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Sermon: Sunday, April 12, 2015: Second Sunday of Easter

Amalia-6636-tiny-224x300On Sunday, April 12, 2015 St. Luke’s celebrated its long relationship with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) and marked their leave-taking from our building as both organizations look toward a new future. ELM’s Executive Director, Amalia Vagts, was our guest preacher for the occasion.

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Texts: Acts 4:23-23  +  Psalm 133  +  1 John 1:1-2:2  +  John 20:19-31

As I begin this morning, I bring greetings from the whole community of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.  Your witness here at St. Luke’s, including your expansive welcome to lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender ministry leaders like Pastor Erik is significant. It is also still rare in the ELCA. It can be easy to start to think that all places are like St. Luke’s. They are not. You can proclaim it loudly – you had an openly gay pastor before it was cool! This was a significant moment in the life of this congregation, an act of faith connected to who you are as a congregation. Thank you for your witness – and thank you, Pastor Erik, for inviting me to preach.

Please join me in prayer: Holy and Immortal God, may your voice be in these words as I speak them and may your Spirit be in our hearts as we hear them…

We just heard these words in the second reading…“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

This fellowship with one another – this community relationship is why we’re gathered this morning.

ELMToday we honor a specific part of the relationship between St. Luke’s Logan Square and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. You have been a wonderful home for us these past eight years.

Of course, the relationship between St. Luke’s and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries goes back even before our offices were here, back to 2005 when you were looking for a pastor and received a postcard in the mail from a group then called the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. As the story goes, you gave us a call. And then you met Erik – and then you gave him a call. Some of you were part of the small team that met regularly with Margaret Moreland, our lector this morning, who worked with you on Erik’s call. The relationship deepened as Erik took on the role of Founding Co-Chair of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board. And then our relationship grew in a new way when you applied for a Ministry Grant from us – for 5 years we shared with you the gathered gifts of friends across the church supporting you and Pastor Erik.

We meet each other at different times and in different ways along the journey. Yet by the very nature of the communities we are in – those of you who are part of St. Luke’s Logan Square and those of us who are here from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries – we are connected. Because our communities are connected through our fellowship in Jesus Christ.

St. Luke’s and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries are both setting off on unknown journeys. Our looking for a new office in no way compares to your looking for a new place of worship – however, this is a time of great change for our ministry too. When we moved in here, the ELCA barred openly gay and lesbian people from serving as pastors and we were supporting a community of 46 LGBTQ seminarians and pastors unrecognized by the ELCA. There had been 9 extraordinary ordinations of openly LGBTQ people – your pastor was the 10th. There have been about that many just in the past year. There are now 185 LGBTQ ministers and ministry candidates in Proclaim, the community program of ELM. In fact 5% of all ELCA seminarians are members of Proclaim.

These are times of growth, change, uncertainty, doubt, fear and faith for our communities – and the readings today are stacked full of these themes!

Pastor Erik left you with a cliffhanger last week. What WILL happen next? What will happen next for St. Luke’s? For ELM? Well, let’s start by looking at what happened next for the disciples. After the growing drama of Holy Week, we now find the disciples one week later, huddled together in a locked house.

You’ve probably heard this referred to as the “Doubting Thomas” story. Thomas had to see the wounds in Jesus’ body in order to believe he truly was the resurrected Christ. I’ve often heard the text described that way. But I noticed something different this time. Thomas wasn’t the only one who needed tangible proof to recognize Jesus. At the beginning of this story, the disciples are hiding out, behind locked doors. Jesus appears in the room and speaks to them, saying “Peace be with you.” You might think that would be the point where they recognize him, after he “apparated” through the wall. But according to the text: then, he showed them his hands and his side. And then the disciples rejoiced.  They recognized Jesus after they saw his wounds.

While Thomas missed this first appearance, he was there the second time and asked to see the wounds as his friends had. Jesus shows him – puts Thomas’ hand on his and in his side. Then Jesus goes on to say that blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Why does he say this? I’ve always heard it as sort of a diss – “if you really loved me, you wouldn’t need to see these wounds.” But I read it differently this week. Jesus knows that his disciples will go out to tell the story to people who will need to believe this unbelievable story without their own firsthand account.  These were his people. Every one of disciples had witnessed firsthand the profound, provocative, and life-changing ministry of Jesus Christ. They witnessed the resurrection. And when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection, he gave them the tools they needed to go out and tell his story – he showed them his wounds, and brought them a word of peace. Let go of your fear. Peace be with you. And then he commissioned them to go out and share what they had seen and heard to other who would be asked to believe without seeing.

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Members of the “Goodsoil” coalition stand before the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in silent witness to policies of discrimination. Pastor Erik (third from left) can be seen prior to losing all his hair.

St. Luke’s has been in such a place of growth these past 10 years that you may at times lost track of who is new and who is old. And over time the new become old, right? Perhaps there is a story here about the founders and the new people and who behaves which way and for what reasons. We have that too at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries – the seminarians in our community all started their education after the 2009 vote. They weren’t there when pastors were put on trial for being gay. They didn’t cast a ballot at churchwide. They didn’t carry a sign, or wear the stole of a pastor kicked out for being gay. In many ways, some of them don’t really know a church that doesn’t welcome LGBTQ pastors. Part of the work we do in our community is to keep those stories real for them – those who WERE there, who did place their hands in the wounded side of the church are still in our community and tell these stories.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

You will have new members of the community of St. Luke’s in the coming years. They won’t know this sanctuary. They were not here for Erik’s extraordinary ordination – many of you weren’t. They will not have been here for the conversations and the vote you took to follow your call in new ways. They may not know that you were the first congregational home for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. You will have to tell them what you witnessed – you will keep alive the spirit that exists here now in the congregation of St. Luke’s as it grows. Like Thomas, and the rest of the disciples, you won’t always have the tangible proof to show the future members of the congregation what was here. You are witnessing it now. And you will tell them, so it becomes their story too. And they who believe it through your witness, will be blessed.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I saw a video on Facebook recently that talked about what prevents people from achieving their dreams. The producers interviewed 11,000 people and asked them what stood between them and their dreams. The dominant answer was fear. One woman in the video summed it up this way – you stand between two choices: “Your fear and your faith.”

I think there are two central ways we choose our faith – we do this through the grace of a God who shows up and gives us what we need. And we do this through fellowship – the kind so beautifully written about in our other readings for today.

 “…but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”

Like the disciples being commissioned to leave their locked hideout, St. Luke’s Logan Square and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries are heading out on new paths. You have seen, experienced, and touched things here that you will need to tell others who come after you, so they believe the story of St. Luke’s. We will need to find new ways to have fellowship with one another. We’ll continue in some of the old ways. I’ll continue to tell the story of this remarkable congregation as I travel– how you had faith in Pastor Erik, how you imagined a new way of being church together – how we invested in you and watched you grow.

I can’t wait to tell the next chapter of the St. Luke’s story and to work with you all to imagine how you and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries can continue in fellowship with each other.

As the song goes, “we walk by faith.” This faith comes from our fellowship with each other and  a God who give us the tools we need to do God’s work in the world. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. And sends us out to tell what we have seen and heard.

Amen.

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