Who Is Your King?

christ the king

John 18:33-37 NRSV

Jesus has been arrested for his words and deeds and has already been questioned by Caiaphas, the high priest. Because the sad truth is, that in this world, when you love all people and teach others to love all people, there will always be some people, probably religious, who will want to kill you.

It is now Pilate’s turn to question him.

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus is the King. But as he told Pilate, Jesus is a different kind of King, for his kingdom “is not from this world.” He adds: “If my kingdom was from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

And, if we are honest, this makes those of us living in this world very uncomfortable. But that is Jesus. He comforts the afflicted of this world and afflicts the comfortable of this world. Whether we like to admit it or not, the truth is, we have grown rather fond of the kings and kingdoms of this world.

We prefer the kingdoms in this world that “would be fighting” to keep Jesus “from being handed over to the Jews.”

Nowhere is this more clear than in our response to the threat of terrorism that is in our world today.

We prefer “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

We prefer “It’s not our job to judge the terrorists. It’s our mission to arrange the meeting.”

We prefer “I hear you, and the ones who knocked down these buildings will soon hear from all of us!”

We prefer “the statue of Liberty…shaking her fist.”

The truth is that we prefer answering violence with more violence. We believe combating hate with more hate. We believe fighting for what we believe, even for Jesus.

We believe in coercing our convictions, imposing our opinions, forcing our beliefs, and we don’t care who it offends or even destroys in the process.

We prefer a kingdom where we say it loudly and proudly that “we eat meat; we carry guns; we say Merry Christmas; we speak English, and if you don’t like it, get the heck out.”

We prefer a kingdom where we do unto others as they do unto us.

We prefer a kingdom where we love and help only those who we believe deserve our love and help.

We prefer a kingdom where people know their places and have earned those places.

We prefer a kingdom where people put the needs of their own before the needs of a foreigner.

We prefer a kingdom where we love ourselves, while our neighbors fend for themselves.

Jesus is implying that there are two types of kings. There are the kings of this world, and then there is the king from another world. And Jesus is asking Pilate and Jesus is asking you and me: Who is your king? Who do you say that I am? Am I your King? Is your king from another world or is your king from this world?

One king offers safety;

One king promises persecution, saying if you follow him, people will rise up and utter all kinds of evil against you.

One king offers security;

One king demands risk.

One king endorses greed and prosperity;

One king fosters sacrifice and promotes giving it all away.

One king caters to the powerful, the wealthy and the elite;

One king blesses the weak, the poor and the marginalized.

One king accepts only people of like-mind, like-dress, like-language, and like-faith;

One king accepts all people.

One king is restrictive with forgiveness;

One king is generous with it.

One king controls by fear;

One king reigns with love.

One king leads by threat of punishment;

One king rules with the promise of grace.

One king governs by imposing;

One king leads with service.

One king throws rocks at sinners;

One king defends those caught in the very act of sinning.

One king devours the home of the widow;

One king offers her a new home.

One king turns away the refugee;

One king welcomes the refugee, for he, himself, was a refugee.

One king demeans and mocks women;

One king elevates women as an equals.

One king destroys his enemies with an iron fist;

One king dies for his enemies with outstretched arms.

For one king’s throne is made with silver and gold;

One king’s throne is made with wood and nails.

One king wears a crown of rubies and diamonds;

One king wears a crown of thorns.

So, of course the powers that be, the kings of this world, arrested the king “whose kingdom is not from this world.” Of course they tortured this king, spat on this king, mocked this king and crucified this king, this king from a foreign realm. Of course they tried to bury this king and seal this king’s tomb up with a stone.

But hate could not defeat this king. Bigotry could not stop this king. Religion and nationalism could not overthrow his throne. This king would rise again. But not the way the kings of this world rise. Despite the desires of his followers or the lyrics of their songs, there was no thunder in his footsteps or lightening in his fists. There were no plagues, fire, brimstone, or flood. There was no shock and awe or violence of any kind.

For this king understood what, sadly, few since have understood, and that is:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

Consequently, this king arose from the darkness of the grave, powerfully, yet unobtrusively; mightily, yet unassumingly; leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, leaving room to believe or to doubt, to reject him or to follow him. This king drove out the darkness, not with more darkness, but with light. This king drove out the hate, not with more hate, but with love.

So, how do we live in these dark days of November 2018?

It all depends on who your king is.

Three years ago this week, Antoine Leiris lost his wife in a terrorist attack in Paris. ISIS claimed responsibility. Days following at the attack, Antoine proclaimed to the world which king he chooses to serve. He shared it in beautiful tribute to his wife on Facebook, promising to not let his 17-month-old son grow up in fear of ISIS.

Friday night you took away the life of an exceptional human being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred…

I do not know who you are, and I do not wish to…

If this God for whom you kill so blindly has made us in His image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in His heart…

So I will not give you the privilege of hating you. You certainly sought it, but replying to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance which made you into what you are. You want me to be frightened, that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, that I sacrifice my freedom for security. You lost. I will carry on as before.

The good news is that our king is not Donald Trump and our King is not Nancy Pelosi. Our King was never Barak Obama or George W. Bush.

For their kingdoms, like all of the kingdoms of this world, are flawed and dark, and the peace they may offer is temporary. Their reigns are fleeting.

If we choose, our king is and will be the one whom the prophet Daniel speaks:

As I watched,

thrones were set in place,

and an Ancient One took his throne;

his clothing was white as snow,

and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames,

and its wheels were burning fire.

A stream of fire issued

and flowed out from his presence.

A thousand thousand served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.

The court sat in judgement,

and the books were opened. As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being

coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One

and was presented before him.

