Marked By God’s Love

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Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17

I am told by some that I can find theology in every movie I watch.  I’m not sure if this is true for all pastors types, but I think it is for me. A memorable scene from one of my favorite movies includes conversation about identity and reminds me a lot about baptism. In fact, from the very opening scene as the sun rises over African landscape, there are hints of theology spread throughout. In the Lion King, after the tragic death of his father, King Mufasa, young Simba is forced out into the wilderness, away from his family and destiny. While in the wilderness Simba is faced with a bit of an identity crisis. His father, Mufasa appears in the African night sky while Simba is at a watering hole.  Mufasa voices booms in the night sky, “you have forgotten who you are and therefore you have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba, you are more than what you have become.” Mufasa challenges Simba to, “remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king.” Mufasa is challenging Simba to remember his roots. To remember where he came from. To remember his destiny and who he really is.

What’s your baptismal story? I always encouraged students in my confirmation class to have conversations with their families and hear stories about when they were baptized. I encourage them to ask how they reacted. I don’t remember my baptism, but my parents do. So they have passed along stories. I know I was baptized in the summer and that my Pappap served as the elder representative. I know I heard the words of baptism and that I was along with others in the waters of baptism, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But even before we are baptized, we are children of God. Friends, it is important to remember who we are. To remember our identities.

Our text from Matthew tells Jesus’ baptismal story. Like others before him, Jesus approaches the baptismal waters and ask his cousin John to baptize him. I’ve often wondered why Jesus needed to be baptized and thought a lot about that this week. So I looked closer at Jesus’ words. These are the first words of Christ, spoken in Matthew’s gospel.

“Let it be so then; it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus says, and it sounds so dry and stiff and formal, as if to say, let’s just check this box and be done with it. But read under the words: John blessing Jesus will be an act of righteousness.

And in this moment Jesus redefines what righteousness is, and you wonder if any of the Pharisees and Sadducees were still hanging around to hear it, if their beef started right then, because in Jesus’ eyes righteousness is not about crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s in a way that doesn’t anger God, but about living in such a compassionate and joyous and loving way that what you do is a blessing and delight to God. God delights in us, and we can bring smile to God’s face. Righteousness isn’t about following the rules in order to fly under God’s radar. Righteousness is about grabbing God’s promises by the hand and saying I love you too with every single action. About being claimed by and marked by God’s love.

And so it is that John, prophet but mortal, man of the odd fashion sense and the even odder diet, comes to dunk Jesus under the waters of the Jordan, and to tell this sinless man that his sins are forgiven, because to hear words of forgiveness is a delight to God. And God in heaven shows that delight by opening up the heavens, and God the Spirit soars down to rest on the dripping wet shoulder of God the Son, the beloved. The Holy Trinity, blessed and full of blessing.

God comes to us for blessing. Not because God needs it from us, but because God delights to see us be more loving, more joyful, more courageous, more faithful. God delights when we strive to be beacons pointing others to the light of Christ. God sees us as blessings. Blessings in human skin, just waiting to reach out and bless others. That is how God created us to be. Beloved blessings for God’s beloved world.

There is a line in the Presbyterian Book of Order that I love—I know, it isn’t exactly beach reading, but buried in section three of article two of the Directory for Worship is one of the clearest summations of Christian living I know: It says, “Baptism is God’s gift of grace and also God’s summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world.” (W-2.3006)

Look inside yourself and remember who you are.  Remember whose you are. Baptism is God’s gift of grace to us, grace enough to turn our sin-spotted lives and messy efforts into blessing enough for the world we know. Baptism is God’s call to respond to that grace, to go out into the world to love and serve and be truthful and kind. In baptism, God comes to us and says: you are going to be my blessing. You are going to be my blessing in this world. You are going to share God’s light and be marked by God’s love.

Let’s circle back to what does it mean when we say, “Remember your baptism?” is it merely a remembrance of the ritual? I have a pastor friend who says she strives to remember her baptism every time she washes her hands, swims, gets caught in the rain, in order words, she remembers her baptism every time she interacts with water. Ever since hearing her rituals for remembering her baptism, I’ve strive to do the same. Friends, to remember your baptism is to remember who you are and whose you are. To remember you are claimed and beloved by God.

In baptism we are forgiven, but not just so we can feel good about ourselves, not just so we can wave our clean records under other people’s noses. In baptism we are forgiven so we can get over ourselves and our failings and get on with God’s holy work. In baptism we are forgiven so that when God comes to us, there will be nothing holding us back.

I love how Christian author Rachel Held Evans describes baptism. She says, “Baptism reminds us that there’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair. Where the world calls us names like, screw-up, fake, slacker, addict, in baptism we are named beloved. In baptism you are told you are beloved and that is enough.” Baptism is the very acknowledgement of people’s beloved-ness. I would add in baptism we are claimed and marked by God’s love.

Even still, about a million times a day I echo Simba’s identity crisis and John’s disbelief. I echo John’s question…You come to me? But God does. Over and over, despite all the evidence I can give that I am not worthy to be God’s co-worker, God comes to me and God comes to you and says, “Look here. I have work for you to do. You are forgiven, freed, and beloved. So no excuses. Get to it.” Come to the waters. Remember who you are. Over and over, Jesus comes to us. I’m asking you to bless me, he says.

Will we? Will we remember who we are? Will we remember whose we are? Friends, may we all remember we are beloved and sent.  Amen.

