Sermon for October 27, 2002
Sunday, Where the Heart Is: Gathering
Gathering. We have gathered today for worship, celebration and fellowship. We come as individuals, as families, as people seeking a new relationship with God. We have gathered in the entrance before the service began. We gather at the font for the baptism of Cory Miller. We gather around the young people being confirmed this day: Sarah, Josh, and Pearce. This coming Saturday the families of Tia and Burton Mahlum will gather here for the renewal of their wedding vows. This past Thursday, the family of Alma Storm gathered here in sorrow, remembering her 93 years, before we traveled to her grave. Later today, we gather at the rail to receive a bit of bread and a small glass of wine.
We gather this morning to hear the Word of the Lord: a word from the Old Testament, a word from the first letters exchanged by Christians, and a story from the life of Jesus. These words this morning gather us for renewal of the heart and the great themes of the reformation: grace, faith, and hope.
Most of us remember gathering here for other occasions. Our gatherings here mark the passing of our lives, day by day, joy by joy, holiday by holiday, sorrow by sorrow. For this is above all, a place of gatherings, of worship, of family events, of holidays.
At night, homeless men gather here for a place to sleep. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, people have been gathering for emergency relief. All day long and into the evenings, different groups use this building as a gathering place. The building gathers those who are re-building their lives.
Here that we gather the gifts. Not only the financial gifts that allow us to continue ministry and express our gratitude, but the gifts of music, teaching, leadership, listening, and mutual consolation. We gather and are gathered. In the end, all these gatherings weave a tapestry of the human life, from its beginning to its ending with all its joys and sorrows and all that the years do bring.
At this stage in my life, it is a deep privilege to experience and be involved in this tapestry as it weaves itself gathering after gathering. With our comings and goings, our gatherings, the human story is told.
I did not always appreciate this about my work. I became a pastor because I felt close to God and felt the presence of the spirit in my life. That has remained important. But soon I discovered that most of a pastor's life was spend with more mundane affairs. I felt close to the spirit, but most of my time was spent listening to people wonder about what to do, listening to people ask for money, going here and there to meetings, trying to set up weddings, unlocking doors, and locking them again. One can go through some discouragement when there is such a difference between the life of the spirit and the everyday life of the minister.
But some time ago, I began to see something about ministry that compelled me to stay in it. It was not the closeness of the spirit. There are many days when I probably have less time to pray than you do. But with all the comings and goings and in all the gatherings, I began to sense the ebb and flow of human life: what it means to be human and what it means to be loved by God. There is no other place on earth, I think, that allows one like me to experience, view, be a part of, and witness so much of human life. No single gathering, but all of them together, give an amazing perspective on what it means to be alive from life's beginning to its ending. It is a remarkable privilege.
To the gathered family of Cory Miller we say welcome. Welcome home. Receive in, with, and under the water, the laying on of hands, the light, the sign of the cross, and the robe, the welcome of God and this congregation into this gathering.
To the gathered families of Pearce, Josh, and Sarah, and to each of these young people we say welcome into new understandings, new commitments, and new challenges. There is no harder time to grow up than these. In the midst of the difficulties, Pearce, Josh, and Sarah, be loving, be wise, be strong. Find your own closeness to God, follow your own inner light, and care for your family, friends, and those in need as best you can. Wherever you go, find a group gathering like this one, committed to service in the name of Jesus. There you will discover what you need to know and friends to help.
To the family of Alma Storm we extend our sympathies in your sorrow. We pray that you are comforted by the knowledge that this gathering is but a foretaste of that great gathering of the people of God at the end of time we usually refer to as heaven.
To the Mahlum's we wish you well as you bring Jesus into your marriage through your vow renewal. Love is one of the hardest projects a human being can assume. We wish you and your children courage and strength, genuine affection and delight. In the end, the greatest of all things is love.
The greatest thing is love. How often we have used that quotation from Paul at weddings. Originally, the apostle Paul did not say the words to a wedding couple. He said it to a congregation, a gathering. When Christians gather, love prevails. Our gatherings mark our love. You who have gathered: love one another, as Christ has loved you.
A long time ago, almost 500 years now, the church renewed its emphasis on love. They called love "grace." At a gathering of people at a church door in Wittenberg a renewal for grace was begun. People began to sense how important it is for gathered Christians to base their lives on grace, on the love of God, on the love of a God who became involved in the everyday life of humanity, and whose death and resurrection point all of us to the gathering known as the final harvest. Christians gathered around grace and love, called themselves Lutheran, and set in motion a sense of love that has marked gatherings ever since.
In our gathering, on this day, all of life, and eternal life, and the love undergirding it, all of these are revealed. We may remain good stewards of the gatherings that have sustained us.