He Touched Me

Hisham Yasin dinner

Mark 5:21-43 NRSV

I believe one of the most troubling things about the children who have been separated from their parents at the border is when we learned that the case workers and childcare workers were not aloud to touch the children. Sadly, with the prevalence of physical abuse in our world, perhaps we can understand why. However, we also understand that not touching them can also be a form of physical abuse. So much so, when some of the childcare workers confessed in an interview to breaking the rules and hugging the children who were in their care, we said, “Well, good for them!”

It should be no surprise to us when we learn that our God is a God who uses the physical as a means of grace. Today’s scripture lesson, with its repeated theme of physical touching, is a perfect example.

Through the act of touching, a woman is made whole, and God’s healing power is released.

In these stories, through the power of the physical touch, barriers of society and tradition are crossed. Rules and laws are broken. The woman in the story is ceremonially unclean. It is against the rules to touch her and it is against the rules to touch her. And notice, that she is also unnamed. Then, notice what happens after the woman breaks the law, reaches out and touches Jesus.

Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” desiring to know the woman who touched him, he reaches out and touches her. He commends her faith and calls her “daughter.” Through the grace of physical touch, the woman who was once unclean has been made whole. And the woman who was once unnamed has become a child of God.

In the second part of the story, the corpse of the girl is ritually unclean. Like the woman with the hemorrhage, this girl’s body is also untouchable. Yet, Jesus does the unthinkable and reaches out and touches the girl’s body nevertheless. In taking the girl’s hand, in touching the girl, Jesus reaches across the boundaries of society but also boundaries of death. And her life is restored.

About fifteen years ago, I attended a conference for pastors at Princeton University in New Jersey with the two ministers I met in Memphis a month or so ago.  During our free time, we thought it would be exciting to board a train and visit the Big Apple. Before we left the conference, several frequent travelers New York City, who were also attending the conference, gave us some advice.

“When you are in the city, don’t look anyone in the eyes,” they said.  “Don’t speak to anyone.” “Don’t point, at anyone or anything.”  If you point at a building, someone may think you are pointing at them, and there may be trouble. And whatever you do, don’t touch anyone. Don’t get close to anyone!”

Being a first timer in the big city, and desiring not to be shot or cut or punched in the face, I decided that I better heed this advice.

As we were standing at one intersection in Times Square, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green so we could cross, I noticed everyone in front of me, looking back over their shoulders. I turned around to see what they were looking at and saw a very elderly man with a long white beard, dressed as if he was homeless. With one hand on his grocery cart, he was bending down and picking up a slice of pizza he had dropped on the sidewalk with his other hand. After he picked it up we all watched as he went to take a bite as he walked down the road.

“Look, he’s going to eat it,” someone said.  But before he could get it to his mouth, he dropped it again. The crowd laughed and jeered.  We watched him yet a third time, pick up the pizza, put it to his mouth only to drop it again.  The light turned green, the and off we went.

Later, we were walking up several flights of stairs as we exited the subway.  My friend, Cary was in front of me and my friend, Steve was behind me.

Up ahead of us I noticed a frail-looking African-American man struggling to pull a large suitcase up the stairs. Cary walked passed the man. I walked passed the man, who I heard grunting with each step, watching out of the corner of my eye, dragging the suitcase behind him. “Should I help him,” I thought to myself.  “No, he might get the wrong idea.” “He might think I’m trying to steal it or something.” I kept walking.

Steve, however, who was behind me, took a risk. Not knowing if the man even spoke English, he asked, “Do you need some help?” As Steve reached out and touched the end of the suitcase, the man immediately gave Steve a fearful, mean glance.  But then, he smiled. I watched as he smiled most hopeful kind of smile, and said, “thank you.” Steve, picked up the suitcase and helped the man out of the subway. At the top of the stairs, the man reached out his arm, looking like he wanted to hug Steve. He stopped just short of a hug and patted Steve on the back, saying, “Thank you. God bless you.”

Once again, God used the physical as a means of grace.  Steve reached out and touched and the power of God, the amazing grace of Jesus Christ was released.  Fear was transformed into joy. We all felt it.

As long as I live, I’ll always wonder what might have happened if I had purchased that homeless man another slice of pizza. I’ll always dream of the possibilities, of what might have transpired, if I ate a slice of pizza with him.  I’ll always think of the grace that might of come, the salvation that might have happened, through the simple act of reaching out my hand to that poor solitary soul who was struggling to survive.

Because our God is a God who uses the physical as a means of grace.