To him was given dominion

and glory and kingship,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not pass away,

and his kingship is one

that shall never be destroyed.  (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14)

Grateful to Be Done with Religion

done

Hebrews 10:11-25 NRSV

I am done. I give up. I have nothing left. I just can’t do this anymore. It’s over. No matter how hard I try, nor how much I put into it, I can never get it right.

And I know that I am not the only one. In fact, do you know what the fastest growing “religious” group in America is called?  They are called “the Dones.” At one time, they tried religion. But now they are done.

But here’s the good news—here’s what may be the best reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving: The wonderful truth about the Christian faith is that it is not a religion. No matter what anyone may tell you, the church is not a religious organization.

While I was pastoring a church right out of seminary back in 1993, a deacon in our church asked me where I saw myself in twenty-five years. Although I didn’t mention Arkansas, I told him that I believed that I would still be pastoring a church somewhere.

He laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?”   I asked.

“I see you more as the type who might be teaching in some college somewhere. I don’t think you are going to be a pastor.”

“Why do you say that?”

He said, “For one thing, pastors are generally religious people. And you, my friend, are not very religious!”

What this deacon failed to realize was that the church is not a religious organization. And the last thing a Christian pastor should be is religious.

Let me share with you what I think is a good definition of religion.  It comes from the late Episcopal Priest Robert Capon: “Religion is the attempt by human beings to establish a right relationship between themselves and something beyond themselves which they think to be of life-giving significance.”

Now, for some people religion has absolutely nothing to do with God.

For example, some say that I run religiously. I have heard my wife tell me that I read Runner’s World magazine like the Bible. I read it religiously to reach beyond myself, to run faster, achieve good health so I can enjoy the good life!

We’ve observed the religious habits of others. “He studies the stock-market religiously.” “She sanctimoniously follows a low-carb diet.” “He works 60 hours a week, religiously.” “He plays golf, religiously.”

We work out, eat right, study, go to work, follow a regimen, all with the same goal: to achieve life! So, it’s possible to be a religious fanatic and have absolutely nothing to do with God.

However, for some, religion is all about God. There are those who feel that we must be religious to get right with God. The main reason they go to church is to work on their relationship with God. They believe if they say the right prayers, believe in the right creed, behave the right way, avoid the right sins, then they can be right with God and God will bless them. If they can conduct their lives in a certain way, they can place themselves in a right relationship with God and achieve abundant and eternal life.

The bad news is that we human beings are always flunking religion.  No matter how hard we work at religion we can never get it right.

We can read all about running and how to run fast, but we will probably get injured.

We can study the Wall-Street Journal religiously and still make a bad investment.

We can religiously follow a diet and still gain weight.

We can place all of our time and energy into our careers, going to work early and leaving work late, and still be unappreciated and miserable.

And when we finally arrive at the place where we think you we have it right with God. When we finally believe we’ve got it right in the religion department, guess what? It only leads to pride and arrogance. A church member once told me, “I am the most humble person in our church!”

Sure you are.

In his wonderful book Unafraid: Moving Beyond a Fear-Based Faith, Benjamin Corey writes about a strange encounter with someone who was religious.

Upon meeting the gentleman, he wondered whether he could ask me a few questions to determine what kind of Christian I was. For some reason, I agreed—and ended up quickly regretting my decision, because the two questions out of his mouth were: “Do you spank your kids? And “Do you think gays are going to hell?”

I was like, “Wait…what kind of survey is this?” I should have known that this True Christian Surveywasn’t going anywhere, but in that moment I was foolish enough to answer his questions.

When I answered “no” on both counts, and answered another question to indicate that I did not believe in the rapture, the gentlemen told me that the reason why I was an adoptive father instead of a biological father was because God was refusing to bless me with children.

The good news of our scripture lesson this morning is that God came into the world through the person of Jesus Christ to put an end to such nonsense, to put an end to religion.

Hebrews notes that the priests stood before God in the temple. Well, of course they stood. There was no time to sit. There is no chair in the holy of holies.

And I know if a priest is going to be setting things right between God and my sin, he’ll never have a chance to sit down! The poor priest will constantly be running back and forth between my sin and God’s salvation.

No matter how great and sincere my sacrifice is when I go to the temple, my shortcoming as a fragmented human being are not going to disappear. The poor priest is never going to get a day off. He’s never going to be able to sit down. That’s why we read: “And every priest stands day after day at his service and offers again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.”

Now contrast the posture of the priest to Jesus. Notice what Jesus is doing? Jesus is sitting down. “When Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”

The veil in the temple, separating us from God was torn in two at his death. And through this great gift of God’s self, God revealed to the world that we should be done with religion.  Jesus is sitting down.

Consequently, there is no point of us getting on some treadmill of right thoughts, right beliefs, right speech, right actions, because that right relationship we so desperately seek has already been made right by God.

We have to only trust that God has indeed done what was needed to be done through Christ.

This is why our church teaches “no creed but Christ.” Being a member of this church is not about believing in this set of principles or that set of ideals, in that biblical interpretation or in this style of worship. It is about trusting and following Jesus.

That is why we call it the gospel. That is why we call it good news. If we called it religion, it would be bad news. Religion would mean that there was still some secret to be unlocked, some ritual to be gotten right, some law to obey, some theology to grasp, or some little sin to be purged.

This Thanksgiving, I thank God that through Jesus Christ this thing called sin between us and God has been made right. Thank God that the church is not a religious organization!  If it hadn’t, as irreligious as I am, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be in some other line of work by now!

The good news is, unlike the priests who are standing, running around, working hard, trying to get it right, Jesus is sitting down. His work is done. Religion is finished. We accept salvation trusting that Jesus has already done the work for us. Our relationship with God has been made right through him.

