Redeemed, in order to redeem
November 22, 2015
Welcome to the strangest week of the year.
Yes, I know it is thanksgiving and we like to think of thanksgiving in very storybook terms, but I have long thought this is an odd week.
First, we have this meal on Thursday that we spend hours and hours preparing that we eat in minutes.
Second, in order to mark this day of thanks we eat food that we never eat the rest of the year. I love turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. But, every year I say to myself, why don’t we eat this more often? And then, I don’t eat a turkey again for another year,
Third, the strangest thing that we do this week is not the football games we watch or the tryptophan induced naps we take, it is what we do the next day. On thanksgiving we gather together with those closest to us and we name all the things we are thankful for. We say we are thankful for a place to live and the food on our table and the clothes on our back. We even say that we recognize that all these gifts that we have come from God. And, as soon as we say amen, we go out the door to get more stuff.
It is this strange thing, where we have this one specific day to offer thanks and the next day we can’t get enough.
Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking a bargain. Perhaps the sales on Black Friday give us the opportunity to get something for our families we couldn’t otherwise afford.
But by Friday afternoon you know the scenes that will be on the news: videos of people pushing, shoving, fighting, literally stepping on one another in order to get stuff that a year or two from now will end up in a landfill.
On Thursday we go out of our way to say thanks, on Friday our culture practices unrelenting greed.
Perhaps this begins by what we are saying thank you for. If we think about what we are thankful for and the things that come to mind are things then it makes sense that on Friday we try to get more stuff. After all, if that is what we are thankful for, we might as well get some more of it.
But what if we changed our focus?
This year, I want to challenge you to not only be thankful for what you have, but more importantly, to be thankful for who you are.
You are the church for all people. The church for all people is not a building or a free store or a market or an address at 946 Parsons, it is you.
And you are a people with a unique story and a powerful testimony.
We often talk of this community starting 16 years ago, but if you read Psalm 107 you hear the story of four different groups of people who came to the same place and shared the same experience. Perhaps we could consider these four groups the original church for all people. For the psalm speaks of some who wandered in deserts and were hungry and thirsty, some who sat in darkness in prison, some who were sick as a result of bad choices, and some who went down to the sea in ships.
We could name these four groups people who are hungry, prisoners, sick, and in turmoil.
We too have come from these groups. Raise your hand if you have ever experienced hunger, incarceration, sickness, or the storms of life. Everyone here comes from at least one of these four groups.
But what makes us unique as the Church for All People is not that we have all experienced these things, but that we have a shared testimony that God has lifted us out of these places.
For we are not only a people who have been hungry, but we have been fed.
We are not only a people who have been incarcerated, but we have been set free.
We are not only a people who have been sick, but a people who have found healing.
We are not only a people who have faced turmoil, but a people who have found peace.
In the second part of this psalm, the psalmist talks about those who have gone down to the sea in ships. Have you been down to the sea? Have you ever been caught on a boat on a storm? It is a helpless feeling. I can tell you from personal experience, that when you are on a boat caught in a storm, there is nothing you can do to control it. The waves are in control of the boat and it is a scary feeling.
This psalm speaks of the waves as a tempest, lifted to the heavens, sunken to the depths, a place where courage melts away.
This is the definition of addiction. Addiction lifts us up, crashes us down, and melts away our courage.
We have all gone down to those depths.
Some have faced addictions that are easy to point to: addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, are easy to identify. We know them when we see them and we celebrate when someone finds freedom from them.
In fact, in January we are going to offer a smoking cessation class, see me to sign up. This has been a commercial announcement.
But while some of us face chemical addictions, all of us face some kind of addiction. If not a drug of some kind, we have been addicted to power or control, to shopping or the need to be right, to ego and pride. We have all faced addiction of one kind or another.
But like the psalm, we too are the ones who have cried out to God in our troubles and have been brought out of our distress.
All four of these groups of people, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, and the addicted all “cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;”
This is the wisdom of AA, which teaches that we come to believe in a power greater than ourselves that restores us.
We are a people who are being restored and have been restored.
We are not defined by the hunger or the illness or the prison sentence or the addiction we have faced, we are defined by the fact that we have been set free.
