January 26, 2019
In a small town, it’s kind of fun watching the kids grow up. Sometimes they go off to college or the military and then return. It takes some adjustment to think of John’s son or Kathy’s daughter as an adult. After all, you knew them when they were just learning to ride their bicycle.
Our gospel for today has the people of Nazareth looking on their hometown boy, Jesus, in a new light. Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. On the sabbath he goes to the synagogue and is invited to read scripture. He is handed the scroll from Isaiah and reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
And then he tells the people, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
It is a bold claim! Jesus is telling them he is the Messiah, the long-promised Son of God. Mary and Joseph’s son – the Messiah?! We knew him when he was just learning how to saw wood! Could our hometown boy, Jesus, really be the Messiah? But in this message Jesus reveals his mission. He is about bringing good news. He is the gospel message come to life.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he goes about doing all the things the prophet Isaiah foretold. He cures people of many diseases. He feeds the hungry and gives hope to the downtrodden. He welcomes the outcasts and breaks down the barriers that separate people. He brings the Lord’s favor to all those around him.
Sometime later John the Baptist is in prison. John is feeling discouraged and questioning whether Jesus truly is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus tells his disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” In effect, Jesus is referring back to Isaiah saying, “I have been doing the things that the scriptures foretold the Messiah would do. You have witnessed it. It’s my life’s mission.
As Jesus’ modern-day disciples we share in this ministry. We are called to continue the work that Jesus began. We, too, are anointed to do the work of God. We, too, have a mission.
Today, we celebrate 133 years of ministry of Immanuel Lutheran Church of Almelund. This week 133 years ago, on January 31, 1887, the Christian people of Almelund took the name Immanuel – God with Us – and founded this church. Ever since that day, faithful people gathered here have been the hands and feet of God’s mission and ministry for this community.
Throughout the last 133 years, thousands of people have: worshipped in this sanctuary, been baptized at this font, been married at this altar, and been commended to God’s eternal care. This faith community has welcomed people into its fellowship, as we have ministered to one another. We have reached out beyond our walls spreading the good news of God’s love and salvation to people near and far.
From time to time it is appropriate to look at our mission statement and reflect on how that is being lived out and what it still calls us to do. Immanuel’s mission is to be “A welcoming community rooted in Christ, growing in faith and serving with joy!”
Being a welcoming community starts with invitation. The number one way that new people come to church is when someone invites them. Each of us has a role to play in inviting others to worship. Well over half of the people of Chisago County, 57%, have no affiliation with any community of faith. These are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. There is a mission field right outside our doors.
There was a time when people just showed up at church. If they moved to a new area, they visited local churches to find one that was right for them. That isn’t happening like it used to. If we want people to come here, we need to invite them.
Who might you invite? I encourage you to think about that, and then actually invite people to come to Immanuel.
Maybe that means inviting them to worship, giving them a ride and attending worship with them. Maybe that means inviting them to be part of one of the groups of the church: the Quilting group or Prayer Shawl group, the Sunday School or Youth Group, the Choir, a circle or Bible study group. There are lots of ways to welcome people into this community and it starts with a personal invitation.
When people come, we need to create room for them, to find their place. That means if they happen to sit in a pew where you often like to sit, be gracious about it! Invite them to coffee, sit with them and talk with them. As much as we all enjoy reconnecting with our friends during fellowship hour, it can feel lonely for a newcomer if everyone is so busy talking to their friends that no one talks with them. Talk with visitors. Get to know them. Find out what brought them here. Think about the ways they might connect with this church.
God brings people together with all the varied gifts needed to do God’s mission and ministry here. Learn about people’s gifts, and interests and needs. Consider ways that new people might get involved and welcome them to be part of it.
New people bring new ideas and new expectations. So, part of being a welcoming community is being open to new ideas and new ways of doing things rather than being tied to the way we’ve always done it before.
Another part of being a welcoming community is getting along with one another. We are in a particularly divisive time in our nation. But we are still called to love our neighbors. We are called to treat one another with love and respect. When we hurt one another, which happens in community, we are to apologize and forgive each other. This can be hard to do, but it is what love requires. It can help to remember why we are here. We are here to be God’s people in this place. We are here to love of God and love of one another.
Rooted in Christ
The next part of our mission statement says we are rooted in Christ. When you think about roots of a tree, they serve several important functions. They ground the tree, keeping it solidly in place. When storms come and the wind blows the tree stands firm because of those roots. Roots are also a way the tree receives nourishment.
As people rooted in Christ, our faith keeps us grounded. When storms come into our lives, and the winds of change blow, our roots help us stand firm. As Christians, being rooted in Christ nourishes us with God’s word and helps us to grow and produce good fruit.
Growing in Faith
That ties into the next part of our mission statement, “growing in faith.” We grow in faith individually and together. Growth brings change. Change is part of our life together. If there were no change, no growth would be possible.
As a Christian community committed to growing in faith, we intentionally support the growth in faith from the youngest to oldest among us. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Bible Camp, Confirmation, and Youth Group help foster the growth of faith in the next generations. During Lent our confirmands will be meeting with mentors to talk about what faith means to each of them. It is a great way to learn from one another across the generations as we all grow in faith.
For all of us, worship is a prime way to foster growth in faith. As we hear God’s word and reflect on what that means for our lives, it helps us grow in our faith. As we share those faith journeys, like Kris did this morning, it helps us recognize how God is at work leading us and guiding us to grow closer to him. Might you be willing to share your faith story? Telling your story can bring growth for you and for our community.
Bible study groups and the Naomi Circle provide ongoing ways to foster growth in faith as we study God’s word together. The Sarah Circle focuses on growing in faith and friendship through service. And that leads us to the last part of our mission statement – serving with Joy!
Serving with Joy!
The natural outcome of being a welcoming community rooted in faith, growing in Christ is serving with joy. As James wrote, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Part of an active faith is expressing that faith through serving others. We do that as a community whenever there is a funeral, like there will be tomorrow. Service groups come together to provide hospitality and comfort to grieving families. We do that in informal ways when we visit those who are sick or home bound, give rides to the doctor, care for one another’s kids, or bring meals to people going through a tough time. We also serve as we gather items for people in need – as we fill blessings bags, or donate food to the food shelf, or fill a tree with hats and mittens.
Did you know we are helping build a house in Haiti? Casey Sandberg is on a mission trip to Haiti. We sent a check with her for $15,000 from the John and Alice Mortenson bequest, to pay for the materials to build a house in Haiti. John and Alice would be so happy to support one of our young people going on a mission trip. They’d be thrilled to know that a family in Haiti will have a home from the generous donation they gave to this church.
This congregation has helped people near and far as we supported a local family whose house burned to get ground shortly before Christmas, and as we are sponsoring eight students in Itonya, Tanzania to be able to attend school.
Working together as God’s people at Immanuel of Almelund we are faithfully living into our mission as a “Welcoming community rooted in Christ, growing in faith and serving with joy!” All of this we do with enthusiasm and punctuate that with an exclamation point! We are joyful in our service!
As we live into our mission, we join with Jesus in fulfilling the mission from Isaiah that Jesus claimed as his own as he began his ministry. As we live into our mission, we fulfill the great commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that God has commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). As we live into our mission, we fulfill the great commandment: “Love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:37). As we live into our mission we serve as God’s hands and feet bringing God’s love to the world.
Happy 133 anniversary Immanuel. We pray that God will continue to bless this ministry as we continue to faithfully live into the mission to which we are called. Amen!