Let there be love

Genesis 1:1-5

John 1:1-14

Listen to this sermon at http://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21087427

In the beginning, there was darkness.

When we think of creation we might think there was nothing, the voice of God, a big bang, and Adam and Eve.

But if you carefully look at the first verses of Genesis, it says “In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.”

I don’t know what a formless void looks like. A black hole? An unshaped mass? Whatever it was, it was dark, unwelcoming, and absent of life.

And then God shows up.

The Spirit of God, the breath of God, moves like a wind over the dark waters.

God speaks and creation comes in to being.

Let there be light, and there was light, and it was good.

I believe what is going on here is not just a matter of the physical manifestation of light that comes in to being. But I advocate that another word we could substitute for light is love.

Let there be love, and there was love, and it was good. 6b83b15b3225b0baeec98ea563def2e1

God is pouring out God’s self, God’s essence, in to the dark formless void and out of God’s love life is born.

This is what God does.

Even when Adam and Eve turn away and sin, God pours out love and knits clothes for them and provides for them.

After the flood, God places the sign of the rainbow in the sky as a promise of God’s love.

In Psalm 36, David sings:

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds. 
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

David makes this same connection of light and love. Light and love are the spring of life that extend to all creation.

This is what God does because this is who God is.

There are not many things that we can definitively say about God that are sufficient or complete. If you were to define God, what could you say? Any words seem inadequate and insufficient. Perhaps the only definition that works come from the letter of 1 John that simply says, God is love.

While all of creation testifies to the majesty of God’s love, we experience that love most powerfully in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the most familiar words in all of the Bible come from John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.

God poured out God’s self in to the world, so that everyone can have life.

While this might be the most familiar verse of John, the beginning of John sounds amazingly similar to the beginning of Genesis.

In fact, the two start with the same phrase, “In the beginning.”

The gospel of John also states that in the beginning there was darkness.

But again, the light that overcame darkness was not only a physical scientific property, but it was Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, the Christ.

John goes on to describe Jesus as “the life was the light for all people.” And that “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light”.

Jesus was not only born in a Bethlehem manger 2,000 years ago, but all of creation came in to being through the triune Christ, the light of the world.

God loves us so much, that the God who spoke, and by his very words, brought creation out of the formless void and light in to the darkness, took on human flesh and made his home among us.

Candle-Held-in-Hands_WebJesus walked our walk, experienced our pain, brought the light of God in to the world, and invited us to also be the light.

Just as God is love, Jesus invites us to be love.

Let there be love.

The essence of all of Jesus’ teaching are summarized in the great commandment. Even Jesus said all of the law and the prophets can be summarized in this: love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

The philosopher Soren Kierkeegard said we can only truly live out this command when we hold all three things in balance: to love God, neighbor, and self.

Now this gets difficult when we begin to explore who qualifies as the neighbor we are called to love.

Again, Kierkegaard said when you walk out the front door of your house, the first person you see is the neighbor you are called to love.

Walk down Parsons Avenue, every person you see is your neighbor.

Come and take a number at the Free Store, and each of the 100 people waiting with you are your neighbor, who you are called to love just as you love God and love yourself.

In fact, Jesus pushes this so far that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus challenges us to love our enemies:

 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

When we hear Jesus’ words, we might think this is an impossible teaching. Perhaps Jesus could do this, he was fully God and fully man, but we are fully human.

Jesus did not offer this as an impossible standard, but as an invitation to be a part of God’s work of redemption and reconciliation

This is part of the genius of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

King’s ethic of love was not only for the oppressed, but also for the oppressor. He saw all of us as interconnected and the liberation of the harmed connected to the liberation of the one who has done harm.

King sacrificed his life in the pursuit of bringing his dream to life. He did not hide his light under a bushel, but he let it shine.

King held the Declaration of Independence in one hand and the light of his faith in the other and challenged us to live in to our highest ideals and all God created us to be.

He not only challenged those in power to address issues of injustice and war and poverty, but he believed that the very means by which systems could be changed is when we love the one we would consider enemy. For it is in loving the enemy that both are set free.

King outlined four reasons that we should love our enemy.

The first reason is that it is only love that can break the cycle of violence. Hate only begets hate, violence creates violence. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back it just never ends.

King said “hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of Darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-can-do-that_-Hate-cannot-drive-out-hate-only-love-can-do-that_-9stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

It is only through love that spirals of violence and hatred are broken.

The second reason we are to love our enemy is because hate destroys the person who hates. We might think that forgiveness is about letting the person off the hook who has done us wrong, But if we are the ones who carry bitterness in our hearts, that grows in us like a cancer. It eats and tears away at us. It mars our soul. We have to love instead of hate, to save ourselves.

This doesn’t mean we have to like everything a person does. If someone has said a bad word about you, you aren’t going to appreciate what was said. It doesn’t mean that we should tolerate injustice or allow abuse to continue. We don’t have to like who someone is or what they have done, but we are called to love them in to redemption.

This leads in to the third reason we are to love our enemy, because love is the only force that can transform an enemy in to a friend. Love is the only redemptive force that can change the world.

When we love someone who doesn’t like us, we disarm them. When we return love for hatred, love wins. Light always conquers darkness. You have never turned on a light in a dark room and darkness won. Light wins. It is the same for love. Love wins.

We have seen that wars only create more wars, but love changes the world. Love brought the brutal rule of apartheid to an end in South Africa, the ethic of love taught by King continues to challenge us as a nation 50 years later. We aren’t there yet, but love will win.

