Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Addressing My Home Congregation

This post is an address given to my home congregation recalled to the best of my ability from memory.

Good morning, and thank you for the honor of being here at our congregation's 100th Anniversary.  We pastor's are known for being pretty wordy, but I will try to keep things as brief as possible while dealing with the question, "What difference can a church make?"

What difference can a church make?

I remember when my great-grandmother, Pauline Galloway died.  We had the funeral at the old church, and afterward, I remember going to the fellowship hall, the old educational building.  I saw my grandmother, Estelle Haug, there setting out sandwiches and other things for the reception.  I went up to her and said, "Grandma, I didn't know you were related to Grandma Galloway."

She said, "I'm not."

I replied, "Then why are you here?"

She responded, "Well, this is what we do to help out when someone dies?"

What difference does a church make when helping someone understand what it means to care for others even when you aren't related?  What difference does a church make when reaching out to families that grieve?

What difference does a church make?

Story number two.  This one has to do with my cousin, Joshua Grote.  Josh was probably about 18-24 months old at the time just old enough to know there was a routine in church but not old enough to know what in the world was going on.  Pastor had invited all the kids up to the children's sermon, and, as I said, Josh was old enough he was supposed to go up there, but he was too young to actually listen to what was Pastor was saying.

I think a whole lot of people never advance past that stage anyway.  (congregation laughs)

No offense, Pastor Jeff, but I don't remember a single sermon that you've ever preached.  (congregation laughs)

Pastor Jeff responds, "I don't remember them either."  (But the congregation doesn't hear him.  I do.)

But don't feel bad about that, Jeff.  Now that I'm preaching on a regular basis, I've come to know there's nothing personal about it.  There's a story behind that one as well.

I challenged my congregation not too long ago to remember one of my sermons word for word.  I even gave them a place in the bulletin to take notes.  The Gospel text was on the wedding at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine.  In that text, Mary tells those gathered, "Do what he tells you to do."  So, I got up in front of the congregation and said, "Do what Jesus says.  Amen."

The congregation at that point was like, "What the hell?"  But that was it.

Next Sunday, I asked the folks gathered, "I've been here eight years.  How many of you can remember a sermon, aside from last week's, word for word?"

Not a single hand went up.

"Now, how many of you remember last weeks?"

A whole bunch of hands. 

"And that was only four words."

There's a lesson there somewhere, but I'm not quite willing to learn it just yet.

But, anyway, back to the story.  I don't remember the content of Pastor Jeff's children's sermon fully that morning. I do know it was about God's love, and Jeff concluded the sermon by telling the children he would give them all a hug.  He finished, and all the kids stood up to get their hugs.

Well, Josh, as I said, being too young to actually listen, knew enough of the routine to believe the children's sermon was over and that it was time to head back to his pew.  He took off running back to his mom and dad.  Well, of course, Landon and Marie told him, "Josh, you didn't get your hug."

Well, Josh took off like a bullet right then.  He moved as fast as his little legs could carry him. He ran around to the back of the church, behind the organ and the piano.  He rounded the back pews and started heading down the center aisle, but he wasn't fast enough.  Pastor Jeff had finished giving all the kids their hugs and was turning to begin the adult sermon.

Josh was about half-way down when he realized this, and he began squealing.  That's as best as I can describe it.  He ran and squealed at the same time to get Jeff's attention.

And what do you do at that moment when you are a pastor?  You do the only thing you can do.

Jeff turned around and caught Josh.  He picked him up in the air and gave him a huge bear hug much to the absolute delight to everyone who was there that morning.

What difference does a church make?

Joshua is now on his vicarage year as he is preparing to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

What difference does a church make?

When it is showing God's love within in and without and intentionally taking that love out into the community, it survives and thrives for 100 years.  And if it continues, it will last for hundreds more.  God bless you today and always as you seek to show that love. 

Thank you again.

No comments: