Sermon delivered on All Saints Sunday, 2003, at the beginning of a major capital campaign for a mission congregation.
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ. Amen.
Can you see it?
Can you see
what Isaiah saw, what he describes in today’s first reading?
Can you see
that feast set out on a grand table for all peoples,
atop the mountain of the Lord,
ancient symbol of God’s dwelling among the people.
something grand yet somewhat informal, perhaps
even chaotic –
After all, gathered around this
table are, as Isaiah put it, all peoples.
not necessarily going to be an orderly or “proper” affair.
table? Well, to accommodate all peoples,
envision a long, wooden table, going on and on and on – never ending.
seemingly bottomless bowls of food are set on it,
full of with rich food, Isaiah tells us
a euphemism for fattening!).
these bowls are accompanied by decanters flowing with well-aged wine.
And the sea
of humanity which is gathered there eats and eats and eats.
Sounds of bowls clanking, people chattering
and mouths devouring fill the air.
peoples that God has gathered – all peoples, that is – are satisfied.
This vision of Isaiah’s is a vision of the future,
into what God will do for all people.
that is, it
refers to the eschaton, that day of God’s justice,
that we as Christians look forward to Jesus’ return.
For when Jesus returns,
be a grand banquet feast, as Isaiah described,
and, as we
heard in the second reading from Revelation,
things will be made new.
be a new Jerusalem,
is, there will be a
, a community,
a new way to live and be together.
wipe the tears from our eyes.
will be no more;
and crying and pain will be no more,
God will inaugurate a new kingdom,
his justice and peace will reign, forever.
You can almost hear the anticipation in Isaiah’s voice,
John, the author of Revelation, you can sense his enthusiasm.
And why not be antsy with anticipation? Why not be enthusiastic?
anxious child excited for Christmas morning,
John, us gathered here and all peoples eagerly await
new kingdom, this new Jerusalem, this new life.
But, but on this Sunday, there is something else that you,
especially, are excited about.
There is something that you eagerly await, and that you
are just itching to get going.
What is that thing?
A new church property and building, of course.
Yes, you look forward to having a building of your own,
can engage in the teaching and learning ministries of the church,
peoples can gather to fellowship, grow and be fed at the Lord’s table,
study and pancake breakfasts and youth fellowships
knitting groups and finance committees (woo-hoo!) can gather.
Can you see it? Well,
I see a version of it most Sundays.
I have been worshipping at, and will soon join, Prince of
Peace Lutheran Church,
This church was only organized in 1968 – it’s 35 years old.
And in 35 years this church has grown
several dozen members meeting in a township building – sound familiar? –
thriving congregation worshipping over 200 on most Sundays,
a youth Sunday School program that bustles with life and energy.
Like Prince of Peace,
hallways will one day be covered with children’s drawings of the nativity,
will be filled with bags of donated food and clothing to meet local needs,
voices will fill the practice room,
will gather around tables for picnics and luncheons and pancake breakfasts.
Yes, in your new church building, on your new property,
you will do
meetings where plans for mission and ministry are developed,
to the pastoral
counseling and education
worship and fellowship that will be the lifeblood of your congregation.
Yet even more than that,
place great things will happen.
Like on the mountain of the Lord,
feasts will satisfy the needs of all people,
death and pain and anguish will be wiped away,
So to in your new place will these things happen.
In your new church
feasts will be served to satisfy the needs of all people,
pain and anguish will be wiped away.
Yes, that’s right, for you will celebrate the Lord’s Supper,
banquet which is laid before us and all people,
power and grace of God will fill that church and all who are in it,
power and grace will extend beyond those not-yet constructed doors
the community which you will serve in faith and love and humility.
and grace will transform you and your community,
you will grow.
The future of Living Waters Lutheran Church is looking
great! . . . .
what God is doing for you and with you right now.
That’s right. As much
as you are eagerly looking forward to the future of your congregation,
as much as
you are here today to consider
financial gift you will make to help make this dream a reality,
as much as
you are itching to have that new place where God will do such great things,
I’ve got something to tell you – God is doing great things now.
Yes, in Isaiah and in Revelation today we read of the future
realization of God’s promises,
assured that God will, one day, return to establish that Divine Kingdom,
supreme over all peoples who are gathered in that New Jerusalem.
Yet God does more than make bold, futuristic promises.
God acts now, today, in the present,
as we see
in the Gospel lesson with the raising of Lazarus from death to life.
When Jesus heard about Lazarus’ death,
he went to
be with him and his family.
In the verses preceding today’s reading,
Martha are talking Lazarus,
Martha laments that Jesus wasn’t with Lazarus to keep him from dying.
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again,”
Martha faithfully responds,
know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
For Martha, and for the disciples, the power of God was
something reserved for the last day,
time, for that eschatological banquet, for the mountain of the Lord.
Yet Jesus defies their logic, defies their religious
by acting in
the power of God in the current moment, to raise Lazarus from the dead.
It’s as if he says, “No, dear friends, the power of God is
not just a future thing.
resurrection is now. Healing is
now. The Divine Kingdom is now. And it is here.”
Yes, hear this Good News: not only will God do great things
but God is
doing great things for you, right here and right now.
You are blessed with the opportunity to acquire land for a
You are blessed with a growing and enthusiastic and faithful
You are blessed with a new pastor and the support of pastors
all over the region –
Matt’s installation Bishop Roy Riley said
that he had
never seen so many clergy from so many congregations at an installation.
Yet that support was not just for Pastor Matt. That was for you.
for your congregation. That was for your
People know that God is doing great things here, and they
want to be a part of it.
This is truly a Spirit-filled moment.
This is not
unlike the raising of Lazarus or the promises of a Divine Kingdom,
for what is
happening here is happening because of the power of God.
This moment, this power,
as a congregation to take a risk
and raise thousands
of dollars – hundreds of thousands, perhaps, when it’s all done –
purchase land and build a church.
I mean, talk to any sociologist or demographer and
tell you that church attendance is in decline.
It might be a great time to invest in Starbucks, which seem
to appear on every corner,
in a church?
YES! For the God who
raises the dead to life, makes the mute to speak and the deaf to hear,
this God is
making a new life, a new community here at Living Waters.
Yes, God is building community,
each of you through the faith and love of each other,
given to you by the Holy Spirit.
And the coming years will be exciting – yet challenging –
for you as a faith community,
but God is
and will be with you, strengthening you for the journey.
And so as your congregation takes a risk,
each of you
are invited to take a risk.
Each of you will walk home today from church with a
I mean a
pledge card – in your hand.
You will be asked to consider your risk, to consider your
to make the
future ministry of Living Waters a reality.
When I worked at the Seminary in Philadelphia in their
I got to
know many risk-takers.
They were people like you and me.
Not people of extraordinary wealth.
In fact, they were often people of modest means.
Yet they made the church and the seminary a priority in
their financial planning.
Although they never spoke of it,
I am sure
that more than a few of the seminary’s donors
6 year old car for a few more years rather than replace it,
that they could make a special gift to the seminary’s capital campaign.
For these donors, and for you,
is important, it’s a priority,
crucial as paying the mortgage or putting food on the plate.
You come to church, you give to the church, you live in the
have witnessed what God has done,
you have feasted
at the banquet table,
have experienced Christ’s transforming power.
And so this pledge card, it represents no risk.
There is no risk in power of God.
Only promises. Promises that you have seen in the past,
in the present, and confidently await in the future.
No risk. Only