Blessed to be a Blessing

Matthew 5:1-16

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21259550

For anything you want to accomplish in life, there is a process.

If you want to shop in the Free Store there is a process of getting a number and waiting for it to be called and getting a certain number of items in a certain time. If you want to shop in the Fresh Market there is a process of getting a key card and getting a basket based on your family size and checking out. If you want to lose weight there is a process of making sure you burn more calories than you eat. If you want to bake there is a process.

I have to admit to you, I am not a big process person. I like creativity more than process.  One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the Fresh Market and figure out a dish I can make based on what they have. At home I’ll take whatever leftover ingredients i can find and throw them in to an omelet, often to the disgust of the rest of the family. I like to be my own personal Iron Chef.

While I like to be creative, when it comes to baking there isn’t a lot of room for creativity. You can’t decide to use whatever amount of flour, eggs, or sugar you want. You can’t experiment with the temperature of the oven. If you want to bake, there is a process you have to follow to get the cake or bread you want.

The importance of process is not only true for the Free Store and Market and kitchen, but for our discipleship.

Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Over the last several weeks we have heard the invitation from Howard Thurman that “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Like so many other things, to come alive doesn’t just happen because we want it to, but requires intentionality and process.

The ingredients to be fully alive are the leading causes of life we have been exploring over the last several weeks: the importance of living in connection and community with one another, the grounding of coherence that gives us purpose and direction, the strength of agency that empowers us to be the leading actor of our own life.

The fourth ingredient in this recipe is blessing.blessingLike the ingredients of a cake, the ingredients of the leading causes of life all work together. They aren’t independent elements, but mix together to bring us life, and blessing is an essential part of that mix.

Unlike coherence and agency, blessing is a common word that we often hear spoken. And yet, the way we understand blessing is not the way Jesus used the word blessing.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, from the movie Princess Bride: “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

People who the world calls blessed are often those who have an advantage that we don’t.

We might call someone like LeBron James blessed because he has a physical strength and talent and ability that we don’t.

We might call someone like Elon Musk blessed because he has a net worth of $20 billon we can’t imagine.

We might call someone like Beyoncé blessed because she can sing and dance and entertain unlike anyone.

Often, when we hear the word blessed being used, it is to describe someone that has something or does something that we don’t. Blessing becomes a synonym for luck.

But that is not how Jesus uses the word blessed.

Look at the scripture today from the Sermon on the Mount. Who does Jesus called blessed? People who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, peacemakers, and persecuted.

The people Jesus calls blessed are not people who have accumulated stuff.

In fact, stuff is not one of the ingredients of an abundant life. The recipe for coming alive is to blend together connection, coherence, agency, blessing, and hope. Getting stuff is nowhere in the mix. And yet, we spend so much of our time and energy and life trying to get stuff, whether it is making money, getting the latest model of cell phone or video game system, or seeing who can get the most items from the free store. We spend so much energy living in the understanding of “whoever dies with the most toys wins” and that is not what real blessing is about.

Real blessing comes when we experience the transformational love of Jesus Christ.

The poor and mourning and meek and hungry aren’t blessed because they are poor and mourning and meek and hungry. There is nothing glamorous about being poor or hungry. The people Jesus describes as blessed are blessed because it is through God’s transformational love that they are the one’s who see God.

They see God, not with their physical eyes, but when we mourn and are comforted, when we are hungry and filled, when we are merciful and receive mercy, when we live as the children of God we are transformed and we are the one’s who are truly blessed.

When our lives are transformed, we see God’s work among us, and we are blessed.

Being blessed never has anything to do with us. We cannot bless ourselves. We are blessed in what God does for us, and how God works through others, bringing us life and liberation and freedom.

Do you see yourself as the blessed people of God?

We are a people who have been blessed by God. Not because we have things other people don’t have, but because we experience the power of God’s strength and power and love and grace unlike anyone else. I have lived all over the world and been a part of churches all over the world and I have never seen God at work in the way I see it here at the Church for All People.

Not only do I see it, but others are starting to notice. Throughout this year our church has been on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch multiple times, earlier this week we were on the evening news as the South Side High School Harmony Project server at the market and free store.

But people are not only noticing us locally, but nationally.

This last week US News and World Report published this article “From a Vicious Cycle of Poverty to a Virtuous Circle of Success”. This article details the transformation that has taken place in our community. A transformation not only where homes are renovated and an entire community rebuilt, but where people are comforted, fed, and given the gift of life, where the kingdom of God is made present among us.

(Read the article at: https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2018-10-09/church-hospital-join-forces-to-help-a-columbus-neighborhood)

This transformation is the true expression of blessing.

We are blessed because God is at work here. We are blessed when a person has a key in their pocket and hope in their heart.

A key ingredient to coming alive happens is the awareness that comes when we look around and realize that we are blessed.

