On Saturday, July 29, the NT-NL and Briarwood Staff had the opportunity to celebrate the wedding of one of our own. The Rev. Irma Bañales married her fiancé David in a celebratory liturgy at Advent Lutheran, Arlington. The Rev. Gus Vinajeros presided at the ceremony, and I was honored to preside over the Eucharist celebration en Español. After the liturgy, which was attended by multiple ELCA churchwide staff, including the Rev. Ruben Duran, Director for New Congregational Development, there was a festival meal with food, dancing, and CAKE. Sadly, I had to leave early as my son Axel (20 months) needed to attend to bedtime. A busy day for him and his sisters was to come.
Sunday morning, I left early to make the 50-mile drive from SW Fort Worth across the metroplex to North Dallas to preach at King of Glory, Dallas. This congregation has been a leader in NT-NL since its inception. Through commitments of time, financial support, service in the Dallas community, and lifting up leaders, King of Glory is a congregation that is a model and example for our communities. They are also in the midst of a call process. I am so grateful for their Interim Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Gary Johnson. His ministry to this community has been a gift to us all, and over and again I heard that day about how grateful this community was for his leadership. The ministry of interim pastors is a gift; we give thanks for the gifts and passion of Pastor Johnson and the willingness of his family to allow him to serve this call.
Interims, however, must ultimately end. So I preached there this weekend in preparation for them meeting their prospective Senior Pastor candidate next Sunday.
Drawing on the theme of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47) as an image for the Kingdom of God, I connected with them around the TV drama Dragnet and St. Joe Friday’s famous line “Just the Facts, Ma’am.” The facts I presented to them were that 1) Leadership is essential for the church’s mission, 2) We need more leaders and communities like KoG to help us raise them up, and 3) We are people of Law and Gospel, never confusing the Law with the Fact of the Gospel.
This third point was driven home by our epistle reading from Romans 8. Paul reminds us he is “convinced” that nothing can separate us from God’s love poured out in Christ Jesus. As Lutheran witnesses in NT-NL, we must be people who do not confuse the Law and the Gospel. It is not to us to sort out the fish the Dragnet brings in. It is for us to proclaim the gracious will of a God who desires all to be included in God’s amazing grace and mercy. North Texas does not need another church proclaiming a Law-based Christianity of “Us vs Them.” That is the way of the law, and the law can never be satisfied. I quoted to the community Luther’s amazing words in the Heidelberg Disputation, “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”
The gospel of grace inspires us to recognize it is done even before our believing. Instead of being people of law, we are called to be people of grace, mercy, and ultimately love. Recognizing our own sinfulness, challenging the world to rethink who is included in the “good fish,” and ultimately what the “facts really are.”
Pastor Vinejeros in his wedding homily reminded us that marriage was founded in dirt. In the dirt from which God created Adam. And from that creation, God created human relationships. Never perfected in this world, but we pray for God’s grace to sustain us in that relationship. A prayer we pray for Irma and David.
It was a blessed weekend. On Tuesday, August 1, I will be at the state capitol in Austin, my hometown. I will be there to speak for inclusion and justice for immigrants and gender-identified minority communities. I do this because I am convicted by the law of my own sinfulness yet once more brought alive by the gospel. It is a blessing to serve in this mission field of North Texas and North Louisiana, and I am grateful for your partnership in the gospel work we do.