The Prodigal Parent

Dad wrestle

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 NRSV

One day, Jesus is confronted by some grumbling Scribes and Pharisees: “Jesus, why do we keep hearing these stories about you hanging out in some very shady places? Rumors are flying all over town about you eating and drinking and hanging out with known sinners!”

“And you claim to be a man of God!”

“Rabbi, if you are a Rabbi, let me tell you something, our God is an awesome God who will punish not only the sinner, but the sinner’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. God will strike you down with a lighten bolt, and if not that, send a cancer, a heart attack or maybe a stroke.  And, Jesus, you better watch out, because if you get too many sinners in one place, too many sinners at one local restaurant or pub, or in one city or in one nation, God might send a tornado or an earthquake, and take out everyone!”

When Jesus is confronted by these religious people who thought they had all the answers, he responds as he usually does—by telling a story.  Here, he tells three stories—one about a lost sheep, another about a lost coin and another about a lost boy.  The parable of the lost boy has been commonly referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  And he is called “prodigal” for some pretty good reasons.

Growing up in church, my home pastor would often use the dictionary when he came to a point like this in his sermon.  I think he defined a word for us every Sunday!  He would say, “Now, Webster defines ‘prodigal’ as…”  In that spirit, but with a 21stcentury twist, allow me to do the same. Dictonary.com defines prodigal as…

1.wastefully or recklessly extravagant

2.giving or yielding profusely; lavish

3.lavishly abundant; profuse

4.a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance.

The youngest son had the gall to demand his inheritance so he could leave home.  Demanding his inheritance meant that he had come to this point in his life where he did not mind regarding his father as being deceased.  “I want my inheritance!”  “Daddy, I want to live my life as if you were dead!”

Then the surprising part, the father hands it over to the boy who slips into a “distant country” where he wasted every red cent on selfish, wild living—thus, the designation “prodigal”— reckless, lavish, wasteful, extravagant.

After he spends all that he has, there is a famine and the young boy found himself in great need so found a job feeding pigs…

“Of course there is a famine,” says the religious leaders! That is what we are trying to tell you!  A famine! That is brilliant!  Oooh. God is soooooo good. I bet that boy starves to death! Or at least gets a bad case of salmonella from eating with the pigs. And serves him right! A just punishment for a prodigal—one who had everything only to recklessly lose everything. Death from lack! Death from scarcity! What wonderful irony.”

Jesus continues… “But there in great need, desiring to eat and drink with the pigs, the boy decides to goes back to the father and beg forgiveness…”

“Yeah, good luck with that!” the religious leaders howl, laughing at such a ridiculous scenario!

However, we know the rest of the story…

“And when he was “a long way off,” the father saw him and ran and embraced him.  Think about this. How did this father see him “a long way off?” It is certainly not because this father was busy going on with his life.  But because the father had been looking for him.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting on the front porch of our home with my brother and my sister, waiting and watching for Daddy to return from work. We would position the chairs on the porch at just the right angle so if we squinted and strained hard enough, we could see through our dogwood trees and our neighbors’ crepe myrtles to get a glimpse of Daddy’s Green Ford LTD almost a half a mile away. Then we would be ready to run to pounce on Daddy to welcome him home.  As soon as he got out of the car I would jump on his back, while my sister and brother would grab his legs. On a good day, if we could muster just enough leverage, Daddy would fall into the grass where we would lavish him with hugs and kisses like three little puppy dogs.  Mama, used to to get on us. She’d remind us how tired Daddy was from working all day, and how one day when he drove up and saw us running and screaming towards the driveway, he was going to just keep going down the road! I think she was just jealous.

Every day this father sat on his front porch, gazing down the road, watching and waiting, hoping and praying, grieving for his boy to return home.  And while he was still a long way off, he was filled with compassion, and he started running! He ran and ran to meet his child, throw his arms around him and kissed him profusely.

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 just hear his concerned friends and neighbors, or maybe even his pastor telling him: “Old man, its time for you to move on. You’ve got to get past this.  Face the facts.  He’s not coming back. You got to get over it. You have to go on living your life. Concentrate on your older boy who’s still here with you.”  But the father still waited and watched, hoped and prayed and grieved.

And he really did not know that his son was still alive. A young kid with a pocket full of cash first time away from home traveling alone was an easy target to any would be thieves and murderers. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Still the father patiently and you might say recklessly waited. Everyday he kept looking down the road in front of his house. Straining to see, hoping to see, his son coming home.

Then the reunion! The biggest, most extravagant homecoming party you’ve ever seen! The sandals, the ring, the robe, the best one! The calf, the fattest calf! All of the stops pulled out, for this son who was thought to be dead is now alive, lost and is now found.

And the religious leaders are left scratching their heads. Still grumbling and complaining, ranting and raving, now with the older son.  Listen how the older son talks about his brother: How can you do this for “this son of yours?”  “How can you do this, not for ‘my brother,’ but for this one, as far as I am concerned is still in some distant country?”

This is when it dawns on us. We thought this was a story of a prodigal son, when in reality, it turns out to the story of a prodigal father.  It is a story of a very “reckless” “profuse” “extravagant” and “excessive” love. For when the boy left home, the father recklessly gave him his inheritance.

And while the boy was gone into the far country, his friends and neighbors would say that the father recklessly waited. And when the boy at last returned, the father recklessly threw a huge party, holding nothing back for himself. The father loved his son recklessly when he left home, he loved him recklessly while he was away from home and he loved him prodigally when he returned home.

The good news is that is how our God loves each one of us. Our God is a God who, when it comes to love, holds nothing back. God’s love for us is extravagant, excessive, relentless, even reckless. The one thing that this story reveals is that God’s love for us is profusely prodigal.

This is why I will never apologize for loving others in a way that some religious folks would characterize as “excessive.” For my God is profusely prodigal in God’s desire to draw all of us unto God’s self. God is relentlessly radical to have us in God’s arms so God can shower us with divine kisses. As the ranting of the religious leaders and the anger of the older brother reveal, it was this prodigal love that sent Jesus to the cross.

Perhaps the most prodigal statement ever made was made from the cross… “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Then, like a father, turning over his property before he dies, giving away his life, to children who are undeserving, to people who are known sinners, Jesus died.

And the watching and the waiting and the grieving continues…

Let us pray…

God forgive us for the sin of the older brother, the sin of Pharisees and Scribes, forgive of our desire to distant ourselves from those in our family, in our community, in our world we consider to be sinners.  And forgive us for yearning that you somehow distant yourself, turn your back on, and forsake some, forgive us of our racism or classism or simple arrogance that hopes with the Scribes and Pharisees that you are an unforgiving God who punishes your wayward children and their offspring. Forgive us for believing that your love is anything but profusely prodigal.

More Than Enough

Anthony Baptism

John 6:1-21 NRSV

It is believed that St. Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”

I believe the baptism of Anthony Truong preached this morning’s gospel lesson from John this morning without using a word.

People had gathered together “because of the signs that Jesus was doing for the sick”: for people who could not see, for people who could not hear, for people who could not talk, and for people who could not walk.

Then came a logistical conundrum.

Jesus said to Philip, “Where on earth are we going to buy enough bread to feed all of these people?”

“There’s just no way,” answered Philip. “Six months wages would not be enough to feed this crowd!”

Andrew spoke up and said, “But there’s this boy here!”

I like that. “But there’s this boy here. He has 5 loaves and two fish, but not enough to feed five thousand people.”

However, the good news is that although what the boy possessed did not seem like enough, with Jesus, it was actually more than enough!

After everyone ate (notice verse 11 and 12) “as much as they wanted” until they were “satisfied,” the left overs filled twelve baskets!

When Anthony expressed his desire to be baptized, we were also faced with a logistical conundrum.

Someone said: “How are you going to have enough strength to carry Anthony up and down those baptistery steps, baptize him, and then carry him back up and down so he can dry off, get dressed and be back in the service before communion. There’s just no way.”

I started thinking: “Maybe we could baptize him by pouring water on his his head; that way, he would not have to get into the baptismal pool.” So I asked Anthony. To which he responded and I quote, “No, I want to go all the way.”

