No Risk. Only Promise.

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,

 that
ancient symbol of God’s dwelling among the people.

 I envision
something grand yet somewhat informal, perhaps
even chaotic –

  After all, gathered around this
table are, as Isaiah put it, all peoples.

 It’s
not necessarily going to be an orderly or “proper” affair.

 And the
table? Well, to accommodate all peoples,

 I
envision a long, wooden table, going on and on and on – never ending.

 Huge,
seemingly bottomless bowls of food are set on it,

 bowls
full of with rich food, Isaiah tells us

 (probably
a euphemism for fattening!).

 And
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.

 And the
peoples that God has gathered – all peoples, that is – are satisfied.

 



This vision of Isaiah’s is a vision of the future,

 a glimpse
into what God will do for all people.

It’s eschatological,

 that is, it
refers to the eschaton, that day of God’s justice,

 that day
that we as Christians look forward to Jesus’ return.

For when Jesus returns,

 there will
be a grand banquet feast, as Isaiah described,

 and, as we
heard in the second reading from Revelation,

 all
things will be made new.

 There will
be a new Jerusalem,

 that
is, there will be a

new city

, a community,
a new way to live and be together.

 God will
wipe the tears from our eyes.

 Death
will be no more;

 mourning
and crying and pain will be no more,

 for
God will inaugurate a new kingdom,

 and
his justice and peace will reign, forever.

You can almost hear the anticipation in Isaiah’s voice,

 and in
John, the author of Revelation, you can sense his enthusiasm.

And why not be antsy with anticipation? Why not be enthusiastic?

 Like a
anxious child excited for Christmas morning,

 Isaiah,
John, us gathered here and all peoples eagerly await

 this
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
anxiously anticipate,

 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,

 where you
can engage in the teaching and learning ministries of the church,

 where all
peoples can gather to fellowship, grow and be fed at the Lord’s table,

 where Bible
study and pancake breakfasts and youth fellowships

 and
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,

 in

Princeton

Junction.

This church was only organized in 1968 – it’s 35 years old.

And in 35 years this church has grown

 from
several dozen members meeting in a township building – sound familiar? –

 to a
thriving congregation worshipping over 200 on most Sundays,

 and
a youth Sunday School program that bustles with life and energy.

Like Prince of Peace,

 your church
hallways will one day be covered with children’s drawings of the nativity,

 classrooms
will be filled with bags of donated food and clothing to meet local needs,

 choir
voices will fill the practice room,

 and you
will gather around tables for picnics and luncheons and pancake breakfasts.

Yes, in your new church building, on your new property,

 you will do
many things,

 from the
meetings where plans for mission and ministry are developed,

 to the pastoral
counseling and education

 and
worship and fellowship that will be the lifeblood of your congregation.

Yet even more than that,

 in that
place great things will happen.

Like on the mountain of the Lord,

 where great
feasts will satisfy the needs of all people,

 and where
death and pain and anguish will be wiped away,

So to in your new place will these things happen.

In your new church

 great
feasts will be served to satisfy the needs of all people,

 death and
pain and anguish will be wiped away.

Yes, that’s right, for you will celebrate the Lord’s Supper,

 that great
banquet which is laid before us and all people,

 and the
power and grace of God will fill that church and all who are in it,

 and that
power and grace will extend beyond those not-yet constructed doors

 into
the community which you will serve in faith and love and humility.

 That power
and grace will transform you and your community,

 and
you will grow.

The future of Living Waters Lutheran Church is looking
great! . . . .

 because of
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

 the
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,

 we are
assured that God will, one day, return to establish that Divine Kingdom,

 and reign
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,

 Jesus and
Martha are talking Lazarus,

 and
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,”

 to which
Martha faithfully responds,

 “I
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,

 for another
time, for that eschatological banquet, for the mountain of the Lord.



Yet Jesus defies their logic, defies their religious
sensibilities

 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.

 The
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
for you,

 but God is
doing great things for you, right here and right now.

You are blessed with the opportunity to acquire land for a
new ministry.

You are blessed with a growing and enthusiastic and faithful
community.

You are blessed with a new pastor and the support of pastors
and congregations

 from
all over the region –

 At Pastor
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. 

 That was
for your congregation. That was for your
mission. 

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,

 enables you
as a congregation to take a risk

 and raise thousands
of dollars – hundreds of thousands, perhaps, when it’s all done –

 to
purchase land and build a church.



I mean, talk to any sociologist or demographer and

 they will
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,

 but invest
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,

 strengthening
each of you through the faith and love of each other,

 which is
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
risk-card –

 I mean a
pledge card – in your hand.

You will be asked to consider your risk, to consider your
pledge,

 to make the
future ministry of Living Waters a reality.

When I worked at the Seminary in Philadelphia in their
fundraising office,

 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

 drove that
6 year old car for a few more years rather than replace it,

 so
that they could make a special gift to the seminary’s capital campaign.

For these donors, and for you,

 the church
is important, it’s a priority,

 just as
crucial as paying the mortgage or putting food on the plate.

You come to church, you give to the church, you live in the
church,

 because you
have witnessed what God has done,

 you have feasted
at the banquet table,

 and you
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,

 experience
in the present, and confidently await in the future.

No risk. Only
promise.

Amen.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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