King said, “the darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love.”

The fourth reason we are to love our enemy is because it is only when we love our enemy that we can fully love God.

Jesus summarized his teaching on loving enemy when he said, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

We can only be complete in our love of God, neighbor, and self, when we extend the light of Christ in to the world to the point where we are willing to love the one whom we call enemy.

The Word became flesh and made his home among us.

God loves us so much that he physically came and lived in our world and shined a light for all people. A light that burned so brightly it shone with glory.

Let us shine with the same light.

Let us reflect the glory of God in our lives.

Let us dare to change our world by loving our enemy.

Let there be love.

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How do we Epiphany?

Matthew 5:13-16

Have you ever experienced the darkness of night? Real darkness.

It is hard for us to imagine darkness, living here in Columbus, Ohio.

Columbus Ohio Downtown Night with Stars

In 2017, Columbus passed Indianapolis to become the 14th largest city in the country. With the street lights, cars, and industries we never really experience darkness, we are bathed in light. In fact, one of the things I miss from living in New Mexico is the night sky. The stars in the desert are so numerous and vivid, the night sky testifies to the beauty of God’s creation.

But the darkness of night is not always comforting.

When I was in the Air Force I also spent significant time in the deserts of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. We were in very remote places that could get very dark. There were nights when the sky was amazing and the stars so bright you could practically see across the Milky Way. But when there was no moon and clouds hid the stars it would literally get so dark that you could not see your hand in front of your face.

Darkness felt like a heavy blanket, weighing me down. I remember staring at the horizon, just for that first glimpse of light. From that experience I have long resonated with the words from Psalm 130:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

I know what that feels like, to wait and watch for the first sign of light. For that blanket to be lifted. For light to overcome the darkness.

Today is the first Sunday of the season of epiphany. On the church calendar, epiphany follows the Christmas season. The word epiphany literally means manifestation or appearance. It is the season that the church remembers the appearance of Jesus, the manifestation of his life and ministry.

Paul uses this word epiphany several times in his letters to Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy, when he writes about the grace given to us in Jesus Christ he says, “Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.”

The word appearance in this scripture is the word epiphany. We could substitute and say, since the epiphany of our Savior, death has been defeated and life vindicated.

Epiphany also carries with it the importance of light. To Timothy, Paul describes the work of Jesus as a steady blaze of light. It is the light that overcomes the darkness, the light of Christ that is the hope of the world.

For this six week season of epiphany, we are asking the question, how do we make the light of Christ visible in our community? How do we epiphany? How do we manifest the glory of God in our world?

We have celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas by covering our homes with light. But that is only the beginning of the story. It is the work of Jesus, the steady blaze of light, that overcomes the darkness.

In the gospel of Matthew, the work of Jesus begins with the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus offers the familiar words that we call the beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Jesus describes people who are going through hard times as blessed. Not blessed because of their struggles, not blessed because it is so wonderful to be mourning or hungry or persecuted or reviled. But blessed because it is when we have come through those times of darkness that the light of Christ shines brightest in us.

Immediately after the beatitudes of Jesus’ first sermon, he offers the words of today’s scripture in which Jesus challenges those who are listening to be salt and light. We are not called to be isolated from the world around us, but to go in to the world and be salt and light.

What does salt do? It brings out flavor. Add a little salt to a tomato, add a little salt to some popcorn, and the taste of it isn’t just tomato and salt, but the salt brings out hidden flavors. It makes it better. We too are to be like that salt. That when we go in to the world sharing gifts of compassion, kindness, gentleness, and justice, the world becomes a better place and epiphany happens.

Not only are we called to be salt, but also called to be light.

A light that shines before others, a light that gives hope.

For Jesus to call the church to be light is to acknowledge there is darkness in the world. We can see the darkness no matter where we look.

When a refugee family flees their homeland in fear, there is darkness.

When systemic racism and injustice dehumanize people in our own country, there is darkness.

When we live a land of abundance and people go without food and shelter, there is darkness.

When 140 people were murdered in Columbus in 2017, setting a new record, there is darkness.

When we only made it 14 minutes in to the new year before the first homicide, there is darkness.

Darkness is all around us. Not only in the tragic events that make the news, but in our lives.

Last week we started the new year with the Wesleyan covenant renewal service. As part of that, we had a prayer of confession that included a long list of ways we have been unfaithful. The part of that the really stuck with me were these words, “If we have made no ventures in fellowship, if we have kept in our heart a grievance against another, if we have not sought reconciliation, if we have been eager for the punishment of wrongdoers and slow to seek their redemption,” if we have done any of these things, there is darkness.

Any time we turn away from loving God, loving our neighbor, or loving God, we create darkness.

Even though we live in a city of light, we do know darkness, we have experienced darkness in our lives.

But we are not called to be people of the darkness, we are called to be people of the light.

A light that is a light of the world.

The steady blaze of light that comes from daily being a part of God’s work in the world.

This is who we are called to be as the United Methodist Church for All People. We are the ones who are called to be the light of the South Side, to make manifest, to make epiphany, the glory of God.

There are some dark corners in our community.

There are places you would not want your kids to play and you may not be comfortable being around after dark.

Gangs and drugs and violence takes place in the streets and alleys within walking distance of this church.

But what happens when someone turns from those dark corners, on to Parsons Avenue, and sees the brightly lit sign that says Church for All People? That is a sign of hope, of transformation, of welcome for all people.

