Adopted by Grace

Listen at https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21205689

I am a person who has had many names.

I don’t know what it is about me, but throughout my life people have given me nicknames.

In high school my friends called me Ular.

In the Air Force, people called me Sid. In fact, the nickname became so prevalent that my first sergeant called me Sid, my commander called me Sid, and one time when my parents called the dorms to talk with me when they asked for Greg the person answering the phone told them there was no one there by that name, until my friend Brian yelled from the end of the hall, “they mean Sid”.

At my previous church in Albuquerque a homeless friend of mine named Freddie called me MCPG. MC Pastor Greg.

So for whatever reason, throughout my life I have been known by many titles and names.

But for the first three months of my life, I did not have a name at all.

I was adopted as a baby and a few years ago I got my birth and adoption records and at my birth I was not given a first name. My first name was simply, Baby.

I was in a foster home during that time. I am not sure why my adoption took so long. It could have been for legal or medical reasons. And, I have no idea what my foster parents called me. Baby? He? It?

But after this uncertain beginning, I was adopted. I was brought in to my parent’s family and I was named.

Our names carry with us the history and identity of our families. They tell us a story of where we have come from and the kind of people we are. Our names give us identity.

I know there are many people who are a part of this church who have been adopted. Some of us have been legally adopted and raised by a family that was not blood relation. One of the things Carol Herbin and I shared in common was our adoption stories

But many of us also count the people in this room as part of our family. We use the language of being brothers and sisters in Christ and we care for each other like family. But there is something unique and more than that in our community, we truly are family to one another.

Another person who was adopted was Pastor Chris. Unlike me who was born with no name, Chris was born with a name other than Chris. Chris, will you share your story?

(Pastor Chris speaks here)

Chris and my stories might be somewhat unique in that what we were called or not called at the beginning of our lives is not how people know us now. But for both of us, this experience is part of who we are and the inspiration we have for ministry today.

For me, as a person who was once without a name or a home and who was brought in, nurtured, and loved, I want other people to have that same experience. The core motivation for my ministry is to widen the circle of God’s love to include all people. Just as I was once on the outside and welcomed in, I want people who have been excluded by the church to know that they are loved by God.

All of us have been adopted in to the family of God. In Christ, God “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

This is one of the opening statements of the book of Ephesians.

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This morning we start a six week series looking at this letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus. Unlike many of Paul’s other letters, Ephesians seems to be a more general letter to the church. Instead of addressing a specific problem of a specific church, Paul outlines what it means to live out their faith. In the coming weeks we will be looking at what it means for us to live as people of both faith and works, to live among the mystery and majesty of God, to live as a unified people in a world of division, and to grow and mature in our faith.

But the letter to the Ephesians is not simply a letter about what it means for us to live individually as a followers of Jesus or what it looks like for us to be the church. All of Paul’s teachings are grounded in the idea of grace. The word grace is mentioned 12 times in a letter that is four pages long.

In the first sentences of Ephesians, Paul writes “grace to you…” In chapter 2 there is the familiar scripture that we are “saved by grace through faith…” and the last sentence of the letter concludes, “Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grace is the cornerstone of our understanding of God in the United Methodist Church. We believe that God’s prevenient grace surrounds us from the moment we draw our first breath, God’s justifying grace brings us in to a right relationship, and that God’s sanctifying grace is ever at work in our lives making us more like Christ.

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Our faith is not about us. It is not about us becoming smart enough to have a right understanding or strong enough to do the right things, it is all grace. It is all gift.

This understanding of grace is central to the book of Ephesians. Ephesians is not so much an instruction manual of how we live individually or even how we operate as a church, but how we live as a people of grace, how we live in response to God’s grace. I believe this short letter has a lot to say to us. We are here on a Sunday morning, we are a people of faith, so how do we live in response to all that God has given us?

Our call is not just to sit back and receive the gifts of grace and take them for granted. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called that “cheap grace”. Instead we are transformed by grace, so that we can transform the people and the world around us through grace.

This is what we will be exploring in the coming weeks as we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

This letter begins with grace and with the statement that we are blessed. In verse 3, Paul uses the word blessed three times. He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

This is only half a sentence, a sentence fragment, and Paul can’t use the word blessing enough.

We, at the Church for All people. are the blessed people of God.

To say that we are blessed is not to use the word in the same way that the rest of the world uses it. Often, when we hear the word blessed people use it to describe having an abundance of stuff. A new car, a new house, good health, security.

This is how many people would describe themselves as blessed.

But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus turns the word blessing upside down. Jesus says blessed are the meek, the humble, the poor in spirit, the ones who hunger for righteousness, even the one’s who are persecuted for his name’s sake.img_1192

Paul himself writes this letter to the Ephesians from prison. And from prison he calls himself blessed.

What does it mean to be blessed?

It’s not about having the latest iphone or getting the lowest number at the Free Store or eating the biggest meal.

To be blessed is to be chosen, to be recognized by God, to be adopted and included in to the family of God.

To be blessed is to truly believe at the core of your being that God loves you no matter what. That you are beautifully and wonderfully made. That you are a person of divine value and sacred worth.

To be bleesed is to know that God loves you so much, that God is not finished with you yet. That God’s grace is ever at work in our lives to make us more like Christ. To increase our ability to love one another, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy, as unconditionally as God has loved us.

To be blessed is to not only be welcomed in to the family of God, but to also be welcomed in to the work of God.

Paul writes in verse 10 that God has a plan…  “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God has a plan to redeem and restore all things. All things in heaven, all things on earth. All people and all of creation. And we get to be a part of that. We aren’t just sitting back waiting for God to do this some day at the end of time, we get to be a part of this every day!

Every time we share a gift of grace with someone, we gather all things in him.

Every time we offer a kind word instead of a harsh one, every time we choose a peaceful response instead of a violent one, every time we comfort someone having a hard day, every time we pray for someone, every time we teach a child to read, every time we feed a person who is hungry, we gather up all things in him and like we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, the kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul writes, “this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”

We are a blessed people, recognized and chosen by God to be members of God’s family.

We are blessed to be part of God’s work of redemption for all people and all creation.

We are blessed to the praise of his glory.

Throughout our lives we may be known by many titles and many names, but above all else when you look at yourself in the mirror may you see the one who God calls blessed.

Amen.

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Distracted Hospitality

Luke 10:38-42

Listen to the audio podcast: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21193350

A few weeks ago I shared with you that I have something in common with the prophet Isaiah.

I am not a prophet who has spoken to kings.

I have not predicted the rise and fall of nations.

I have not been visited by angels or received visions.

But when Isaiah found himself before the throne of God he was humbled and confessed that he was a man of unclean lips. That is what Isaiah and I have in common, that I too can be a person of unclean lips.

And while I might be too quick to say words I shouldn’t say, there is one particular one that I don’t say often enough.