Look at your hands.  They are sacred.  They are holy.  They are the means of God’s grace. The simple act of touching is powerful.  It is sacred, and it is holy, maybe especially so if that touch reaches across barriers of society and tradition.

This past week I received a little push back when I posted a picture of myself with Hisham Yasin with our lunch plates and wrote a caption: “breaking bread with my Muslim brother.”

“How can you call a Muslim, who does not believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, your brother?” They asked.

I then shared with them the story of how I became Hisham’s brother. I said, “The first that I did was to break all sorts societal and traditional barriers by visiting with him in his office.”

During that visit I quickly learned that when it came to religion or politics or philosophy, even sports, Hisham and I agreed on very little. However, I learned that there was one thing that we did agree on. And that is that inclusive love has the power to change the world.

He offered me some dried figs and a delicious glass of herbal tea. He quoted passages from the Qur’an. I quoted Jesus. During our conversation he kept struggling with what to call me. Sometimes he would call me “preacher,” but sometimes he would call me “pastor.” I really got him confused when he just stopped halfway through our conversation, and asked me, “what do you like to be called?”

“Because I am more than a preacher and more than someone who give pastoral care, I guess I prefer ‘minister.’”

During the rest of the conversation, I think he called me all three titles.

After our visit, I reached out my hand to shake his. He immediately reached out both of his hands to hug me. As he gave me this great big hug, he said, “I don’t know to call you preacher, pastor or minister, so from now on, I just call you “brother.”

Now, at that moment, I reckon I could have pushed him away from me saying, “Now wait one minute, Mister, you are not my brother, for you do not believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world!”

But thank God I chose instead to break traditional and societal rules, by hugging him back saying, “I love you brother,” to hear him say, “I love you my brother.” I chose to allow God to once more use the physical as a means of grace. And the power of God, the amazing grace of Jesus Christ was released. I felt it. And I believe Hashim felt it.

This, my friends, is what our world needs. We need to reach past all of the barriers that we erect between ourselves and our neighbors— political, religious, racial, ethnic, economic. We need to reach out and touch them. We need to allow them to touch us. We need to join hands, link arms, rub elbows and see that we have more things in common than the things that separate us. We need to see in the words of James Taylor, that ;there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth, ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood.”

Every Sunday morning, when we gather around this table and affirm the grace of the physical. When we consume physical elements of grain and grape, resprenting the body and blood of Christ, we affirm that we have been touched by God through Christ. We affirm that through his touch, we have been made whole. Through his touch, we have all become children of God. But more than that, in consuming the body and blood of Christ, we acknowledge that we are his body and his blood. We are the body of Christ. Our hands are of Christ in this world. Our hands are sacred, and they are holy. They are means of God’s grace. They have the power to heal this broken world. They have to power to accept, to welcome, to love, and to make this world a better place.

After we sing our hymn of communion together, all are invited to consume the physical elements of grain and grape, receive grace, and renew the commitment to be the hands of Christ in this world.

Commissioning and Benediction

Go from this place and remember that, in the words of Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body on this earth but yours…Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world; yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”

Advertisements

Too Smart for Our Own Good

The Shack

John 3:1-17 NRSV

In today’s gospel lesson a very knowledgeable and prominent leader of Israel comes to Jesus seeking to discover who Jesus is and what Jesus is all about. Poised and confident, the educated and sophisticated Nicodemus begins his conversation with Jesus: “Now, we know that you are…”

He begins his conversation from the same place that most of us mature, experienced, long-time students of Sunday School often begin our conversations about God: from the things we know, the things we have figured out… or think we think we have figured out:

“Now we know that you are…”

And it’s from there that the conversation gets all confused, confounded and convoluted. Jesus begins talking to Nicodemus about birth, but poor Nicodemus thinks Jesus is talking about literal, physical birth. Jesus starts talking about the Spirit, but poor Nicodemus thinks Jesus is talking about the wind.

I think it is very interesting that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Because in just a few moments with Jesus, we learn that when it comes to God, when it comes to this mystery that we call faith, Nicodemus is in the dark in more ways than one. Nicodemus comes to Jesus confident and assured, but by the time Jesus gets finished with him, Nicodemus is astounded and dumbfounded, mumbling, “Uh, how can this be?”

Nicodemus has a problem.  And perhaps Nicodemus’ problem is in the very way he came to Jesus in the first place: “Now we know that…”

And maybe that is precisely our problem: “Now we know that…”

Our problem is that we know. And I suppose we can’t help it. After all, we are modern, some say we are even post modern folks who know a lot!