 

 

When God Moves In…

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Today’s scripture lesson is the gospel of John’s highly poetic and deeply theological birth narrative, only there are no shepherds, no manger, no Mary, no Joseph…just the Word which is Christ and God. The One who chooses to enter into the world of messiness and heartache. The One who comes to redeem the nonredeemable. So what happens when God moves in? This poetic opening of John’s gospel sets the stage for Christ and for the ministry Christ will embody during his time on Earth, here these words from John 1: 1-18

There is a lot of deep theology happening in our passage this morning. Pastor Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message of John 1:14 beautifully captures Jesus’ mission to relate to us.  John 1:14 reads, “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhoods.”  Other translations note that Christ “pitched a tent, and made a dwelling among humankind.” God came to be with us.  I don’t know about you, but when I move somewhere, I don’t want to move into a neighborhood or house that is a mess. I want things safe, neat, and organized.

Yet, one of the main points that jumps out in our passage today is that God in Christ, sought out humankind and came into the messiness of our world. Christ chooses to enter into the messiness to be in relationship with humankind. When God in Christ moved into our neighborhoods, one of the first things that happened was the messiness and horrific events of our text last week. As a toddler, Jesus is faced with people who want to take his life, Jesus and his family have to flee to Egypt and deep sadness comes for all male children under two who are left behind. This is the messy world Christ entered into.

Yet God chooses to bring light into the world of darkness. Christ heals the sick, eats with sinners, and works on reconciliation. Jesus, in the flesh, is in the presence of the unclean and untouchable.  He speaks to outcasts. God through Christ, knows what it is like to cry and have deep ranges of emotion, as hymn “Once in Royal David City” so beautifully points out, “tears and smiles, like us he knew.”  Christ knows what it is like to lose a loved one. He knows what it is like to be rejected. Christ is generous inside and out, true from start to finish. When God moves in, things change.

What does it mean that God in Christ moved into our neighborhoods in 2020? What does it mean to First Presbyterian Church in Winchester, VA? What does it look like to witness God moving among us and among those with whom we interact with each day? I love how we can see out into our neighbors as people pass us by. Because God in Christ came into the messiness of our world, there is a light which no darkness can overcome and the light of Christ is something Christians must strive to share with all they encounter. The challenge for each of us is to step outside of our boxes and comfort zones and move into the neighborhoods where God is already present and point to the light of Christ.

This morning, we will participate in tradition known as “Star Words” or “Star Gifting.” You may have noticed extra baskets this morning as you came in. In these baskets are stars. Each star has a word written on it. The stars are face down because you don’t get to pick your word- the star will, like a wand, choose you in a sense.

Think of it as the opposite of a New Year’s Resolution, in which you try to correct some defect in yourself, and receive instead this gift of a word, to carry with you throughout the year. To illuminate your journey; to help guide you as seek new ways to encounter God and share God’s love and light with neighbors throughout the year. Perhaps consider looking your word up in the dictionary in order to grasp new meaning.  For example, we hear the words like grace, peace, joy, and hope all the time, but what exactly do they mean?

I invite you to take a star. Take it home with you, and put it somewhere you can see it. On your bathroom mirror, near your coffee pot, as a bookmark in your daily devotional, on your computer monitor at work or home, in your workshop or car.  The word on your star may not make sense to you at this point. You may not even like; but watch and wait. After all, we don’t always get a word that makes our hearts sing, but as one of my much younger friend says, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”

For some, Star Words might be easy. For example, one of my pastor friends received the word time just before she went on sabbatical. As she entered a time of rest, she was more aware of what a gift it was to be able to rejuvenate her spirit and spend time with God without the many of the distractions of day to day life. But for others, your Star Word will be a growing edge. One of the words is serenity. I can imagine many of us would struggle to find the gift of serenity in our busy lives…we can struggle with being calm or tranquil.

However, in some ways, meditating on the words that are more challenging or dissonant can be even more revealing than words that we like, or words that make sense to us easily. Sometimes the word we most need to hear is that which we least want to hear. Our challenge is to reflect on the words’ presence in our lives throughout this year. It may break in like an epiphany. It may slink in quietly through the back door like a barn cat.

My question for all of us this year as we receive our star word is how can we use our word to show the light of Christ? Friends, it can be so easy to find all the darkness among us in the world as we begin 2020, we unfortunately don’t have to look too far….but our challenge as Christians is to display the light of Christ and help others see the light and hope of Christ in our world. We are called to point to the Light of Christ, which shines through the darkness when all other lights go out.

Some of my favorite books to read fall into the fantasy category of literature which often chronicle epic battles between sources of good and evil, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to discover I’m a fan of Harry Potter series. One of the more popular quotes from the series comes from Headmaster Dumbledore in the Prisoner of Azkaban during his start of the school year speech.

Speaking into the lives of the students and the rising darkness that is Voldemort, Dumbledore reminds the students that, “Happiness can always be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” As Dumbledore says we just need to turn on the light. We just need to remember to open our hearts and eyes and look for God’s light that shines even in darkness. Our star words can help us gain a little clarity in the coming year and can help us see the Light of Christ burning all around us.

So friends, as I wrote words on each star, I prayed over each one of these stars-that each star would find its way to precisely the right person, to guide them in the way of Jesus. To challenge them in a new way as they seek to grow in their faith journeys and strive to love God and love neighbor. My hope is this word may guide you this year as you share the all-encompassing love and grace of God with all you encounter; as you seek to get out of these walls and out into the neighborhood.  We are all challenged and invited to use our words as a chance to reflect on how God speaks to God’s people.

What might we learn from one word? What treasured wisdom might resurface? May your word surprise you in the best ways, may you wrestle with it and poke at it-and may it poke back at you. Friends, may you be pushed out in awe into the neighborhoods as you encounter God in new ways and share the light of Christ with all you encounter along the way. Share the light of Christ this year. Amen.

Hidden Joy

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Friends, before we come to our text this morning, can we confess that this is a season filled with a litany of expectations, and realistically some of these expectations will be met—- while others will be added to the pile of failed expectations. For example, every year I expect my cats not to bother our Christmas tree but alas, every year I am disappointed.

