This happened a few years ago- during the college women’s softball season. Western Oregon was playing Central Washington. Sara Tucholsky, a diminutive senior for Western Oregon, hit what looked like a three-run homer against Central Washington. Never in her 21 years had Tucholsky propelled a ball over a fence, so she did not have her home run trot in order, gazing in awe, missing first base. When she turned back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she went down, crying and crawling back to first base.

Pam Knox, the Western Oregon coach, made sure no teammates touched Tucholsky, which would have automatically made her unable to advance. The umpires ruled that if Tucholsky could not make it around the bases, two runs would score but she would be credited with only a single. (“She’ll kill me if I take it away from her,” Knox thought.)

There was a celebration waiting to happen at home plate- the whole Western Oregon team wanted to pour out of the dugout to rejoice, but it looked for all the world that they- and Sara would miss it- both injured and with a single instead of her first (and only) home run of her career…

There is, though, Celebration for you and for me today: a celebration of God’s creation here at Lake Harriet. A celebration of Vacation Bible School… A celebration of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.

It’s a day to celebrate the excitement of our congregation- our growth, our joining with Minnetonka Lutheran to form Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Twin Cities, and the commitment to our savior that we- that you- are demonstrating as we continue through the second decade of the 21st century…

But the most important reasons to celebrate are the reasons that Christians gather every week in worship and thanksgiving!

We gather to celebrate the relationship you and I have with God through Jesus Christ! And we gather to celebrate our call in response to what Jesus has done for us in his life, death and resurrection: to connect people with God, each other and their mission in the world!

The Bible helps us to see these so very clearly! In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about his love for the disciples… On the night Jesus was betrayed- and just hours from his death, we hear Jesus say “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…”

He’s talking about what he is going to do for the disciples- for you and for me- for all of humankind on the cross that is waiting for him. He is going to take on himself everything that separates us from God and each other. He is going to take on the death that every human being has to go through- and he does this because he loves us! He does this so that in everything you and I have to face in our lives- up to and including our deaths, we need not walk the path alone!

Jesus promises to be with us each and every step of the journey- and then, because God raised him from the dead on the third day, when the journey is through, Jesus promises to be with us forever! You and I are connected to God in Jesus Christ for all eternity! You and I have a connection with God that can never be broken… That is to be celebrated! And, that is to be shared!

Just think about it- if the disciples had kept this wonderful news to themselves, you and I wouldn’t be here today! And it must have been a powerful temptation to stay clustered with their friends- the people who had known Jesus during his earthly ministry, and celebrate that connection with God among themselves…

But when the winds of Pentecost blew through that Upper Room- when the Spirit of the Living Jesus landed on all those gathered like tongues of living fire, they were compelled to share. They burst out of their room and into the world- and by the end of that first Christian generation, had shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with all the known world!

You and I have that same Spirit living in us- the Spirit who gives us nine wonderful gifts, according to St. Paul in our reading, in our baptisms, you and I received the Spirit of the Living Jesus- the Holy Spirit, and no less than the disciples, we are called to share the Good News…

Let me ask you: If you had the cure to cancer, how could you not share it with the world? You and I have the presence of the Living God in our lives- we have been connected to God. We have a living relationship with the creator of the heavens and the earth. In Jesus, we have forgiveness for our past, purpose and meaning for our present, and hope for the future- eternal life with our God! Does that sound like anything our world needs???

One of Bethlehem’s commitments to you is to connect people with that relationship with God, and then learn how to share it with the people around them- around you. It is not about beating someone over the head with what you believe- or threatening them with dire consequences- it is all about knowing the peace that comes from God’s presence in your life and then being about to talk about it with the people God brings you each day…

We not only have a connection with God, we are connected with each other! In fact, it is impossible to live out our lives of faith by ourselves. Again, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are his friends as we follow his command to love one another… In John 13: 35, Jesus says it this way: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples: that you have a little fish sign on the back of your car… No, “if you have love for one another…”

We may not have chosen each other, but God has chosen us to be in the church- in this community together. In Christ, you and I belong to each other…

That’s a major theme throughout the New Testament: you will never find the word “saint,” it is always in the plural. There are at least 58 “one another’s” in the New Testament- instructions for us to “love one another, care for one another, bear with one another, forgive one another,” that we cannot possibly obey if we’re not connected to each other- if we’re not growing in our community.

There’s also a very practical reason for this connection to each other: we were made for community, and we live in times where we can be enormously isolated and lonely. You can work from your desktop, drive home, park your car in the garage- or work at home electronically and never really have a conversation with another person.

