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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Installation of Ann Gonyea - October 11, 2015

Installation of Ann Gonyea
Eden, Munising
October 11, 2015

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.

Hallelujah!  How good it is to sing praises to our God!  How pleasant it is to honor God with praise!  We have a lot to praise God for today.  We thank God for claiming Ann as God’s child in the waters of baptism, calling her to seek God’s face, gifting her with an ongoing relationship with Christ, and walking alongside her the whole of her life, guiding her footsteps, whispering in her ear, changing her direction, giving her ideas, and leading her through several careers which will contribute to her gifts as a leader in the church.  We thank God for the support and love she receives from her husband Larry who gives her encouragement and was willing to go with the flow.  We thank God for the support of Ann’s home congregation, Bethany in Ishpeming, who held her in prayer, affirmed her calling, and helped make a seminary education financially possible.  We thank God for the generosity of the churches of this Synod, that through their mission support dollars contribute to the Fund for Leaders which also helped pay for Ann’s education, an education that has equipped her and readied her to come to this place, at this time, in the year of our Lord 2015, to be the pastor of Eden Lutheran  Church.  And we thank God for the people of Eden, who love this church, and whom God has called to work in the mission field of Munising, to make a difference in the world in Jesus’ name.  It is a good day to praise God.

In the readings that Pastor Ann chose for today, I hear a clear message, a clear call, for the people of God to make the thing the thing.  And what I mean by that is, you know and I know that we live in the midst of information overload, double booked schedules, full calendars, and multiple demands - on our time, on our pocketbooks, on our sensibilities, on our emotions.  We suffer hearing a cacophony of voices that give conflicting messages about what to believe, what to hope for, where to invest ourselves, what is important, and where our priorities should lie.  We are pulled in many different directions, pressured from many different sides. 

Even the church has been challenged to keep the thing the thing.  The church, every church, is experiencing the pushes and pulls of new cultural forces, of anxiety surrounding finances and programming, of wondering how to cover all the bases with reduced resources.  And basically fighting a vague sort of grief and worry over what’s going to happen in an uncertain future.  It’s easy for the thing, the core reason for being, the very heart of ministry, and why we do what we do, to get lost.

So what is the thing?  And how to we keep it central?

Well our readings today offer some guidance.  From Isaiah, “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD.  Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.”  The prophet Isaiah proclaims, if you want to know what you’re made of, and if you want to know what God is up to, look back to who made you and what God was up to then.  Isaiah speaks a word of comfort to a people who aren’t so sure that God is on their side.  But Isaiah says, remember, remember the blessings God showed to Abraham and Sarah.  To those people who are weary, who have been reduced by war and a scattering, who wonder just what in the world God is up to, Isaiah says, you are in a relationship with God that began long ago, and God has not forgotten you.

Way back when, in the year of our Lord 1905 to be exact, that would be 110 years ago, God called folks to establish a community of faith in Munising.  A church was built: A place for worship, and instruction, a place where people would be equipped to minister to each other and the community, a place to learn and teach, and baptize and be nourished in the word and sacraments.  The folks who built Eden, in this beautiful garden of a place, even on chilly snowy days, had a vision for ministry.  Their vision for this mission field is reflected in your architecture, in the details of your building.  I’m thinking that their choices weren’t just about thematic decorating and color schemes, they were inspired by the gospel story of Jesus telling his disciples to cast their net into deeper water.  They pulled in so many fish that they couldn’t be counted.  To cast a net is to not be picky about who you drag in here.  To cast a net is to be inclusive, far reaching, and bold.  There’s not a lot of conversation between fisherman and fish with net casting.  There’s no coaxing with a worm that’s dangled in a tantalizing way to lure the fish closer to hook them in.  There’s no waiting to see if someone takes the bait.  Casting a net is bold, proactive, fearless.  Hear the prophet Isaiah, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn.”  Look to your own history with God, your church’s history, your personal story with God, and let that be a blessing to your present, and your future.

More guidance comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise….”  Paul isn’t full of a lot of compliments for the Corinthians, and neither does he give false praise.  Paul writes to people who are not particularly wealthy, or socially elite, or people who have a lot of influence in politics of the day, or even what Paul would call wise.  They’re just regular folks, regular folks who know something extraordinary, regular folks who carry a conviction that much of the world scoffs at, regular folks whom God calls to believe and do something that defies what the world deems to be important – we proclaim Christ crucified for Christ alone is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  That is our core, that is our reason for gathering, that is the reason that this church exists, and that is what shapes who we are and what we do.  If the goal is to get new members to pay the bills, if the goal is to bring in more children because we want things to look and sound how they used to, if the goal is to have this church standing so I can have my funeral here, than we have lost sight of the thing.  Then what is truly essential has gotten buried by our own concerns and fears and desires.  The mission of this congregation and every congregation is to embody and proclaim Christ crucified.  That’s it.  That’s all.  If together we can find ways to keep the thing the main thing, if together we can find ways to do that and be that, I believe God will bless our efforts, the Spirit will move, and who knows what will come.

In our gospel reading, Jesus answers the question of “What is the thing?” in simple and straightforward language, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Here is the gospel in one fell swoop.  God loved you and loves you.  So love one another so well, that others see and know that you know something that they want to know too.  It’s all about love, it’s love in action, love received and given, love extended to each other, people we know, which is easy, and love intentionally poured out on those that may not be so easy to love, on people we don’t know so well, love cast out like a net, boldly, fearlessly, in a far reaching throw that sails in a wide arch to reach over the whole community, to everyone, and out into the world.

Love of course, can be difficult. After all, we see the love of God most clearly where it is most difficult to look, to the cross, to the suffering of the crucified one.  We depend upon the love of God most desperately when we fear its absence and doubt its presence.  It is when we are afraid, when the space between our broken pieces is filled with grief, anger, pain.  But what the world cannot see, and what we doubt in dark moments, Jesus proclaims with his life, death, and resurrection.  That God is with you, and has been from the beginning, and before the beginning, and now, God has blessed you people of Eden Munising, and you Pastor Ann Gonyea, God has blessed you with each other, to partner together to work for the purposes of God, and bring into being a living proclamation, a way of being in this community that shows people the transforming power of God’s love.  Together, you will tell this story, and you will live this story, and you will share this story, so that everyone will know that you are disciples of Jesus, and you have been sent to cast a wide net, boldly, fearlessly, in a far reaching throw that sails in a wide arch to reach over the whole community, to everyone, and out into the world.  Thanks be to God. 

Amen.

Pastor Katherine Finegan

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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