Reformation 2018 ~ Hope Lutheran Church ~ Riverside, CA
Well, the honeymoon is over. A year ago we made a promise. A year ago I stood before Bishop Andy Taylor and spoke words of commitment and hope, of service and accountability. I waited 13 years of school and finding a call to speak those words. I was able to speak them because you, people of Hope, saw my call from God and affirmed it by asking me to be your pastor. You were part of that promise.
We made promises like a marital couple: to uphold and support, to serve and honor, to see one another as people, as valuable, as part of God’s kingdom, to never to diminish or to erase each other, but to name the value of our individual gifts in the whole body together.
In the past year we have learned about each other. You learned I can talk up a storm when I am nervous. I learned you aren’t used to a pastor having you over to their house. I learned about your passion for doing things well. You learned I like to paint, walls, canvas, nails, anything. We learned to communicate with each other, to speak our hurt and our truth. I cried. You cried. And we still didn’t remember to get more tissues for the pews.
And we need the tissues. Because life has been as full of joy as sorrow this past year. We have lost amazing people, and God gained them at the eternal table. And we gained new people and even a baby. Precious new faces and stories who also bring tears of joy to our eyes in laughter and joy. And even more will make promises today- reminding us of the joy of commitment and community.
We made promises and sometimes we broke them. We are human and we make mistakes. But we made promises to each other so we stayed and we prayed and we kept working on it because it is rare that good happens instantly, it takes time, and as our master gardeners will attest to, sometimes many seasons to produce.
As we have grown close and more confident with each other, learning each other’s moves and language, we have been strengthened. We have been made new, reformed for work together, partnered to bring our passion and love to the community as a team, rather than individuals because God called us into relationship. A congregation and pastor being made new for God’s good purpose. It has been beautiful and hard and oh so good. New relationships are like that though.
It is time to open the doors of the honeymoon suite and the doors of the church and to pour out into the community to share the glorious generosity of love and hope that we have found among each other. Our neighbors need us. They are homeless and hungry. Our neighbors are afraid- they face racism and sexism and fear of being erased because they don’t match a binary construct. Our neighbors are hurting- their fellow congregations are being gunned down in cold blood as they celebrate a new baby! Our neighbors are lonely-Sitting in houses without a soul to talk to.
Our promises to each other did not end at the edge of our property or the end of worship each Sunday. They began that day. Like God’s love, a strength and refuge, our promises are the strength and refuge that our neighbors need us to share. They need our love, our commitment, our passion, and our fellowship. They need to know we see them- that they don’t have to look like us or even believe like us. God made them, too and they are not meant to be alone.
Our Gospel today leads the way to our new reformation- an act of always being made new, of always leaning into our imperfection and owning it, naming it, and learning to do better. We have these gorgeous baptismal waters that remind us of our daily baptism, that we are always being made new in Christ and it eases our discomfort as we face change together.
We don’t have to do this alone, in fact, we are equipped to do it with Christ. Every healing is a community job. In today’s gospel, the community was Bartimaeus, jesus, and the crowd following Jesus. Jesus and Bartimaeus participated and they did so against the popular opinion of the crowd- no one wanted them together. The crowd didn’t want to share Jesus and they didn’t want to let Bartimaeus in. The crowd didn’t want Bartimaeus healed, and they didn’t want Jesus to take the time with him. They chose to push a neighbor out because he was hard to reconcile with their needs and wants. He didn’t fit the standard they set. Jesus saw him and knew the standard was being human. So he called Bartimaeus into relationship- healing him and becoming part of his story.
Our neighbors are called into relationship. The ones who don’t believe like us, look like us, identify like us, even speak like us. It is our turn to issue a call to them, to call them into love and healing, to hope and renewal and to the comfort of being reminded we are all precious and worthy of life. Our relationship is off to a great start- and like any good partnership- we have to keep being made new to keep things healthy and fresh.
We made promises. We have gained this new relationship. Now it is time to turn away from the honeymoon suite and go out with joy into our community to invite others into our promise, to share the good news, to share the promise of always being made new, and to share the promise of Christ.
Happy Anniversary, People of Hope.