Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus our savior. Amen.
I am full of gratitude today. And in all truth, if I don’t take this opportunity to express it, my heart may burst.
So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for extending to me this call to serve as one of your pastors. I am honored, and I am humbled to stand in this pulpit today.
There are some specific words of thanks that I also believe need to be said.
There is a group of people who worked long and hard to navigate the complicated process of calling a pastor; they are your Call Committee. That process left me feeling both exhausted and energized at the same time. I cannot imagine how they must feel. They were faithful, had working and (trust me) thorough; very, very thorough. (It makes a difference when the chair of the committee is the retired county prosecutor!) If any of the members of the Committee are here in the Sanctuary today, I’d ask you to stand up to be thanked.
Thank you all, for your time and for the depth of your love for this congregation, and for walking together through this process.
Another group that needs to be recognized is your staff. This past week, I’ve come to know them as fantastic leaders and committed followers of Jesus. I’ve got to tell you: I’ve been through a congregational building project. I know how much work that is for the staff. And I’ve been through a pastoral transition. I’m very aware of the high level of additional stress that can cause for a congregational staff.
But in my whole career, I’ve never had to do both of those things at the same time. I get tired just thinking about it. But with Pastor Peter’s guidance, and Pastor Dean’s leadership, your staff did the heavy lifting necessary to ensure that the excellence of Trinity’s ministry did not suffer. You people need to be thanked and recognized for your hard work and your dedication. And so I’d ask any Trinity staff members who are present to please stand.
Thank you, all of you. I am so looking forward to being on this team and working alongside of you.
Finally, I need to express my great gratitude to God for leading Trinity through his time of transition and change and for leading me and my family to this community. Change can be hard. But it is clear to me that God has been present in this process, leading and nudging. Thanks be to God!
I’ve actually been here at Trinity before. Probably 6 or 7 years ago, our family stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn on the north end of town…the one with the water slides. And on Sunday morning, we wanted to find a congregation to go to worship, so we found Trinity and worshipped here. I remember 3 things:
- I remember thinking to myself that the Sanctuary is beautiful. It reminded me of the congregation in south Minneapolis where I grew up.
- I remember thinking that the music was really, really good. And;
- I remember wondering to myself “where in the heck did that guy get that pastor shirt? That is awesome!”
But over the past six months, through that process, I have paid a lot more attention to Trinity. I’ve had the opportunity to become a bit of a student of this congregation. (My wife called me a church stalker, but not in a creepy way.) As I continued deeper and deeper into the call process, I’ve had lots of time to think and reflect on what God is up to at Trinity, and where God is leading us. As someone who has been on the outside looking in, I have some observations that I can share with you. After today, I’ll no longer have that unique perspective. So here’s what I’ve noticed so far :
- The people of Trinity are bold. Trinity is a place of mission. Everyone I’ve met from Trinity, with no exceptions, have talked about how much they love this congregation, and how committed they are to its growth, not just for the sake of growth, but for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Deeply embedded in the DNA of this place is the understanding that this is not your church, or my church…this is the church of Jesus Christ. And we exist to carry out God’s mission here. I am deeply honored to be a pastor called to a place that thinks that way.
- The facilities at Trinity are amazing. When I first toured here, I stood in the Sanctuary…I stood in the Fellowship Hall…I walked the hallways, and while I tried to play it cool, and a little bit hard-to-get in front of the Call Committee, I was in awe. This is a tremendous facility. And the chutzpah it took to build as you did, well again, that reflects your boldness. And while the building is used well, we are going to continue our work to ensure that Trinity is a place known as a center of life and hope for our whole community.
- Together, we are ready to step into something new. The overwhelming sense I’ve had since I entered the call process is that God has positioned Trinity for its next phase of growth. There is a particular mission God is calling us to. As I’ve spoken with people this week and I’ve heard your passion, I’ve begun to catch glimpses of what it might look like. In the next couple of months, much of our time together is going to go into fleshing this out. But I am confident of this: God has prepared Trinity for whatever God has in store. One of my favorite questions to ask in any group is: “What is God up to here?” That is a question we are going to explore together.
Today, I feel a bit like the Disciple Peter on that boat from our Gospel lesson, ready to take a step.