We are the very people who Jesus called blessed.

But our full sense of blessing is not only found when we open our eyes and recognize it, blessing finds its fullest expression when we share the gifts of grace we have received with others.

b2bWe are blessed in order to be a blessing. A blessing that is received and not shared is no blessing at all. But when we can offer to others what we have found, that is when we Come Alive.

When we come here we receive radical hospitality, healing, inclusion, and joy. Then when we leave here, and we take those gifts in to the places where we work and live, life builds upon life, and blessing happens.

We live this blessing out through our connection with one another.

We aren’t individuals living out our own faith, we are a community. Last week on World Communion Sunday we recognized that we are connected with Christians all over the world. In the words of the Apostle’s Creed, we are part of something called the “communion of saints”. Our connectedness is not only with the people in this room and Christians all over the globe, but also with everyone who has come before us and everyone who will come after us.

We are blessed by those who have come before us. None of us have come to this place of faith on our own. There are people like Howard Thurman and John Wesley and Angela Davis who are the giants whose work we stand upon. There are people who are our parents and grandparents and mentors whose names will never be in history books, but who are the people that have shaped us and formed us.

This year, in the life of our church, we have lost an unusually high number of saints who have gone on to their great reward. People who have blessed us. People like Dave Wollam who was a fixture of our community and always greeted us with a smile, Virgil Smith who loved greeting people at church, Nate Wilson who fed us many meals,  Vernell Howard who filled our church with music, Natasha Gibson who loved this church and her wife Tiffany deeply.

These people, and so many others, have gone before us, and passed the torch to us. Part of what challenges us to come alive and keeps us accountable is to ask ourselves, how are we doing in carrying on their legacy? We have been blessed by the people who have come before us. What are we doing with the gifts they have given us? We can imagine Dave and Virgil and Nate and Natasha and Vernell and Cynthia and Noah looking over us and praying for us…. But if they are watching us as individuals and as a church, what would they have to say?

This has been a year where a lot of people we loved died. In and of itself, that is a sad thought. They have gone to glory, but we miss them. These are people who are an important part of us.

But, over this same time, we have had more babies born in our church than we have had people die. Life is present among us.

The gift of blessing is not only to recognize that we have been blessed by those who came before us, but to ask ourselves how are we going to be a blessing to those who will come after us.

How do we live in a way… how are we a church in a way… that will bring blessing and life to people long after us? How will we be a blessing to Russell, Malachi, Eloise, Lochlan, Jose, Liam, Riley, Olive, and Owen.

What will be our legacy? How will we live in our lives in a way that when we come to the end, people will look at us and say that they saw God in us and through us they were blessed?

As we go in to this week, I want you to consider two questions. How have you been blessed? Not blessed with stuff, but blessed by God’s transformative love. Let us open our eyes to see the blessings among us.

Second, how are we going to be a blessing to others?  How do we share the gifts of grace we have received with people longing to be transformed?

If we live in the legacy of those who have come before us and in the promise of those who will follow, we will come alive.

Amen.

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Coherence: Who are you?

Listen to the podcast of this sermon: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21250651

Luke 4:14-21

Imagine an alien landed in Columbus, Ohio and looked around. That alien would think,newsEngin_18246638_road-construction “these people really like orange barrels”.

It is hard to go any where around Columbus and not find construction. Whether you are driving or riding the bus, you can see that Columbus is one giant construction zone.

The seemingly endless construction is a reminder that we live in an ever changing world.

From the year 2,000 to 2,004 our family lived in England. Noah, our oldest son was born there, and we lived in a small village north of Cambridge called Ely. We bought an antique map of Ely from the 17th Century and the roads on this map are the same as they are today. It would be awkward to carry this around, but you can go to Ely today and navigate the streets using this 400 year old map. In Columbus, if you used a navigation system from 10 years ago you might be in trouble.

Think of the changes to our community in recent years.

Schottenstein department store was a fixture on the South Side for 90 years and now seems like a distant memory.

City Center Mall has given the way to the Columbus Commons.

And here on Parsons Avenue, in recent years we have seen a new library, a new fire station, new businesses, and now a freshly paved road.

Change is all around us.

In many ways, change is a good thing. Look around our neighborhood. Abandoned and blighted homes were once common and now are difficult to find. Look around this room. A church like this where people of different races and classes come together to worship would have been very unlikely fifty years ago.

But while change is often a good thing, change can also be uncomfortable.

When change happens in our lives we can feel out of control. The changing world around us can feel like a big, daunting, scary place that we have no control over and that is happening to us.

And even within our own lives it only takes one illness, the loss of one job, one heater to go out in our homes, and the foundation under our feet is shaken.

In order for us to live full, abundant lives in Jesus Christ we have to be able to have the confidence that God is with us in all things, that there is a bigger plan at work, we have to know who we are and whose we are.

