Morning Worship: Open your eyes to the new thing that God is doing

“Memory was very important to the people of Israel,” said the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “It defined them. It was not optional.” Her sermon title was “Vanishing Memories,” and the text was Isaiah 43:1,15-21.

In the Ten Commandments, God said to “remember the Sabbath.” The Israelites left 12 stones at Gilgal to remind future generations of the Israelites who crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. After Israel had been commanded to remember [what God had done for them], in Isaiah they are told not to remember.

“God has said remember, remember, remember, and now God says, ‘Do not remember the former things, for I am about to do a new thing. Do you not perceive it?’ What are they supposed to do, remember or not?” Lundblad said. The answer is, “Yes, both. This is a contradiction of the sign of faithfulness of Israel [remembering]. Under what circumstances should we not remember?”

Lundblad quoted a biblical scholar who said “not remembering” should happen when a nostalgic relationship to tradition ties people to the past and cuts off their responsiveness to unrealized possibilities.

“We have seen and experienced that in our own lives,” she said.

As an example, Lundblad cited the origin of Our Saviour’s Atonement, the congregation she served for nearly 17 years. It was a merged church, and the Atonement congregation had been founded in 1896 at 140th Street. They were industrious German Lutherans who paid off their building in two years, but they had vanished by the mid 1920s.

“They were not raptured, but they moved way uptown,” Lundblad said. “Why? Because of the Great Migration into Harlem that Isabel Wilkerson talked about yesterday. They could not imagine that God could do a new thing with that congregation in that neighborhood. They felt it necessary to abandon the neighborhood. They did not hear God say, ‘I am doing a new thing.’ ”

It happens in small stages, she said. She recalled a poem she saw in the subway called “Love in the Ruins” by Jim Moore. A mother is folding her table cloth, reminiscing of times when her family was around the table for dinner. She folds the tablecloth like it was a fallen nation’s flag.

“The religious landscape is changing, and it makes some of us sad or angry or jealous,” Lundblad said. “There was a time when everyone was in church, but we can never go back to that country. It is an exasperating, exhilarating time to be the church, for God is about to do a new thing. It is an exciting time to be the church; I am not sure about the synagogue or the mosque. There is no pressure to go [to church], except maybe children who are dragged there, and people are there because they choose to be.”

She described several new worshipping communities from the 15,000-member megachurches to small, family-sized churches to very traditional experiences. One, St. Lydia’s, is a dinner church where people gather at 4 p.m. to cook and eat a meal together while sharing bread and wine. Ones like Solomon’s Porch and Mercy Seat Lutheran Church in Minneapolis look like living rooms but create new liturgy and new music. At St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, young people come at night to sit in the dark with candles.

“These young people are flocking to mystery and ancient music rather than PowerPoint,” Lundblad said. “These [kinds of churches] never existed when I was growing up. If we did not believe that God is doing a new thing, I think we would give up.”

Repeating herself, she said it is an exasperating and exhilarating time to be the church.

“I want you to believe that when you leave here,” she said. “It is not enough to remember; we have to lose our memory long enough to let something new happen.”

She was a pastoral assistant at Advent Lutheran Church in New York City while she taught at Union Theological Seminary.

“I would be serving Communion, and I could hardly say ‘the body of Christ given for you,’ I was so moved,” she said.

Those in line for Communion would include an 89-year-old violinist who had just given up playing; a girl, unmarried and pregnant at 17; a couple that adopted two daughters from Ethiopia, a lesbian couple with a son itching to walk, a girl with Down syndrome who was jumping up and down with excitement to receive bread; a man who lost his job and was afraid he would never get another; a weary woman; and a Korean boy who always came alone.

“Where in this culture will you find such a gathering?” Lundblad said. “Maybe at a baseball game, but we would not know each other. I know that [11 a.m. on Sunday morning] is still the most segregated hour [in the country], but there is a lot going on.”

She echoed the sentiment of another speaker for Week Six, saying people need places where they can connect with the deep experience that is the heart of life.

“What will we do if the churches, synagogues and mosques go away?” Lundblad asked. “Remember, remember, remember, do not remember. God is doing a new thing; it is springing forth. Let us at least open our eyes.”

Pastor Scott Maxwell presided. Carol Christensen, a member of the Chautauqua Choir and an active member of the CLSC Alumni Association, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang a new favorite,”Earth Song,” by Frank Ticheli. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.