Or perhaps I expect to have a perfectly crafted Christmas cake but in reality my cake ends up looking more along the lines of a failed copy of something that might appear on the television show, “Nailed It!” There are also perhaps Christmas expectations which run deeper, that we do not voice aloud. We expect to feel jolly and joyful but end up feeling stressed and sad. We all have expectations for how we want our Christmases to be as we await expectantly for Christ.

There are also expectations of how the promised savior might act. The writer of Matthew takes care to meticulously tie in known scriptures and prophecies from the Old Testament to make a case for Jesus being the promised Messiah. You will hear portions of Isaiah again in our New Testament text. However, this morning’s text challenges us to be honest with our expectations, our questions, and what we are looking for in our Savior.

Matthew 11:2-11 Common English Bible (CEB)

Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them.[a] Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”

When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John: “What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who wear refined clothes are in royal palaces. What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 He is the one of whom it is written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.[b]11 “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

A dark, dank, and dreary prison cell. That’s where our passage for Joy Sunday takes us. John the Baptizer is not only in prison, but he is in prison with intense doubts. I wonder how many times he aimlessly paced his small prison cell with his questions and doubts, making indentations on prison cell floor in the process. These is from John who had been exposed to temple all of his life, who had a ministry in wilderness and baptized Christ.

This is the same John who wants to humbly check back in, to see if all his work was for nothing, to make sure he was pointing to the right Savior, to ask, “Are you the one who is to come or should we be looking for someone else?” Perhaps John expected the world to change quicker, for things to be turned upside down, for tyrants to be dethroned, for Jesus coming into the world to make a difference now. Not the slow promise of restoration taking place outside his cell, but immediate results.

John’s questions and doubts may seem out of character and odd because traditionally John the Baptist is remembered in the church as saint of spiritual joy. Author and Pastor Debie Thomas observes:

“Perhaps John understood that joy is what happens when we dare to believe that our Messiah disillusions us for nothing less than our salvation, stripping away every expectation we cling to, so that we can know God for who God truly is. Maybe John realized that God’s work is bigger than the difficult circumstances of his own life, calling him to a selfless joy for the liberation of others. Maybe John’s joy was otherworldly in the most literal sense, because he understood that our stories extend beyond death and find completion only in the presence of God.”

Maybe, but John still asks the questions, and I’m encouraged because it is okay to ask questions.

After I graduated from college, I served as Director of Youth and Children at First Presbyterian Church in Orangeburg, SC. I’m still grateful for the lessons taught about ministry and faith from my youth group. Here’s one such lesson.

I could tell that Laura had been downtrodden throughout our entire youth group Christmas party. Laura, who was normally gregarious and all smiles, who makes sure everyone feels loved and welcomed, had been seeming sad. Laura had not been as responsive to my questions or the questions of her friends when asked how things were going. I remembered Laura’s grandmother, who she was very close to, had passed away a few months ago. I had also lost my first grandparent earlier in the year and if I was honest with myself, something felt off this Christmas for me as well.  Laura was also entering into a phase of life with college application stresses, SATs, and family expectations—a hard time to be joyful.  Wanting to check in on her, I met with her early the next week. As we sat at TCBY with holly jolly Christmas carols playing in the background, Laura’s familiar smile still had not returned to her face.  After several moments of silence, Laura finally made eye contact and with tears starting to form in her eyes, she asked a very potent question that we all may have asked at one point or another in our lives. “Do I have to pretend to be joyful at Christmas?”

As I sat with Laura in her grief and overwhelmed spirit, and as I prayed for her, and as we shared stories of our beloved grandparents who were both sorely missed, I can only hope that our time together showed her that you don’t have to pretend to be joyful at any time, especially at Christmas. With so many expectations at Christmas, there is often the expectation to be extra jolly. Friends, we do not have to pretend to be joyful at Christmas. It is okay to not be okay. Perhaps our challenge this season if we are not currently finding ourselves in this place, is to just be with someone and listen to them vent.

It is JOY Sunday, earlier in service we lit the candle for joy—it seems a little strange for us to come before our Advent text this morning to find a passage about John and his doubts, doesn’t it? Except well in the midst of all the planning, shopping, running, and celebrating- as we are frantic about making sure our expectations are met, there can seem to be a greater amount of doubt, fear, and sadness this time of year.  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Advent is about creating space to do this exact thing….to ask this very question, to examine our expectations of a Savior and to keep them in check. For aren’t we still waiting consummation of Christmas promise? Isn’t the world still broken and not as it should be?

We still find ourselves at the intersection of what is so wonderful while simultaneously what can be so hard about Christmas, the promise of peace and goodwill yet all we have to do is read another headline, look deeper into our very homes, and look deeper at our souls to be left not joyful about promise—- but disappointed that the promise hasn’t already come to fruition. Friends, maybe it is not so odd to hear and reflect on John the Baptist’s question- when we are living in between the promises of first Christmas and Christ coming. When we may be disappointed by ourselves, our expectations, the world, and even God, as we whisper the familiar, ancient, and desperate prayer, “come Lord Jesus, come.”

Advent can be about us letting go of our expectations of what our Messiah should be and look like. Yet a beautiful time to hold fast to the promise of who Jesus actually is. A Messiah who comes for people just like us. Who fulfills promises of blind being able to see, the crippled being able to walk, the deaf being able to hear, and the poor having the good news proclaimed to them. The promise of coming restoration for a broken world. The promise of our Savior to be with us no matter if we are feeling joyful or discouraged, overwhelmed or overjoyed. I find it encouraging that Jesus doesn’t rebuke John, instead he lifts him up.

