Unity in Christ

lincoln

Philippians 2:1-13 NRSV

This week, my friend, the Rev. Bob Ballance, made the following observation on social media:

Our divisiveness across this country, so it seems to me, at least, is like a cancer spreading throughout the body. We just keep finding new ways to attack one another. National tragedies like hurricanes used to pull us together, but reports on the destruction of these storms is already old news, seemingly powerless to jolt us back to our collective senses. What was it President Lincoln said so eloquently? “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” A century later, Khrushchev said the same: “We do not have to invade the United States. We will destroy you from within.” Where on earth are the prophets in times like these, those rare voices who have the gift and courage to rise up from the fringes with the right words at the right moment for the right reason? We used to could count on them to shout out the truth, hoping on a wing and a prayer to find a listening ear–any ear at all–to force at least a small nucleus to THINK and CHANGE, and then begin the work of pulling society back from the madness. This division has spread like wildfire into political parties, elections, the White House, the workplace, our stadiums, congregations, communities, families, even…into our playgrounds.

As a church that encourages inclusion and reconciliation, I believe we have a grand opportunity to be a shining example of harmony and unity to a divisive nation.

Do you know how to tell if your church is unified? It’s not by the number in attendance on a Sunday morning. And it’s not by what is put in the offering plates.

I believe that one way is by how long people linger in the building when worship is over. For when people find genuine love, acceptance and belonging in a place, they tend to want to stay in that place. I noticed last week how some of you hung around after the service like you didn’t want to leave. And that was good to me. A unified church is a church where people find love, acceptance and belonging.

A unified church can be a respite from the chaos and hurt that is in our world. It can truly be a sanctuary, a place to receive peace beyond understanding.

As I mentioned last Sunday, after Bruce Birkhead spent a difficult week in the hospital his wife Kaye, unaware of what would transpire this week, when Bruce needed some peace and rest, when Bruce needed to recharge is soul, I loved that he came here to this place.

So, I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to be a leader bringing peace to a divided nation. We have the opportunity be the rare prophetic voice that Rev. Ballance says our nation needs, those who posses the gifts and courage “to rise up from the fringes with the right words at the right moment for the right reason.” With our example of how to be a united blessed community we have the opportunity to “shout out the truth” to “pull society back from the madness.”

Let’s look again to the words of the one who seems to be speaking directly to us this morning:

Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

We can be the prophetic voice that is needed to heal our nation with the humility of Christ.

And as First Christian Church in Fort Smith I believe we have a unique opportunity, as we are a people with diverse beliefs, different views, assorted experiences, various interpretations of the scriptures; yet we still come together each week with mutual respect for one another, in grace, in love and in humility around this table, united as one.

However, as good as our church is, I am afraid we still have some work to do, some obstacles to overcome. Because the truth is, that when many people today think about church, the word “humility” is not something that comes to their minds. In fact, it is the exact opposite that comes to their minds: words like “haughty,” “judgmental” and “uppity.”

Sadly, sometimes the church has been the cause of some of our nation’s division. So, when I say we have some work to do, I am saying that we need to go full-steam in the other direction.

Think of what a powerful witness we would be to our divided nation, if everyday, we literally and figuratively practiced humbly bending ourselves to the ground in the way of our God!

For when God wanted to reconcile the world unto God’s self, when God wanted to unite the world, God emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out, as a humble servant. God bowed down, down to meet us where we are, down to earth through a humble baby, laid down in a humble manger, worshipped by humble shepherds.

The gospel writers continually paint a portrait Jesus as one who is continually lowering himself in humility.

When his disciples chastised little children who needed to shape up and grow up before they be a part of God’s Kingdom, Jesus bent down down and welcomed them saying that the Kingdom of God actually belonged to such children.

While his disciples bickered about who was going to be promoted to be first in the Kingdom, Jesus taught them another way by doing things like stooping down to wash their feet, moving down to sit at the lowest seat at the table, crouching down to forgive a sinner, reaching down to serve the poor, lowering himself down to accept the outcast, touch the leper, heal the sick, eat and drink with the sinner, and raise the dead.

And nearing the culmination of this downward life, Jesus, the savior of the world, made his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to liberate God’s people, not on some white war stallion that made its way up the equestrian ladder, but on a borrowed donkey. And he rode into Jerusalem not with an elite army that had advanced up the ranks in some up-and-coming militia, but came in with an army of rag-tag followers who had no idea what they were doing or where they were going.