CAP_frontofchurch

But the light of that sign does not give people hope because of its wattage. It is not just another brightly lit sign on a busy city street. It is the steady blaze of light of the works of this church that offer hope.

Just a few weeks ago we provided 500 kids in our community with brand new Christmas presents, those are 500 beams of light.

In 2017, we provided 632,000 pounds of free produce in our Fresh Market to more than 28,000 people. 28,000 beams of light.

Every time we connect a person with an opportunity for a job, teach a child to read, or place someone in a house we shine another beam of light in to the darkness.

We are the shining city on the hill for thousands of people, but it isn’t just what we do as an organization that brings epiphany, that manifests the light of Christ in the world, it is what we do collectively as individuals. You might not have anything to do with housing or the free store or the bike shop or the dozens of programs we have. But every time you offer a word of hope to someone who is down, comfort a person who is mourning, show mercy to a person who has made a mistake, welcome a stranger, you make epiphany happen.

Shining the light in a world of darkness can be a hard thing.

It can be frustrating when you are trying to do the right thing and everyone around you does the wrong thing, it can be frustrating when you work for justice and systemic injustice seems so difficult to overcome, it can be frustrating when it feels like three in the morning on a dark night and there is no sign of light on the horizon.

But it is in those moments that we keep shining the light anyway.

We keep offering the steady blaze of light and hope, even more so when times are hard.

Perhaps that is the gift of this moment of history in our nation. When we find it hard to put hope in our political process, when we worry about the future of medicare and hear threats of war, we are reminded that it is the church who is called to shine the light. Our hope in life doesn’t come from institutions or from our favorite sports teams or political parties, but it is Jesus Christ who is the epiphany, the light. And it is Jesus who calls us to be the epiphany in our world.

That is the essence behind the song we sang earlier, “This little light of mine”.

We may think of that as a cute children’s song, but in the 50s and 60s “This Little Light of Mine” was often used in the Civil Rights movement as a protest song. It was a statement that I am not going to let anyone or anything extinguish my light.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna to let it shine.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, I’m gonna let it shine.

When African-American students refused to leave their seats at the lunch counter, I’m gonna let it shine.man9_o

When sanitation workers held up signs declaring “I am a man”, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

The song has continued to be a counter-cultural statement of protest, saying I am not going to hide my light under a bushel. The song has continued to be sung from Occupy Wall Street to Charlottesville, as voices have defiantly cried out, I’m gonna let it shine.

And now it is your turn to add your verse.

How are you gonna let it shine?

For when you shine your light, epiphany happens and the steady blaze of Jesus Christ shines again.

 

How can this be?

Luke 1:26-38

What does it mean to be called by God? What does it mean to be invited to be a part of God’s work in the world, to be a part of building the front porch to the kingdom of God?

This advent we are looking at the stories of those who gathered around “God made flesh amongst us” and we are hearing the struggles and journeys that brought them to the manger.

Last week we heard the story of wise men who made the longest trip and overcame deserts and distance and culture and a fearful king in order to pay homage. Next week we will hear the journey of Joseph and the following week, on Christmas Eve, we will explore the story of shepherds.

Today, we reflect on Mary.

On one hand, Mary is the most venerated of everyone on the scene, outside of Jesus. There are more songs about Mary, more art made of Mary, more churches named after Mary, than anyone. When I turn on my phone the first image that comes up on my screen is of an icon of Mary I saw at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Mary is the Theotokos, the God bearer, praised by Christians around the world. There is something about Mary.

On the other hand, I think Mary is also the most human of anyone in the nativity scene. Mary’s initial response to the angel Gabriel is not one of excitement, but one of doubt and wondering.

6e065670388f621298c43c4bf57c9d47Twice within a few sentences Gabriel calls Mary the favored one, the blessed one, the one chosen by God.

Mary’s initial reaction is confusion. The scripture tells us she was initially perplexed and couldn’t understand what Gabriel meant.

Gabriel goes on to give her more details about how she will become pregnant, she will have a son named Jesus, and he will serve a kingdom with no end.

This further explanation is not helpful. For a second time Mary pauses and this time she asks, How can this be?

How can this be?

Mary wonders, how can this be that I am going to be a parent? How can this be that God calls me favored? How can this be that God will come in to the world through me?

Gabriel called Mary the favored one, but this announcement does not put Mary in a favorable position. For her to say yes to God is to place herself in danger.

According to tradition, Mary may have only been 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. In ancient Jewish culture, a girl who got pregnant before she got married would face the scorn and isolation of her community and could even be stoned to death in an honor killing.

To say yes to Gabriel, and to God, would be to place herself outside the community and in danger. She would put everything on the line: her reputation, her pending marriage, her life.

And Gabriel says she is the favored one? She is the one who is blessed?

How can this be?

Mary is not alone here. God often has an upside down view from us of who is called and what it means to be blessed.

In the Old Testament God tells a woman named Sarah she is going to have a child. She says how can this be I am too old. God appears to Moses in a burning bush and says I am sending you to confront pharaoh and set my people free, he says how can this be I am slow of speech. God calls the prophet Jeremiah who says how can this be, I am too young.

Jesus also called people blessed that are not the ones we would consider. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said blessed are the poor, the hungry, the humble, those who mourn. How can this be?

Last week the band U2 put out a new album, that includes a feature by the rapper Kendrick Lamar who turns the beatitudes upside down. Lamar proclaims:

Blessed are the arrogant, for theirs is the kingdom of their own company.

