Christmas Shoes

sandals2

John 1:6-8, 19-28 NRSV

Regarding the gift of Christmas, the gift of God’s enfleshed self to the world, John said, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It was written in Jewish law that “pupils should do everything that is commanded by their teacher with the exception of unlacing the teacher’s shoes.”  The subservient task of kneeling to the ground and unlacing another’s shoe was something only a slave should perform.[i]

This means that John not only regarded himself unworthy to be a disciple of Jesus, he believed he was unworthy to even be a slave of Jesus. When he compared himself to the one wearing the shoes of Christmas, John regarded himself as lower than the lowliest lowly.

And who could blame him? John was talking about God, the Holy Creator of all that is, the Divine One who has come down to earth wearing shoes. John was talking about the great sovereign of the universe from on high, miraculously and lovingly stooping  low enough to the earth to kneel down to the ground,  put on, lace up and wear shoes. John was talking about heavenly feet accustomed to walking on celestial streets where angels trod that have put on earthly shoes in order to walk the same roads each one of us walk.

Although it was John’s plan to make our windy and rocky roads straight and smooth for these holy shoes, the purpose of these shoes was to walk every crooked path, experience every twist and turn, identify with every bump, every dip, every rut. The Lord of Hosts stooped down, knelt down, and laced up shoes to walk down snaky roads; travel down uncertain roads; journey down long, lonely, and desolate roads.

God knelt down and put shoes on feet that would grow weary and sore from those roads. God laced up shoes that would cause great suffering when Jesus’ feet would swell, blister and bleed.

Those shoes ran down fearful, foreign roads to escape Herod’s sword. Those shoes would journey down dark, dangerous wilderness roads that try the soul. Those shoes would travel down desperate roads to bring good news to the poor. Those shoes would travel down neglected roads to give dignity to those marginalized by a religion that had been hijacked by evil. Those shoes would walk roads lined with the hypocritical and judgmental to defend and forgive the sinner. Those shoes would move down roads paved with suffering to heal and restore the sick. They would go down tear-soaked roads to comfort mourners and raise the dead.

And near the end of his road on this earth, those holy shoes, worn, frayed and tattered by life, would lead him to a table with his friends. After supper, he would get up from that table, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. He would then pour water into a basin. And like his humble beginning in a lowly manger, he would once again stoop down, kneel to the ground, and lovingly, empathetically and subserviently untie the shoes of each one at that table, even the shoes of the one who would betray him and of the one who would deny ever knowing him.

Now, in the historical and cultural context of the day, the disciples’ shoes would be removed long before they reclined at the table. However, figuratively and theologically speaking, Jesus untied their laces and removed their shoes.[ii]

Relief, respite and release overcame them as they realized that none of their unworthiness prevents their Lord from graciously taking their feet into his hands and washing away all of the dirt and grime from every road they had ever traveled. None of their filth is too offensive. There are no stains too deep. The fresh water from the basin that restores, refreshes and relaxes their wearied feet is miraculously transformed into living water that saves their wearied souls.

The good news of Christmas is that the Holy One, whose laces we are unworthy to untie, comes to us, stoops down, kneels before us, and unlaces our shoes, freeing us in the places we have been too tightly bound.  He empathetically takes our feet into his hands and washes our dirty, sore and weary feet, and makes us ready for the road again.

That is the good news of Christmas. Now, listen to the good irony of Christmas.

John believed he was unworthy to untie the shoes of Christmas. However, because of those Christmas shoes, John is not only worthy to untie and remove those shoes, John is actually worthy to put on and wear those shoes.

Through the gift of Christmas, through the gift of the God who has walked where we walk, through the gift of the Divine who stoops down, unties and removes our shoes, washing our feet and our souls, we are made worthy to not only untie the shoes of Christmas, but to wear the shoes of Christmas. We are worthy to put on Christmas shoes to go where he went, to do as he did, to include as he included, to forgive as he forgave, to love as he loved, to bend ourselves to the ground to touch the places in people that most need touching.

It is believed that fourteenth century saint Teresa of Avila once said:

Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, and yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

The Apostle Paul has written:

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news (Romans 10:15).

Don’t worry. It is perfectly natural to feel unworthy to untie those laces, wear those shoes, to be the feet, the body of Christ.  And if you believe you are unworthy you are in very good company.