When-you-cant-say-NoAnd that word is, no.

If someone asks me for help, my natural gut reaction is to say yes.

Need a pastor to pray for the blessing of a house, I am your man.

Need someone to help feed hungry people, here I am.

Want to do some mission work, lets go.

Not saying no is not necessarily a bad trait, but for me it can lead to me over-extending myself. Suddenly I look at my calendar and there are seven or eight events in one day. Sometimes, I have double-booked multiple events at the same time and I have not figured out how to be in more than one place at the same time.

So my tendency to not be able to say no leads to me taking on more than I should, running from obligation to obligation, and not really achieving that much at all.

But I don’t think I am the only one around here that suffers from this inability to say no.

Isaiah not only said he was a man of unclean lips, but from a people of unclean lips. And it only takes a minute of standing on parsons avenue to hear that we are a people of unclean lips.

I am not only an over-achiever myself, but from a people who over-achieve.

In fact, we do so much around here at the Church for All People that we have even developed a name for out over-functioning–the swirl. When we have multiple things going on at the same time and a lot of people in a small space a swirl of activity ensues.

While good things are happening and we are doing good work, “the swirl” can take away from our ability to be present with God and with one another and it becomes difficult to live up to our ideal of radical hospitality.

Radical hospitality is one of our core values. It is this audacious aspiration that we can create a sacred space where all people are welcome, all the time. That it doesn’t matter how you come in the door, we are going to treat you with kindness and dignity and respect unlike anywhere you have ever been. We are going to welcome you in to the circle of God’s love and share with you the gifts of God’s grace. Our ultimate aim is not only to give out clothes through the Free Store or food from the market, but to build relationships of mutuality that change all of our lives.

But in order for me to build a relationship with you, I have to be present to you. When we are distracted and swirling, it is hard to build a relationship.

This is the tension in the story of Mary and Martha.

At the end of Luke, Chapter 9, Jesus and the disciples begin a journey toward Jerusalem that takes up almost half of the gospel. At the beginning of Chapter 10, Jesus instructs the disciples to go on this journey but to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals”. Instead, they are to depend on the radical hospitality of others as they travel.

They have just begun this trek and the first person who welcomes them is Martha. Martha invites them in to her home, with her sister Mary and Lazarus.

Martha invites them in and then does what a host is expected to do, she starts preparing 25-Matha-MaryFIa meal. She is putting together the food, cooking, cleaning, serving drinks, being a good host and then as she is in her own swirl of trying to get everything done, she sees her sister Mary sitting at Jesus feet.

In the culture of ancient Israel, to sit at the feet of a rabbi and learn from a teacher was the position of a man. Women were expected to prepare the food in the kitchen while men sat and talked.

I am not agreeing with history, just reporting it.

But Martha looks at Mary sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time and tries to triangulate Jesus in to her anxiety and says Jesus, tell her to come help me.

But Jesus doesn’t condone the custom of the day that limited women, but says that Mary has chosen the better part. Jesus offers radical hospitality to women in his ministry, talks to the woman at the well, forgives the woman accused of adultery, and makes disciples of women like Mary and Martha. The resurrected Christ first appears to women and women are the first to preach the good news that he is risen.

Jesus does not take away Mary’s position but says that it is Martha who is the one distracted by many things, when there is need of only one thing.

The surface reading of this, and the way I have often heard this scripture preached, is to say Mary, good; Martha, bad.

Mary has chosen the better thing; Martha is distracted by many things.

I want to offer a slightly different approach to this scripture.

If we look at Mary as the centered, contemplative, prayerful person and Martha as the “gets stuff done” person, I would advocate that to be a full, whole Christian, and a full, whole church, that both are necessary.

We need to be Mary people AND Martha people.

We need to be a centered people. We can think of people in our church like Mattie or Donita who are people of deep spirituality and who teach us that things happen when we pray that don’t happen when we don’t.

We need to be grounded in our relationship with God and from that connection we are then led in to action.

But we do also need to be people of action. If we pray, but keep our doors shut and our hands folded, then we are missing out in the entire focus of Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus sends the 70 out at the beginning of Luke 10, the message he tells them to share is “The kingdom of God has come near to you”. The kingdom of God comes near when we engage in God’s work in the world.

After all, the scripture directly before this one is the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story it is the religious people who pass by a person in need and it is the foreigner who goes out of his way to help the person who has been robbed and beaten. The Samaritan is the hero of the story because he does something.

In Matthew 25, it is the people who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned who are welcomed in to paradise.

Jesus is clearly about doing, but he also has a practice of staying centered. In the gospels, there are about 25 recorded times that Jesus prayed. Most of those were not short prayers he hastily offered asking for a blessing before doing something, but times of solitude and silence where he distanced himself from the noise and the crowds and reconnected with his father.

Contemplation and action are two sides of the same coin, they are like two hands of an artist working together to shape clay and make something beautiful.

A person who prays but doesn’t do anything is as incomplete as a person who does all kinds of things but they aren’t grounded in prayer.

To be a whole disciple is to learn from both Mary and Martha. We need to spend time at Jesus’ feet learning and listening so that we can go and do what a church is supposed to do.

So why does this scripture and even Jesus tend to privilege Mary over Martha? I believe it is because there are more Marthas in this room than Marys. If we have a tendency as a church, we are more likely to do something without praying about it than we are to pray about something and not do it.

We are a church that does a lot of stuff. We know how to do stuff. We are good at doing, so if God has an invitation for us it would be to remind ourselves to also take time to be centered and grounded. For when we get so busy that we find ourselves in the swirl, so busy that we don’t have time to build relationships, we can end up distracted by many things like Martha.

Martha was not doing anything wrong. She was preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples and the people in her house. People who don’t eat get hangry and it would be bad hospitality to not serve a meal.

But in her swirl, she lost herself, her centeredness, her direction.

You can be really busy and work hard and still be centered.

It is not the doing of things that is a problem, it is when we allow the doing to distract us from our primary purpose, from what Jesus says is the need of only one thing.

What is the one thing?

Our relationship with God.

When Jesus is asked what is the one thing, we read again here in Luke 10: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself

This is the one thing and if we hold on to that as a sense of direction, as the ground that we stand on, as our focus, we can do many other things from that center.

The one thing is to remain centered on God and not allow the distractions of life to pull us off course.

We can be distracted by a long to do list, a full calendar, entertainment, the pressure of social media, our own internal need to perform and produce, our guilt of the past or our fear of the future.

But Jesus invitation to us is to stay centered on the one thing and that no one can take that from you and once we are grounded in the one thing, we can do all things.

If we are centered on God, even when the swirl is happening around us, we can be the calm presence in the midst of the swirl that offers the gift of radical hospitality to the stranger.

We are a church that is blessed with an abundance of opportunity.

We are helping people find jobs in ways we never have before.

We have tripled the number of people we serve in our Fresh Market.