So to the question of “how are you going to make this happen,” my answer is: “But there’s this boy here!”

“But there’s this boy here, and although the faith that he possesses may not seem like enough, I have a feeling that it is more than enough!”

As soon as the newsletter was emailed on Tuesday announcing the baptism, John Mundy, Steve Parke, Randy Alexander, and Dan Marshall immediately agreed to help with the baptism to make sure it was more than enough.

The good news is that this is exactly how our God loves to work in our world. When there seems to be no way, God loves to make a way. When it seems like it is not enough, God makes not just enough, but more than enough!

Our Hebrew lesson this morning from 2 Kings 4 illustrates this good news: During a famine a man brings the prophet Elisha a prophet’s tithe: Twenty loaves of bread and some fresh ears of grain in a sack.

Elisha accepts the tithe, but says, I want you to take this food and give it to the poor.

It is then the man points out the logistical conundrum: “But there’s just no way. There is not enough food here to set before a hundred people.”

But Elisha assures the man, “Because of your great faith in bringing this tithe during a famine, I have this feeling that it is more than enough.”

The man set the food before the people, and sure enough, there was not only enough, but it was more than enough, as they had leftovers.

This good news was also experienced by Elisha’s predecessor Elijah.

In 1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah is sent by the Lord to visit a woman widow in Zarephath who will feed him when he arrives.

When he comes to the gate of the town, just as the Lord had said, he meets a widow who is gathering a couple of sticks to build a fire for dinner. He called to her and said, “Pour me a glass of water. And while you are at it, bring me a morsel of bread.”

Confronted with a logistical conundrum that has life and death consequences, she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.” In other words, “There’s just no way. I simply do not have enough for you in this famine.”

Elijah says: “Do not be afraid.”

Old Testament Professor Katherine Schifferdecker imagines her saying:

“Easy for you to say! You’re not the one preparing to cook one last meal for yourself and your son before you die. You’re not the one who has watched your carefully-hoarded supply of flour and oil relentlessly dwindle day-by-day, week-by-week, as the sun bakes the seed in the hard, parched earth and the wadis run dry. You’re not the one who has watched your beloved son slowly grow thinner and more listless.”

“Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17:13).

“How dare this man of God ask me for bread, knowing that I have so little? Who does he think he is, asking me for bread before I feed my own child? There’s no way. I told him that I have only “a handful of meal, a little oil, and a couple of sticks. There’s not enough. And Death waits at the door.”

Then the good news:

For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah (1 Kings 17:14-16).

There was not only enough. There was more than enough.

Diagnosed with scoliosis, the doctors wanted to perform surgery when you were 12 years old. During the surgery you suffered a spinal stroke that left you paralyzed from the waist down. Some thought there was no way. They said, “there’s just not enough left.” But, you didn’t give up. You kept going. You kept fighting, and you kept living. You joined a wheelchair basketball league. You stayed in school. You went to church. And six years later you joined Ainsley’s Angels and completed a 5k and a 15k. Soon after that 15k, you ended back into the hospital for the second time with a severe infection. On a respirator for nearly three weeks, some feared there might not be enough antibiotics, love or faith to see you through. They feared you might be running out of sticks, your jar was almost empty, your jug was beginning to fail.

But the good news is that you came back, and you came back strong. You completed not one but three more 5ks. You enrolled in college. You joined a church. And this morning you were baptized symbolizing that not only did you have enough sticks, enough meal in you jar, enough oil in your jug, you had more than enough.

And the amazing news is that there are countless more stories just like Anthony’s in this room. Your marriage failed. Your son was killed. A child died. You lost your job. You lost a business. You lost your home. You became addicted to alcohol or drugs. You received a grim diagnosis. People said there was no way. They said you were all about out of sticks. However, you never lost your sense of gratitude. You kept the faith.  In the face of your suffering you continued to worship and thank God for the gift of life. Somehow, some miraculous way, your jar never emptied and your jug never failed, and you have always found that you always seem to possess a great big pile of sticks! And not just enough sticks, but more than enough.”

Not only does the baptism of Anthony this morning proclaim the text about Jesus having more than enough to feed 5,000 people, it also proclaims last part of our text about Jesus walking on water.

It was the Sunday after Hurricane Floyd flooded the first house Lori and ever purchased in eastern North Carolina. To say that we had a logistical conundrum would be making an understatement.

I had been wading in waist deep water that Thursday and all day Friday trying to salvage our possessions. And then on that Sunday morning, can you believe that one of the first things that I did was to climb down the steps of our baptistery into waist deep water to baptize a new member of the church?

I’ll never forget the first words I spoke. I looked out into the congregation from that baptistery, and I said, “You know, you would think that standing in waist deep water is the last place I would want to be this morning. However, it is actually the first place I need to be this morning!”

I then said: “Before today, baptismal water had always represented purity and refreshment to me. It was a water which cleansed one’s spirit and refreshed one’s soul. It was a renewing, invigorating water, life-giving water. However, on this particular Sunday, this water represents to me something more, something dreadful, something heinous, something sinister. This water symbolizes destruction, despair and death.”

I believe Paul understood the destructive forces of sin and evil in our world and that water was symbolic of of those chaotic forces. This is why he wrote to the church in Rome: ‘Remember that you have been buried with Christ by baptism into death.’

And this is why the picture of Jesus walking on water in the darkness amidst howling winds and crashing waves is so inspiring. Jesus was doing much more than walking on water. That would be enough in itself. Jesus was walking all over the forces of evil like they did not even exist. Which makes it more than enough.

This morning, Anthony, was buried with Jesus into death, and he rose from death into the newness of life, symbolizing that he will always have more than enough to conquer any storm, flood or chaotic force that might come his way.

And the good news is that God is still walking on water. God is still raising people up. God is still serving bread. God is still filling jars and replenishing jugs, and in God’s kingdom, the sticks that fuel the fire of the Holy Spirit never run out. So do not be afraid. Despite every logistical, physical or spiritual conundrum we face, there will always be enough. No, in God’s abundant mercy, there will always be more than enough. Thanks be to God.

 

Take a Vacation

Hammock

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 NRSV

A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that God does not work alone in this world, and God has never worked alone in this world. Since the beginning, God has always used human beings, very ordinary people, folks like you and me, to accomplish the divine purposes for this world: God’s work of healing and justice, grace and love, mercy and peace. God uses people like you and me and the unique gifts that God has given us to respond to the needs of a hurting world.

Last week, I called loving this world as Christ loves this world a “dance”—a dangerous dance of sacrificial, self-expending service. And I said that God is calling each of us to enter that dance, to get busy selflessly pouring ourselves out into the world

These texts of scripture from Mark 6 have come at just the right time as we are currently encouraging members of our congregation to sign up to serve on a ministry team. And during this next year, I expect us to be very busy disciples being a blessing in our community.

In this morning’s scripture lesson, we notice that Jesus and his disciples have also been very busy.

They had just returned from a mission trip where they were busy using their gifts for ministry. They came back and reported to Jesus “all that they had done and taught.”

And notice how Jesus responds. “Good, don’t stop! Let’s keep going! Let’s keep working!” No, he says: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” In other words: “It’s time to take a vacation.”

Mark says that Jesus commanded this vacation because “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Getting away on a boat, on some cruise to some far-off peaceful place!

But when they get there, it is anything but peaceful, and Jesus and his disciples are forced to spring into action once more to meet the needs of others.

Later, when they cross over to the other side of the lake (perhaps in one more attempt to get away from the crowds), the “people at once recognized him,” so Jesus and his disciples had to go right back to work. Because this is what Jesus’ disciples do. They work, they serve, they love their neighbors by meeting the needs of their neighbors.

Hopefully, as we answer the call of Jesus to do ministry here in our community, to follow the way of Jesus by being a people who are on the move, loving kindness and doing justice while walking humbly, we are going to be a very busy disciples.

