The Spirit of Community

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This summer at Immanuel, we have been exploring how the Holy Spirit shows up in the lives of characters throughout the scriptures.

Today, we find two men who have very different attitudes towards the work of God: the sorcerer and the eunuch.

Philip is a deacon, a servant of the church, and he encounters lots of people who hear and believe the good news about Jesus Christ. So, what is it about the sorcerer and the eunuch that make their stories so special?

It is how they respond to the work of the Holy Spirit.

One is arrogant and brash, the other humble and full of questions.

For one, the power of the Holy Spirit is a commodity to be bought and sold, possessed and tamed.

For the other, that power is precious, mysterious, and a gift to be treated delicately.

First – there is a difference in how they each are introduced to the Holy Spirit.

The sorcerer was familiar with magic and illusion and he saw the Holy Spirit working from a far. When he heard the good news of God he joined the fellowship of believers. So, in many ways, he is a changed man, but he still desires to be the center of attention. He still wants to draw a crowd. And so when he sees the apostles laying hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit, he suddenly wants their job.

So he runs over to them and throws down a bag of coins… “I want to do that, too!” he begs. “Give me that authority.”

The sorcerer believes the Holy Spirit is something to be possessed. The sorcerer wants a new bag of tricks for his show.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was working behind the scenes to bring Philip and the eunuch into a relationship. She leads Philip to take a certain road. She tells him to walk alongside the cart. And, She has been present in the life of this eunuch – they are reading the scriptures, hoping to understand them. And so, when they hear the good news, and an oasis of water suddenly appears alongside their desert road, they ask – what would stop me from being baptized too?

It is not a demand, it is a humble question of faith.

In our journeys of faith, sometimes we get jealous of what other people have – faith that seems so strong, a prayer life that seems so powerful. We often struggle with what we don’t have.
Maybe you have uttered the phrase, “I wish I could pray like so and so” or “if only we had a choir or a praise band” or “I wish I could read the scriptures like that person.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow in our faith. There is nothing wrong with seeing what other people are doing and seeking God’s guidance about the ways we can live out our faith.
But in the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we are invited to see that it is not what we don’t have that matters…. what matters is what the Holy Spirit has already brought into our lives.

We can be so busy looking at what others have and what we desire that we can’t see the gifts right in front of us. We each have a voice that we can use, we each have a part to play in our time of worship. Just because we don’t have robes and lights and big voices does not mean that there isn’t a song to be sung.

Secondly, there is a difference between these two characters and what they hope to gain through the Holy Spirit.

While the sorcerer had once been the center of attention, he finds that notoriety fading as a new player, the deacon Philip, comes on the scene. Suddenly, it is someone else doing the healing… someone else drawing the crowds… and the sorcerer himself is astonished by the power that the followers of Christ possess.

But as soon as he perceives the source of this power, he wants it for himself. He wants to again be someone that others flock around. He wants to have the magical ability so that he can carry it to some far off place and again be on the stage with people at his feet.

Our sorcerer is a performer and faith is a tool, a prop, to get him what he wants.

Maybe I’m being cynical and faith IS a part of his life, but he hasn’t quite given up his old ways and he is trying to get the faith to fit into his life rather than allowing it to transform him.

Notice, nowhere did I talk about a community, or a group… faith for the sorcerer was all about himself and what he could use it for.

On the other hand, the eunuch wants to be included. They want to belong. They want to be a part of a community that understood.

Our text tells us that this African man was coming from Jerusalem. He had probably spent some time worshipping in the temple. Yet, as a eunuch, the fullness of worship would have been closed off to him. He would only have been allowed into the Court of the Gentiles.

Gary DeLashmutt writes that because of his social standing as a “sexually altered black man from a pagan country” doors were automatically closed for him. Time and time again, he had probably been turned away from opportunities.

In spite of his standing in the court of the queen of Ethiopia… in spite of his wealth… in spite of all the power he could and did possess, the eunuch knew that he could not buy a place in the family of God. He knew that there were countless barriers in his way, but all he wanted to do was to belong.

In spite of the threat of further rejection, the eunuch persists and when he and Philip come to that small oasis of water by the side of the road, he asks a heartbreaking question: “What would prevent me from being baptized?”