We have coming opportunities to do things in housing that will redefine our neighborhood.

But the most important gift we have is not a program or a facility, but it is our relationships. And if we are going to build relationships with more people, we have to be centered enough to be fully present to the person in front of us.

Developing the ability to be fully present to the stranger and to offer radical hospitality begins with being fully present to God.

How do we place ourselves at Jesus’ feet, listen to God’s still, small voice, and center ourselves?

The ways that we do it vary.

We can do it through prayer, worship, reading scripture, listening to music, sharing a meal, disconnecting from the things that distract us and reconnecting with God.

Whatever it is that you do that centers you, spend some time today and this week, and throughout your life. When we do that, we wont only do many things that a church should do, or cross tasks of our to do list, but the kingdom of God will come near.

Amen.

 

 

Like a Child

364999056_e58e2cdf39_z\ 1 Samuel 16:1-13

No one would’ve looked at David as a boy and imagined that one day he would be king.

It wouldn’t even have crossed anyone’s mind. It would be so far from the realm of possibility, that the thought itself would have been absolutely absurd.

The only way someone could become king is to be a member of a royal family, to be an heir. At the time of this scripture, the king was a man named Saul and David was not a relative of his. Things were not necessarily going so well with Saul and God was preparing to do a new thing, but no one would have imagined young David would replace him.

Not only was David not a member of a royal family, he wasn’t even the eldest son in his own family. He wasn’t the second oldest son or the third or the fourth or the fifth. He had seven brothers in front of him that were older, more mature, and looked the part more than he did.

When God sends Samuel to meet the sons of Jesse, he sees the first one and assumes this is the one. He looks the part. He is tall, handsome, powerful. But God tells Samuel not to look at the outside. The second is brought in, the third, the fourth… David isn’t even brought in to the room. Samuel has to stage a stand in protest in order for them to bring David in from the field.

And yet, we know the rest of the story.

David is anointed and goes on to slay a giant and become a king.

Pastor John preached on David a few weeks ago and how he got distracted and off-course with Bathsheba. John taught us about how God used Nathan to bring David back and we can read in Psalm 51 how God gave David a new heart.

But David was more than a man who made a mistake. He is celebrated to this day as the greatest king in the history of Israel. He built up Jerusalem. He brought the Arc of the Covenant home. He is described as having a heart like God’s.

But no one would’ve looked at him as a boy and imaged that he would be that man.

No one could’ve imagined that the young Jeremiah could become a prophet.

Not even Jeremiah.

When God calls Jeremiah his response is, “Ah Lord God! Truly I don’t know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

No one would’ve looked at a teenage girl named Mary and thought it would be through her that the Messiah would enter the world.

If I were God, I would’ve picked someone a little bit older, a little more experienced. A family with access to resources and who had demonstrated some solid parenting skills.

But the angel Gabriel shows up to this young girl and declares “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.”

No one would’ve looked at Mary’s boy as a 12 year old and have expected him to astound the religious leaders in the temple who had spent their whole lives studying and memorizing the scripture.

No one would’ve expected that when the Messiah, the Christ, came he would surround himself with children.

After all, there would be some serious work to be done.

There are hungry people that need to be fed, crowds of people bringing their sick to him, teachings to be given, an entire kingdom of God to be brought in to this world, as it is in heaven.

So when people start bringing their children, and even their infants to Jesus, the pictures-of-jesus-with-a-child-1126923-wallpaperdisciples step in. They try and stop it. Jesus is way too busy and important to be a babysitter and bothered with children. The disciples “sternly order” the parents to stop.

But Jesus says:

Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.

Children are our key to enter the kingdom of God.

Fortunately, today, children have a bit more status than they did in ancient Israel. I believe children are even heard more today than they were a generation ago. We can see it in the movement started by the students of Parkland High School, whose voices have echoed across our country.

And while every church I have ever been to says they want to have more kids in their congregation, I don’t know that we have looked at children as the key to entering the kingdom of God.

How are children that key?

First, kids are incredibly resilient.

I often hear adults say that life was so much easier when they were a child, before work and responsibility. But I think being a child is hard. To be a kid is to be a small person in a big world. It is to have little or no control over your environment. You get up when you are told, you eat what is put in front of you, and you go to bed whether you are ready to or not.

Our kids live in an uncertain world. Us adults have not given them much security and even my boys were afraid to go to school a few months ago when threats were made against their school.

And yet they keep moving forward, they embody the persistence of faith that the Apostle Paul writes about.

Second, kids love purely.

When a little girl wraps her arms around her mother, there is no agenda there. There is no ulterior motive or manipulation, it is pure love.

This is how Jesus teaches us to love God and love one another. With the love like that of a child.

So for us adults, there is much we can learn from the children of our church. Children aren’t around just to be cute or make us feel good, but they are the key to the kingdom of heaven.

But us adults also have a role. We are called to be their guides and mentors. Throughout the scriptures God calls young people to be part of God’s work, but God also uses the adults around them to journey with them.

David has Samuel, Mary has Elizabeth. So for you adults, I want to ask you who are you mentoring? Who are you a Samuel or a Mary for? Who have you recognized as a child gifted by God that you will help guide on their journey.

To the children of our church, I want to directly say the words we say in our church are not just for the adults, they are for you too.

You are made in the image of God.

You, children and youth, are beautifully and wonderfully made.

God loves you just the way you are and God is not finished with you yet.

You are a gift to our church and we are blessed to have you lead us.

You are they key to the kingdom of God, the key for all of us, to become who God created us to be.

And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t be whatever it is that God has created and called you to do.

For God not only called people that no one ever expected in the Bible, God does the same thing with us.

When I was a kid I struggled in school. I went through testing and my mother was told that I had a learning disability. The evaluator said I would probably be able to barely graduate from high school but the best I could hope for was a manual labor job.

And here I am, with five college degree, and honored and humbled to be able to stand here and share the good news of Jesus Christ with you.

No one would’ve looked at me as a kid and expected that I would grow up and become Pastor Greg.

Pastor John grew up in a family where his parents didn’t go to church. No one would’ve looked at him as a kid and imagined he would be such a remarkable man of faith and leadership.

How many of you adults were once at a point in your life where being an active member of a church would’ve seemed the most unlikely thing?

And yet, here we are together, the United Methodist Church for All People.

So what has brought us together and created this remarkable church?

When Samuel anointed David, the scripture says “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon” him.

It is the Spirit of the Lord that touches our lives every time we come to worship, pray, study, or put on a shirt from the Free Store.

The only way I can explain how I went from being a kid who struggled to the person I am today is the Spirit of the Lord.

The only way we can explain the miracle of the Church for All People is that the Spirit of the Lord came upon us.

This last week all of the churches and pastors and lay leaders of the West Ohio Conference gathered for our annual conference and I want to share with you that the United Methodist Church for All People was well represented.