The word for this security and confidence is coherence.coherence-1

Coherence is the second leading cause of life. Last week Sheldon Johnson introduced us to the first cause of life, connection. Connection is vital for us as we are made to live in community with one another. But real connection cannot happen without coherence.

Coherence is the narrative that keeps us on track because it orders our lives. Coherence gives us a sense of belonging and meaning.

Without coherence, we are merely trying to survive the storms of life that come at us. We are tossed about and living in reaction to everyone and everything else. With coherence, we can do more than survive, we can thrive.

So how do we build coherence so we can Come Alive?

Coherence begins with knowing who we are and being true to ourselves.

If you have met someone who has a strong sense of identity, who is comfortable in their own skin, who knows who they are in the world, that is what coherence looks like.

Jesus was a person who had a strong sense of coherence. He know who he was, what he came to do, what his purpose was in life, and that guided everything that he did.

In our scripture today we hear the story of Jesus’ homecoming.

This is from Luke, Chapter 4, it is early in Jesus ministry. Word spread about him, people are beginning to talk. He is becoming known for his teaching. To put it in modern terms, Jesus just went viral.

While he seems to be popular all around Galilee, sometimes the hometown crowd is the most difficult.

It is the Sabbath and Jesus is an observant Jew. So he goes to the synagogue like he had in many cities around Galilee. He stands up to read and a scroll is handed to him. Jesus unrolls the scroll to what we know as Isaiah, Chapter 61 and he says The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me… Jesus is the spirit-filled anointed, chosen one of God.

He goes on to say that he has come:

       to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

This is Jesus’ message of identity and coherence. Jesus not only says this is who I am, but he lives it out. A person with a high sense of coherence not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

To know who you are and have your actions be consistent with your identity does not mean you will be popular. By calling himself the anointed one, reading this scripture from Isaiah, and saying today this has been fulfilled in your hearing, is to claim to be the Messiah. Jesus is saying, I am the Messiah. That is his identity. But the people of his hometown are not buying it. In fact, the people of Nazareth are scandalized. They ask who is this that claims to be the anointed one? Who does he think he is? We know him, we watched him grow up, he is no Messiah, he is Joseph’s son.

Jesus responds to this criticism and says “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.”

Sometimes the people that are the hardest for us to be our most authentic around are the people who have known us the longest. The ones who remember us when…

Yet Jesus is not deterred by this criticism or the criticism he will continue to face from religious leaders throughout his ministry. Even in front of Pontius Pilate and even on the cross, Jesus does not waver because he has a strong sense of who he is.

It is important for us to have the same. If we know who we are and operate from that identity, we may not always be popular. As disciples of Jesus Christ we will not always do what the rest of the crowd is doing, we won’t always speak like the rest of the world around us is speaking. But if we are secure in who we are, we won’t be deterred when we are criticized.

It is important that we have a clear sense of who we are so we can be fully alive. And yet, our coherence is not grounded in us, but in God.

Coherence is not just a matter of who we are, but also whose we are.

We can have security that we will overcome, we will make it up the rough side of the mountain, not because of who we are but because of who God is.

This message of coherence is sung every time Paul sings “He’s Sweet, I Know”

He’s sweet, I know, He’s sweet, I know,
Storm clouds may rise, strong winds may blow.
I’ll tell the world wherever I go,
That I’ve found a Savior, and he’s sweet, I know.

No matter how hard the storms or how strong the winds, we know that God is with us.

It is who Jesus came to be.

In the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew Jesus is described by the angel of the Lord as Emmanuel, God with us. In the last chapter of Matthew, the very last words that Jesus speaks are:‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’*

This is who God is. A God who is with us in all things, at all time, and in all places. A God who understands our struggles, because God experienced them in Jesus Christ. A God who will never abandon us or forsake us

In Hebrews 13, two Psalms are quoted when the writer says, “‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ 6So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’

We knows these words are true not only because we read them in the Bible, but because we have experienced them in our lives?

How many times have you seen God make a way out of no way?

How many times have you witnessed answered prayers?

How many times have you looked around when others abandoned you and God was still right there?

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not height or depth or life or depth. When we know that not just with our heads but at the core of our being, we have confidence, surety, and coherence.Romans-8-38-39Our sense of belonging begins with knowing who we are, is rooted in who God is, and comes together when we have a clear sense of purpose in our lives.

When we combine who we are and who God is with why we are here, then we are setting ourselves us to come alive.

If we go back to this morning’s scripture, Jesus had a very clear sense of why he was here, what he was anointed to do: to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 Everything that Jesus did lines up with this statement. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus released people whose lives had been captive to years of sickness, gave sight to the blind, living water to a Samaritan woman.