Abraham and Sarah did not believe they were young enough to be worthy (Genesis 17:17). Jacob was not truthful enough to be worthy (Genesis 27). Moses was not articulate enough (Exodus 4:10). David was not faithful enough. (2 Samuel 11:2-4). Rahab was not pure enough (Joshua 2:1). Jeremiah was not mature enough (Jeremiah 1:6). Mary was not rich or powerful or old enough (Luke 1).

Yet, God makes the unworthy worthy to be God’s enfleshed presence in this world, to be God’s body, hands, eyes, and feet in this world. As the Apostle Paul reminds each of us:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

William Willimon tells a wonderful story about a visit to a fraternity house one night while he was the campus minister at Duke University. The reputations of the fraternity houses at Duke were getting so bad that the University Dean required each fraternity to have a certain number of religious programs each year to give them at least some semblance of respectability.

One of the fraternities invited Willimon to lead one of the programs. He was to come to the frat-house and give a lecture on “Morality and Character on Campus.”

On the appointed evening, Willimon went to fraternity and knocked on the door. When the door opened, he was greeted by a young boy who appeared to be nine or ten years old.  He thought, “What in the world is a little boy like this doing in a frat house at this time of night?”

“They are waiting for you in the common room,” the little boy said politely. Willimon followed the boy back to the common room where all the young men were gathered, glumly waiting for the preacher’s presentation.

Willimon says for about an hour he talked about morality, responsibility, character and faith and how the frat houses on campus gave little evidence of any of those things. When he finished his talk he asked if there were any questions. Of course they were none. So he thanked them for inviting him and headed out.

One young man got up and walked him to the door. Before they got to the door, Willimon overhead him say to the little boy, “Hey buddy, you go and get ready for bed. I’ll come up, tuck you in and read you a story in a few minutes.”

When they got outside, the fraternity boy lit a cigarette, took a long drag on it, and thanked the pastor for coming out.

Willimon turned and asked, “Who is that kid in there, and what is he doing here?”

“Oh, that’s Donny,” said the young man. “Our fraternity is part of the Big Brother program in Durham. We met Donny that way. His mom is addicted to drugs and is having a tough time. Sometimes it gets so bad that she can’t care for him. So we told Donny to call us if he ever needs us. We go over, pick him up, and he stays with us until it is okay to go back home. We take him to school, buy his clothes, books, and stuff like that.”

Willimon stood there dumbfounded. He said, “That’s amazing. You know, I take back everything I said in there about you guys being immoral and irresponsible.”

“I tell you what’s amazing,” said the college boy as he took another drag on his cigarette, “what’s amazing is that God would pick a guy like me to do something this good for somebody else.”[iii]

In other words: “What’s amazing is that God, the Holy Creator of all that is, would make an unworthy guy like me worthy to not only untie, but to wear the shoes of Christmas.

Let us pray together.

God, continue to remind us that you have made each of worthy to untie and wear Christmas shoes to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Amen.

 

INVITATION TO THE TABLE

The angel announced to the shepherds that they were bringing good news of great joy for all people. All people.

Thus, all people, those who belong to this church, those who belong to other churches, and those who belong to no church, are invited to gather around this table and receive holy communion. All people.

This means people of great faith and people of great doubt. All people.

May all prepare for communion as we remain seated and sing together.

 

COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION

Go now into the world as the enfleshed presence of God, the body of Christ wearing Christmas shoes on your feet.

Go remembering that Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, and yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

And may the love of Christmas, the grace of Christmas and the communion of Christmas be with us all. Amen.


[i] Alan Culpepper, Smyth and Helwys Commentary: Mark, 2007, p. 47.

[ii] From a sermon by J. Will Ormond entitled Advent on a Shoestring preached during Advent in 1987 at the Columbia Theological Seminary.

[iii] From a sermon by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource, January 2006, p. 19.

The Way

ultrasound

John 14:1-14 NRSV

It was the summer 1993. Lori and I had been married five years and were expecting our first child. I had graduated from seminary the previous year and was serving with my first church as a pastor in rural Northeast Georgia. At our first OB/GYN appointment in Athens, we were told that our baby was due to be born on November 25. On Mother’s Day 1994, we were going to have some special reasons to celebrate.

During the last week of July, we were scheduled to have an ultrasound that would hopefully determine the gender of our child. I remember being more excited than anxious about this appointment. The baby was already moving and kicking quite a bit. Lori would call to me from another room in the house asking me to rush over to her. She would grab my hand and place it on the exact spot the baby was kicking so I could share her excitement. Lori was clearly showing at this time as strangers were beginning to approach us in public to offer their congratulations and to inquire when our baby was due.

