All People Are Welcome

Listen to the audio of this sermon at https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21455216

Luke 14:1-14

If you have been around the United Methodist Church for All People for more than 15 minutes you know that we are a people who love to eat.

Every Friday afternoon this room is filled with hundreds of people sharing “Soup for the Soul”.

CommunityDevelopmentforAllPeopleIn the not-to-distant future we will host 4-500 people for a Thanksgiving feast.

And next week will be the return of Coffee House. Gary Wittie will prepare a home-cooked meal and then we will dance it off.

If you are ever looking for an opportunity to get people together here at the Church for All People all you have to do is ‘just add food’ and people will show up.

But while we are a people who love to eat, we are not alone.

I was raised Lutheran and Lutherans love to eat.

I have been to Presbyterian churches and Baptist churches and Disciples of Christ churches and while we all have different practices and theologies, the one thing we share in common is that we all love to eat.

And perhaps it is for good reason that we as followers of Jesus Christ love to eat, because Jesus loved to eat too.

If you read the gospel of Luke, Jesus practically eats his way through the gospel. There are 10 different stories of Jesus eating at the house of Levi and Simon and Mary and Martha, feeding the 5,000, inviting himself to Zacchaeus home, and even the resurrected Christ ate with the disciples. Nearly 1/5th of the verses in Luke happen around a table where people are eating.

Image result for jesus eating luke

It is around tables that Jesus calls people in to ministry and sends them out in to service. Around dinner tables Jesus brings reconciliation, strengthens people in discipleship, and challenges notions of who is welcome at the table.

And yet, while Jesus spends a lot of time around tables with everyone from sinners and tax collectors to church leaders and disciples, I don’t think he would be the easiest dinner guest to invite in to your home.

In our scripture today Jesus is invited to the Sabbath meal of one of the top religious leaders of his day.

Imagine if you were invited to go to the home of our bishop, Bishop Gregory Palmer, after church today. How would you act?  You might put on your best clothes, be on your best behavior, ask what you can bring, and when you get there you would be polite and ask “where should I sit”?

Jesus does none of those things.

In fact, even before he gets in the door he breaks the rules. He heals a man who is sick on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders who took their faith very seriously. Many times we tend to disparage the Pharisees, but the truth is they were a people who took their faith seriously. They followed the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures as closely as possible in sacred obedience to God. And here comes Jesus, flaunting his disobedience, doing exactly opposite of what they had understood that it meant to follow God.

And that’s before he even gets in the door.

Once Jesus is at the dining room table he gets even more aggressive. He looks in the eyes of the people gathered around the table and comments on how they jockeyed for position around the table. He says that it is a better thing to take a seat in the back and be invited up front, then to elbow each other for position at the head of the table,

So Jesus is invited to the house of a religious leader, since he was a travelling itinerant preacher he probably showed up empty handed, and then he breaks the rules before he gets in the door and confronts the people gathered around the table.

If we were to invite Jesus to our table, what message might Jesus have to say to us?

Here at the United Methodist Church for All People one of our founding principles is radical hospitality. Last week I spoke of the four different types of love, one of them being philia, the love we find in friendship. But as Pastor John Edgar has taught us, Jesus calls us to move from Philadelphia (brotherly love) to Philoxenia, the love of the stranger.

This is embodied in our second core value, “All people are welcome”.

As Jesus is at the home of the Pharisee he challenges them to be welcoming, not only to friends and family and neighbors, but to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

We are called to welcome all people in to the circle of God’s love, just as we have been welcomed.

In Genesis, Chapter 18, Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tents when he sees strangers walk by. He invites them in, gives the best he has, and offers them a feast, and in that act of welcome and hospitality he receives a blessing that he and Sarah will have a child.

It is from this core story in Genesis that inspired the author of Hebrews to write, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

But what does it mean to really welcome someone?

Imagine that Jennifer and I invite Camisha to our home for dinner. Come Camisha and take a seat at the table.

If we invite Camisha to dinner and offer her a meal, we have welcomed her to a point. But there isn’t necessarily a lot of mutuality and relationship in that. We have told her where to sit, what to eat, we are in control of what we offer her.

But what if we invite Camisha in to the kitchen and make space for her to cook with us. To spice the food as she would flavor it, to bring all of who she is in to our home. When you allow someone to open your refrigerator and take something out without them having to ask, that is real hospitality.

Camisha, when have you shown hospitality to someone?

The power of welcome and hospitality not only comes when we offer that to others but when we receive it ourselves.

Jesus does an interesting thing. He not only teachers others to offer hospitality, but puts his followers in a position to receive hospitality.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus sends the disciples out without money or extra clothes or food. He sends them out in a way that they are dependent on the hospitality of others.

And Jesus describes himself as one who does not have a place to lay his head. He invites himself to dinner at Zacchaeus house. In the ten meals that provide the gathering place for Jesus’ ministry in Luke, none of them are in Jesus’ kitchen. They are all in other people’s houses.

When it is time for Jesus and his friends to celebrate the Passover, Jesus sends Peter and John to make preparations. When they ask where is this going to happen Jesus gives them this strange instruction: when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house. The last supper takes place in the attic of strange man carrying a water jar.

In sending the disciples out in a way that depends on the hospitality of others, in Jesus himself traveling in a way that required the help of others, Jesus lifts up the importance of being able to receive welcome.

As an adopted child the story of my life began with me as a helpless baby receiving the welcome of my parents who raised me. I was brought in to a family not biologically my own and given the gift of faith that is the foundation of who I am today.

Camisha, when is a time when you have allowed someone to welcome you?

When I look at us as a church, we are a doing church. If we needed to get a meal together for an event, people like Barb and Kim and Marnetta and Shirley could make that happen in minutes.

But as a people who are willing to do for others are we also willing to receive from others? Do we allow others to welcome us? In order for us to have relationships of true vulnerability and mutuality we need to be able to receive hospitality as well as to give welcome.

We are a church that does an above average job of welcoming people in among our differences. You can look around this room and see people of different ages, races, economic backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities, physical abilities, and political parties.

But to really welcome someone is not only to say you are allowed to come and take a seat, and you are safe in doing so, but you are invited to bring all of who you are and this is a better place when you fully express your gifts.