So, instead of spending holy moments working on our relationship with God, we can spend some sacred time working on our relationships with others, loving others as we love ourselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We don’t need religion, but we still need church. However, we don’t need church to get right with God. We need church to discover ways we can get right with our neighbor. Because what this world needs is not more people who say they love God, but more people who love their neighbor with the unconditional, unreserved love of Jesus. We are free. We are free from fear. And we are free to love.

I know that there are some who still believe that what we do here in the church is religious. They have never stepped out to follow Christ, to share the love of Christ with others, because they are waiting until they somehow get it right themselves. They are busy trotting back and forth to the altars of right beliefs, right thinking and right praying.

But this morning I am inviting all to come and realize that God has already made it right through Jesus Christ. I invite all to take a good look at Jesus this morning.

There he is. He’s sitting down.[i]

Thanks be to God.

Invitation to the Table

Each one is now invited to be served the bread and the wine of this table representing the broken body, and outpoured life of God.

There is absolutely nothing you can do to earn a rightful this table. There are no right words, right actions, or right beliefs. The good news is that when we could not make things right with God, God, through the sacrifice of Christ, revealed to the world that things have been made right. May we reflect on the sacrifice of God as we remain seated and sing together.

 

 

[i]Inspired from a sermon written by William Willimon.

Unless the Lord Builds It

grandaddy
My grandfather, Eugene Gaston Banks, Sr., served in the US Coast Guard patrolling the North Atlantic during World War II.

Psalm 127 NRSV

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

This is definitely true in marriage.

If a couple does not incorporate some of the basic tenets of the Christian faith into their marriage, their attempts to build a happy home will be in vain. Ephesians 5:20 reminds us that mutual submission in marriage should exist: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

If there is not some mutual sacrifice, self-giving and cooperation in a marriage, then there’s a pretty good chance that the minister who officiated that wedding wasted his or her entire weekend. Randy could have gone to that TCU – Arkansas football game! Howard could have played in that golf tournament!  And we don’t even want to think about what the parents of the couple could have done with all of that money they spent on the wedding!

Furthermore, as a Christian who seeks to be guided and defined by the love of God fully revealed in Christ, here’s the verse from Ephesians that means to most to me: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

If I do not love Lori with a self-giving, self-expending love that is revealed to us in the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, then all the effort we put into our marriage is in vain. 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

 This also applies to the church.

Like marriage, I believe the church should be built on the foundation of God’s love that was revealed on the cross.

One day, a very wealthy church member approached the new pastor after he preached a sermon on the inclusive love of Christ. He asked: “Pastor, we’re not going to be the kind of church that welcomes and accepts those people, are we?

By “those” people, I am certain he was referring to anyone who does not look like, live like, love like or think like him.

The new pastor answered, “Of course we are going to be that kind of church. For we believe that the love we are to model to others was fully revealed in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross reaching out to all people.

The wealthy man replied: “I suggest that you do everything in your power to prevent that from happening, or I am going to take my family and my money to another church!”

This story, which by the way is a true story, a very personal story, begs the question: “Can a church practice exclusivity and continue to be a church that the Lord is building?”

I believe the answer has to be “no.” For the inclusivity that is revealed in those outstretched arms of our Lord on the cross is foundational to who we are as the church.

A church that does not love and welcome all people in the name of the Christ who died for all is not a church at all, but is only the worst kind of club. And every member of that club is wasting their time. They worship in vain.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.

I believe this most certainly applies to our nation.

If the Lord is not building our nation, if our security and foundation is not in the Lord, then those who labor for this nation and those who guard this nation do so in vain.

Where this becomes the most serious, of course, is when we consider our veterans, especially our veterans who have not only guarded this nation, but gave their lives for this nation.

At one point during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC, we ran along the scenic Potomac River and what’s called “the Blue Mile.” This is a mile stretch of the marathon where fallen service members are commemorated in photographs along the roadway decorated with American flags.

As I ran the Blue Mile, I tried my best to read each name and their ages when they made the ultimate sacrifice. I did not see an age over 39.

As Americans, we owe it to them to do all that we can do to ensure their lives were not given up in vain.

We also owe it to every veteran who survived but nevertheless sacrificed much in service to our country, to do all that we can to ensure that they did not serve in vain.

In the 1930’s Henry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church of New York, once talked about the seriousness of the Lord building and shaping this world.He prophetically proclaimed:

For myself, I shall try to stand for Jesus Christ as the interpreter of… life. In this world with its cynicism, its disillusionment, often its disheartenment, how men and women are needed to stand for him with the intellectual, personal, and social implications of his gospel. And it is going to be serious business standing for him in this generation.

Fosdick then tells a story:

It is said that a man once came to [the great artist James Abbott] Whistler, and asked his help in hanging a new and beautiful picture. The man complained that he could not make the picture fit the room, and Whistler, looking over the matter, said, ‘Man, you’re beginning at the wrong end. You can’t make that painting fit the room. You will have to make the room fit the painting.’

Fosdick says:

So when we carry into this modern world the picture of [the] life that Jesus Christ brought, we cannot make it fit the room. Put it over against our private morals, our disintegrating family life, our economic system… it will not fit the room. We must change the room to fit the picture. [And] that is serious business.

It is important to mention that since Fosdick inferred that we the need to renovate of our nation to fit the portrait of Jesus, Christian “Reconstructionists” have sought to rebuild or reconstruct America to fit their personal interpretation of biblical morality. You need to know that I am not talking about doing that. I am not advocating transforming our democracy into some sort of theocracy. And I am certainly not advocating dismantling the First Amendment.