We were well represented in the people who attended: myself, Katelin, the Ciampas, Anna, Marcia, Mike, and Ernest.

But we not only had good representation, every day our impact was felt.

Our Freedom School received a recognition and award for its work.

Members of our church were elected as leaders on conference boards and committees.

Reverend Chris and Sam provided the core of the music in worship services that were really the highlight and best part of the conference.

Pastor Ernest gathered signatures for the petition on prison reform.

Rev Dee Stickley-Miner spoke before the 3,000 people gathered and proclaimed that “God’s Spirit obliterates the chains of fear.”

Our new church and community worker, Anna Troy, presented Bishop Palmer with four awards from Global Ministries. One of the awards recognized the West Ohio Conference as the number one conference in all of the world in health ministries. And as the former HEAL director, I think we had a little bit to do with that.

Katelin and Mike spoke from the conference floor about the importance of welcoming the stranger around immigration issues and called on the broader church to truly be a church for all people.

Our church was named numerous times, in many presentations, as an example of a church that is doing what a church is supposed to do.

The Church for All People was very present, but not only in our voice and actions but even in the language that was spoken throughout the conference.

The words that we always speak around living in a divine economy of God’s abundance, proclaiming that our God is a God of abundance and not scarcity, knowing that there is enough for all people, was the theme of the entire conference. I believe that the reason this language was spoken is because of our leadership and the fact that we have demonstrated that the assurance of abundance is true.

The United Methodist Church for All People is not only changing the South Side of Columbus, we are changing the church. We are making people look at church differently in the West Ohio Conference and around the world.

So I return from annual conference with a message that you should be proud of who you are as a church. We are having an impact greater than we can see.

34408515_10155784924119755_48291963736162304_nAnd yet, just as we say about ourselves individually, God is not finished with us as a church yet.

I believe we have incredible potential as a church community to share the gifts of grace we have found in ways even greater.

We live in a world where the majority of people we know don’t go to church- p m and we have the opportunity to share with them the love we have found in Jesus Christ.

We have opportunities to grow in our own discipleship to deepen our faith, to be at work in missions to share what we have received, and to work for justice for all people.

Our potential is unlimited, but the key to living in to it is through our children.

As Jesus taught, children are the key to entering the kingdom of God.

So let us be the church that does what a church is supposed to do: let us learn from resilient, faithful love of our children. Let us nurture and guide our children. And for all of us, don’t ever listen to the voice of anyone who might tell you that you can’t. For this church illustrates the truth that with God all things are possible, because with God, anyone is possible.

Amen.

Dance of the Trinity

Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost.

The day the Holy Spirit gave birth to the church through tongues of fire: people were able to speak in different languages, and everyone heard the proclamation of God’s love in their own tongue. The day when 3,000 people repented, turned around, and became followers of the Risen Christ.

139558-140001At the end of the Pentecost story, the book of Acts says, “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.”

Awe came upon everyone and it is out of that sense of awe that they devote themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and prayer.

It is with this same sense of awe that David composes so many of the Psalms.

In Psalm 8 David writes:

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

How majestic is the name of the Lord! The name of the Lord that brings freedom to the addicted, recovery of sight to the blind, food to the hungry, hope to those who are down, that sets the captives free.

How majestic is the name of the Lord that unites us and it is from that place of awe that we come and worship here today.

Throughout the gospels, when crowds saw the works of Jesus awe came upon everyone and they glorified God.

When Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee the disciples “were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Awe came upon them and out of that sense of awe they followed him.

Of all the awe-inspiring stories in the Bible, today’s scripture is one of the most dramatic and powerful.

The prophet Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne and just the hem of his robe fills the temple.

In this vision, God is so great, so vast, so wonderful, so powerful, that his hem alone fills the holy temple. God is greater and more awe-inspiring than even the angels can take in. The scripture tells us that even the seraphs, the highest order of all angels, had to cover their faces in the presence of God.

And awe came upon them all.

b93f105d6cd8ab8685451b19ec6c687bAnd then they sang, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

They sang the same words that we started our worship service with and as we sing our voices join the chorus of angels and awe comes upon us all.

To be in the presence of God, to join the chorus of the communion of saints, is an awe inspiring thing.

If we pause from the hectic nature and noise of our lives to truly consider the depth of God’s love, the vastness of creation, and the way God loves us individually and unconditionally, awe comes upon us all.

And our first reaction to this sense of awe might be to say, I’m not worthy.

If we begin to imagine what God is like and look at ourselves in a mirror, we know that the brightness of God’s glory and the darkness of our human nature do not naturally fit together.

It is like walking outside from a dark movie theater in to the bright sunlight of a July day. It is blinding and too much to taken in.

This is the objection of Isaiah.

Isaiah says: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Can anyone here identify with this? Does anyone have unclean lips or come from a people with unclean lips? I must confess before you that I am one.

As many of you know, last week I ran a 50 kilometer race, over 31 miles. There was a part of the race where we ran across the dam at Delaware Lake. The path we ran went from grass to a metal grate that covered the dam. As I stepped up to the metal grate I tripped. I fell face first, sprawled across the dam. My water bottle broke open and the Gatorade in it poured in to the lake. And most worrying, I fell hard on my left knee. And when I fell on my knee and felt the surge of pain and worried what that pain could mean, I  might’ve said a word that I will not repeat in church.

Like Isaiah, I too am a man of unclean lips… and from hanging around on Parsons Avenue, I would say that I am not alone and I come from a people with unclean lips.

But the good news, is that even in this vision of Isaiah, even in this holiest of holy places, where God is mighty and powerful, grace abounds.

One of the same seraphs touches Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the altar and says “your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Stop and think about this for a second.

This scene takes place in the presence of the almighty God. In the holiest of all holy places, so sacred that the angels themselves have to hide their faces.

The seraphs are the angels of all angels, the highest order. And a seraph takes a piece of coal from God’s altar, to cleanse a person with unclean lips like me. And God’s love for us is so great, that it is in this most generous gift of God’s love and mercy and grace, that guilt is departed and sin is blotted out.

This is a picture of how much you and I are loved by God.

And awe comes upon us all.

One of the ways that Christians have sought to understand who God is, is through the 2170249concept of the trinity.

Trinity is a word that never appears in the Bible, but since the very early days of the early church it has sought to explain the nature and relationship of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We can see the work of the trinity on the first page of the Bible.

In the beginning, who creates?

We might refer to God the Father as creator, but the opening of the gospel of John also says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

In the beginning, the eternal Christ was there at creation, and everything that is came in to existence through him.

Not only were God and Jesus part of creation, but so was the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 1, verse 2, it says that God’s wind, God’s breath, God’s Spirit, in the Hebrew God’s ruah swept over the waters of the deep and brought order out of chaos.

In the beginning, was the relationship!