We live in what they call the information age. If there’s something we don’t know, we can just Google it or YouTube it, and in a few simple clicks of a mouse, we know. With WebMD and Wikipedia, there is hardly anything that we cannot understand or easily explain.

Perhaps this is why we try to approach God the way we do. We believe God is to be understood and easily explained.

It is no wonder those on the outside of the church often accuse those of us who are on the inside of the church of being “know-it-alls” when it comes to religion.  They believe that we think we have God all figured out. There are some that think that the reason we are here this morning is because we are God-experts.

And maybe that is why some  they are not here with us this morning.

One day, I was introduced to someone who knew that I was a pastor. I think he wanted to shock me when shook my hand and said, rather proudly, “Well, I’m an agnostic.” Which means that he did not know what he believed about God.

I think I shocked him when I responded, “Well, I have my moments when I am an agnostic too.”

I then said: “If people were honest they would admit: Some people are agnostic all of the time, and all are agnostic some of the time.”

The reality is that what we should be doing here, in this place every Sunday morning, is acknowledging together how little we really know and how much we have to learn, instead of coming here to have everything we think we know about God reaffirmed.

We gather ourselves together to acknowledge the great truth, that when it comes to the mystery that is God, we are all, as God told Mack in the movie The Shack, “idiots.”

“If the shoe fits,” She said.

The truth is that the God we worship is much larger than our imaginations. God is bigger and more alive than we can ever possibly comprehend.

I believe this is one of the reasons some preachers are telling their congregations to avoid the movie The Shack (a movie by the way I highly recommend) And there are many reasons: like maybe Jesus as a Middle Eastern man, if you can imagine that; also, God’s love for humanity compelling Her desire to redeem all people.

But perhaps they are most upset by the way the movie may cause some to question everything they thought they knew about God. Many preachers can not handle God saying to Mack: “I am not who you think I am” and “You misunderstand the mystery.”

But to me, that sounds a little like Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-17).

Like Nicodemus, we think we know who God is, how God acts and what God desires. But after we truly encounter the Divine, we might learn that we are, well, idiots.

I heard one preacher you say, “If you want to know something about Jesus, don’t watch The Shack, instead watch the more biblical movie, The Son of God.

But, a few years ago, I remember walking out of the showing of The Son of God when it ended feeling disappointed. For I do not believe there is anyway anyone can capture the essence of who Jesus is and present it in a one-hundred and forty-minute cinematic presentation. I told someone that I have been preaching about God is for over thirty years, and I have not even begun to scratch the surface of who God is!

United Methodist Bishop William Willimon, commenting on how some reduce God to something we can easily understand, said: “You can’t define this God, put this God in your pocket, or on a leash and drag God around with you. Life with this God is an adventure, a journey, a leap into the unknown, an expectation that, among even the most regular attendees among us, there will be surprises, jolts, shocks.”[1]

How often have we gathered around this table confident that we know exactly what is going on?

Catholics, and some Episcopalians are all so mysterious, always insisting on calling it Holy Communion or the Holy Eucharist.

Some of us, though, prefer to simply call it “Supper.” Some believe that something mysterious takes place as they eat this meal. They call it transubstantiation. We only believe it is a dry little cracker and tiny sip of grape juice and an act of remembrance that is confined to our limited and finite minds.

But what if there is more going on here this morning than we can see, touch or taste or even remember?

When we gather around the Lord’s Table, what if there is more going on here than meets the senses? What if there is some mysterious communion or a very holy fellowship happening here?

Sharing what we merely call a “supper,” what if we are surprised to discover that we are somehow invited to join the same fellowship that is mysteriously and inexplicably enjoyed between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

In and around this table, what if there is something afoot, something happening— something moving, inviting, healing; something strengthening, loving, forgiving; something saving, calling, challenging, commissioning?

We thought that we have come to remember a life, a death and a resurrection, but I believe we could leave having been caught up in that life and death and transformed by that resurrection.

As Willimon has said, “For, that is our God at our God’s best. That night as Nicodemus talked with Jesus, he began with what he knew. And he ended with questions about what he did not know. He arrived fairly confident that he had a good grasp of, [a good hold on] who Jesus was; [he left surprised,] having been encountered and held by the mysterious, majestic Holy Spirit of God in the flesh.”[2]

This morning, when we awoke, we thought we knew what we were doing. We thought we were going to get up, get dressed and simply go to church, sing a few hymns, have the Lord’s Supper, listen to a choir sing and a sermon preached. Then we would leave, get some lunch and come back home unmoved and unchanged, to watch a little more basketball.