I am talking about building upon that foundation that was laid in 1776 with these powerful words found in our Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Although I do not believe our nation is or was ever intended to be a Christian nation, I believe these words found in our Declaration of Independence, like the words inscribed in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor…your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” are rooted in and influenced by the love of God revealed in that selfless, inclusive portrait of Jesus hanging on the cross with outstretched arms.

And for me as a Christian, it is this foundation that I believe should be preserved and built upon. This is what it means for the Lord to build the house and guard the city to ensure that the veterans who guarded this nation, did not do so in vain. And more importantly, that those who gave their lives for this nation, did not die in vain.

So, more than anything, what I believe our nation needs today is some Jesus!

I believe that means we must work to ensure that every person, regardless of their race, ethnicity, tax bracket, ability, and religion, is valued equally. That means we must stand against racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and Christian White Nationalism. We must speak out against Islamophobia, Xenophobia, trans and homophobia, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must work to ensure that every vote counts in our democracy. That means we must fight all tactics of voter suppression, voter intimidation and partisan gerrymandering, or else those veterans who served this country did so vain.

I believe we must work to preserve our fragile freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must defend the rights of every person to live, to work, to love and to have equal protection under the law. We must work for affordable healthcare, access to quality education and to fair living wages. We must do more that send our thoughts and prayers in response to the mass shooting epidemic in this nation, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must be relentless in the difficult work of peacemaking, of reconciliation, of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. That means we must stand against tribalism and the politics of vulgarity, vitriol, and violence. We must agree that words do matter, and we must be willing speak up against words that stoke the fires of fear and fan the flames of hate, speak against any word that seeks to divide us rather than unify us. We must work with other nations to end perpetual war and the profiteering from war, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must care for our environment, to do what we can to reduce the number of wildfires on the West Coast and the number of hurricanes on the East Coast and the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must continuously work for, march for, fight for, and vote for the liberty and justice of all, especially for the most vulnerable among us, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

This building-of-a-more-perfect-union was stated most beautifully in a poem written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed in action.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing,

Fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.  Take up our quarrel with the foe!

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high!

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Let us pray together…     

Dear Lord, please keep our veterans in your care and grant them the peace that they sought to safeguard for others. As we continue honor our veterans, we also pray for peace everywhere. O God, teach your children of every race, creed and faith, in every land, the ways of peace, freedom and equality, so that those who have sacrificed so much for peace and freedom will not have sacrificed in vain. It is in the name of Christ Jesus, the prince of peace we pray, Amen.

Accepting a Topsy-Turvy Gospel

Brett Medal

Mark 10:35-45 NRSV

We live in in some very dark times. These are difficult days to be a minister. These are difficult days to be the church. These are tough times to raise children. It is more than evident that the spirit of the anti-Christ is in this world. The spirit of the anti-Christ seems to have a grip on this nation, and it has even infiltrated the church. False prophets are everywhere.

Of course, this is nothing new. John put it in words 2,000 years ago:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

As Disciples of Christ were creating a movement to return to the simple teachings of Jesus in the 19thcentury, German philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietsche were denigrating those teachings calling them “a slave morality.”

Nietshche noted that Christianity seemed to be most popular among the people in his day who were at were at the bottom— the poor, women, children, people with disabilities, people of color, and slaves. He accused Christianity of giving hope to those at the bottom and offering very little to those at the top.

His criticism served as a warning to the church: “If you are not careful, if you keep teaching the Gospel of Jesus, you might fill your churches up with the wrong type of people.”

So, the false prophets went to work. Rejecting the gospel of Jesus, they began to preach and teach the antitheses of Jesus. “God only helps those who help themselves,” they declared. “Women should be submissive to men, at home, in the work place, in government and in the church,” they asserted. “Children should be seen and not heard and can be exploited for their labor,” they affirmed. “Jesus was a white man,” they pronounced in artistic portrayals. “God’s Word sanctions slavery,” they argued.

Today, an anti-Christ spirit still haunts this land. “They are lazy and entitled,” they tweet. “Her voice is too shrill” they post. “They are too young to have a voice!” they shout. “We need to stop the caravan!” they clamor. “God calls them abominations,” they preach.

When Jesus first predicts what would have to suffer and die, the disciples immediately reject it.” Simon Peter pulls Jesus aside and strongly rebukes him. When he makes his second prediction, the disciples “jostle for position” arguing with one another: “who is the greatest.” And now, after a third and more detailed prediction of what was going to happen to him, James and John approach Jesus “on the sly” and say: “[Do us a favor and grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Jesus had just laid all of the cards out on the table—the condemnation, the mockery, the spitting, the flogging, the death—and James and John seem to accept none of it. The two of them had no clue that the ones who would end up on Jesus’ right and his left would be hanging on crosses!”

When the ten become angry with James and John for making their request, Jesus realizes that they are still confused about the nature of God’s Kingdom.  So as New Testament Scholar Martin Copenhaver has said, “he does a little remedial work with them.”  Changing the subject from the ultimate act of self-giving love on the cross, Jesus talks about other forms of self-giving.  Once again, Jesus reverses our expectations, and says that to be great is to be a servant, even as he came himself to be a servant.

 

Last week, I said Jesus’ teachings turns our word upside down.

  • The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
  • To save ourselves we must lose ourselves.
  • To live we must die.
  • To get back at you enemies, love them.
  • To obtain riches, give everything you have to the poor.
  • A woman’s two copper coins, worth only a few cents, has more value than large bags of money that others put into the temple treasury.
  • The eyes of the blind see more clearly than the eyes of those with 20/20 vision.
  • The poor are filled with good things, whereas the rich are sent away empty.
  • A poor beggar named Lazarus is resting by Abraham’s side, whereas the rich man is begging for mercy.
  • A tax collector leaves the worship justified, whereas the Pharisee does not.
  • The grown-up religious leaders are like poisonous snakes, whereas little children are like the kingdom of God.
  • Foreign Samaritans are role models, whereas a priest and a rabbi are not.
  • The prodigal son gets a pair sandals, a ring, a fatted calf, a big party with music and dancing, whereas the responsible son gets nothing.
  • Religion is condemned, whereas sin is forgiven.
  • The female disciples are the first to proclaim: “He is risen!” whereas the male disciples are cowering behind locked doors.

