sometimes wondered how the charter members or the other names I see written in the registry thought of this place and what were the expectations and how did it strengthened or frustrated them, and how God spoke to people here, over the years. And now you are here. Welcome. Your very presence shows that you were touched by this place and maybe you are curious who is living in your old house. Well, the one thing that has stayed the same is that Jesus is here. Not that he's not other places as well, but he is the one this house belongs to, he is the one we thank, he is the one who has remained the same. He is the one who has continued to be alive and to rule and to serve. Whatever good has come from this place is because of Jesus and because of love. Through us or despite us, at the same time, God has shared abundant life here. We don't know what the future brings, but only that Jesus walks among us empowering us, challenging us, and loving us, and when this place is no longer here and long after we are gone from this earth, Jesus will continue to reign, our King of Kings, our example of servanthood, bringing abundant life until his reign is fully realized.

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