However, when got here, we realized that we did not know it all.

We were shocked when a song spoke to us.

We were surprised when a small wafer and tiny cup filled us.

We were jolted when a word challenged us.

We were startled when someone that we did not even know looked at us and blessed us.

And we were amazed when God, the Creator-of-All-that-Is, somehow, someway that we do not understand, called us by name and told us that She is especially fond of us.

And we were absolutely astounded as Christ himself came and wrapped his arms around us as the Holy Spirit breathed new life into us.

[1]Quote and interpretation of Nicodemus’ first words to Jesus “We know” came from William H. Willimon, We Know (PR 34/2; Inver Grove Heights Minnesota: Logos Productions, Inc., 2006), 49.

[2] Ibid.

Strength for the Lenten Journey

communion

After being affirmed by God on Mt. Carmel, Elijah found himself in a wilderness that was so bad, he did not know if he wanted to live or die.

1 Kings 19:3 reads: “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life.” In verse three, it appears that he wants to live. He’s running from Jezebel to save his life.

Now, let’s look at the very next verse: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life…”

One day, he wants to live. The next day, he wants to die. Can you relate?

Elijah then fell asleep under that tree, but suddenly, an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. But the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey will be too much for you.”

“He got up and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.”

At times life can be so difficult, one day we want to live. The next day we are thinking that death might not be that bad of an option.

That is why, this Sunday, as I begin my forty day Lenten journey, I am going to eat and drink from a table with my family of faith. For if I do not, the journey in the wilderness of life will be too much for me.

Now, you might ask: How can one tiny, tasteless cracker, and one sip of juice give us sustenance for forty days and forty nights?

Last week’s scripture lesson took us to “the Mount of Transfiguration.” Before the disciples come back down into the wilderness of their lives, a voice came from heaven, saying: “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him.”

This is my Son, the Beloved, the Chosen, the one who has been tested and tempted and tried in the wilderness of life, listen to Him. Listen to the One who knows what it is like to be on the mountain top with God one day, only to be in Hell with the devil the next. Listen to the one who knows something about the ecstasy of being affirmed by God in the presence of God one day and to be famished in the middle of the desert the next day. Listen to the One who knows what it is like to be a human being living in a fragmented world.

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Whoever drinks the water that I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Your brother will rise again.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and I will take you to myself, so that where I am, you will be also.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“You are my friend”

Listen to the Christ as he says:

“I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

Listen to Christ as he says, “This is my body given to you. This is my blood shed for you.”

Some might still say: “It is just a tiny cracker and a sip of juice.”

But the good news is that we can go in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights, or however long our journey in the wilderness might last.

Come Home

prodigal_son

Hebrews 4:12-16 NRSV

A huge issue facing the church today is authenticity, or more specifically, a lack of authenticity.

People say that churches are full of people who pretend like they have it all together. Churches are full of fake smiles and phony piety. Churches are full of folks who act like they have all of the answers, have everything on earth and even in heaven all figured out.

Almost every week, I will hear at least one person ask: “Why can’t Christians just be real?” Someone once asked: “Why can’t people act the same way in church that they act at home?”

I believe the reason many Christians are so fake is that we still have a problem with the good news of the gospel we call grace. We have a difficult time believing that God truly loves us, accepts us, and welcomes us just as we are.

Because, it seems too good to be true.

I believe we Christians have a difficult time being authentic, making ourselves at home, because we have a difficult time accepting that the extravagant, amazing grace of Christ that welcomes us to be real; and because of that, we also have difficult time sharing grace. So, not only do we hide or deny our sins, we are quick to point out the sins of others. Consequently, we have gotten this reputation in the world for not only being fake, but also judgmental.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:13-13).

Indeed, but sadly, I believe this is where most folks in the church stop reading the Bible. We cannot even think about laying all of our sins bare before the Lord. So we cover it up, hide it, deny it and try to justify it.

And it is obvious to our friends and to everyone we encounter that we phony.

So listen again to the good news:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

But it sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t it? It is almost difficult to hear.

Let us hold fast to our confession. In other words, let us get real and be real. Let us lay bare our sins and authentically approach the throne of judgement.

Wait minute, it doesn’t say that. Does it?

Let us lay bare our sins and authentically approach the throne of grace.

That’s what it says.

And let us do it fearfully.

No, that’s not what it says.

Let us do it with boldness.

That’s what it says.

So, that we may receive our punishment and find correction.