Copenhaver observes: “The lesson [in Mark chapter 10] bears repeating, because we are continually trying to straighten up the order of things that Jesus turned topsy-turvy.”

I have experienced this on more than one occasion working with Ainsley’s Angels. I believe that the Ainsley’s Angels’ mission of radical inclusion mirrors the topsy-turvy teachings of Jesus. And because of that, the mission is sometimes rejected.

I have been told by race directors that our children and adults who are differently-abled are not welcomed at their races. We “create too much angst to be in their race,” they said. “Only the physically-abled and the physically-fit should be in a marathon,” some runners grumbled. Others have said that we are what is wrong with this nation, that “not everyone deserves a trophy or deserves to be in a marathon.”

The good news is that there are many people who have accepted the radical, topsy-turvy Gospel of Jesus. They have stood firm and have rejected the spirit of the anti-Christ that is in our land and are following the radical way of Christ.

There’s a church and a community that is helping to send a young man with Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy and Autism to the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. This is a marathon in our nation’s capital called “The People’s Marathon.” And it’s a marathon that is more than happy to include him.

There is a church that begins their worship service uplifting and dedicating small little children, because they know they are the keys to the Kingdom of God. And there are parents and grandparents who are willing to sacrifice everything for those children.

There is a church that has ordained both men and women as ministers, ministers who have never lorded over their congregations, but selflessly served alongside their congregations.

The good news is there are several churches in this city that are open and affirming to all people regardless of race, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or political affiliation.

The good news is there are people everywhere who have heeded Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger.

There are volunteers who have left the comfort of home to help survivors of recent hurricanes.

There are teachers, social workers, and childcare workers, who sacrifice much to educate, protect and care for the children of this world.

There are people with empathy who are marching and organizing and giving all that they have to create a nation with less racial, social, economic and environmental injustice.

There are people who believe Black Lives Matter, and of course, they also believe Blue lives matter, as they have created an organization called PACE, Police and Community Engagement that creates safe place for conversation.

There are law enforcement officers and firefighters who are willing to lay down their lives to protect and serve their communities.

There are artists who are imagining a more just and equitable world.

There are women refusing to be kept silent by patriarchal powers of oppression.

There are children speaking truth to power by saying “enough is enough” to violence.

There are soldiers still willing to sacrifice their lives for liberty and justice for all.

There are elderly who spend their well-earned retirement volunteering at the hospital.

There are voters who care about the things Jesus cares about who are going to the polls.

Dan Rather has noted: “[There’s] the city bus driver who waits patiently for an elderly rider, the crossing guard who gives the children a bright smile, the doctor who volunteers to treat the homeless, the ranger in a national park who introduces a city kid to the wonder of tall trees.”

In other words, although many have surrendered to the spirit of the anti-Christ, rejecting the teachings of Jesus for possessions, position, privilege and power, there are many who have accepted this Topsy-Turvy Gospel—And because of that, a light shines in the darkness.

Thanks be to God.

I’ve Got Some Bad News, and I’ve Got Some Good News

economy stupid

Mark 10:17-21 NRSV

I’ve got some bad news and some good news.  Let me give you the bad news first—for that is the order that it comes to us through this morning’s scripture lesson.  The bad news comes early.  The very first line sets the ominous tone: “As he was setting out on a journey…”  And we all know where that journey takes Jesus, don’t we? The betrayal, the denials, the condemnation, the mocking and the crowds cheering it on, the crucifixion, death.

The bad news is that the journey we are on as followers of Jesus leads us to the cross. It leads us to places that we would rather not go. It leads us to sacrifice and self-expenditure. It leads us down a road that turns our world upside down. To be first, we must be last. To be great, we must be a servant. To save our lives, we must lose our lives. To live, we must die.

Furthermore, this morning’s lesson teaches that the really bad news is that this journey is especially difficult for certain people.

“A man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and asks a very good question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replies: “You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth.”

Jesus, I have been going to Sabbath School since I as a little boy!

Mark says Jesus then looked at the man, and loved the man and said, “But you lack one thing. Go sell everything you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

When the man heard this, he was shocked. And he went a way grieving, for he had many possessions.  Can the news be any worse?

This is bad news because here we have a very good man, a law-abiding man, a frequent synagogue goer, a religious man, a sincere seeker, who is unable to answer the call of Jesus to become one of his disciples.

In fact, I believe this is the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus calls someone, and that call is rejected.

And here is the really bad news for us. The reason the call of Jesus is rejected is wealth. He is unable to follow Jesus, unable to experience, life, abundant and eternal, because he has a lot of stuff.

This is a discouraging teaching for those who live in a culture that believes wealth is the answer to all of life’s problems. It is no secret that the voters of this country elect their leaders based on what? The leader’s IQ? Nope. The leader’s moral values? Oh, heck no! The leader’s sense of compassion and empathy for others? Ha! The leader’s anti-racist, anti-sexist sentiments? Lord, have mercy!

It was the campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign who answered that question most clearly when he said, “It’s the economy stupid.”

What our nation values the most is wealth. And we seem to be willing to sacrifice everything that is good and decent and holy to achieve it.

And look where that has got us as a nation today. Bob Marley knew what he was talking about when he said: “Money is numbers and numbers never end. If it takes money to be happy, your search for happiness will never end.”