This time last year we were asking the question given to us by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Image result for howard thurman what makes you come alive

To be a welcoming church is to give space for people to be all who God created them to be, to become fully alive.

Just about every church would tell you that all people are welcome, but there are a whole lot of people who could tell you they have been hurt because churches have not been as welcoming as advertised.

Let us be a church who lives in to our second core value that “All people are welcome”. Not only welcome in diversity and unity to come in the door and have a seat at the other side of the table, but welcome and safe and cherished and nurtured to be all who God has made them. Let us not only ask who is not here so we can include them among us, but let us make ourselves vulnerable enough to invite others in to the kitchen so that we might learn from them and in doing so we will be repaid by living in to the vision given to us by Luke of living in to the resurrection of the righteous.

Amen.

 

 

 

All people are loved by God just the way they are

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21451892

If you believe the headlines, it is not such a great time to be the church.

Great Decline in religion graphOver the last several decades, across our nation church participation is down–the number of people who come to church, give financially to support a church, or volunteer at a church has decreased. In particular, the church is losing younger people who often see the church as a place that is judgmental and hypocritical.

The largest growing demographic of people of faith are known either as the “nones”, people with no religious affiliation, or post-Christian. People who identify as post-Christian do not believe in God, do not pray, and do not attend worship. The number of people who identify as post-Christian is increasing. According to a study by the Barna Group, 42 percent of people in the city of Columbus identify as post Christian.

So the trends for church engagement and participation are not on our side.

Second, we live at a time when our society is divided.

It is striking that Jesus longest prayer in the gospels is in John as he is facing his coming betrayal and crucifixion. The thing Jesus prays for that takes up the entire chapter of John 17 is that we would be one. Jesus prays that we would be one just as he and the father are one. Jesus prays that we would “become completely one” so that the world would know God’s love.

While this is Jesus’ longest prayer, it only takes 15 minutes of watching the news to see that as a culture and a society we are as far from one as you can get. We have allowed fear to divide us along lines of race, class, age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, language of origin, country of origin, and just about any other way you can imagine.

Even in the church, Jesus prayed we would be one and we are far from one. Today, there are hundreds of denominations, some of whom work together and many who don’t.

Even within our own United Methodist denomination we are divided right now over whether or not globally we will be a church for all people. Here, at the corner of Parsons and Whittier, we were founded as a church for all and we will always be a church that welcomes all people, no matter the color of your skin, the amount of money in your pocket, how you identify yourself, or who you love. We know who we are and if anything we will dare to live on the side of loving too much, if that is possible. But for our denomination who has always theologically emphasized grace, we will see if in practice that grace can truly extend to all.

So we live in a world where nationally and locally fewer people are participating in church, we live in a culture that is divided, and we are part of a denomination that is divided.

On the surface, that does not sound great. If all you did was look at the headlines you might think it is not a great time to be the church. But I am here to tell you today, don’t believe the hype.

It is for this very moment and very time that we are called to be the church, to be a church that does what a church is supposed to do.

Despite all of the things I have just described, our church has consistently grown since its inception 17 years ago. We have experienced steady growth across the years. Last year was the year of our largest worship attendance and this year we are averaging 10 more people in worship than we did last year.

So in the face of all that is going in around us, why does this church continue to be an active, vibrant, and growing community?

First, and foremost, I believe it is because God is at work here. God’s Spirit has moved and is moving among us in ways that we never expected. There are things that happen in the life of our church that I can only laugh and shake my head and say it’s a God thing, because it is all too wonderful and amazing to simply be our work.

Second, while God is at work here, we have been responsive to it. We have been described by others from the outside as the church that does what a church is supposed to do. We work together with God and we have found that when you grab on the coattails of the Holy Spirit and are a part of what God is a part of, that our God is a God of abundance and God always provides.

The headlines are untrue. In the face of all that is going on around us, the truth is that there is no better time to be the church than right now.

This is the very time to be the church of diversity and of unity that Jesus prayed for.

So over the next several weeks we are going to explore what does it mean to be the church.

For us, I believe it means embodying our founding core values that are listed in this insert.

corevalues_230x3001All people are loved by God just the way they are.
All people are welcome.
All people desire inclusive community.
All people desire relevant worship.
All people seek hope and healing.
All people have within themselves the God-given power to improve their lives.
All people have gifts to give and a desire to serve.
All people desire affirmation.
All people are capable of being transformed by God, in and through Jesus Christ.

When we live out these core values in the ministry of our church and in our individual lives, we discover what it means to be the church.

The first of these core values is really the foundation for the rest of them: All people are loved by God just the way they are.

If we are guilty of anything, it might be that we have made this kind of affirmation so many times we agree to it without thinking about it. The central statement of our church is that God loves us just the way we are and God is not finished with us yet.

And, as I read this statement, if I am guilty of anything, it is that I use the word love too often and too freely.

When I listen to an album I really like, I will say I love this music.

When I eat a good meal, I love this food.

When I read a good book, I love this author.

I say this so much that people will sometimes call me out on it. When I overuse the word love, I hear the voices of others say, if you love it, why don’t you marry it.

This correction is a good one, because how am I using the same word to describe how I feel after eating a piece of dark chocolate with how I feel about Jennifer to how I feel about God.

Part of it is not my fault.

The English language only gives us one word for love. We have the same word whether we are talking about a movie, a friend, a spouse, or God.

Image result for four loves c s lewisIn Greek there are four words for love. C. S. Lewis wrote a really good, small book on this called “The Four Loves,” so if you are interested I would recommend that book. But the four loves are:

Storge, an affection, need based love. We love someone because they provide for our needs. A baby needs its mother. Think of the song we often sing, I need you to survive: “I pray for you, You pray for me. I love you, I need you to survive.” That is storge love. I love you, because you provide for my needs.

The second love is philia, the kind of love we experience in friendship. It is the bond that we have with people who share the same interests and do the same things. I have this with many of my running friends. Back in the first part of July I ran in a 50 kilometer race when it was stupid hot. When I wanted to quit, a friend of mine said what kind of friend would I be if I let you quit. She put ice around my neck and showed up at aid stations to keep me going. I only finished the race because of her help. That is philia, friendship.

The third love is eros, from which we get our word erotic. We could call this valentine’s day love. It is that warm, mushy feeling you have for the person you are in love with. It is a powerful and passionate love and yet it can also be a love that is somewhat self-centered. You can love someone because of how they look or how they make you feel.