As the doctor moved the ultrasound wand around on Lori’s abdomen and the black, white, and gray images of our baby appeared on a computer screen, I remember feeling like a wide-eyed child at Christmas getting a glimpse of the best present I could ever receive. We immediately heard a very strong and fast heartbeat. We then saw the outline of a head and a face. We saw arms, hands, legs, feet, even toes. After a minute or so, I remember growing impatient and asking the doctor if he could tell if it was a boy or a girl.

Following my question, my anticipation heightened as there was a brief period of silence in the room with the exception of the loud echo of a rapid heartbeat. Finally, the silence was broken as the doctor said, “It is really difficult to tell sometimes with our outdated equipment.” He moved the wand around for another minute and said, “The equipment that they have in Atlanta is far more advanced than mine. We probably need to make an appointment for you.” But before I could express any disappointment, he added: “There’s also something else going on that needs a better look.” He then handed the wand to the nurse and asked for us to come to his office where he would make an appointment for us to go to Atlanta. It was at that moment that my excitement was completely replaced by anxiety.

Suddenly, I no longer cared if it was a boy or a girl.

During the appointment in Atlanta, the doctor, who had been attentive yet quiet during the entire exam, spoke for the first time by pointing out a curvature in the spine. He called it a “neural tube defect.” This was the first time I had ever heard the term “neural tube.” However, upon hearing it one does not need to be familiar with it when the word “defect” is attached to it, as that word is more than enough to cause any parent-to-be’s heart to sink, especially when it is spoken to describe the spine of your unborn child’s spine.

Immediately following the ultrasound, we met with a team of doctors, nurses and genetic counselors in a large consultation room. In a compassionate, yet straightforward way, we were told that our baby’s spine “twisted,” probably during the early weeks of the pregnancy, and prevented the formation of an abdominal cavity. We were told that although our baby seemed to have healthy organs, there was nothing to contain those organs. Surgery was not an option. Our baby had absolutely no chance at life. A counselor put her hand on Lori’s shoulders and handed her a tissue to wipe the tears from her face.

After counseling and prayerfully considering all of our options, two days later, the pregnancy was terminated in the hospital without complications.

When we came home from the hospital, Lori went to bed where enormous grief she experienced kept her for days. She did not feel like talking to anyone, not even talk to her mother, who called several times a day, every day.

When Lori finally decided that she was ready to talk to people, the support from Christians came. However, some of the support came in ways that were more hurtful than helpful. It came in religious, pious, and judgmental ways. Almost everyday it came in ways that left us cold, empty, even resentful.

Now, I am sure it only came in these ways because these perhaps well-intended religious people understood it was their Christian duty to bring life, resurrection, restoration where there is death, despair and brokenness. And, maybe this was just the only way they thought they could bring it. Maybe this was the way they were taught on some church pew or in some Sunday School class. This was simply the only way they knew how to share the good news, proclaim the gospel, to be “a movement for wholeness in this fragmented world,” as we Disciples like to say.

But it came in ways that, for us, made the world even more fragmented. It came in preachy, accusatory ways, demeaning us for terminating the pregnancy. It came in the way of a theology lesson suggesting that we perhaps should have possessed more faith, that with prayer, God could have created a new body for our baby before he or she was born.

It came by the way of an ethics lecture insinuating that we were somehow “playing god.”

Then, came the support in ways that are all too familiar but never too helpful, all too religious-like but never too Christ-like. It came in the way of words that would have been best left unsaid.

“God knows best. God has God’s reasons. God does not make mistakes.” “God must have known you were just not ready to be parents.” “God must have needed another flower in heaven.” “You are young and can always try again.” One even said, “Perhaps God knew that your child was going to be a bad person or have a difficult life, so God, with the ability to see a future that we cannot, intervened and took your child.”

For some reason, Christians just feel compelled to say something, anything, even if it is hurtful.

We tried not to be angry with them, not to resent their ways of being religious. We defended them by saying, “Well, that is just her way, bless her heart.” We said, “Well, everyone knows the way he is.” It was just their way of doing what they thought would bring us some hope, their way of bringing us some wholeness, their way of bringing peace to our troubled hearts; and people, well, people have their ways.