He wants to belong.

He wants to join in the fellowship.

And he found in Philip a person who, according to DeLashmutt, “understood that his standing with God was based not on his ethnic identity, moral record, religious heritage, etc.—but through Jesus’ death alone… He understood that Jesus loved this eunuch and was able to give him new life just as he did Philip.”

So Philip leads him down to the water and the eunuch is baptized.

Although our story says that he went on his way rejoicing, we do not know the end of his story. We don’t know where he goes or how his life and his faith continue in the story of God.
All we know is that he wanted to belong… and my experience is that when someone finds true welcome, they can’t help but pass it on.

In the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we find a performer desiring a stage and a person seeking a home.

In their contrast, we are reminded that faith through the Holy Spirit is not about me or you, but about us.

Diedrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member… may share in its song. Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church”

That is what we do when we gather to worship. We join our singing to the song of the church. We join our lives to the body of Christ. We become part of something far bigger than ourselves.

Many of you are here because you have already found a spiritual home in this community of faith. But at some point in your life, perhaps you, like the eunuch, were searching for a place to belong and a song to sing…

Others gathered here this morning might still be looking for that sense of community.

One of our hopes in gathering out here on the front lawn this morning was to simply be present with our neighbors and to remind one another that we are not alone.

The Spirit of God is moving through our midst, uniting us, binding us together, and helping us to create a place where all might know God’s love.

It is not about you.

It is not about me.

It is about us.

So, let us not be sorcerers who want to control and possess the power of God, singing by ourselves – or even worse, letting someone else sing for us while we sit back and watch…
Instead, like the eunuch, let us humbly join our faith and our voices with those of others.

Let us celebrate the welcome and the community we have found and like Philip, and like the eunuch, let us not be afraid to share it with others.

Amen.

We Have Found the Messiah

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“I am not the Messiah”

That’s probably pretty obvious to all of you.  Of course, I’m not the Messiah.

But I wasn’t talking about me.

These were the words of John the Baptist as he started his ministry.

He was out there, talking to people about the coming Kingdom of God, preaching, inviting people to repent… well, actually, doing things that I typically do as a pastor.  

And people started to wonder about him.

Who are you?

Are you Elijah?

Are you a prophet?

Are you the Christ?

“I am not the Messiah” he answered.

“I’m just a voice, crying out in the wilderness, making the Lord’s path straight.”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it might mean to make the Lord’s path straight and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really about making it easier for people to connect with God.

If you go back to the origins of the phrase from Isaiah, the Hebrew word used in this passage actually means to clear the land… to remove the rocks and roots and everything that gets in the way so that something new can be planted, so that something new can be done.

John was someone who was called to help clear out the obstacles that prevent people from experiencing God.  To clear the way for God’s salvation.

 

And so in our passage today, we hear about what happens when the Messiah does show up.  John is out there, doing his job and Jesus comes to be baptized… by him!    He has this amazing experience and vision and realizes that THIS is the Messiah.  THIS is the one they had been waiting for. 

But John’s job isn’t finished. 

 

No, John’s role is to keep pointing to Jesus, to keep making it easy for people to come and discover the Messiah for themselves.  

And so the next day, John is hanging out with two of his own disciples.  And when he sees Jesus walking by, he cries out:  “Look!  It’s the Lamb of God!  That’s him!  That’s the one I was telling you about!”    

And so these two start to follow Jesus.  And then they reach out and invite others to come and see.  “We have found the Messiah!” they tell their friends and neighbors and siblings.  “Come and see!”

 

In many ways, the beginnings of the church was a pyramid scheme.

You find one person, and that person finds two people, and then those two people each find two people, and then those two people… and before you know it, there are 2.2 billion followers of Jesus Christ in the world.   

 

The question I want to explore this morning is how you and I are called to keep this church going.  In many ways, our job is simple.  We have found the Messiah!  We don’t have to BE the Messiah.  We don’t have to save this world all by ourselves.  We don’t have to single handedly run this thing or be perfect or fulfill every obligation.  

We have found the Messiah.  We already have someone who can do that.

 

No, I think you and I have two jobs.  