The spirit of greed that possesses and guides this nation is bad news when we realize that people with wealth, folks with lots of stuff, do not fair very well in the Bible. Jesus said it is as harder to get someone like that saved than it is to get a camel through an eye of a needle.

That’s the bad news.  Now, are you ready for the good news? The good news is that this is not the end of this morning’s lesson.

Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible [for someone with lots of stuff to receive eternal life] but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

The good news is that with God all things are possible. And the good news is that this is one of the few times in the gospel story that ol’ Peter opens his big mouth and blurts out something without getting pulled aside and rebuked by Jesus.

Peter says: “Lord, we have left everything—homes, family, friends, jobs—and we have followed you!”

Peter is saying we are not like the one who came inquiring about eternal life, only to be shocked and grieved by your strange answers. Although you turned our world upside down, although you said things to us like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and to be the greatest we must be a servant, to save ourselves we must lose ourselves, to live we must die, when you called us, we dropped everything.

We let go of a lot to follow you.  And although we do not understand half, a third, ok Jesus, one fourth of the things you teach us, although you scare us to death when you talk about being arrested, tried and crucified, we’re still here.  We didn’t walk away.  We’ve stayed the course and kept the faith.  We may not understand everything, but we listen! Well, every now and again we might fall asleep, but sometimes we take notes.

The good news is that our lesson this morning does not end with the rejection of one greedy man. It ends with a promise from Jesus:

“I promise you, for everything you have given up, I will give you much more.  For everything you have turned your back upon, I will give you a hundred times more.”

Now, are you ready for the really good news?

None of you in this room are like the one who came inquiring about eternal life, only to be shocked and grieved by Jesus’ strange answer. Although Jesus turned your world upside down, although he said things to you like the first shall be last and the last shall be first and to be the greatest you must be a servant, to live you must die, when Jesus called you, you answered the call. You let go of a lot to follow him. And although you do not understand half, a third, ok Jesus, one fourth of the things Jesus teaches you, although most of you don’t even remember last week’s sermon, although Jesus scares you to death when you read of him talking about being arrested, tried and crucified, you’re still here. You’ve not walked away. You’ve stayed the course. You’ve kept the faith.  You may not understand everything you hear, yet you come to this place week after week after week and you listen. Yes, sometimes you fall asleep.  But sometimes, some of you even take notes.

Although every muscle in your body aches and your knees and hips are worn out, and it hurts to walk and it hurts to sit, and it hurt to stand, you somehow make it to this place every Sunday you can. When you wanted to pull the covers up over your heads and sleep in on this cool Sunday morning, you got up. You got yourself ready and you came. You are here.

And not only are you here to listen to these strange teachings of Jesus, you have decided to follow him on a journey that leads to the cross.  You have decided to follow Jesus on a journey that leads to sacrifice and self-expenditure.

Some of you have given up wealth as you decided to work only part-time so you could spend more time with your children at home.

Some of you have turned down job promotions that would have brought you untold riches so you could stay here and take care of family.

And many of you, although you don’t have to, and really don’t want to, have made commitments to be selfless servants. To prepare and serve sandwiches to the food-insecure. To prepare and serve meals at Hope Campus. To visit a nursing home. To advocate for someone with special needs.  To volunteer at the hospital. To be a deacon, an elder or a Sunday School teacher. To work with our children and youth. To give to a hurricane relief fund. To do whatever you can, and whatever it takes to make this world a better place.

And even those of you who feel like you do not do that much in the church, you still contribute something that is very precious to all of us. Something that only you can contribute. The greatest gift of all.  You give us the gift of yourself. You contribute your presence. You are here. And I know I am speaking for many when I say, “I am a better person because of it!”

The bad news is the story of this man with a lot of stuff ends with grieving and rejection. The good news is that his story is not your story. For even when you were shocked by Jesus’ teaching, you dropped everything and followed him nonetheless.  And your story ends with a promise from Jesus.  Thanks be to God.

This at Last

godsnotfinished

Genesis 2:18-24 NRSV

Americans have always had a high regard for independence. We believe in a staunch individual ethic that leads people to step up, step out, and stand on their own two feet. We look up to those who are able to look after themselves, to take care of number one, to be responsible, to be independent. And we tend to look down on those who are dependent on others for their survival.

This is arguably the greatest virtue of our society, the aspiration of every boy and girl. Study hard, grow up, move out on your own, and get a good job, so you can become self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-supporting. And bookstore shelves and YouTube videos labeled, “Do-it-yourself” and “Self-help” are filled with books and videos to help us keep our independence. Anything else and you are considered to be a failure, worthless, no count, lazy, good-for-nothing. Yes, in our society, independence is what it is all about.

Many grocery stores now have “self-checkout” lines that are almost always available no waiting. If you are smart enough to check your own groceries, if you have good ol’ American wherewithal and work ethic, if you are responsible and have learned to really be independent, if you have elevated yourself to a place where the assistance of a Wal-Mart cashier is truly beneath you, then you’ve earned the right not to wait in line.

Independence. It is what makes turning 16 and getting your driver’s license so wonderful, and it is what makes the day the doctor or your children take the car keys away from you so dreadful. It is what makes owning a home the American dream, and what makes the thought of moving into nursing home a nightmare.

Perhaps more than any other day, we fear the day we lose our independence. It is the reason we save for retirement, eat right, take our vitamins and exercise; so we can remain independent to the bitter end.

This is why coming to church can sometimes be confusing, and oftentimes, challenging. We come to church and open our Bibles only to discover that God’s ideals and virtues are oftentimes very different from our own. We come to church to reaffirm our beliefs, only to have God call those beliefs into question.

