Halloween: O Holy Night

peanuts halloweenHalloween is sometimes called an evil or even a demonic holiday. However, I believe when we narrowly define demonic evil as fictional ghosts, goblins, and vampires that come out one night of the year, we may miss the true demonic evil that surrounds us every day—Greed, hate, racism, sexism, and all kinds of bigotry haunt our world day and night.

Furthermore, when one takes a close look at how our society observes All Hallows Eve, I believe one can reach the conclusion that Halloween may be the most holy night on the calendar. For example:

On what other evening of the year do we turn on our porch lights to welcome, not only friends and family, but all who may pass by?  All are welcomed and greeted with smiles and laughter, and “all” even includes witches, monsters and little devils. It does not matter who they are or from whence they came; all are welcomed equally.

On what other night do we non-discriminately give to others expecting absolutely nothing in return? Others only have to open up their hands, their bags, or their orange pumpkin-shaped containers before us, and we gladly and generously fill them with something good.

On what other evening do we give to others until we can give no more? We keep our porch lights burning until we have given all that we have.

On what other night do we share grace, so freely, unconditionally, and generously? On what other night do we truly give to others as God has given to us?

Halloween is not evil, and it is not demonic, at least not the way that the majority of us celebrate it. All Hallows Eve is hallowed. It is holy. It is unreserved grace. It is unconditional love.

And it is a shame that such generosity only happens once a year. If it happened more, perhaps there would be much less true demonic evil haunting our world today.

So, go buy your candy, get a costume, decorate your front porch, and get ready for a holy night!

Advertisements

Living in Amazement

Matthew 22:15-22 NRSV

The religious people of Jesus day were pious, and they were self-righteous. They believed they had earned their high position at God’s table. They deserved the blessings of life, abundant and eternal. They were so devout in their faith, so attentive to the laws, that God owed them. They had God and the world all figured out and believed they  possessed the keys to the Kingdom. They believed they were God’s gatekeepers and the judges.

They looked up at the rich, the powerful, and the strong with favor. After all, like them and others at the top, they were obviously blessed by God. And they looked down their noses with disdain at the poor, the disenfranchised and the weak with disdain. After all, they were obviously cursed by God. Either they sinned or their parents sinned. For whatever reason, the least of those in society obviously deserved to be least.

They looked up at those who accepted their biblical and world view with respect. And they looked down upon those who disagreed with their views with contempt.

Because they believed they had somehow earned the right to be the judge, they were more than willing to stone the adulterer, crucify the heretics with the thieves, mistreat the tax collectors, banish the lepers, oppress the women, restrain the mentally ill, hinder the children, ignore the bullied, even if that poor victim had been robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.

After all these who are the least in our society are the least, are on the bottom, for a reason. For whatever reason, it was very evident to them that God had not blessed them. And if God would not bless them, neither would they.

Then from Nazareth, from a place which nobody good ever comes, comes this radical named Jesus who turned the religious leader’s biblical and worldview upside down by actually identifying with those considered to be the least.

Jesus traveled all over and touched lepers,[i] cleansed the unclean,[ii] welcomed children,[iii] ate with sinners,[iv] praised minorities,[v] learned from one of another faith,[vi] loved the foreigner,[vii] respected a prostitute,[viii] gave dignity to Eunuchs,[ix] defended an adulterer,[x] protected the rights of women,[xi] brought peace to the mentally ill,[xii] lifted up the poor,[xiii] fed the hungry,[xiv] offered drink to the thirsty,[xv] blessed the meek,[xvi] advocated for prisoners,[xvii] and set the stage to one day promise paradise to a thief hanging on the cross,[xviii] and even forgive his own murderers who placed him on that cross next to that theif.[xix]

The judgmental and self-righteous religious leaders had about all that they could possibly stand.

“He’s destroying the very fabric of society. He’s making a mockery out of our religion. He is hurting our traditional Judeo values. And someone needs to put a stop to it.”

So they plotted, and they conspired, and they rallied their people and sent them to entrap Jesus. They were sly, and they were sneaky. They said to themselves, “We will soften him up first by showering him with a few compliments.”

‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. You eat with tax collectors, sinners and harlots. You love the good and the bad equally. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?