All three of these loves are somewhat conditional. Storge, I love you because you provide for my needs; philia, I love you because we have a common interest; eros, I love you because of how you make me feel.

But the fourth is agape. Agape describes God’s unconditional love for us. It is not a love that is earned or deserved, it is not a love based on what you do for me, but is purely a gift.

In our Wesleyan heritage agape is prevenient grace. God loved us before we were ever aware of it. It is a love that surrounded before we drew our first breath, through every mistake we have made, and in every joy we have experienced. God loves us not because of what we have done but simply for who we are.

Agape not only describes God’s unconditional love for us but how we are to love one another.

The word love is used almost 30 times in this scripture from 1 John and in every case it is
an agape love. You could substitute the word agape for love:

let us agape one another, because agape is from God; everyone who agapes is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not agape does not know God, for God is agape. God’s agape was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is agape, not that we agaped God but that he agaped us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beagaped, since God agaped us so much, we also ought to agape one another.

We could do the same thing with our first core value:

All people are agaped by God just the way they are.

This is a love we receive and a love that we share with one another. A love that challenges us not to see someone different from us as a threat, but as a fellow child of God, a person who is also loved, agaped by God.

While as a church I think we do a pretty good job of articulating God’s love for all people and we aren’t perfect at it but we seek to extend that love to all people, I think the growing edge for us is in receiving that love for ourselves.

As I have listened to people in our church, I hear people say that they struggle with really accepting God’s unconditional love for themselves. We hold on to ideas of unworthiness and guilt. Even for me, I 100 percent believe God unconditionally loves the other 7 billion people on the planet, but it is harder to accept it for me.

And if I have a hard time receiving this unconditional gift of agape for myself, then how can I share it with others? How can we love our neighbor as ourselves, if we don’t love ourselves in the first place?

So this week I want to challenge you to do something. When you have a negative self-thought, stop it and say to yourself “I am loved by God just the way I am”. When you wake up tomorrow morning and look in the mirror say out loud, “I am loved by God just the way I am”. Even if makes you laugh, even if you don’t believe it at first, say it anyway.

For when we accept that God truly loves us, just as we are, we can then extend that love to others and be the church.

Amen.

New Creation in Christ

Gen 2:8-15

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21447359

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen a question bouncing around twitter that asks, if you could bring one person back who has died, who would it be?

People’s responses to this question have been interesting.

Some people have responded with the names of great leaders like Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Others have responded with the names of celebrities and musicians like Prince or David Bowie.

Others have offered very thoughtful responses about loved ones, spouses or parents, who are missed and people wish they could have just one more day with them.

When I saw this question the first name that came to mind for me was St Francis of Assisi.

Francis lived 800 years ago in a world very different from ours. He grew up in great st-francis-icon-411wealth and comfort. His father was a silk merchant who hoped his son would group up and build on the family business. But Francis had several mystical experiences that transformed him. One day at mass he heard the story of Jesus calling the disciples. Jesus told the disciples to  ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.

Francis took these words literally. He gave up his wealth, took off his belt and replaced it with a rope, and only owned one tunic.

Now I am not saying we should live as austere of a life as Francis. I am not trying to put the Free Store out of business.

Francis was a man who had a simplicity of heart, who dedicated himself to living in Christ, who lived in deep relationship with people living in poverty, and in fellowship with all creatures. He was someone who loved deeply.

It is for these reasons that I thought if anyone could come back and be an example of how we should live at this time, it would be Francis.

Today, Francis is best known for his love of creation. In the Roman Catholic tradition he is the patron saint of animals, nature, and ecology. To this day, statues of St Francis can often be found in gardens and flowerbeds.

It is for these reasons that my first thought was that St Francis is the kind of person we need for a time like this. We could learn from his humility, his service, his love, and his care for creation.

But as soon as I had this first thought that if I could bring anyone back it would be Francis, my next thought was that I wouldn’t want to do that to him.

I think if Francis came back today and saw how we have destroyed the creation he loved so deeply that he would weep.

In our scripture, from the book of Genesis, we hear this work of God who creates like an artist dancing around a studio. God plants, God forms, God makes things grow, God breaths life in to the dust and brings life.

And then God does what God does throughout history; he takes this work he has done and hands it to Adam and says here you go: till it and keep it.

God is saying to Adam, take what I have made and nurture it and care for it. In Hebrew, the word keep it means to watch over it, like a watchman keeping guard, like a mother keeping an eye on her children.

Nurturing and protecting creation was the first job given to humanity and how have we done with our first calling? Not well. We have polluted and poisoned what God has made in our effort to consume as much as we can, instead of caring for what God has given us.

This is not God’s will for us and it is not what it looks like as a people who seek to live in Christ.

Over the last several weeks we have been exploring what it means for us to live in Christ/en Christo. How do we live in to this core affirmation given to us by the Apostle Paul that we live and grow and have our being in Christ.

We have heard how living in Christ makes us new and unites us with the eternal God, how it opens us to explore new possibilities and to go on new adventures, and how it compels us to live in new and loving relationships with one another.

Today we hear the invitation that to live in Christ is not only for us individually to live in relationship with God and to live in relationship with one another, but to see ourselves as living in relationship with all of nature and all of creation.

The step in living in to that is to recognize that creation is good.

Too many times, the Christian faith has portrayed the world we live in as a fallen wasteland that we must endure until Christ returns again. But this is not the testimony of scripture. If we go back to Genesis 1 God calls all that God has made good five times,  very good on the sixth day, and holy on the sabbath. If skip to the end in Revelation 21 there is a new heaven and a new earth where tears are wiped away and death and mourning and crying and pain are no more.

Now some may argue that Genesis was pre-fall creation and that Revelation is after Christ returns redemption. But in-between, scripture continues to lift up the beauty and goodness of creation.

The Psalms speak of the beauty and wonder of creation.

In the book of Job, Job says

‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.

This scripture not only lifts up the goodness of creation, but that we can learn from the plants, the animals, the birds, the fish.

I think one of the things that we can learn is contentment in being who we were created to be. A dog is content being a dog, a squirrel doesn’t try to be a cactus or a fish a flower. Yet so many of us are discontent in who we are. What if we could learn from creation around to be at peace with who God has made us?

