a letter of faith

Romans 1, May 3, 2015 Sermon

My younger sister, Andrea, still really believes in sending letters through the mail and so, periodically, I’ll get one from her. I just got one this last week. Usually, it’s to tell me what she’s been thinking or up to. Often it’s to share a hilarious card she’s found. I get thank you notes from my niece and nephew after Christmas and their birthdays. They get right to the point of their letter and thank me for any gifts I’ve given them, always adding their own personal flair to the letter. Their handwriting and their choice of words makes my heart sing. And my dad and I are also exchanging letters each month, talking about life and ministry. Receiving a letter is like a piece of them shows up right in my home, like they are right there with me, telling me things, asking me things. It feels like we’re together.

Today’s scripture is a letter from Paul. He was a letter writer and most of the letters found in the New Testament are attributed to him. He was also a mission developer and he most often wrote to places where he’d started churches. His purpose for writing was to encourage, to trouble shoot, to inspire, to problem solve, to tell them to behave. This letter we read today to Rome is the one place he hasn’t been yet. He longed to get there and to know them and to start a church there. But, at this point, he hadn’t.

So we get in on the very beginning of the relationship between Paul and the Romans. Paul tells them who he is – a servant of Jesus Christ – and then goes on to explain who God is and what God does through Jesus. Then he gives them the lay of the land concerning Jesus. Jesus, a descendant of David, the Son of God, who was raised from the dead. Jesus gives you grace and, because you are his children, sends you out in faith to tell others – the ones you’re not supposed to talk to or associate with, the Gentiles – about Jesus.

After he’s laid all that out, it’s then that he greets them, just as we greet one another here in worship each week, in the name of Jesus, and tells them he’s praying for them, giving thanks to God for them, that he longs to meet and know them.

He longs to meet and know them so that he can share a spiritual gift and strengthen them. And then he says this, or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. And then: For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

So, inspired by Paul’s beginning of his letter to the Romans, I thought I would write to you, River of Hope.

Dear River of Hope,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Laura here, your trusty mission developer and pastor. I’ve been called to tell about the Good News of God with my whole life. This Good News was promised in scripture and spoken about by prophets. In order for God to be clear about the Good News, God sent Jesus, a relative of King David, the Son of God, who was raised from the dead.

It’s through Jesus Christ that you and I have received grace and have been given the message to tell others about this Good News through faith. We don’t have to earn it. There is nothing you do to earn it. It is a gift of faith. You belong to Christ. And we’re to tell not just each other but those who we are not supposed to talk to – the people with bad reputations, the ones who openly reject you. And because it’s the best news, how could you not tell others?

I thank God through Jesus Christ for each one of you, because your faith is alive and well. I pray for you daily and weekly and I am often astounded at how I am encouraged by your faith. Sometimes your faith looks and acts stronger than my own and I am grateful for community so that my faith is not left to its own. Let me tell you how my faith has been encouraged:

I am encouraged by Emma and Ellie initiating a fundraising effort to feed hungry people in order to celebrate their birthdays. They were also our first text pray-ers.

I am encouraged by the 55+ dining group and their rabble rousing spirit to go out to transform lives through eating at local restaurants, giving a gift to their server, and then taking up a collection to pay for someone else’s meal in the restaurant. I am encouraged because this group has simply begun to meet. They didn’t wait for me to suggest it or for it to be approved. They just started it.

My faith is encouraged by leaders in this community who have faith that something new will be born out of old, dead, committee structures. A month or so ago, we talked about the Table system and how, for the most part, it’s not working. The Vision Table still meets. The financial stewardship table still meets. Worship and Music still meets. But for everything else, we’ve got to reimagine and give permission for people to do things out of passion and commitment, out of obedience to God – not out of resentment or duty. And as we talked about not knowing what would come next, it was one of the vision table people who said, “well, God will raise up something new out of this. Something has to die in order for there to be new life.”

My faith is encouraged by beer & hymns, as I watched a couple enter MSSB unaware what was happening. After I spoke with them, I watched a handful of you approach and greet them, knowing them from some other context. They were thrilled to have made it to beer & hymns without knowing that’s how their night would go.

My faith is encouraged by Sandy Tracy’s passionate efforts to follow her heart and listen for God’s justice in our world, and to even help make it come about.

My faith is built up through an incredible working partnership with Jim Nelson who inspires me with his faithful living and leading in this community.

My faith is encouraged by the tireless and behind the scenes work Linda Pedersen does for the Synod of which we are part of. And for the candidates running for bishop and their thoughtful, faithful witness to the world and to what God is doing.

My faith is encouraged by Jim Schaefer’s excitement over our Lenten Personal Care kits and by Terry Kempfert and Tanya Shorter’s creative and patient work on the mural.

My faith is encouraged by Jean Gray and Kristi Hoffmann and Sara Shorter, all living with cancer, showing me and all of us what it means to live when your life takes an unexpected turn.

My faith is encouraged by Main Street Sports Bar and McCormick’s and the generosity they showed through the benefit for Kristi Hoffman.

For kids who run track, work part time after school. For kids who take risks in the hallways and in the lunchroom to be kind to the unpopular kids.

My faith is encouraged in worship and especially on this day as we welcome 2 beautiful girls into this family of God. And we get to tell them who they belong to today.

Just imagine how the Holy Spirit works with each of you

You are clearly not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed of the gospel. This Good News, when you let it frame your life, it suddenly becomes about everyone else, not just you, not just me, not just River of Hope. None of this is about us. That is the Good News through Jesus Christ.

And this is just the beginning. What we read today from Paul is just the beginning. Imagine all that is to come for Amelia and Nora, at the beginning of their life with God. Imagine all that is to come for you and for me. I can hardly wait.

All my love,

Pastor Laura