 

First,  it is state loudly and clearly to all the world that “I am not the Messiah.”

Will you repeat that with me?  “I am not the Messiah”

Let’s say it like we really mean it: “ I AM NOT THE MESSIAH.”

That might seem like a strange exercise, but the truth is, we aren’t perfect.  We are totally unworthy of this calling.  We will make mistakes all the time.

In fact, we are only 15 days into this year and I have already made a bunch of small mistakes and a couple of big ones.  But I learn from them.  I keep going.  I try to grow and do better the next  time.  That is all that we can do. 

One of my own failings is that sometimes I set the bar too high.  And I’ve heard from some of you, who are overwhelmed that you don’t feel like you are good enough or can do enough for the church.  And I’ve heard from some of you that you are burnt out and tired and trying to do all that you can, but you simply can’t do any more.  

You know what?  None of us are the Messiah.

None of us are good enough to be here.  And we all have some kind of brokenness in our lives – be it a broken relationship or our bodies are broken and letting us down or we’ve broken promises to ourselves or others.  

We aren’t perfect.  And we aren’t supposed to be. We are not the Messiah.

 

But we ARE here today, because we think we have found the Messiah.  

I am part of the church, not because it’s a community of perfect people who never make mistakes or let one another down, but because I believe that this is a place where broken people find healing.  

I am part of the church because this is where I hear the stories of Jesus Christ and in the midst of the brokenness, I meet Jesus all the time.

Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer and blogger and recent talked about why people come to church. And she said:

You can get a cup of coffee with your friends anywhere, but church is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality. You can be dazzled by a light show at a concert on any given weekend, but church is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve. You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.14f389a46dd4)

And so our second job is to make it easier for people to come and meet the Messiah. To clear the way.  To invite our friends and neighbors and siblings to join us on this journey.  To ask them to come and see what it is that we have found here:  life in the midst of death, healing in the midst of struggle, hope in our despair, forgiveness in our mistakes.

 

Our Administrative Council has been wrestling over the last few months with what we want to set as goals for this church in 2017.  And part of what we have been doing is looking forward as well to what God is calling us to as a church.

We’ve had a vision for the last four or five years to “Live a life, in Christ, of love, service, and prayer”   and part of what I have been pushing them, and us, to think about is so what?  

What is going to be different in this world because we have done so?  

 

You know, the meaning of “salvation” is “to heal.”  It is God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need, resulting in their restoration to wholeness.  

Taking what is broken and making it whole.  

That’s the business God is in.

What if that is the business we were called to be in?

We are not the Messiah, but we are here, because we have experienced God’s love, grace, and healing power.  

So what if we lived in such a way, if we loved in such a way, if we served in such a way, if we prayed in such a way that we could clear a path for others to come and find Jesus here, too.

 

In a few minutes, we are going to take a moment to remember our baptism.  We are going to remember that we have been saved and healed and are being made whole by the Lord Jesus Christ.    

And part of this rememberance is being honest about just how fall we have fallen short.  We have ALL fallen short.  None of us are perfect.  We are not the Messiah.

But we will also be invited to make anew some promises to God.  

Because, we might not be the Messiah, but we, the church, believe that God can use us and use our gifts to help make it easier for others to come and find Jesus, too.  

And so our covenant prayer simply places our lives in God’s hands.  It invites us to remember that we are not the Savior, but that we are willing to let God work in our lives this year.  

 

I am not the Messiah.

You are not the Messiah.

But we have found the Messiah.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Livin’ on the Edge

This morning, we are hanging out in liminal space…

That’s a funny word isn’t it… liminal….

Say it with me… liminal.

 

It comes from Latin and means “threshold.”  It is the space in between.  It is transitional.

Our country is in that liminal space between an election and the swearing in of a new president.

The United Methodist Church is in a liminal space – knowing that we can’t be what we were and aren’t yet sure what we might become.

Many of us are in personal liminal spaces… a time of discomfort, of waiting, of transformation.  We are experiencing transitions in relationship statuses, or maturing from childhood to adulthood.  We are waiting for test results that might forever change our world or experiencing losses that already have.

The theologian Richard Rohr describes liminality this way:

It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.

