Installation Sermon by Rev. Paul Hoffman on October 20, 2013

This sermon was preached at my installation by the Rev. Paul Hoffman at Lord of Life Lutheran Church on October 20, 2013. I am so very grateful for his presence that day, and for his friendship always.

If you’ve installed anything at all lately, it was probably an update for your laptop software.  A patch, I think they call it in the biz.  You know the drill:  first there’s a pop-up message that something new is available.  (Is it just me, or do those always seem to come at the most irritatingly inconvenient moments?)  Then a dialog box:  You will be guided through the necessary steps to install this software…  Licensing agreement.  (Click)  Validating packages.  Writing files.  Installation time remaining:  8 minutes.  You must quit the following applications before continuing:  Safari.  Word.  Xcel.  Running package scripts.  Finishing the installation.  And then, TRIUMPH!  The installation was successful.  You reboot, and it’s back to business as usual.  Installation, complete.

I find a starkly contrasting tenderness and wisdom and mystery in these installation words of Jesus about scattered seeds.  Their installation into the soil wasn’t quite so orderly or predictable, Christ’s story tells us.  Some seed fell on the path, others on rocky ground.  Some seed fell among thorny plants.  Other seed fell into good soil and bore fruit…  It seems random and haphazard.  Far less predictable than the point, click, agree, authorize, install we’re used to on a Mac or a PC.

Brothers and sisters in Christ:  before there was Microsoft Word, there was another Word.  It’s true.  Hard to believe.  But true.  The Word of God.  Steady.  Mysterious.  Ancient.  Not always so efficient, or convenient.  It’s a Word as old as creation and as recent and immediate as the proclamation of these texts just a moment ago.  And in that Word, God’s Word, there is a tenderness and wisdom and mystery that is well worth considering as we enter into this installation today – pastor and people together.

Oh.  You thought it was just Ron who was getting installed.  You thought this was all about him.  Point.  Click.  Download.  Ron successfully installed.  Done.  Not only is it not solely about him. It is not even just about you here at Lord of Life Lutheran Church.  This is about all of us, the whole people of God.  Part of the wisdom and mystery and tenderness of the Word of God about today’s installation is that it’s about all of us – the whole Christian church across time and place.  What happens here today matter everywhere.  We are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than what happens inside these four walls.

Comfort, comfort my people.  So speaks the ancient prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel 2600 years ago, and so speaks that same prophet to us today.  Comfort, my people.  It should prick our ears and bring us to attention, because only those who are afflicted stand in need of comfort, right?  God wouldn’t be assuring seed sowers like us of God’s comfort if there were nothing about which to be at least a little bit concerned.  God is speaking comfort.  We should be thinking, “Why, wassup?”

And honestly, there’s plenty that should give us pause as God’s people in our weary, wounded world.  There are the gobbling, angry birds of over-commitment and endless choice that cut deep into the fabric of a life of faithfulness.  The over-doneness of our lives stand in contrast to the restful, Jesus, a man of poverty and simple living.  There are the rocky, thorny terrains of cancer, hunger, poverty, unemployment, dysfunctional government to navigate for those who would follow Jesus.  These aren’t even the beginning of a sower’s challenges in the world we inhabit.  But they are here, and they are real. 

And yet, today, with unbridled simplicity, the Living Word of God comes to us and simply, mysteriously, tenderly, wisely says: A farmer went out to scatter seeds.  And, Comfort, comfort my people.

That is the Word of God for this installation.  This pastor.  This congregation.  This church.  This day.  This time.  This rich, fertile, hungering Central California acreage of waiting soil.  Comfort, comfort my people.

It is more complicated than point and click, isn’t it?  It’s not about a patch – a band-aid, a download, a new, quick fix.  It is about a way of life.  Preaching the Gospel.  Teaching the faith.  Visiting the sick.  Comforting the dying.  Burying the dead.  Proclaiming the resurrection in the wake of what will some days seem like insurmountable odds.  Feeding the hungry.  Praying.  Working for justice.  Holding one another accountable.  These are the tasks to which these beautiful, tender, mysterious, are directed for Ron but not JUST Ron.  They are directed to Lord of Life, but not JUST Lord of Life.  These Words of Life are for all of God’s people everywhere.  We are all in this together.

The very same prophet who proclaims a Word of comfort and delight also proclaims the shadow side of our human predicament.  We are people, and even if God’s people, we are like grass.  Stomped on.  Tramped on.  Temporary.  The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.  And therein lies our promise, and our hope.  God’s Word will exist stand forever.

There is a wisdom and a confidence in Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed, don’t you think.  It is just so matter-of-fact.  And so filled with conviction.  A famer went out to scatter seed.  He did what he was created to do.  He was a sower.  And he sowed.  And some landed here, and some landed there, in our patched-up, point-and-click, aching, longing world.  But nonetheless, the sower did what sowers do.  The farmer sowed the seed.

I suspect that, in the days ahead, there will be days that you will not feel like strapping on your sower’s sack of seeds and sowing, Ron.  I suspect that you, people of Lord of Life, will grow weary from time to time of getting back out there in the world and doing God’s work – healing, feeding, loving, teaching, praying.  If you’re like most congregations at this juncture of your ministry, you’ve probably already had a few thoughts about retirement now that the new guy is in town.  We’ve been working awfully hard for long enough.  Glad he’s here to take over now.  And I know for a fact, I know that congregations and pastors just like yours all up and down the West Coast are thinking much the same thing about the magnitude of our work in Jesus’ name.  It’s a hard job, bringing the Gospel today.  And getting harder.  It’s a big job, being Christ for the world.  And getting bigger.

And yet, and yet as sure as sowers get up and go out to sow day in and day out, as long as harvesters, find the crops that have prospered thirty, and sixty and a hundred-fold, go out to harvest…  As sure as Christ has died, and Christ has risen, and Christ will come again, just so sure is the promise:  Our God’s Word will exist forever.

Comfort, comfort my people.  Do your work with strength.  When you break this word down, that’s exactly what it means:  with strength.  Com – with.  Forte (any musicians out there?) – strong.  Be strong.  Do that to which you are called, with strength.  Because God is with you.  No pointing.  No clicking.  No downloads.  Not even an installation is required.  God just simply is with us.

So be strong, people of God.  Be strong in your sowing.  Be strong in rubbing one another’s tired and aching, feet and hands at the end of the sower’s day.  Be tender in words of kindness and gentleness spoken and shared, one to another.  Be strong.  For your strength is not your own, it is the strength of Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  The grass withers.  The flower fades.  Our God’s Word will exist forever.  And for this time, and in this place, you are that living, breathing Word.  Each one of you ordained, each one of you called and claimed to this baptismal task.  Yours is the dying, and yours the rising.  And yours the sowing of the seed.  Here.  Now.  With strength.  For Jesus is in it with you.

In the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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