Blessed are the superstars, for the magnificence in their light we understand better our own insignificance.kendrick-humble-became-his-biggest

Blessed are the filthy rich, for you can only truly own what you give away like your pain.

Blessed are the bullies, for one day they will have to stand up to themselves.

Blessed are the liars, for the truth can be awkward.

When the prophets of the Old Testament were called their first response was to say, how can this be? When Mary is called, she says how can this be? When Jesus says the poor and hungry are blessed, how can this be? When Kendrick describes the rich and bullies and liars are blessed, how can this be?

These are the people who are blessed because they get to experience the power of God’s grace. It is not that they found a strength or faith within themselves to do amazing things, but it was God’s grace that filled and called and equipped and empowered them.

When Gabriel calls Mary, the Greek word for favored is charitoo. It means to be filled with grace.

Mary doesn’t make it to the manger scene because of her qualifications or background, but simply because of her willingness to accept and trust in God’s grace.

We can put ourselves in this same category of how can this be?

When we hear this call, we too wonder how can this be?

In verse 34, Mary says: How can this be since I am a virgin.

Image that the angel Gabriel appeared to you, how would you complete that sentence? How can this be since I am a (fill in the blank). How can this be, I am an addict or a felon? How can this be, I am a privileged white male or a neuroscientist? How can this be, I am a senior citizen, a person struggling with mental health issues, a person who like Mary has doubts and fears and is confused about what it all means.

God loves using “how can this be” people. For it is when God works through broken people like us that God’s glory shines the brightest.

This question of how can this be doesn’t go away when we agree to follow God. The journey to the manger was a difficult one for the wise men and Mary and Joseph and shepherds.

JoseyMariaWebFor Mary, to say yes to God doesn’t make her problems go away. She still has to face the implications of being a pregnant teenager in ancient Israel. As a young mother she will have to escape to Egypt to protect her child. All of the things we just heard about in the song “Mary did you know,” she didn’t know. She didn’t know the details of how it would all work out. She didn’t know that her son would walk on water, heal a blind man, or would face his own struggles, persecution, and death.

And yet, Mary was given the gift of grace. And by that grace, she found enough strength to say, “Here I am… Let it be with me according to your will.”

Being a called person of God is not only a matter of getting over the idea of “who me” but also living in the reality that ministry is hard work.

Getting to the manger and encountering the Christ born among us takes effort and sometimes that brings pain and frustration and we continue to sing the refrain, how can this be?

In the 16th century there was a woman named Teresa of Avila who was one of the most significant leaders of the church. She was a teacher, theologian, and mystic who created religious order and wrote books that are still read today. But her journey, like Mary’s, was not easy.

Once she was traveling from monastery to monastery through the mountains of Spain in the midst of a rain storm. The cart she was riding in turned over and she tumbled down the side of a hill. Covered in mud and filth, she stood up, shook her fist into the rainy night, and yelled at the top of her lungs, “God, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them!”

Sometimes it is when we try to do the right things, and encounter trouble on the path, that we wonder “how can this be?”

How can this be that we live in a world where we are told there isn’t enough money for everyone to have healthcare, but somehow there is enough money to give the wealthiest people tax cuts? How can this be that last week Ivan got beat up for a dollar to the point he had to have surgery? How can this be that at this time of year when we celebrate the joy of Jesus’ birth that so many people have the hardest time?

But it is often in those very moments of struggle that we become the favored ones, the blessed, because in those times of suffering we are filled with God’s grace. We usually can’t see it when we are in the midst of the storm, but it is when we look back on the moments we can see God was there, God lifted me from that, God filled me with grace.

We are not filled with grace only for our own sake, but so that all the world can come to see the Christ born among us. Just as Mary was called to physically and literally incarnate Christ, we are called to bring Christ in to our world.

How can this be that in a world where people are divided by race and class and sexual orientation that we can come together as a Church for ALL People?

How can this be that in less than a week from now 500 kids will receive the gifts of grace of free Christmas presents and toys and clothes and hats and gloves right here in this room?

How can this be that we are the ones who get the blessing of the opportunity to feed the hungry, clothe people in grace, and offer the hope and transformative love of Christ to others?

How can this be that we are the ones who have been filled with God’s grace so Christ may be born among us anew?

It is only grace.

Gabriel’s final words to Mary are that nothing is impossible for God.

God calls people like us and invites us to do God’s work in the world, for nothing is impossible for God.

By God’s grace, let us respond with the faithfulness of Mary, get over our own insecurities, and remain steadfast in our own daily struggles and say Here am I, Let it be with me according to your will, so that Christ will be born among us anew this Christmas.

Amen. wedon-tstop,untilwehitthebull-seye

Fulfilled in your doing

Last week, Pastor John taught us the truths that you can’t out give God and that the measure you give is the measure you get back in return.

He shared from his own personal stories times when he and others in the churches he served tithed and how God provided for them in abundance.

I too have experienced God’s abundance.

The time in our lives when we made the least amount of money is when I went to

3763_1139958253069_2243802_n
Seminary graduation with the church people who helped get me there.

seminary. While in seminary I served as a pastor of two small, rural churches in Central Texas. Between the two churches I worked part time and as you might guess I received a part time salary.

 

When we started Noah was four years old and Nathan wasn’t even one. So we were still in the middle of buying formula and diapers. On paper, we had the least amount of money we ever had. And yet, we tithed and God provided for us and for our churches.

God provided so abundantly that when I graduated from seminary I had no school debt or student loans. I got enough scholarships and help from the GI Bill that I practically went to seminary for free.