Perhaps our real joy is a hidden joy. Because even at the back of all our prayers and reflection, thoughts and lamentations, there is a joy that cannot be dulled or darkened, a joy that keeps us going. Joy is more than a form of happiness. Happiness is when your face smiles, joy is when your heart smiles. Happiness can be fleeting, joy is deep and abiding. Joy is supporting chord beneath the melody, sometimes hard to hear, but always present for support. Joy is the confidence that sun will rise, the trust that there is something good…..In the world….In the universe….In the heavens…….somewhere….

To close, I’d like to pray a portion of Rev. Sarah Bessey’s prayer for the broken heartened at Christmas, because friends, Christmas isn’t always a time when it is easy to be joyful. I’ve adapted her prayer a bit and it is my prayer for all who may need to hear it this day:

“I pray that God would be near to you, nearer in ways you cannot describe or understand, I pray for God to be a strength to you.

I pray for a friend who knows your situation, who sits with you, who doesn’t try to jolly you up.

I pray for you to find the intimacy of the Holy Spirit in these days and for the Holy Spirit to be close to you in ways you can’t name, explain, or understand. I pray for that unnamed thing that cannot be spoken aloud, that hurt that hits too deep, that sorrow that is too much to name, for that for that is stuck in the back of your throat.

And I dare to pray for joy for you. I pray that everything you are sowing in grief, you will reap in joy. It will be a different sort of joy, we both know that. There is the uncomplicated joy of those who haven’t suffered and then there is the joy that is born of suffering, the joy that is deeper for the loss that preceded, the joy that is in seeing redemption and yet knowing the scars you bear from the wounds are beautiful to those with eyes to see.”

Amen and amen.

A King Like No Other

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Happy liturgical New Year’s Eve! For the past year, we have been on a journey traveling through the Christian church year, known as the liturgical year. We have walked this journey alongside all people of Christian faith, in every time and place. Together, we have followed in the steps of Jesus… as he took his first breaths, born in a stable in Bethlehem… as he walked the dusty hillsides of Galilee, opening the eyes of the blind and causing the lame to walk again… as he preached to the multitudes and taught his disciples… and as he walked to Golgotha, was crucified and buried, and three days later rose again.

Together we have celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, reflected on the mission of the church, and sought to live as disciples of Christ. Today, we celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday, which is the final Sunday of that year-long journey. Next Sunday we begin all over again, as Advent begins and we wait expectantly for the humble savior’s birth. We will once again seek to slow down and prepare room in our hearts for Christ amidst the tinsel and busyness.

On Reign of Christ Sunday, we celebrate that Christ is past, present, and future King over all the earth. Reign of Christ Sunday is not an ancient holy day. It started being observed in mid-1920’s by Pope Pius XI who was concerned about growing secularism in Europe. Pope Pius observed, “When once we recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.” Big dreams indeed. Today, we express our hope and faith in God’s coming kingdom, we await the fullness of God’s promise, when all creation will fully reflect the goodness of the Creator. And today, we recommit ourselves, once again, to watching and waiting, to living as disciples, to helping God’s love grow in the world.

So what do our scripture readings this morning reveal about the Reign of Christ? 

Jeremiah 23:1-6

23 Watch out, you shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, declares the Lord. This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, proclaims about the shepherds who “tend to” my people: You are the ones who have scattered my flock and driven them away. You haven’t attended to their needs, so I will take revenge on you for the terrible things you have done to them, declares the Lord. I myself will gather the few remaining sheep from all the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will place over them shepherds who care for them. Then they will no longer be afraid or dread harm, nor will any be missing, declares the Lord.The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous descendant[a] from David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness.

Luke 23:33-43

33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

In Jeremiah, we see a picture painted of what a true and good leader looks like. A good shepherd who diligently protects the sheep, no matter the cost. A leader who strives to take care of the people and not bring harm to them.  We also see that God is always there and present though good leaders and through not so good leaders. We see God who gathers sheep and takes them home to pastures.

However, I have to admit, at first when I read Luke’s text for this Sunday, I felt a bit of liturgical whiplash. My guess is few of you came to worship this morning expecting to hear the Good Friday Passion story on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, right? Yet the more and more I mediated on the text, the more Reign of Christ Sunday and Sunday before Thanksgiving melted together, and the more appropriate the text seemed. Because of who Jesus is, we are called to thankfully worship with gratitude and thanksgiving. We can’t see our Savior without the cross. Even as we prepare to once again hear the Christmas story, we cannot forget how Jesus relates to us through the cross. Who we choose to worship, matters. So what kind of King do we see in our Luke text? What kind of king do we choose to worship?

We see a King who makes us uncomfortable. We see our King in the worst hours of Good Friday when our king was a dead man walking- his chosen path to glory was the cross. He was surrounded by the “kingdom of the world” pressing in, the cries of onlookers challenging him to save himself, the shouts asking if he was truly the Messiah, and hurling insults at him left and right. Yet we see a king who understands suffering and will not abandoned us, for we have a king like no other. We see in text no path that sidesteps sacrificial love or humility, for we have a king like no other.

We don’t see a safe King. I’m not really sure what King the prosperity gospel preachers are looking at, but as followers of Christ, we are not guaranteed an easy pass on life. In C.S Lewis’ beloved, Chronicles of Narnia, when confronted by the idea of Aslan, the lion, who is picture of Christ, Lucy ask, “Is He safe?” to which Mr. Beaver answers, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Mr. Tummus also says, “He’s wild, you know. Not a tame lion.” Let’s never forget when faced with injustice, Christ overturned tables in the temple.