But, here in this text, if we are truly going to be the people Jesus is calling us to be, I believe we must hear another call of Jesus. It is the call to relax, slow down, take it easy, take some time off, turn the cell phone off, forget your worries, and go somewhere and get away from it all. It is the call to take a vacation.

Now you are probably thinking: “Finally, something that Jesus commands me to do that I might be actually good at! Jesus says, ‘Relax, take a break, take a vacation.’ Sign me up right now!”

But I’m not so sure this is as easy as it sounds. For it has been my experience that it is the most sincere, dedicated, and earnest disciples who are the worst when it comes to honoring the Sabbath, taking time off to just rest.

But I believe honoring the Sabbath is something that is absolutely essential, not only for our bodies, but for our salvation.

I’m sure that we do not intend to do this, but our disregard of the Sabbath, our busyness and ceaseless activity, might give the impression that we believe that it is up to us to do good, or good will not be done. It is up to us the set the world right, or the world is lost. Behind our busyness may be the blasphemous belief that we are the saviors of the world; we are the solution to what ails the world, because we have all the answers.

The truth is, not taking a Sabbath and trusting that God is God and we are not, can be very dangerous, not only to ourselves, but to the world in which we live.

Thus, I hope that in my recent sermons you did not hear me say that God created the world, but has now left it entirelyup to us!

For our God not only created the world; our God is still creating. Our God not only sent and resurrected Jesus, but our God is still resurrecting, and is still sending God’s self to us through God’s Holy Spirit. Our God is not dead, inactive or ineffective. Contrary to our Deist founding fathers, our God did not create the universe and then go on some cosmic vacation.

And because of that, the good news is that we cango on vacation. Because God is continually acting, we can relish times of inactivity, reflection, and the good grace of doing absolutely nothing.

Now, I am by no means inferring that it is okay to sleep in on Sunday morning and skip church. For I believe here in this place, our Sunday worship can actually be a sacred time of rest.

While we do a lot of activity during this hour, little of it is useful, productive, or essential as the world defines these matters. We call this place a sanctuary. It is a safe-haven from our worries, an escape from the rat-race of life. We are here relaxing, resting, simply enjoying being with one another and with God.

Some, who I see nodding off when the sermon begins every Sunday may even relax here a little too much!

But I believe that’s okay. Because Christians have always believed that these Sunday mornings are a foretaste of eternity when we shall have nothing better to do but to rest from our labors, to relax, and enjoy being in the presence of God, not just one day a week on Sunday, but forever. Our destiny is rest in in the hands of God: Sabbath rest forever.

Sabbath rest is a great tribute to God. For it declares that our ultimate destiny is not in our hands. Our ultimate salvation is not the result of our vigorous, hard work, or even what we think is our good, holy work. The significance of our lives is in what God is doing, never in what we are doing.

Now, I know that this flies in the face of what I often preach; that church is where we come to get encouraged to make a commitment to pick up our crosses to serve God in this world. That’s why the last hymn we sing is called a hymn of commitment or a hymn response. It is a hymn of action. That’s why we end our services with a commissioning, as well as a benediction.

But church should also be a place of rest. We come here to celebrate not only what we have done, but to glorify what God has done in Christ, to rest assured in the grace of Christ.

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, reminds us that the commandment about the Sabbath is the longest of all the commandments. More is written about the Sabbath in the Hebrew Scriptures than any other commandment.

And she points out that the Sabbath is the only one of God’s creations called “holy.” Everything else is called “good.” Only the Sabbath is called “holy.” She points out that the sanctification of time preceded the sanctification of persons or the sanctification of places. People were not sanctified until they became the chosen people. Places were not sanctified until the Tabernacle was built. The Sabbath, however, was the first and truest medium of God’s presence and holiness.

This is why after Jesus’ disciples report to him all the good things that they have accomplished as his ministers in the world, Jesus invites them, permits them, commands them, to get away from the press of the crowds to relax, rejuvenate, and be restored.

We stress the other commands of Jesus: Love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, feed the hungry, heal the sick, free the oppressed. Why not equally stress the command to rest?

The good news for us this day is that Jesus commands us to take a vacation! The good news for us is that the good Shepherd wants to lay us down beside some still waters and restore our souls.

Do you know what would be a good idea? While we are encouraging every member to serve on a ministry team, what if we started a Sabbath ministry team that will help us all take a vacation! Seriously, let’s start a ministry team to plan a Caribbean or Alaskan cruise!

We can do God’s work as it is entrusted to us. We can work hard to be salt and light to the world. We can do justice. And then we can take a Sabbath, resting secure that the most important work is God’s work. Thank God that the world is not in our hands. The future is not solely ours to determine.

So, if you have not yet taken a vacation, gone some place to get away from it all, experienced a change in scenery, seen the ocean or climbed a mountain, taken a break from all of your work and worries, I hope that you will do it soon. After all, Jesus permits, invites, and commands us all to rest!

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.”

The Power to Heal the World – Remembering Dr. Trevor Soter John Hodge, MD

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On behalf of the family of Dr. Trevor Hodge, I want to thank all of you for being here this morning.

Of course, I want to thank you for the way your presence here gives comfort to his family; but more than that, I want to thank you for the way I believe your presence here gives hope for the entire world!

For you have come here this morning to celebrate and to remember a life that was dedicated to loving and healing this world.

Every Sunday, our church gathers around this table to celebrate and remember the life of another who was also dedicated to loving and healing this world. We share bread. We drink from a cup, and we listen to his words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” If you want to celebrate my life, says Jesus, if you want to remember my life, then do this. Live on earth as I lived. Love the world as I loved. Welcome, accept, forgive, embrace, touch, and heal. Do this.

It is my hope that all who are here to remember and celebrate Trevor’s life understand that best way to do that, is to do it, to live and love as he lived and loved.

Because, my friends, that is what I believe our broken world needs now more than anything else. And I believe the love that Dr. Hodge shared with his patients, the love that this father shared with his children, his family, his wife, his community, has the power to heal this world.

On Valentine’s Day six years ago, Rev. Don Hubbard, a member of this church and former chaplain at Sparks Hospital, had the honor of officiating the marriage ceremony that celebrated and affirmed the love that Trevor and Penny shared with one another.

It was just a few weeks into their marriage when Trevor was diagnosed with cancer. Penny has said that “cancer was their marriage.” Thus, there are probably some, some who do not know any better, who would say: “What a tragic and heartbreaking marriage.” However, what they failed to factor in, and Penny will testify to this, is the power of love.

The diagnosis was grim. Of all people, Dr. Hodge knew it. Understandably, his first thoughts were to concede to the inevitability of it.

However, the love that Penny and Trevor had, that was affirmed weeks earlier during their wedding, does not concede.

For they affirmed the love that the Apostle Paul wrote about in the scripture that Rev. Hubbard read at their wedding from 1 Corinthians 13.

“If I speak in the tongues of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

In a dark world, where even religious voices can be among the most hate-filled voices, by loving others the way Trevor Hodge loved others, we have the blessed opportunity to be a shining beacon of love that has the power to change the world.

The Apostle continues…

Love is patient.  

Love is in it for the long-haul. It never quits. It doesn’t give up, give in or give out. Love is unrelenting, dedicated, and determined. Even when it would take Dr. Hodge two and a half hours to get dressed, and that’s with Penny’s help; even when he could no longer walk, it was a persistent, persevering, and patient love that got him to his office.

Love is kind.

Rev. Hubbard says that anytime he ever conversed with Dr. Hodge, whether it was about the chaplaincy and pastoral care, which Dr. Hodge believed wholeheartedly in, his grandfather, philosophy, fishing, fishing lures, literature, religion or politics, he noticed that Dr. Hodge always wore this half-smile on his face that exuded kindness, a kindness that it soothes all pain and heals all wounds. It shelters and protects.

Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us when we discovered that Trevor kept most of his pain private. He never wanted to bring pain to another, especially the ones he loved.

Love is not envious or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude.

Thirteenth century German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart is often credited with the following quote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”

I believe it is enough, because I believe that this simple prayer indicates that one understands that all of life is a free gift of God’s amazing grace.

