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Numbers 21:4b-9 / Psalm 98:1-4 / 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 / John 3:13-17

Loved into Life – Five Decades of Grace  

You have become a bold congregation to invite me – a pastor out of the previous millennium, out of its mid last century, archaeological material to be unearthed – invited me to share the proclamation today.   

Bold indeed!  I hope bold as in Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly Luther’s liberating rule of thumb for getting on with life in a way that allows the Spirit to fulfill the promise of Jesus I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.  Full it has been.  There are a number of us celebrating the 5 year milestones (some of us are from that era) “milestones’.  I suppose we could have worked out a four-way dialogue sermon – but could you imagine being here till 2?  So it is I here, I who asks for your forgiveness for speaking out of my ministry in reference to the celebration of ordinations. I trust some of it will resonate with my fellow celebrants.   Within days of half a century ago God laid hands of ordination on me at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Kamloops. Twenty two years after Kamloops I was called into your midst, to continue proclaiming life in the blessings of the cross – even in this earthly garden of Eden.  

Also here in the city of promise of this promised land, also here there were people who were perishiing because the cross was foolishness to them, were people who grumbled and rebelled against God and so brought brokenness upon themselves, here was reason for God to sacrifice the Son that people here might have eternal life. Here there was need to hear the Psalmist’s invitation                               

O sing to the Lord a new song,  for he has done marvelous things.   For five decades that invitation to life, that ministry of healing, that embodiment of God’s love in people has brought the presence of paradise back for me, and I had the privilege of living that blessing with you for eleven years.   ~   ~   ~

There are many ways to reflect on the ministry communities. All of them are but glimpses through cataract covered eyes, because 99-95% of the real fullness of life - God’s life in you God’s life in me - is not lived here but is lived out redemptively in the world by each of us. Yet our personal lives are blessed, nurtured and shaped in the community – the body of Christ. Faithfully you took the long view of commitment in the varied ministries – Luther Court, U of Vic, the Pantry - and especially this building, in which I delight to sing to the Lord a new song, and to recount the marvelous things God has done.   Here we have what you built this sanctuary, this temple, this sacred theatre in which the Spirit and God’s people have room to move and act,  in which trumpet and pipes and strings – and above all – voices resonate!          

Think about the fullness of life,  of joy, of hope – here!   Nurtured here God’s light shines in the halls of learning God’s tables are set in the rooms of the poor, God’s doors are open to all, God’s artists make a joyful noise to the Lord, provide a feast for the eyes, and are able to show forth God’s marvelous things. God’s wisdom is shown through you in the variety of services and  leadership you provide, and by which you care for those whom age ravishes as you care for those marginalized as you care for creation so impinged on by humanity - all as evidence that the pole implanted in this wall as our sign of healing is sprouting into manifold ministry in the extravagance of God’s love for the world God so loved.  

It is indeed with serpentine ease that a church could forget that God so loved the world. (It doesn’t  scan as  “God so loved the church”).   It is to this world, and for this world, that God gave the Son, that God promises not condemnation, but eternal life.    What love we have to proclaim!   What power we have to share in the cross.  Christ crucified turns every dark Friday into Good Friday and every day into the day which the Lord has made  for all the world.

What healing we have to offer, inviting people to look to the Being on the pole and live. What victories we can celebrate as God has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness….                      

All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Given five decades of grace is a great reason to make a joyful noise to the Lord, to break forth into joyous song and sing praises.  ~   ~   ~

In Remembrance we recall. An eye-witness account from me, one I am sharing again, as it happened among you:  

On a Friday I officiated at Emma’s funeral. Before the service I sat with her husband Henry who was then 91.  In thought  Henry was obviously with his Emma in their past, when he turned to me and said, “Do you know how I met my wife?”  I had never met either of them before, and knew nothing about them.  “No,” I replied.  “Well, I stole her on her wedding night.”   I have to confess to a moment of scrambling, wondering if I heard him correctly, and I was trying to make sense of what he might possibly be telling me.    He went on,  “I was invited to a friend’s wedding in Osoyoos.”  (That would have been 1933 – for context’s sake).    “When I danced with the bride I saw that she was very unhappy, she was in tears. It took me four or five dances to get the whole story.” – (as an immigrant she had been pushed into this marriage by her sister and brother.) “I fell in love with her right there,    and by the end of the evening she ran away with me.”  (I thought what a remarkable conversation we are having minutes before the funeral service! ) (Henry chuckled, and went on,) “The next day the newspapers reported ‘Bride disappears on wedding night.’”  (He was remembering again). “We were married nearly 62 years.  She was the most beautiful, (he paused) the most wonderful woman I could imagine.”   It was time for the service to start, and I left to get vested. Two years later I buried Henry.  Before the service the funeral’s organist came to me all flustered and apologetic,  “Imagine, for the recessional Henry has requested the Beer barrel polka!”  “That’s all right,” I said, “he is continuing the dance of his life.”   ~   ~   ~

This experience is spectacular.  I share it because it was part of your ministry.  Mostly, I share it because it is real life as metaphor, and beyond metaphor – real life - for what is possible  when we can imagine and remember and imagine anew in faith  when we can live freed of condemnation – sinning boldly because in faith we live even more boldly.   

In fact, our imagination will, like Henry’s about Emma, be far exceeded by God’s goodness - greater than we can imagine!

“The person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” Imagine!  (Bypassing the pharmacy)

“In the cross of Christ we glory.”  Imagine! So, loved into life.  Imagine!                                                                                   

Live out God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, steal the bride, redeem the moment the relationship, the bird, the smile, redeem the WORLD for the beauty and wonder through the healing at the stake imbedded sign and symbol here in this wall. Break the bread of sorrow and of joy  for life. Raise the cup of salvation, Bacchus serving the Messiah – imagine!

Be the Lutheran ‘ekklesia’ (community)  of the Cross.

~   ~   ~

 ‘Tis good to be here as part of five decades of grace; here at the ‘holy cross’, the cross in which we glory because it is our life, our joy, and the grounding for our hope as the gift from God who simply loves us so. Five decades of   giving and receiving grace upon grace.  What blessings eternity yet has to bring because God loves us so into life!

Charley Brown is musing with Snoopy, looking into the future.  Charley says, “One day we will all die, Snoopy.” “Yes,” Snoopy replies.  “But all the other days we live.” Amen.         

2019.09.15 Alfred Maier