Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wedding of Russell Young and Cassie Lenz

"My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
         See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

-- Song of Solomon 2:10-13

Years ago, when Cassie was being trained at Publix as the new employee she met this man standing beside her.  By that time Russ had been working there many years, had seen many employees come and go, and didn’t pay much attention to the new recruit.  But Cassie remembers what Bobby told her when they were first introduced: “Russ is your man if you want something in the kitchen.”

            I’ve known Cassie for 10 years now, and ever since I met her, I’ve been delighted with her smiley and sunny disposition.  I’ve had the pleasure of being her pastor, teaching her in confirmation, hearing her dreams of becoming a bartending librarian… and for a while there, had to put up with constant questioning from church members: “what’s up with Cassie and your son…they’re always together.”  At some point I lost count of the number of times I used to tell people, “Nothing…they’re just good friends.” 

            But family friends and church friends do become very special to you, and when you see someone every week over a period of several years and watch them grow up, you start to feel a little protective of them.  You look with wonder to see this flighty young teen grow into such a smart and responsible young adult, but then here she is…following the call of God and the urgings of her heart to join in this blessed bond of marriage, to become a family with Russ and Bailey, to allow that love which is bigger than us all to make the two into one.

            Two becoming one – blood and bone, body and body.  Russ and Cassie have made the choice of a lifetime in coming here before us and before God, to share their wedding vows.  They have been thinking ahead and planning for this life together literally for years now.  Even before they knew it themselves, from the time Russ drove half an hour to give her a Twix candy bar, or from their official public appearance as boy friend and girlfriend on Christmas eve 2012, Russ and Cassie have been journeying together towards this moment. 

            Love is patient, indeed, as St. Paul tells us.  And kind.  Cassie looked at Russ and saw someone who has worked long and hard to do the right thing and struggled to care for a family in the face of many difficulties.  She was able to make him laugh and get him out of his shell, and experience life in a new way.  Before Russ asked Cassie to marry him, he talked to Bailey and they looked at rings at the mall.  Nervously, he went to ask Nils for Cassie’s hand in marriage, but he wasn’t home.  The tension just got worse when it happened again.  The third try, he and his future father-in-law finally came face-to-face.  And rock-hard Nils was all tears of joy….

            A week later, Russ and Cassie were back at the Ruby Tuesdays where they’d had their first date.  Somehow the atmosphere in the restaurant just never seemed right for the moment.  Instead of popping the question over dinner, they got back in the car, buckled their seat belts, and then it happened.  By the time they got back to the Lenz house they had one question for Cassie, “So, you got new jewelry?”

            Russ and Cassie, you will both be leaving this ceremony with new jewelry.  Although you are two people, you are determined to live as one.  Through our prayers and presence we declare that same God who created you and brought you together will also make you a new creation through the promises and commitment, the love and determination you share today. 

            Together, you have created a vision of what your marriage will look like.  You’ve agreed not just to love each other, but to say “I love you” to one another often; not just to care about each other’s feelings but to talk about whatever’s bothering you, to have each other’s backs, to laugh a lot, clean up after one another, and to share your toys.  In the vows that you are about to exchange, you will give yourselves to each other through Christ, who gave himself to us and to the world.  With his own body and soul, the one who knows us inside and out, who sees the truth of our inmost spirit, also gives us his life and our heavenly Father’s love.  Through Christ, God accepts us completely and enable to love others the way St. Paul describes: with both gentleness and wholehearted passion, with great tenderness, and with a strength that endures to the end.

            Today we join our prayers and best wishes, and our own promises to support you in your new life together.  May God grant you joy and adventure, long life and a full house.  The best part is yet to come, so you better buckle your seatbelts…


Your spiritual DNA

“I [Paul] am grateful to God – whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did – when I remember you [Timothy] constantly in my prayers night and day.  Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

                                                                        -- 2 Timothy 1:3-7

            Two unusual boxes arrived in the mail at my house this week, one from my uncle and one from sent a DNA kit so I can find out a little more about my biological background.  It arrived in the mail yesterday, and I have yet to open it, but as I understand it I will swab my cheek with a Q-tip, send it in, and they’ll send me a report telling me how much German, Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, Asian, African etc. I have in my DNA.  Who knows, I may be related to Ole and Lena after all…

            The box from my uncle contained this old German coin:

He found it while going through a closet, and apparently my grandparents picked it up at some point.  It is dated 1661, and has a picture of Martin Luther on one side, and a German city on the back.  There is a poem that reads: Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr vergehen nun und nimmermehr “God’s word and Luther’s teaching never dies.”