We are the redeemed people of God. We have felt and experienced the power of God’s work in deep and powerful ways. We can sing songs of thanks that we are the ones who have been set free.
This is the testimony of the psalm, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
In Luke, chapter 4, Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 and said he came: 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,
As a people who have experienced that freedom, this week especially, we need to say thank you.
Perhaps the simplest of all prayers is just to say thank you.
To not only thank God for what we have, but to thank God for who we are, the redeemed people of God.
While thanking God is the right initial response, it is not the end. I would invite you to take that feeling of freedom and redemption and liberation a step farther. To not only have it be your motivation for thanksgiving, but for service. A full life comes in not only being redeemed but in loving others so that they too might be redeemed.
To fully experience God’s power of redemption, we don’t only receive but give.
We are not only forgiven, but forgive.
We are not only recipients of grace, but practitioners.
We offer others the gifts of freedom and wholeness and compassion, just as God has offered them to us.
So this week, in addition to being thankful to God for who you are, I want you to prayerfully consider what you will do with the fact that you are a redeemed child of God. God has healed you from something, how might you turn that around to bring healing to someone else? God has given you freedom from whatever your addiction might be, how might you bring freedom to others who are in that same place?
It is often in those areas where we were once broken that the light of Christ can shine through and others can be set free.
For me, one area of my brokenness could be called insecurity.
As some of you know, I was adopted as a baby. When people talk of adoption, they often use the language of being given up. Some might say, I was given up for adoption.
That is horrible language. These words created a fear in me that if I don’t do the right things, I could be given up all over again. Or, that if people around me didn’t do the right things, they could be given up too.
And so, for many years I worried that if I didn’t do the right things, I might be given up. I worried that if the people around me did something wrong, they might be given up.
However, God transformed this fear into a motivation. From this insecurity of being let go, I found a motivation to make sure all people are included. My motivation for ministry became widening the circle of God’s love to include all people. So much so, that this led me to create an outdoor worship service for the homeless community in Albuquerque. That experience transformed me so much that it resulted in me coming here. So, the pastor motivated by making sure everyone is included in the circle of God’s love ended up here at the Church for All People.
I can’t explain to you how much I have been changed by including people in the circle of God’s love. I have seen people feel welcomed and included and home for the first time in their life, and there is nothing that brings me greater joy.
I experienced this last weekend. You might have noticed that I wasn’t here last Sunday. Instead, I was in Cleveland with my biological brothers and sisters. For the first time, the five of us were together in one place. We were all included and it felt like home.
It is one thing to be redeemed. It is one thing to be set free. It is one thing to be liberated from whatever it was that controlled you, whatever storm brought you low and made you feel out of control.
To be redeemed from that is truly worth celebrating and giving thanks to God.
But that is only half the blessing.
If you can bring that same gift to someone else, that is truly something special. That is a rewarding life. Being a part of someone else’s redemption might just transform you more than your redemption itself.
We are not only a unique church because we have experienced God’s work of redemption so powerfully and profoundly, but because we also have enormous opportunity to share the gifts we have with others.
This last week Pope Francis said in a sermon that: “We could perhaps recognize that God, in his wisdom, has sent to us… the hungry so that we would feed them, the thirsty so that we would give them to drink, strangers so that we would welcome them, the naked so that we would clothe them,” the pope said. “If we are a people, we certainly will welcome them as brothers and sisters,” he said. “If we are just a group of individuals, we will be tempted to save our own skin.”
Redemption is not just about salvation from our individual sins so we can go to heaven; true redemption is the work of a community. You can see redemption taking place all up and down Parsons Avenue in the new library and the fire station and the swimming pool and the senior center and at John Maloney and at the Reeb Avenue Center. You can see redemption in the abandoned, blighted houses that have been made new. You can hear redemption in the voices of the hungry who have been fed, the sick who have found health, the incarcerated who are home, and the addicted who have found freedom.
But the work is not done. The opportunities are many.
How will you use your gift of redemption to redeem others?
How might your brokenness be a place where others receive strength?
May we give thanks to God in this strange week and may we seek to redeem others, as we have been redeemed.