We do see a gracious king, a king who offers grace to all around Him. Even on the cross, he extends forgiveness. Even as we approach Advent it is important for us to keep the image of a crucified king in mind. One who saves sinners, redeems all creation.  One who came to serve, not to be served. One who came to stand with the least of these, not to stand apart, cast the first stone, and judge them; but to take their place, to pour himself out, not puff himself out. Jesus is the kind of king who compares himself to a good shepherd and rightfully so as he seeks to comfort those who mourn, tend to the least of these, and save the lost while revealing God’s transformative power and grace. We see a King who is present and offering grace no matter what. No matter what forces try to hold us captive- fear, anxiety, guilt, resentments, loneliness, self-doubt, whatever it is, does not get to have the last say. Jesus is present and offering grace.

My friend, Rev. Rachael Keefe writes a beautiful reflection on the power and promises of the Reign of Christ. She writes:

“Year
ends. God
reigns whether
we notice or
not
. Promises made
long ago remain true –
all are loved, all are valued,
no one excluded. Advent draws
near, calling us to pause and listen,
watch, prepare, and begin again. The days
are surely coming when all feet everywhere
will travel in the way of peace. Fear-filled living
belongs to the days of old. Hope, love, mercy, grace,
and forgiveness belong to God’s people, now
and through all time. While speaking words of faith
we forget God always remembers
the ancient covenant of love
without end. When words become
deeds, wars will cease. God is
our refuge and strength.
May our lives show
God’s glory
and our
thanks.”

We do see a King who challenges us to do better. But a King who challenges us to do better through our acts of love and not acts of brute might. A Lord who challenges us to see our neighbor’s needs and sufferings before our own. A Lord who works toward redemption. As mentioned at beginning of sermon, Reign of Christ Sunday serves as a bit of a liturgical new year’s eve- and as such provides a natural chance for us to look back on what has been and look forward to what might be in the coming year. In the past year, how faithful were you to responding to God’s challenge? What are some steps might we all take to do better this year?

 To close, I’d like to share a slightly adapted benediction for d365.org. I commend this app and online resource to you. New lectionary geared devotional each day. So remember, friends, “God’s kingdom is nothing like we would expect, and Jesus acts nothing like the king everyone was waiting for. Because of that, we are able to live our lives in a way that the world least expects- forgiving, praying, serving, and loving those around us.”  Friends, our challenge is to take this knowledge and go to live differently. Live the life to which God calls you. Amen.

Grace and Grumbling

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Our text this morning from Luke is one we may have first heard as early as our time in toddler’s Sunday school classes or children’s choir.

When faced with such familiar texts, we may be tempted to read quickly and rush pass— to not take time needed to look under linguistic stones and up in trees for a different perspective or new meaning. We can be tempted to think we’ve heard everything about the scripture that we need to know in order to understand how the nature of God is revealed in passage. This is a dangerous practice and one we should try to avoid at all cost. Instead we should try to challenge ourselves to climb trees, to look at the familiar text from a different perspective. The challenge for us is to imagine we are hearing these familiar texts for first time, with expectant ears and hearts ready to be changed and challenged.  Friends, I challenge you to hear something new in our familiar text from Luke 19:1-10.

Luke 19:1-10 Common English Bible (CEB)

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus.

Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”

Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One[a] came to seek and save the lost.”

Once again who Jesus chooses to have a meal with causes the crowd surrounding Christ to grumble. After all, tax collectors are hated. Without question the taxation system which Zacchaeus is a part by virtue of profession and association is corrupt and socially abusive. No wonder the crowd grumbled, Zacchaeus worked in a system run by the oppressive and corrupt Roman occupiers. It can be easy to hold people to the stereotypes we’ve casted them in or to former versions of themselves that they’ve long out grown.

If you were in the crowd that day, would you grumble? I say this not to be too harsh on the crowd, because who knows, I would have probably grumbled to. The crowd struggles to see the whole picture- to see that Zacchaeus is so desperate to see Jesus, that he climbed a tree, which is not a dignified action, in order to see salvation in Christ. The crowd is so confused about Jesus stopping to single out one, that they grumble about Jesus getting too cozy with an “evil” tax collector, who may only be evil because of their harsh stereotypes. Jesus interacts with another lost sheep and the crowd grumbles. Who do we grumble about and who are the ones which Jesus hangs out with that baffle us? Who have we villainized in our minds? Are there people who we may keep from seeing Jesus?

The name Zacchaeus even translates into “clean, pure, or innocent,” but the crowd only saw Zacchaeus as a chief tax collector and therefore automatically assumed Zacchaeus is just an evil character. However, a closer look at the text tells us otherwise. The verb didōmi used in the Greek is in present indicative action form—translating closest to I give, as in he is already doing so. Zacchaeus is already giving half his possessions to the poor, more than what is required. Not that Zacchaeus is the perfect representative of humankind. Even though Zacchaeus gives and donates half his wealth, he still participates in an evil system that he is likely not going to challenge or change, but being a tax collector is also his job and how he survives.

Where the crowd meets Zacchaeus with grumbling, Jesus meets him with grace. Jesus made time for one person while on the way to redeem all. What amazes and surprises me about this text is Jesus had the eyes and mindset to look up. He took time to stop. To notice. To see Zacchaeus for more than who he was. To invite himself into the home of a tax collector. An invitation that Zacchaeus joyfully accepts, (if Jesus invited himself over to my house, I’d want to tidy up first.” To call up and say, “Zacchaeus, YOU come down.”

Theologian and professor, Karoline Lewis writes about the importance of being individually spotted and called down to be among Jesus. She observes, “Never underestimate the power of “you,” especially in the second person singular. We know how “you” feels. Like you are the only person in the world. Like someone is paying attention. Like someone means it and means what they say. And, what “you” feels like when you hear it from God.” Our text today creates a pause for us to accept the smallness of our human vision. God sees so much more than I see when I look at people. God’s eyes for people are richer, fuller, non-bleary, and grace-filled.