Remember that it was late at night, and the storm is intense…wind… waves…rain… lightning and thunder. And the disciples, out in their boat without Jesus, had been struggling to keep afloat for quite awhile. They were experienced fishermen, they knew boats and storms. I’m sure they were wondering under their breath “why did Jesus send us out here tonight? Couldn’t he have waited until morning?”
For hours the disciples have been alone within the storm. They’ve got to be exhausted.
It’s in this moment, when their energy reserves are spent, that Jesus shows up.
I’m sure that the first reaction of the disciples once they recognized Jesus was relief. “Finally, here he is…he will save us.” Well, yes…but not right away. First, something came over Peter…for some reason, he wanted to walk out into the middle of the storm with Jesus. “Lord, if it is you, let me come to you on the water.” In other words, “Jesus, what you’re doing…I want to do that too!” A disciple is someone who tries to be like their master…to do what the master does, so in some ways this makes complete sense. But I try to imagine the reaction of the other disciples. “Are you nuts? No way. Why would you do that? Let’s just get Jesus on board, he’ll calm the sea, and then let’s get to shore.”
But Jesus looks Peter in the eye, and says “come.”
And with that one, simple word, Peter was empowered, and he stepped out, and he walked.
And here’s the important take-a-way: Jesus always tells his disciples to take the step. Jesus always tells his disciples to take the step.
Stepping into the new can feel risky. My son, Nathan took a step like this two weeks ago. Now, I believe that there are two kinds of people in the world: Boundary Waters Canoe Area people, and everyone else. I have been going up there since I was a kid. I love it. And for the last couple of years Nathan has been bugging me to bring him up there. “When you’re older…when you’re bigger” I would tell him. Two weeks ago, we finally went, the two of us; his first trip. It was short; just a few days. And it was full of new experiences for him…it was a challenge…and we had a great time. We only flipped the canoe over with all of our stuff 3 times. I blame him. He blames me. I’m right.
But there is always risk whenever we step into something new. Do you remember the storms that blew through the Boundary Waters overnight two weeks ago? The ones that made the news? The ones that trapped some canoers under trees at their campsites? Yeah, we were those storms. It was intense…wind… waves…rain… lightning and thunder. Do you know how they frequently describe the strong winds that come with severe weather as sounding like a freight train? I heard that train. From 1am to 4am, I laid in the tent, listening to the storm, listening for the sound of the big trees cracking, and I prayed. We came through it just fine, though I’ll admit that it was pretty scary for me. Nathan? He slept through the whole storm.
That trip, that step that Nathan took into the new, didn’t have to happen. Nathan could have chosen the path of the summer couch-potato. But I give him credit that he wanted to take the step…wanted to experience God’s creation in a way that was totally new to him. He chose taking a step over standing still.
Our God is neither stationary nor stagnant. Our God is a God of perpetual motion. Nothing stands still for God. God continues to create…continues to redeem…continues to work within the lives of God’s people. And God asks God’s people to move…to step…to reach out…to love, to serve, to care.
So, today’s Gospel is also our story of being called out of the boat. We are all like Peter. Jesus calls all of us into motion. It would often be safest and easiest to remain in the boat. And there are times when being in the boat is exactly where we are called to be. But there are also times when God calls us out of the safe, and into the challenging…out of the comfortable, and in to the new.
It will be a hard. Remember that Peter, when he took his eyes off of Jesus and turned his attention to the wind and waves of the storm, began to sink. Likewise, we will take our eyes off of what Jesus calls us to do. But just like he did with Peter, Jesus will reach out to us, and will lift us up. This is the promise God makes.
Jesus’ single word to Peter: “Come.” It is also his word to each of us.
I don’t know what that might look like for you. Jesus might be calling you to step out of an unhealthy relationship; or he might be calling you into a new way of serving. Or, perhaps like me six months ago, God might be asking you to explore a vocational change. Whatever it may be, remember that God loves you too much to just let you stay the same. My question for you is: “What is the ‘new’ that God might be calling you to step into?”
And as a congregation, I firmly believe that Jesus is calling us into something new together. There is a new vision that God has for us.
We are ready. We are open to that call. We have strong leadership and an outstanding staff. We are a bold community yearning to follow God; we have a facility that will serve our community well, and we are open to God’s call. Let us listen and look for Jesus…listen for his voice asking us to “come.” And together, let’s follow.