Or, if you’d prefer the theologians Aerosmith:

There’s something wrong with the world today

I don’t know what it is Something’s wrong with our eyes

We’re seeing things in a different way

And god knows it ain’t his

It sure ain’t no surprise

Livin’ on the edge

Every single one of us is dealing with something in our personal lives that looms large on the edges.  Job insecurity.  Financial woes.  Racism.  Personal loss.  Illness.  Depression.  Sexism. Addiction.  Work or School stress.  Bullying.

Whatever it might be for you… It’s there on the edges.

We don’t talk about it… but it’s there.

 

And it was there for Edmund, Peter, Lucy, and Susan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

As we enter this Advent and then Christmas season and beyond, we are going to be following these four children in this magical land and hear what  the author C.S. Lewis has to teach us about what it means to be people of faith in tough times.

And the story starts with this magical threshold… this doorway between two worlds that the littlest girl Lucy discovers.

 

We focus on the magic of that doorway… but what we sometimes overlook is the difficulty that brought all of the characters to this place in this time.

These children are in a liminal space.

The story is set during the middle of the London Blitz of World War II.  Their home in the city was no longer safe.  Like children in Aleppo, in Syria, today, every day they lived in terror that a bomb would drop on top of their home or school or the hospitals.

Yet these children were able to make it out of the city.  They were sent away to the countryside, sent away from their parents, into a big lonely house.

Everything they knew was in turmoil… and they didn’t yet know what might happen on the other side of the war.

 

This summer, as we preached through the prophets, we heard the passage we shared this morning from Isaiah.  About the people who lived in the land of deep darkness.

Those who lived in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali knew what it meant to live through wars and conflict.  Their tribal home had been ravaged for so long that they didn’t know what hope was anymore.

There’s something wrong with the world today

The lightbulb’s gettin’ dimmed

There’s meltdown in the sky

If you can judge a wise man

By the color of his skin

Then mister, you’re a better man than I

Livin’ on the edge

Right there… on the edge… where hope had ceased and the shadows seemed longer and longer, light was promised.

Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

 

And so in the midst of this liminal season of her life, Lucy hides in a closet and discovers a magical doorway between worlds.

She finds herself in a forest, surrounded by snow, and she sees a light shining in the distance.

It is a lamppost.

A light shining on the edge.

“It is a beacon in the face of the dark, cold spell that lies on the land,” writes the author of our devotion Advent in Narnia.

Both lands.  All lands.

London and Narnia. Syria and Israel.  The United States. The World.

The lamppost, which stands there at the boundary between Narnia and the “wild woods of the west” remains shining in the darkness.  The power of the white witch who has taken over Narnia… the darkness of despair, sin, and death which threatens to overtake our lives… it cannot put that light out.  It shines.  Always has… always will.

 

As we will hear read on Christmas Eve, the gospel of John reminds us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.

And we hear… that the people loved the darkness more than the light.

As the Message puts it… the light entered the world “and yet the world didn’t even notice.  He came to his own people and they didn’t want him.”

In the midst of our story of light, we are reminded that that we are human.

It is so often our sin that is the cause of the world’s darkness.

Hatred and greed.  Nationalism and pride.  Consumer impulses that fail to recognize the cost to others and this planet.

That is why we are reminded in the gospel of Luke that the door is narrow and few will enter it.

Mr. Tumnus is the perfect example of this reality.  He is working for the witch, even though he knows it is wrong because he is too afraid to do otherwise.

We are too struck by the darkness.

We are too consumed with ourselves.

Something right with the world today

And everybody knows it’s wrong

But we can tell ’em no

Or we could let it go

But I would rather be a hanging on

Livin’ on the edge

My colleague Dan Dick has some challenging words for people of faith right now.  He writes as Advent begins:

Do we need a Savior?  Do we need a Messiah?  Yes, oh yes, but we really don’t want one – not if he/she is going to expect us to live up to our confession of faith.  If we have to honor the promises made for us at baptism and the promises we have made ourselves since then, well…,  we will take a pass on the Messiah, thank you very much… we really can’t afford/tolerate the Son of God coming to mess things up. (https://doroteos2.com/2016/11/26/wanted-savior-some-experience-required/)

We have a chance to say goodbye to the darkness and let go of our own sin and anger, disappointment and loss, frustration and hatred and focus on the light, the hope, the love, the promises of God.