But there is more here than three different expressions of God doing their own things, but all three living in relationship with each other. We can hear this expression of mutuality still in the first chapter of Genesis when God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

This interplay of the trinity appears at Jesus baptism. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice proclaims, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ 

The trinity moves and breathes and flows in relationship and awe comes upon us all.

Three Colorful Figures Dance in a Shape of a HeartOne of the words that has been used to describe the movement of the trinity is the Greek word perichoresis, from which we get the word choreography.

In this perichoresis, you can imagine the three persons of the trinity moving together like in a dance, bringing life, restoration, and healing to all of creation.

Today, I not only want you to consider the relationship of the three persons of the trinity, but to place yourself among it.

If we get too far in the weeds of trying to logically understand the trinity we can lose our way in wondering how three can be one and one can be three. But if we understand God as movement and mutuality and relationship and dance, we can see how we are invited in.

It is found in the question God asks back in Isaiah. The Lord asks, who will go for us. Notice, it is not who will go for me, but who will go for us, again God in dynamic relationship.

As a person who has been awed, Isaiah says, here I am, send me.

The trinity is not only a description of the divine dance of God, but an invitation for us to join.

This is one of my all-time favorite works of art. An illustration of the trinity by a 14th century Russian artists named Rublev.

Perichoresis-Trinity-Generally-associated-with-St-Gregory-of-Nazianzus-in-first

On the left, Gold: “the Father” is clothed in Gold as a sign of—perfection, fullness, wholeness.

In the middle, Christ is clothed in the blue of creation and the red of suffering.

On the right, the Spirit is clothed in green, the source of life for all things.

If you look at the picture as a whole, the three look to each other, point to each other with a sense of wholeness and mutuality.

But even amongst the completeness of the three, there is a space at the table for a fourth. The Holy Spirit is pointing, inviting, offering a place at the table.

If you look closely, you can see that there is a rectangular hole at the front of the table. Some art historians believe that this hole once held the place of a mirror. That as you looked at the icon, you would see yourself placed at the table.

You are invited to sit at the divine table of the trinity, you are invited to the perichoresis, the movement, the dance, the relationship, of the trinity.

This week I want you to do two things.

First, take some time to renew that sense of awe. We can lose awe among distractions and hecticness and believing in our own selves. Every day provides us with moments to be awed by God. From the beauty of a sunrise to the unconditional faith of children to the diversity of this community, when we look around we are awed in the presence of God. Take time to be awed by God.

From that sense of awe, respond to God’s invitation of discipleship and mission like Isaiah, who when he heard God’s call said “Here am i, send me”.

From this sense of awe, may we join in the dance of the trinity, that is ever moving to bring life and resurrection and love to all people.

Amen

Faith of our Mothers

Listen to the audio of this sermon: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21168372

Genesis 16

How many of you woke up this morning and thought, I am going to make a mess of my life today? 

No one?

Good.

Thank you for confirming my optimism.

I don’t believe anyone wakes up in the morning planning to do bad things. I don’t think anyone starts their day expecting to harm themselves or someone else.

No one gets up and says, i am going to have a run in with the law today.

No one wakes up and says, i can’t wait to shoplift something from the free store.

No one drinks their coffee in the morning thinking, I can’t wait to cut someone off in traffic today.

We don’t start our day planning to make bad decisions.

And yet we see people around us making bad choices and we do the same.

Where does that come from? Why do we make bad choices?

Some of it is that we are fallible human beings. We make mistakes. We are all sinners in need of grace. That is our human condition and there isn’t much we can do about that. I wish I could stand before you and offer three easy steps toward making flawless decisions, but that doesn’t exist.

But at the same time, we can have some control of what grounds our decisions and what informs our choices.

Our decision making can be influenced by coming from a place of faith or a place of fear, from being rooted in our trust and reliance in God or being made from our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. We can remember the ways God has been with us in our past, how we have seen God’s promises unfold for us here at the Church for All People, and where God is inviting us in the future, instead of being led by our guilt of the past or fear of the future.

 In today’s scripture we hear this contrast of faith and fear.

 If we were to construct a hall of fame of people of faith, the family of Abraham would be at the top of the list. They left their homeland in Mesopotamia and moved to Canaan and created the civilizations we have today. But we also see in this scripture that they weren’t perfect either.

Our scripture begins with the simple words, “Now Sarai.”

 Sarai is the wife of Abram, whose names are later changed to Sarah and Abraham.

 God called Sarah and Abraham to be the founding family of building a new covenant and relationship with all of humanity. They left their homeland and followed God. They became wealthy and powerful. In Genesis, Chapter 12, God says that through Abraham and Sarah all nations will be blessed. In Chapter 15, God took Abraham out to the night sky, pointed to the stars, and said your descendants will be more numerous than these.

But a decade has passed since that time, and there is still no child.

For Abraham not having a son would have been a big deal. There would be no heir to inherit all that God blesses him with.

But for Sarah, for a woman in an ancient culture to not have a child, is to be seen as a complete failure.

In her culture, a woman’s value was placed in her ability to have a child and particularly a son. To not have a child is to fail. While that was thousands of years ago, our society still falls short in valuing women. Women still make about 70 cents on the dollar of what men make. Women are expected to sacrifice in ways that men aren’t and are under-appreciated. So I want to clearly say, on behalf of our church, that we value women as created in the image of God. Women have sacred value and divine worth, whether they have a house full of kids or no kids at all, whether they have a long resume or no resume. Women are beautifully and wonderfully made.

 Unfortunately, this is not the message that Sarah would’ve heard.

Without a child there will be no great nation; without a child, no great name; without a child the blessings will be barren. Everything depends on Sarah. Her bareness threatens to negate the future, the continuation of genealogy, the very promises of God.

Sarah herself sees this as a judgment from God, that God has prevented her from having a child.

And in what Sarah has interpreted as God’s absence, she feared being a failure, pitied and ridiculed, and takes matters in to her own hands.

Sarah’s decision making has gone from a place of faith in God’s promises to a place of fear. Who is Sarah, if she doesn’t have a child?

From her fear, Sarah comes up with a plan to have a surrogate child. Abraham can marry Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant, he can have a child with Hagar and they can raise the child as their own.

Abraham goes along with this plan. He doesn’t stop and say God has given them a different plan, he doesn’t remain grounded in his faith, but also comes from a place of fear and takes Hagar as his wife and gets her pregnant.

But as soon as that happens, Sarah is not happy.

The dynamic of the relationship between Sarah and Hagar has changed. Suddenly, the young servants is able to provide and offer something that the older woman is not. Sarah feels judged, slighted, and wronged that Hagar has conceived and she hasn’t.

Hagar is treated harshly and runs away because she too is afraid.

The results of three people, all operating from a place of fear, are feelings of bitterness, anger, betrayal, and broken relationship.

This is not God’s will.

