Without question, Pastor Stahler‚Äôs and my favorite Saint Peter‚Äôs phrase is ‚Äúcreatively shaping life in the city.‚ÄĚ You hear us saying it, praying it and preaching it all the time. Jared‚Äôs favorite words in that phrase are ‚Äúcreatively shape‚ÄĚ because Jared is a creative guy. Enamored by design, most enthused when he is dreaming about the beauty of form and function, it is no surprise that he has been ‚Äúadopted‚ÄĚ by Vigniellis and is ‚Äústrangely warmed‚ÄĚ through his work with our Design committee. You‚Äôll enjoy the results of their work when the Narthex, with its desk and furniture is finally done. You see, inside Jared Stahler, as inside many of you, there beats a creative designer‚Äôs heart. Neither the Design Committee nor any of you will disagree with me when I say, ‚ÄúBetter him than me.‚ÄĚ
My favorite words in that same phrase are ‚Äúlife in the city,‚ÄĚ with special emphasis on that word ‚Äúcity.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs a special word to me because it evokes two competing images for me: this city, with all its vibrancy, all its diversity, all its promise and all its problems and the city ‚ÄĒ the heavenly one, the new Jerusalem, where God ‚Äúdwells with‚ÄĚ [us]; ‚Äúwipes away every tear from [our] eyes; where ‚Äúdeath will be no more,
neither mourning nor crying nor pain.‚ÄĚ When I hear the word ‚Äúcity,‚ÄĚ this earthy city, that heavenly city and the interplay between them is what comes to mind. I view a major portion of my ministry and of our mission as shaping life in this earthy city to look more and more like life in the heavenly city. In the Letter to the Hebrews, our mission and ministry are described this way, ‚ÄúHere we have no continuing city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.‚ÄĚ
What does all this have to do with the Evangelist Saint Luke and with wholeness, healing and wellness? Just about everything. Because in the Gospel according to Saint Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles, each of which are by the same evangelist/author, Jesus strives, teaches, acts and sends his apostles into the world to make conditions in every earthy city conform to those of the heavenly city of God. God‚Äôs presence, wiped away tears, and a pain-free, crying-free, mourn-free zone is pretty much what Luke portrays Jesus, the apostles and us making to happen. Jesus command, ‚ÄúStay in the city and be clothed with power from on high,‚ÄĚ is not simply about ‚Äúlocation, location, location,‚ÄĚ
it‚Äôs also a definition of the apostles‚Äô purpose and vision and mission and, in Christ‚Äô also yours and mine. Through the crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, God dwells among us, nourishes and heals us so that we, in turn, might creatively shape life within our civil society that mirrors life in the heavenly presence of God. In ‚ÄúJerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth‚ÄĚ that is God‚Äôs will and Christ‚Äôs mission, and God‚Äôs gift to us and call to us rolled up into one. That vision, gift and call ought not only comfort us, bandage wounds and wipe away tears, it also ought to inspire our advocacy, action and, yes, the way we vote so that, as L:uke writes in Acts, we ‚Äúturn this world upside down.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs that ethos and those ethics of God‚Äôs heavenly city that informs and energizes me.
I want to illustrate all of this with another one of my sabbatical stories. It‚Äôs another story from Hattfjeldahl, Norway as I made a family and, it turned out, pastoral call with Per Arne Engdahl at a nursing home 100 yards or so from his parish church. The visit was to Eric, Per Arne‚Äôs ten year old grandson. Eric has been, and will remain, on our prayer list.
Eric is a beautiful, angelic-looking, boy. He‚Äôs ten years old, the youngest son. He has two marvelous older brothers and a beautiful older sister, Thea, whose faith I was privileged to confirm. Eric‚Äôs parents also served as foster parents to two other, younger children, a boy and a girl.
Not long after this beautiful boy was born, his parents and ultimately, his doctors, discovered he had multiple birth defects and is in need of constant care. Normally he stays at home and, is taken to the local public school every day in a specially-equipped van, provided by the government, for his safety and care. At the school, the other children interact with him, but he has his own special room with special equipment and full-time care. Children, parents, grandparents, teachers, nurses, the whole community treat Eric, not as someone different, needy or ‚Äėspecial,‚Äô but simply as one of their own.
I first met Eric while he was staying at the nursing home, near the church, where, again, he had his own room, his own nurse and round-the-clock care. I walked in with his
grandfather, the pastor; the always stolid and solid Per Arne, who hugged him and kissed him and then, almost immediately broke down and began to cry. Fortunately, just like today, I had my oil stock with me, and I hugged him and kissed him and then anointed and prayed for him too and, for good measure, wiped away the tears from his nurse‚Äôs and from his grandfather‚Äôs eyes, just the way we will do this today.
Here‚Äôs the point of my story. Hattfjeldahl and Norway are not the city of God. They just strive to be with medical care and community support given to all. There‚Äôs no talk about ‚Äúentitlements;‚ÄĚ no question about who does or does not pay taxes; no language about anyone refusing to take responsibility for their lives, no looking askance at immigrants or anyone for any reason. No exclusion of anyone from anything church or civic anywhere.
I don‚Äôt want to live in Norway, but I admire what they are striving to do. I do want to live in God‚Äôs painless, tearless, deathless city, both here and on the other side of the grave. I think all of us do.
Every time we gather around God present in Christ at this altar, we can see and taste and experience that tear-less, pain-less heavenly city where death is no more. Erik, from the other side of the Atlantic, our loved ones even from the other side of the grave, gather with us and we can see the shape of God‚Äôs continuing city that is also still to come. Stay in this city, sisters and brothers, and be clothed with power from on high.
Let us pray.
In your Word, O God, life is deeply rooted. By your Word, O God, our faith is always growing. From your Word, O God, you nourish all your people. Through your Word, O God, the church of Christ is one. With your Word, O God, send us forth refreshed and ready to creatively shape life in the city, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen