Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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God's faithfulness

Apr 15, 2014

Preached at the 2014 Chrism Mass

Genesis 12:1-4a


In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The Sermon for Chrism Mass is always a highlight for my preaching life. This year is no different.


So at the outset I want to tell you that I hope to preach about our call to ministry, first, as the baptized, and then as pastors, synodically-authorized deacons, musicians, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.


This theme has been wandering around in my soul since I heard the first reading on the Second Sunday in Lent, Genesis 12:1-4a, which has just been read again. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah lately. It might be because of my developing friendship with leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities, or maybe the conference I just hosted and attended that had to do with the problem of anti-Semitic readings in our lectionary, or maybe because I have recently engaged in some heavy-duty personal discernment about God’s call. You do the same kind of discernment periodically. I know it.


In one way or another, perhaps dramatic, more likely, simple, God has said to each of us "Go" – from places you have called home, from loving relationships, from a particular community of faith, to only God knows where, finally. And you have done it, and will likely do it again.


You go in faith as Abram goes where he is called, trusting that God will open the future for him. The journey – his own Lent, if you will – was not easy. It was filled with setbacks, obstacles, mistakes, disobedience to the promise, and sin – yet there were still good outcomes and faithfulness. Or, better, God was always faithful to him. Abraham trusted that God would keep God’s promises. And God did just that. If he had been able to see the future clearly with the kind of clear outcomes we all crave then it would not have been faith – because faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen [Hebrews 11:1].


You are leaders in the church because you trust that God uses the church for God’s good purposes. Like Abraham we go from our comfort zones to a world of many cultures and religions, evidenced so strongly in this synod. And like Abraham we worship the God of Israel whom we know through the revelation of Jesus.

Our context, as with Abraham, is also filled with challenges and obstacles – a world that is distrustful of institutions and the church; a world that is racing to find economic equilibrium beset with profound economic inequities; a world that is racist and a church that is racist. God sends Abraham and Sarah – and us – on a journey in this world – not away from it – a world of tribes in conflict, division within families, a world of idols.


"Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" it says later in Genesis [15:6]. He responded to God’s promises in trust and faith.


This is a remarkable reading, a remarkable story for us as we move forward in this Holy Week. Having been called to this ministry beginning with our baptism, some of us stopped by in seminary or diakonia classes or divinity school or Sunday school or Bible class, like Abraham in Haran, to prepare for where God was going to call us. God prepared us for this ministry in rather ordinary ways and invited us to trust that we would be accompanied and comforted by the presence of God in extraordinary ways. As God was revealed to Abraham, God also is revealed to us in the means of grace. That’s a message which we in public leadership in the church need to hear again and again and our strategic plan is focusing on those means of grace in the years to come.


You know that world God loves already. And I fully expect that you will discover it again this week for the first time. Just as Abraham regularly returned to Haran, so we return, this week, to those central things we know as the paschal mystery, that God loves you and the world so much that God gave the only begotten son.


With the burden of this ministry which we share, Abraham can be an example to us. He hung around the Oaks of Mamre, sure, but he also built altars to Yahweh everywhere and learned – better: trusted – that God would be there for him wherever he pitched his tent.


That trust God reckoned to him as righteousness. In the Abrahamic stories one sees a regular pattern of engagement with others as a businessperson managing possessions, as the leader of an extended family, and in relationships with power centers all around him. But then he withdraws to worship.


Isn’t that so for us, too? God sends you out into this world that God loves and has redeemed – to the faithful and the unfaithful, the nones, those disenchanted with the church or harmed by the church; to those who are confused and affluent like Abraham and Sarah; those who are in the struggling middle classes; those in the growing ranks of people living in poverty. It is to this world that we are called.


As Paul says, God even justifies the ungodly as a way to drive us beyond our church buildings and our congregations, beyond our offices and computers, to those whom we would never want to serve and save, those to whom God offers and gives rebirth. Paul himself knew what it was like to be called to take the Gospel beyond safety. This week and throughout our ministry we are reminded that God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. This God, in Christ, is the One who, this week, is lifted up – lifted up by you, dear friends – lifted up on the cross with the ungodly and draws all things together through the ministry which you offer. Consider that.


I was reflecting on this when Sarah Gioe led our synod staff worship on the day of commemoration for Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was brutally murdered while saying mass on March 24, 1980. Sarah shared with us a piece written by the late Roman Catholic bishop of Sagniaw, Michigan, Kenneth Untener, another remarkable leader like you. Bishop Untener wrote in memory of Archbishop Romero words that had an impact on me and I trust will also have an impact on you.


It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is beyond our vision.


We accomplish in our liftetime only a fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of

saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession

brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No goals and objectives include everything.


This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one

day will grow. We water the seeds already planted

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects

far beyond our capabilities.


We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of

liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,

a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s

grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the

difference between the master builder and the worker.


We are workers, not master builders, ministers,

Not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.


God who was faithful to someone as complex and irascible as Abraham, this God who raised Jesus from the dead, will be faithful to you – continuing to call you to serve and promising to be present to you wherever you will pitch your tent. Continuing to call you in ordinary ways but for an extraordinary calling. Coming to you now in this Holy Eucharist to refresh and renew you in faith and to remind you that this God is faithful.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


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