The angel of the Lord finds the pregnant Hagar hiding in the wilderness, asks her what she is doing, tells her to go back home, and promises her countless descendants. The same promise given to father Abraham is also given to his second wife, mother Hagar.

And once again, God works amongst our flaws.

Since Easter we have heard the stories of flawed people who God used to do amazing things. The companions on the road to Emmaus who didn’t see Christ among them ended up proclaiming “He is Risen”. Thomas who initially doubted went on to help spread the good news of Jesus the Christ. David who got distracted received a renewed heart. Zacchaeus who found himself up a tree, received Christ. And Sarah and Hagar, who operated out of fear, became the mothers of our faith.

God’s promises to Sarah and Hagar came true. sarah_hagar_abraham-450x450

Today over two billion Christians and Jewish people trace their lineage to Isaac and Sarah as the mother of their faith, while nearly two billion Muslims trace their lineage to Ishmael and Hagar.

God’s promises have come true, the descendants of Sarah and Hagar are numerous, but fear of the other continues to plague us. The children of Abraham have not gotten along with each other so well throughout history and until today.

The results of operating from a place of fear continues with us, thousands of years since the days of Sarah and Hagar.

As a people of faith, how do we think differently?

It begins by choosing who we listen to.

 Back in Genesis 16, it says Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah.

 Back in Genesis 3, Adam listened to the voice of Eve.

 Now, I am not saying men should not listen to the voice of their wives. Far from it. Do not hear that.

 If I always listened to Jennifer, my life would be much better.

 I cannot count the times we are about to go somewhere and Jennifer says, don’t you want to take your jacket? I say no, I’ll be fine. I don’t listen. And because I don’t listen, I end up miserable and cold.

 I would do much better if I listened to my wife.

 But the question is do we listen to the fears of the people among us, or to the promises of God?

 Aaron listened to the fears of people wanting a god to worship and he made a golden calf.

 Moses listened to the voices of people afraid to enter the Promised Land and they ended up wandering in the desert for another 40 years.

 Pontius Pilate listened to a fearful crowd shouting “crucify him” and Jesus was executed.

 Today, we are not all that different.

 We listen to the voices of news reports that propagate fear in order to keep us watching. “Breaking News” used to mean that something really significant happened, today everything is breaking.

 So it takes intention to live differently, as people of faith.

 Not to listen to the voices that tell us to fear the other, that proclaim scarcity, or that tell us the sky is falling, but to listen to the voice of the one who promises peace, who always provides, and who loves us like a perfect mother.

 Imagine how your mother loved you, when she held you in her arms.

 Our mothers were not perfect people. They loved us the best that they knew how, from their own wonderful and broken lives.

Silhouette of Happy Mother Playing Outside with Baby

 But when a mother holds a baby in her arms, she loves that child just for what it is and who it is. There is an unconditional love there. The child has done nothing to earn or deserve love. But it is how Hagar felt about Ishmael, it is how Sarah felt about Isaac, it is how your mother felt about you, it is how God feels about you.

 And not only did your mother love you for who you are, she had dreams about who you might become. The kind of person you would grow in to. Not only what you might do, but who you might be. A person of love and kindness, peace and patience, gentleness and kindness. You mother loved you, but she wasn’t finished with you yet.

 This hope our mothers had for us is the faith of our mothers.

 God isn’t finished with you yet.

 Sarah and Hagar had moments in their lives where they operated out of fear instead of faith and brokenness resulted from that.

 God worked through them anyways and they are the mothers of our faith.

 We have had moments in our lives where we have operated out of fear instead of faith, and we can all look back at decisions in our lives we wish we would’ve made differently. We all have regrets from times when we made decisions out of fear.

 It doesn’t mean we are bad people, it means we are human.

 But let us aspire to be the best of what our mothers dreamt for us, the best of what God dreams for us.

 Living in to that dream starts with listening to the still, small voice of the one who created us. Spending time in prayer, spending time in scripture, turning off the noise of fear that always surrounds us, and trusting in the voice of the one who calls us by name and loves us unconditionally.

 Listen to the voice of the one who made you, redeemed you, sustains you, and wants the best for you.

 Amen.

 

Go to Nineveh

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Listen online: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21159239

Everyone knows the story of Jonah.P73lg

It has been taught in so many Sunday schools and vacation bible schools, depitcted from ancient art to Veggie Tales. Even people who rarely darken the doors of the church and wouldn’t consider themselves a person of faith know the story of Jonah.

Instead of retelling a well-known story, this morning I want to explore the question of why.

In the first sentence of Jonah, the prophet is called to go to Nineveh and cry against it, but Jonah flees, he buys a ticket on a ship headed in the opposite direction.

Why? Why would a prophet run from God’s word so powerfully?

Jonah gets on the ship and God sends a storm. While the other sailors are throwing cargo overboard and rowing as hard as they can to try and save the ship from being torn apart, Jonah descends to the bottom of the ship.

Why?

The captain of the ship comes to Jonah and asks him to pray to his God. While on one hand Jonah describes himself as one who “worship(s) the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land…” He doesn’t pray.

Why?

Instead of going the right direction or praying, Jonah volunteers to be thrown overboard. The sailors are hesitant and don’t want to be responsible for his death. They row even harder before giving in and throwing him overboard.

The storm stops.

The sailors are the ones who end up praying to God.

And although Jonah has run away from God, God sends a large fish to save him.

Finally, as a person who has experienced God’s deliverance, in Chapter 2, Jonah offers a psalm as beautiful as anything David wrote:

I called to the LORD out of my distress,
   and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
   and you heard my voice.
 You cast me into the deep,
   into the heart of the seas,
   and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
   passed over me.
 Then I said, “I am driven away
   from your sight;
how shall I look again
   upon your holy temple?”
 The waters closed in over me;
   the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
   at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
   whose bars closed upon me for ever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
   O LORD my God.
 As my life was ebbing away,
   I remembered the LORD;
and my prayer came to you,
   into your holy temple.
 Those who worship vain idols
   forsake their true loyalty.
 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
   will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
   Deliverance belongs to the LORD!’

From the belly of the fish, Jonah prays, is delivered, and gives thanks to God.

God has given Jonah a second chance.

None of the other prophets in the Old Testament have run from God as intentionally as Jonah, but God’s call in chapter 3 begins with the same words as chapter 1, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

This time, Jonah goes.

Jonah is obedient and travels to Nineveh. He preaches one of the shortest sermons of all time, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!

And guess what happens, people listen to him. An entire city is transformed. People come to believe in God, they fast, they repent, all the way to the king.

They repent in a way that indicates they have changed their behavior. They not only ask for forgiveness and say they are sorry for the things they have done wrong, but they change direction. They act differently. They turn away from the evil and violent things they have done and turn toward God.

And they do it without any assurance or promise that this will get them off the hook. The king makes a proclamation calling on all people to fast and turn from their evil ways and violence. At the end of the proclamation, the king says “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

Who knows, God might change his mind. We don’t know if God will or not, we might have to face the consequences of our actions anyway, but we are going to live right no matter what.