While people exercise worldly power to move up, climb up, and advance, Jesus exercised a prophetic power that always propelled him in the opposite direction.

In the wilderness when he was tempted with worldly power, we watched Jesus embrace another power.

It is not a power that rules. It is a power that serves.

It is not a power that takes. It is a power that gives.

It is not a power that seizes. It is a power that suffers.

It is not a power that transforms stone into bread to feed his body. It is a power that transforms his body into living bread to feed the world.

It is not a power that commands angels to save himself. It is a power that gives himself away.

It is not a power that dominates from some high place in glory. It is a power that dies in a low place called Golgotha.

This is the narrow, humble, downward, descending way of Jesus toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless–toward all who thirst and hunger justice and compassion.

And the good news is that as I look around this room, I see people who are committed to traveling this same downward path.

I see people who have chosen to be here this morning, not to get ahead, not to feel more righteous or superior than others, not to get something here in worship that will make you more successful, more affluent, climb a little higher. You are not even here looking to be uplifted, or to be more upbeat. I see people here who have chosen to move in the opposite direction.

I see a room full of people who are here not to get something, but to give something, not to be served by programs, but to serve on a mission.

Because you have heard, and you have believed Jesus when he said: “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

May this always be who we are as a church.

May we come here each Sunday morning to embrace a mission of humility, sacrifice and selflessness. And then may we go out on a mission, bending ourselves down to the ground if we have to, to touch the places in people that most need touching. May we go out and stoop down to welcome all children. May we go out and reach down to serve the poor, lower ourselves down to accept the outcast. May we go out and get down on our knees to pray for and suffer with the sick and the despairing.

And by our humble example, may our divisive nation be inspired come together, be united as one, and together see our Lord “highly exalted…”

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

 

Invitation to the Table

As part of the world-wide community of Christians, we remember Jesus’ meal with his disciples.

The different languages you will hear today are symbols of the diversity of Christian experience, both close to us and around the world.

Jesus sets the table and his welcome extends to all of humanity.

People of all ages, of all genders, of all cultures, of all economic conditions are welcome here.

No one can earn a place at this meal. Come of your own choice. You need only desire to follow the downward way of Jesus.

Bring your hopes and your history. Bring your deliberations and your doubts.

Come with those who differ greatly from you and be reconciled as one.

 

Commissioning and Benediction

Although it sounds good to be an up and coming church, I commission us to be a church that is always down and going.

May we go out in humility, bending ourselves down to the ground if we have to, to touch the places in people that most need touching.

May we go out and stoop down to welcome and accept all children. Crouch down to a child in a wheelchair who has been told their entire life: “No You Can’t!” and tell them: “Yes You Can!”

May we go out and reach down to serve the poor, lower ourselves down to accept the marginalized, and may we get low, get down on our knees to pray with all who suffer.

And, there, as low as we can go, may this church be a shining example in a divisive nation of harmonious humility and revolutionary reconciliation.

And now may the communion of the Holy Spirit of God who came down to us in a stable and the grace of the Christ who knelt down to pick up his cross, be with us now and forevermore. Amen.

 

 

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This at Last!

My Children
My Children
Genesis 2:18-24 NRSV

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

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

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

Independence. It is what makes turning 16 and getting your driver’s license so wonderful, and it is what makes the day the doctor or your children take the car keys away from you so dreadful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This at last is someone on whom I can depend.

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

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

But this is not the good news. This is not why we are here this morning, mutually connected, depending on one another, communing with one another.

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

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

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

And here we are today. We have gathered here this morning at a table with Christians all over the world, mutually connected, depending on one another and communing with one another, signing in one voice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said: “I never knew how many friends I had until I got sick. And I never realized just how important they are. Jarrett, the truth is, ‘We really do need a little help from our friends.’” Before his illness he admitted that what he had valued more than anything in the world was his independence, “but no more,” he said, “no more.”

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

“Training?” I asked.

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

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

This at last is why several of you went out in the pouring rain on Friday to cook and serve a meal in the community soup kitchen.

This at last is why we have purchased a missions trailer and are stocking it with tools to help people renovate or repair homes.

This at last is why many of us are planning to go back to West Virginia and Nicaragua.

This at last is why we are having a meeting tomorrow at Noon to talk about truly being the body of Christ in this world, protestant and catholic, black and white. Because despite their beliefs, despite the color of their skin, they are bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. We are all mutually connected, equal partners, dependent. We are one body serving one Lord.

