I am honored to be here for 75th Anniversary Celebration of Faith Lilac Way! I bring greetings on behalf of the Minneapolis Area Synod and the whole ELCA – who celebrate with you and give thanks and praise to God for your faithfulness and witness to Christ.
Seventy-five years ago – 1943 – what a time to begin a church. World War II was raging in Europe, Africa and the Pacific. By late 1942, all men up to age 64 had to register for the draft. By war’s end, 400,000 U.S. soldiers would die and over 600,000 would be wounded. In the streets of this land, rationing of all kinds occurred – and anxiety about the future was everywhere.
In the midst of a pretty dark time in U.S. history, a small group of Lutherans decided to start a church. Talk about a light in the darkness! “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine,” Jesus told the disciples. And, our forebears here in Robbinsdale heard that message – and courageously gathered to bring the light of Christ in this community.
For 75 years, the people of God at Faith Lilac Way, have shared the light of Christ. I love double meaning of your anniversary theme. Faith Lights our Journey. Most basically, it’s faith in Jesus that lights our journey; faith in the One who comes as the light of the world.
It is Christ – with whom we were united in baptism – who shines in our lives – to guide our way, to give us courage, to fill us with sacrificial love for the neighbor.
And, the second meaning, it is FAITH – this church – this community – that lights our journey. Here, Christ, the light of the world, is made known through the word, through the presence of sisters and brothers who reflect Christ’s light, through baptism where we’re united to Christ, through communion where we receive the very presence of Christ.
Faith – this congregation – has reflected the light of Christ for 75 years – through the darkness of World War ll; through the darkness of the Cold War and nuclear threat.
Faith Lilac Way on the corner of Welcome and 42nd avenues has brought the light of Christ to countless people who’ve brought a whole variety of experiences into this place, laying their burdens at the foot of the cross. We all face times of darkness – if it’s only that 3am thoughts that remind us of our mortality and doubt.
Think of the numbers of people who’ve entered these doors carrying the darkness of grief, poverty, illness, who’ve known the darkness of divorce, death, meaninglessness, insecurity, self-doubt.
The light of Christ brings healing to our personal heartbreaks and sorrows. And the light of Christ reveals a whole community of sisters and brothers who hold us close and share our burdens, Christ’s light guides our way into the world that we might serve as wounded healers, seeking reconciliation and wholeness for all.
I’ll never forget how the light of Christ shone to guide me in one of my life’s times of darkness.
It was 28 years ago. I was 34 years old, newly diagnosed with stage two cancer. I met the surgeon, David Joesting, before the biopsy. Eager to make small talk, he asked, “So what do you do for a living?” “I’m a Lutheran pastor,” I said. He told me about his own membership at the local Missouri Synod congregation, adding quickly, “But I fully support the ordination of women.” It was sort of like he wanted to assure me that he wouldn’t hurt me with his surgical knife.
Well, though his surgical skill was superb, the biopsy revealed two malignancies. Within days, I was scheduled for a mastectomy. It was winter in Minnesota, 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. I remember the nurse bringing me down this dark corridor to the operating suite. I was scared to death. I was a mom, with three kids, ages 8, 5, and 2 – and I had no idea what the future would hold.
Just before the surgery, Dr. Joesting stopped by to see me. He said, “My greeting to you, Ann, is the same greeting the early Christians gave to each other when they were hiding in the catacombs underground, afraid for their very lives.” “Christos ane’sti,” he said in Greek. “Christ is risen.”
It was an incredible assurance. In the face of surgery – in the face of a future that was terribly uncertain – he assured me that the crucified and risen Christ held me, held my future, and held the future of all those I loved.
The good news that Christ is risen is really the whole gospel in a nutshell. Because Christ is risen, we know that Christ died – which means that nothing we experience in this life is outside the experience of our God. We know that Christ died FOR US – to forgive our sin and reconcile us to God and one another. And, in Christ’s resurrection, God has given us a glimpse of the future. Because death no longer has power over Jesus, we know that death will not have the last word. No matter what dark corridors you travel in this world, it is resurrection that will greet you at the end.
I wonder what our forebears would say to us today – as we seek to continue to bear the light of Christ. What would pastor Seebach say to us? Thankfully, we do not find ourselves in the midst of the deadliest war in human history.
But, the church faces significant challenges. Seventy five years ago, church was pretty much a given; on Sundays the world stopped for worship. It was assumed a good citizen was also a member of a faith community. Now, such cultural expectations are gone.
Most of my daughter’s friends don’t go to church. They are remarkable people – I like them all. Most work hard for the common good; they teach in impoverished school districts; work for legal aid; volunteer in free medical clinics. But the encouragements felt by their parents to be church members aren’t there for them.
Congregations like Faith will need courage to explore and create new ways of being the church so all might see the light of Christ. Oh, that doesn’t mean rejecting what is core – our fundamental traditions, the centrality of the Gospel. But it will require leadership that is willing to take risks, holding firm to what is central to the Christian faith, while encouraging exploration and creativity at the same time.
It is a time when congregations like Faith will need to be clear on their identity, their mission; and their commitment to raise up leaders who can guide well in this time when the church is no longer at the center of culture.
If the Christian story is to continue to be told, it will be in congregations like Faith — communities gathered around worship and the word — and their witness and service in the world that the story will be told. It will not be the synod office; the churchwide office. Our main work is to support you. This is where the story is told. And in this changing world, it will be told by congregations that have a clear sense of mission based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and creative leadership—both lay and ordained—anchored in the gospel but willing to take risks in order that the good news might be heard in a pluralistic and secular world.
No, it’s not 1943, the middle of WW ll. Still, we gather today at a time where every place of war feels as near to us as the screens on our tv’s, our smartphones. Sometimes, we wonder if we recognize this world of division and despair. Sometimes we don’t want to know. And, yet, we whose lives are centered in the cross, are called to see this world with the same determination as God – to not turn our eyes from that which grieves our hearts – but knowing that as our God is bound to us – we are bound to one another and to all creation – committed to others, their wholeness and flourishing, committed to those young adults who don’t know what it means to be part of a Gospel centered community.
So, secure in the love of God, we spend our lives serving our neighbor. And yes, serving the neighbor includes inviting them into community like this – where they too will hear of God’s fierce, unconditional, and undying love from them; where the light of Christ will shine brightly to heal and warm and show the way.
With undying love and unconditional commitment God comes to you – right where you are and says: you are beautiful; whole; enough. This is Gospel.
So, how will Faith Lilac Way be a light in 2018? We share the story. Live the story. Grounded in the cross of Jesus Christ, we get to know our neighbors, we engage the world, we participate in God’s reconciling work to mend our broken world and make it whole.
I can’t wait to see how God works through Faith Lilac Way in the years to come - as Christ, our Savior, lights your journey ahead.