From those churches, I learned a lot about giving and God providing.

One time our air conditioner went out, at a church in Central Texas. The churches entire budget for the year was $25,000 and I had no idea how we were going to pay for it, but a man who had very little matter of factly said, “I will sell a cow.” This family sold a cow, gave the money to the church, and the air conditioner got fixed.

It strikes me that just about anyone you meet who has tithed can tell you stories like these. Somehow, when we trust God and realize that we have enough, we discover that we live in abundance.

Pastor Donita often says we don’t know exactly how prayer works, but we do know that when we pray something happens that doesn’t happen if we don’t pray.

The same is true for tithing. I don’t know how it works, but I know that something does happen when we tithe, that doesn’t happen when we don’t.

Our invitation as the church is not only to be financially sound so we can keep things running inside the church. That is the foundation and that is necessary. But we are not only called to be the church that takes care of itself, ultimately we are called to be the church that changes the world, for that is what Jesus came to do.

 

This is our invitation as United Methodists. The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world.

Today’s scripture proclaims this message and is my favorite scripture in all of the Bible.

When I was applying to go to seminary we had to write an essay as part of our application. I don’t remember much of what I put in that essay, but I do remember that I quoted this scripture from Luke, Chapter 4.

IMG_6503This piece of art hangs above my desk, in my office. It was made for me by a friend of mine who is an artist, a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and who often lives in homeless shelters. He asked me what scripture I wanted him to illustrate for me and they are these words from Luke, Chapter 4.

Jesus stood in front of his home church in Nazareth, unrolled a scroll from the prophet Isaiah, turned to Isaiah 61, and said I have come to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives… recovery of sight to the blind…to let the oppressed go free…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus claims here are very bold and very specific. He says the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he calls himself anointed, and at the end of this he says, today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Before his hometown people he is claiming to show the signs that they were looking for in the Messiah.

The people are so scandalized by these claims that a few verses later they literally try to throw him off a cliff.

That may seem like an extreme response, but I don’t know if the world’s response today would be much different.

The people of Nazareth may have wanted to throw him off a cliff for heresy, but today many might want to throw him off a cliff for turning the powers of the world upside down. Today, with words like this, Jesus might get arrested for disturbing the peace.

What would happen if these things Jesus said he came to do really happened? What would it look like if we woke up tomorrow and saw these types of things in the news

What would it look like if the poor received good news? Perhaps it would look like people being able to keep their health insurance and have access to medical care without worrying about going broke.

What would it look like if people in prisons were set free? I just read an article yesterday that said black men are 75 percent more likely to receive a prison sentence with a mandatory minimum, than a white person who commits the same crime. In a world where black and brown people are disproportionately jailed in a new Jim Crow, freedom for prisoners would mean joy.

What would it look like for the blind to receive sight? For those who were deaf to be able to hear? For a person with diabetes to be able to better manage their health? For the lame to walk? Friday in Free Store worship I asked this question and a woman said she had been unable to walk for two years and now not only can she walk but she dances for the Lord.

What would it look like for the oppressed to go free? It would be like a weight lifted. We all have been oppressed by something. Whether we have been oppressed by external systems of injustice or internal fears and ego and pride, to be oppressed is to be weighted down. To be free is to be relieved of that burden and to live in to all God has created for us.

What would it look like to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor? The year of the Lord’s favor is connected to the ancient concept of jubilee when debts would be forgiven. For us, the year of the Lord’s favor would look like forgiveness. It would mean having the slate wiped clean and receiving a fresh start and living in to that freedom.

If we woke up tomorrow and the poor received good news, the incarcerated were reunited with their families, people lived in to abundant health, and we found ourselves freed from oppression and got a new start, how would we react? We would sing, we would praise God like we’ve never praised God before.

So how do we get there? How do we get to this kind of world Jesus’ describes?

We do it by giving all of ourselves. Not only our money, but also through using our voice, our presence, our spiritual gifts, and all of who we are.

When we became members of this church we pledged to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Only one of those five things have anything to do with money, the rest are about us bringing our full selves, and in doing so changing the world.

We see this happen here every day.

Another part of Isaiah 61 speaks of people being clothed in garments of salvation, covered in robes of righteousness.

This happens every day in the Free Store when we literally clothe people in grace.

We might take that for granted because it happens so often, but I want you to take a moment to think about how that happens.

What happens when a person walks in the door looking for an outfit to wear to a job interview. In order to have that outfit, someone had to donate it. Someone had to sort it in the back room. Someone had to hang it on a rack. Someone had to hand a person a ticket, call a number, and check a person out.

And we don’t simply hand people clothes when they go to an interview, but Miss Norma designs outfits for people and they look good.

Then the person gets the job suddenly they are the poor who have received good news, the blind who have sight, the oppressed who have been set free and the kingdom of God is fulfilled in our doing.

In order for that to happen it takes you and it takes me, giving our time, giving our talents, and giving our treasure.

Jesus did not come only to save us individually through our belief system, the Messiah came to change the world.

The way that this happens is through you.

And yet, while we can learn that we can’t out give God, that the measure we give is what comes back to us in return, sometimes we still hold on to a scarcity mindset when it comes to giving ourselves.

God’s invitation to us is not only to give our money, but to give of ourselves. Sometimes that can be the harder part. It is easier to write a check and put it in the basket than it is to put ourselves out there, because we are a people who have all been hurt.

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor, and even to love our enemy, but all of us have been broken hearted so we become guarded in showing love to one another.