Jesus, however, said that he was the way. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

As Frederick Buechner has reminded us:

He didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn’t say that it was by believing or doing anything [or saying anything] in particular that you could “come to the Father.”

Jesus didn’t say the Bible-Belt-culture evangelicalism manufactured for the self-interest of the privileged was the way. He didn’t say some alternative gospel created to ignore God’s will for social justice was the truth. And he didn’t say that the fake good news made up to cheapen the grace of the irrefutable good news was the life. He said that he was.

Buechner continues:

He said that it was only by him – by living, participating in, being caught up by, the way of life that he embodied. That was his way.

And thank God, that others came to us in his way. People from our church came to us with silent but empathetic embraces. They came bringing nothing with them but their tears and their own broken hearts. Some came bringing a home-cooked meal or a homemade dessert. One came with a vase of freshly-cut flowers from their garden. They came graciously. They came faithfully. They came intentionally with the love and in the way of the Christ. They came with the face of God.

Andrew King poetically reflects on this love, this way and this face:

We thought you wore the skin

of thunder, spoke in verbs of stormwind,

majestic and mighty as lightning

upon summits,

unreachable

as the cold and silent fire

of distant stars; hidden behind

a curtain in the temple,

an untouchable invisibility approachable

by the highest priest only,

hands freshly bloodied

from an altar.

And then somehow the veil was parted:

we gained glimpses of the glory

of the nearness of your love

as the hurting were healed,

the outcast befriended,

the lost restored,

and everywhere the powers of death

had their dominion challenged,

by the son of a Jewish carpenter

from Galilee.

If you have seen me,

said Jesus, you have seen the Father.

And we do see you there,

in the Gospels,

healing in synagogues

and in houses,

feeding the hungry on hillsides,

embracing the lepers and the sinners,

turning over the tables

in the temple,

nailed to a cross of injustice

but risen,

greeting women at

the graveside,

sharing bread with your friends,

the dominion of death

overturned.

Approachable, reachable,

the accessible God,

visible in the skin of Jesus.

But you are not done,

not content to wear

such skin only in the pages

of the Gospels.

The many-colored, multi-shaped

body of Christ – the Church

wide as the nations of the world –

bears your image where it acts

in your love:

still feeding,

still healing,

still teaching mercy,

making you visible

not in great

structures nor

in high saints alone,

but in the ordinary

persons in the pews,

as here, on a day like any other,

a woman making dinner,

and packing it,

knocking on the door of a neighbor

newly home from surgery for cancer:

the face of the one receiving it

lit with thankfulness,

the face of the one freely giving

like the face

of God.

When our hearts were troubled, because of the many faces of God that came to us in his way, in the visible skin of the body of Christ, although we were without child, on Mother’s Day in 1994, we still had special reasons to celebrate.

And on Mother’s Day in 2017, I can stand here today confidently proclaiming that Jesus—not religion, not ethics, not any doctrine—Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

Let us pray,

God, embolden us to live, participate in, be caught up by, the way of life embodied by the Christ. Amen.

Invitation to the Table

The way to this table of communion this morning is not religion. The way to the bread of life is not ethics. The way to the cup of salvation is not any doctrine. The way to the life and to the truth that is represented here is only Jesus. And since Jesus lived and died to make a way for all, all are invited.

A Transfigured Church

transfig

Matthew 17:1-9 NRSV

Jesus took just a few of his disciples, Peter, James and John, with him up a high mountain by themselves.

I believe that is exactly where Jesus wants to take us this morning.

He wants to take all of us here this morning, who represent just a few of his disciples in this world, high up a mountain.

Up high to a sacred, transcendent place where we can see the world around us more fully; and thus, see ourselves more honestly and see Jesus more abundantly. Up high to a holy place where our eyes are magnified, and our senses are heightened to a brand new illuminated reality.

And there, by ourselves, Jesus wants to spend some very intimate moments with us. He wants to personally speak to us, speak to our very hearts in a way that will transfigure us, transform us, change us forever.

So this morning, right now, I want to invite you to take Jesus by the hand and leave behind your world, all of your troubles and burdens, all of the plans that you have already made for this day, even for this hour, and allow Jesus to take you up high to this place that we all need to go.

Go ahead, let’s take his hand and walk with him. Although we do not know exactly where we’re going, and although we do not even always fully understand who this Jesus is who is leading us, let’s just follow—let us faithfully follow as he leads us upward.