There is light and right and good in this world… if only we would open our eyes to see it, open our hearts to experience it… open our hands to live it.

There is something so right in this world today and we are too scared, fearful, consumed to believe it!

But as Jesus instructs the people in chapter 13 of Luke’s gospel – unless you change your hearts and lives… unless you repent… unless you turn away from the darkness you will never enter that narrow door.

 

Mr. Tumnus was out there in the liminal space… hanging out by the lamppost.

We don’t know what brought him to that moment, but what we do know is that in the story, he finds a child.

A child that offers him hope and light, love and forgiveness.

A child that gives him the courage to turn away from the shadows.

 

This Advent season, we have a chance to enter that narrow door.

We have a chance to enter that liminal space of transformation.

Friends, all I ask is that you open yourself to the possibility.

I ask that you step outside of your comfort zone.

I pray that you will enter and journey in Narnia with me this season.

Come live on the edge.  Come experience the light. Come and wait for the coming of our savior.

It just might change your life.

Transferred into the Kingdom

Over the last two weeks in worship, we have talked extensively about how we should give thanks for one another…  

Because of our differences, we give thanks.

We gave thanks as we broke bread together.

We gave thanks around the waters of baptism.

We should give thanks always and everywhere for the people of this world who help us claim our inheritance, who help us overcome division, and who teach us how to practice what is true and holy, just and pure.  

 

Today, we explore one more of Paul’s letters.

Today, we are reminded to give thanks to God who is the reason we all share in the Kingdom.  

 

Let us pray:

 

This past week, the annual Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University was given by Krista Tippet.  

Many of my Sunday mornings, as I drive in to church, I listen to her broadcast, “On Being,” and I listen as she asks people from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds what it means to be human.  

Recently, I picked up a copy of her book, “Becoming Wise,” and like she starts so many of her interviews, she starts by exploring her own background and faith tradition.  

 

One of the interesting things about Tippet’s story is that she served as an aide to the American ambassador in Germany while it was divided.  

She writes:

More riveting to me in the end than the politics of Berlin was the vast social experiment its division had become.  One people, one language and history and culture, were split into two radically opposing worldviews and realities, decades entrenched by the time I arrived.  I loved people on both sides of the Wall that wound through the heart of the city.

I keep thinking about the division of Berlin… the division of Germany after WWII… and the division of our own nation in this moment.

Especially in regards to our letter from Paul this morning.

 

As Paul writes to the Colossians, Gentiles who lived in what is now modern-day Turkey, he writes to encourage them in their faith… to help them grow into this new relationship they have found with Jesus.

And as Paul talks about the transition, the shift they have experienced in their life by accepting Jesus, he uses this really interesting phrase.  

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  (1:13)

Transferred us into the Kingdom.

As Neta Pringle describes this word – transferred, she writes that:

His image conjures up pictures of refugees, rounded up after battle and taken to the victor’s land, of Israelites marched far from home to live in Babylon – a kingdom so different, so far from home in both geography and style.  Here the rules are different, the ruler is different.  All assumptions about the way in which life goes on – indeed about its very meaning- are different. (Feasting on the Word)

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like those who found themselves on the eastern side of the wall in Berlin suddenly found themselves living in a different country, under different rules.  

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like after an election a nation wakes up to a world where different people are in charge and different priorities come to the front.  

You don’t always have to physically shift your location to feel like the world has changed all around you.  For better or for worse. 

 

Except, Paul is not writing here about a temporary shift in power that comes and goes with various political leaders and world events.

Paul is writing about a cosmic shift…

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  

And not just the people of Paul’s day and time.  Not just the Colossians, or the Ephesians, the Philippians, or the Romans.  

All of us.

We have been rescued from the powers of evil, sin, and death.   

We all have been transferred into the kingdom of forgiveness, redemption, and life.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Today in worship, we celebrate that Christ is King.  That he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. 

We celebrate that through his death on the cross, the blood of Jesus rescued humanity from its captivity to the powers of this world.