So the first step is to recognize that creation is good.

The second step is to see that creation is good because it is a reflection of God.

Psalm 19 declares, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

Creation is good because, like us, it is made in Christ.

In John, Chapter 1, we hear that all of creation came in to being through the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. Creation happened in Christ.

With that realization, St Francis described creation as God’s first book.

When we think of God’s book, we think of the Bible. The Bible is core and essential to our faith. The Bible reveals to us who God is and what it means for us to live in Christ.

I can still remember the first real Bible I received. My grandmother gave me a Bible as a confirmation present. It had a white, leather cover. My name was embossed on the cover, I can remember the feel of the thin pages, the tassel bookmark, the pages of maps I found fascinating. That first Bible holds a special place in my heart.

But the Bible, as we know it, has been around for less than 2,000 years. And the technology of printing presses and the ability of most people being able to read has only happened in the last few hundred years.

Astronomers believe that the universe is 13.8 billion years old.

The beauty, the diversity, the intricacy, the life of all of creation testified to God’s power and glory long before the printed word.

For the first 13.79999 billion years, creation was the first book that revealed God.

We can see God in the beauty of a sunrise, in the rain that falls to earth and brings forth life, in a caterpillar inching itself forward on our arm, in the abundance and variety of food we share at the Fresh Market.

If we recognize the goodness of creation, and we can see how God is revealed to us in nature, that compels us to care for what God has entrusted us with. The third step is living in to our initial job of tending and watching over what God has entrusted us with.

In the United Methodist Church we have a statement of social principles that challenge us to live out our faith. In my opinion, the social principles are one of the best things the United Methodist Church has put out.

“All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect.”

Caring for creation can feel overwhelming. In the face of industries that pollute and mountain tops that are removed for mining and oceans that are filled with trash, what can I do and what difference can I make?

We can make a difference.

Every time we reuse something we are caring for God’s creation. Every time we get something from the Free Store instead of buying something new we are reusing instead of replacing.

Every time we recycle we are caring for God’s creation.

Every time we turn off the lights instead of leaving them on, turn up the temperature on the air conditioner, buy local foods, carpool, compost, and push our elected leaders to go green we are caring for God’s creation.

Every time we do something individually we make a difference, but every time we do this together it multiplies.

I think we have a great opportunity to do something together.

On Wednesday of this last week we had our Big Table conversation in this room. A diverse group of people came together and talked about what we hoped and dreamed for in the future of our community. The overarching theme I heard was a desire to hold on to and build our diversity.

Yes, people talked about the importance of affordable housing and education and access to jobs with a living wage, but all of these things were in order to get to the place of having a diverse community.

But Pastor John offered what I thought was the best perspective of the day. That diversity is great, but only when it leads to unity.

So what if we became champions in caring for creation and invited all of our neighborhoods to join us in a unified effort?

For it doesn’t matter what side of Parsons Avenue you live on, we all breathe the same air.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little money you have in your pocket, we all drink the same water.

It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, we all eat the same food.

Dr King taught us that we are all interdependent and interconnected with one another and there is no place that is more true that in caring for the environment that we all share.

What if we became the leading voice on the South Side, in the city of Columbus, to care for all that God has given us. In doing so, we can learn to love all that God has given us, our world and one another, in Christ.

New Relationships in Christ

Col 3:12-17

Listen to this sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21443364

Have you ever shown up somewhere wearing the wrong clothes?

Have you arrived at an event and realized you were way under-dressed or overdressed?

As a person with limited fashion sense, I have done both.

I first came here to the Church for All People not as a pastor, but as a Church and Community Worker missionary. For the first three years I was here I ran our Healthy Eating and Living program, back when the Fresh Market was next door and not yet across the street.

Every Tuesday we had a truck from Mid Ohio Foodbank that dropped 10 to 15,000 pounds of produce in the parking lot and we would haul it down the sidewalk, through the narrow door, and in to the market.

Sometimes that produce didn’t even come in cases, but in one big tri wall boxImage may contain: Greg Henneman, standing, sky and outdoor. Hundreds of apples or oranges or other items might be in one pallet sized box.

So when I came in on Tuesday, I dressed to unload produce. I wore clothes that could get dirty and on days it rained I’d bring a change of clothes to get dry.

I knew how to clothe myself for those days, or so I thought.

One day I was literally inside one of these tri wall containers, unloading produce, when Pastor John Edgar walked by and reminded me that we had a lunch that day at the Columbus Foundation. I don’t know if I forgot or failed to put it on my calendar. I knew the lunch was coming, but didn’t realize it was that day. I figured I was a bit under-dressed but didn’t know how bad I was until I showed up.

The Columbus Foundation is a philanthropic organization that connects people and companies who want to donate money with organizations like ours that do good work. They have a very nice facility and host good lunches.

It wasn’t until I walked in for the lunch and saw everyone else that I knew I was out of place and was not clothed right.

When John and I walked in not only did we see the head people we knew from the Columbus Foundation, but the head people from Medical Mutual who had given a grant to the HEAL program. And when I say head people, I mean head people. The Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and others from this multi-billion organization were all there dressed in tailored suits and business attire.

And then, there was me.

I was dressed in jeans and an old shirt, looking like the guy that just came out of a tri wall produce box, because I just had.

Not only did I show up improperly dressed, I had to stand in front of everyone and share with the executives of Medical Mutual and the Columbus Foundation how the money we had been given made a difference and helped us to build a health community on the South Side.

I was not properly clothed and it was obvious to everyone, especially me.

If only we had a store… that had clothes I could’ve changed in to… and a woman named Norma who could’ve helped me look good… I don’t know why I didn’t think of that then….

But even as a person with limited fashion sense, we learn what to wear and when to wear it.

This week many of our kids went back to school. I can remember many times in school being picked on for the clothes I wore. Maybe I had pants that were too short and someone would ask me where was the flood, or a t shirt of a band that wasn’t popular. In school, we learn to dress in a way like everyone around us so we will fit in and not be ridiculed.

But not only do we learn to wear the right clothes, but to clothe ourselves in the right words and actions. We learn to say things and do things like the people around us so we will be accepted and safe.

We learn to put on a mask of confidence so we will look like everything is okay.

We carry a shield of judgment that we only let down when someone has earned our trust.