I believe there are basically two types of people in this world: People who get the concept of grace and people who don’t get it. People who fail to see the grace of it all are usually not what we call “nice” people. They are boastful and rude. They act as if they have somehow earned their life, done something to deserve it. They walk around with this air that the world owes them something. In their arrogance, they become hostile if life does not go their way. After all, they deserve better.

Then there are those like Trevor Hodge who get it, who truly understand the sheer grace of it all. They understand that all of life is gift. It is unearned and undeserved. It is mysteriously and utterly precious. And these are the ones we generally call “nice” people or “gracious people.”

Love doesn’t insist on its own way.

It is flexible, pliable, and sensitive. It cares for others more than self. It is never “me first.” It is always willing to change courses, take another path, choose another way to love and help others.

One day, walking in Queens, New York when he was young, Trevor’s life changed forever. A student of drama and English literature, medical school was nowhere in Trevor’s future. As he was walking along, he heard this terrible commotion behind him. When he turned around, he saw a man, the victim of a horrific stabbing, lying on the ground, bleeding to death. Trevor said he had never felt more helpless in his life. In that moment, he promised God and himself that he would never be helpless in a situation like that again. He soon enrolled in medical school and never looked back. Even near the end of his life, Trevor’s concern was always for others, his patients, his family and his community.

Love is not irritable or resentful.

It isn’t touchy or cold. It isn’t easily offended, indignant or bitter. It is good-humored, warm and hospitable. It never complains.

And if anyone had any reason to complain it was Trevor. To work as hard as he worked, to care for others as much as he cared for others, without the opportunity to enjoy a well-earned retirement, would make even the sweetest personality bitter. The truth is: a diagnosis like Trevor’s changes most people for the worse.

But not Trevor. Trevor remained grateful for the gift of every day, no matter how difficult that day was. That half-smile he wore as he visited with you never diminished.

Trevor loved to tease and had a great sense of humor. Dr. Auturo Meade, a doctor here from Mexico, remembers Trevor incessantly bragging on his children. “He was so proud of his kids,” Dr. Meade says. “But he was especially proud when his daughter made a movie for one of her classes, a Mexican film that featured Mexican bandits. He was always coming up to me telling me I needed to see this film she made about some bandits from Mexico.”

Love does not keep account of mistakes.

It doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. It doesn’t “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” It never thinks: “I am better than he” or “I am more holy than she.” It never judges, condemns, or discriminates.

People like Trevor who truly understand the grace of it all, that life itself is gift, are the first to extend grace to others.

Love is truthful.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s honest. It’s real. It’s authentic. And it’s all the more forgiving, all the more gracious, because of that.

More than one person has told me that they did not know of a pretentious bone in Trevor’s body. Unlike some with the intellect and talent of Dr. Hodge, he never made anyone feel that they were less human than he. John Mundy, a respiratory therapist said: “Whenever I saw him at the hospital, he would always talk to me as if I was his equal. He was always easy to relate to, and he never met a stranger.” I believe that his humanity enabled him to do something that is lacking in our country today—to truly empathize with others.

Love bears all things.

It is courageous and generous. It is self-expending and sacrificial. It bends over backwards. It is always willing to go out of its way, take an extra step, even walk an extra mile.

In a fight like the one Trevor had with cancer, many would have thrown in the towel years ago. But Trevor had brave, self-denying love in his corner, which helped him, in the words of the Apostle Paul, to fight a good fight. When we have love in our corner, there is no mountain we can’t climb.

Love believes all things.

It always looks for the good, for the very best in the other or the situation, even if that best is sometimes buried deeply or covered completely. It is positive and encouraging.

Although he was sick, every day was a gift. Although he was weak, every moment was grace. In the end, Trevor did not have the life that he expected, but he was very grateful for the life that he had. Perhaps that is why Trevor always told us he was ok, because to Trevor, he was always ok. No matter the situation, he was always blessed.

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, and no fading of its hope.

Love can outlast anything. It can not be silenced. It can never be defeated. Love always wins. It still stands when all else has fallen.

Love reveals how powerless an enemy as formidable as cancer truly is. Just when we are tempted to believe that there is nothing that cancer cannot destroy, we meet a man like Dr. Trevor Hodge, and we learn with the anonymous author of the following words that there are many things that cancer cannot do.

Cancer cannot cripple love.

It cannot shatter hope.

It cannot corrode faith.

It cannot eat away peace.

It cannot destroy confidence.

It cannot kill friendship.

It cannot shut out memories.

It cannot silence courage.

It cannot invade the soul.

It cannot reduce eternal life.

It cannot quench the Spirit.

It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.

And the good news is that there is nothing that love cannot do. Love can change everything.

Love can transform sorrow into joy, despair into hope and death into life.

Love—unconditional, unreserved, unrelenting love—can transform six, tragic, heart-breaking years of marriage with cancer into six amazing, heart-fulfilling years of marital bliss.

Love can transform a funeral service into a service of celebration

Love can heal a broken world.

Love can bring down walls and break chains.

Love can cause hate, violence, racism and all kinds of bigotry to pass away and all of creation to be born again.

So, thank you for being here today. Because of the life of Dr. Trevor Hodge, because of what we are going to do in this world to remember and celebrate his life, there is hope for us all.

The Church Is in the Clothing Business

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Genesis 3 NRSV

How often have you watched a pet dog sprawled all out taking a nap in the middle of the day, and thought to yourself: “Must be nice!” Would you just look at Max or Buddy or Bella or Lucy? Not a single care in the world! No job. No bills to pay. No groceries to buy. No dishes to wash. Never has to stand in line at Wal-Mart. No knowledge whatsoever of good and evil. No knowledge of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. No knowledge of children being separated from their families at the border, of the opioid drug crises, of people living in poverty, or people living with mental illness. They know of no friends who hurt or desert them. They’re unaware of any sick family members, ambivalent to the certainty that they will one day die, unmindful even that they are a dog, and oblivious to the reality that they are sprawled all out on the living room floor completely naked. No shame whatsoever. They’re in paradise.

Sounds to me like the two who represent all of humanity, who even today, represent you and me: Adam and Eve. That is, before they ate that apple…or that orange or that peach or that fig or that banana. Whatever it was, before they ate that fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were just happy-go-lucky animals sprawled all out in a paradise with no knowledge of good and evil whatsoever: no knowledge of death and disease; no awareness of pain and grief; not even a clue that they would ever have to work hard to make a living; unaware that they were broken, fragmented, and sinful creatures; unmindful that they were even human, humans who in their self-centeredness will continually disobey the Creator’s commands and abuse the creation which that had been graciously given.

And they were also unmindful of the danger that lurked in their paradise, that crafty serpent: that symbol of everything chaotic and evil, that enigmatic, yet personal force of temptation that somehow, we have no explanation of why, was already present, preexisting and existing in the garden alongside of humanity. And because of this unholy force or presence or energy, the sordid self-centeredness of Adam and Eve, along with the knowledge of good and evil was suddenly made known. The shame of who they now knew they were was almost too much for them to bear.

For who has not said: “I wished I never knew!” “I wished you hadn’t told me that!” “I would be so much better off if I just didn’t know!”  Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes ignorance is paradise.

Paradise is lost as Adam and Eve, humanity, each one of us, live in a world where we know way too much, where we’re too smart for our own good. We live with the knowledge that all is broken, with a knowledge of pain and suffering, stress and strife, sadness and grief. Furthermore, we live in a world where we know that one day, we are all going to die.

We also live in a world where we make countless mistakes, and we know it. We are selfish, and we know it. We live to save our lives, protect our lives, look after number one at the expense of everyone else, and we know it. We know we have done some terrible things, and we know we have not done some good things, which is equally, if not more terrible. With our cursed knowledge, we can easily relate to the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18-19).

And because we know, we live with a lot of shame. And we spend much of our energy, time and resources trying to cover it, hide it, masquerade it.

I have always been a terrible golfer, and because of that, I really have not played much in the last few years. However, when I used to play more, I would make sure I always wore the latest styles in golf apparel and footwear. I always had a new golf glove to wear and a nice golf bag with my shiny and very organized clubs. My thinking was: “If I wasn’t a good golfer, dadgummit, I was going to look like a good golfer!”