Not only did Jesus actions line up with his mission statement, he didn’t do anything inconsistent with what he came to do. A mission statement both tells us what we are going to do and what we are not.

The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. Disciple making and transformation are the business that we are in. That is what we are called to do. We grow in grace within ourselves so we can bring transformation to the world around us.

The vision of Church and Community Development for All People is to build a “whole, healthy, and engaged community” so that ALL people can come alive.

Coherence is built by having a clear sense of who we are, whose we are, and what we do.

Perhaps it is in this third area that we have the greatest opportunity to engage as we talk about Come Alive. For who we are remains fairly constant, who God is doesn’t change, but what we are called to do changes throughout the seasons of our lives.

As we go to school, work, retire, the things we do change.

Twenty years ago I would not have imagined being a pastor, ten years ago I would not have imagined living in Ohio, but here I am. There is no other place where I have felt more connected to what God is doing and no place where I have been more fully alive.

So I want to invite you to take a fresh look at the questions around Come Alive and ask yourself what God might be calling you to do next? At this season in your life, what opportunities do you have to discover who you are, whose you are, and what God has called you to do?

And if you don’t know the answers to those questions, if they sound way too big, that is okay too. That is why John and Donita and all of us are here, to accompany each other in to a full life.

Let us not live in fear of the change that surrounds, but let us go from here knowing that we are the children of God, who is with us always, and who has called us to share the gifts of grace we have received with everyone we meet, so that the world will be transformed and come alive.

Amen.

Life Creates Life

John 1:1-5

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Listen online: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21242490

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, more than 600,000 people die from heart disease. The tragic part of this is that about 200,000 of those deaths are preventable. Changes in habits such as stopping smoking, exercising, and reducing salt in diets can save the lives of 200,000 people a year.

This is not only a national problem, but is even worse here on the South Side of Columbus. The rate of heart disease in our community is 55 percent higher than the rest of the country. So heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and if you live here you are even 55 percent more likely to get it.

This last week we marked the anniversary of September 11th. We shared stories of where we were when this tragedy happened. We remembered the rescue workers who sacrificed themselves so others could live and we honored the military members who have sacrificed so much for us. And yet, as a society we have not figured out how to offer our veterans healing and hope. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Nearly one veteran takes his or her life every hour of every day.

Last week there was a story in the Columbus Dispatch that 16 people in Franklin County died in a one week period from drug overdoses, largely due to fentanyl and other substances laced in drugs. We live in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is taking lives.

All of these statistics I have shared with you are true. This is the reality of the world we live in. And these realities are not God’s will, they are not fair and not just. And yet, the mere awareness of them does nothing to change anything. Focusing on death does not create life.

I can tell you all of the statistics about heart disease, but will it cause you to eat a healthier lunch at the end of this sermon? We can talk about veterans suicide, but does that bring anyone hope? We know people are dying from addictions, but does that set anyone free?

We are a people surrounded by death. Stories of death sell newspapers and keeps us watching news broadcasts. But from that,  we have been conditioned to see death, to look for death, to focus on death. Death feels like this lingering bogey man, just waiting to inevitably take us away. Death feels like a dark inevitably.

This morning I want to challenge these assumptions and encourage you to think differently.

Last week Pastor John began our “Come Alive” sermon series and talked about our Kairos opportunity.

We heard from the theologian Howard Thurman who said “Don’t ask yourself what the Howard_thurmanworld needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Our invitation in this season is not to be a people burdened with death, but to be a people free to receive life.

When we think and speak from a place of life, we bring a whole different energy in to the world. An energy that builds, that creates, that nurtures, that blossoms, with life.
We know this is true because we saw it unfold in the growth of our First Birthday program.

Five years ago people began focusing on the issue of infant mortality, but they did so from a place of preventing death. In the United States, six babies per thousand die before they reach the age of one. In the South Side of Columbus, particularly among African American familes, 20 babies per thousand die before the age of one.

But this fact alone does not create life.

40042949_1137958013021958_3204871765545189376_nIn response Franklin County created a task force called the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force. Not a very life giving name.

But here at Church and Community Development for All People we asked what is the goal, what is the vision? It is each baby celebrating their first birthday. This is life. So we created a program called First Birthdays, that influenced Franklin County to change the name of their program to Celebrate One.

This vision creates life.

This life was on display less than a month ago as over 300 people celebrated life around the Fresh Market.

This life is real. Out of the hundreds of families we have been in relationship with over the last four years, not one baby has died from infant mortality.

Life wins!

This truth that life creates life is what has made this church work.

Yes, people come here because it is a place that is cool in the summer and the winter, yes this is a place where the coffee pot is always on, yes we give things away for free, but above and beyond that we are a place that is alive and people are attracted to life. There is a vibrancy and an energy here that people want to be a part of. You can feel it when someone like Molly or Dolly walks in to a room, they bring a life, an energy, a spirit that people just want to be a part of.