God is touched by this response, by how the Ninevites have turned away from their old ways, and relents from punishing them.

If I could preach in a way that is this effective, I would be ecstatic. In Hebrew, Jonah speaks five words and 120,000 people are converted. If I could say five words and the city of Columbus was changed and people turned away from evil and violence, “I would sit down now.”

But I haven’t found those words, so you have to listen to me a little longer.

While I would give anything to preach so effectively, Jonah is not happy. He is angry, he is mad, he is ticked.

25I knew it, Jonah says.

This is why I didn’t want this job in the first place. This is why I ran away.

For you are a God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

Jonah is so mad that like Jeremiah he wants his life taken from him, “And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Why is Jonah so mad, so angry? Why would he rather die?

Because like all of us, he is a person with pride.

Over the last weeks we have heard stories about flawed people God used to do amazing things. We heard about Cleopas and companion who on the road to Emmaus could not recognize Christ among them, we heard of Thomas who doubted the resurrection because he had not seen it himself, we heard of David who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and took what wasn’t his.

In all of these stories we not only hear the flaws of others, but recognize the imperfections in ourselves. This is not to lay guilt on top of our brokenness, but rather to acknowledge our imperfections as places that God’s grace can continue to work in our lives to make us more like Christ and move us toward Christian perfection. Also, it is to recognize that we don’t have to have it all together for God to work among us. Instead, sometimes it is the cracks of our brokenness that give space for the Spirit to move among us.

As I read the story of Jonah, it seems to me that his flaw is pride.

He has pride in himself. He is a man of God, a prophet, one who hears and speaks on behalf of God. In the Old Testament, a prophet wasn’t so much a fortune teller who predicted the future, but a spokesperson for God who called people back in to relationship.

The prophet was a truth teller.

But what kind of truth teller are you if you walk in to a city and say ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ and the city is not overthrown. If someone tells us the world is going to end in 40 days and the world doesn’t end, we would call that person a false prophet.

Jonah walks in to Nineveh, says it is going to all be destroyed, and it isn’t. Perhaps Jonah feels that he has been played as a fool for God.

Jonah is not only a person who has pride in himself, but in his identity as an Israelite. Back in Chapter 1, he identifies himself to the sailors as a Hebrew. He says, I worship YHWH, the creator of sea and sky.

And the Ninivites are the enemies of Israel. Nineveh is described twice as a great city and is the capital of the Assyrian Empire. An empire responsible for destroying the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrians taxed, oppressed, and tortured the people of Israel.

I can hear the voice of Jonah say, you want me to go where? To the enemy? And if I do so, what are you going to do God? You are going to just let them off the hook.

Where are the places that we would label as our Nineveh’s today? Syria, Baghdad, Moscow, the Taliban?

How would you feel if God called you to go there and you knew the best case scenario would be that God would forgive them for the things they had done? Suddenly, all evil and violence is forgiven.

And yet, God says to us, go to Nineveh.

Go to Nineveh.

Not just the Nineveh’s of foreign countries we have labeled as political and military adversaries, but the Nineveh’s in our community.

When we put the name, Church for All People on the door that is a bold statement.

We aspire to truly welcome all people.

We can look around this room and see that we are living in to this vision. While we live in a country racially divided, here black and white people come together and praise God. While our address is on Parsons Avenue that has historically been a line of economic division, rich and poor and middle class people come together. We are a place that welcomes people of all sexualities and gender identities. We are the most inclusive and diverse church that I have ever been a part of.

And yet, there is some Jonah in all of us.

We all are prideful people. If someone has done us wrong, we may not be so excited to see them walk in doors of the church. We want to save face and stick with our people.

We all have borders we don’t want to cross.

What is our reaction to someone whose politics might be different from our own? To someone from a different culture or background? To someone who has made mistakes? A slumlord who has taken advantage of people, a person who has taken something that isn’t theirs because they are trapped in their addiction?

God’s call to us remains the same: go to Nineveh.

We need to get over ourselves and our pride and hurts and live in to who we are and share the love of God with all people.

For me, my number one motivation for ministry is to widen the circle of God’s love to include all people and in particular those who have long been excluded by the church.

That all sounds nice, but the challenge of Jonah is not only to understand theologically that God loves all people, but to hear an invitation to go to those people and places that make us uncomfortable, to live in community with people different from ourselves.

One of the lessons Donita has shared is that in the development of this church we discovered that all people don’t always like all people. We are all glad that we are included in the circle of God’s love and grace, but sometimes we wonder like Jonah, why “that” person is here.

But the full meaning of deliverance isn’t just an individual redemption, like Jonah getting spit out of the whale. All that resulted from that was an angry and spiteful prophet sitting among the scraps of a withered bush.

The full meaning of redemption is communal. Nelson Mandela taught us that the work ofMndela justice is not only for the oppressed, but also for the oppressor: “I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. … The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

In the story of Jonah, redemption isn’t for a few but for a great city. For us, redemption isn’t only for the hundred of us here this morning who have found this special place, but is also for the people who aren’t here yet.

Who are the people who aren’t here?

Go to Nineveh, share the good news, so all may come to know the deliverance that we have found in Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Finding Faith when we Fail to See

Listen online: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21147104

Luke 24:13-48

How many of you are perfect?

No one?

Of course not. We are all human.

Our core affirmation as a church is that God loves us just the way we are and that God is not finished with any of us yet.

And yet, while we are very good at showing grace and forgiveness to one another, we often fail to show it to ourselves. When we bump up against our humanity, we can get discouraged in our walk and even be tempted to give up.

We spent the season of Lent exploring how we can incorporate spiritual practices in to the patterns of our lives, last week we celebrated Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter and everything in-between.

But when I look in the mirror and see my flaws, I am sure of God’s unconditional love for the other seven billion people on the planet, but not so certain for myself.

So for the next six weeks we will be looking at different characters of the Bible and how God worked through their flaws. We see our brokenness as things that are wrong with us, but perhaps it is in the cracks of those spaces that God’s Spirit has the freedom to move. Last week Pastor John shared how God loves using the foolish in the world. In the same way, God often works through our flaws to increase our faith.

BeautyofBrokenness-1400x600-759x500

Today we hear the story of the Road to Emmaus. It is the story of two people returning home after all that has taken place in Jesus’ last week, the resurrected Christ appears among them, and yet their flaw is they can’t see it. They can’t recognize God’s presence among them.

But let’s back up a little bit.

I want you to imagine something.

Imagine the excitement that you feel when you are preparing to go on a trip.

Perhaps you are driving to visit a beloved friend or family member you haven’t seen in a long time.

Perhaps you are going to a concert to see a favorite musician you’ve never seen before.

Perhaps you are getting on an airplane to go to a different country.

