The following is the text of the sermon I preached this morning at Messiah Lutheran Church in Hazel Dell. The sermon is based on the readings for today from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, and Luke 4:14-21, and incorporates some of the stories I have heard and experienced while serving as mission developer at Messiah’s North Site in Ridgefield.
Hello and good morning- I am excited to be with you today and bring greetings not just from myself but also from Messiah’s North County site. Though you may not know me well, you probably know my better half and partner in life and ministry, Allison. This year I am serving at Messiah North County as the congregation’s mission developer, so that’s generally where I am on Sunday mornings while Allison is often here with all of you.
Part of my work involves listening and preaching. It involves helping North County and Messiah discern what the next chapter might look like, where God might be calling and leading. And part of my role is about helping invite and equip others to invite by telling their stories of faith, and seeing how those stories paint pictures of God’s on-going story in the world.
In today’s gospel story, we hear the first part of a two part story about Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth and worshipping at the synagogue. It’s the first time Jesus has been back since the start of his ministry. Maybe you can relate to going home after being a way for a long time. Maybe you can remember the first time you went back after moving away and starting a new job?
It’s a joy, but it’s also kind of stressful. What will people think? In going back to your home church or your hometown, maybe you can picture a couple of people you want to see, or perhaps worry you might run into?
For example, on returning home to Poulsbo for the first time since going to seminary in Minnesota, I am sure in a few people’s eyes I was still that little three year old running around the church choir loft. Maybe you remember going home and wondering if a Mr. Jones was still going to remember that time when you accidentally ran into him in the hallway, or a Mrs. Smith might still come up to you and pull on your cheek and tell you “aren’t you so cute?”
Maybe Jesus had such thoughts when he ventured home. Going home is something important to do, to return to one’s roots, to visit with family and loved ones, to spend time in relationship. But going home can also be hard. It can be awfully difficult to overcome the image of being a child that some people have of you. If you speak out and share your opinion, you might burn a bridge or worse. Well, that’s a gospel story for next week.
Just over five years ago, this congregation discerned and sensed a call to do something new. Messiah Lutheran sensed a call to go out and serve, and worship in North Clark County. That led to Messiah North County, going strong and continuing to grow today, though perhaps not quite like some people might have expected. My being with you in worship today then is kind of metaphorical homecoming, of one returning to the parent site.
In learning the history of Messiah Lutheran I have come to believe that Messiah’s call to North Clark County is less something unheard of, and more, the continuation of a call to spread the Gospel throughout the county and region. This congregation was once a mission start itself from Trinity Lutheran in Vancouver, who sensed a call to start a new ministry further north now in the Hazel Dell neighborhood. Years later, Messiah sensed a call into what is now the Felida neighborhood and Family of Christ Lutheran was born. And then a few years ago, Messiah sensed a new call to further north in Clark County. Part of what makes Messiah North County unique is that it’s not a separate church. It’s a second site in Ridgefield, a second campus of the same congregation serving the same work as part of God’s mission.
When Jesus opens the scroll in today’s gospel lesson and reads from the prophet Isaiah, he is announcing the start of something important, a new Epiphany. By quoting Isaiah, he is also proclaiming what matters, what the Good News of the gospel means, and what it looks like when the Kingdom of God breaks into the world. “To bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, to recover sight, to let the oppressed go free…” These are big things, and just a few of the many signs of the change that comes with God.
The gospel of Luke is full of “Good News of Great Joy,” but also great news of reversal. The point of this gospel is one that not only is the world changed forever, the way we see things has been turned upside down. The poor have been made rich, the lowly lifted up, and the haughty brought to their knees.
The amazing thing about this though is that this work, God’s work, isn’t just limited to Jesus. It’s the work that we all do in our own lives and vocations. It’s also what calls us as a congregation to serve. The three initiatives Messiah currently has are good examples. To make sure that every child within a mile of both sites has what they need to learn, to teach future leaders and help them discern their vocations through summer internships, pastoral internships, and even the possibility of first-call pastors in residence, and to take the bold step of the gospel to have a second site in North County as a way to be the church in an area under-served, that’s the gospel in action. It’s a story too great not to share.
Maybe that’s why Jesus picked this passage when handed the scroll from Isaiah as his first scripture reading in public? It’s a great summary of what the Good News means- Good News for you and for all people. News of freedom, change, and love that leads us out into our lives and neighborhoods spreading this news through the way we live and serve.