We clothe ourselves with a garment of self-protection that keeps others at a distance so we won’t get hurt.

In many ways, this way of being has served us well.

After all, we have made it this far. We have survived.

We have made it through all kinds of abuse and neglect and addiction and brokenness and come out on the other side to be willing to accept the unconditional love of God and the love of the beloved community.

We have made it this far, so something has worked for us.

And yet, our ways of being in the world, and being like the world around us, are not God’s full vision for us.

Image result for in christOver the last several weeks we have been exploring what it means to live “in Christ”. This core theological statement that the Apostle Paul makes that to be in Christ means that we intertwined in relationship with the Christ who brought all of creation in to being and in the end will redeem and restore all that is in to the kindom of God.

We are connected and infused in that power and that glory.

Our ultimate identity is not in whats on our business card or how people know us on the street, but in who we are in Christ.

But to be in Christ is not just about me and Jesus going for a walk. It is lived out in relationship with one another.

It is lived out in relationship with the people in this room, with the people we work with, live with, go to school with, the people in our neighborhoods who are most like us and most different from us.

In the gospel of Luke a lawyer asks Jesus, what do I need to do to inherit life.

Jesus replies and says: ‘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.’

The lawyer then asks the most important question, who is my neighbor? Who is it that I am supposed to love?

In answer to the question, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan is someone that would’ve been seen as from the wrong side of the tracks, from the wrong family. In Jesus’ day the Samaritans were “those people”. And yet it is the Samaritan who is the hero of the story who rescues the man in the ditch. The Samaritan becomes the example of what it means to live in relationship together and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Image result for kierkegaard works of loveMy favorite philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once wrote an entire book called “Works of Love” that also explores this question of what does it mean to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Kierkegaard also asks the question, who is my neighbor.

He answers it by saying if you walk out of you house and see one person, that is your neighbor.

If you go somewhere and see a hundred people, those are your neighbors.

To put it in modern terms, go shop at Kroger and everyone you see is your neighbor.

Come and hang out in the Free Store and everyone waiting for their number to be called is your neighbor.

Every person in a cubicle next to you at work is your neighbor, who you are called to love.

It is in the loving of our neighbor, and living together in relationship, that we most clearly put our faith in to practice.

It is the gift and challenge of the Church for all People.

We have this gift that we get to live in a diverse and inclusive community where we have the opportunity to figure out how to live in relationship with people different from us. We get to sit down at tables and share meals with people who look different, love different, vote different have different backgrounds than we do.

But it is also the challenge.

As John and Sue and Donita and the founding people of this church will tell you, they quickly discovered that while we are a Church for All People, that all people don’t always like all people. Every person is glad that they are included in the circle of God’s grace, but don’t you know what he did? Don’t you know who she is?

This is the way the world operates now and has operated for thousands of years.

We have our people, our group, and then there are those others.

That is how the world operates, it is not how God operates. It is not what it means to be in Christ.

Jesus calls us to see beyond that in the story of the Good Samaritan and to live beyond that in the great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

For, if there are people we don’t like here, groups of people that make us uncomfortable now, what will happen when we get to heaven? What happens when you get to heaven and the first person you see is the person you don’t like?

If we are going to spend eternity with our neighbors, the invitation to start loving them begins now.

So how do we do that?

We do it by putting on different clothes.

Our scripture today gives us the best fashion advice.

We have to take off the garment of judgment and put on compassion.

Take off the cloak of selfishness and put on kindness.

Take off the pride and put on humility

Take off false-confidence and put on meekness.

Take off our agendas and put on patience.

And above all, clothe yourself with love.

With love that looks to give instead of to gain.

Clothe ourselves with love that looks to heal instead of divide.

Clothe ourselves with love that bears with one another, forgives each other, brings us together in relationship, and gives us life.

Let us clothe ourselves in love, so that we might find life in community with each other, so that we may live out the great commandment, to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We are the Church for All People. While we may not always like what all people do, let us always strive to love all people.

Amen

 

 

 

New in Christ

2 Cor 5:16-21

Listen to the sermon at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21431638

How does it feel when you get something new?

Imagine what it feels like when you get a new outfit and put it on for the first time. You look in the mirror and that newness makes you feel different about yourself. You stand a little taller, look at yourself differently. You walk in a new confidence.

What does it feel like when you get a new phone? It functions smoothly. Apps don’t lock up, memory isn’t full. When something is new it works the way it is supposed to.

What does it feel like when you are in a new relationship? Your heart races whenever the new person enters the room. You look at your watch and count the minutes until you will see the person again.

Newness gives us life.tree

We crave newness so much that you can buy a new car scent to put in your car, to recapture that feeling.

I remember when Kay Perry moved in to Parsons Village and her excitement when she said this is the first time in her life she would live in a place that is nice and new.

But the struggle with new things is that they don’t stay new.

The new outfit goes out of style.

My phone that was new three years ago now has a cracked screen, full memory, outdated IOS, and is old.

The honeymoon period ends in the new relationship and we too often take the people we love for granted.

In many ways, the same thing happens to us as we grow,

What happens when a parent walks in to a church with a new baby? Voom. People will surround the parent and child, wanting to get just a glimpse of this new life and all that new life means and brings.

If we were to fast forward 50 years, that same baby grows up, and the same adult walks in to the church, there would be some handshakes and welcome, but not nearly the same energy. It’s the same person, same name, same family, but a much different energy.

Our scripture today really provides a summary of the entire gospel message and summarizes the 13 books of the Apostle Paul in to one sentence:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 

 One of the most important statements that Paul makes in his letters is this affirmation that we are in Christ. In Greek the phrase is En Christo and Paul repeats that phrase 164 times in the New Testament.

One of my favorite theologians, who I mentioned in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, is Richard Rohr. Rohr has a new book called The Universal Christ, and in this book Rohr explains the importance of En Christo, In Christ.

To live in Christ means that we are never separate from God—it is impossible for us to separate ourselves from God’s love. As Paul writes in Romans 8: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Image result for eternal christ rohrRohr writes: You have never been separate from God, nor can you be, except in your mind.

Listen to that again and reflect on these words: You have never been separate from God, nor can you be, except in your mind.

Think about what it means for us to live “in Christ.”

