Beloved Lyndale. Wow. It’s hard to believe this is really happening. Once upon a time you all took a giant risk and called this fresh out of a chaplaincy residency, puppy pastor who was full of ideas. I had the honor of supporting you as you transitioned out of a pastorate of 35 years with our beloved Rev. Don Portwood. And wow have we been on some adventures of ministry together since then. As I sat down to write this sermon, I kept thinking about one of the hit songs from the 1990s musical Rent, Seaons of Love:
Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes
Five hundred, twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in a life?
How do you measure a… ministry? In emails. In meetings. In protests. In cups for communion. In phone calls, in prayers. In laughter, in tears. But in all seriousness, there actually has been a lot of measurable growth in the last 8 years. We have been able to almost double the size of our operating budget thanks to increasing our pledges by 165% and diversifying funding sources to cover the rest. We have created measurable guides for endowment drawdowns so that we are faithfully sustainable instead of passing deficit budgets on a wing and a prayer. While we used to spend over 50% of our Council meetings pouring over budget spreadsheets, we now spend less than 5 minutes of actual meeting time together on budgeting most months because we have healthier systems in place. The other 50% of Council meetings used to be spent on reports of past work from committees. Now 75% or so of our Council meetings are forward looking, spent strategizing and visioning and problem-solving the big stuff together. Sunday morning worship used to include Claire and two others neither children nor over age 40. Today, we have a whole growing community of Millennial members and friends, about 25 of them on our list for social gatherings. There used to be one big book of handwritten data about our congregants that lived on a dusty shelf in the office. Today, that “big book” lives on my phone in an app with an elaborate backend database. It lives on all the 100 or so phones where you too have downloaded it, if you have been so savvy. Once upon a time there was no regular social media presence. Now, we’ve had several prophetic posts reach tens of thousands of people, with regular solid reach. Speaking of tens of thousands, I have literally 10K emails in my Lyndale archive. That’s perhaps not a good thing. But you get the picture. I could go on with these numbers. They hold some critical stories of transformation and sustainability we’ve built together. But they are not the heartbeat of how we measure a ministry.
That requires measuring in Love, as the song continues:
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
As Jesus said at what we now call the last supper or the first communion meal: “I give you a new commandment – love one another; love one another as I have loved you. It is by this that everyone will recognize you as my followers – by your loving one another.”
There are so many stories I could tell you about this adventure of following in the way of Love we have been on together these last 8 years. There are stories of gorgeous beauty and stories of being in each other’s personal rooms in living hell. And everything in between. Most of these stories are not mine to tell. But I want to share some moments of you loving one another well to remind you that your ministry is so much bigger than your minister. You are the church you have been waiting for. Ministers come and go. We are co-creators and co-conspirators for Love with you and with the Divine. We love you, dearly. And yet it is YOU, you are the body of Christ rising into new possibilities. Let me show you.
Shortly after I started at Lyndale, one of our church matriarchs entered the dying process. Her name was Joyce. As she became bedbound, you all got to work bringing church to her. One of you came to wash her bedroom windows so she had a perfect view of her beloved birds and trees. Others of you brought her great love Doug and the surrounding family food. And one blessed morning, the choir came to serenade her. She was still alert and she smiled with her whole being as she listened. I have no idea if the choir was there for 10 minutes or an hour. It felt like a window of time beyond time. You transported her into the arms of Love beyond our world and gave her a taste of being held in God’s eternity.
As I sat there with you all, I realized that this is why church exists. As long as we are a species that dies, we need church. We need people who know how to show up in the face of death and sing. I have watched the choir do this a handful of holy times: for Joyce; for Dan; for Kayla; for Elly. Maybe one of the reasons so many churches are struggling in these times is that death is not something our culture likes to talk about, let alone show up to sing alongside. I remember thinking that it’s not a great pitch to tell people, “hey, so, you are going to die someday. And you are going to want people around you who know how to show up with you when that is happening. And people who will be tender with you and help you be a healthier mess when your favorite people die too.” But this is what church does, at its best. And from the beginning of its existence at the death of Jesus. This is what you do too, Lyndale. You show up in the face of death and sing, with harmony and love and snotty tears and sometimes awkward laughter. You know how to do this. For actual deaths and for loss that feels like death. You are not afraid of being real with each other. There is no “Sunday best” pretense around here. There is real intimacy of life in community. It’s not always pretty, but it is real and true and good. And as long as you stay real with each other and truly present in the hard stuff of life, you will stay faithfully alive and growing because you will be meeting a need so few other places know how to meet.
There are other ways too that you show up in the face of death and sing. You do it in the streets of protest. You have done so for decades calling for marriage equality, immigrant justice, climate justice, safe and affordable housing, non-nuclear proliferation and so many more rights to the wrongs of the world. And after Jamar Clark was murdered by police officers in November of 2015, you found new strength in your protest song. I will never forget walking into the Mall of America with Elly carrying her protest cane (that doubled as a stool) and then following the lead of the young BLM organizers to shut down transportation to the airport with her. I will never forget standing on a light rail platform with a relatively small group of unarmed, peaceful protestors as hundreds of police in full riot gear with machine guns came down the escalators towards us. White allies were asked to come forward, clergy in particular. We were the line of protection between the police and the black protestors. I don’t remember exactly where Elly was in relation to me, but I know she was nearby. I can still hear her soprano voice in my head singing peace songs and chanting, beaming fierce love through all the armor those police officers wore.
This kind of singing in the face of death requires different kinds of Love. It takes courage in these kinds of public moments. But it also takes a lot of courage in far quieter moments. This was a time of profound discomfort for many at Lyndale. There were days I had pastoral visits with people who needed support navigating release from jail after they were arrested in protests and then would go meet with people grappling with their own anger at the protesters themselves – all within our beloved community.
And yet through some stellar council leadership, through the birth of a lay-lead racial justice taskforce, through cross-church lay-lead curriculum on white privilege, through many a side conversation after a meeting was over to share big feelings, with the tremendous faith organizing of the Center for Sustainable Justice within and beyond Lyndale… We got better at being uncomfortable together. As the horrors of white supremacy baked into our current model of policing kept killing beloveds in our cities, we kept showing up to literally sing and chant in the face of death. And then we kept coming home to each other in church community where we got better at being listening. We got better at following. We got better and moving imperfectly forward. This year, we are putting a reparations line item in our budget at our annual meeting for the first time, making our own history and participating in a collective historic reckoning. And we are not done. Far from it. The path is unfolding before us and you are just getting started. As long as there is a hunger for more justice, what Cornel West calls “love in public,” this church has great adventures to come. As long as there is a hunger for coming back home, for communion despite discomfort, this church has so much more fierce love to continue beaming through the armor of the world.
“I give you a new commandment – love one another; love one another as I have loved you. It is by this that everyone will recognize you as my followers – by your loving one another.”
Lovely Lyndale, thank you for including me and my family in your love. I have a lot more gray hair now – 8 years, 2 kids, one emperor’s presidency, one global pandemic and one mother loss later. I also have a lot more healthy humility. And significantly more softness around the edges of myself, both literally and figuratively.
Thank you for teaching me so much about what it means to love one another well enough to be recognized as followers in the Way of Jesus, in the way of the ancestors, in the way of the mystical healers and justice-makers of the world. As we move into communion time today, I remind you that this is the sacrament of communal Love, of solidarity. It is a tradition celebrated for thousands of years around the world and by billions of people. And while I will not have the honor of celebrating communion with you next time in physical body, I will still be celebrating with you and all of those who celebrate this feast from afar. That is the magic of sacrament – it reminds us that we are one body, measured in Love.
May it be so. I love you. Amen.