Today, we celebrate Remembrance Sunday, or All Saint’s Sunday. We take pause and remember people who showed us a little more about what following Jesus looks like. We remember the saints we love who have passed away over the last year as well as those who are our spiritual heroes, like a few of my favorites, Rachel Held Evans, Harriet Tubman, and Mister Rogers. In our scripture, Jesus’ vision of who Zacchaeus is goes past the grumbling crowd’s stereotypes and gets to the heart of what Jesus notices about the chief tax collector. A favorite “Mister” Fred Rogers quote speaks to this. Rogers says, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

Sometimes, however, we seem to forget this about the driver who cut us off on interstate 81 in the morning. Or the ones who have political signs in their yards promoting candidates we may not agree with, and those we don’t necessarily see eye to eye with about politics. And yes, even those whose theology we do not agree with. Those who we quickly stereotype. The neighbor across the street or on the other side of the globe with a different culture and religion, and the person whose life experience is so vastly different from mine that I simply cannot understand, no matter how hard I try. Lest we forget, each one of these is created in the divine image.

But friends, Jesus shows us what this looks like. Jesus reveals ways to shatter long held and ill-casted stereotypes we imprison people to.  Jesus shows us a better way and how we might start striving to begin practicing holy appreciation.

Where others saw someone they considered a shady tax collector; Jesus saw Zacchaeus.

Where neighbors defined a woman by her questionable reputation; Jesus saw a spiritually thirsty person.

Where society saw a rag tag group of fishy smelling fishermen; Jesus saw friends and companions.

Where society calls diseased lepers unclean people who needed to be cast aside; Jesus saw people in need of love and healing.

Where others see lonely outcasts, and those who society may deem as too different to be fully accepted; Jesus sees people who should be welcomed at the table and have a place in God’s family.

Where people see others only through limited lenses and casted stereotypes; Jesus sees the whole person.

Where we only see people’s flaws as reasons to grumble; Jesus offers grace.

Where we may see a disgraceful sinner; Jesus sees a potential saint.

Jesus stops and takes time to notice the individual. Even as Jesus passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, where he would be put on trial and put to death, Jesus takes time to look up, to see Zacchaeus as a person and not a villain casted stereotype, and to take time to visit Zacchaeus’ home. Time after time, throughout scripture, Jesus ignores labels and addresses the person. Including us. Despite the things we have done or not done, Jesus loves us. Jesus sees beyond our flaws and those parts of ourselves that we don’t like very much. Jesus likes Zacchaeus and us just the way we are. The challenge for us is to cease our grumbling and see individuals as Christ does.

Friends, how can we begin to do the hard and humbling work of truly seeing and noticing others as God sees them? Can we begin to see potential saints where before we only saw disgraced sinners? This is a difficult challenge but it is certainly one worth taking. Will you join?

To close, here’s an excerpt from Mexican theologian Magdalena Garcia’s reflections on Zacchaeus: “And so a question remains for us to ponder;

Who are the real despicable people, we wonder:

The ones who honestly perform a hideous task?

Or the ones who hide meanness behind a pious mask?” Amen.

 

Unsettling Hope and Gratitude

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Before we come to this morning’s scripture, I invite you to think about whether or not you agree with the following quote. And as a disclaimer, you can disagree, the quote doesn’t come from Jesus. Meister Eckhart says, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Do you agree or disagree? I’ll read again, “if the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

I invite you to think of the most grateful person in your life. I cannot hear the word gratitude and not think of my Nanny. She ardently, lovingly, and faithfully always writes a hand-written thank you note whenever anyone sends her a gift or does anything helpful for her. I’m convinced that because of my Nanny’s habit of writing long, expressive thank you notes, I still write thank you notes today, in a world where snail mail seems to be disappearing. My Nanny lives a life of gratitude no matter what she faces. She also teaches me that while being grateful is important, it is not all of the equation. Expressing gratitude can be a beautiful starting place for expressing love. Friends, I invite you to keep this idea and Meister Eckhart’s quote in mind as we explore our scripture lessons this morning.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Luke 17:11-19 Common English Bible

29 The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter from Jerusalem to the few surviving elders among the exiles, to the priests and the prophets, and to all the people Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon from Jerusalem.The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.

11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Disturbing hope. This is how the Common English Bible translation chooses to title Jeremiah’s letter to the Israelites in exile. Jeremiah’s hope in today’s passage is worthy to bear the paradoxical titles of disturbing hope and/ or unsettling hope. I have never been exiled. I’ve never been forced to live among people who wrecked my life. Because of how I grew up, I can’t completely comprehend and relate to the fear, unsettledness, and chaos the Israelites must have felt when they heard Jeremiah’s words. I can only imagine how counter-intuitive it must feel to settle among the people who essentially ruined your life and forced you to leave your land and comfort? How counter-intuitive it must feel for the exile Israelites to build homes, to plant crops, to pray for Babylon’s peace and for the welfare of those who forced them into exile, to married and have children and to go about their lives. How unsettling. Friends, would you want to build or buy a house right next to someone who has been cruel to your family or someone you might consider your enemy? I would not.

And yet Jeremiah’s words in today’s scripture contain a glimmer of hope and small seeds of reasons for gratitude. The exiled Israelites are encouraged to thrive where they are. They learn during the exile an entire generation will pass and it will more than likely be their grandchildren who return to the beloved land of Israel. Hope, even though it is unsettling.  Later in chapter twenty-nine, we encounter a reminder that ultimately God has a redemptive plan for the exiled Israelites. Even after 70 years of exile, God lays out a promise, which is probably the most quoted verse of Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare, to give you a future, and a hope.” Jeremiah’s words encourage the Israelites in exile to live their lives, to be witnesses where they are, to plant, marry, build homes. To make the best of their lives in times of unsettling hope. How might God be inviting us to be grateful exactly where we are today, even if we find ourselves in the midst of unsettling hope?  How can we praise God with a thankful and loud voice despite where we are?