In the cross, in the resurrection, Jesus declared victory over the powers over evil, injustice, and oppression.

And friends, in that great and glorious act, we have been transferred into God’s kingdom.  

We have been transferred into the Rule and the Reign of God.

We are no longer merely citizens of this place, of Iowa, of the United States… Jesus is Lord.

Thanks be to God!

 

To emphasize this new reality, Paul continues his letter by breaking out into song.  

While we don’t know the melody, while it isn’t a familiar tune to our ears, these lyrics in Paul’s letter would have been as familiar to the Colossians as Amazing Grace is to us. 

They might have even started singing along.

 

And this song reminds the people in familiar words that when we look at Jesus, we see God.

They remind the people that in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were made.

They remind these new citizens of God’s kingdom that everything… every nation, every King or President, every Prime Minister or Governor, every Mayor and every Councilperson… everything is from God and finds purpose in God.  

From the clouds in the sky to the microorganisms in the dirt beneath our feet, God in Christ holds everything together.  

And Jesus is in charge of it all.  

From beginning to end, Alpha and Omega, this kingdom will never end.  

Thanks be to God!

 

And like any change in leadership… whether temporal or heavenly… the rules under which we live change a bit.

So this letter to the Colossians is a reminder that them and us that we are called to grow in love and faith.

Paul encourages us to bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.

And we are reminded that just because Christ has already won, does not mean that evil death and sin are forever gone.  Paul’s letter, in fact, is full of the reminder that we will be made strong in Christ and is meant to help us endure with patience the trials and tribulations that will come.  

That is why when we gather around the baptismal font and we welcome new ones into our midst we make these familiar pledges:

We pledge to renounce the spiritual forced of wickedness and evil powers of this world.

We repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.

And we must hold one another accountable to the rules of God’s kingdom.  

All because we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior.

All because we promise to serve him as our Lord.

 

When Krista Tippett talks about life in Berlin, she also talks about the day the wall came down.  It was her twenty-ninth birthday.  

She writes that “no one imagined that it could fall or the Iron Curtain crumble…. The wall finally collapsed with a whimper, not a bang, as fear lifted all at once from an entire nation.  I had walked through Checkpoint Charlie hundreds of times, respecting its absurdity as authority.  On the night the Wall fell… the entire city walked joyfully through it.  The border guards joined them. It was truly nearly that simple.”  

 

While we live under the rule and the reign of Jesus Christ, we work and pray for the day when all people will joyfully walk through the walls of division and hatred.  

We work and pray for the day when fear is lifted for all people.  

We work and pray for the moment when the powers of this world that keep us apart let go of their last grasp upon our hearts and we are finally free to simply be in Christ.  

And until then… we live as people who see all things and all people in their true light… as the ones who already belong to Jesus.  

Thanks be to God. 

God Changes Minds

I change my mind all the time.

I like variety. I learn. I grow. I experience new things. I’m in a different mood.

And my understanding and beliefs change as a result.

All. The. Time.

Most recently, we have been doing some work on our backyard.

Early this spring, we removed a few trees. And the morning the workers came to take the trees down, I thought I wanted the pile in one place.

Today, I want it somewhere else.

I changed my mind.

My initial decision was one that had to be made in the moment.

And at the time, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted.

I also thought I understood how much wood there would be.

Now, I’m the first to admit, I was completely and utterly mistaken.

 

woodpileWhat we were left with when the tree company left was an enormous wood pile.

I didn’t have all the information.

I didn’t understand the scope and breadth and depth of what this pile would be. Or how it would block the view of my barberries and take up the entire first level of our retaining wall.

I hadn’t thought about the best way to store said wood in order to help it cure.

I couldn’t see in that moment the bigger picture.

And now, I’m going to build some muscles moving all of those logs… because now, with more information and some experience, my mind was changed.

 

In our reading from Acts today, Peter changed his mind, too.

Or rather God changed Peter’s mind.

Like me, Peter couldn’t see the big picture.

 

He was living his life as a faithful Jewish man and thought he knew exactly what God was about and what God wants from the people. He presumed to understood the rules of faith.

But his knowledge was limited.

He didn’t see the scope and the breadth and the depth of God’s love for all people.