But we don’t only see it at a large, organizational level, we have experienced it in our own lives.

Ten years ago I found myself in the doctor’s office of a liver specialist. My liver enzymes were high and I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. The doctor could have taken the normal path and tried to prevent death by giving me pills or doing a biopsy. Instead, he encouraged me to embrace life. He took the time to teach me about high fructose corn syrup and the other foods I was eating. He encouraged me to start exercising and that is when I started running. Today, I am 51 years old and feel more alive than when I was 41 or 31. And not only more alive physically, but more alive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. For me, running has not only become a way of having a health body, but is a form of stress relief and even a spiritual practice.

I am not here this morning to recruit you to run, although there are a group of us leaving here on Saturday for a 30 mile run around Columbus. What I am here to invite you to do is to change your thinking. To not put your focus on avoiding death, but on embracing life.

As Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, said in the movie Shawshank Redemption, it all comes down to a simple choice, we can get busy living or get busy dying.

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What is it that makes you come alive?

One of the ways that makes us Come Alive is by giving life to others.

Life creates life.

Life has a cumulative, multiplying effect.

Life is not a limited resource where if I expend some of it I won’t get it back, life builds upon life and creates more life.

One of the areas where we all find life is in giving back, helping others, finding joy through meeting a need.

There is something inherent in all of us that is fed only when we feed others.

One of things that I have learned since I have been here is that we all have a need to give back.

A couple of years ago we did a program with Nationwide Children’s Hospital called Moving Healthcare Upstream. We interviewed families about issues that impacted their health: whether they had good housing, made enough money, had a primary care doctor. At the end of these questions we asked people what it is that they would like to do, what would give their life meaning?

Almost every person answered that question talking about wanting to serve or give back.

I remember one family in particular who had eight people living in a house that according to my standards was way too small for eight people. They talked about wanting to help house homeless people and give others a place to live. Even a family that didn’t have sufficient housing themselves wanted to help others find housing.

When we are in that place where our hearts desires connect with God’s work in the world we find life. When we find life and operate from that place, it creates more life.

Life creates life.

This pursuit of life is something that continually pursues us. The Holy Spirit continues to move in us and shape us so that we will find life and give life.

Most of the things I have said in this sermon would be echoed by all kinds of people. You could find a social worker or life coach or school counselor that would agree that when we live in the place where we are doing things that give us life we bring life out in to the world.

While many would agree with that foundation, we as followers of Jesus Christ should be advocates of life more than anyone.

Our first scripture this morning comes from the opening words of the gospel of John. John describes who Jesus is in his essence. Jesus is the Word, the Logos, who was present with God from the beginning.

John says, in him “all things came into being”. Through the eternal Christ, everything that has life came into being. Life originated from Jesus.

What has come into being in him was life.

But life did not only have its origin in the Word, but Jesus came as the light that has overcome all darkness. The light of Christ continues to shine in our lives and world that overcomes all addiction, suffering, mourning, and pain so that we will have life and have it abundantly.

The gospel of John begins with this assertion that Christ created all life and continues to work to bring life.

But even this is not the end of the story.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spends the entire chapter talking about the meaning of resurrection.

In the portion included here is the promise that one day this perishable body will put on imperishability, our mortal body will put on immortality.

Paul offers these familiar words “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Death not only does nothing to create or bring life, death has no power over us because it has been conquered in Jesus Christ.

Jesus overcame sin and darkness and pain and death itself.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not Good Friday people, we are Easter people.

We are people that live in the light, that live in the resurrection, that live in the life of Jesus Christ.

abundant-life2

The fullness of our life comes when we are not only people who have been given life, but people who give that gift of life to others.

The opportunities around us are countless.

We are a church that has a chance to share the gifts of life with our community seven days a week.

And this is only one place.

As a person who has received life, you have the chance to give life to every person you interact with: at home, at school, at work.

What is it that gives you life? Go and do that, because what the world needs now, what God needs now, is you fully alive.

Let us not be a people merrily seeking to avoid death, but let us embrace life and life will create life.

Amen.

Clothed in Grace

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21229124

This is a Roman soldier, in full armor.roman1

Paul uses this image to illustrate strength and power.

This is an image that the ancient world knew all too well.

Remember, Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. A prison heavily guarded by Roman soldiers. So you can imagine that when Paul is writing these words, he can look up and see this soldier.

But it was not only a matter of Paul’s reality, but also of the Ephesians.

Ephesus was once one of the most powerful cities in the world. Some historians have said that outside of Rome, Ephesus was the second most powerful city in the ancient world. It was located at a crossroads of Europe and Asia and the Middle East in what is modern day Turkey, so it became a place of great wealth.

