11 Pentecost / Shepherding the Valley #2 - Isaiah 51:1-8; Matthew 16:13-18

Six weeks ago, several months delayed, we shared a beautiful celebration of the life and

resurrection of Carol Rupnik.

Because of the length and breadth and depth of the blessings she shared, many people came to Shepherd from far and wide, making her funeral feel like a large family reunion.

Eyes sparkling with tears and memories and appreciation scanned the familiar campus, this place shared in common by so many faces and stories.

The Rupniks, like so many others, had moved away, but of course we had to gather here, like pilgrims to a holy city, praying together at the site where the sacred happened.

Thankfully, this sanctuary and Founders Hall are still standing.

That's not always the case for God's people.

Isaiah's congregation had lost their building.

They had been exiled across the border in Babylon for nearly as long as Founders Hall has been standing.

The temple where they worshiped for centuries was a pile of rubble.

Their adult children had never seen it and had no idea what the strange attachment was.

They were getting along fine in Babylon, at home in a culture that had no need or regard for a faith that seemed old and tired and out of touch.

So the grandchildren were growing up without any of the religion and sacred stories that both anchored their soul and kept it sailing.

The legacy of Israel was reduced to a remnant, a handful of aging faithful with failing bodies and fading hopes.

They had plenty of reasons to be doubtful, anxious, sad, scared, worried for the future.

Isaiah stepped into their makeshift pulpit and began, Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD ... you tenacious ones that are still hanging on.

We're going home.

The house is a mess but the LORD is just fine, and the promise cannot be bulldozed.

The legacy will not be lost.

My salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended, says the LORD.

Isaiah summons the saints.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn...look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you....who were much older and more hopeless than you are!

Look to Carol Rupnik and Tom Anderson and all the mothers and fathers of your congregation.

They have died but their Lord lives.

Jaroslav Pelikan has defined tradition as the living faith of the dead, in contrast to traditionalism, the dead faith of the living.

That living faith built this place with risk and sweat and sacrifice so that bodies and souls would have a home, a place to gather with their hopes and hurts and smiles and tears and one another in the loving embrace of the Lord.

Across the valley, the stories are all different, and the story is the same.

Some houses of worship have closed; several remain open, a few of them hanging on by a shoestring.

What is their living faith calling them to do now?

Is God empowering them to stay or leading them into exile?

Is their holy building a blessing or a burden?

These are hard, heavy, lonely questions.

The process that eventuated into the Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish recognized that the challenge of congregational health and sustainability is urgent.

Some communities forget that Jesus built his church as a movement rather than a monument, an army commissioned to invade Hell, a Gated Community.

I think of our own Saint Philip, Phil Ause, who prophetically questioned whether our necessary fencing hurts our ministry by keeping good people out and by keeping good people in.

He knew that the God of Isaiah and Jesus calls the faithful to keep moving.

So did Abraham and Sarah and the saints who built the houses of worship throughout the valley—look to the rock from which we were hewn.

Examine their stories, catch their living faith, and dare to move forward.

That might mean closing.

That might mean staying open.

That might mean trying something old again or trying something new.

The call of the Parish sustainability table is to walk with congregations from exile to future, from questions to statements, from hunkered down to heading out, all the while being a

tangible reminder that none of us walks alone or hopes in vain.

Even the heavens and the earth will wear out, along with other real estate, says the Lord, and those who live on it will die, but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

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