Life is strange and a little amazing. Seeing this timeline stretching across the back of the sanctuary and all of us here today makes me wonder, what if those first people, sitting in the shade of a tree in 1915, with their bibles open, swatting away flies and talking about faith, what if they could see us today? Or the ones who raised $1200 to buy the plots of land, or $6000 to build the first chapel on this site in 1918? What if the crowd who sat together filled with joy and hope at the future when Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church became officially incorporated in 1922 could have a glimpse of us right now, sitting here in all of our own struggles and joys, trying to do this life the best we know how, just like they were, so long ago, in the church they saw begin?
Even though the dinner began with turkey in the 30s, would they be excited to know we’re still eating Ham (comma) and Cherry Pie every year for over eighty years? Would those empowered ladies who had recently been granted the right to vote be tickled to hear that the bazaar that has been raising money for missions and agencies in the community through jams and quilts and attic treasures every year since 1924 is just a few weeks away?
How would it feel to know that you were part of something that was still going on, long after you were gone? That your life, your story, your quirky personality and tricky milestones of life, and hard work and sweat, and gentleness and tears, was woven into the fabric of a community reaching far beyond your whole lifetime and all those you knew?
Would they feel as blessed and awed as I feel to see the story laid out - That for decades your music, Jane, filled this sanctuary and lifted people’s souls, or your teaching, Marlys, guided a generation and more in embracing their own story, and seeking to understand and live out their faith? That living last suppers and youth disaster relief trips and whole lives that began with water dribbled on a bawling forehead and feet pounding through halls and Easter bonnets and choir robes and floor hockey in the basement and confirmation corsages and college farewells and all the pain and happiness in between, were cherished and nurtured by this community of which I am now a part?
How much do we really know about the impact of our lives- even our ordinary, very human and faltering lives, as we are being rooted and grounded in love? How much could we really grasp about how vastly connected it all is, how far deep it goes, how profoundly significant and prevailing is a life in the hands of the living God, to say nothing of a whole collection of them, and collections of them over time? Could we even begin to fathom what is the breadth and length and height and depth, or would our imagination short-circuit first?
And if we could pause on the threshold of that place, with just the faint awareness that we have our toes tipped over the edge of something spectacular, if we could, with the slight whiff of awe and wonder in our nostrils, breathe it in deeply and let it fill us momentarily and then spill out, as these things usually do in the only language remotely up to the task, that of poetry and prayer, and pray,
if we could pray for those who are coming down the river, and for those who are swimming in it with us right at this moment, for those we love and those we’ve yet to meet and those we will never know… If we could put words to this thing in the form of a wish, a hope, a prayer, a longing lifted to Almighty God, what would it be? What would we say of this mystery of living and life?
My guess is it would be a little like the prayer that that Pastor Paul prays for his people, a prayer that begins from the astounding mystery that in Christ God restores the world to its maker, and all people to one another, that this living business is sacred, and it touches on salvation and hope and redemption and promise, that God is doing something both outside and within the very fabric of what we see and do every day, that pulsing inside everything real is the most real thing of all: God has come, God is here, God is bringing all things to Godself, also known as, Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again.
So from that place, “for this reason”, Paul prays for his people this impossibly grand prayer, this extravagant prayer, beautiful and intangible. To know that which is beyond knowledge, to grasp that which is immeasurable. To be filled with the fullness of the one who is all in all. The one who can accomplish abundantly far more than we could ever ask for or even ever imagine.
It is a tremendous and impossible prayer, but he prays it anyway.
And then he writes it down for them, in a letter to them, just between his description of who God is and what God has done, and then his explanation of the way we live it out in our lives. Right where our human story meets up with the Divine story is where he falls to his knees, lifts his face to the sky and prays that the mystery would fill them, swallow them, seep into and out of them, open their eyes and their hearts and their hands and their lives to the love of God that surpasses all knowledge, that claims and calls them to fullness of life.
And I suspect that a tiny part of what happens when we are church together, in all our goofy and ordinary caring and arguing and forgiving and hoping and grieving ways, is that from time to time we get our own glimpse, our own whiff, our own inkling and passing awareness, we get to dip our toe into this mystery and every now and again have that breath-stealing peek that things are a lot bigger, a lot more poignant and magnificent than they might seem. And these glimpses happen in the same space that God’s presence with us happens – person to person, in community, as we share life and doubts and joys and prayers with each other. As we are church.
The other day, I shared with a few people something that I think of almost daily in my role as pastor here. In fact, this moment I recall so often might be what clinched the deal for me. Before I really got to know LNPC, when I was first interviewing with the Pastoral Nominating Committee in 2008, I asked them how they would describe the job of a pastor to a friend or neighbor who was not a church-goer. This was my sneaky way of fishing for their true view the pastoral role, you see, the job description behind the job description.
Each member of the committee responded with a few things about what they thought a pastor did, and then finally Gary Johnson stopped and leaned toward me and said, “Look, we know how to be the church. We just need a pastor.”
And boy is this true. This congregation knows how to be the church. And that’s not to say that everything is perfect – human beings are broken and beautiful all rolled up into one, and being church with each other is a messy and complicated business, but it’s also simple. Like Gary said. It’s about loving each other. It’s about honesty and trust and seeking God and being human. It’s about sharing what we have for the good of all, and breaking bread and eating food with glad and generous hearts, and praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
Toward the end of 2010 we shared a wonderful conversation around the question, What is Church to me? We sought to uncover, What is this thing we're part of?
And we got lots of beautiful answers from each other, here they are:
Church is prayer.
It is hands - that hold and embrace those in need,
that reach out beyond ourselves and reach up to God.
It is smiles and connection.
It is where I go to be real.
It is the people of eschatological imagination.
Church is celebration and grief shared,
it is where we learn and grow
and the people that help us remember the truth.
It is what connects us to the story of God's faithfulness in the past and helps us see God's faithfulness right now in our lives and in the world.
It is the things that help us notice God and feel God with us.
Church is singing
and helping each other.
It is giving what I can and seeing it multiply.
It is being connected to something bigger than myself.
It is being held by something greater than myself.
It is belonging to God
and participating with God.
Church is the place to ask questions and doubt.
It is a place to play with questions and ideas about God.
It is the protection around me,
accountability and support.
Church is the people who live forgiveness together.
It helps me see where I am wrong
and invites me to think more deeply
and live more intentionally.
It is love.
And in all of this, we are reminded that Church is not a place we go.
It is who we are.
We are the Body of Christ,
with each other,
for the world.
And so today we celebrate the past and rejoice in the present and we do both of these things on behalf of what will be. Because the church is always about the promise of God that is coming, and even already is. It is about living from the fullness we can’t yet get our arms around, and loving with the depths we can’t quite get our mind around, and standing in our place in the stream of hope with all the saints, those before us and those after us and recognizing and joining hands with those around us right now in this life we’ve been given and this community we get to build and be.
And this little part of the Body of Christ is strong and faithful, and it’s real and honest, and it’s vulnerable and generous, and it is truly being rooted and grounded in love.
And I wish I could hear what they’ll look back on and say of us in another 90 years - I can make guesses at some of the stories they’ll tell of the our shenanigans and spirit.
But mostly I get a little giddy at the thought of people I will never know, long after I and all of you are gone, sitting together in all of their own struggles and joys, trying to do this life the best they know how, just like we were, so long ago, also living from the promise of God’s future that holds us all, and sharing what they have for the good of all, and breaking bread and eating food with glad and generous hearts, and praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And being church.
What a wondrous thing to be part of. Truly.