Then, in the century before Jesus was born Ephesus was conquered by Rome. It’s wealth was plundered and the people forced to pay incredibly high taxes. There was a brief period of liberation from Rome, but then when they were reconquered they had to pay five years of back taxes.

Ephesus was economically crippled by Rome and would never regain its place in the world.

But the city was not only financially occupied, but militarily occupied.

The Roman soldier would have been seen on the streets as a reminder of the power wielded over them. They were an occupied city.

For Paul to use the image of the centurion is really interesting. He is taking the image of the occupier, the image of what people assumed power and strength looked like, and flipped it on its head.

In effect, he is saying, this is what the world thinks strength and power looks like. A sword, a helmet, a shield. But, real power doesn’t come from physical armament, but spiritual armament: a belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, a shield of faith, a helmet of salvation, a sword of the spirit.

Paul says our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, our struggle is against powers and principalities.

We don’t change the world by taking up weapons or returning violence for violence. We change the world when we clothe ourselves in truth and righteousness, in peace and salvation and prayer.

Contrast the image of the centurion with the image of Jesus.

Jesus had no shield or sword and changed the world more than any other person in history.

Think about Palm Sunday.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly on a donkey. He came down the Mount of Olives with his disciples laying down their coats before him. It was a peasant rally in which the crowd cried out Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

At that same exact time, from the west side of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate entered the city with a great military procession. The historian Marcus Borg described it having “cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”

If you were to look at these two parades, which would you describe as having the most strength and power? In the end, which force would win? The Roman Empire who brought fear or the Prince of Peace who came so all might have life and have it abundantly?

We know who won. The powers and principalities of the world crucified Jesus, but he rose again! He is Risen!

Love wins.mg

We not only see the power of living by truth and peace and righteousness in Jesus, we have seen it in recent history.

We saw it in Mahatma Gandhi. There was nothing about Gandhi’s physical appearance that anyone would call intimidating. He didn’t dress in any powerful way. In fact, for the last 25 years of his life, he wore a simple shawl. He dressed in the clothes of a peasant and yet his work resulted in freedom for the people of India. Operating from a place of poverty gave Gandhi a great strength, from which he took on the British Empire.

Wearing nothing more than a peasant’s shawl, love won again.

kingWe saw it in Dr. Martin Luther King. He wore the suit of a pastor. He said first and foremost, over everything, he considered himself a clergyman, a Baptist preacher. But from that place he gave us a vision, a dream that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” And look at us, the realization of that dream, the diverse people who gather around the table of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Wearing nothing more than a pastor’s suit, love won again.

We saw it in Nelson Mandela who was clothed in a prison uniform. He spent 27 years in prison, often in harsh conditions and isolated from the rest of the world. And yet, he responded with peace, remained calm, and achieved the goal of bringing an end to apartheid.

nmWearing nothing more than a prison uniform, love won again.

These men wore the simplest of clothes, but they were clothed in peace and truth and righteousness and love that changed the world.

We often use the language around here of being clothed in grace. When you get a shirt from the Free Store you are literally putting on a gift of grace. The shirt itself is a gift that someone donated, that volunteers have sorted and hung. The entire thing is gift, it is grace.

But, like grace, this has become such a common event that I think we often take it for granted.

So let me give you an example of how powerful this really is.

Last week we had our First Birthday party. Over 300 people filled and surrounded the Fresh Market as we celebrated and made possible the gift of life. In the midst of the busyness of First Birthdays, a gentleman approached me and said that he didn’t have any money but he had just got a job at the Reeb Avenue Center. In order for him to show up to work on Monday he needed the right shoes and clothes to wear. I was busy at that moment, so I asked him to come back on Sunday. He did. After the 11am service he found Dessaree. Now, Dessaree was on her way out the door. She hasn’t had a day off since July, her daughter was with her, she could’ve easily said I’m busy, come back tomorrow. But Dessaree is a woman who herself is clothed in God’s grace. So she turned around, came back, found him the right clothes, went in the basement and got him the right shoes, and gave him a hygiene kit.

On Monday, he went to work. Clothed in the grace of the Free Store. Clothed in the grace of our community. He is now a man of strength and power, with the dignity of a good job.

On Thursday his boss came here only to say thank you. He said that he is such a good employee and didn’t want to lose him. He too was touched by grace and love won again.

Over the last several weeks we have clothed over 1,000 students with school supplies. Through the help of the noisy offering, we provided school supplies to three elementary schools, gave them to our church community and through the Free Store. More than 300 kids went to school with backpacks over their shoulders that came from the Free Store, clothed in grace.

Providing school supplies to kids is not just a matter of paper and pencils. It is putting on the full armor of God. An education grounds kids in truth, an education is the top ticket to the bridge out of poverty. No one can take your education from you. You can’t be stripped of your thoughts and feelings.