Many times we limit our understanding of Jesus to the 33 years of his life or the three years of his earthly ministry. And surely, those were important years. Jesus life and teachings and miracles still impact us today. As a former historian, I would argue that Jesus is the most important person in all of human history. No contest.

But the presence of the eternal Christ did not begin in a Bethlehem manger.

The gospel of John begins with the statement 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.

The Eternal Christ was there at the beginning of creation. Everything that is came into being through Christ. All that we know, all that we see, the very life that we have came about in Christ.

And then, if we go to the last book of the Bible, Christ is there. Bringing about a new heaven and a new earth. Restoring and redeeming all of creation. In some of the last sentences of Revelation we hear the voice of the Eternal Christ saying:

‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The Eternal Christ is God’s expression of light and life and love and redemption and to say that we are “in Christ” is to say that we are in that.

If you are in Christ you are in the very power of God that brought all things in to being and will make all things right again.

If you think about that, that is pretty amazing and important stuff.

It is because we are in Christ, through this reconciliation, that we are a new creation. Everything old has passed away, we are made new.

We are freed from old ways and we are made new.

We no longer live in fear but in the promise that God is with us always because we are made new.

We don’t think with a mindset of scarcity but we know that our God is a God of abundance because we are made new.

We are set free from doing the things we used to do, saying the things we used to say, because we are made new.

Our minds, our souls, our very beings are refreshed because in Christ, we are made new.

And yet, there are moments when we feel old. There is nothing that makes me feel old and tired and worn more than the events of the last 24 hours.

These shootings hit close to home for me.

We moved here from New Mexico and lived in Southern New Mexico twice. We often shopped at the mall attached to the WalMart in El Paso. My wedding ring came from that mall. I have many friends and know many pastors in El Paso and I watched on facebook yesterday as they checked in safe.

Our closest friends live in Dayton. We have been to the Oregon District many times. We have seen shows there, eaten dinners in that area.

While these shootings hit close to home, what makes me feel old the most is that these are not isolated incidents. The shooting in Dayton was the 250th mass shooting this year. What pains me is that I can only tell you about a handful of these incidents, we have just accepted that this is the way things are.

This is not God’s will. God’s will is for healing and redemption. But God does something amazing, God takes this desire for reconciliation and puts it in our hands.

Paul says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. That just as we have been reconciled to God, in Christ, our job is to help reconcile others.

What does that look like?

It doesn’t mean we will all be evangelists, in the popular sense of the word, but we are all reconciled to be reconcilers.

Reconciliation means when you hear someone making a negative or judgmental comment about another person, you resist the temptation to join in.

If someone comes to you and says, did you hear what he did? And you join in and say, yeah, that person is always trying to get over, what you are doing is deepening that division, further tearing apart that relationship.

Instead, as a reconciler, you might offer something positive about that person that might help the two be reconciled to one another.

You might try and understand what is behind someone’s actions or remind the person talking about that person of the good the other person is done.

We have been reconciled to the God of all creation in Christ.

The Eternal Christ redeemed our sins, not counting our trespasses, our sins against us. If we have been made right with God despite all the mistakes we have made…. If I have been made right with God despite all of the times I have taken God’s grace for granted, how much more am I called to show grace and forgiveness and reconciliation to others?

The ministry of reconciliation is not something we do out of obligation, but it is the very means that brings us new life.

As the United Methodist Church for All People we are in a strong position.

We have the opportunity to look outside of ourselves and ask how can we be agents of reconciliation? In a world divided by race and class, how can we take what we have learned in community together and offer that to the world to bring healing, in Christ? In a world where violence has become common, how do we model that it is possible to live in a peaceable kingdom? As a people who have found life in Christ, how do we offer that to the people who walk and drive past our doors every day.

When we do that, when we see ourselves as Ambassadors of Christ, reconciled in order to be reconcilers, we will discover new life and be a new creation all over again.

In fact, when we offer reconciliation to others, when we serve as Ambassadors for Christ we come alive. We don’t go seeking to change other people, but we go in the hopes that we might be changed.

When we do this work, when we serve as reconcilers and agents of Christ we will find new life.

Amen.

 

Strengthening the Body

Acts 3:11-26

You can tell a lot about a person by their handshake.handshake_orig

When someone reaches out and shakes your hand you get a sense that this person is strong and confident and capable; or caring, compassionate, and kind; or fearful and uncertain.

A handshake is one of the ways that we judge and measure people.

A lot of how we interpret a handshake is cultural. We have a certain way that we expect people to shake hands.

I spent about a year of my life in the Middle East. In many countries like Jordan, men greet one another with a soft handshake that is almost limp. It is considered rude to give a firm handshake. And if you are from the United States and you are used to a firm handshake it is almost unnerving when someone offers a limp wrist, but that is all about our expectations and not about their culture.

I also lived in Texas for three years. That is the other extreme. In Texas there is this strange hyper-masculine thing going on where men try and prove their strength by crushing each others hands. I often found in Texas that men gave this over-the-top handshake to try and establish their power over you. It is weird.

So you can tell a lot about a person by a handshake,

But, it turns out, there is more to a firm grip than a cultural sign of confidence.

Multiple studies in recent years have shown that there is a direct relationship between grip strength and overall health. A study in England followed 500,000 people and made the connection between muscular strength and health.

People with less grip strength have increased rates of heart disease, lung disease, and some types of cancer. Even life expectancy can be predicted by the strength of your grip.

This doesn’t mean if we exercise our forearms more that we will live longer, healthier lives. But we can increase our overall strength by being active, exercising, eating healthy, and getting rest.

These studies show that strength is an important component of our health. Strength is not just about being able to lift heavy objects. When our bodies are strong they are able to fight off diseases and infections and we can live healthy lives.

Strength is not only an important part of our physical health, but is absolutely necessary for us as people of faith, and as a church, if we are to be the church that does what a church is supposed to do.

Without strength, we are like the house built on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, the wind blew and the house could not stand because it did not have a strong foundation.