Thus, I can easily relate to Adam and Eve who worked hard to cover up the truth of who they were with those fig leaves, when they ran and hid themselves from the presence of God whom they heard walking through the garden. Surely, Adam and Eve know by now that you can run, but you cannot hide.

God then asks a question that is as liberating as it is frightening. It is a fascinatingly miraculous question when one considers the one who is doing the asking: “Where are you? Where are you? God, the creator of all that is, loves us so much that God yearns not only to be with us personally and intimately, but desires to be with us… where we are. Where we truly and honestly are, behind the masks and apparel, behind the allusions we have created, behind acts we portray.

As the old hymn goes: God wants to know of all the sins and griefs we bear. God wants to know our pain, our trials, our temptations, our trouble, our sorrows, and our every weakness. God wants to know if we are in a place where we are heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care, in a place where our friends despise or forsake us.

God calls out to Adam and Eve, to all of humanity, to each one of us: ‘Where are you? Because wherever you are, that is the place I want to be. So, please do not hide from me. Do not run away from me. Please, do not be afraid and do not be ashamed. I want more than anything else to know you, to know you for who you really are. You don’t have to come to me. Let me come to you, find you, be with you, walk alongside of you. Let me love you.”

Adam comes out behind the trees and responds, “But God I am naked! All of me is uncovered, out in the open. My true colors are laid bare for the entire world to see. All of my failures, all of my fears, all of my brokenness, all of my self-centeredness, all of my mess is out there, completely exposed. You, O God, have created us to lose ourselves, and all I want to do is to find myself, to save myself, protect myself. God, I am a sinner, and what’s worse, now I know it. And I am so ashamed.”

Then God does for Adam and Eve something that they cannot do for themselves. They cannot deal with their shame. They cannot deal with their sin. The reality of who they had become was too much for them to bear.

As revealed in every act of Jesus of Nazareth, God responds to their shame by doing something amazing. God bends God’s self to the ground, uses God’s own hands, and creates garments of skin, and lovingly and very graciously clothes Adam and Eve.

God meets Adam and Eve where they truly are. They are naked, exposed. And what’s worse, unlike little Max or Buddy, Bella or Lucy sprawled out naked on your living room floor, Adam and Eve are naked and exposed, and they know it. All has been laid bare, and they could not be more frightened and ashamed.

And God responds to their nakedness, God responds to all of their fear and shame, by amazingly clothing them with grace.

And here’s the good news. The only thing that may be more frightening than being fully known, completely naked, exposed for who we really are, all our sins and griefs laid bare, is perhaps the prospect of never ever being fully known, the prospect of going through this life without anyone ever truly knowing us, and then accepting us, loving us, clothing us with grace. The good news is that God wants to know us, every part of us, and then God still wants to love us and forgive us.

I believe with all of my heart that this is one of our primary purposes as a community of faith. First and foremost, we are to always be a community of grace. If people cannot come through our doors, take off their masks, stop the charade, and honestly lay bare all of their sin and all of their griefs, knowing that they will never be judged, looked down upon or condemned, then I do not believe we are a church. I am not sure what type of business we are, but we are not a church, we are not a community of grace. As a church we are to always be in the business of yearning to meet people where they are, so we can be with them, so we can walk alongside of them, so we can listen to them, learn from them, forgive them and love them.

As the church, we are to always be in the clothing business. We are to always be in the business of bending ourselves to the ground, using our own hands, our resources and our talents, to clothe one another, to clothe all people, with the grace of God in the name of Jesus the Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obstacles to Church Growth

God abhors you

I believe there are two primary obstacles to church growth these days, two obstacles that prevents people from being baptized.

1)       Some believe their sins are so great, that they are outside of the boundaries of God’s love. Or, they at least they believe they will be treated that way if they go to church.

2)       Some believe no one is outside of the boundaries of God’s love, but they believe most churches today believe that some people are.

This is why I believe the 21stcentury church needs to pay careful attention when this Ethiopian Eunuch asks Phillip if there is anything preventing him from being baptized.

Which begs another question, “Are we doing something, or are we not doing something, that is preventing people today from coming to Jesus?”

I believe Acts chapter 8 has much to teach us on this subject, especially those of us who are trying to do church in 2018.

Verse 26 of chapter 8 reads:

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go…:

One obstacle that I believe stands in the way of people coming to Jesus is that we have forgotten our call to “get up and go” to meet people where they are. Too many Christians these days are sitting back, expecting people to come to us.

And not only do we need to get up and meet them where they are, out on the road, even on a wilderness road, we are to meet them where they are, period.

The problem is that churches too many churches not only expect people to come to them, but they expect them to come in a manner that meets their own expectations. That is, they expect people to come to them that look like them, behave like them, and believe like them.

Let’s face it, excluding the other seems to be something that comes very naturally for us. I think if we are honest, we would admit, that we would much rather be around people who are a lot like us.

Some have said that it may be part of our evolutionary DNA. It’s some inborn, natural instinct of survival. Fear the different. Beware of the other. Trust no foreigner. Avoid the outsider. So we instinctively put up these barriers all sorts of obstacles.

But this is what fuels racism. It supports white nationalism and isolationism. It builds walls, discriminates, excludes and demeans the other.

I believe this is what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he talks about the dangers of being led by the flesh and not by the Spirit. Because we human beings can easily be led by the flesh. A false prophet or Anti-Christ-like leader can quite easily stoke the fear of the outsider that is inside all of us. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a stable genius to lead us  to hate the other.

However, the Spirit leads us to take a higher road.

Notice that Luke tells us that the Spirit had to urgePhilip, the Spirit had to push Philip, pull Philip, to get up and go to this chariot to meet this Eunuch from Ethiopia.

Philip, I know this may be hard for you. I know this may be against your natural inclination. But go to this chariot and meet this stranger foreigner, this victim of bad religion who had been ostracized from the community of faith, this one demeaned and exploited for his sexuality, this one who has been clobbered by the Bible by those who arbitrarily pick and choose scripture passages like Deuteronomy 23:1 that says Eunuchs are forbidden to enter the temple, this one who has been taught his entire life that he is despised by God. Go to his chariot and meet him where he is. Do not stand above him or over him. Do not judge him or condemn him. Join him. Get into the chariot and sit beside him. Ride alongside him. Engage him. Listen to him. Learn from this other, this stranger, this foreigner.

I believe there are thousands of people living here in Fort Smith who are not here this morning, who are not worshipping in any church, because the church simply refuses to be urged by the Spirit to go out with love and grace to meet people where they are, especially those considered to be outsiders.

Philip meets the Eunuch who is reading from the book of Isaiah. This should not surprise us. For this is one of the most hopeful books in the Hebrew Bible for those who have been marginalized by sick religion, for those who have been taught that they are despised by God. Imagine the hope that burned in this Eunuch’s heart when he read the following words we find in Isaiah 56:

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs…
…I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
…these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
beside those already gathered.

Philip heard him reading from Isaiah and asked: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Eunuch responded: “How can I understand it unless someone interprets it for me?

What a great question! What a better place this world would be if more people understood that the Bible needs to be interpreted.

I do not believe God ever intended for people, on his or her own, to pick up the Bible, and arbitrarily lift scripture passages out of their contexts, and try to understand it or follow it. I believe this is one of the reasons that churches are in decline today. Too many Christians are using the Bible out of context to support all kinds of hate and injustice.

And because of that, there are countless people in this world, countless people in this community, who are the victims of sick religion. They feel marginalized and disenfranchised by the church. They have been taught their entire lives that God despises them. They have no idea that God loves them and has a future for them— All because no one has interpreted the Bible pointing to the Jesus who came into the world, not to condemn the world by to save the world, to love the world.

The eunuch then began to read from chapter 53:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.

