First Lutheran Church
November 15, 2015
GOD IS DOING A NEW THING!
When God broke the Israelite’s exile in Babylon he declared, I am about to do a new thing. And when God raised Christ from the dead and instituted the reign of Christ he declared, See, I am making all things new. When heaven touches the earth, and God’s eternal present intersects with the unfolding of human history, new and wondrous things happen. These prophetic texts that were read this morning are given to whole cosmos. They are reassurances that God is fighting the cosmic battle between good and evil on our behalf, and that God has already won that war forever. That can be very hard to believe, particularly in view of the unconscionable slaughter that happened in Paris on Friday. We are human beings limited by the capacity of our human brains, making it difficult to perceive God’s presence anywhere in such inhumane undertakings.
Jesus himself addressed this cosmic battle but he also made it personal. His words of reassurance are addressed to small communities and to individuals. He brings things down out of the clouds and onto the earth where they are more accessible to us. He is telling us that in spite of all the unimaginable pain and inhumane suffering in this world, God is very present among the people and is doing a new thing. It is only through the gift of faith and hope that believers have the capacity to discern God’s presence. I am not going to unpack the mysteries of Isaiah and Revelation for you this morning. I want to do is bring things down out of the clouds so that they are accessible to us. I want to talk about faith and hope in the particular community of First Evangelical Lutheran Church and for each of you worshipping here today.
As I wrote in my final newsletter column for you, I perceive evidence that God is doing a new thing right here and right now. This new thing actually started almost 3 years ago when Doug announced he would be retiring in the fall of 2014. It continued exactly 1 year ago today, November 15, when I began as your interim pastor. I have told you before that I do not believe in coincidences. There is a mystical theology of numbers and the unfolding of time that is at work somewhere in all of that. But God was doing a new thing for all of us 1 year ago. You had your first woman and a Presbyterian at that, in your pulpit. And I was serving an ELCA congregation for the first time. I thank you for your patience and kindness as I began, for we were all on a steep learning curve. In that process, where all of us were invited to stretch our wings and soar into new and unknown territory, God was doing a new thing.
Life never unfolds the way we think will. Our present circumstances and the future can be terrifying because we do not know where it goes. God calls us to trust that he is leading us, that he is the constant in the chaos, the light in the dark, the anchor in the storm. Faith is believing that God keeps his promises, that God makes a way through the wilderness and makes rivers in the desert. These are the things that set Christians apart from non-believers, for we all dwell in darkness and chaos. But faith helps us discern God’s way and God’s rivers in the darkness and chaos. We have hope in the assurances that God fights the final battle for us, and that there is life in God’s eternal presence in his kingdom.
I have met Richard and Corrine and I believe with all my heart that God is sending them to you, and God is giving you to them. By definition, interim periods are fraught with unease, with a feeling of being unsettled, feeling your way through chaos and darkness. It can be hard to trust that God is in that process, but he is. I would not do intentional transitional ministry if I did not. And now that Richard is on the brink of beginning his new ministry in partnership with you, there will be a collective sigh of relief and gratitude that this interim is completing. God’s mercy and providential care flourishes when anxieties calm down. The difficulty comes in allowing complacency to take the place of anxiety. The gospel of Jesus Christ gives you words of mercy and compassion. They also bring you words of challenge. As you welcome Richard and Corinne and show them the hospitality of this church, I challenge you not to become complacent. He is not the final solution to the struggles here. His ministry will only succeed if it is a shared ministry with you. Going forward requires disciples of Jesus Christ to believe that God is doing a new thing. God calls Christ’s disciples into creating that new thing with him.
Life from death is the central tenet of the Christian faith. Jesus had to die for God to raise him to new life for the salvation of the world. There is no way to change that, there is no way around, under, over or through the passing of the old things to make way for the New Thing that God is working out here. Much of my ministry with you has been about challenging you to let go of the former things so that God’s New Thing will flourish. It has not always been easy for any of us, but it is filled with holy grace and God’s providential care.
Bringing Richard here is a part of letting go of the former things.
So as I leave you today, I give you words of comfort. You, the people of First Lutheran Church, are a strong and faithful congregation. There is deep faith in Christ here, and deep commitment to build up the Body of Christ. Your heritage is your strength. Use it to declare Your praise to the Lord God almighty, so that the people of Galveston will know that Christ is alive here and there is room for all of them here at God’s Table. I also leave you with words of challenge.
Your heritage can also be your stumbling block. It is a very human thing to want to keep things the way they have “always been”. Honoring your heritage entails allowing it to live and breathe and grow to meet the needs of a new generation of believers. Richard will help you with that, but you must be open and willing to work hard with him, side by side, hand in hand. No Christian minister can do ministry alone. Be his partner as you partner together to honor and glorify God. Hold on to Christ together. And go forth into the world, making disciples of all nations. God is doing a new thing as the old things are passing away. To God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the glory, both now and forevermore. Amen and Amen.