Any Lord of the Rings fans here? Ever notice the way that the Eagles always show up at the last minute to help save the day? Whether it’s getting Gandolf off of that tower, or providing reinforcements for the battle at hand, the Eagles are always right on time! In the black church, there’s a saying: “our God is an ‘on time’ God”; meaning that God is there when we need him.
Of course, with both Eagles and with God, it may seem as if they simply “show up” suddenly, out of nowhere. But as anyone who has lived in Alaska will tell you, Eagles are always there. They’re always watching– they can see for miles in all directions– watching and waiting, and they are ready in an instant to swoop down and take care of business, whether that means grabbing a juicy salmon or protecting their nest. I like to think it is like that with God, too.
And if we believe that God is truly there for us, ready to lift us up in times of need, then we are challenged to behave accordingly. That’s what the prophet Jeremiah is doing today, I think. You may have missed it, but, in today’s somewhat mundane-sounding story about a real estate transaction, Jeremiah is actually taking a huge risk! Although the ancestral laws of his time would have allowed Jeremiah the right to “redeem”, to buy back, his family’s land, it was not the best time for a big purchase. The country was under siege by the Babylonians!
This was a decidedly “low point” for the people of Judah. As their nation was being invaded, it would have seemed to most folks a better time to divest, than to invest. In acquiring land as his country was being invaded, Jeremiah might have seemed very foolish. But he was merely following his vision, sent to him from God. And God has vision that reaches far into the future! He tells Jeremiah to keep the deeds “in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time”. God is demonstrating faith in God’s people, telling Jeremiah, “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land”. God encourages Jeremiah – and by extension, us, today, here at St. James, Kent – to look ahead and not backward. To take risks, in faith.
Those of you who attended last weekend’s wonderful Stewardship Dinner had the privilege of hearing my friend and colleague, Jeffrey Hermann, managing director at Seattle Repertory Theater, speak about the similarities between leading an arts organization and leading a faith organization like ours. Jeff introduced us to the Cycle of Renewal suggested by the “turnaround king”, Arts Manager, Michael Kaiser. Kaiser has provided leadership for organizations as diverse as the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C., Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Royal Opera House in London. In his work, Kaiser noticed four steps that can and do lead organizations out of a negative cycle.
In the way that our Scriptures are translated for us, from either Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic (or from Latin, in the case of the King James Bible) into English, I will now translate Kaiser’s Four Steps from the language of “arts” to the language of “church”. Ready?
Step one is to “Create Astonishing Art”; for us that means to Create Astonishing Worship. Worship often includes art – in music, images, movements – and its creativity and imagination honors our creative and gracious God. So it must be “astonishing”, arresting, excellent, inspiring; never humdrum or “just because”, not stuck, or lackluster. Because it reflects the beauty and majesty of our amazing God, who is always alive and changing and continuing to create our world. That’s number one.
Step Two is “Aggressive Marketing”; for us, this can mean Evangelism. Sharing the great and glorious news that Jesus is alive and still healing and feeding and loving in the world. That each and every person we meet – including and perhaps especially those who have been excluded and marginalized by the world – are beloved of God and worthy of blessing and attention. And we “market” that news every time we send out a newsletter about our ministries, or a flyer about an event, or pass out a card about our services or outreach program. Marketing!
Step Three is “Build Your Family”; for us, this can mean Fellowship and Education and Pastoral Care and Social Justice. Whether through our Loaves and Fishes dinners, or in Bible study, in our Godly Play program, or whenever we visit someone in the hospital or bring Communion to their homes, we are sharing stories and building up peoples’ faith as part of the Family of God.
Step Four is “Raise Money”; for us, we call this Stewardship, which is not only about cultivating the time, talent and treasure of our congregation, but also about wisely stewarding our other gifts: our facilities, our clergy, and our staff. And these resources then are to be reinvested in creating more astonishing Worship and Programs, and letting people know about them, and continuing to build our family. It is a positive, grace-filled cycle, one that looks forward, boldly, in the ever expanding circles of God’s love and far reaching vision.
Last week, our House of Bishops met in the City of Detroit, a city which itself has undergone a much-needed process of renewal. Among all the business to which Bishops must attend, these men and women took time to pray about the current climate of pessimism in our world. I think we may feel that pessimism as a Church; that we are shrinking, irrelevant, and that we need to make cuts instead of expand. I’m proud to tell you that our Bishops – like Seattle Rep, who is now flourishing — took an optimistic, prophetic stand, and I am glad to share part of their message with you this morning:
We lament the stark joylessness that marks our present time. We decry angry political rhetoric which rages while fissures widen within society along racial, economic, educational, religious, cultural and generational lines. We refuse to look away as poverty, cruelty and war force families to become migrants enduring statelessness and demonization. We renounce the gun violence and drug addiction that steal lives and crush souls while others succumb to fear and cynicism, abandoning any sense of neighborliness.
Yet, in all this, “we do not despair” (2 Cor. 4:8.). We remember that God in Christ entered our earthly neighborhood during a time of political volatility and economic inequality. To this current crisis we bring our faith in Jesus. By God’s grace, we choose to see in this moment an urgent opportunity to follow Jesus into our fractured neighborhoods, the nation and the world.
Every member of the church has been “called for a time such as this.” (Esther 4:14) Let prophets tell the truth in love. Let reconcilers move boldly into places of division and disagreement. Let evangelists inspire us to tell the story of Jesus in new and compelling ways. Let leaders lead with courage and joy.
And so that is just what I intend to do! Encouraged by the prophet Jeremiah, by our House of Bishops, and by a God who protects us under her wings, who liberated us out of Egypt with the power and wisdom of mighty Eagle: let us look toward the future. With God’s help, let’s joyfully and courageously Astonish, Market, Build and Raise up ministries for tomorrow. Are you with me? Yes?!
Then let the people of God, rejoice together and say AMEN!