Many Members/Same Body
We all are a part of making the passage from Isaiah possible as members of the Body of Christ.
Paul writes, that the body “has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member, but of many.”
It’s pretty easy to see this in the way this congregation works. People in this community of faith have a variety of gifts and vocations- in nursing, teaching, woodworking, forestry and landscape architecture, veterinary science, parenting, realty, baking, parks and recreation, auto mechanics, and repair men who have helped keep and put the house next door back in working order again and again. These gifts and vocations though varied, all are equally important in working and fulfilling the gospel and in serving as the Body of Christ together.
Similarly, North County and Hazel Dell members… are all members of the same body, Messiah Lutheran Church, and part of the larger Body of Christ. Together, these two campuses allow Messiah to serve out its gospel calling more broadly and comprehensively with members stretching about 95 miles from Longview in the north to Salem in the south. That’s about as wide of a range as you might ever see in a congregation.
Fulfilled Today in Your Hearing & A Dream Enfolding
When Jesus proclaims in today’s gospel that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled’ in the people’s hearing of it, the world is forever changed. This is a great Epiphany and “ah ha” moment, a moment to take notice, and know that things will never be quite the same again.
When Messiah started Messiah North County, it too was forever changed. The big heart of this congregation was being extended and opened wider. God does amazing things far beyond our imaginations and original visions because God’s kingdom and vision is that great- that good news is brought to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.
In my first four months I have seen a number of things which cause me to wonder- what is God up to? For example, looking north up I-5, Ridgefield and North County are seeing major changes. There’s plenty of new growth and development underway, and more just around the corner. Off of Exit 16, there’s the start of a major construction project on a massive casino. This will change the area. There’s also an influx of young families around Ridgefield, some of whom may include many of you worshiping today and living up in Ridgefield. Childcare is listed as the number one concern by the majority of the population there, and will likely continue to be for years to come.
Like in the larger Pacific Northwest, the people moving into North Clark County have questions, and are generally un-churched. Like anyone, they are people some of whom have been brought down by the pains of life, whom have had hopes dashed, opportunities experienced, joys and successes, but also challenges and tribulations.
On Sunday mornings at Messiah North County, just like here in this space, all are welcome and invited to the same meal. All are marked with the same cross, the cross we’re sealed with in baptism, and all hear Christ’s words of forgiveness and promise.
By being in North County, Messiah has a way to help in God’s mission to let all people know that they are Children of God, created, called, and beloved. It’s the work of Messiah- both here and in North County together, to help all people know of their identity as a Child of God, beloved just because of who they are, without any expectation in return.
At North County I have experienced this in the way people serve and dream. I have listened, making upwards of 30 visits with key leaders, members, and participants of the congregation. I have heard big dreams for where God may be calling and leading in North County. I have seen the way this congregation both here and at the golf course brings food each month, like today, as part of Food on the 4th. I have joined your service in the community through Compassion Ridgefield and at the Lewis River Foodbank. I have gone on tours and walks through the communities with members of the congregation wanting to share their stories. It’s these experiences that show me that Messiah has an identity beyond the walls of the church and the downstairs of a golf course clubhouse.
Within worship at North County, I have seen a Community of God’s people gather and surround each other in prayer. Recently the body circled around one member prior to a long awaited surgery. Since the surgery, this member has a whole new lease on life, dancing into worship without even a cane.
These are only a few stories. I have so many I can share, and hope to share them with you, in person and on the church’s blog in the weeks ahead.
When Jesus says that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he doesn’t mean the work is done. Rather, it’s just beginning. What I hear after this proclamation is that, “the dream is enfolding.” “The Kingdom of God is near.” The dream and vision which Messiah had in leading to the creation of North County has only just begun. God is up to something great, and all of you are part of it in your own lives and vocations, but also by being part of this congregation together.
How are you doing the work of God described by Isaiah, which Jesus proclaims?
You might not even be aware of it, but I hope that this week you take a few minutes to write down some ideas which come to mind. God in Christ is working through you and with you. It’s pretty amazing to get to see that this year, and my hope is that each and every one of you is getting to see that in your own lives too. Amen.
Image Credit: A comical take at Luke 4:14-21