Then Eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’

The Eunuch was asking: Who is this one was also ostracized and marginalized by others, as I have been? Who is this who was led like a sheep to be slaughtered? Who is this one who has been humiliated and denied justice? Who is this who had his life taken from him? Who is this one who is just like me? Who is this one who relates to me so well, who understands my pain, who knows my heartache, who empathizes with my sufferings? Is it Isaiah? Or is it someone else?

Then, Philip tells the eunuch the good news. The one who understands your pain, the one who knows your heartache, who empathizes with your sufferings is none other than Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. The one who relates to you, identifies with you, and because of that, loves you, welcomes you, accepts you, and forgives you like none other, is the very one that others said despised you.

When the Eunuch heard this good news about Jesus, the words of the prophet became not only hope for the future, but good, glad, certain news for the present:

For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs…
…I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Suddenly, the barriers fell. Walls crumbled. Obstacles disappeared. And the very doors of the Kingdom of Heaven swung wide open.

It is then the Eunuch, this one who had no name and no future, but now has an everlasting name exclaims, “Look here is water! What is to prevent me then from being baptized?”

He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

And the church grew.

Let us pray together.

O God, help us to get up and go out to meet people where they are (not where we might want them to be) meeting them without judgment, without condemnation. Guide us always interpret the scriptures in the light of Christ, sharing the good news of his unreserved love, unconditional acceptance, and unearned forgiveness with all people. And all means all. Amen.

Invitation to Communion

The bread is ready, the cup is filled, the table is set for all people.

Let all who are hungry for the love of God, come and be fed.

There are no hurdles standing before you. There no walls to climb over, no hoops to jump through, no obstacles to go around.

Let all who are thirsty for new life, come and share the cup.

There is nothing preventing you.

Let all who want to follow Jesus, come and join the feast.

The Jesus Fish

Hell coming

Luke 24:36-48 NRSV

Our scripture lesson this morning has always intrigued me, especially the picture of the resurrected Christ asking for and eating piece of broiled fish.

When I was growing up, my Baptist church had a week of revival every August. We had services Sunday Night through Friday night, and concluded the revival with a fish fry on Saturday.

Six long nights: 30 minutes of singing; one hour of preaching; and then thirty more minutes of altar call. It was hot. It was humid. It was more scary.

The guest preachers would always preach that heaven or hell is coming, and it’s coming sooner than later, so we better get ready! Although I’d never really feared going to hell; as a nine, ten, eleven-year old, going to heaven was not a place I wanted to go to anytime soon.

The only thing that got me through the week, and I suspect a few others, was that big, delicious fish fry that awaited us on Saturday.

Every year, without exception, preachers would frighten us with their heaven-or-hell-is-right-around-the-corner sermons. However, I remember that one preacher preached a particular sermon that made me feel a lot better about going to heaven.

It was Friday night, and bless his heart, I suppose he was trying to connect the revival service with the fish fry that everyone was looking forward to the next day.

He said that one of the most appropriate things we can do at the end of these services is to have a fish fry. He said: “After all, most of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. And Jesus called the disciples ‘fishers of men.’”

He also pointed out that the early Christians used the Greek word translated “fish” as an acronym for the first letters Greek words translated “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” and how the sign of the fish was used to identify Christian communities, especially during the time when the church was persecuted.

But he did not get my full attention until he said: “But the reason that our fish fry tomorrow is especially appropriate is because when we all get to heaven with our new resurrected bodies, we are going to eat fish with Jesus, because after Jesus was resurrected, Jesus ate fish!”

For the very first time all week, I wanted to jump out of my pew and shout: “Amen! Brother, preach it!” Because that preacher answered one of those deep theological questions that no one could answer for me, a question that was more important than: “If God created the world, who created God?” or “Who was Cain’s wife? or “Did Adam and Eve have bellybuttons?”

He answered the all important: “Are we going to be able to eat in heaven?” The answer is a resounding yes! We are going to be able to eat fish! And for someone who loved to eat, and especially loved eating seafood, it took the fear of dying right away.

I really like this interpretation; however, I am pretty sure Luke, through the telling of this story, is trying to teach us something more.

Last Sunday, one of you asked me: “Isn’t Tilapia what they call ‘the Jesus fish?’” That really got me thinking about our scripture lesson this morning. What kind of fish did Jesus eat? And, what was the risen Christ trying to teach the disciples, and teach us, by asking for and eating a piece of broiled fish? Do you suppose Jesus, in his new resurrected body, was hungry? After all, from all we know, he hasn’t had anything to eat since that Thursday evening in the upper room.

To answer these questions, like all biblical questions, it is always important to put the story in its context.

The disciples had disappointed Jesus, and they knew it. The disciples had failed Jesus, and it was obvious. The disciples had forsaken Jesus, and they were cowering. For thirty pieces of silver, one of them betrayed Jesus with a kiss and then took his own life. One of them denied three times even knowing who Jesus was. To save their own necks, to avoid carrying a cross themselves, all of them in some way had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.

And now they have received news that Jesus had come back from the grave. Which meant that he was probably coming straight for them. And considering their great failure at discipleship, they just knew that if he was coming, he was bringing hell with him!

“While they were talking about this…”

Can you imagine their conversation? “What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? How do we hide?”

John tells us the doors of the house where the disciples had gathered were locked for fear of the Jews. Perhaps the name of one of those Jews was Jesus.

It is then,

Jesus himself stood among them… They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Notice that they were not only “startled,” they were “startled and terrified.”

I bet they were!  Like a ten-year old at a Baptist revival! For I am sure that in that moment they just knew that heaven or hell was right around the corner!

But then, notice what happens next. Jesus does not point out their failures. He doesn’t mention their denials, their betrayal, their abandonment. He does not shame them, guilt them or say anything to elicit any feelings remorse whatsoever for their bad behavior.

There are no words of judgment or condemnation. Jesus doesn’t give them a sermon on how they should have been better or even how they could do better.

Jesus surprises them and surprises us by saying, “Peace be with you.” To those who have very good reasons to be afraid, Jesus says, “Peace.”

He empathetically asks: ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

It is then where Jesus begins doing all that he can to relieve their doubts and fears. He shows them his hands and feet to prove that he was not some vengeful ghost come back to haunt them for their misdeeds.

And seeing a little joy in their eyes, but still sensing some lingering apprehension, Jesus takes it a step further and asks for something to eat. They hand him a piece of broiled fish that he eats in their presence.

He eats “in their presence.” It has been said that in sharing a meal with someone that we become most aware of who we are and with whom we are.  In the previous scripture passage, on the road to Emmaus, when was Jesus made known to them? In the breaking of the bread.

Throughout the world, sharing a meal with someone has always been understood a great act of solidarity. Thus, in eating that fish, Jesus was not only making the statement that he was not some vindictive ghost, Jesus was making the statement that he was their merciful friend. He was their gracious brother. In spite of all of their denials and betrayals, in spite of being abandoned, tortured, humiliated and crucified, Jesus still loves them and is still willing to join them at the table.

If the disciples had any doubts that their sins were forgiven, those doubts quickly vanished when Jesus took the first bite of that broiled fish.

And it quickly became apparent to the disciples that the fish Jesus asked to eat was not for him. It was for them. It was not the risen Christ who was hungry. It was the disciples who were hungry.

So, what kind of fish did Jesus eat?

It was a fish of unconditional love. It was a fish of unlimited mercy. It was a fish of radical inclusion. It was a fish of amazing grace. It was a fish that revealed nothing on earth or in heaven can ever separate us from the love of God.

It was a fish that revealed God is always willing go a step further to proclaim the good news of Easter: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

“My love for you has no end. My love for you never fails. My love does not keep an account of wrongdoing. My love is without reservations, without conditions. My love offers a grace that is greater than all sin and a peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Peace be with you, for you are my sons. You are my daughters. I have always loved you. I still love you. And I will love you forever. I will forgive you always. Peace, for I am making all things new. Fear not, for I am working all things together for the good. Do not doubt, for I am the resurrection and the life, and because I live you will also live. Peace be with you.”

The risen Christ ate fish—filling, satisfying, delicious fish—not because he was hungry, but because we are hungry.

It is very important for us to pay close attention to what happens next in our lesson: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations.”

