ULC 100th Anniversary Sermon Bishop Kirby Unti May 7, 2017
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
(Opening Comments of gratitude)
Last week I had the gifted privilege of being able to lay hands on eight wonderful 8th grade Confirmation students at First Lutheran Church in Bothell.
After they professed their faith I laid my hands on their heads and said,
Stir up the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.
To which they responded, “Amen!” Let it be.
Then just before the benediction I turned to them to offer them my appreciation and I said to them. Because you have been formed in this community of faith. Because you have come weekly to hear the voice of Jesus you are likely to be a little different from your peers.
You are likely to be more compassionate, less mean, more willing to do the hard work of forgiveness, more likely to care about those that others don’t and you will have a much wider circle of acceptance.
Friends this is what happens to those who hear the voice of Jesus. It takes up residency in us and over time it shapes us to reflect more clearly the ways of Jesus.
This is why we prayer for our young people to develop wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord.
A classical definition of Biblical wisdom is the patient sorting out of what makes for life.
This is what our Gospel Lesson is about today. This is what the book of John is all about. How do we experience life and have it abundantly.
Jesus is keenly aware that there are many competitive voices out in the world who also offer up a pathway to the abundance of life. Some of them are even big time television preachers preaching a gospel of wealth and success.
Many are not religious in nature. In fact the voice of our culture is one of rugged individualism where anybody if they are willing to earn good grades, work hard, and go to college can also taste the abundant life.
The challenge that everyone of face is whose VOICE are we listening to her. Whose voice do we give the most power and credibility to.
I was once with Desmond Tutu when Kim was a delegate to the World Counsel of Church. Tutu was speaking to a cohort of North Americans. He readily recognized how difficult it is for us not to discern the difference between Jesus voice and the voice of wealth and success.
He was so bold to say, “I don’t know how you can be a Christian in North America and then added it is much simpler in South Africa.
Jesus cautions us in the gospel today to be aware of the many bandits and thieves who in fact do not have the sheep’s best interest in mind. Bandits and thieves are always self-serving. They will promise you the abundance of life knowing full well you may never experience it but you will pad their own coffers.
Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. Later in John Judas will bear this title.
The year I graduated from PLTS – 1878 Gary Pense – the Dean of Students said, “The primary purpose of the church as we enter a new millennium ought to be helping everyone person to discern their vocation.”
Lutherans have a rich history of emphasizing vocation. Notice the word. It comes from the same root word as vocal and voice.
We talk about vocation in terms of understanding what our calling in life is.
One of my greatest joys in life was helping people do vocational discernment. Helping people to listen to Jesus’ call on their life. Because when Jesus call us Jesus uses the all of who we are, the good the bad and ugly, our best moments and our worst moments and leverages our story for the sake of the kingdom of God.
In the last chapter of John we met the blind man. The blind man heard the voice of Jesus before he ever saw Jesus. Jesus was able to heal the blind man and now his story is told over and over again to help us understand what it means to listen to the voice of Jesus. What it means to see?
Friends I love University Lutheran because you have been in the business for the last 100 years helping people discern their calling, helping people to know how God can use their lives, helping people hear the voice of Jesus.
I happened to be blessed 10 fold by one who was formed in this congregation, one who has helped me to hear Jesus and in turn to experience life and life abundantly. You know her as Kim Hunt. I know her as the love of my life. Her daughters will be the first to tell you she listens to the voice of Jesus.
We are living in very challenging times when the dominant voice of the culture does not have the best interest of the people in mind, especially the poor and invisible amongst us.
As you conclude your anniversary year and as you look forward to “calling” a new pastor let me offer to a piece of radical advice. Don’t make a strong leader your top priority. We have plenty of those in the world. Rather choose a listener. Rather choose a lamb who knows the shepherd’s voice. Choose a lamb who will run away from the voice of a thief or bandit.
Why? Because we need places like UNI LU more than ever who are committed to hearing Jesus voice and helping others to discover the call God has upon their life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.