Jesus, though, doesn’t fall for it. He never lets down his guard.  Aware of their malice, Jesus said,

‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The question for us this morning is this: “Why were they so amazed?” Why were they so astonished by his answer? Why did they walk away astounded?

First of all, it is important to understand why Jesus called them “hypocrites” right before he asked them to show him the coin used to pay taxes.

The image on the coin was Tiberius Caesar. And the title on the coin was “son of God,” as the Romans considered Caesar to be divine.

So, the Pharisees would have regarded these Roman coins as idolatrous. The point can be made by the group simply producing the coin they had shown themselves to be hypocrites as they were breaking one of the big Ten Commandments.

Here they were, holier than thou judges judging Jesus, and Jesus drives home the point that he made in his very first sermon on the mount: “Why do you seek to judge one with a speck in his eye, when you have a log in your own eye.” You hypocrites. Haven’t you noticed that when you point your finger at me or at others, you have three more pointing right back at you? Stop playing the judge, and instead, try to work on the sin that is in our own life.”

I can imagine the faces of the religious leaders turning red as they realized that this one whom they were sent to entrap has now entrapped them.

But Jesus is not finished with them yet.

With one of the most well-known, yet most misunderstood quotes attributed to him, Jesus responds: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.”

I like to think that this is a moment where a light bulb came on for these religious leaders. For it was like Jesus asking them:

“Give to Zeus what belongs to Zeus and give to God what belongs to God.”

What would any good Jew say belongs to the Greek god, Zeus?

Nothing, of course. It all belongs to God. All that is, all that they had, all that they were, and all that they would ever have and ever be is but a gift of God’s amazing grace.

Suddenly it occured to them, they have done absolutely nothing to earn the blessings of God. God, the world, and others did not owe them anything. And all of a sudden the grace of it all became amazingly clear.

It all belongs to God, and God, God alone, is the judge of it all. They were in no position whatsoever to ever judge anyone. They did not own their faith, their synagogue, their traditional Judeo way of life, not even their own lives. They had a log in their eye alright. But it was much larger than the log of idolatry. It was the log of pride and self-righteousness.

And, if just for a moment they realized it.

“Of course Jesus, that is why you do not show deference to anyone or treat anyone with partiality. We are all the same. We are all sinners, every one of us. Yet, God still loves us. And as we have been given this grace, we must share it with others, especially with those who need it the most, especially with those whom society has deemed to be the least, especially those on the bottom who have been erroneously taught their entire lives that that God is against them.”

Matthew tells us that they then left Jesus “amazed.” When they realized that it all belongs to God, that it is all grace, that all is miracle, they left amazed by it, humbled by it, changed by it, and very grateful for it.

I have heard in many sermons that there are basically two types of people in this world: the grateful and the ungrateful. Although it may not always be that simple, I believe there is some truth to it.

Many ungrateful people are usually ones who believe that there is something owed to them. The world may owe them. Others may owe them. God may owe them. If they have health and wealth and salvation, many believe it is because they earned it. And they have a tendency to judge others who have not achieved what they have achieved, do not believe what they believe, and do not act as they act. Ungrateful people are seldom content. Some own many possessions, and they often worry, work, and strive to earn more. They become bitter when things do not go their way and when others do not agree with them. When bad things happen they bemoan, “Why me?” because they deserve so much better. Because they deserve better, they are seldom amazed by anything good that comes their way.

On the other hand, most grateful people understand that no one, not even God, owes them anything. They understand that they have done absolutely nothing to earn anything. And they certainly understand that they have not earned the right to judge anyone, for it all belongs to God, and only God is the judge. They understand that all is the gift of a gracious Giver. Grateful people are often content. They are fulfilled. When someone asks them: “How are you,” they respond that they are doing better than they deserve. If they only have a few years on this earth, a few friends and a few dollars, that is ok, because that is a few more than they earned. Grateful people are often amazed by anything good that might come their way. Like the ungrateful, they also cry out: “Why me?” But they do so when the good things come their way. Because they know that none of it is deserved. They walk around, live, eat, drink and breathe holy amazement. They are astounded by the sheer, amazing grace of it all.