Our gospel reading this morning points to idea of gratitude when mixed with love equals transformation. We are told the ten men kept their distance, a distance which their skin conditions dictate they keep. As if the physical pain of their skin disease was not enough to endure, the emotional toll and isolation adds to their burden. These men could not get close to anyone. They could not hug, even if they craved physical connection. They could not live with their families, even if they craved community. Because of their skin disease they had to humiliating cries, “Unclean! Unclean!” if anyone even started approaching them too closely.  Not only are the men plagued with a horrid, isolating skin condition; they are complete outsiders in society, unable to even go into the temple. Imagine the emotional toll of such a lifestyle, it would be de-humanizing.

Yet despite the men keeping their distance, Jesus saw them, as they cried out to him. He didn’t avert his eyes, choose to ignore them, and pass them by. He didn’t care if they were deemed “unclean” by society. He responds to their pain with kindness, healing, love, and mercy. Those who the world deems unworthy or invisible, Jesus saw and spoke with. He meets the ten men with a cascading waterfall of grace and offers healing. One of my favorite Bible blogs is: journeywithJesus.net. Theologian and blogger Debi Thomas hits the lectionary ball out of the park every week in her essays on weekly texts. I commend her blog to you. She writes about the profound shift the men encounter as Jesus heals them, saying:

“When Jesus heals their skin condition, he doesn’t merely cure their bodies; he restores their identities. He enables their safe return to all that makes us fully human—family, community, companionship, and intimacy. In healing their withered skin and numbed limbs, he releases them to feel again- to embrace and be embraced, to worship in community, to reclaim all the social and spiritual ties their disease steals from them. In order words, Jesus enters no-man’s land- a land of no belonging and invites ten exiles home.” Why not run back and give praise and thanks? I don’t want us to be too harsh on the other nine men who were healed. After all, it had been the first time in a long time these men were able to rejoin their family and communities.

Yet it is the Samaritan, the foreigner who runs back shouting loud praises words of thanksgiving. Outsider or foreigner in Greek, literally translate as “one with different genes.”  The Samaritan man was not only an outsider because his disease, he is an outsider because he is a Samaritan. Yet nine men were healed, one man was healed and completely transformation. “What does his otherness enable him to see that his nine companions do not? He sees that his identity- his truest place of belonging- lies at Jesus’ feet. He sees that Jesus’ arms are alone wide enough to embrace all of who he is—leper, foreigner, exile, other. A beloved and known child of God.” The one man with nothing left to lose, and everything in the world to gain runs back to Jesus. Only the one taking nothing for granted falls in love, the one who longs to find a home for his whole self, receives salvation.

“His gratitude is the kind that wells up from the deepest caverns of his yearning and sorrow. His the kind that takes nothing for granted. His is the kind that notices who rare, how singular, and how gorgeous grace is when it comes to the borderlands and says, ‘come on in. yes, you. You.’ His is the kind that finds God’s inclusive welcome stunning.” (Debi Thomas, journeywithJesus.net.) The Samaritan man discovers what can happen when gratitude becomes a beautiful starting place, and spills over into expressing love. The healed Samaritan’s story contains more than thankfulness lesson, it invites and points to a true transformation which takes place. A true doxology of praise.  A grateful life.

Do we fall on our face at Jesus’ feet and give thanks? Do we seek to live lives of praise and thanksgiving no matter what? Maybe if we consider the places we’re the outsiders, alone, isolated, or scared and sit with our deepest longings and heart’s desires, maybe then we could see how much we need Jesus to open the door and welcome our tired and isolated souls home.  Maybe then we will run and excitedly explain to others who we worship and who works to transform our lives.

Like the man who returned to Jesus, do we openly point to where God has transformed our lives and shout our praises? Do we send our thank you notes? No matter what side of the coin you landed on with Meister Eckhart’s quote- “if the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough,” do you stop and express gratitude?  Saying thank you might not be the only prayer.  Those two words may only serve as a gateway to relationship with Christ, but those two words sure are a powerful place to start. Amen.

Who Sits at Your Lunch Table?

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Text: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Luke 15:1-10

The past several Sundays, we have been taking a closer look at Jeremiah and Luke’s gospel. I’ll confess, as I read and studied Jeremiah’s words this week, it became clear how Jeremiah earned his nickname, the weeping prophet. After all, Jeremiah had a hard word to deliver to the people of Israel, a call to repent, to remember God, and to change. People never like to be told they need to change. In today’s text, God allows Jeremiah to see the impending destruction, the results of Judah following other gods, of the people breaking their end of the covenant with God, and the coming armies and danger which will occur as a result. I’ll also confess that there are lots of possible nooks and crannies to explore and get lost in throughout Jeremiah’s words today, and we are not going to have time to address all of those.

Our passages at first glance may seem to be in conflict with one another, but Jeremiah texts shows us how deeply we need repentance and grace in our lives and Luke’s text takes this idea of God’s grace a step further, illustrating the extremes Christ makes in order to find the lost and eat with sinners.  I invite us all to hear these words of scripture

Jeremiah sees a coming chaotic reversal of creation. It is as though the people Jeremiah speaks to continuously choose to wallow in evil and foolishness. One might imagine parents giving a child new clothes, sending the child outside to play and telling the child to keep clothes clean. As child goes about their day, it starts raining. The child sees a puddle on their way home and decides to try and jump over it, but instead slips in the puddle. Not only do they slip in the puddle, they decide to stay there to play and roll in the mud. Once the child is found by angry parents, the child says they only slipped in the puddle, however the parents point out you didn’t just slip in the puddle, you stayed in the puddle. (credit: Pulpit Fiction) It is as though Israel didn’t just slip in the puddle, they stayed there, rolled around, they wallowed in foolishness and turned away from God, they played in puddle and then rolled around some more. It is easy to visualize God’s face palm.

