Sunday, August 7, 2016


Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

First, a disclaimer. I can just about promise you that during the course of my sermon this morning I will likely become emotional, since this is my last Sunday here and likely the last sermon I will preach here.

So, here’s the thing. If that happens, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to let go of that stoic Norwegian or German heritage and just cry right along with me. Do you promise to do that? Okay. Let’s begin.

I want to talk to you today about your treasure. No, it’s not what you think. My last sermon here will not be a stewardship sermon. Instead, I want to talk to you about your treasure--those little things or those experiences that you treasure. Those little things or experiences that bring you joy. That bring goodness and beauty into your lives. Those little things or experiences that you hold in your heart and that are your treasure.

Over the past week, I’ve been sitting several hours in airports, waiting to travel back and forth to Los Angeles for my last interview with my synod for final approval. I’ve had a lot of time to think of my own treasures. Particularly the treasures from this past year. Those little things or experiences that I hold deep in my heart.

Things like
...the way you so warmly welcomed me into this congregation and have supported my learning over this past year, showing me grace when I’ve made mistakes and offering loving suggestions as to how I might be a better pastor.
...the gift of Pastor Mark as my supervisor and all of the things we’ve talked about, so much stuff that I’ve learned from him and our ongoing and never-ending conversation around politics, a subject that both of us love to talk about. And, this year, we’ve had a lot to talk about!
...and of Michell, who knows everyone and who they are related to and who just seems to be able to accept every challenge and solve every problem I throw her way, although, she hasn’t quite yet figured out how to get the bat that flew into my office this past week out of the church.
...and of all of you who I’ve had the privilege to work with this past year in different ways, whether on different committees, or the building project, or in handbells, or in Stephen Ministry.
...the openness and honesty so many of you have shown me, a complete stranger, as you have shared the joys and, yes, the hard times of your lives.
...the ways in which you have gone out of your way to show hospitality-- those little gifts that magically appeared on my desk, the lunch invitations, the cards you sent just to say thanks for a particular sermon, the amazing home-baked goods, the fresh produce from your gardens, or even just the times you dropped in to chat.
...the trust you showed in me by letting me spend time with your children in all their innocence and simple faith and from whom I receive so much love back , including hugs and even a huge lip-smacking kiss I got just last Sunday from one of them. And, yes, even sharing your teenagers with me and all the learning that they bring!
...the way in which the beauty of this place has grown on me--the lush, green rolling hills of this bluff country and, even, the stark shades of gray of this place in the winter.
...the friendliness of small town life--that no matter what, someone always says hello to me as I’m walking to church in the morning.
...and, yes, even the experience of putting the top down on my little convertible and driving some of the back roads of this amazing golden valley.

All of these little things and experiences and so much more have brought such beauty and joy into my life this year. As I began this journey, not knowing for sure where I would end up, not even knowing for sure if I was truly being called to be a pastor, it’s as though with each of these little things and experiences, I’ve been getting glimpses into the kingdom of God.

Glimpses into the kingdom of God. It sounds a little like our story today about Abraham, doesn't it? Called to go to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, he set out, not knowing where he was going. In faith, he waited and watched for the promise--that God would make of him a great nation and would provide a land for his people. And Abraham waited. And he watched. Childless, both he and Sarah waited. And they watched. And they never saw that promise, did they? But along the way, God gave them little glimpses. “Look up into the sky, Abraham!” God said, “Count the stars! This will be your nation.” Or the birth of Isaac at the age of a hundred. The son long promised to Abraham. The son who would be the first of this great promised kingdom. Each experience of beauty and joy gave Abraham a glimpse into the promised kingdom of God.

We wait. And we watch. Just like Abraham and Sarah, in faith we wait and we watch for that promised kingdom of God. What we’re looking for is hard to describe. Those small signs that stand out for us in the middle of a deathly world, signs of life. Of love and beauty. Of goodness. We don’t see them as often as we’d like. We try to cope in between, convincing ourselves that we’ve been faithful, that we’re happy, and that the wait isn’t so bad. But, in truth, it feels endless. And miserable. And sometimes it seems like there just isn’t any hope. And, then, we get a glimpse. Always, it seems, we get a glimpse just when we need it most. And, once again, we are hopeful.

What are the glimpses that give you hope? What are those little things or experiences that bring beauty and love into your life, that give you a glimpse of God’s kingdom? Those things that you hold in your heart and that you treasure. Perhaps it’s your children. Perhaps it’s watching your garden grow. Perhaps it’s looking into a sky that is covered with stars.

Inside your bulletin today, you’ll find a Post-It Note on the "Taking Faith Home" insert. Or, if you don’t have a bulletin, there are pads of Post-It Notes in each pew. What do you treasure? What do you treasure that gives you a glimpse of God’s promised kingdom? Take a moment to think. Write it down as you choose. I’ll give you a minute or two. When you finish, place that note right over your heart.

God has given us his kingdom. It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom by adopting us into his kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit in our baptisms. In the Word and in the bread and wine, Christ is present for us here and now, and forever, and continues to work faith in our hearts. We need never be afraid. We need never give up hope.

I'm reminded of a poem written by my pastor, Michael Coffey, from my church in Texas. The name of the poem is "Count the Stars."

Abraham’s countless stars hover over our troubled heads
Sarah’s sky lights enlighten our skittish steps
our ancestors fill the night sky with testimony
this is not all there is, there is more to come
more than the terra and the ocean
the sky painter who flicks your future on midnight canvas
is making space for your story and song
making and guarding promises still unspoken
opening wormholes to times and places
unreachable by your linear, downward searching mind
so let that muscle in your forehead go and feel your brow drop
and your heart slow and your brain relax and the flow flowing
and rocket on through fear until faith is your Milky Way

Count your stars! Treasure the glimpses you are given into God’s kingdom. Today, put your hand over them on your heart as a gesture of dedication--a dedication to our God, who loves us and desires only good for us and who has given us the same promise that he gave Abraham--the promise of his kingdom and of life into all eternity.

And, thank you, for all of the glimpses of God’s kingdom that you have given me over this past year.

Let us pray. O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Preached August 7, 2016, at Chatfield Lutheran Church.
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - Year C
Texts: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Psalm 33:12-22; Luke 12:32-40

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