Lean Back, Kick Forward

All Saints C-22
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
November 6, 2022

For those
who walked with us,
This is a prayer.

For those
who have gone ahead,
this is a blessing.

For those
who touched and tended us,
who lingered with us
while they lived,
this a thanksgiving.

For those
who journey still with us
in the shadows of awareness,
in the crevices of memory,
in the landscape of our dreams,
this is a benediction.
(Jan Richardson, “For Those Who Walked with Us” The Painted Prayerbook.)

Each season offers insight into the character of God our creator. But for me, chief among them, is the fall. We’ve had a spectacular fall! We are thankful for perfect shirt sleeved days stomping through fallen leaves. We are grateful for horizontal sunshine that bathes the world in dramatic light and shadow. We are grateful for the spectacular kaleidoscope of incandescent colors which reveal themselves after hiding in plain sight during the rest of the year. And there is the somewhat mournful turning inward quality of the fall. After the leaves fall you can see further into the forest. Today, in grief and love, we pause to gaze further into the mysterious inner working of ourselves inherited from those that came before us who journey with us still.

We—each of us—are the product of people. People who nurtured us, taught us, and formed us. Yes. After the leaves fall, we can indeed see further into the forest. Today, we give thanks the loved ones who went before us. Today, at the Table and at the font, we gather with the generations in faith, who, even now, accompany us, cheer for us, and pray for us along with all the saints in light in Christ Jesus.

One of those gathered here with us today, who lingers large in my memory, is Pastor Stephen Swanson. Pastor Steve was my teaching parish pastor more than thirty years ago while I was still in seminary. I spent a little more than a year working and attending at Resurrection Lutheran in Lakeview. Yesterday, I attended his funeral. I credit Pastor Steve with awakening a love for the liturgy in me. Worship at Resurrection Lutheran brought worship to life. I believe my first experience of the Triduum and the Easter Vigil was at Resurrection. Pastor Steve was a remarkable example of a parish pastor who seemed always ready to respond to injustice. Steve hosted Bishop Medardo Gomez of El Salvador many times to raise support and awareness in Chicago who was arrested and tortured for speaking out against the death squads and other abuses of human rights taking place there. While I was still in seminary and doing field work at the Chicago office of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (as it was known at that time), the staff was desperate. They had just five days to prepare for a family of 23 Somalis coming to Chicago. Where could they find a host congregation for so many? I called Steve. Almost without thinking, Steve said yes. A cry of joy rose up in heaven and in the LIRS office that day.

Children playing on a swing lean way back and then kick forward to go higher and higher. Lutherans lean back into the gathering of saints, lean back into the wisdom of the ages, lean back into Word and Sacraments, lean back into Solo gratia, sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola Christos, (by grace alone, by scripture alone, by faith alone, and by Christ alone) and then kick forward. We generate momentum to swing higher and take flight by leaning on the wisdom of the past as a springboard.
St. Paul writes, “And [God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Eucharist presents the truth of this gospel in a mixture of words and actions. You cannot think about such a universal truth logically; you can only slowly digest it! “Eat it and know who you are,” St. Augustine said. Baptism is the same. In water and the Word we rise daily to discover yet again who we are truly created to be.

Only slowly does the truth become believable. Finally, the Body of Christ is not out there or up in heaven; it’s in you—it’s here and now and everywhere. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Slowly, little by little and sometimes, all at once, you and I are the second coming of Christ. We do God’s work with our hands. Together, we are a living sanctuary of hope and grace where we and all who are hurting now may take shelter and grow in grace.

We fall into the rhythm of discipleship, lean back and kick forward following the example of Jesus. Can the gospel’s mission impossible become more possible? Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, look them in the eye and offer the other cheek also. If anyone takes your coat offer them your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you. If anyone steals your stuff, don’t ask for it back. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:27-31)

Theologians will say these Beatitudes are descriptive of God’s kingdom, not prescriptive of what we need to try and be more of. Regular people say, ‘Sure Jesus, in an ideal world, I might be willing to do all these things—but in case you haven’t noticed—this not an ideal world!’ That’s when the Communion of Saints begin to speak to us from the shadows of our awareness, from the crevices of memory, and in the landscape of our dreams. Yes, they say. The power of evil is real. But there’s no way to begin making a better world unless evil is returned with forgiveness and mercy. Let all the Saints sing alleluia!

I go to prepare a place for you. There’s a reserved seat for you right at the great banquet with all the saints in light Jesus has laid out for us. Come, share in the inheritance of all the saints. Come to the table prepared for you.