Nope.

So that we might receive mercy and find grace in the time of need. It’s like coming home. Coming home where we can be real, authentic, yet still be accepted and loved.

But it is sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t it? It is all so extravagant, so amazing. It is difficult for us to read, hear and comprehend.

I believe Jesus knew that we would have a hard time with this. That is why I believe he prepared us for it by telling so many stories.

There was a father who had two sons. The youngest had the amazing gall to demand his inheritance so he could leave home. As the youngest, this disrespectful son had no claim to anything of his father’s. Who did he think he was?

Then the truly amazing part: The father takes his “whole living;” (notice how extravagant this is) the scriptures say that he takes all that he has, and gives it to the boy who slips into the “far country” where he wastes every red cent on selfish living. It is only when he finds himself in the time of his need that the boy decides to go back home.

This is where the story gets even more amazing.

“And while he was a long way off,” the father saw him and ran and embraced him.”

Think about this for a moment.

How did the father see him “a long way off?”

Because the father had been looking for him.

Every day this father sat on his front porch gazing down the road, grieving but hoping and praying that his child would one day come home.

And when he finally came home, he ran to him and cried out: “Come and celebrate with me. My child who was dead is now alive!”

I wonder how long the father waited for his dead son’s homecoming. I wonder why the father waited. For all he knew, his son was dead. Can’t you almost hear his concerned friends and neighbors, or maybe even his preacher, telling him: “Old man, it’s time for you to move on. Old Man, you’ve got to get past this. You’ve got to face the facts. He’s not coming back. You got to get over it. Concentrate on your older boy who is still here with you.”

But the father, amazingly, still waited. Most of his friends probably thought he was crazy. Such excessive, extravagant waiting was hard for them to believe.

After all, he really did not know that his son was ever coming home. A young kid with a pocket full of cash first time away from home was an easy target to any would-be thieves and murderers. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?

Still the father patiently, amazingly waited. Every day he kept looking down the road in front of his house. Straining to see, hoping to see his son coming home.

We call this the story of the prodigal son. But William Willimon says that if the word “prodigal” means “extravagant” or “excessive” or “amazing,” it should be called the story of the prodigal father. For when the boy left home, the father extravagantly gave him his entire savings. While he was gone, his friends and neighbors would say that the father excessively waited. And when the boy at last came home, the father extravagantly threw a huge party, holding nothing back. The father loved his son prodigally when he left home, he loved him amazingly while he was away from home and he loved him extravagantly when he returned home with a fatted calf, a new robe and sandals, a ring, and festive music and dancing.

It all seems too good to be true

It is a story of extravagant, excessive, prodigal love. It is a story of amazing grace.

And the good news is that Jesus’ story of the prodigal father is the story about his prodigal Father. And it is the story about our prodigal Father. Our God is a God who, when it comes to grace and love, holds absolutely nothing back.

I know, the truth sounds too good to believe, but it is the truth.

Our God waits, with confidence that the far country of sin and death shall not be the last word. Our God waits, ready to welcome us home with a celebration that is more than we deserve, not because of who we are, but because of who God is, namely a prodigal father.

One of the greatest things about this story told by Jesus is that it does not have an ending. Have you ever noticed that? We wonder if the younger boy ever learned from his mistakes and grew up to be more responsible. We wonder if the older brother ever let go of his resentment. We don’t know. All we know is that both boys are finally safe, at home with the father.

Willimon suggests that perhaps the reason the story does not have an ending is because this story is eternal. We know when the party began. But for all we know, the party never ended. Maybe this is a scene of what we all have to look forward to. An eternal homecoming celebration for those daughters and sons who once were dead but are now alive, who once were lost but now are found.

After our service this morning, you are invited to a homecoming celebration that has been waiting for you that Joan Smith, once called “a true vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

When you see the large amount of food that has been prepared for you this day, it may cause you to pause. It is so excessive, so extravagant, you may have trouble believing it. It will seem too good to be true.

But before this service is over, you are invited to another homecoming celebration that has also been waiting for you. In fact, this homecoming celebration is waiting for you each week. The meal is small. It’s just a tiny cracker and a sip of juice; however, when you understand the meaning of it, the truth of it, the love and grace of it, the extravagance and the excessiveness of it, it may also give you pause. For you may have trouble believing it. It will seem too good to be true.

But the good news is that it is true. For it is the truth. It is the good news of the gospel. It is amazing grace, and it is for you.

So, come home and hold fast to your confession.

Come home and be as real and as authentic as you can be.