As soon as we get to the top, he does not waste any time revealing to us, that although it is beyond our mortal comprehension, he is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible. He is the culmination of the Law and Moses and the messages of Elijah and the prophets. For a moment, however fleeting, our eyes see it. And our ears hear an affirmation. It is inexplicable, yet undeniable: A divine affirmation that he is none other than the beloved Son of God sent not to condemn, but to save the world (John 3:17).

It is a magnificent scene. We are standing in the very presence of the Holy One—the creator of all that is. We are so enamored that we want nothing more than make this place our home.

As we are begging to stay, we are interrupted by what first sounds like thunder. In our fearful silence we hear three words from heaven that we’ve have heard before. In fact, we heard it the very first time we met this Jesus, the first time we heard Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell his story, the first time we heard him speak, but this time we hear it even more convincingly and credibly and divinely: “Listen to him.”

The words are so real and so true, that even if it is just for a moment, all doubt vanishes, as we recognize that these three words, this holy command is the key to not only our salvation and the salvation of all humanity, but they are the key for the redemption of all creation.

We cannot help but to fall to the ground. Awe and fear and wonder paralyze us. Unable to move, barely able to breathe, our heart feeling like it is about to beat out of our chest, his hand reaches out and touches us. A peace beyond all understanding overshadows us (Phil 4:4). And we look up and the only one we see, the only thing we see is Jesus…like we’ve never seen him before.

Listen to him…listen to him as he looks us in the eyes, calls us by name and says…

I am your God. I have created you and formed you with my own hands. Before you knew me, I knew you and before you loved me, I loved you (Jer 1:5). I love you with a love that is without reservations, without conditions and without limits (Rom 5:8). Please understand what this means. I do not love you like the Pharisees who say that they love you but hate your sin. For my love does not keep a record of wrong doing (1 Cor 13:5). You must please know that in my eyes, your sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and my love for you will never end.

Listen to me, you have to know that there is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can ever separate you from my love (Rom 8:39).

Please do not doubt that I will never leave nor forsake you (Deut 31:6). I am the God of love, mercy and compassion. I am the God of empathy and grace. I love you with a love that cannot be earned and can never be forfeited simply because you are my beloved daughters, you are my beloved sons (2 Cor 6:18).

You were created by me, you came from me; therefore, you are a part of me. And when your journey of life on this earth ends, you will return to me. Listen to me, for I want you to continue this journey consciously with me, alongside me. Because I want you to forever be with me, so close to me that you always know that my grace envelops you, my love enfolds you (Luke 13:34).

I know all of your thoughts. I hear all of your words. I see all of your actions. I am aware of all of your inactions. I know the best you. I know the potential you. And I know the worst you. And I even know the potential evil within you. And I love you. I love you because you are beautiful, made in my own image, an expression of my most intimate love (Psalm 139 and Gen 1:27).

Do not judge yourself. Let my love touch the deepest, most hidden corners of your soul and reveal your own beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of, but which will be revealed to you again in the light of my grace (Psalm 139:7).

Listen to me. For I want this to be the very heart of your faith in me. Your faith is not about right beliefs or even right actions. Your faith is not about being against this or that, nor is it about being for this or that. The core of your faith is about your identity, your very being, as my beloved child, as a part of me (Gal 2:20).

This is called living in the Spirit. This is what you taste even now on this mountain. My face shines. Even my garments are aglow. For my heart, my core, my very being is infused with the love of God. Listen to me and your face will shine also (Gal 5:16-26).

Listen to me, take and eat, for this is my body broken for you. Eat, chew, swallow my love for you. You don’t have to fully comprehend it, just accept it, eat it, let it go into your body and always remember that you are what you eat (Matt 26:26). You are my body. Remember, when Saul was persecuting the Church, I asked him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” You are the embodiment of my love in this world.

Take this cup and drink. Drink my grace. Consume my forgiveness. And then be what you drink. This is your identity. This is who you are. This is how you live. Live in the Spirit of my love that is inside of you, apart of you, and you will bear the fruits of that Spirit (Col 1).

I know that this world is fragile and fragmented. Death, divorce, disease, hatred, discrimination, bigotry and violence are everywhere. But listen to me. So am I. I am everywhere suffering with you. When you weep, I weep (John 11:35).

