Welcome Others, Welcome God – Remembering Jim Butler

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Genesis 18:1-8 NRSV

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.”

When you worship and follow the Lord, the creator of all that is, the one who has graciously chosen to accept, forgive and love us, be in a relationship with us, then you never know when or where the Lord might appear. It could be the most ordinary of days while you are doing the most ordinary of things, like sitting outside your tent, or on your porch, or sitting on tractor, or sitting on a four-wheeler in the heat of the day. You may or may not be in the right frame of mind to recognize the presence, but the presence is nonetheless real and nevertheless powerful.

Abraham is minding his own business in the middle of the day when, out of nowhere, three strangers appear on the street.

Next, without hesitation, Abraham does what the Bible says the people of God do for others, he welcomes them with a generous hospitality.

And notice, that when he sees them, he does not safely call out to them from a distance. He does not cautiously walk over to them. And he certainly does not practically ignore them and allow them to walk on by. When he sees them, the scriptures say that he runs to meet them.

And when he encounters these strangers, he does not stand arrogantly over them, above them, but humbly bows himself to the ground before them and speaks to them like a servant.

“Please do not pass me by. Let me get some water and wash the dust off your feet. Let me make a place for you to rest in the shade. My wife, Marjorie, I mean Sarah, bakes the best bread. Come and allow us to serve you. Then, you can continue your journey, refueled and refreshed.”

When the strangers agree to stay a while, Abraham can hardly contain himself. He is absolutely thrilled. He runs back inside, “Hurry, Marg, Sarah, prepare three cups of choice flour, knead it, and bake a delicious cake. He then runs out back to the field and takes the best looking calf of the flock and has his servant prepare a delicious dinner. He brought it to them under the shade tree and waited on them while they ate.

In other words, when Abraham sees the three strangers he said with his words and his deeds, with his very heart and his soul, with all that he has: “Boy, am I glad to see you!”

I never once visited Jim, when he did not say those beautiful words of welcome to me. Never saw him when he did not act like he was absolutely thrilled to see me. But here’s the thing, Jim was never acting. It was always so evident that his words of greeting were never said casually or disingenuously, but said from his very heart and and soul.

And I am told that this is how Jim welcomed everyone: “Boy, am I glad to see you!”

One day he came in from the house and told his family: “The Oklahoma Highway Patrol just pulled me over on my four-wheeler.”

“What?” asked his family.

“Yeah, I was riding in on the state road the runs by the farm and he pulled me over!”

“Did you get a ticket?”

“No” I didn’t” said Jim.

His family looked at each other and said: “It’s probably because when the patrolman walked over to Jim’s four-wheeler, the first thing that he said was: “Boy, am I glad to see you!”

As verse one of Genesis 18 suggested, we later discover that these three strangers were actually angels, messengers from God. I believe the point that our God wants us to get is this: When we welcome others into our lives, the Bible tells us, we welcome God. When we welcome others, the Lord appears.

This truth was also taught by Jesus. In chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel we read the following words of Jesus to the disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40-42). In Mark’s gospel we read where Jesus took a little child in his arms, and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:36-37).

And in Matthew 25 we read Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Do you see the pattern here? Jesus said that when we welcome others, we are welcoming Jesus. And Jesus said when we welcome him, we welcome God.

When we open our hearts wide, when we sincerely invite others in, when we let them know how glad we are to see them, we are welcoming God into our lives.

No wonder we always felt so good every time we were in Jim’s presence. We were also in the presence of God.

I am so happy that I had the opportunity to speak with Jim during the last week of his life to tell him how, as a pastor, I wished everyone in the church had the same gracious, hospitable spirit that he possessed. Because I truly believe that when we swing wide the doors of the church to sincerely welcome others, letting others know that they are genuinely appreciated, that we are truly glad to see them, as Jim welcomed and appreciated others, no one will ever doubt that God is in our church, that the Lord himself is present, healing us, forgiving us, loving us, leading us to be the very embodiment of Christ in this world.

As you have already heard from his children and grandchildren, it was obvious to all who knew and loved Jim and were known and loved by him, that Jim had most certainly welcomed the the Lord into his life. Not only because we know that he hardly missed a Sunday worshipping here at Central Christian Church, faithfully attending the early 8 am service which gave him time to do some work on the farm on Sunday if needed. But we know that Jim had welcomed the Lord into his life, because we know that Jim truly emulated Christ in all that he did.

Hear again to the words from his children, how they remember him, this time paying attention to the many ways Jim imitated our Lord:

Vickie said that he was always there for her, that he always had time to listen. Through words, but more importantly through his actions, giving her guidance and wisdom, teaching her integrity, honesty and respect for others and teaching her to be grateful for all of the blessings of God.

If everyone had a dad like him, what a wonderful world it would be.  Because everyone would grow up knowing they were safe, protected, and loved.  Everyone would know what it means to have someone to believe in …someone who believes in you, too. Everyone would be given the opportunity, and the joy, that our family’s been given…by having a dad as supportive, as caring, as simply wonderful as he was to us.

And Ron described Jim’s Christ-like life in this way: He was a friend to me. He taught me to give my best in all that I do. He showed me how to love others unconditionally. He put the needs of others before his own need. He showed the importance of a good marriage, loving mom and making her happy for 67 years. He was generous to others, but never wanted recognition for his generosity. He always had a positive outlook on life, saying, “everything is going to be ok.” But what I will miss most is hearing my dad tell others ‘I sure am glad to see you,’ and meaning it.”

And today, because Jim lived a life imitating his Lord, a life that proclaimed the gospel of Christ, because we know that the very presence of the Lord was not only in his heart, but also in his actions, in his love for others, we can celebrate this day. For we the have confidence that because God was with Jim, and because God is with us, “Everything is going to be ok.”

When Rev. Speidel visited with Jim on Monday, this is exactly what she told him. And she told him this with full confidence. “Everything is going to be ok.” Although he was unable to speak, Shannon said that he nodded his head and she was certain that he heard her and understood that everything was truly going to be ok.

Because we have no doubt that Jim had welcomed God into his life, we now know that God has welcomed Jim, fully, finally and eternally into the life of God. On Tuesday afternoon, I am certain that before Jim could utter the words, he heard them the following words from the very throne of God, “Jim Butler, boy, am I glad to see you.”

And because of that, today, we are not saying good-bye to Jim. Jim never liked that. Instead, we are saying, “We will see you again!”

Let us pray together:

O God, help us to continue to be grateful for the life we remember this day. May we graciously welcome others, and thus welcome you. So you will one day welcome us to our eternal home. Amen.

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