Well, it really is time now! Don’t miss the last word from Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church! But don’t worry about those good folks either…their stories are stored in the cloud.

Based on Matthew 25:31-46

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

It’s been a quiet week at Crown and Cactus Church, that little congregation over between Mesa and Gilbert and Chandler. Last Sunday the pews were packed…word had leaked out about the big announcement at the Tuesday council meeting and everyone wanted to be there. They wanted to hear from Pastor Baldridge’s own mouth what had happened and what could be expected. There wasn’t a lot more for him to add but he did want them to know that they had been good and faithful servants and their ministry had not gone unnoticed. From his perspective real people had gotten a clearer sense of the gospel from their stories than from any sermons they’d heard. “Stories are like that,” he told the congregation. “They give life to the good news…and you were all a part of the telling.” He went on to tell them that every one of them had played a part…even those who had seemingly minor roles…even those who weren’t officially members of the congregation.

As they left worship last Sunday, people dawdled…they didn’t want to say good-by…and some were wondering just how the end would come for them. No one had a good answer…but many made a commitment to be back for the Thanksgiving worship service. So Thursday there was a great turn-out…Pastor Baldridge thought it was ironic since never before had so many people bothered to worship on  Thanksgiving, especially during the day. Even the Viking and Lions fans came….and everyone put off the preparations for dinner. In fact most of the people decided that it made more sense for them to go serve the hungry…and, organized by Lacey Zeiner, they spread out among all the homeless shelters in the East Valley after worship.

At the service, which lasted a long time, Pastor Baldridge left it all in the people’s hands. They picked the hymns and then one by one they walked to the front of the congregation to express their particular thanksgivings. So many wanted to speak they had to limit the time to just a minute or two…a good thing or Mel Falstaff would have spoken for an hour. It was a touching service…they all had so much to be thankful for…and much of their thanks was directed toward Pastor Baldridge, which thoroughly embarrassed him. But he deserved the recognition…even though everyone knew the congregation had never been about him…it truly was all about the good news of Jesus. He didn’t speak at all at the service…he knew he’d have a chance on Sunday. His would be the last word…expect, of course, for whatever the old bishop chose to say as he presided at the ritual for the closing of the congregation.

On Friday no one participated in the Black Friday buying frenzy…after all what would be the point? A surprising number just dropped by the church to see if they could help with anything. Jenny Craster was glad to have the extra hands…based on conversations with Pastor Baldridge she’d had another inspired moment and had come up with sanctuary decorations that fit the day perfectly.

Several people stopped in to talk to Pastor Baldridge in his office where he was trying to work on his sermon. They still had questions…and were hoping that this time he would have answers. Mostly they were curious about the ending…and the new life he’d said would be theirs. “Is it true,” they all wanted to know, “that we will live on forever?”

And amazingly, this time Pastor Baldridge did have an answer. It had come to him last week after his vision of the tangibilifier sitting under the acacia tree with the book of their stories on his lap. As he remembered that, it dawned on him that their tales had all been written down…and that perhaps the tangibilifier had been posting the stories on a blog. It was easy to check it out…he just searched for Crown and Cactus on the internet and in a few minutes he found hundreds of stories. And then  he remembered a text from a couple of weeks ago from First Thessalonians 4. Paul’s audience had been concerned about endings too and had sought some word of comfort and insight from him. In the fourth chapter he’d given them a rather curious description of the end. They’d been worried about believers who had already died…would they miss out when Christ came again? Paul assures them that when Christ returned, when the ending came, all the dead would be raised, and then everyone, both those raised and those still alive, would be lifted up to meet the returning Lord in the clouds and they would then be with him forever.

Pastor Baldridge had never paid that text much attention before…but this year as he was pondering his discovery something clicked with him. Paul said we all would meet the Lord in a cloud and be with him forever. And that was precisely what would happen to Crown and Cactus…the tangibilifier’s blogs were all going directly to the cloud…their stories were being stored in the cloud…and they would be there, with the Lord forever! They would be remembered forever….none of their stories would be forgotten!

It’s that good news that Pastor Baldridge will share with the congregation on this Sunday. But even more than that he wants them to know that because they have devoted themselves to the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and those in prison; because their ministry has been to the least and the lost, they will be welcomed by the Lord in the cloud and will live  forever with him. As they did it to the least, they did it to him!

That’s what he had shared with Jenny Craster and that was the source of her inspiration. The white banners will be from Easter and they’ll be hanging everywhere. And then at the end of the service, right after the ritual of closing, she’s preparing a grand finale. She’s rented four dry ice fog machines and will putting them at the corners of the sanctuary. As soon as the old bishop pronounces the benediction the ushers will start the machines, and then as the cloud takes shape and envelops them all, Pastor Baldridge will speak his last words, “Come you blessed of my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and then they will all go away into eternal life!

And that’s the last word from Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church, where all the men are faithful, the women are committed, and the children are all growing in grace.