Joel 2:21-27, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5, John 14:23-29
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Church is changing. Have you noticed?
It’s changing in many ways.
Membership in the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is now to about 3.4 million. When I joined the ELCA about 20 years ago, it was over 4 million. Christianity overall is on the rise, especially on the African, Asian and Latin American continents. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania each have more Lutherans than the United States.
Church is changing. Often I look around the nave here on Sunday mornings, and where in the early 2000’s we were sometimes nine people to a single pew, now it is not rare to have nine to a whole pew block. (Because you all like sitting in the back, on the cheap seats.)
There is change in other ways too. We have changed our branding motto from a Village Church with a global Mission to a Healing Place. We take seriously our task of listening to each other about what the mission of this place shall be, for what we want to be known.
For example, our ministries of caring and serving have long been a hallmark, and we continue, adapting to needs and changes as they come along.
Caring for each other, for our and others’ spiritual wellbeing will soon find new expression in gatherings which we call house churches.
Friday night we had another of our new Blues, Brews and News gatherings to which we invited Turkish friends from the Blue Mosque and because we are in Ramadan, we shared the fast breaking evening meal together. A hundred Turkish Muslims and Lutherans celebrating, talking, learning, eating together.
The Bach Society, a ministry of music born out of the vision of this congregation, is also changing and now reaching deep into the fabric of the city with its successful program Bach in Schools and with innovative collaboration with other music groups.
Even worship is changing – that piece of which we pride ourselves so much here at Christ the King. Not the commitment, not the fervor, not the joy in our liturgies are changing, but we sing hymns from around the globe, and we sing hymns spanning all centuries. The words to our prayers and rites get adjusted and kept fresh all the time. Preaching sometimes happens outside the pulpit, or in dialogue.
There’s a piece of art hanging on the wall in the back of the nave, and there’s a temporary installation of speakers here today – so the sound of our spoken word will maybe change sometime too.
Church is changing, dear sisters and brothers. I could go on, – you get the point.
The changing and shifting is nothing new. And we do not need to feel threatened or down about it.
Actually, in the continued deep listening to who we are as church, and in responding to how we need to be church for every generation and time, we fulfill the love which Jesus expected of his followers.
Jesus told his followers to love one another as he loved us. He said that after he washed their feet on his last night with them. That same night he explains to his followers that it is good that he is going away, because only after cross and resurrection can the church love Jesus and keep his words. The full love for Jesus can only be found, discerned, realized after Easter.
The drama of dying and rising has to come full circle for Jesus to be present with the church, for the meaning of Jesus’ earthly, definitive life and message to be revealed over and over and over again, new for each generation, new for each time, new for each changing world.
Here is where the Advocate comes in, God’s Spirit, sent to the followers then and to us followers today. We are not alone in this changing time and world; one whose name is “Called-out-to-be-by-someone’s-side,” the ad-vocate, the para-klete, such One is by our side, as counselor, as teacher, as reminder, as eye-opener, ear-unplugger, mouth-opener.
We ought to rejoice that Jesus goes away, because only then the meaning of God’s revelation comes out, comes to bear, becomes complete. Only then can we love and keep his words. And Jesus keeps saying, I will go away now, but will come to you. Or, the father and I will come to you. Or, the Advocate, the Spirit is by your side as your counsel in this world. Be happy, rejoice! You are not alone.
For our changing church and world this means, God’s Holy Spirit is active in the preservation, interpretation, modification, and expansion of the Jesus tradition even now, so that we always decipher and articulate for our time that core of Christ’s message which never changes.
For this work, Jesus gives his followers peace, shalom. It’s the peace that he is, not something shallow, passing, but the peace that fills our hearts and souls in palpable ways. I know it because sometimes you tell me of your experiences of Jesus’ peace entering your hearts and souls, how it changes your outlook on life, how it impacts your decisions lying ahead, how it calms the racing heart and sleepless nights. That in turn makes me happy and peaceful, because then I know that Jesus’ peace, God’s shalom is still working and real, and we are not completely off here in our interpretation and proclamation of the gospel.
Dear sisters and brothers, the church is changing. It has to do so for us to love God and keep God’s word. Which has always, unchangingly been love: love one another, care for one another. In so doing God reveals Christ to us. As fresh and true as ever. Let’s lean into change, the changing world in which we live even while we are not of this world.
We are the ones now reminding the world that the God of Israel is faithful to God’s promises and does not abandon us, as the prophet Joel reminded us today. We are the ones to hold out to the world the vision of God dwelling with God’s people in the city where next to the river is the tree of life, one on each side, with leaves to heal the nations, all of them.
As church now we are the ones “called-out-to-be-by-someone’s side,” ad-vocates, para-kletes, so that the Holy Spirit can do her work of revealing, loving, changing, unplugging, opening, new life giving. When we do that, standing with counsel, comfort, love and sometimes advocating fierceness with people, we can find ourselves in surprising places we did not expect. We may get scared or have second thoughts. That’s ok. For, remember, we are not alone.
This is the day God has made. This is the life, the church God has made. Let us lean into it, let us be glad and rejoice in it. Christ’s peace be with us all. Shalom. Salaam.