            When Paul wrote to Timothy, trying to comfort him from some disappointment, he first reminds him of who he is.  He is a man of “sincere faith,” something not easy to come by in this world.  He is also part of a heritage, the receiver of a treasure that has been passed from one generation to another.  First his grandmother, then his mother, now Timothy himself carries this faith in his heart and his life.  Now is the time, Paul tells him, to rekindle that gift.  Now is the time to take it out of the box and turn it on.  Now is the time, not to be timid and hide your faith, but to stand up in courage and love and be who God made you to be.

            Like Timothy, you were made to bear a special gift to the world.  You have a heritage, a spiritual family, and a purpose in life to share the love which has been passed on to you.  But just what is your spiritual DNA?  How has this gift been put into your hands?  Who is in your faith family tree that makes you the recipient of so much blessing and so much responsibility?

            In Timothy’s case, Paul points to his immediate family members.  Perhaps you too had a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa who took you to Sunday school, taught you the catechism, or simply was a good model of Christ’s forgiveness and love for all.  Maybe you had certain individuals who encouraged you in faith, who loved you in special ways that echoed the unconditional love Jesus gave on the cross.  Perhaps you knew special people who told you that you too were special, or who lifted you up in prayer.  Any of these would be powerful faith-boosters that might set you on the road to follow Jesus.

But beyond the family that you know and the friends that made evident contributions to your understanding of God’s love and Christ’s ways, there is a greater lineage and ancestry that influences your spiritual DNA.  You are connected to a wider family of faith – fellow followers of Christ who do God’s work with their hands and hearts, serving in churches, senior facilities, hospitals, seminaries, synods, missions, and a host of social welfare ministries worldwide.  Wherever you go in this world, you may run into fellow Lutherans who will recognize the common spiritual DNA that connects you to them. 
            That DNA goes back to Martin Luther, and the ministry he did back in the 1500’s to set the church straight from the wrong turns it had taken which led it away from the way of Jesus.  But Luther was not the only reformer, or the only spiritual leader who called the church back to faithfulness. In fact all the great saints and teachers of the church have had a hand in keeping Christianity on course and keeping our focus on Christ.  From St. Augustine to Martin Luther King Jr., there is a long lineage of incredible people whose lives were on fire for spreading the good news of Christ, serving those in need, and unleashing the healing and liberation of God in the world.  They too, are part of your spiritual DNA.

            What’s more, we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, our most basic summary of Christian beliefs, that we believe in the “holy catholic church…”  That word “catholic” means that we believe the church of Jesus Christ is not represented by a denomination or officially recognized group.  Jesus’ church – THE Church (with a capital “c”) – is a catholic (meaning universal) Church.  Not simply a Roman Catholic church with a pope, or an ELCA with a bishop, but nothing less than all Christians scooped up together into the arms of our Savior has the right to be called the true Church of Jesus Christ.  Anyone whose faith grows out from what that man did, anyone who sees his blood as precious, who knows his body was given for our own – anyone who looks back to the events of the original Good Friday and Easter and sees them as the turning point of all history – they too are in our DNA.  The history of all Christian faiths, and truly, of all Christians, is also our history.

            We could go back and point out that our heritage as Christians has deep DNA roots in the faith of Israel, in the stories, wisdom, and Torah of the Old Testament and the faith of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But the Bible, that most remarkable and uniquely insightful of all books, does not stop there.  It takes us back to the beginnings, to the primal origin of all humans.  Biblical faith calls us to recognize that God’s law is written on every human heart, that every human is God’s child made by God’s hand and given God’s most fundamental blessings.  Our spiritual chromosomes bear witness to that most basic truth: we are all members of the human family, formed from the dust of the earth, enlivened by the breath of God’s Spirit, broken by sin but alive in the shadow of the cross of Christ. 

            The DNA in our cells carries the signs of the great diversity of influences in our genetic makeup.  But it also expresses the unique character traits we exhibit as individuals.  Even twins (or triplets) can look and act very differently, and can live out the gifts and blessings of God individually in ways that only they can.  As you come to discover who you are in Christ and the great riches that are yours in knowing his grace and love, you know even more if you know what’s in your spiritual DNA.  We share this community, this earth, this universe with others who may not know or see the gift that God has placed in their hands.  This month we’ll see it all unfold in worship: the Son sent by God to redeem the world carries God’s deep forgiveness and love to the very end – and that end becomes the new beginning… for me, for you, and for every fellow child of God through all time and all the world.

Pastor Scott