On the very first pages of our Bible, we learn that the first thing that God said was “not good” was, guess what? Our independence.

“This is not good,” says the Lord, “I will have to keep working, continue creating, to make you a partner, a co-equal, someone on whom you can depend to help you be the person that I have created you to be.”

So out of the ground, the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.

And then the man searched high and low. He became acquainted with each creature so closely, that he was able to name each one. But out of all of the animals that he encountered, and out of all of the birds that he watched, he could not find a single suitable companion, a partner on whom he could depend, a co-equal with whom he could share a mutual relationship and an intimate communion.

But God did not give up. God was not finished. God was intent on helping the first human be the person he was created to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. However, this time, not from the ground; but from the man himself.

As the man slept, God removed one of his ribs and used that rib to make a woman. Instead of forming another human being from the ground, God split the first human being into two beings and then presented her to the man. It was then that the man said:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”

This at last is the relationship for which have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which I have been longing.

This at last is my partner, my companion, my confidant, my sister.

This at last is my equal with whom I can be mutually connected.

This at last is someone on whom I can depend.

This at last is what I have needed to be the person that God has created me to be.

This at last is one that I must love as myself, for…

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

 

This is why we are to love others as we love ourselves. And this describes every man and every woman. We are co-equals, mutually connected and bound together.

This should describe the moment patriarchy died, the moment misogyny and sexism, racism and bigotry, became implausible. However, we know all too well that this is not what happened.

The good news is that this is not the end of God’s creative story.

The good news is God was not finished with God’s new beloved community. God knew that an even greater communion was needed if we were ever going to be the persons that God has created us to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. And, this time, God took it one step further.

God looked at God’s beloved community. God saw the good in it, but also the wicked in it. God saw the sexual assault. God saw the domestic violence. God saw the hate, the mocking and the crowds cheering it on. And God knew that it could be so much better.

So, God, God’s holy self, decided to join the community! God came to be with us, and God came to be one of us. God came to show us the way. God became flesh. God became bone. And God’s beloved community called him “Jesus.”

And one night, as Jesus sat with his beloved community at a table, he took bread and broke it, and blessed it, saying, “This is my body.” Then he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood.”

And here we are this morning. We have gathered here this morning at a table with Christians from all over the world, mutually connected, depending on one another and communing with one another, but also depending on and communing with a Savior, singing together in one voice:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”

This at last is the relationship for which we have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which we have been longing.

This at last is our partner, our companion, our confidant, our brother.

This at last is someone with whom we can be mutually and eternally connected.

This at last is someone on whom we can truly depend.

This at last is what we have always needed, all we will ever need, to be the persons that God has created us to be.

This at last is the One who reminds us that we are all interconnected by the love of our God who never gives up on us, who keeps working and keeps creating until the whole creation understands that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

One day, I was talking with someone who was dying with cancer. He told me that his illness had demonstrated to him the things that were truly important in life. He said, “And the funny thing is, that they are the opposite of what I always thought was important.”

He said: “I never knew how many friends I had until I got sick. And I never realized just how important they are. Jarrett, the truth is, ‘We really do need a little help from our friends.’”

Before his illness he admitted that what he had valued more than anything in the world was his independence, “but no more,” he said, “no more.”

Then he said: “Maybe that is why God created us to depend on one another. It is like some kind of training.”

“Training?”

“Yes, training,” he said, “because the most important thing in this life is to reach a point where we learn to be dependent on God, to reach to a point sometime before we die, where we have truly put our lives into the hands of God.”

It was as if he was saying: “No more! Because, now I see it. Now, I get it. In my most vulnerable, most dependent state, now, I know it. This at last is what life is all about!”

This at last is why we are here: to learn be in relationships; to learn to depend on one another; to learn care for one another; to understand that at last we are all related; we are all equal; we are all united; we are all one;

And as we depend on each other, we learn to depend on the One on whom we can depend on forevermore;

the One who came to us at last;

the One who came to be with us and for us;

the One who came to show us how to be the people God created us to be;

the One who is still not finished;

the One who is still creating and recreating, working to transform this world God loves by calling disciples, ministers and prophets, male and female, in every country on every continent; We learn to depend on this One:

This at last, Christ, our brother, our teacher, our Lord and our Savior, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.[i]

[i]Inspired from: This at Last!, An Intergenerational Liturgy for World Communion Sunday, Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost year B, was written by the Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri.

 

On the Side of Children

Florence Track

Mark 9:30-37 NRSV

Hurricane Florence was first predicted to come ashore in southeast North Carolina and then take a take a northwestern path. This was a dire prediction for my friends and family who live in northeastern North Carolina as they were prepared to experience the most dangerous quadrant of the storm. It looked like Florence was going to take the same path of Hurricane Floyd, the storm that flooded our home in 1999.

However, just a couple days before the storm made landfall, the prediction changed. It was still going to come into southeastern North Carolina, but then it would take a turn towards the south before moving westward before heading North. It was this change that spared my friends and family living in the northeastern part of the state.

Last Sunday, I read the following post on facebook:

It is not that the weatherman missed the prediction. It is that God spared us from the worst.

The statement immediately received nearly 50 likes and drew comments like:

Amen.

God answers prayers.

God answers prayers. And not just prayers, but prayers in numbers.

God protected us.

We are blessed.

I understand in part why they posted it. Things could have been so much worse, and they were grateful, and they were grateful to God..

However, I could not help but to think: “I hope no one in Wilmington, Fayetteville, New Bern, Lumberton or Kinston reads this.”

Then came obvious, disturbing questions:

Were the prayers from the people living in those devastated cities not answered? Or were there was just not enough people in those cities praying? Did they have a higher number of people praying in northeastern NC?