Strength has to be there if we are to be the ones who withstand the storms of life, stand faithfully, and continue to be about God’s work.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at what it means to be the embodied church of Jesus Christ. To be the church is not only about believing the right things and it is not about maintaining or preserving the institution. To be the church is to be alive and growing and moving. The church is the living body of Christ.The Body of Christ (January 21st, 2018)Two weeks ago Pastor Kevin shared with us the story from Pentecost of how the body grew. Yes, the Holy Spirit was poured out with tongues of fire that gave birth to the church. But then it was the Spirit moving through the people that gave life. It is what the first church did that showed they were alive: they sold what they had and shared so no one had need, they broke bread together, praised God together, and when the rest of their community saw what was happening, they wanted to be a part of that too. Day by day, more people were saved. They grew because people want to be part of something that is alive.

A body not only grows in its early stages, but throughout our lives our bodies heal.

Last week we heard how the body healed when the man by the beautiful gate received life. When Peter and John extended a hand of fellowship and offered life in Jesus Christ. Healing happened.

And our scripture this morning continues with this story.

The once lame man, who is now running and dancing and fully alive, is clinging to Peter and John and everyone else who has seen this happen is astonished.

Astonished.

On one hand, that would be an astonishing to see a man who sat lame now doing a praise dance. But Peter says why are you surprised? God did this. The same God you worship. The God who spoke all of creation in to being is the Author of Life. The God who gave a child to Abraham and Sarah in their old age can surely make a lame man walk. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is more than capable of giving this man strength.

Astonished.

That is often a word I would use to describe people when they come visit here. Whether it is other churches or government officials or people who come here from around the country for the All People Conference, people come here and they are astonished.

They are astonished at how the mission project of a Free Store resulted in this dynamic and vibrant church. They are astonished that a group of people who didn’t know enough about housing renovation to pull a permit have done $80 million in housing work. They are astonished that you can take a drive through liquor store and turn it in to one of the most active free fresh food markets in the country.

But like Peter I would say, why is anyone astonished?

Because this isn’t about us. It wasn’t about Peter and John and it isn’t about us.

I mean, look at us. The ragtag collection of misfit toys. It is not that we are so clever or crafty or strong. It is in God that all things are possible, through Christ who strengthens us.

It is God who gives us life.

It is God who grows us as the body.

It is God who heals our brokenness.

It is God who strengthens us.

The first strengthening in this scripture is an obvious one. The man who was once lame and can now walk. How did he receive this strength?

Peter says that it is the name of Jesus Christ that “has made this man strong”. That it “is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”

He was made strong in Christ.

But it is not this one man alone who has been made strong, but Peter is working to strengthen the astonished crowd.

Now, some of Peter’s words in this scripture are rather harsh.

Peter looks at the crowd and says: “you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life”

Those are hard words. But what Peter is doing here isn’t blaming and shaming. He is speaking truth to power.

We can easily criticize this crowd, wonder what they were thinking, and say if we were there we would have done things differently. But they were doing what they thought was faithful to their tradition. They followed the lead of their religious and political leaders. And in doing so they rejected the very Messiah they had waited hundreds and thousands of years for God to send.

But Peter’s words are not a condemnation, but an invitation to be strengthened.

Peter says to repent, to turn away from their sin and to turn toward God, so that they may be refreshed, have life, and gain strength, “until the time of universal restoration” is here. Until God will redeem all of creation.

Even with the very people who rejected and killed Jesus, God is ever at work offering healing and life and strength.

And yet, these words would not have been easy to hear.

And for this crowd to admit their culpability and to turn away from the only culture and tradition they have ever known would be really difficult, but that is how we become strong.

We don’t gain strength by sitting around and wishing for it, we become strong when we go through hard things and come out faithful on the other side.

One of my favorite authors and theologians is a man named Richard Rohr and probably his best known book is called “Falling Upward”. This book talks about the two halves of the spiritual life. In the first half of life we are establishing our identity and beliefs and ego and then in the second half we realize that there is more to life than us and we learn to let go and practice greater compassion.

Falling UpwardRohr is from Albuquerque, where we previously lived, and around 2010 I went to the book launch for “Falling Upward”. Rohr explained these two halves of life much more eloquently than I just did. And then someone raised their hand and asked him, how do we get from the first half of life to the second half?

Rohr looked at the man, paused, and said one word: suffering.

Rohr did say that maybe for a very small group of people they can get their through prayer and intentional spiritual practices, but that for the rest of us the way we grow, mature, and are strengthened is through suffering.

Paul writes to the Romans that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”

I don’t believe that it is God’s will for us to suffer. God does not strike people with cancer or poverty or addiction as a means to an ends. But God is present in our suffering, more than at any other times. And, God, the Author of Life, can use the really difficult things we go through to strengthen us, to give us life, and so that we too can live in to the promise of Abraham that through our faithfulness all of the world might be blessed.

May we seek to ever grow stronger in God’s love and grace, not only so that we can withstand the storms of life and remain faithful, but that so we can continue to be a church that does what a church is supposed to do and be a blessing to all people.

Amen.

Doing is believing

Galatians 6

Listen online at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21405156

We have been on a journey.the-end

Whether you realize it or not, over the last six months the church calendar has carried us through the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

The church year does not begin on the 1st of January, but on the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We start the journey by preparing to encounter Christ born among us anew. We celebrate Christmas and then move in to the season of Epiphany where we hear the stories of Jesus’ life as a light that overcomes the darkness. After Epiphany we move in to Lent and focus on the journey that leads to the cross.

But we are not a crucifixion people, we are a resurrection people.

So we celebrate Easter and in the weeks following we seek to understand the meaning of resurrection in our lives. After the Easter season we then celebrate Pentecost–the birthday of the church–when the Holy Spirit was poured out and people could speak and hear the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language.

I love the seasons of the church.

I am a liturgical geek.

mlpgw_tatoo_1One of my favorite authors and pastors, Nadia Bolz-Weber has the liturgical calendar tattooed on her arm. I may not love the church calendar as much as she does, but I do find it extremely meaningful.

I love the focus and intention of the church seasons and the invitation to practice spiritual disciplines that come with them. This year, thanks to Pastor Kevin, many of us practiced “40 Days of Decrease” during the season of Lent and experienced what it meant to have a stronger relationship with God when we had less distraction in our lives. That practice had a significant impact on many of our spiritual lives.

But this journey, that began more than six months ago, has come to an end.

Today, the church calendar begins a new season known as Ordinary Time.

Ordinary time is not the most inspiring name and it is the longest season. Ordinary Time stretches across the next 23 weeks. 23 weeks without a Christmas or an Easter or any high holy days. 23 weeks without an invitation to fast or to feast. 23 weeks of an ordinary journey.