There is an anticipation in that moment. You’ve been telling people about it, preparing for it, you can’t wait to be there. You can see endless possibilities. On your way there, you post pictures to facebook to tell the whole world about it.

I imagine this was the feeling that Cleopas and his companion had on the way to Jerusalem.

They were going to celebrate Passover.

They were leaving their small village of Emmaus and headed to the big city of Jerusalem, the place of the temple, the spiritual center of their faith.

There they would reunite with family and friends.

There they would hang out with Jesus and be a part of the Jesus movement.

The walk to Jerusalem would’ve been one of great excitement as Cleopas and his friend  talked about the things they were going to do, the people they were going to see, the food they would eat.

Perhaps they were there as Jesus came down the Mount of Olives on a donkey on Palm Sunday, they could’ve been among those who laid down their coats and proclaimed “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

They very well could’ve been in the temple the following day when Jesus turned over the tables or on Tuesday when he engaged in a long series of debates with the church leaders. They would’ve been among those on Team Jesus who were glad to see him taking on the powers that be.

On Wednesday they could’ve been in Bethany as Jesus’ head was anointed with oil and certainly on Thursday evening in the upper room as they celebrated Passover and Jesus handed them broken bread.

Up until then, the trip would’ve been everything they expected it to be and even more. It seemed like Jesus was really going to bring the change they had long hoped for.

And then it all fell apart.

Only hours after the Passover meal, Jesus was betrayed and arrested. The following day he was convicted, beaten, and executed.

The Sabbath was a dark Saturday of mourning.

Sunday was a day of confusion as some of the women said the tomb was empty, his body was gone, but what did it all mean? They couldn’t see the possibility that he was risen. What was left to do?

Walk home.

The trip home always seems longer than the trip there. People don’t post nearly as many social media pictures of returning home as they do going somewhere.

Imagine Cleopas and friend walking home with just as much sorrow and sadness as they walked to Jerusalem with joy and anticipation.

Seven long mountainous miles… about the distance from here to the Ohio State University—not a short walk.

They walked home discussing what had happened, trying to understand it all. struggling to understand, to try and make sense of it all.

And then Jesus shows up and joins the walk.

Only, they don’t recognize it is him. They are talking about Jesus but they can’t see that Jesus is right there with them.See the source imageThe scripture doesn’t tell us exactly why.

Maybe there was something different about Jesus appearance, Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him at first either and she thought he was the gardener. Maybe they were so caught up in their grief that they couldn’t see the obvious in front of them. Maybe God prevented them from seeing it until the time was right.

Whatever the reason, they fail to see the Risen Christ in front of them.

It would be easy for us to wonder what is wrong with these two that they can’t see the obvious in front of their face, but I identify with them. I often find myself in this place.

On Friday I was at the top of the stairs in the reception area. I had set down a manila folder and couldn’t find it. I spent 10 minutes retracing my steps, and they weren’t many steps. The only place I had been was the reception and front office area. I kept bothering Rachael and Barb MacIvor, and I couldn’t find it. It was driving me crazy and the harder I looked for it the more incapable I was of seeing it.

And then, Joel Teaford walked to the top of the stairs and when I saw Joel my eyes were open and then I saw the folder.

It was there the whole time, but I missed it.

This might be a somewhat light-hearted example, but we often fail to see the obvious in front of us and the Risen Christ among us.

This is particularly true when we have our heads down and we are going through the routines of our daily lives.

It is relatively easy to see Christ among us on Palm Sunday or Easter.

Image may contain: people playing sports

But a week has passed.

The Easter bonnets are put away, the eggs are gone, the bunnies eaten, and if you still have any leftovers from Easter dinner you might want to clean out your fridge.

It is easy for Easter to fade from our memory. It can quickly become a historic event we marked or a future hope that will be realized when we pass to life eternal.

And not only can we let the Easter event get away from us, we can get distracted from our journey when we run up against our humanity and our flaws, when we are like the two on the Road to Emmaus and can’t see the Christ among us.

For me, this is particularly true in difficult times, in times of struggle.

I can identify with the words of Cleopas who says, “we had hoped that he was the one.”

How many times have our hopes fallen short?

We hoped that the medical treatment would work, only to find the illness has returned.See the source image

We hoped that the place we moved in to would be our home, only to find ourselves looking once again.

We hoped that this time the relationship would work, only to find ourselves back in the same place.

We hoped that this time things would be different, but they aren’t.

When we are in that place of despair, it is difficult for us to see.

And yet, when we come through to the other side of it, in hindsight it is in those places that God is often most present.

In the second half of our scripture, Jesus appears to the 11 disciples as described himself as one who came to suffer and rise again.

It is in places of suffering that God appears most present.

I have experienced that in the last couple of weeks with the passing of Dave Wollam. Dave was one of the warmest, friendliest people I ever met. I could be a block away from him and he would call me over just to say hello. He had a beautiful and generous spirit that I already miss. But while I miss my friend, I can see that he no longer struggles looking for a place to live, he no longer is sick, he is now his full, true, resurrected self in glory.

We are sad that a part of our family isn’t here, but we find hope that Dave is whole.

Can you see it?

In this life Dave walked with difficulty, now I imagine Dave dancing in glory.

Can you see it?

It takes faith to see hope in times of struggle. But this is not an empty faith that leads us to wish upon a star. This is a faith that has the power to change the world.

It is this vision that we celebrate this week in the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luither King Jr.

King had plenty of reasons to be fearful, anxious, or worried. But he refused to see the world as a place of despair, but through the eyes of faith he cast a vision of hope.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King dared to see a world “deeply rooted in the American dream.”

King could see a day when ”this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal.”

King could see a day when ” the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

King could see a day when his children ”will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

King could see a day when ”little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

King could see a day when the prophecies of Isaiah would be fulfilled, “that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

King said, this is our hope.

Our hope is in the resurrected Christ who lives and moves all around us. But living in this hope begins with opening our eyes and recognizing it.

Sometimes it is difficult to see in the moment and we can only see the light after we have come through the darkness. But like Cleopas and his companion, we keep moving forward and we keep walking even when we don’t know where the path will lead, we keep talking about it even when we don’t understand, we keep trusting in the long arc of history bending toward justice, even when injustice seems prevalent.

And when we see it ourselves, we share the light with others who haven’t seen it yet.

As Cleopas and friend were nearing the end of their journey home, they invited the stranger among them in, in a spirit of hospitality.

1602-3 Caravaggio,Supper at Emmaus National Gallery, London.jpgThe fellow traveler took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they saw that it was Jesus among them all along.

Within the hour they were back on the road to Jerusalem, they walked seven miles back to the disciples and friends and proclaimed ‘The Lord has risen indeed.”

The Lord has risen indeed.

Our call is the same. We open our eyes to recognize Christ among us and when we do we go and share the vision with others.

Can you see it?