THE SURPRISING AND THE UNEXPECTED
This past Friday and Saturday, Sheila, Della, Bailey, Gavin and I were blessed to spend time at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly in Prior Lake, participating in the business of the church. While we were there
• we learned about newly formed congregations in Minneapolis, as well as the history of our 25 year old ELCA,
• we voted on resolutions regarding relations between our Palistinian and Israeli siblings in the middle east, as well as preventing job discrimination for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender siblings in Minnesota and the United States,
• we listened to speakers explore our relationship with a relational God, as well as our relationship with one another and how pointing fingers of blame is counter to the will of our loving and ever present God.
In past synod assemblies, about every two hours, those gathered would “Dwell in the Word” ... that is, engage in small group Biblical conversations and large group devotions, in order to remind us who we are and whose we are as we go about doing the business of the church.
This year, instead of Dwelling in the Word ... we dwelled in song ... that is, about every two hours, we stopped to praise God in song ... but we did not sing hymns, instead, we experienced a vast plethora of song, including, but not limited to ~
• a hip hop soloist,
• a Swahili choir,
• a scene from Footloose (the musical)
• an American Sign Language Interpreting choir, and
• (I kid you not) ... and three person 2-octave bell choir! (thats 16 bells, three people and six hands to play them ... it was not only a bell choir, but it was a choreographed dance as these three women played those 16 bells)
What a blessing to experience the WORD of God in song, in music and the talents and gifts of the people of God. And be surprised by the unexpected.
One of the things I really loved about this synod assembly, was our initial celebration of the theme and the first 25 years as the ELCA. The theme for our synod assembly and the churchwide assembly this summer is “Always being made new!” That is, God is always making us, as individuals, as the church, as a part of creation, God is always making us NEW.
As we celebrated from where we have come, we could not help but wonder, to where will we go in the next 25 years ... as the church!
This refrain came to my mind, over and over again these last few days ... to where will be go, as church, in the next 25 years.
It is my hope and my prayer that, in the next 25, 50, and 75 years, we, as the church, go into the surprising and the unexpected.
• That is, we open our hearts and our minds in ways that we can scarcely imagine right now.
• That we claim our place as created co-creators in this universe that continues to be made new.
• That we recognize the ministry opportunities, challenges, and invitations that we have somehow missed in our first 25 years ... and we do something about them!
Recently, our brother in Christ, Pope Francis came under scrutiny when he shared in a homily that people are redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice and then, the Pope invited his hearers to meet ALL people, whether they believe or not, to meet ALL people at the place of doing good works.
The world seemed surprised by the Pope’s inclusion of the atheist in the work of God, in the good works of the people.
I have two reactions to this issue. The first ... Way to go Pope Francis! Sharing the unexpected in ways that challenge us, the church to look beyond ourselves and see where God is at work beyond us and without us is an incredible and surprising vision from Pope Francis! God is at work, beyond us and without us in this world. This world being made new!
My second reaction to this scrutiny of Pope Francis is this ... seriously??? Have we as a faithful people become so full of ourselves that we refuse to consider that God is at work in the atheist?
If we believe in an ever-present, faithful and loving God, how on earth can we sit in our pews and stand in this pulpit without considering, proclaiming and celebrating that God is bigger than the church! And that is a really good thing!
Friends in Christ, as I explore our two readings for this day, what I read, taste, see and celebrate, is the surprising and the unexpected!
In our reading from 1 Kings, we find King Solomon standing before the altar of the Lord, in the Temple that he built for the Lord, praying for the foreigner. King Solomon had every reason to claim the Temple for the Chosen People of God ... every reason to exclude those who are not Israeli. But instead, King Solomon surprises us when he says ... “O Lord, ... when the foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear ... and do according to all the foreigner calls to you, so that all people may know your name and fear you.”
Even in the midst of completing the most magnificent Temple on earth, built to praise and glorify God, King Solomon understands that God is bigger than the church! God intends to live within and outside the church. God intends to be noticed by those we fail to notice ourselves.
And in our Gospel reading, Jesus is surprised by the unexpected faith of a Roman Centurion. In effort to wrap our minds around this story ...
• The Centurion is a member of the occupying nation (Rome) in Capernaum, that is he is a leader of the army that prevents the freedom of God’s chosen people in their own land.
• Likely, he is an unbeliever, a Gentile, because he is Roman.
• But, evidently, he is a gentle and empathic leader of the occupying nation ... because he has supported the Jews to the point of allowing them to build a synagogue.
• So, he is not your typical Roman occupyer.
AND, and he has listened to God’s story in such a way that he has come to believe that Jesus is someone important. And not only important, but that Jesus is powerful. Powerful enough to say the word, and heal his dying servant. We have no idea if this Centurion becomes a follower of Jesus. What is known is that the Centruion had faith that Jesus in important and powerful.
Friends, this was unheard of, and certainly a surprise in the time Jesus lived on this earth. So much so that even Jesus proclaimed the unexpected when Jesus said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
As King Solomon and Jesus here proclaim, it is my hope is that the church begins to understand how God is at work in this world, beyond us and without us, making things new!
And in so understanding this truth, I pray that the next 25 years of the church includes and demands to be an active part of the surprising and the unexpected of God!