While I admit that I am not a fan of ordinary time, it is where we live our lives.

We don’t live most of our days gathered under Christmas Trees or wearing Easter bonnets, we live ordinary lives filled with going to work or school, doing laundry and cutting grass, cooking meals and paying bills, driving kids around or waiting for parents to pick us up, just living out our daily routines.

We have been on another journey over the last six weeks, throGalations Gospel of Grace Logo_finalugh the book of Galatians. In this book we have heard the dramatic stories of how God’s grace calls us and invites us in, transforms us and is always at work making us more like Christ. The letter to the Galatians is written by Paul who had this life-changing experience of being knocked off a horse by a flash of light and hearing the voice of the Risen Christ asking, why do you persecute me?

And yet while Paul had this dramatic experience, he spent the next three years in the Arabian desert in preparation for ministry. Days that were so ordinary he never talks about them in his letters. We know about this one day when Paul had a big experience and we really know nothing about the next three years.

But what we see in that is that God’s grace is as powerful and pervasive and present in the ordinary times of life as it is in the handful of life-changing experiences that mark our lives. It is God’s grace that sustains us on a daily basis that gives us the ability to live lives of endurance and perseverance.

A life of faith is not only marked by significant sufferings or excessive celebrations, but is found in the day-to-day ordinary moments.

So what is it that gives us the strength to keep going in the long journey of life?

As many of you know, last weekend I went on a long journey myself. I ran 100 kilometers, 62.1 miles, on a five mile loop trail in Canal Fulton.

Over the last week, pretty much everyone has said to me that they could not do that. The truth is, that with the right training, most people are capable of doing it.  But the secret to being able to run for a long distance is simply to have enough fuel: eat enough food, drink enough water, and have enough sodium and electrolytes. As long as you keep your body properly fueled, you can keep going.

And the race I was at did the best job I have ever seen of providing fuel. There was a never ending buffet of waffles and tortillas and pizza and everything you can imagine. The secret of running long distances is that it is the only sport where you run from buffet line to buffet line.

If you fuel your body properly, you can run a long way.62043443_2279904518771116_131777641115025408_o.jpgThe same is true for our spiritual lives. If we want to walk faithfully through the long, ordinary seasons of life we have to properly fuel ourselves.

So how do we do that? How do we spiritually fuel ourselves?

John Wesley called the fuel that keep us going “means of grace”. Most of the means of grace are things you would expect: prayer, worship, communion, reading scripture, music are all a means of grace. When we practice these we receive a gift of grace and we are strengthened to walk faithfully through the long seasons of our lives.

But there is a means of grace that I think we often undervalue and underappreciate and that is “doing good”.

When we do good for someone else a strange thing happens. We help someone thinking we are doing something for them, but in the practice of it we find that we are the one who is blessed. When we extend our heart to someone else, it is our heart that is filled.

This is the testimony of every person who has ever gone on a mission trip. Every person goes with excitement over the work that will be done and returns home saying I feel like I have received more than I ever gave.

This morning we are led by our children in worship, but that happens through the work of our Sunday school teachers. Why do they volunteer so many hours to teach? Because when they give of themselves their hearts are filled with grace.

This is Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians. He writes:

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right… whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 

Let us work for the good of who? The good of All! As a Church for All People we are called to work for the good of all people.

We see this lived out every day in the Free Store and the Fresh Market.

The Free Store sees 150 people a day, this last week the Fresh Market had a day where they saw 500 people. It is not a few paid employees that make it all work, it is dozens of volunteers who give of their own time every day so other people can have access to food and clothes.

But why do they do it? Why come and volunteer when you could sleep in and binge watch Netflix?

Because there is an inherent desire in every person to serve, to give back, to help, to do good, to participate in something bigger than ourselves.

When we do good we receive a gift of God’s grace that strengthens us to walk faithfully through the long, ordinary moments of our lives.

We often think of doing good as big things. In Matthew 25 Jesus says when you fed someone when they were hungry, clothed someone who was naked, visited someone in prison, then you did it unto me. We are lucky that we are a church that offers us the opportunities to do the very things Jesus talked about. We get to be a part of a church with the very people who Jesus called blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. So we have easy access to big works.

But doing good for others is not limited to mission trips or prison ministry or even volunteering in the Free Store or Fresh Market. There are opportunities to do good in the ordinary, everyday moments of life.

Look at the examples Paul gave to the Galatians.

“if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness”

This is a counter-cultural way of being.

As a culture, what do we do with someone detected in a transgression? We tear them down. We love to build people up, just so we can tear them down. In our own neighborhoods and schools and work places, what do we do when we hear of someone who has made a mistake? We gossip about them and say you can’t believe what I heard.

But Paul says, as followers of Jesus Christ, our role is to restore with a spirit of gentleness. Doing good happens when we are the means by which someone is restored, reconciled, and brought back in to community and not torn apart. And when someone else is restored, we are the one’s who again are nourished by grace.

Paul then says we are to “bear one another’s burdens”.

Doing good happens when we bear one another’s burdens. When we see ourselves as interconnected and interrelated and interdependent on one another.

It is easy to show pity to someone else or even to say that’s not my problem. But when we realize we are all in this together and that as Dr King taught us injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and we help to carry someone else’s burden, we are blessed.

In fact, Paul says that when we carry someone’s burdens, that is how we fulfil the law of Christ.

The law is not fulfilled by circumcision or uncircumcision. The law is not fulfilled by the type of clothes you wear or music you like. The law is not fulfilled by having a liberal or conservative view point. The law if fulfilled when we carry each other’s burdens.

After all, this is what Jesus did for us. Jesus came in to the world to carry our burdens, to restore us, and to give us life.

When we do these things, we not only are strengthened by grace to walk faithfully in the long journey of life, we are connected to God’ s work in the world and made in to a new creation.

 Paul says, a new creation is everything! 

How do we become a new creation?

Only by grace.

Today is not only the end of one journey, but the beginning of another. We have heard the stories of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, we have celebrated the birth of the church, so let us now be practitioners of God’s grace, let us seek to do good to all people, so we may ever more be made a new creation in Jesus Christ.Image result for beginning of a journeyAmen.