But I am also there resurrecting, redeeming, restoring, re-creating. I am everywhere working all things together for the good. I am everywhere emptying myself, pouring my self out, giving all that I have and all that I am. I am everywhere wringing whatever good can be wrung out of every tragedy. I am everywhere in this world transforming despair into hope; transfiguring brokenness into wholeness, and changing death into life because I love this world. That is why I am here (Rom 8:28).

It is also why you are here (John 20:21).

So, come closer to me, let me wipe away your tears (Rev. 21:4), let my mouth come close to your ear and say to you again and again, I love you. I love you. I love you. Let me say it until you not only believe it but become it, be it, live it. Let my love flow through you (John 15:5).

We say, “Jesus, it is good that we stay here forever!”

But Jesus responds by telling us what we already knew. It is now time to come down from the mountain. But unlike the time the first disciples who went with him to this sacred higher ground, Jesus tells us to share this experience with all people (Matt 28:19).

As we walk down the mountain with Jesus, we ask: “Why did you want Peter, James, and John to wait to share their experience until after your death and resurrection?”

And Jesus responds:

My love for you and for this world is so deep, my grace is so wide, my mercy is so high that no one would believe it unless God did something absolutely earth shaking (Eph 3:18).

To reveal the height the breadth and the depth of God’s love for this world, God came into the world offering the world the very best gift that God had to offer. God came into the world knowing that people, especially the people who claimed to be the people of God, would not receive that gift and would nail that gift to a tree. And God would resurrect that gift giving that gift right back to the very ones who crucified him (John 1:11).

Thus, revealing to all of creation, that if God can turn around the killing of God, then there is nothing that God cannot turn around. If God can resurrect, redeem, restore the killing of God, then there is hope for us all (Rom 8:11).

And with all of creation, we are changed. We are transformed. We are forever transfigured (2 Cor 5:17).

Being the Embodiment of Christ – “Forgiveness”

I want to begin a several-part series entitled: “Being the Embodiment of Christ.” I want to explore ways that our church can overcome past mistakes, the mistakes of our church as well as the mistakes of the Church (and that is Church with a big “C”). There is no doubt that many of these mistakes have not only wounded the church’s witness, but they have actually wounded the faith of many. I believe we simply must accept responsibility for some of the reasons that people are all but giving up on organized religion these days.

Therefore, I would like to begin this series with a confession and with an appeal for forgiveness. As part of the Body of Christ, we confess that we have not always modeled the life and teachings of Jesus. We have been selfish, self-righteous and judgmental. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, we have often been purveyors of bad theology. We have neglected the poor “at our gate” (Luke 16:20). When God has called us to speak out for justice in our world, we have been silent. When God has called us to stand for peace, we have taken a stance for war. Although we say we believe we will go to heaven to one day to worship with every race and tribe (Revelation 7:9), we prefer a worship that is segregated.

This is by no means a complete list of our sins. However, we believe it is a good start. And we choose to start this process of reconciliation within community. Instead of giving up on the church, we commit ourselves more fully to the church. As Rev. Lillian Daniel has said, “Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask the hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach” (Going Solo). As we ask to be forgiven for our many trespasses, we recommit ourselves to being a community of grace and forgiveness forgiving the trespasses of each other.

One of my favorite preachers and authors, Frederick Buechner, has written some of the best words on the subject of forgiveness that I know:

forgivenessTo forgive somebody is to say one way or another, “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.”

To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.

This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just fair warning; and in the second place, our unforgiveness is among those things about us that we need to have God forgive us most. What Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride that keeps us from forgiving is the same pride that keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.

When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience.

When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.

For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence. ~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

Being a community of grace and forgiveness–I believe it is a great start to begin overcoming the mistakes of our church and of the Church. The truth is, we have to start being such a community if we ever want to welcome back those who have left the church or welcome for the first time those who have never considered being a part of the church. And we absolutely have to be such a community if we want to ever come close to becoming the church that God is calling us to be.

Changing the Invitation to Church

Be the church

From The Least of These or the Exalted of Us

These days, people just don’t seem to want to go to church anymore. But maybe that is a good thing. Because maybe church is not some place to go. Maybe church is something we are supposed to be. So instead of inviting others to go to church for us, perhaps we should be inviting them to come and be the church for others. The invitation should be: “Join us to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ in this fragmented world with a burning passion for the poor and the outcast. Come and join us to be the Body of Christ as we humbly and selflessly seek to care more about ‘the least of these,’ and less about ‘the exalted of us’.”