In God’s frustration, God laments and states the people are, “skilled at doing evil and inept in doing good.” God continues and calls the people saw/kawl which in Hebrew means a fool, or foolish. For, “a fool says in their heart there is no God.” The people Jeremiah prophesies to, live godless lives, and turn to false gods from other nations.  God shows Jeremiah what happens when foolish people turn away from God and God’s mercy. Jerusalem will be met with an intense wind and danger as the Babylonian armies bring war and destruction. Harsh words, indeed.

Yet there is however, a small glimmer of hope, all won’t be destroyed forever. Even in this coming Babylonian destruction, God mourns with people and for people. God laments saying, “My poor people” or in Hebrew bat ammi which has wide range of translations from beloved to sinful or wounded. God remains compassionately angry and holds people accountable. Jeremiah sees that all won’t be completely destroy forever, even though the rebellious actions of the people pierce God’s heart. The people’s choice to have no close relationship with God- hurts. The words are a call, frustrated plea and challenge to do better. In their foolish hearts, they could do better. How does this resonate today? What can we do better as God’s people?  Do we get out of the puddle or wallow in it?

Then on the other side of the coin, our gospel lesson from Luke, takes God’s relentless challenge for God’s people to do better, a step further as Jesus seeks to show the Pharisees who grumble about who Jesus decides to share his meals with, a better way. These familiar parables reveal God’s determination to not leave us to our own devices and destruction. God takes a tremendous risk, becoming flesh and living among us, to seek and save the lost no matter how stupid and skilled at evil we sinners are, individually or cooperatively.

Even the lost, and people who are skilled at doing evil and foolish can be redeemable in God’s eyes. God works to redeem creation, to save the lost no matter how thoughtless and skilled at evil we are. God desires to help us out of the puddle. God yearns for a reversal, for repentance and for us to recognize our need for mercy. God seeks to transform our evil into good and stupidity into wisdom while challenging us to participate in God’s radical welcome—to stop grumbling and celebrate each and every time the lost become found. The call to do better is always there. God never completely gives up on people. These parables are timeless examples of God’s grace. The coin and the sheep do nothing, they are simply found. While others may see sinners as totally at fault and blame for their lost-ness, Jesus shifts to the amazing effort that God is willing to do to claim and celebrate those who are found.

How might we do better at welcoming back the sheep who were lost, but who might have been lost in different ways from us? Those who are rejected or swept under the rug by society. Aren’t we all in some way lost, the sinners and the self-proclaimed righteous who grumble when other sinners get to eat with and be with Jesus? The righteous who can become blinded by their own perfections and by their own self-made images of god.  As Anne Lamott points out, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” Don’t they realize they are lost too?

As pastor David Lose, observes, “Might the man or woman who is addicted to substances and working to take steps towards recovery be lost? Might bullies and the lonely be lost?

“Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around football games and dance recitals be lost?

Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder the one priority be lost?

Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do just about anything to fit in be lost?

Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement be lost?”

God is actively searching to bring all to the table. Christ came for all types- lost, righteous, sinner, insiders, and outsiders. God is relentless, stubborn, insistent, and tireless in God’s redeeming work. God searches for all. All have a place at Jesus’ table.

Eating in Jesus’ culture was highly relational. As one pastor observes, “Eating isn’t catching a quick bite at the local coffee house and moving on. Eating — that is, sharing table fellowship — is a mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship. And so in eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is demonstrating a deep and abiding acceptance of those society has deemed beyond the moral pale.” Eating with sinners means encouraging his followers to do the same. Jesus shared table fellowship with all people, Pharisees and sinners alike.

Sometimes, the counter balance between good and evil take place on grand stages, in world events, court cases, sometimes this plays out in small ordinary places…like school cafeterias. I can only think of a few things more anxiety producing than walking into a cafeteria at a brand new school and not being sure where to sit or which table may welcome you. My guess is we all know what it is like to be alone at lunch or to witness someone who is lonely at lunch. You may have heard the story that came out of North Carolina about a young high school freshman who after sitting alone for a few days was joined by several upper class members of the football team. All the football players wanted to let him know he wasn’t alone and was welcomed. Several schools around the country have adopted a movement called, “We Dine together” which works to assure that no kid sits alone at lunch. To make sure everyone has a place at the table.

Church, might we have a “we worship together, we fellowship together, we serve together” movement? So friends, take a moment and imagine our church as a lunch table—are we welcoming? Do we go the extra mile in showing hospitality? Do we sneer at people who aren’t like us? Do we engage in outreach and make room at the table? Do we join in the communal rejoicing when the lost become found? Are we so excited that Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeks after us when we are lost, that we are understanding when Jesus brings a new sheep to the table? Is there always room at the table, do we slide over to make room? Do we branch outside ourselves and share table fellowship with those who society may deem unworthy? Do we seek to share food and resources? How is Christ calling us to do better?

Friends, the good news is Jesus Christ eats with sinners, Jesus welcomes sinners, God in Christ will seek after the lost with relentless energy, and will rejoice when lost are found. Later we will sing a beautiful hymn, “For Everyone Born,” listen to some lyrics, “And God will rejoice when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace- for everyone born has a space at the table. “Jesus doesn’t draw boundaries of relationship; all are welcomed at the table. There’s always room to be welcomed at God’s table, so let us seek to rejoice with and welcome all. Amen.