We are an amazing place that clothes others in grace, but in order for us to live in to our fullness we have to be clothed in grace ourselves.

We can go through the motions and hand out clothes and food and school supplies and a million other things like any other well-meaning service organization. But we are not just another organization trying to help people out, we are the church. We are the one’s called to share the gift of love in Jesus Christ that we have found with others.

But in order for us to share it, we have to be clothed in grace ourselves.

One of the first decisions we make each day is what am I going to wear?

As a country, we spend a lot of time and money and energy in the things we wear. Even though Jesus tells us to look at the lilies of the field and how they don’t toil or spin, we sure toil and spin.

But if we spend so much effort on clothes that will soon go out of fashion or wear out, we need to spend even more energy being clothed in righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation.

How do we do that?

John Wesley described the way that God clothes us as the means of grace. When we worship, serve, volunteer, read the Bible, notice God in nature, we are clothed in grace so that we can clothe others in grace.

But perhaps none of these gifts grounds us and equips us and strengthens us more than prayer.

Paul uses the word prayer four times in the last four sentences of today’s scripture:

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In order for us to be strong, we have to be a people of prayer.

In order for us to be a people who confront the powers and principalities of the world with love, we have to be a people of prayer.

In order for us to stand firm in the struggles of life, we have to be a people of prayer.

In order for us to counter violence with peace, we have to be a people of prayer.

Prayer is the strongest of all weapons. More powerful than any gun or shield or sword made from metal. So let us clothe ourselves in grace and prayer so that love will win again.

Amen.

Love Like God

augOne of the most important and influential theologians in Christian history is a man named Augustine. Augustine lived almost 1,700 years ago, was originally from North Africa, and was not converted to Christianity and baptized until he was in his 30s. But he would go on to become a bishop and shape much of Christian teaching and doctrine that continues to this day. The way we understand everything from the church to the trinity to sin to salvation has been influenced by Augustine.

Augustine was a prolific author who wrote books such as the “City of God” and “Confessions” that you can easily find in bookstores today. While Augustine is one of the most influential people in all of church history, his books aren’t always the easiest to read. They can be a bit dense and long. It may have been the style of his day, but I have often thought his books could’ve used an editor. It can take him a long time to develop a thought.

Augustine did not have a lot of tweetable moments.

But there was at least one time when Augustine preached a brief statement that spoke volumes.

In one of his sermons, Augustine said: “love God, and do what you will.”

Love God, and do what you will.

On the surface, that may sound like a very permission giving statement. All I have to do is love God and I can do anything I want?

I can lie, cheat, steal, use, abuse, as long as I love God?

Well, there is the wisdom of Augustine’s statement. If you really love God, and everything you do is grounded in that love, you won’t have any desire to lie, cheat, or steal.

We heard earlier in the book of Ephesians, Paul’s direction that thieves must give up stealing.

In addition, Paul said to give up falsehood, to speak truth to our neighbors, to not sin, let no evil come out of your mouth, to put away bitterness and wrath and wrangling and slander.

If we fully love God, and do what we will, we won’t even have the desire to be doing any of those kind of things.

Instead, we will move toward what Paul writes about throughout all of his letters and in this letter to the Ephesians. The whole direction Paul is pointing us toward is to become more like Christ and the way that we get there is through the practice of love. Paul uses the word love 16 times in this short letter to the Ephesians.

In Chapter 1, it is through love that we are adopted in to the family of God.
In Chapter 2, it is through God’s great love that we are saved by grace.
In Chapter 3, Paul invites us to know the love of God so that we will be grounded in love.
In Chapter 4, Paul shifts the focus of love away from describing God’s affection for us to an instruction on how we are to treat one another; “bear one another in love, speak truth in love.”
In Chapter 5, we are called to love as Christ loved us.
And in Chapter 6, the letter ends with the statement, “Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”

For Paul, love is what we experience from God and it is what brings us in to the family of God. Love redeems us and restores us and makes us more like Christ, so then as a people rooted in love, we operate from that place in everything we do.

Love becomes the foundation that we stand on, the air that we breathe, the place from which we live and serve and have our being.

In Chapter 5 of Ephesians, Paul calls on us to “live in love, as Christ loved us” and to be “imitators of God”.

On one hand, that might sound like an impossible standard. Who are we to imitate God or to love like Christ? That is a high order. Sure, God can do that, but God is God and we are not.

And yet, while we may not be perfect at it, love is something any of us can do.

Last week my parent’s visited and they were amazed at the talent in our church. Their church has about the same size of a congregation, but they don’t have musicians like ours, people who can sing like Mary or Sam or Dolly, people with the organizational genius of John or the steet cred of Tony.

