Stories of Renewal: Opening New Doors
In the beginning of 2017, the Saint Paul Area Synod distributed 11 micro-grants to congregations wishing [...]
Sermon for Synod Assembly 2016
“That My House May Be Filled”
Prince of Peace, Burnsville
Bishop Patricia Lull
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I enjoy taking psychological inventories and surveys. I am one of those people, who always hopes that in 20 minutes or 20 questions I can discover my better self. This spring, with some of the synod staff, I took the CPI-260, a tool that is designed to reveal leadership strengths and styles. It included questions like these -- Would you like to be a race car driver? A librarian? When you go to a party do you like to mingle and meet new people or do you prefer to stand off to the side, observing others? Yes, to the race car driver and the librarian. Parties? At the end of most weeks I am happy to just be at home.
In today’s Gospel text, the invited guests are beckoned to a dinner party when the meal is finally ready to be served.“Come, for everything is ready now.” In our world of instant updates, we may wonder what kind of imprecise planning was that? Where is the minute-by-minute agenda like the one for this Assembly?
In this parable, Jesus describes a world that was familiar in his day. A town where everyone is known. A time in which food had to be gathered from the market, the fatted calf or lamb slaughtered and then roasted over a fire. One could be invited ahead of time to such a dinner and then beckoned when everything was finally ready and prepared.
That is so not our world. So much has changed – is changing – in how we live and interact with one another. “There used to be a time …” we say, and we remember a world with a different pace and fewer options for doing things in the hours we were not working.
But even in ancient times, schedules got crowded. People could be double booked. Guests said they would be delighted to come for dinner, but when the meal was prepared, they offered one excuse after another.
In the small towns and giant suburbs of this synod, in the heart of Saint Paul, we are busy. We are scheduled. We are working harder than ever. We are exhausted at the end of the week. Our calendars are full. That includes me, too. This past Sunday I stood in line at the one UPS store I know to be open on Sunday afternoon so I could send off the package I had been too busy to mail the whole week before.
Now, Jesus knows his followers well. When he speaks to those who were scrutinizing his behavior in Luke’s Gospel, he also speaks beyond that one culture and context. When he tells this story, Jesus describes something we need to hear about us and about God, who persistently beckons us to come. You see, the Word of God is a living Word – for you, for me, and for the real world in which we live.
I’ve been listening to this Gospel text with many of you this year. We studied this together at the conference assembly in February and then again as rostered leaders met conference by conference. Our discussions have been about the way God invites everyone in – not just the wealthy or the friends of the host, but the poor and those so often excluded by our bias against those with disabilities. Or those we perceive to be different or a threat to us. When this householder hosts a dinner, everyone – the whole town -- ends up being invited. At this table, there is room for all.
What a contrast that is to the loud and bitter tone of exclusion and division being shouted in our world today. With millions of refugees and migrants and immigrants on the move, at too many borders the message is – Go away! Not welcome here! Go home! I am buoyed by the work within this synod to resettle refugees, to understand new neighbors – including Muslim neighbors – and to work for the safety of children and minors, who have crossed borders into this country. You have listened to this text and found a basis for your own courage in speaking against racial hatred and exclusion.
But there’s more we recognize when this mirror of God’s welcome is held up to our lives. When we’ve gathered you have talked about the lives of core church leaders; those who once were in worship every Sunday and now are there twice a month. Talked about the pressures that weigh on people – the desire to be perfect parents or grandparents – and all the obligations that come from wanting to get everything right for our children. Alongside that, you described for me the pervasive fear throughout our culture of missing out on something crucial; though when people express that they usually don’t mean faith. You’ve also talked about the growing number of those who are simply indifferent to the life of faith. Invite all you want; we are not interested in the church. Many would say that it’s a difficult and confusing time to be the church.
But Luke 14 isn’t really about us; not even our better selves. We may think church is something we do; something we either work at well or fail at horribly. But the parable isn’t really about those who were too busy to come when the food was ready. It’s not about the most honored guests – the people of privilege -- because their places have already been filled by the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. This Gospel story is about the One who throws the party; God who is not content until even those nameless ones at the outskirts of the town are dragged back into the banquet hall. “Go out into the road and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” (14:23) This God of ours will not be stopped.
I am asked sometimes if I am hopeful. I look at the incredible ecumenical springtime that is unfolding, particularly between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and I amazed and awed by what God is doing. I think about your generosity toward others – around the globe and in near neighborhoods. I recognize how you as leaders are working to discover points of deeper engagement with God’s work in the world.
Of course, I am hopeful. I am hopeful every day, because we are part of Christ’s Church – a living body. A body God keeps raising from the dead. This God who will not be content until the house is filled.
I look around this synod and I see curious things happening. I was up at Immanuel in Allmelund earlier this year. Their musician is a Liberian, named Momah Freeman. And that Sunday he brought along a friend of his to sing a Liberian gospel song. First there was a testimony and then the guest began to sing a song of thanks to God for delivering him from one danger after another during the long civil war in his home country. I looked over and the whole choir was swaying and singing the chorus, praising God for deliverance from tough times. Up in the old Swedish farm town of Allmelund. Are folks from that congregation here this morning? Would you stand? Thank you letting the fresh word of the Gospel breathe life into you.
At Easter Lutheran in Eagan, something new is stirring, too. Are the members of Easter here? Would you stand? I hear you’ve made a three year commitment to explore a multi-ethnic, intentionally racially diverse ministry that might blossom through relationships with families from a non-profit that meets in your building. Thank you for being open to the surprising, new things God is doing in your midst.
And over on the eastside of Saint Paul, I am told that eight congregations have been meeting and praying together. Would our eastside folks stand – First, Arlington Hills, Gustavus Adolphus, Our Redeemer, Hope, Good Samaritan, Grace and Shobi’s Table? I don’t know all that you are doing together – but God does. Thank you for trusting that God is calling you together to a bold witness in this important part of Saint Paul.
I know there are other stories – other signs of hope -- here, too. And where they take root and flourish is not on our shoulders alone. The renewal of the church – these days of fresh hope – happen always by the power and grace and persistence of God, who wills that the whole house may be filled. Thanks be to God. AMEN.