And they have a passion to share grace with others, especially with those in this world who need it the most. Because they have received grace freely, they share it freely. Grateful people are the first to forgive the sinner, give drink to the thirsty, share bread with the hungry, care for the sick, visit the lonely, and offer friendship to a stranger.

Matthew says when Jesus pointed out that it all belongs to God, they walked away amazed. This morning, may we do the same.

[i] Luke 17:11-19

[ii] Luke 8:43-48

[iii] Matthew 19:13-15

[iv] Matthew 10:13-17

[v] Luke 10:25-37

[vi] Mark 7:25-30

[vii] Luke 19:34

[viii] Luke 7:36-50

[ix] Matthew 19:12

[x] John 8:1-11

[xi] Matthew 19:3-12, Luke 10:38-42

[xii] Mark 5:1-17

[xiii] Luke 16:19-31

[xiv] Matthew 14:13-21

[xv] John 4:11

[xvi] Matthew 5:5

[xvii] Matthew 25:36

[xviii] Luke 23:43

[xix] Luke 23:34

Stand for the Victims of Bullying

bullyIn the wake of yet another suicide incited by bullying at a local middle school, it is way past time for the church to take a stand. Sadly, for far too long, the church has been silent about bullying; and in some cases, the church has even been the bully. Unfortunately, there are reasons Christian pulpits are sometimes called “bully pulpits,” and some Christians are called, “Bible Thumpers.” They thump their Bibles and use their Bible to thump those who do not embrace their biblical views.

This is rather ironic when one considers that the Jesus of the Bible always stood on the side of the victims of bullying, on the side of those marginalized by society. He identified himself with “the least of these.”

He touched lepers,[i] cleansed the unclean,[ii] welcomed children,[iii] ate with sinners,[iv] praised minorities,[v] learned from one of another faith,[vi] loved the foreigner,[vii] respected a prostitute,[viii] gave dignity to Eunuchs,[ix] defended an adulterer,[x] protected the rights of women,[xi] made whole the mentally ill,[xii] lifted up the poor,[xiii] fed the hungry,[xiv] offered drink to the thirsty,[xv] blessed the meek,[xvi] advocated for prisoners,[xvii] promised paradise to a thief,[xviii] and even forgave this own murderers.[xix]

As we enter the season when some Christians bully non-Christians with their KEEP-CHRIST-IN-CHRISTMAS campaigns, let us begin a new campaign to KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTIAN. Let’s stand with Jesus by standing up and standing for those marginalized by society.

[i] Luke 17:11-19

[ii] Luke 8:43-48

[iii] Matthew 19:13-15

[iv] Matthew 10:13-17

[v] Luke 10:25-37

[vi] Mark 7:25-30

[vii] Luke 19:34

[viii] Luke 7:36-50

[ix] Matthew 19:12

[x] John 8:1-11

[xi] Matthew 19:3-12,  Luke 10:38-42

[xii] Mark 5:1-17

[xiii] Luke 16:19-31

[xiv] Matthew 14:13-21

[xv] John 4:11

[xvi] Matthew 5:5

[xvii] Matthew 25:36

[xviii] Luke 23:43

[xix] Luke 23:34

All Are Welcome, but…

Homecoming sign

Matthew 22:1-14 NRSV

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a King who hosted wedding banquet for his son. But today, let’s say that the Kingdom of God is like a church hosting their 160th Homecoming Celebration.

The church sent out invitations, publicized it in the newsletter, on their on their sign out front, on their website and all over social media. The invitation was generous: “A bountiful table has been set.” The invitation was inclusive: “All are invited.” And the hospitality promised to be extravagant: A fat cow grilled, a fat pig barbequed, and thirty fat chickens fried golden brown.

Now, most people who rode by the church and read the sign “made light of it” and never gave the invitation much thought at all. They simply continued down the road, some to their farms, others to their places of business, others to CVS or The Little Rocket. Most who came across it in their facebook newsfeeds continued to scroll down to look at funny pictures and videos that had been posted by their friends.

However, some people who read the invitation were rather offended by the inclusive welcome. “What do they mean, ‘all are invited.’? Do they really have the audacity to invite all? If I go, will I have to sit at the same table with the poor, the undeserving, the marginalized, tax collectors and sinners?”