If God could spare northeastern NC by turning the storm, why didn’t God just turn the hurricane out to sea before it made landfall and spare everyone? Did God favor one side of North Carolina over another?

I suppose many would tell me that I am not supposed to question God. “God has God’s reasons,” they say. “It is just God’s will and we have to accept it,” they say.

But I am not the first one to ask such questions. In Luke 13, we read people asking Jesus if the Galileans who were massacred by Pilate were killed because of some sort of sin in their life. Or if the Jews were killed when the tower of Siloam fell, perhaps during a storm, because of something they did or did not do.  Jesus emphatically answered them: “No, I tell you.”

Throughout time, it has been very popular to believe that it is always God’s will if someone comes to power, no matter how horrible that person is. It is God who causes earthquakes, sends tornadoes, and steers Hurricanes, sparing some while destroying others.

This very popular but what I would call very “twisted” theology becomes even more disturbing when one considers the children.

On Monday of this week, in Union County, North Carolina, where Lori and I both attended college, the body of 1-year old Kaiden Lee-Welch was found. According the sheriff’s department, she was swept away in rushing waters from a creek that had overflowed.

Last Sunday, in Dallas, North Carolina, just a few miles from where Lori was born and raised, 3-month-old Kade Gill died after a tree fell into a family’s mobile home and struck the boy and his mother as they sat on a couch.

The very first death I remember being reported occurred soon after the Hurricane made landfall on that Friday in Wilmington.  A 7-month-old baby was killed, also by a tree that fell into a home.

What kind of God steers a hurricane on a path that kills little children? It is certainly not the God that is revealed in words and works of Jesus, the one who welcomed the children, the one who said that it was better for one to tie a millstone around one’s neck and be cast into the sea than to cause any child to stumble.

So, why do so many still insist that God is the reason that some are spared from Hurricanes and others, even little children, are not?

I believe this morning’s scripture lesson possibly holds the answer.

Mark 9:30: “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;”

He didn’t want anyone to know the truth. Perhaps he was afraid that like so many Christians today, they could not handle the truth. The truth that “the Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him….”

Verse 32: But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

One reason some of us insist God is sending and steering Hurricanes is that we still have a difficult time accepting the truth that God suffers. We do not understand the suffering of God, and we are afraid to ask him. We are afraid, because if God is a God who suffers, then those of us who are created in the image of God, are also created to suffer.

I believe that God’s hand can be seen in the desolation of Hurricane Florence; not causing or controlling the storm, but in those who suffer while responding to the storm—the firefighters, police, paramedics, soldiers, doctors, nurses, pastors, counselors and utility workers; those who have left the comfort and safety of their homes to give of themselves to serve their neighbors in need. The hand of God can be seen the suffering servants of God who are doing all that they can do to bring healing, peace and restoration.

Verse 33 & 34: Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’

But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.”

And there it is.

Perhaps this is the true reason that people are quick to say God controls the path of Hurricanes. People still like to make the argument that they are the greatest—

“I am great, for God hears my prayers. I am great, for God spared my house. I am great, for my home did not flood. I am great, for no one in my family was killed. I am great, for am not suffering.”

Verse 35: He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’

Jesus says, “No, I tell you, avoiding suffering is not an indication that you are great. No I tell you, being in a state of comfort and safety does not mean you have God’s stamp of approval on your life. No, I tell you, being spared from a storm is not a sign that you are blessed.”

No, I tell you, if you want to be great, if you want God’s stamp of approval, if you want to be blessed by God, you must be willing to sacrifice, put yourself last, place the needs of others ahead of your own needs, be a servant, suffer with those who are grieving, agonize with those who feel forsaken, betrayed and powerless.

Verse 36 & 37: Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

In other words, Jesus said: Do you want to be great? Do you want to be on the side of God? Then, don’t take the side of the powerful, the privileged and the protected. Instead, always take the side of the most vulnerable among you. Take the side of children who are so precious and fragile, whose lives are threatened or lost. Take the side of women who have been unheard, whose lives are disregarded and degraded. Take the side of victims who have been blamed, whose lives have been disrespeceted and diminished.

As the Proverbs declare:

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9).

So, where was God in Hurricane Florence? Contrary to popular theology, God was on the side of those who experienced the worst of the storm. God was on the side of the children who were swept away. God was on the side of the babies who were crushed. God was on the side of the elderly who drowned. God was on the side of forty-two of God’s beloved who died in the storm.

Where was God in the storm? God was on the side of Windy Newton and Nicolete Green who drowned in the back of a sheriff’s van as they were being transported to a mental health facility. God was on their side feeling their fear, knowing their terror, experiencing their confusion, tasting their deaths.

What was God doing during Hurricane Florence? God was suffering. God’s self was being broken. God’s self was pouring out. God was grieving with those who lost their loved ones, hurting with those who lost property, agonizing with those whose homes were destroyed, distressing with those whose livelihoods were lost.

And the good news is: because God was present, so was life—life—hopeful, abundant and eternal.

God was there to begin the holy work of transforming the anguish into peace, the despair into hope and the deaths into life.

And God is with all of us who choose to follow the Lord in this holy work. God is with us when we become suffering servants, putting the needs of others ahead of our own, giving sacrificially to Hurricane relief through our church, planning or supporting mission trips to the devastated areas.

And God is with us at this very moment. Because as we gather around this table in communion with Christ, we are joined with the trials and sufferings of all people.

This morning we pray that through Christ we too would be with those who endured the wind, rain, and flooding.

As we come to this Table, may Christ’s presence be known to all those who are suffering from the storm, just as He makes His presence known in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup – at this Table and around the world, in every nation, among every people.

These are the gifts of God for God’s people! After we sing our hymn of communion, let us receive them with joy, gratitude and hope.