Jesus tells the disciples to go to all nations and teach and tell what they have received, but we have all been criticized for something we have said so we become hesitant to put ourselves out there again.

The Bible teaches us that every person is made in God’s image and every person has sacred value and divine worth, but we have all been taught to see the world as a place of us and them, of people who are like us and are safe and people who are unlike us and are dangerous, so we are often afraid to trust others.

But just as we can’t out give God, financially, we also can’t out love God, we can’t out serve God, we can’t out grace God, because our God is a God of abundance!

And it is when we give all of ourselves, out of that abundance, that the world is changed.

It is you using the gifts that God has given you.

It is you being willing to share your full self.

It is you using your voice, bringing your presence, and sharing your blessings that changes the world.

change-the-worldThis week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. The simplest of all prayers is to say thank you. It is important that we take time to remember that every good and perfect gift comes from God. And we will have opportunities to share this spirit of thankfulness with each other here tomorrow night.

But to be thankful isn’t just to count your blessings and appreciate what you have, but from that spirit of gratitude we seek to share our abundance with others. As we have been blessed we seek to be a blessing to someone else. We are the ones who are called to offer a word of good news, a garment of praise, a work of justice for someone else.

Let us be thankful and from our thankfulness let us be giving to one another.

Many years ago Jesus stood in front of his synagogue and said today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. As the church who seeks to be the church that does what a church is supposed to do, today, this scripture is fulfilled in your doing.

Go, share from the abundance you have received, and in so doing we will change the world, for the Spirit of the Lord is upon you.

Amen.

95 Opportunities

Luther_95_ThesenFive hundred years ago today, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s dispute with the Roman Catholic Church called for an end to the practice of indulgences and resulted in the protestant reformation. In contrast to a dispute, I offer these 95 Opportunities as ways for us to connect to God’s work in the world today. These are offered in the style of Luther with the hope of bringing continued reform and movement of the Holy Spirit to the Church.


Ancient Letter O. Vector IllustrationOut of love for grace and from desire to elucidate it, the Pastor Greg Henneman, Master of Divinity, perseverance runner, and humble servant at the United Methodist Church for All People, intends to invite all people to live in to the opportunities God has provided to love one another. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him shall do so via social media. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

  1. The gospel of John describes the incarnation of Jesus as the manifestation of grace and truth.
  2. And the word “grace” neither can, nor may, be understood as only referring to receiving the sacraments within the church, rather our invitation is to be practitioners of grace in all that we do.
  3. Nevertheless we do not think of inward grace only: rather inward grace is worthless unless it produces outward manifestations of love.
  4. Therefore grace exceedingly abounds, knitting together God, humanity, and all of creation, in intimate union with one another.
  5. All people are united in our shared ancestry of being created in God’s image (imago Dei)
  6. Each face of diversity amongst God’s children illumines a portion of God’s identity; in the eyes of the stranger we see Christ.
  7. In suffering, and in glory, we are united together as joint heirs with Christ.
  8. As such, our invitation is not only to love one another sentimentally, but also to offer works of love to each other in the following opportunities:
  9. As a people who have experienced poverty (financial and spiritual) we bring good news.
  10. As a people who have been captive, we proclaim release.Single pamphlet page with decorative initial capital letter.
  11. As a people who were once blind, we offer sight.
  12. As a people who were oppressed by systems of inequality, we offer freedom.
  13. As a people who have been disadvantaged, we proclaim favor.
  14. As a people placed in the garden, we care for all of creation when we responsibly consume and recycle.
  15. As sisters and brothers, we care for each other and understand that our well-being is intertwined.
  16. As people who have received gifts of grace more numerous than stars in the sky, we worship a God of abundance and not a god of scarcity.
  17. God invites us to move from the homelands where we were comfortable in order to be a blessing to all people.
  18. In showing hospitality to strangers, we find the divine among us.
  19. In wrestling to understanding God, we are blessed.
  20. When we forgive one another, relationships are healed and restored.
  21. Although we make plans out of fear and selfishness, God produces good from it.
  22. God hears cries of injustice and sends us to bring people out of oppression.
  23. God invites us to end exploitation when we raise awareness of human trafficking.
  24. God invites us to end marginalization when we work for racial justice.
  25. God invites us to empower people when we break the school-to-prison pipeline through education.
  26. God invites us to recognize human dignity when we welcome and include LGBTQIA persons.
  27. God invites us to live humbly within divine mystery.
  28. God assures us that when we work for justice, we are not alone, but that the Divine is with us always.
  29. God is the source that brings us out of oppression who invites us to:
  30. Recognize the idols of power, prestige, and position and not allow them to control our lives.
  31. Offer positive and affirming names and words.

    Always reforming; always catholicizing
    Luther at All Saints Church
  32. Rest from work.
  33. Honor our families.
  34. Protect all life.
  35. Respect relationships.
  36. Recognize that we have enough.
  37. Tell the truth.
  38. Trust in God’s provision.
  39. Love God with all that you are.
  40. Love your neighbor.
  41. Love your enemy.
  42. Love yourself.

