For the next two weeks I am going to share my vision for the future of St. Luke’s. Here is a part of what I envision as a growing community where spirits come alive in Christ:
• When I call the children forward for the Children’s Message, a whole rainbow of kids of all ages, from more backgrounds and family types and cultures than we can count, run forward---each of them excited to learn about Jesus, coming from families so relieved to find a church that welcomes everyone
• It’s Saturday morning--our Free Community Breakfast has become weekly and it’s the happening community exchange event of the weekend. Children giggle, Moms receive bags of groceries, Dad’s serve breakfast, the prayer station blesses all who come, Santa Claus brings gifts at Christmas, and family events happen throughout the year.
• When you walk past Sanctuary on Sundays at noon, you hear a sermon in Spanish preached by our bi-lingual outreach minister. You can smell tortillas and rice and beans cooking in the kitchen for lunch, and you cannot wait to eat with new friends and share in bi-lingual bible class.
• Our next new member reception includes the Baptisms of two youth from our support community for LGBTQ youth at risk of homelessness—at last, a place where they are loved and can figure out who they are with God’s grace. This banner over the baptismal font reminds them they are God’s child, and as they bend over the water to receive Jesus’ claim on their lives, they see that even here, the colors of the rainbow in the baptismal bowl includes them.
• You have joined the fifth global mission team trip to El Paso for immersion education and mission work across the border, connecting the work there with our ministry here. Our advocacy ministry has taken off, with advection on national and local policies that affect immigration, global health, women and children, climate change, ending the war in Ethiopia, and anti-racism efforts, especially in northern Texas.
• And not only have we added these ministries, but those things that we already do well continue to flourish, invigorating adult bible study, quilts and kits for Lutheran World Relief, worship & music that makes our hearts soar, community that helps everyone know we are loved and prayed up.
Take a pencil from the pew and write down one thing I said on the back of your attendance slip that excites you—and if I did not mention what excites you, then write down your own idea. And that the end of the service, share that with me. Visions are built over time and through conversation, each of us bringing our own wisdom to what God is doing in our midst.
This is what our conversation is about right now—In the end, it is not about a building or repairs or even finances. It is about the vision and mission to which God calls us and what about that vision excites you, engages you, and helps your spirit come alive to serve and to give. When we are clear about our vision, then decisions about tools and resources, about the building or the location that help us fulfill our vision and mission, become so much easier.
This week and next week’s Gospel readings supply us with the two seemingly contradictory movements that will be necessary if we are to achieve this, or any future vision for ministry. One of the actions we must take is binding, as when Jesus tells us that in order to plunder a house, we will first need to bind the strong man who oversees it. Next week, we will be led in the opposite direction, in the direction of sowing or scattering when we read parables about sowers and seeds.
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus talks of binding the strong man—that is, of binding up all that is contrary to God’s purposes. Once the contrary power or the strong man is bound, then the house can be cleared for the reign of God to flourish. It is strong, almost violent language—binding a strong man, plundering a house—because of the power of the evil that has to be overcome for God’s reign to be made complete. To Jesus’ first hearers suffering under Roman oppression, the power of Jesus coming to plunder Rome came as good news. Such a strong image does remind us that binding all that is against God’s purposes is a perilous and often painful process; but it all must be bound and removed in order to make room for the kingdom of love and justice.
Let’s think about our own mission. What had to be bound in order to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation and welcome the whole LGBTQ rainbow of God’s people?
• The fear that doing the right thing would split the congregation had to be bound
• The notion we are the arbiters of who God loves, had to be bound
• The idea that our discomfort was more important than someone receiving Jesus’ love had to be bound
Thank God the Holy Spirit helped us bind all that so we could create space and community for something new! And thus, the congregation grew in members, love, outreach and mission! What about the Free Community Breakfast? What had to be bound in order to start a new outreach ministry during a global pandemic?
• The idea that we did not have enough people had to be bound
• The belief that we did not have enough money had to be bound
• The notion that we could not do anything new during an emergency, like the pandemic had to be bound
Thank God the Holy Spirit helped us bind all that so we could create space and ministry to touch the lives of people in our community. Yesterday a new customer saw our signs for a free breakfast, and she stopped by for a burrito. She told me her daughter was very ill, and we had a chance to pray together. Then, we had some leftover burritos which became a wonderful way to welcome the families coming to the new basketball program renting the gym from us—they were so surprised by coffee and free burritos! The owner of the sports club was so excited to be at a church reaching out to his community.
So, what has to be bound in us now in order to embrace God’s vision for our future? Our fear needs to be bound.
• Fear that our identity is so tightly tied to history or location and we are not sure who we might be if those change.
• Fear of grief and sadness –we have had a year of loss and no matter which future God leads us to, we do not want to lose anything more—members, money, identity, or touchstones of who we are.
• Fear of disagreement with those we have come to love. We are dear to each other, and the thought that a decision might bring anguish to another is painful.
• Fear of the unknown—God promises to be with us, yet, we move forward without any lifetime guarantees in any direction.
Although binding is not an easy promise, it is a freeing one. Binding what holds us back from manifesting God’s mission of justice and love makes room for God’s vision to flourish! We already know this to be true—for binding what limits us, has made our congregation grow in members, outreach and mission already, and allowed grace and hope and burritos to flourish.
And Jesus does not stop there. We do not do this work alone. And, we do not do this work with mere friends or acquaintances--with people with whom we shake hands but do not really know or care about. Our mission and love in Jesus gives us a family—much bigger than we ever knew or thought we had! Our family is not just those in our household, but everyone around us who joins us in doing God’s will! Everyone beside you in the mission of God is your mother and father, your sister and brother. Look around you! We move into the future as the family of Christ together.
Jesus binds that which hold us back from mission, freeing us for service and justice in the world, all the while binding us anew to each other. Jesus binds us with love as a family--connected to him and to each other for the future he has in store for us. Hold onto the vision of our future, and to each other for that is how Christ leads us.