And this at last is why I held Emmit Brinson’s hand this morning in the hospital and prayed the following words:

O God,

Thank you for those you have placed in Emmit’s life on whom he depends.

Thank you for the love, the care and the prayers of his church family.

Thank you for the love and care of his children and grandchildren,

for the faithfulness of his partner, LaRue.

Thank you also for the love and care of this hospital,

for the wonders of medical science on which we depend;

for we know they are gifts from you.

Thank you also for Emmit’s faith and trust in you,

and for the way Emmit depends on you, daily.

And please let him know that you are not finished with him.

You are still working with him.

You are still creating.

Remind him, and remind all who love Emmit,

that he is in good hands,

for he is in the hands of the Great Physician.

He is in your hands.

Work through all of these relationships

to bring him healing, strength and peace,

especially through the special relationship he has with you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

And as we depend on each other, we learn to depend on the One on whom we can depend forevermore, the One who came to us at last, the One who came to be with us and for us, the One to show us how to be the people God has created us to be: This at last, our Christ, our brother, our Lord and our Savior, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.[i]

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

Christians Unite!

1 John 4:7-21 NRSV

It is World Communion Sunday, annually observed on the first Sunday in October to celebrate the unity of the world-wide Church. As a symbol of unity, of oneness, Christians from all over the world come together this day to confess “Jesus is Lord” and to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

In the 19th century, our Disciples of Christ forebears Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell were great proponents of such unity. They believed that, in spite of our different nationalities, languages, cultures and creeds, this table, the bread and the cup, and the great confession of faith “Jesus is Lord,” unites us all.

So as a Christian minister, especially as a Disciples of Christ minister, I am supposed to stand behind this pulpit on this day and confidently announce that because we participated in the Lord’s Supper this morning, and because we confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, we are united. We are in one accord, with Christians from all over the world who are sharing in the same supper and making the same confession.

It is seems to be great, sentimental thought, a gushy, romantic ideal. It sounds like the responsibly religious thing to say on this World Communion Sunday. But, the truth be told, I am not so sure I am buying it.

Are we really in one accord with the racist Christians who belong to the German National Democratic Party that is seeking to revive Nazism?

Are we on the same page with Christians in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria who are supporting laws that are brutally repressive to gay people?

Do we really want to brag about being on common ground with Christians in Jordan, Iran and Syria who have murderous hatred for the nation of Israel?

And are we unified with Christians, here in our own country, who believe that it is not only okay to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, and race, but believe it is their duty to God to do so?

Are we really at one with the Christian TV evangelist with big hair, big dimples and several big mansions they bought with money donated by people he swindled, many of them poor?

And why on earth would we even want to be associated with the Christians of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas who hatefully protest the funerals of our fallen soldiers.

Sometimes I look at the actions of Christians around the world and even down the street and think that I may have more in common those who do not profess any faith at all.

Like us, these Christians confess “Jesus is Lord.” Like us, they partake in the Lord’s Supper. And like us, they may even be partaking today on this World Communion Sunday, this very hour. But they are nothing at all like us. When they eat the bread today, it appears to be from a much different loaf. When they drink the juice or wine today, it seems to be from a totally different cup.

I believe there are many people in this world who erroneously only confess to be Christian. In chapter seven of Matthew’s gospel we read Jesus’ words:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [I think we could add here: “Did we not take the Lord’s Supper together in your name?] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

So, I must confess that I am sometimes glad that I am not united with some who confess Jesus to be Lord and who share in the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes it seems like our unity with others should be based on something greater than this.

In John chapter 13, we read these words of Jesus:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The John’s epistle we read:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

I believe God wants Christians around the world to unite today, not by just a table or a confession of faith, but also by the love we have for others. We are to love as God love us, selflessly, sacrificially, unreservedly and unconditionally. As the song goes, “What this world needs today more than anything else is love, sweet love.”

But here’s the problem with this all-we-need-is-love theology. It makes great, gushy music, but the love we have for others will never be enough to truly unite all Christians. For as much as we try to love one another, we most always fall short.

During a conversation with two members of our church in my office this past week, I shared how I recently had my feelings hurt when someone said something rather critical about the way that I pastor. One of our members said, “Aww, Jarrett, you’re feelings only hurt because you care so much; because you love others so much.” The other member, who may know be a little better, said with a smile, “No, your feelings only hurt because you have such a big ego.”