Some became so offended by the invitation that they even had thoughts which proved that the preacher was right when he one day proclaimed: “When you truly love all people and try to convince others to love all people, there will always be some people, probably religious people, who will want to kill you.”

On the day of the feast, many were found to be unworthy as they refused the invitation because the very thought of attending any party with some people was too much to bear.

But many accepted the generous invitation. For they knew that the invitation to the table came not only from the church, but it came from the Lord Himself. So, they came. They came through doors that were opened wide and they came to a table made large by the Lord. They came, and they filled the sanctuary. They came, the good and the bad, saints and sinners. They came from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds and different beliefs. But they came united by the same extravagant love, the love of their Lord who lived for all and died for all. They disagreed, but they were not divided. They came together in love, through love and by love.

The love which united their hearts was so amazing, so divine, so selfless and so sacrificial that it literally changed them. It changed them inwardly, and it changed them outwardly. Sorrow was turned into joy, stress was replaced by peace, and despair was changed into hope.

It was a radical transformation. Everyone in the sanctuary that morning was covered with grace. They were clothed by grace. It was as if they were all wearing it like a beautiful garment.

Hate was replaced by love. Pride was transformed into humility. Judgment was replaced by acceptance. And complacency was turned into passion. Simply accepting the invitation of the Lord was replaced by a commitment to follow the Lord. Simply admiring the Lord being a shallow observer of the Lord, being a casual fan of the Lord, was transformed into a deep and deliberate discipleship.

Someone sent me the following quote on facebook this week:

Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Mere fans of Jesus don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans of Jesus come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul.

I have heard United Methodist Bishop William Willimon say something like, “Jesus does not want to meet our needs; he wants to rearrange our needs. He does not want to merely fulfill our desires; he wants to transform those desires.”

One of my favorite quotes by Henri Nouwen is that Jesus wants to take us to places we would rather not go: dark, dangerous, dreadful places.

And on that day, that glorious Homecoming morning, the people came and were changed the the grace of it all. They were overhauled. They filled the sanctuary, united by love, ready and willing to follow their Christ wherever he leads.

Then comes the disturbing part of the parable.

But one of the guests at the Homecoming service that day was sitting there in his pew unchanged. He was just sitting there unmoved, unaffected by the extravagant grace of it all, the generous hospitality of it all.

And he was asked, “Friend, how did you come here and not be changed? How did you accept such a generous invitation, receive such an extravagant hospitality, receive such a divine love and an amazing grace, and not be transformed? How can you receive love and not love others? How can you receive grace and not extend grace to others?”

The man was speechless. And the congregation watched in horror as the deacons sprung into action. They went over to the man, picked him up, tied a rope around his feet and hands, and carried him out the front door.

And when the congregation turned back around to face the pulpit, the preacher matter-of-factly said: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

That is harsh! It is why I don’t like this parable. But should it surprise us?

A couple of chapters later we read something remarkably similar.

A King will say, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 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.” Then 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?” Then 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.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Jesus seems to be saying, “All are welcome, but…”

The invitation is inclusive. The hospitality is extravagant. The grace is generous. The love is divine. The doors are wide and the table is large. All are welcome, and “all” means “all”, the good and the bad, the sinner and the saint, all are welcome, but…

All are welcome to this Homecoming Sunday this morning, but there is something more going on here on than a gathering of friends and family, an observance the Lord’s Supper, the singing of hymns, the preaching of a sermon and sharing an extravagant meal on the grounds.

All are welcome, but there is no real acceptance without the acceptance of others.

All are welcome, but there is no real love without loving those who hunger for it.

All are welcome, but there is no grace without extending grace to those who thirst for it.

All are welcome, but there is no forgiveness without forgiving those who have trespassed against us.

All are welcome, but there is no Holy Communion without the offering of our own bodies, the pouring out of our own lives as living sacrifices.

All are welcome to the table, but there is no true sharing, no true fellowship, no true nourishment, without feeding the hungry.

All are welcome to put on the white robes of baptism, but there is no meaning in those garments without clothing the poor.

All are welcome, but there is no life, abundant or eternal, without the dying of self.

All are welcome, but there is no salvation without the cross.