    IMG_6213
    Church for All People
  43. Provide sanctuary to an immigrant.
  44. Repent and receive forgiveness.
  45. Forgive others, and your burden will be lifted.
  46. Delight in the Lord.
  47. Praise God in the church.
  48. Praise God amongst creation.
  49. Praise God with drums, guitars, and crashing cymbals.
  50. Listen for the still, small voice
  51. Spend time with the poor, who God called blessed
  52. Comfort people in mourning and grief
  53. Do justice.
  54. Be kind.
  55. Be humble!
  56. Show mercy.
  57. Beat a sword into a plowshare; end gun violence.
  58. Turn the other cheek.
  59. Practice reconciliation.
  60. If someone is cold, give them your coat.
  61. Close your door and pray.
  62. Set aside worry and trust in God.
  63. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  64. Feed the hungry.
  65. Give a cup of water to a child.
  66. Help someone when it is inconvenient for you.
  67. Welcome a returning citizen.
  68. Give someone money without expecting them to pay you back.
  69. Donate clothes and follow the donations.
  70. Care for someone who is sick.
  71. Visit a person in prison.
  72. Make healthy choices and live in to the gift of abundant life
  73. Sell what you have and share with others.
  74. Spend time in community with people different than yourself.
  75. Give a family member a second chance.
  76. Invite someone to your table for dinner.
  77. Read, study, and contemplate scripture.
  78. Care for a foster child.
  79. Visit a widow in a nursing home.
  80. Pray without ceasing.
  81. Offer the simplest prayer: thank you.
  82. Offer the prayer of the heart: help me.
  83. Sings psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
  84. Love someone rejected by others.
  85. Have a cup of coffee with someone from a different faith tradition—or no faith tradition.
  86. Model joy in a difficult situation.
  87. Develop internal peace through mindfulness.
  88. Show patience to a learning child.
  89. Be kind to someone with a difficult job.
  90. Practice gentleness to a person struggling with mental health.
  91. Invite a person trapped in addiction to an AA group.
  92. Do good
  93. Do no harm
  94. Stay in love with God
  95. In God’s fullness we have received grace upon grace and are invited to share in God’s work until we bring the kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

A Step in the Right Direction

22687573_1974777976070414_2719589841552416121_nHistorically, Parsons Avenue is a dividing line in Columbus, Ohio. Separated since the policy of redlining, the neighborhoods west of Parsons are among the wealthiest in the city, while the neighborhoods to the east of Parsons are among the poorest. In a short walk of only a few blocks, one can travel from a neighborhood where houses sell for tens of thousands of dollars to a street where houses sell for millions.

While the distance between these neighborhoods is short, today that distance became even shorter.

For the second consecutive year, the German Village Walking Club hosted a Community Walk for All People. Dozens of people showed up not only to walk together on a beautiful autumn morning, but also brought a truckload of clothes and household items to share with others.

IMG_5975Kim Hairston, the Free Store Director, thanked people for the donations and invited people to come, to
follow the donations, and to build relationships with our community.

After this, the diverse community walked from the Winans Coffee and Chocolate Shop in German Village to the Winans in downtown Columbus. Along the journey, we saw an area that was an impound lot IMG_5976that has been redeveloped in to a park. We saw the banks of the Scioto River that have been developed in to community spaces. We saw new downtown apartments and townhouses that have created community.

The greatest potential for redevelopment is not in houses, buildings, or even parks. Rather, the greatest potential is in creating relationships that redevelop people. Today, we took another step in that direction.

Join us in the next step of the journey at the Hangry Turkey on November 11:

HangryFlyer

 

Radical Generosity

Scriptures: Acts 2:42-47, Acts 3:6, Acts 4:32-38

What do you do when someone asks you for a dollar?

Whenever I go and visit another church and share with them the stories of the work we do one of the questions I often get asked is, what do you do when someone asks you for a dollar?

We can find the uncomfortable answer to that question in the story of the birth of the church.

On Pentecost, the church was born.

The Holy Spirit is poured out and people are able to speak and hear in their own language. Romans and Arabs and Egyptians and Jews are all able to hear about God’s work in Jesus Christ in a way that each of them can understand.

From its inception, God created the church to be a diverse and inclusive space.

But not only does Acts, Chapter 2, tell us about the formation of the church, it ends with a description of what the first church did: the church devoted itself to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. And those who were part of this movement sold their goods and possessions and gave the money that was raised to those in need.

The church was not only a place of learning and worship for those filled with the Spirit, it saw its role as being at work in the world to lift up those who are down and provide for the needs of all people.

The church was a place that was hard at work in the world.

After all, this first book to come after the gospels is called the Acts of the Apostles. Not the beliefs or teachings or understanding of the apostles, but the Acts. And, throughout the book, people are doing stuff. They are teaching, healing, praying, building, organizing, traveling, sharing, feeding, worshiping, debating, and just hard at work. Central to their work was providing for the needs of one another.

Again, in Chapter 4, after a short time passes, there is a very similar description of the life of the church and in its sharing all that they had so that no one was in need. There is even an illustration of Barnabas who sells a field and brings the proceeds from that to the apostles’ feet.

So if we were to go and ask Peter and Barnabas and friends the timeless question, what do you when someone asks you for a dollar, how do you think they would respond? They didn’t just give money to people in need, they built an entire economy on those who became the first Jesus followers selling what they had, sharing it in common, and caring for all people.

The church created its own micro-economy within the Roman Empire. An economy unlike any other. Not an economy based on increasing the gross domestic product of the empire, not an economy based on individual wealth, but an economy based on attending to the needs of one another.

As far as I know, this is unlike, and upside down from, any economic system in world history.

We could call this economy, Radical Generosity. Radical-Generosity

If you have been around the Church for All People for more than 15 minutes you have heard the term Radical Hospitality. Radical Hospitality is one of our core values that describes the kind of culture we seek to create where every person is welcome and included. Radical Hospitality happens when we live in community with one another and we create relationships of mutuality and respect.