The truth hurts at times doesn’t it? The truth is that no matter how hard I try to love others, I always end up falling short. My ego, my pride, my sin is always getting in the way. Thus, as much as I believe Christians around the world need to come together and be united by a selfless love for others, if I am to be honest, I know that is not going to happen.

For example: it is nearly impossible for me to stand up here this morning and preach “love one another” and not have some hate in my heart for those Christians who do not love one another. Wasn’t the judgmental pride in my voice obvious a moment ago when I arrogantly suggested we were not united with, were better than, “other” Christians?

I sounded like the self-righteous Pharisee in one of Jesus’ parables who arrogantly boasted, thanking and praising God that he was not like the Tax Collector (Luke 18).

The truth is, when it comes to genuinely loving one another as God loves us, as hard as we might try, we all fall short.

So, what is it that truly unites us as Christians? Let’s look again at these words from 1 John:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

It is not our love that unites us. It is God’s love that unites us. Christians all over the world are united by the truth that “for God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christians all over the world are united by the great truth that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

This is what unites us as Christians. God loves us in spite of our egotistical love and our judgmental love. God loves us in spite of our arrogance and self-righteousness, and God loves us in spite of our hate.

Thus, the truth is that we do indeed have something in common with racist, Neo-Nazi, German Christians, with homophobic Russian, Ugandan, and Nigerian Christians, with anti-Semitic Christians around the world, with misogynist American Christians, and with those oppressors-of-the-poor TV evangelists living their mansions. We even have something in common with the hateful zealots of Westboro Baptist Church who picket the funerals of our fallen soldiers.

And 200 years ago, Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell were exactly right. This table and our confession of faith “Jesus is Lord” unite us all.

We are united by this meal, representing the body and the blood of Christ, representing the very life of God lovingly broken and graciously poured out for all. Christians all over the world, with all of our sin and shortcomings share the same bread and the same cup and receive the same grace.

We are made one by the great confession that our Lord is Jesus, the one who was sent to save us not because of our love for God, or for others, but because of God’s love for us.

This not some great, sentimental thought or some gushy, romantic ideal, and this is not just the responsibly religious thing to say on this World Communion Sunday. This is the gospel.

We’re Small, but We Can Do Some Big Things!

Mustard-Seed-Faith-by-CRILuke 17:3-6 NRSV

As Luke begins his gospel by addressing Theophilus, I want to begin the sermon this morning addressing Luke.

Dear Luke:

Thank you for your careful investigation and for the very orderly account you gave us so that we may know the truth concerning the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, on this World Communion Sunday, on the behalf of millions of Christians spread across this globe, and especially on the behalf of a handful of Christians here in Farmville, North Carolina, I would like to voice a concern that many of us have. (Sounds pretty tactful so far, don’t you think? Because here comes the boom!)

Luke, my dear brother in Christ, you are killing us. I mean, brother come on! For five weeks now you have been asking us to do some very big things! You have told us that if we want to be disciples of Jesus it is going to mean losing ourselves, denying ourselves, being a community that is always more concerned about others, about the outsider, than we are about ourselves.  It means having a strong passion for the poor, those we regard as “the least of these.” You have even told us that following Jesus involves a cross and we are going to have to carry it! Brother, come on!

Luke, during these five weeks, we have listened as you have shared some pretty outlandish parables of Jesus. And yes, although some revealed that there is nothing in this world that can separate us from the grace of God, which was rather comforting, they also re-emphasized that Jesus wants us to extend this same grace and to all people, which, quite frankly makes us rather uncomfortable. And last Sunday, you even had the audacity to bring Hell into it. You warned us that if we continued to believe that we were more blessed and favored than others, one day, we might find ourselves in flames begging one of those “others” for a sip of water!

So, come on Luke, enough already. We simply cannot take it anymore. We just can’t handle it. You are asking far too much from us! Being a community of love and forgiveness for all people is just too messy, too hard, too risky, and takes too much of our time. There’s just so much pride we can swallow at one time. And besides, we have enough of our own problems to worry about.

We have our own kids to take care of. Luke, I am not sure if you know about these things, but we have these things called soccer, football, volleyball, cross country, cheerleading and dance. And some of our kids have special needs, and then on top of that, there are our parents who are getting on up there in age with their own special needs. And did we mention that we have full-time jobs?

Oh, yes, there are some of us who are retired, but we too have our own needs. The truth is some of us are just too tired and too old to keep doing all these things that Jesus demands. You ask us to deny ourselves and carry a cross, when just trying to survive each day is like carrying a cross.