Come home with all of your sins laid bare.

Come home and approach the throne of grace with boldness.

Come home because you will not be turned away from it.

Come home because nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from it.

Come home, because this celebration has been prepared for you, even while you were still a long way off.

Come home, because this table has been set for you even while others have judged you, have condemned you, have given up on you, and even have written you off for dead.

Come home, because your God has not given up on you.

Come home, because your God has been waiting for you.

Come home, because his body has been broken for you.

Come home, because his blood has been shed for you.

Come home, because Christ has died for you.

Come home, because Christ has been raised for you.

Come home, because the baptistery has been filled for you.

Come home, because the Word of God is alive and active for you.

Come home and receive extravagant and excessive mercy.

Come home and find amazing and prodigal grace…

this day and forevermore.

Welcome to the Table

Maundy ThursdayEach Sunday, I worship around a table. The table may seem small, but at the same time, it is very large. For the bread that is served from this table, and the cup that is poured from this table symbolize a boundless love, an extravagant grace and an eternal promise.

Therefore, each Sunday, I can stand boldly in front of this table and confidently say:

If you are riddled with all sorts of doubt, you are welcome.

If you have never doubted anything in your life, you are welcome.

If you have no self-control, you are welcome.

If you are all about self, you are welcome.

If you humbly believe you are the worst sinner in town, you are welcome.

If you arrogantly believe you are the best saint in town, you are welcome.

If you are empty and lost, you are welcome.

If you are teeming with pride and confidence, you are welcome.

If you are broken, poor and weak believing you have nothing to give, you are welcome.

If you are whole, rich and powerful with much to give, you are welcome.

If you have little or no faith, you are welcome.

If you think there is no one more faithful than you, you are welcome.

How can this be?

Because this table, this bread and this cup, is not about you.

It is not about what you can or cannot do for God.

But it is all about what God has done, is doing, and will do for you.

Therefore, all are welcome, and all means all.

Strength for the Journey

lent and communion

1 Kings 19 NRSV

Last week I spoke of being affirmed by God in the presence of God on one day; but then, it always happens, Monday morning comes, and we are hurled into a wilderness with trials and all sorts of temptation. For forty days, even Jesus found himself in such a place.

You might remember that I made the comparison to Elijah.  After being affirmed by God on Mt. Carmel, Elijah found himself in a wilderness that was so bad, he did not know if he wanted to live or die.

Listen to 1 Kings 19:3: “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life.”  In verse three, it appears that he wants to live. He’s running from Jezebel to save his life. Now let’s look at the very next verse.  Verse four reads: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree.  He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life…”

His Monday morning was so bad, that one minute he wants to live, and the next minute, he wants to die.  Can you relate?

Elijah then fell asleep under that tree, but suddenly, an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water.  He ate and drank, and lay down again.  But the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey will be too much for you.”  “He got up and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.”

Today, some of you do not need to wait for Monday morning.  You are already there. One minute you want to live; the next minute, you are thinking that death might not be that bad of an option.  Others of you may be doing better than that today.  But as I said a few weeks ago, sooner or later, Monday morning is coming for all of us.

So I say to all: “Let’s get up and eat and drink from the table of the Lord.  For if you do not, this journey in the wilderness of life will be too much for you.”

Now, you might ask, how can one little, tiny, tasteless cracker, and one sip of juice give us sustenance for forty days and forty nights?

Do you remember my sermon on the transfiguration?  On the mount of transfiguration, before the disciples come back down into the wilderness of their lives, a voice came from heaven, saying:  “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him.”

This is my Son, the Beloved, the Chosen, the one who has been tested and tempted and tried in the wilderness of life, listen to Him.  Listen to the One who knows what it is like to be on the mountain top with God one minute only to be in Hell with the devil the next.  Listen to the one who knows something about the ecstasy of being affirmed by God in the presence of God one minute and to be famished in the middle desert the next minute.  Listen to the One who knows what it is like to be a human being living in a fallen world.  Listen to the one who spent most of his earthly life trying to survive in a vast and dark wilderness.

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Whoever drinks the water that I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Your brother will rise again.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and I will take you to myself, so that where I am, you will be also.”

Listen to the Christ as he says…

“You are my friend”

Listen to the Christ as he says:

“I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

Listen to Christ as he says, “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood shed for you.”

Some might still say: “It is just a tiny, little cracker and a sip of juice.”  But I think you know that we can go in the strength of the food on this table, for forty days and forty nights, or however long our journey in the wilderness might last.