Sermon for the Closing of Memorial Drive Lutheran Church and its Reception as Christ the King Lutheran Church-West by Christ the King Lutheran Church- Rice Village by Rev. Duane Larson
March 13, 2022
Based on 1 Kings 8:22-30; 1 Peter 2:1-9; John 10:22-30
What a time this is! We are grateful and excited that after several years of discernment interrupted by social and personal crises that two congregations shall conjoin their gifts and mission. Finally, here we are, having prayerfully discerned that yes indeed the Christ’s Holy Spirit has called us to do something brand new. Saying yes, we rededicate our lives to God’s cause of wellness for the world.
Our dedication is sincere. We sincerely recognize too that in times ahead we will long for what was. Such good ministry has been done here at MDLC, so many holy moments communally and personally that we cannot even imagine counting. It is a legacy that blesses. We so honor that! We agree too that our emotions of gratitude and anticipation will be salted by nostalgia and lament. The nostalgia will not be helpful. But the lament will be good, for it is and will be holy. It will nurture new ministry that is life-giving. Gratitude and lament together are not odd. From time immemorial they accompany rituals of symbol passing and rededication for the sake of healthy human being.
For example, Solomon’s grateful dedication of the temple surely was surely tempered in ambivalence. Israel’s enemies still threatened the tribes. Even the enemies’ own lesser gods would enter Solomon’s and his peoples’ piety. Not long later the nation would be divided. So Solomon’s prayer composed of three parts praise for God’s steadfast love and two parts plea that his fickle people would walk before God again with “all their heart.” We today stand inside those words.
A millennium later, after yet the second temple was destroyed by ungracious powers. Peter dedicates anew. But his words also convey God’s word that creates a new people. His words constitute. Once they had no rights or standing whatsoever in their society, marginalized by law that served only the mega-privileged. But now they were “somebody;” they were chosen, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Indeed, Peter declares that God is in such solidarity that this dedication is not so much of the people to God as God to the people. Whatever your personal and our social circumstances today, we today stand also inside those words.
Of course, there is a downside in the history of interpretation here. We turned inside out the symbols both of temple and chosenness so to claim exceptional status and supremacy for ourselves. The malevolent moments of history are fired by such distorted claims of identity politics. The temple was to be a house for ALL nations. The people whom Peter declared as holy were to usher all people to the meeting of God’s love, not humanity’s unjust law. But we know now that this is a time we can choose again to be different and to make a difference, not because of any innate power in us, but as answer to the Messiah’s voice.
Between and before and after and above Solomon and Peter rings the voice of the Shepherd, the risen King. He is the one who constitutes us and rededicates himself to this very moment so that we can and do rededicate to his purposes. He stands here for and with us particularly in this finite place thick with its nostalgia and gratitude with the assuring words that his sheep hear his voice, will never perish, will never be snatched away, and we do hear his voice. Oh, how we so need his assurance. And we have it.
And isn’t this quite the gifted flock to whom Christ calls! It has been winnowed by time and circumstance. Of course. But you now as two congregation become one. In fact, a third congregation “out there” in the digital space of 600-700 people weekly join us as well. This will be quite the flock indeed, for which an outstanding team of good-looking and super smart sheep dogs today also are being constituted as—yes—a committee of sub-committees too! It will take work to figure out to make everything happen, but they are good for it. And how thankful we are for the many faithful leaders (too many for me responsibly to name) who with faithful vision and saged experience have brought us to this point. I’ve said this many times and Pastor Derr and I have exclaimed with each other how we sincerely wish we had such skilled and savvy leadership in our prior ministries.
I do not overstate. In the report back from the strategic planning process, you all are recognized for a strong and creative practice of tradition, dedication to excellence and beauty in music and worship and life together, and unusually strong leadership, with all this in turn dedicated to imaginatively active love for God’s people within and beyond any physical or figurative walls. You have a mindset of abundance as a hub of activity resourced by daily prayerful discipleship. You desire to be at the forefront of addressing social issues first from a strong theological foundation rather than some partisan ideological totem or slogan. You covet fresh vision, and you are committed to be a community of diversity that looks even more like God’s world. You are for and from God, therefore for the good of the world. If some of those words sound like bullet points from a consulting firm’s final report, well, so be it. I’m not merely a cheerleader here. That is how you have been measured and praised.
You also realize that some things indeed do need to, um, “go away.” As God splices together the strings of our DNA, some of the older building blocks will not work and should be left out and new ones inserted. Maybe Bach will meet the Blues. Maybe the Abrahamic people of God will work and play well together. Maybe a reconciled babel of prayer will crowd source here. You will find whatever new way you can to “be resurrection” all around both campuses so that many colors and languages and traditions can share the joy of God’s merciful justice lived. That is what happens when the Kingdom of God is actually seen to be near.
