Bishop Lull: God is Not Exiting

Date posted: Monday 18 September 2017

Service of Holy Closure at North Emanuel Lutheran Church, Saint Paul (9.17.17)

"God is Not Exiting"

Acts 17:22-31; John 15:1-11


Grace and peace to you from God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.


Last Tuesday Justin Grimm and I drove down to Red Wing to participate in the installation service for the new leader for the Presbyterians in this area. We went because it is important for us as Lutherans to affirm the good work and ministry of others in the Christian Church. The drive took us out of the city and south into the rolling farm country on a beautiful September afternoon. We entered Red Wing and followed the route that led to the historic downtown.


Like a lot of Midwestern cities, there are six or seven – maybe even eight – churches within a block or two in the heart of the city center. Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians – they are all right there. And the street repairs and all the detour signs in downtown Red Wing meant that we passed them all until we finally found the church we were looking for.


Now, that trip to Red Wing caused me to think about churches in Saint Paul. Our geography is different and our congregations are spread out through neighborhoods rather than all being set around a single town square. North Emanuel is a neighborhood church, planted here in the North End one hundred and twenty-six years ago. You are located at the corner of Hatch and Matilda, not because that is a main artery into the city from the suburbs, but because more than a century ago this location was at the heart of a neighborhood where lots of working class Swedish Lutherans lived and could walk to church.


We are gathered this afternoon to worship God and to give thanks one final time for the rich and faithful years in which North Emanuel has given witness to the power of God at work in our lives. Today is a Holy Closure for this community of faith, which means we will not be coming together in the same way again.


Do any of us like endings as much as we like beginnings? We live in a world that celebrates the latest invention and the most exciting innovation. We are very good at cheering others on at the start of the race.


But it takes a certain kind of courage to show up when it is an ending we need to bless. It takes courage to be the faithful members who work through the formal steps of closing a congregation, who negotiate the sale of a building you built with your love and your personal investment of time and money. It takes courage – which is a word that means to act from the heart – to vote to pass on your material resources as a legacy that will assist other ministries, other congregations.


So many good things have happened through the ministry and witness of North Emanuel. Baptisms and weddings. Funerals and confirmations. Christmas pageants and choir concerts. Sunday School and neighborhood walks. Community meetings and potlucks and countless acts of selfless service and care for others in need. How proud and grateful those of you, who make up North Emanuel, may feel today.


At the close of this service, after the cake is eaten and the last coffee cup washed and put away, we will all go out the doors one last time. Oh, there are still a few details to wrap up on the sale of the building but things will never be the same. The time of North Emanuel’s ministry will be at a close when we exit today.


But you know what? God is not exiting with us. God, who was at work in this neighborhood long before the official founding of North Emanuel Lutheran Church back in 1891, is sticking around. God-with-us – Emanuel – is staying right here to be known in and through the next congregation that worships in this place.


A century and a quarter after those Swedes found a home in this neighborhood, other immigrants are finding their own home here today. They include growing numbers of Karen and Latino, Hmong and African immigrants. Their hopes and dreams are much like the dreams we – and people everywhere – have for our children and our grandchildren. To grow up with good skills for the future, to enjoy homes where families are safe, and to find a place where young and old alike can flourish.


Today we ask God to continue to bless this neighborhood. To make it a place of safety and good will for everyone who lives nearby. We ask God to bless those in the partner congregations – Immanuel Assembly of God and Nuevo Pacto, who worship in this space, and we ask God especially to bless the new congregation that will soon move into this church building. May they all experience God-with-us as powerfully and with as much grace as has been shown to this congregation through the decades.


And let us trust that those of you, who have been the faithful and steadfast members of North Emanuel Lutheran Church, will be led by God to yet another church home where your gifts will be welcomed and you will be fed and nourished. And that there – as long happened here – the Risen and Living Christ will give you joy. Thanks be to God. AMEN.