All are welcome, but if there is no discipleship; if there is no desire to follow Jesus; no commitment to stand against the bullies of this world, to share hope with the victims of bullies everywhere; if there is no commitment to stand for the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts; no desire to eat with tax collectors and sinners; no dedication to love the least of these our brothers and sisters; well then, the deacons might as well pick you up, bind your legs and arms, and carry you out the front door.

That is harsh. It is why I don’t like this parable. It is why I use the entirety of the Bible to interpret this part of the parable.

Now here’s the good news. As far as I know, there is not a deacon in this room who is prepared to pick anyone up and throw them out the door this morning. Each person in this room is different. We come from different backgrounds, different walks of life, and we have different beliefs. We are at different places in our journeys of faith. But we came through these doors this morning united by the same love: the extravagant love of our Lord who lived for all and died for all.

And listen to the good news in the words of the Apostle Paul concerning this love:

Jesus’ love is patient. Jesus’ love is kind; the love of Christ is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. The love of our Lord love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. The love of Christ does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. The love of the Lord bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.[i]

So let us join God and keep loving one another with the patient love of our Lord and our Savior. And may this love always be with us as we continually seek to change to be the people and the church God is calling us to be. Amen.

[i] Gale Burritt Hagerty, a thoughtful Christian friend responded  with these words from 1 Cor 13 to the interpretation of Jesus as “belligerent” and “demanding” in the following quote: “Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul.”

 

 

Christians Unite!

1 John 4:7-21 NRSV

It is World Communion Sunday, annually observed on the first Sunday in October to celebrate the unity of the world-wide Church. As a symbol of unity, of oneness, Christians from all over the world come together this day to confess “Jesus is Lord” and to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

In the 19th century, our Disciples of Christ forebears Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell were great proponents of such unity. They believed that, in spite of our different nationalities, languages, cultures and creeds, this table, the bread and the cup, and the great confession of faith “Jesus is Lord,” unites us all.

So as a Christian minister, especially as a Disciples of Christ minister, I am supposed to stand behind this pulpit on this day and confidently announce that because we participated in the Lord’s Supper this morning, and because we confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, we are united. We are in one accord, with Christians from all over the world who are sharing in the same supper and making the same confession.

It is seems to be great, sentimental thought, a gushy, romantic ideal. It sounds like the responsibly religious thing to say on this World Communion Sunday. But, the truth be told, I am not so sure I am buying it.

Are we really in one accord with the racist Christians who belong to the German National Democratic Party that is seeking to revive Nazism?

Are we on the same page with Christians in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria who are supporting laws that are brutally repressive to gay people?

Do we really want to brag about being on common ground with Christians in Jordan, Iran and Syria who have murderous hatred for the nation of Israel?

And are we unified with Christians, here in our own country, who believe that it is not only okay to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, and race, but believe it is their duty to God to do so?

Are we really at one with the Christian TV evangelist with big hair, big dimples and several big mansions they bought with money donated by people he swindled, many of them poor?

And why on earth would we even want to be associated with the Christians of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas who hatefully protest the funerals of our fallen soldiers.

Sometimes I look at the actions of Christians around the world and even down the street and think that I may have more in common those who do not profess any faith at all.

Like us, these Christians confess “Jesus is Lord.” Like us, they partake in the Lord’s Supper. And like us, they may even be partaking today on this World Communion Sunday, this very hour. But they are nothing at all like us. When they eat the bread today, it appears to be from a much different loaf. When they drink the juice or wine today, it seems to be from a totally different cup.

I believe there are many people in this world who erroneously only confess to be Christian. In chapter seven of Matthew’s gospel we read Jesus’ words:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [I think we could add here: “Did we not take the Lord’s Supper together in your name?] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

So, I must confess that I am sometimes glad that I am not united with some who confess Jesus to be Lord and who share in the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes it seems like our unity with others should be based on something greater than this.

In John chapter 13, we read these words of Jesus:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The John’s epistle we read:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

I believe God wants Christians around the world to unite today, not by just a table or a confession of faith, but also by the love we have for others. We are to love as God love us, selflessly, sacrificially, unreservedly and unconditionally. As the song goes, “What this world needs today more than anything else is love, sweet love.”