Indeed, I know people whose only connection with others- the only times where they feel welcome and valued is when they are at worship. The rest of the time, they feel isolated and alone… I also know people who feel as though they cannot be themselves- they might be afraid that maybe their lives aren’t just right, and so they hesitate to get to know people- let people in, and see who they really are… Or they are afraid they might be rejected if people knew them as who they are.

And I want to tell you that this is a community where you can be who you are and be accepted and welcomed for who you are… I can use our senior high youth program as an example: it has young men and women from at least a dozen different high schools across the metro, and one of the big draws is that here, they can be themselves.

As one said, “I don’t have to put on the persona that I use at school, here, I can just be me…” But that is an illustration that all folks, regardless of sexual orientation, politics, economics, race or class, or whatever, are welcome at Bethlehem.

We aren’t connected with God and connected with each other solely for the sake of our own benefit… One of the words used for church in the Bible is “koinonia,” and I know churches that are so closed to outsiders- so close together that no one else can get in- I call that “Koinonitus…”

You and I are also called to be connected with our mission in the world: a mission that has been given to us by God! Jesus says, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit…” That is, to share the Good News in word and deed so that the community can continue “growing,” reaching out into the world with God’s love in Jesus Christ…

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lays it out simply: he says “for the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” In Romans, Paul says “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law…” And we know from Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan- the despised foreigner who proved neighbor to the man who had been assaulted by thieves, our neighbors are ALL the people around us- whether they believe like us or not, whether they look like us or not, poor, homeless, whatever- the people on the planet are our neighbors- and we are to love them like we love ourselves and as we love God…

That’s why we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Orlando, as we all mourn those whose lives were taken from them so brutally by a man who believed- who cares what he believed- he acted in hate and bigotry. And by the way, it can be argued that those who are “martyred in jihad” don’t receive “70 virgins…” Apparently the proper translation is “70 Gold Raisins…”

Indeed, by loving our neighbors, we are showing our love for God. Each and every one of us has that mission… Now it might take different forms- some of us are passionate about providing housing for people, some of us are passionate about the desperate poverty- or disease that continues to plague billions of people in our world. Some of us are passionate about providing for, and advocating for the needs of people right here…

There are a myriad of missions- as many as there are people who follow Jesus- and we all need to be connected to our mission in the world… The Church is at our best when we are focused outside our walls, sharing our love for Jesus in words and deeds from the Phillips neighborhood and Lutheran Social Service of MN to Community Emergency Services Urban Homeworks and TRUST to Panruti and Malpattambakkam in South India, Amritsar and Taryn-tarn in the north and a host of places in between!

But maybe not in Ellensburg, Washington, though, where Sara Tucholsky lay crying on the ground, holding her knee, and unable to run- or even walk around the bases after her home run…

Then Mallory Holtman, the powerful first baseman for Central Washington, said words that brought a chill to everybody who heard them:

“Excuse me, would it be O.K. if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”

The umpires huddled and said it would be legal, so Holtman and the Central Washington shortstop, Liz Wallace, lifted Tucholsky, hands crossed under her, and carried her to second base, and gently lowered her so she could touch the base. Then Holtman and Wallace started to giggle, and so did Tucholsky, through her tears, and the three of them continued this odd procession to third base and home to a standing ovation.

“Everybody was crying,” Knox recalled on Tuesday. “It was an away game, and our four fans were crying. We couldn’t hit after that.”

The extra run made it easier for Western Oregon to win the second game, 4-2, and sweep the doubleheader. More important, all involved realized they had taken part in an event they would always remember. After the game, Mallory was asked about what she had done, and she said simply, “She hit it over the fence, She deserved it. Anybody would have done it. I just beat them to it.” She said she had been taught by her coach, Gary Frederick, that “winning is not everything.”

What a great reminder this story is in what it means to “love your neighbor…” And what a wonderful example to us all of how we are supposed to behave as we live out our lives in the world…

Today we “celebrate Summer Sundays- but truly, every Sunday is a celebration- of God’s love, and our response.

Our call as believers is to try and follow Jesus’ words to “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that He has commanded them,” and, “to love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself…” words echoed in our readings today and throughout the New Testament!

When we live out these words, God uses you and me to connect people with God, each other and their mission in the world. God uses you and me- to change our world for the better, making a difference in the lives of the people around us for Jesus’ sake.

I cannot think of anything more exciting or more important, and I invite you to join with us on this journey of faith- today- and everyday, for the sake of the world Jesus loves, and in his Wonderful Name! Amen.