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Sermon for 2018 Synod Assembly
Eve of the Eve of Pentecost
Grace and peace to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, our source of hope and joy and life. AMEN.
When I served in campus ministry, there was a something called The Last Lecture that was often used in the spring in campus centers across the country. A professor – perhaps one about to retire – would be invited to speak to the students about whatever topic they chose. It might be their passion for their discipline or how they integrated faith and their scientific research. What would you say if you were given one more opportunity to say what matters most to you?
At this Assembly we have turned that practice on its head. We have asked two dozen young adults to help lead us in important conversations. You will hear three of them speak before the Assembly; you will meet others when we break into small groups. It’s been a privilege for me to glimpse and overhear their passion, their dedication, their fresh ideas, and yes, even their provocations. Where did we find these young voices? We found them in the church. Each one comes from a faith community or ministry connected to this synod.
A few years ago, when I had an opportunity to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, I learned that he had invited two dozen young adults to come live at Lambeth Palace, which is the home in London for the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He did this because he knew it was important for a living church to pay attention to the voices of the young. Some of those young adults were people of faith and some were not. But together with the Archbishop and his own family, they were willing to see what they might learn by living in close community.
Now, I know that we don’t have a cathedral – much less a palace – in this synod. We are good, Midwestern Lutherans with our 112 congregations and mission starts and institutions scattered over four counties in the east metro. But in every one of those places we have opportunities to listen – and to learn – alongside the rising voices of the young. Not just today and tomorrow at this Assembly but as a habit of faith; a way of life.
In the Gospel of John, the narrative of Jesus’ own ministry begins with the calling of the first disciples. They, too, were at the beginning – rather than the end – of their working lives. We see this poignant encounter with John the Baptist in the background with two of his followers when Jesus walks by. The Baptist points them on their way. And these two step across the stage to be near Jesus.
Then, for the very first time in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks. And here is the first thing Jesus says – What are you looking for? (John 1:38) That first word is still God’s question for us over the lifecycle, but it is particularly the godly question that arises when we first discover our vocation and try out the identity, the values that will define who we are in our adult years. What are you looking for?
And this wonderful exchange occurs – Where are you staying? Come and see. (John 1:38). No burning bush. No mysterious wind at the face of a cave. Not even the haunting cosmic silence that met Rachel’s weeping in Ramah. Come and see. Words brief enough to fit a tweet.
And so it begins. Andrew and the other follow Jesus to the house where is he staying and they end up spending the night. Wouldn’t we love to know all that they heard during that initial and intense time together? Did they talk as a meal was shared? Did they stay up late into the night, asking questions? Was it the start of the Sabbath, the evening made richer with ancient prayers and liturgy at the common table?
The important thing is that Jesus and his disciples found one another. As we read on in this text from the Gospel of John it becomes clear that just as the first disciples were highly curious to know more about Jesus, he already knew them. And not only who they were in that initial encounter, but who they would yet become as his disciples.
What I would like to ask Andrew and the other disciple with him – as I sure would like to ask St. Peter someday: Did you know then that everything was going to change in your life? Was it one big leap of faith or a gradual realization that God had a-hold of you in a way that would end up defining every other goal and interest and desire in your life?
What about you, friends? Are you surprised to be spending this Friday morning at the Saint Paul Area Synod Assembly? Some of you have told me that you were born for this – these discussions, the business of the synod, your leadership in the church, worship in this fine setting. Others of you probably wonder when you blinked and were elected to be a voting member from your congregation. Sure, you said, you could give up a day – even take off from work – because your congregation needs someone to attend. This one time, of course. Couldn’t do much harm, could it?
But think again about that encounter in the Gospel of John. When Andrew brings his bother Simon to meet Jesus, Jesus greets the brother as though he has known him his entire life. “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas, which is translated Peter.” (John 1:42)
Peter is addressed by Jesus in light of who he will become for God’s sake. Jesus doesn’t bother with credentials or prerequisites, he simply indicates to Peter that much more will be needed from him before Peter comes to give his own last lecture on his love for God’s sheep in the final chapter of this Gospel.
That’s how it is with God. We tend to think we are in charge of everything; we are the planners and the goal-setters; those who pass resolutions. But on this Eve of the Eve of Pentecost we would all be wise to remember another verse in the Gospel of John – “You did not choose me but I chose you.” (John 15:15) And it may be a cliché but we know it is true – The Spirit doesn’t call those who are already equipped; the Spirit equips those who are called. And there is plenty of Spirit in this house today. Don’t you feel it?
In Christ Jesus, God did not call a single one of us to sit back, watching others do the work of outreach; to be passive bystanders as others take up the work of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. God did not call us to be critics from the sidelines while the crucial issues of life and death are navigated outside the doors of the church.
What a privileged time to be the church. The world around us is all churned up. Nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is up for examination through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Assembly theme is Restless and Resolute. That might have been the theme for a church gathering any time over the past two thousand years. John the Baptist at the river bank. Young Luther and Master Phillip, walking the streets outside the fledgling university in Wittenberg. Emmett Till (14 at the time) and Ruby Bridges (6 years old), children really, when they and thousands and thousands of other young African Americans sparked the civil rights movement in the Sixties, which continues on with power and righteous passion in our day. Rachel Carson, a young biologist with the fisheries department in Pennsylvania, beginning to write in newsletters about what was happening to the smallest creatures in the environment. Or Anita Hill – our Anita Hill – speaking as a young grad student before a gathering of campus ministers about her sure and certain call to be a pastor in this church, decades before she, as a lesbian, would be ordained.
Put your own name right here for all the ways God has stirred you up and made you restless and resolute. Every one of us is needed in the gospel work of Jesus Christ in the world and in this synod. Every one of us has gifts to offer and a voice worth hearing. Don’t spend a moment worrying that you are not strong enough or courageous enough or eloquent enough for that calling. The Spirit of our Living God, the One who invites, gives strength and courage and eloquence, because this is the Spirit-led Church of Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God. AMEN.