But here’s the problem with this all-we-need-is-love theology. It makes great, gushy music, but the love we have for others will never be enough to truly unite all Christians. For as much as we try to love one another, we most always fall short.

During a conversation with two members of our church in my office this past week, I shared how I recently had my feelings hurt when someone said something rather critical about the way that I pastor. One of our members said, “Aww, Jarrett, you’re feelings only hurt because you care so much; because you love others so much.” The other member, who may know be a little better, said with a smile, “No, your feelings only hurt because you have such a big ego.”

The truth hurts at times doesn’t it? The truth is that no matter how hard I try to love others, I always end up falling short. My ego, my pride, my sin is always getting in the way. Thus, as much as I believe Christians around the world need to come together and be united by a selfless love for others, if I am to be honest, I know that is not going to happen.

For example: it is nearly impossible for me to stand up here this morning and preach “love one another” and not have some hate in my heart for those Christians who do not love one another. Wasn’t the judgmental pride in my voice obvious a moment ago when I arrogantly suggested we were not united with, were better than, “other” Christians?

I sounded like the self-righteous Pharisee in one of Jesus’ parables who arrogantly boasted, thanking and praising God that he was not like the Tax Collector (Luke 18).

The truth is, when it comes to genuinely loving one another as God loves us, as hard as we might try, we all fall short.

So, what is it that truly unites us as Christians? Let’s look again at these words from 1 John:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

It is not our love that unites us. It is God’s love that unites us. Christians all over the world are united by the truth that “for God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christians all over the world are united by the great truth that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

This is what unites us as Christians. God loves us in spite of our egotistical love and our judgmental love. God loves us in spite of our arrogance and self-righteousness, and God loves us in spite of our hate.

Thus, the truth is that we do indeed have something in common with racist, Neo-Nazi, German Christians, with homophobic Russian, Ugandan, and Nigerian Christians, with anti-Semitic Christians around the world, with misogynist American Christians, and with those oppressors-of-the-poor TV evangelists living their mansions. We even have something in common with the hateful zealots of Westboro Baptist Church who picket the funerals of our fallen soldiers.

And 200 years ago, Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell were exactly right. This table and our confession of faith “Jesus is Lord” unite us all.

We are united by this meal, representing the body and the blood of Christ, representing the very life of God lovingly broken and graciously poured out for all. Christians all over the world, with all of our sin and shortcomings share the same bread and the same cup and receive the same grace.

We are made one by the great confession that our Lord is Jesus, the one who was sent to save us not because of our love for God, or for others, but because of God’s love for us.

This not some great, sentimental thought or some gushy, romantic ideal, and this is not just the responsibly religious thing to say on this World Communion Sunday. This is the gospel.

Saving the Soul of the Church

These days, churches are not only in danger of losing their members, many are in danger of losing their souls.

There are some pastors who look at their pews on Sunday mornings and assume that the reason they are empty is because the vast majority of people today have rejected Jesus, as they believe much of this world is going straight to Hell. However, I believe that many who avoid church these days have actually accepted Jesus. They love Jesus and even want to follow Jesus. The problem is that they simply do not see Jesus in the church, and believe it is the church that is on the way to Hell.

I believe you can go to any main street in the heart of downtown of any city in America and ask people the following question: “What’s the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word: “Jesus?”

People everywhere will respond: “loving,” “forgiving,” “compassionate,” “hospitable,” “selfless,” “sacrificial,” “humble, “radical.”

Then ask those same people: “What is the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word: “Christian?”

They will respond: “mean,” “judgmental,” “insensitive,” “unwelcoming,” “selfish,” “self-centered,” “holier-than-thou,” “boring.”—words that describe the very antithesis of who Jesus is and who Jesus calls us to be as his disciples.

And sadly, those of us who are a part of the church know that there are many good reasons for these thoughts.

The church’s mission is to make disciples, to make followers of Jesus. How is that possible when many in the church are not following Jesus?

If the church wants thrive in these days…no, let me rephrase that… if the church wants to survive in these days…no, let me rephrase that once more… if the church these days wants to avoid going to Hell, then the church must answer Jesus’ radical call to be his disciples, to live as he lived, lovingly, graciously, compassionately, hospitably, selflessly, sacrificially, humbly and radically.