Farewell Sermon at Messiah 12.30.11

December 31, 2011 at 8:34 pm Leave a comment

Maurice C. Frontz III, STS
Messiah Lutheran Church
Evening Prayer, The Sixth Day of Christmas
December 30, 2011

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The readings today are the ones appointed in Lutheran Book of Worship
for December 30th in an odd-numbered year.
I did not choose them for tonight’s service,
but I think they are quite appropriate for a number of reasons.

The 3rd letter of John is quite short.
The elder is writing a letter to a former parishioner, if you will.
God has seen fit to call the apostle elsewhere,
and yet he has heard good things about this Gaius, ‘beloved in the faith.’
and he rejoices to hear that Gaius continues to walk in truth,
that is, continues to walk in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life,
through whom we come to the Father.

I have no experience with pastoral transitions,
but from what I have heard,
pastors and congregations who are called to new places
continue to hear of each other,
and when they do, they rejoice to hear good news,
and mourn when there is bad news.
“I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children walk in truth,”
says the apostle,
and it will be our mutual great joy to hear of each other
that we continue to walk in the way of Christ,
whether in good times or bad times.

Secondly, the apostle asks Gaius to welcome ‘the friends,’
presumably the ones who have hand-delivered the letter to Gaius.
Gaius does not know these people.
Neither do they know him.
They have a mutual friend, however, the apostle John,
who appeals to Gaius to help the strangers on their way,
as if they were their friends, as if they were John himself,
in fact, as if they were Christ himself.

This congregation has not had to go through a pastoral transition like this one
in twenty-five years.
We have said goodbye to pastors,
But there was always a familiar voice from the pulpit and from the altar.
That will not be true this time.
And yet we have the Scriptures speaking to Gaius, and to you:
Welcome those who bear the name of Christ.
Though they be strangers to you, treat them as friends.
Open your hearts to them and treat them as Christ himself.

And there is yet another way the Scriptures speak to us as we look to the future.
For the world has changed since most of you were born.
The world has changed even since I was born.
It used to be that the church passed down the faith from generation to generation,
that families of three and four generations would populate the pews of the church,
and that you were building a church for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
For some of you that is still true:
You worship in the same church of your parents and grandparents,
and you hope that the church is still around for your children and theirs.

But this is a time of loose connections to places and institutions.
In this time, children move away, parents move after them to be with them,
and for those of you who wish to continue to gather together in God’s name here,
your task will be to build a church for the stranger:
To make connections with people
who come through these doors not because they are part of a long-time family
or are friends with someone,
but because they are seeking Jesus Christ
in the community that gathers around the Bible and the Sacraments.

Welcome them,
not based upon family connection or prior friendship,
but simply because they bear the image of God.
Welcome the stranger.
Introduce yourself to the stranger.
Invite the stranger.
Talk to the stranger.
Listen to the stranger.
Feed the stranger.
Share your story with the stranger.
Share the faith with the stranger.
And the stranger might already be a member of this church,
or a child of this church,
or a first-time visitor to this church.
Doesn’t matter.
Your connection is Jesus.
He is your common family member.

This requires a spirit of openness and vulnerability.
It might require risk.
But proclaiming the Gospel always requires risk.
Now it’s no guarantee that risking something means you are proclaiming the Gospel.
But it is a guarantee that if you are risking nothing,
you’re not proclaiming the Gospel.

Finally, in the Gospel lesson,
we get a strange story from the Gospel according to John.
Six days after Christmas,
we have an adult Jesus saying what seem to be some very harsh words.
In response to a plea for help
from a desperate man,
Jesus says, “Unless you see signs and wonders,
you will not believe.”
If we had the power to heal someone,
Who among us would dare say such a thing?
Would we not be considered heartless?
This baby in the manger,
whom, we are told, is innocent of all sin,
grows up seemingly to brush off the cry of a father for his son.

When we are confronted with a hard Word from the Bible like this,
we always have two choices.
We either accuse the Bible of lying about God,
or by God’s grace we confront the accuser in ourselves,
and ask ourselves what truth we are refusing to face in the Bible.
The fact of the matter is that like the father in the story,
we have very good reasons to want God to act with signs and wonders to set things right.
And yet signs and wonders never prove God to anyone.
The signs and wonders of sunshine and rain,
flowers and trees, birth and love and sacrifice,
are only visible as signs and wonders through the eyes of faith.
It is only those who believe who see these things as signs and wonders.

So when the father asks Jesus for help,
Jesus tells him to step out in faith,
Tells him to do the impossible,
Believing that what he has asked he has already received,
Before he sees it.
Impossible! But all things are possible with God.
And in believing Jesus’ word,
the man sees the sign of Jesus’s victory over sin, death, and evil.
Those who believe see signs and wonders.

When we ask for healing of a physical, mental, or spiritual malady,
we may not receive the healing in the same way as occurred for the father and his son.
But when we ask in faith, believing and not doubting the Word of promise,
we will always receive a sign of some sort
that God is faithful and that he is meeting our deepest needs,
despite our sin, despite the rage of the evil One,
despite the valley of the shadow of death.

So the Word to the Church
is this: Hear the Word of promise,
and go!
Step out in faith!
Do not wait for proof of God’s faithfulness.
Do not think that he does not hear your deepest cries.
Do not doubt that he has already forgiven you,
made you a missionary,
and given you eternal life.
Jesus who was born for us,
Died for us, and was raised for us,
Sits at the Father’s right hand,
Calls the Church: ‘Go forth in faith,
For all things will be well.’



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