Last week, Katelin and Ryan went and saw Beyoncé in concert. The next day, I asked them if Beyoncé performed any Aretha Franklin songs. She didn’t, but this morning we changed our order of worship and Kim did. Kim could do something Beyoncé couldn’t, that is how talented we are as a church.

We are an incredibly talented church and when I look around I see a lot of people who do things I can’t do.lovelikegod

But when it comes to love, that is something all of us can do.

All of us can love.

We may have been hurt along the way and be hesitant to make ourselves vulnerable to love, we may find it difficult to trust people or be protective of ourselves, but all of us can love. You don’t have to be fast or strong or talented or witty or clever. All of us have the capacity to love.

So what does it look like to be imitators of God, to love like Christ?

If we are to love like God, the first practice of that is forgiveness.

When Jesus was asked how many times should we forgive, Peter said, should we forgive seven times?

That sounds pretty generous. Would you be willing to forgive seven times? If someone lied to you, gossiped about you, took something from you in the free store, stole from you, cussed at you, hurt you, betrayed you, would you still forgive?

And yet Jesus said not seven times, but seventy times seven times.

Who can forgive like that?

We expect God to forgive like that.

Every night when I lay down to sleep and confess my sins, I expect God to forgive me completely and instantly. I expect my sins to suddenly be white as snow, with God not holding on to any resentment.

And I am sure I sin seventy times seven times a day.

Paul said in Ephesians 4, that we are to forgive one another, as God has forgiven us. We need to forgive each other in the same way we expect God to forgive us. When we do that, we find that we are the ones who can let go of the bitterness, resentment, and anger that comes with unforgiveness.

As imitators of God, we are called to forgive like God.

The second way that we love like Christ and imitate God is by telling the truth in love.
Now, I have heard many people say that they are speaking the truth in love, when the next words that come out of their mouth are ones of judgment and condemnation.
For Augustine and Paul, letting love be the foundation of everything you do influences the kinds of words that you speak. Speaking the truth is not returning hatred for hatred, but countering hatred with love.

This happened last week in Washington DC.

A rally was planned by white supremacists on the first anniversary of the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

United Methodist Bishop LaTrelle Easterling learned about this. But instead of trying to silence that rally, she sought to overwhelm it with love and created a counter-rally called United to Love.

She issued a call to prayer and action in which she said, “It is my belief that the way to respond to negativity is not by silencing it; rather, the outpouring of love should be so strong as to overwhelm it.” She said, “In that spirit, our numbers should completely overwhelm and drown out any messages of hate, exclusion or division.”

united2loveJoining with people from other faith traditions, Easterling saw her vision become reality as close to 1,500 people gathered on the National Mall for four-hours of worship and witness, in contrast to the 20 people who showed up for the white supremacist rally. In her sermon, Easterling said “love gives life. Love creates, restores, heals, encourages, empowers and welcomes. Love is God and loving is of God.”

The third way that we love like Christ and imitate God is when we look in to the eyes of the person in front of us, not seeking our own comfort or gain, but asking how we can serve.

At the end of Ephesians 5, Paul says that husbands are to love their wives as much as Christ loved the church.

How much did Jesus love the church? So much that he gave his life up for us.

Paul tells the church in Philippi to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” and then he goes on to describe the humility and service of Christ:

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.

If we are to love like Christ and imitate God, then we too are to humble ourselves, forgive, speak truth in love, and look at the person in front of us asking how we can serve instead of what we can gain.

It is when we live like this and love like God that God is present in our world.

I recently had someone say to me that they didn’t think God existed.

What that person was looking for was a tangible, scientific proof of God. Something that they could hold on to.

While I can’t offer that kind of proof, my response was that everywhere we see love, we see God. Every time we see someone helping a stranger, every time we see an adult child caring for a parent, every time we see a mother caring for her child, we see love and we see God.

Every time we operate from a place of love, when we speak in love and act in love, we make God present in our world again.

Every time we love like Christ, we follow the pattern of what Paul described as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

When we fully live out a practice of love, when we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, when we are kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgive one another, we change the world around us and we become the fragrant offering.

During the time of this sermon, this diffuser has been filling the room with the essential oil of peppermint. The room smells different than it did 20 minutes ago. And the fragrance is not just a pleasing scent, but the scent is healing and comforting. Peppermint oil reduces pain and creates a positive environment.

The same thing happens when we allow love to become the ground of our being that influences every word that we say and every thing that we do. We fill the spaces of our lives with an aroma that brings healing and comfort.

We become the fragrant offering that brings life.

May we go from here today as a people changed by God’s love, redeemed by love, healed by love, made whole by love, rooted in love, so that we can then offer ourselves as a work of love that brings forgiveness and truth and healing to all people.

Let us love like God, and from that space, do as love will.

Amen.


Benediction:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given unto you: Love God, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: In all things, let the root of love be within, for of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” – Augustine

 

 

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.

img_1191

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.

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.