Radical Hospitality creates the space for us to be who God has called us to be.

Radical Generosity describes what the church is doing, when it is a church that does what it is supposed to do.

We can see how the church of Acts lived in to Radical Generosity as they sold and shared all that they had.

Why did they do this? Why would they give up what they had and what they worked for to help someone else?

Their work, their Radical Generosity, was a response to God’s work. Their movement was a response to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in Acts Chapter 2 Peter told them about the power and work of God, and so the church reflected God’s work. The Spirit rushes in like a mighty wind, which causes the church to go in to the world like that mighty wind.

Now when we read the stories of what they did in Acts, Chapter 2 and 4 on the surface it may not sound like much.

How hard can it be to sell stuff and share the proceeds with others?

We, more than anyone, know how much work it takes to receive things and give them away.

As people who operate a Free Store and Fresh Market and Bike Shop, we know that there is nothing simple about giving things away.

Clothes don’t just show up on the racks of the free store, they have to be sorted and prepped and hung. Food doesn’t just show up in the market like manna fallen from heaven. Every Tuesday morning, regardless of weather conditions, 12,000-some pounds of food is carted in case by case. Over 500 children’s bikes aren’t just given away, they have to be cleaned, repaired, and made safe for kids to ride.

And yet we do all this for the same reason the apostles did. We have been touched by God’s love and work and grace, so we share those gifts with others. We have been changed by the generosity of God’s forgiveness and compassion, so we offer Radical Generosity to others.

Radical Generosity is not only an economic system that moves us from selfishness and greed and coveting to looking at the needs of all, Radical Generosity also brings social change.

When someone asked Pope Francis, what do you do when someone asks for money, he said it is always right to help. If you have it, you should give the person money, but don’t stop there. Don’t just throw someone a coin, but look them in the eye, touch them, and offer them a good word, because we all have inner poverty.

Radical Generosity leads us to see each other differently. We see each other not as winners and losers, producers and consumers, rich and poor. Instead we see each other with dignity and respect and we are at work to lift up one another in our commonality. This vision is at the concept of the next part of the social creed.

Today we look at the fifth statement of the social creed and I invite you to read this with me:

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

The creed starts out with a statement about the right and duty of people to work for the glory of God.

The ability to work and serve is a gift from God. It isn’t just the church of Acts who worked to glorify God, and it is not just about the work we do here at the Church for All People, no matter what our jobs are we have the opportunity to glorify God in anything and everything we do.

There was a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence who turned being a dishwasher in to a practice of prayer.

You can see it in the face of Reverend Parker who at 85 years old finds great joy in sweeping the parking lot.

No matter what our vocation, we can do that job in a way that glorifies God.

The truth is, not every job feels glorifying. There is work that is dehumanizing and that takes advantage of people.

A single mother should not have to work three part time jobs in order to provide for her children. Every person deserves a job that pays a living wage.

A returning citizen should not be unable to find work after their sentence has been completed.

Children should not be exploited.

Where these things happen part of our work as the church is to advocate to change these situations. As Community Development for All People we have been pushing employers to pay a living wage so that people can afford things like safe, affordable housing and healthy food.

Our work is both in what we do, in how we carry ourselves at our jobs, and in the economy of Radical Generosity how we work to bring dignity to one another.

We live out this social creed and build the kingdom when people own their own homes.

I remember hearing it in the voice of Kay when she moved in to Parsons Village and said this was the first time she moved in to a place new and nice in her life.

We are just beginning to imagine how we can broaden the impact of having dignified jobs and homes at the Residences at Career Gateway homes.

The creed goes on to talk about relieving social and economic stress.

On one hand, we can feel as if we are often the ones on the stressful end of social and economic situations, but like the apostles we can turn the world upside down by using what God has given us to create a community based on Radical Generosity.

In between the stories in Acts Chapters 2 and 4 of people selling and sharing what they have, in Acts, Chapter 3, Peter and John go to the temple and see a beggar sitting at the beautiful gate. The beggar asks for money and they don’t have any, but Peter replies, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk”. Here is an example of Peter sharing what he has and that bringing more transformation than a coin.

In the book of Acts there are many stories of people using relationships to bring change. Barnabas stands up for Paul, Lydia uses her standing to get Paul entry in to Thyatira. Social capital is used and the kingdom of God is manifest.

We can use our resources and our experiences and our relationships to change the world around us.

This last week a group of us went to a rally outside Senator Portman’s office to protect medical care. Mickey Witkowski spoke before the crowd and shared her work in the field of mental health and how proposed cuts would impact vulnerable people.


When the community uses its possessions and relationships and experiences to give life to those in need, when the resources of the individual are fully committed to benefit the whole of the community, the glory of God is shown.

What do you do when someone asks you for a dollar?

Our gut reaction might be to say no and to think we don’t have enough, but look at all of this bread.

When Jesus stood before a hungry crowd the disciples asked him to send them away. They said there wasn’t enough. But Jesus said, you feed them.

You feed them.

And there was more than enough for everyone to be full, with 12 baskets left over.

We gather at this table on World Communion Sunday. Today we are united in one body with Christians from around the world who break bread and drink from cups sharing the body and blood of Christ.

Today, we not only see our unity as followers of Christ, but hear an invitation to live in to a spirit of Radical Generosity where my well-being is connected to your well-being. Your ability to have dignified work and housing and social standing are connected to my social and economic health. For we are all a people of inner poverty whose emptiness has been filled with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Amen.