What kind of fish did Jesus eat? He ate a fish that has the power to open minds!

Perhaps more than anything else, what the church needs are more minds that are open to understand the scriptures teach us that graceis what we are to proclaim to all nations.

Grace. Not judgment. Not condemnation. Not fear. Not shame. Not fire and brimstone. For those things never bring peace. Those things never bring healing.

It is unconditional love and peace that is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning right here, from this very place where we became witnesses to these things:

  • Where we witnessed the words of the resurrected Christ: “Peace, be with you”: words spoken to remove all fear.
  • Where we witnessed the wounds in his hands and feet: wounds that have the power to heal the world.
  • Where we witnessed the Risen Lord eating a piece of broiled fish: where we experienced a grace that will satisfy the hunger of all humanity this day and forevermore. Peace be with you. Amen.

 

Invitation to Communion

This is the Lord’s table. He is the host. We are his guests.

He welcomes everyone to come and eat and be nourished, fed and forgiven.

Come and eat and live!

The only people excluded from our communion table are those that Jesus himself would exclude and that is nobody.

All are welcome.

 

Commissioning and Benediction

Go in courage and peace, proclaiming the Risen Lord to all!

Having witnessed unconditional love and unfettered grace,

Be a people who bring hope and justice to a hungry and hurting world!

The peace of the Lord is with you now and forever. AMEN.

Ripping Open the Heavens

Mark 1:4-11 NRSV  Dove

If you were to ask me what my favorite part church is, I would say that it the service of Christian baptism. I have always said that it is a good day when the preacher comes to church on Sunday with a Bible in one hand and a bathing suit in the other.

Thus, I love this day on the Christian calendar that we call The Baptism of the Lord. Although I would much rather be getting wet this morning, and getting some of you even wetter, this day at least gives me the opportunity to reflect on the wonderful service of baptism.

Baptism is about is essentially about grace. Baptism is about new beginnings, fresh starts, and clean slates. Baptism is about dying to the old, broken self and rising to a new, better self. Baptism is about the confession, forgiveness and washing away of sins. It is about coming to know that there’s nothing in heaven or on earth that can ever separate us from the love of God. Baptism is about knowing God is with us, not away from us, for us, not against us.

Baptism is about initiation into the Kingdom of God. Baptism is a commissioning to be the body of Christ in this world, the hands, legs, feet and mind of Jesus on this earth. There is a reason that baptism is often called a sacrament. Baptism is sacred. It is holy. It is grace, free and unfettered.

There is perhaps nothing in the church that is more beautiful than baptism. How ironic is it then that some in the church have taken baptism and have created something very ugly. Throughout church history, baptism has created more controversy, schisms and arguments than perhaps any else.

Throughout my own ministry, I have seen people angrily walk out of church meetings over it. I have even seen people who have transferred their membership to another church over it. I know people who have written nasty emails, made harassing phone calls, and started vicious rumors—all over arguments about baptism. I know of churches that have even split over baptism.

I have had staff members threaten to resign if we changed our church’s bylaws to accept members who were baptized by sprinkling. In their eyes, they simply did not get wet enough to join God’s Kingdom. I have heard people argue that some were not old enough, mature enough, good enough, sincere enough, or even married enough to be baptized.  A pastor friend of mine from Concord, North Carolina, was kicked out of the Baptist State Convention because a couple of folks he baptized were not straight enough. I even know people who have gotten upset, because the people being baptized in their church were not white enough.

The irony is that we have taken something beautiful that is essentially about God’s free and unfettered grace for all people, and created something incredibly ugly by placing restrictions, limitations and conditions on it. There have been more rules and regulations written in the bylaws of churches about baptism than any other service of the church.

Some churches believe that you can only baptize in a flowing creek or a river (the water has to be moving) because that was how Jesus was baptized. A stagnant pond, lake, and of course, a baptismal pool will simply not do. Some people believe you can only baptize when the church is gathered for a worship service. And most people believe that a baptism can only be performed by an ordained minister, who is, of course a male.

And once a person’s baptism has been accepted and approved, sanctioned by church officials as worthy of the grace of God, then one can use his or her baptism as an admission ticket to become a full-fledged member of the church. They can take communion, serve on a committee, become a voting member of the church board, and of course, one day, go to heaven.

Pastor Karoline Lewis once preached a sermon to her congregation emphasizing that baptism is not something that we do, but something that God does. She said that when we baptize someone in the name of God, we believe that it is God who is actually doing the baptizing. And she insinuated that when we make baptism something that we do, that we control, then we pervert the very intentions God has baptism.

After the sermon, a woman who was in her nineties approached her. “Karoline,” she said, “Is that really true?”

“What?” the pastor answered.

Hazel responded, “That God baptizes you.”

“Yes, it’s true. This is what we believe. Why?”

Hazel then told her about her sister who was born several years before she was born. Her sister was born very ill in the home and never left the house because she was so sick. The family knew she would not live long. She only lived two months. Right before she died, Hazel says that her mother took her sister into her arms and lovingly baptized her.

When Hazel’s parents went to the pastor of their church where they had been lifelong members to plan the funeral, the pastor refused to hold the funeral in the sanctuary because he had not baptized the baby. The funeral was held in the basement of the church.

Hazel, almost a hundred years later, then asked her pastor, “Karoline, does this mean my sister is OK? Is she really OK?”

“Yes,” she said. “Your sister is OK.”

There was Hazel standing in front of her pastor, weeping for the sister she never knew, crying tears of relief and grace.

This is what happens, says Karoline, this is the ugly consequences of placing limitations on the grace of God.

Of course, such restrictions and limitations on God’s grace is nothing new. The Jewish law was full of rules and regulations controlling who can and who cannot have access to God. Throughout history people of all cultures have sought to control and tame the grace of God.

This is why we need to be reminded of Jesus’ baptism. First of all, it did not occur in a controlled environment such as a baptismal pool or font in the confines of a religious building, but out in the untamed, wide-open wilderness.

And we are told that when Jesus came up out of the water the heavens were suddenly “ripped” or “torn” apart. The imagery describes a God who cannot take the separation any longer. God has had all that God can stand and rips the heavens apart.

The question for us this morning is: If the heavens were closed, whod do you think closed them? Who placed the restrictions and limitations on God’s grace? Who placed the barriers between God and people? Who created systems and structures to mediate God’s presence? Who is it that has insisted on certain rituals and beliefs to regulate God’s grace, to control God’s love, not for the sake of good order (like we tell ourselves and those we wish to exclude), but for the sake of our own power?

As a minister, I could write a book about the trouble I have gotten myself into over the years for baptizing people outside the controlled confines of the church’s bylaws. I have baptized people on days other than Sundays in places other than church buildings. I have baptized people in rivers, in swimming pools, in small ponds, even in the Atlantic Ocean. I baptized one man with his head laid back in the basin of a sink at a nursing home, trusting that it is God, and not me, who is actually doing the baptizing. It is God, and not me, who rips the heavens apart to shower God’s people with grace.

This is why I honor, respect and accept all baptisms—sprinkling, dunking, pouring, infant, adolescent and adult. And I believe baptisms can be performed by any Christian, clergy or laity, male or female. I do not believe people ever need to be re-baptized because some self-appointed or otherwise-appointed baptismal authority believes their baptism somehow did not “take,” failed to meet certain clerical requirements, or was not sincere enough or wet enough. There is but one Church, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

This is of course the reason why I welcome all people to the Lord’s Table, because, well, the last time I checked, it’s the Lord’s Table. While some ministers only extend the invitation to those who have been baptized a certain way, I cannot, nor can I imagine Jesus turning anyone away.

When we take a something as beautiful as the service of baptism as it was performed in the wide-open wilderness, with God ripping apart the heavens to get to God’s Son, to get to God’s people, to reveal God’s love and grace to the world, and we turn it into something that is restrictive, legalistic, divisive and exclusive, into some sort of qualifying test for membership, communion, and salvation, then we have missed the whole point of who God is and who we are called to be as God’s Church.

