You have washed us with love. You have covered us with the aroma of kindness. You have clothed us with the garments of peace. You have adorned us with the flowers of praise. We have become still and quiet, lest we step on any sweet petal of grace.
In the stillness we think, "This is, I suppose, the way it will be in heaven - lavishings of undeserved goodness." But now it ends. Then it won't. It will only get better and better. Then we will not be awkward with excessive focus on us, for we will all be assisting joyfully in the focus on all. And we will all have a perfected eye for how to show that every token of goodness in a saint is the work and the wonder of Christ himself. It will be plain to everyone that all our blessings were bought by the blood of the Lamb. "You are not your own. You were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only were there the outpouring of love to Noel on Saturday (thank you, Karin Goebel and Pattie Tattersall), and the beautiful outfit the women bought for her, taking her shopping the week before; and not only were there the memory-laden quilt (thank you, White Cross ladies), and the orchestra and choirs, morning and evening, and the favorite songs - please sing "Give Me Jesus" at my funeral - (thank you, Chuck Steddom); and the greetings (thank you, Tim Tomlinson), and the video (thank you, Tom Youngquist), and the shameless and absolutely hysterical imitations of the preacher (thank you, I think, TBI guys), and the gift of an air purification system for our home (an incredibly generous bounty! - but you know, if it works too well, I may not have to take out my handkerchief so often, which could ruin the image); and not only were there the fruit-laden reception (thank you, Carol Steinbach and the rest of our prayer support team) and the meals brought to our home (thank you, Ruth Rabenhorst and Carolyn Mickelberg), and the hundreds of embraces and handshakes, and cards and letters. I say, not only all that . . .
. . . but then it didn't end on Sunday. On Tuesday the staff had its annual day away. We went to North Heights Lutheran Church for the day. And there again, the waterfall of kindness kept pouring down. Besides the usual love that abounds on such days, there were two more gifts. One was an absolutely one-of-a-kind "shadow box" of little cubicles with three dimensional scenes from our years at Bethlehem and Scrabble letters (because this is the game Noel and I play most often) spelling out that God is at work (thank you, Joby Morgan and Gen Cava).
Finally, there was an artistic creation by Joby Morgan based on a vision of God from Isaiah 6. The point of it is to portray the greatness and bigness of God. He is seated on his throne, only the feet of which are visible, standing above the cityscape of Minneapolis. Falling from the throne is the train of his kingly robe flowing down around the IDS tower and the First Bank building and the other skyscrapers in our downtown, and then enveloping Bethlehem Baptist Church. It is a stunning and unmistakable statement that "Our God Is an Awesome God." "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory." And, to show you the labor of love, the whole thing was conceived and carried out with cross-stitch. It already has pre-empted everything else and hangs over the mantle in our living room. Joby, Joby, Joby. You had your hand - and heart - in every part of these days of joy.
To Joby Morgan and Mary Anderson and Karin Livingston and Julie Steller and the army you recruited -thank you, thank you, thank you!
Now, dear friends, it is time to look ahead. Three seeming impossibilities for the year: 3.5 million dollars more pledged (out of 9 million) by October; 1500 people coming to Christ through our witness by year end; and 1000 of our people sent in missions in this year. All built on Christ and his great gospel in the book of Romans.
I turn with you now to the next chapter with tender gratitude, forgiven sin, and glad hope,