And the Kingdom of God IS near! The time has changed! And I’m not talking about today’s time change. I’m talking about recognizing and living the terms of this day made different by the coming (again!) of God’s rule. I know. The cynic in us will recite that the more things change the more they remain the same. As the 19th century French theologian Alfred Loisy famously said, “Christ came announcing the coming of the kingdom of God, and what we got was the Church.” Mindful of dry French humor, how shall we now die so to live fully in the relevant time of Christ?
As we gently commend one era to history and rededicate to God’s kingdom that has come and is coming, I firmly believe that today we again are as close as can be to the original relationship the church had with the risen Christ the King and his kingdom. Christ the King’s followers lived his rule that has never been nor will be like any other king. Christ’s Church close to his kingdom was born big and fast as a people of peace and peace-making, devoted to the care and wholeness of each other in and for this world if not even more than for God’s eternity. Because they lived in Christ the King’s rule of love, they lived fearlessly in mutual care and respect. They devoted themselves to God’s cause of human community, welcoming the alien, caring for the captive, healing those of halting hope and splintered spirits.
Why did they do that? How was it that the people of God repeatedly–though clearly not consistently–lived according to the Kingdom of God come near? Because time itself is changed in the recognized presence of Jesus Christ the King. When directed by Christ the King, time itself is not the deadening repeated sequence of A to B to Z; not only one damned thing after another. Nor is time simply endured on the basis of some half-witted logic that Christ will only really come at an end of history marked by nuclear fury or a cosmological cold whimper. No. Like all the people of God close to the terms of the Kingdom, we live now in Christ the King’s Messianic time, the time of the Messiah who is always coming, the time between mere history and its end. We live in what philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls Messianic time; what the poet Hopkins saw as daily a world even re-charged with the grandeur of God.
This is so urgent, you see. The church invites an existential crisis when it severs its relationship with Christ’s Kingdom come. The Church fails when all its cues come only from worldly time. The Church also fails when it lives only for some imagined end time that opposes worldly time.1 Either way is death for the Church. This is the spiritual disease that infects Russian dictators and Russian patriarchs and all presumptive leaders who like them. They hold close either to a world without God or God without a world, and yet both dances are death. But we live in and from though not of the world for God and God’s world in what God gives us as true Messianic time.
Sisters and brothers, time has changed! It is now Messianic! Let it infuse every tactic and strategy you adopt so to be a church for everyone. Seize this day and seize this time, for this time is as relevant to the world’s time as can possibly be. Many will question whether what we do here matters. This morning I read of a Ukrainian here in the US who asked a journalist friend back home what she could do because her work as a poet seemed so irrelevant. He answered, “Putins come and go. If you want to help, send us some poems and essays. We are putting together a literary magazine.”2
Similarly, but even more urgently, with us. Anti-Christs come and go, on our own land too. But we are called to teach and act the ways of Christ’s peace. For everyone. With the Spirit’s lead, “we are putting together a church.” It is what God has given us to do in real Messianic time.
And so we will do. Of course, the world’s time will creep back. So it goes. At a too soon hour grief and doubt will sneak into hearts and minds. You will wonder if you are up to the task. You will confess your weariness. Things will happen that change our lives, but not our resolve. For our life in Messianic time means that in every cloudy future of God’s people, in every closure of a faith community, with every last pulse of energy and hope, Christ the King reigns. As my favorite verse (from Colossians 3) says, “Your life is hidden in Christ.” And where we fail and our cherished agencies of Christ’s Kingdom die, Christ rises again, the Kingdom comes again, and we and our congregations with him.
So, live the signs of Messianic time. Refresh the baptismal bowl. Pass God’s Holy Word from one assembly to the next. Swallow deep the cup of salvation and the bread of life. Record the saints in the parish registry (it is probably already out there in the digital heavens anyway). And let the tears of memory and resurrection flow. For what has been, let tears stream thanks. For what will be, may we and many offer glistening gratitude anew.
1 This insight derives from Giorgio Agamben’s direct address to the Bishop of Paris and other church official at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 2010. The address is published as The Church and the Kingdom (New York: Seagull, 2012) translated by Leland de la Durantaye. The address serves also as a distillation of insights in Agamben’s ground-breaking work of philosophy and biblical exegesis of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. See The Time That Remains, A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, translated by Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005). 2 Ilya Kaminsky, “Poems in a Time of Crisis,” New York Times Opinion section, March 13, 2022.