TEXTS: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
OPENING PRAYER: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, grace and peace. Amen.
This morning we have been blessed with some extraordinary scripture texts in light of everything that has been happening in our country and in our congregation. Lamentations offers words of hope to a people whose world has been turned upside down. The Psalm offers a re-orientation back to God after a time of dis-orientation, perhaps due to an illness or some other type of tragedy. Mark’s gospel lesson is a typical “Markan sandwich” which places a story within a story: A worried father reaches out in faith to Jesus on behalf of his beloved daughter who is gravely ill. And then, a woman who has suffered hemorrhaging for 12 years reaches out in faith for Jesus. As Jesus is “interrupted” and stops to heal and restore this woman back into her community, the news comes that Jairus’ 12 year old daughter has died. The people from Jairus’ household come bearing the sad news with the admonition to not trouble Jesus the teacher any further. Nothing more could be done.
But wait. Aren’t these stories all at the heart of the Gospel, the good news for all people? Whenever death hits us square in the face, whenever it seems the road has come to a dead end, whenever we get to that point where we think we just cannot go on one more step…remember God’s faithfulness. Stretch out your hand to Jesus – for hope, for healing, for restoration. In other words, for resurrection and new life.
That is the purpose and mission of Christ’s body in the world: To be a community of faith and hope that opens their hearts and minds, sanctuaries and homes, so that Christ’s healing power may become a reality for broken hearts and broken relationships. That is the mission for everyone here at Our Savior’s: To welcome whomever Christ sends in need of community with acceptance, love, forgiveness and wholeness. To provide for the needs of the neighbor in whatever way is possible. And, to continue to look to Jesus for the ways and means to carry out that mission – trusting that indeed, God is a God of abundance in every way. God will provide more than enough love, more than enough resources, more than enough opportunities to be God’s hands and heart in the world.
As we heard Cooper read the second lesson this morning, the Corinthians had differing opinions on how that could take place. What can I say? Congregations are still divided when it comes to questions of mission and money! But today’s appointed texts place Paul’s letter to the divided and opinionated Corinthians right in the middle of texts which point us back again and again and again to God’s faithfulness in all situations. These texts remind us of the importance of thanking God for the amazing ways in which God provides and for the amazing way God makes a way for God’s people through the most difficult of life’s situations. These texts also remind us of the importance for each one of us to share our life’s stories of God’s faithfulness with each other. As we listen to each other’s stories, the congregation is made stronger and the congregation’s witness to God’s faithfulness shines even brighter throughout the entire community.
When congregations divide “taking sides” due to opinions on politics, financial issues or who should make up the church staff, congregations lose sight of the mission God is calling them to carry out. If more energy is spent on preserving traditions, we are blinded to what god is doing in the present time. There is room in god’s family for differing opinions – but not at the expense of splintering the body of Christ.
This past week has brought us news of great tragedy, as the nation is called to a time of mourning nine members of the body of Christ who were gunned down in a house of God. As we make time to listen and learn the faith stories of Clementa, Susie, Ethel, Depayne, Sharonda, Tywanza, Cynthia, Daniel and Myra, we begin to have an even clearer picture of the faith community at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been given the grace and strength to turn this tragedy into living out God’s love and forgiveness! A model for Our Savior’s to remember even though your perspective is not involving the same scale or scope of grief or change. Emanuel A.M.E. Church continues to love. They continue to give. They continue to care not just for each other, but for those who have wronged and those who are lost.
God’s great, abundant love is flowing through these amazing wounded healers for the sake of the world. Not only is this congregation collectively reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment for healing, they are also holding out inviting hands to the rest of us to join them in that ever widening circle of God’s grace.
Again, even though the changes which have taken place here at Our Savior’s in the past year and the changes coming in the next weeks pale in comparison to our sister congregation in South Carolina, I want to challenge you (collectively “you”), to take a closer look through God’s perspective for the mission of this faith community.
* Where are the walls of division that need to be torn down in order for God’s healing to take place? How can you listen respectfully to one another and care for one another in the midst of differing opinions for the good of the whole people in answering God’s call?
* How is this congregation not just modeling, but truly living out God’s love for the world in the actions and words taking place both inside and outside the walls of this building?
* Who among you will tell the many stories of God’s faithfulness throughout the years to this faith community, so that those who are new to it may be strengthened in hope, and those in leadership will be strengthened to lead with godly purpose?
In the midst of today’s biblical texts about the God of steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness and hope – who loves, forgives, heals and provides – the Holy Spirit challenges us with Paul’s letter of stewardship and commitment to the body of Christ for the sake of the world.
God calls faithful leaders who come and journey alongside in mutual ministry just for awhile. Then change comes as new leadership is called. Your call to live out the covenant promises made in baptism does not change!
I firmly believe God continues to have a purpose and mission for Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Your call, your commitment, is needed to be obedient to God’s call. This is not a “poor church” nor is it a “tough place” for the next pastor who is called to lead you in mutual ministry and mission to the world! God has been faithful to Our Savior’s through world wars, great depressions and recent recessions, dividing social issues and staff changes. God is still faithful and God can be trusted to lead you through yet another time of transition. Pray God’s wisdom and guidance not just for the elected leadership of this congregation but also the elected leadership of the community and the country.
Continue to support God’s mission here at Our Savior’s by whatever gifts you are able to share – be it your time and faithful presence, prayers, and in the sharing of your financial gifts which make it possible for good, faithful ministry to continue – even through more changes. Now is not the time to lay back passively to watch what happens here! It is the time to encourage and love one another, to listen to each other and listen to the Lord, so that, you may be a unified faith community even as you celebrate the diversity of people, gifts and ideas.
It is my firm belief that God will continue to raise up godly leadership here – which is your legacy! The Holy Spirit will continue to empower you with the will and means to do that so that others may come to experience the healing love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. Amen. May it be so!
And now, as preparations have been made to take my leave of this faith community, my heartfelt thanks are offered to all of you, present here or not on this day, for the incredible experience of sharing life in community with you these past fourteen and a half years. Thank you and Thanks be to God!
Would you please stand as you are able? I would ask that people sitting on the pulpit side face and turn the people sitting on the piano side and vice-versa for our prayers of promise and blessing.
Let us pray. Merciful God, we thank you for these sisters and brothers, whom you have made your own by water and the Word in baptism. You have called them to yourself, enlightened them with the gifts of your Spirit, and nourished them in the community of faith.
Uphold your servants in the gifts and promises of baptism, and unite the hearts of all whom you have brought to new birth. We ask this in the name of Christ. Amen.
Please remain facing each other. In a few moments you will be making public profession of your faith. I ask you now as People of God, in the presence of your brothers and sisters in Christ and in the presence of God: Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
If this is your promise today, please respond: I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.
People of God, Do you promise to support and pray for one another in your life together in Christ?
If so, please respond: We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.
Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of the Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.