However, when we begin to understand that at our baptisms, whether we were a tiny infant or a grown adult, whether we were sprinkled, dunked or poured upon, whether by clergy or by laity, by male or by female…

When we begin to understand that God, the creator of all that is, ripped open the heavens at our baptisms to come close enough to us so we could feel God’s breath and hear God say: “I love you. I have always loved you. And there is nothing that can ever limit, restrict, tame or constrain this love. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that will ever separate you from this love. I know all of your shortcomings, and I forgive you. I am with you, and I will always be with you. You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son. You are my Church. You have the grace and the power to be my hands and feet in this world!” …

When we understand this good news, then our baptisms become what they were always intended to be: free, unfettered, abundant grace, and then we can begin to be the people we were intended to be.

Thank you, God, for blessing us with memories of Jesus’ baptism and ours. Thank you for removing all of the things we have created to separate us from your grace. Help us to go forth with your calling, direction and blessing to share this grace with all people. Amen.

 

Commissioning and Benediction

Go now into the world remembering that God, the creator of all that is, has ripped the heavens apart to shower all God’s people with grace. Go and share this good news with all people. May the abundant love of God, the unfettered grace of Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.

 

Let the Children Come

Children

Matthew 19:13-15 NRSV

There is so much that the Church can learn from this wonderful passage of scripture.

Little children were being brought to Jesus.

Before children can come to Jesus, someone, or something has to bring them. They usually to do get to this place on their own. It may be a parent, a grandparent or another relative. It might be a neighbor, a Sunday School teacher, or just someone who cares. A good question for the church to ask is: what are we doing to bring children to this place? Or are we merely waiting for children to come.

Churches make the following mistake all the time: Oh, we don’t have a youth minister any more, because we just don’t have that many children. Have you ever considered that not having many children is the best reason to have a youth minister?

I believe churches bring children to church by working hard to have all sorts of theologically-sound learning experiences and hands-on missional opportunities for children. We don’t wait until we have enough children to have a vibrant children’s ministry. We create the very best ministry to children we can to bring children here.

I believe churches bring children to church by allowing children to participate in and even lead worship, for children have much to teach us.  We also bring children here by providing separate opportunities for smaller children during worship, as our education committee is currently planning.

I believe churches bring children to church by having a safe-church policy to protect children, and dedicated, compassionate, and screened volunteers to love and nurture children.

Little children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray.

Children should always be brought here with a specific purpose to be loved, accepted, embraced, and supported. Children are to be the focus of our prayers. That means that children are to be the subjects of our most personal and intimate conversations with God.

Ask yourself this: how many times are the children in our community truly the main focus of our prayers?

But the disciples spoke sternly.

We think: who in the world would speak sternly preventing children from coming to Jesus? The answer surprises us, but at the same time, doesn’t surprise us. Matthew says that it was his very own disciples.

As a part of the Church for over 50 years, I have experienced this in many more ways than one.

When I was growing up I remember hearing offended church members sternly say terrible things about my home pastor when he supported having basketball goals installed on the church grounds. They criticized us playing ball at the church for many reasons. One, all the running around the goals was going to kill the grass. Two, we might leave drink bottles or other trash on the grounds. And three, the basketball games might attract the wrong type of kids, and by type, well, you know what they meant.

My pastor was also criticized by church members for sending our church bus out to pick up children who lived a few miles away in a trailer park (again, wrong type of kids), He was also criticized for asking the church to pay for children that they picked up on that bus to attend camp in the summer. And the four times each year we has communion, I always heard people grumbling about the pastor for not prohibiting children who had not been baptized to take communion.

As a long-time pastor, I have experienced similar criticisms, never by people outside of the church, but by people on the inside claiming to be disciples. There have always been people in the church who for some reason or another think it is their God-given, moral duty to put restrictions on who can and who cannot get to Jesus.

People have and will always be offended by Jesus’ revolutionary words:

Let the children come.

Let the children come to a safe place of welcome, a place of grace, a place of love, a place of nurturing where they can learn and grow into the people God has created them to be. And let all of them come. Let all children come to a place where no one is judged, treated unfairly, or ever feels excluded, second-rate or second class.

Do not stop them.

Do not let anyone or anything stop them. Do not let that one with money, power and prestige who thinks God has made him the gatekeeper of the church stop them, and do not let condescending words, snooty looks, or self-righteous expectations stop them. Do not let appearance, dress, ethnicity, documentation, race, size, gender, sexuality, health, class, or disability stop them. Do not let their families’ past or current situation, tax bracket, beliefs or lack of beliefs stop them.

That Jesus said this about little children speaks volumes about how we as the Body of Christ are to welcome all people.

For little children are people—

Before they are old enough, before they are strong enough, or before they are smart enough to help themselves or anyone else for that matter. Little children are folks who are not yet able to contribute to society, pay taxes, earn their place in the world, or deserve any sort of commendation. This means that the arms of the Body of Christ are to be open wide with a grace most extravagant and a love most radical.

It is the same love that parents have for our own children. We love them more than anything simply because they are our children.  So extravagant and radical is this love that there will be always be those, probably those who call themselves disciples, who will be so offended that they will speak and even act, sternly.

To such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.

This, says Jesus, is what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is what eternity looks like. This is what the church should look like. And this is what the church should help the world to look like. I believe one of the great purposes of the church is to show the world, through our words and our deeds, how to be people of extravagant grace and welcome, of radical love and acceptance.

But sadly, the church has been guilty of doing the opposite, have we not?  People go to church looking for grace and acceptance, and all they find is judgment and condemnation.

Somehow, we have been preaching the gospel the wrong way. In fact, I believe we have a tendency to actually preach the gospel, not just the wrong way, but we have a tendency to preach it backwards.

To share Jesus with others, we often start with what is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that all people are sinners. I just don’t believe that is where we should begin the conversation or the sermon.

Our sermons usually have three points, and point number one is: All people are sinners. Point number two is: God sent Jesus to die for us. And point number three is: if we believe this, then God will forgive us and love us as God’s children forever.

I believe we should preach the same sermon, but proclaim it the other way around. And I believe the way we bring children here, to a place of grace, acceptance and welcome is the way to help us turn it around, to preach the gospel the right way.

I believe we should always begin with God’s love for all people. We should make our number one point, the first and foremost point of our sermon that God loves us as God’s children and wants nothing more but to love us forever.

The second point should be that God loves us as very own Children so much that God came and loved us so radically, showered us with grace so extravagantly, that it offended the organized religion of his day. They sternly spoke out, “crucify him,” and they sternly acted out with a whip, a crown of thorns and a wooden cross.

And we should make our third and final point that God did this while we were yet sinners, before we earned or deserved anything, before we contributed anything, even believed anything.

Do you see the difference? Instead of preaching that all people are born sinners standing outside of the grace and love of God until they do something, say something, or pray something to earn forgiveness, we are to preach that all people are actually born standing inside of the grace and love of God without doing, saying or praying a thing to earn it. For this is the gospel. This is what we want people to believe and accept— that all people are welcomed into God’s gracious and loving arms—they just may or may not know it.

Jesus put it this way—Point #1: For God so loved the world. Point #2: God gave God’s only son. And Point #3: So that all whosoever believes may not perish by their sins but have everlasting life.

If we keep teaching this, continue preaching this, if we keep welcoming children, all children, making the church and a place of extravagant grace and a place of radical love; then, before you know it, we are going to change the whole world. We will start seeing people differently. Instead of seeing people first as sinners who deserve hell, fire, and eternal damnation, we will begin to see them first as God sees them, as God’s “little children,” who are to be embraced, accepted, prayed for, nurtured, and loved.

O God, thank you again for all of the children in our midst and for the wonderful ways that they remind us of your grace and love. Amen.

 

Invitation to Communion

Christ welcomes all to eat and drink from this table,

And the arms of Christ are open wide.

There is nothing here that can stop you sharing this meal.

There is no sin so great, no shortcoming so large, no wound so deep, and no mistake so wide that it does not fit inside the arms of his grace. In the eyes of Christ, no one here is second-class or second rate. All are God’s beloved children. All are welcome.