And Luke, have you seen our church lately? Have you seen how small we have become these days? We just don’t have the resources that we once had. So many good people have passed away. We have lost too many hard workers, too many teachers, too many people with some deep pockets, if you know what I mean. And have you seen our building? It is over 100 years old! So many repairs, renovations are needed. It is about all we can just do to keep it up.

So Luke, with all due respect, if you really need us to do more than we are doing now, if you want us to be more that we already are, if you really want us to reach out to others, sacrifice, be a community of love and forgiveness for all, and on top of all of that carry a cross, then something is gonna have to give. You are going to have to find a way to give us some more faith, because there is just too little left here. Sincerely, your friend and brother in Christ, Jarrett Banks

After Jesus finished speaking about the need to forgive people who have wronged them not once, but seven times, the disciples, like a crowd of exasperated members of a small, struggling old church in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, said: “Come on Jesus. You are killing us. Enough already. We simply cannot take it anymore. We just can’t handle it. You are asking far too much from us! If you really want us to do more, you need to “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

It is then that Jesus responded with some very good news: “If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

And to really understand just how good this news is we need to understand something about the Greek language and the use of the word “if”. In the Greek, it is used two different ways. One is to express a condition contrary to a fact, “If I were you.” The second way is to express a condition according to the fact, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” Here, Jesus is using the latter. In the original Greek, Jesus was saying: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed,” (And you do have it) then you can do some very big and miraculous things!

When the exasperated disciples got to a point when something just had to give, when they just did not believe they had enough of what it takes to be the people Jesus was calling them to be, they said: “Then, Jesus, increase our faith!”

Jesus responded: “Here’s the good news! I don’t have to increase it, because it only takes a little to do some very big things. And since, by the grace of God, you have a little, (you would not be following me if you didn’t) although your numbers are small, although you have very little left in the tank, in fact, I know that some of you are currently running on fumes, I have already given you what you need to do some very big things. If fact, as small as you are, as frail as some of you are, as uneducated and misinformed some are, although you constantly misunderstand what I have been teaching you, although some of you will even betray me, others will deny me, and when the going gets tough all may desert me, I have given you all that you need to change the world!

Night is falling. Jesus has been teaching out on a hillside. And the crowd that showed up that day, well, they were getting hungry.

The disciples with a little panic in their voices insist: “Jesus, there’s a thousand hungry people out there. We need to send them back to town so they can buy something to eat.”

Jesus asks, “But tell me what do you have?”

“Jesus, something’s got to give because we have very little. Just a few loaves and two miserable little fish.”

Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.  And, the good news is: it is enough.

However, that is not the end of the story.  Although that would be enough, there is more.  We read where “all ate and all were filled.”  They were all fulfilled, all satisfied.  They just didn’t receive something to “tie them over” until they got back into town.  They ate until they were full and satisfied.

But the story doesn’t even in end there.  They took up what was left over and 12 baskets were filled. The truth is: there was not enough.  There was more than enough. There was not only fulfillment and satisfaction, but there was a surplus. The good news is: This is simply the way it is with Jesus.

All of ye of little faith, those of us who complain that we are just too small, too old, too tired, to transform this church, to transform this community, and to change our world, this good news that Jesus always gives us more than enough is not new news to us.

Let’s take just a few minutes now and think about it.  Let’s go back in time several years. Remember that time before the divorce or separation, before the diagnosis, before you lost your job, before the flood, before the tornado, before the miscarriage, before the accident, before your child was lost, before your spouse died.  During that time before the pain, before the grief, imagine that God came to you in a dream and revealed every hardship you would have to endure in your life.  How would you have responded?

I know how I would have responded. God, you are killing me. There is just no way. Come on God, enough already. Something will have to give. There’s just no way I can do it. I simply do not have what it takes. If you really want me to make it, Lord, you are going to have to increase my faith!

And Jesus would say, “I don’t have to. I have already given you what you need.” And guess what, the good news is, and we knew it all the while, Jesus is absolutely right.

On this World Communion Sunday, we have gathered with Christians all over the world around a very small but very holy table. From this table, we take into our hands what may be one of the smallest, tiniest pieces of bread that we have ever held, and we put what resembles a mere crumb into our mouths, and we eat it.. And then we take the smallest of cups, and sip the smallest amount of juice.  It is just a small taste really, but the good news is: it is enough. No, the good news is: it is more than enough. Amen.