In the prelude to our scripture reading from Acts this morning, Peter has been sent on a missionary journey to the home of Cornelius… a gentile.

A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish, someone who was not a part of the family of Israel, someone who was an outsider as far as the faith was concerned.

While the scripture describes Cornelius as a God-worshipper, Gentiles had limits on their participation in the Jewish temple.

Second Temple Model, JerusalemThe temple had many different courts, and the requirements to move further and further into the temple, towards the holy of holies, left many out. The big open area you see in the photo is called the Court of the Gentiles. That was the only part of the temple Gentiles could enter.

They were excluded from the rest because they were unclean.  They were different.  They were not welcome.

But many faithful god-fearing folks like Cornelius continued to show up. They continued worshipping God from those outer courts. In spite of the exclusion, they wanted a relationship with God.

 

And God wanted a relationship with them. So God prepares Peter’s heart for a transformation in thinking. Before God sends Peter to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius, he gives him a vision of the clean and unclean joining together.  Peter receives a vision of a new sort of body of Christ.

Then he is summoned to the home of Cornelius, and although he was not allowed by Jewish custom to enter, he did. He went in and ate with the family and he shared with them the good news of Jesus Christ. And as he preached to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit descends upon them and they receive the gift of faith.

 

Peter’s world has just been turned upside down.  Those he thought were outside of God’s love and power have just had it poured upon them.  And exclaims: “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?”

No one could deny their gifts. Water was brought and Cornelius and his whole family were baptized on the spot… they were part of the family of God.

 

When my husband and I decided to take down some trees at our house, we thought we understood the parameters of the proposal. They take down the trees. We keep the mulch and the wood. End of story.

But what exactly are we going to do with all of that wood?

How are we going to store it?

What do we do with the plants that were once in a shady area that now need to be moved?

And what happens to the family of bunnies that has now made their home in the wood pile in its current location?

As soon as a new, unexpected element enters the equation, it is natural that there is some anxiety, some wheel spinning, and chaos.

 

And that is precisely what happened in the aftermath of Peter and Cornelius.

You can take down a tree or two. You can baptize a Gentile family.

But there are going to be repercussions.

Things just won’t be the same.

 

Peter is summoned back to Jerusalem. He is called back to the apostles who heard about what happened and who aren’t so sure they like what has happened.

They start with criticism. They launch into accusations. They read off the rules. I can imagine their frustration growing as they start to wrestle with the implications of what has just happened.

 

The leaders of the early church, like Peter, believed that faith meant one thing, and God was trying to show them it meant something else. But we cling to our traditions, to our rules, to what we know and understand.

I think the number one way God changes our hearts and minds is by helping us experience the world in a different way.

That’s what happened with Peter. God moved him to the right time and place and put Cornelius in his life to give him an undeniable experience of grace and power and Holy Spirit led transformation.

 

But the number two way God changes hearts and minds is by calling those who have had these life-altering experiences to tell their story.

 

The apostles were furious and demanded an explanation.

And Peter gave them one.

 

He told them about his vision.

He told them about how God led him to the house of Cornelius.

He connected what he had experienced of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with what he witnessed first-hand in Caesarea.

In chapter 11, verse 16-17 he testifies: “I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘John will baptize with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If God gave them the same give he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?”.

 

Seventy five years ago, I probably would not have been welcomed in this pulpit.  As a woman, ordination was out of the question.  A combination of tradition and a patriarchal society and a way of reading the scriptures precluded the church from welcoming women as preachers and pastors.

But here I stand… robed, ordained, my calling from the Holy Spirit confirmed by the church.

At various points throughout our history, faithful folk stood up and exclaimed about women:  These people have received the Holy Spirit… just like we did – How can we stop them from being baptized?  How can we deny them a place at the table?  How can we stop them from being ordained when God has so clearly spoken in their lives?

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was against women preaching in principle… until he witnessed the Holy Spirit working through the lives of women like Sarah Crosby, Grace Murry, and Hannah Ball.  He relented and licensed them for preaching in the circuits across England.

God changed his mind.

God changed the mind of our church.

God helped us to see a different vision of what the church and our community could be, just as God had done for Peter.

As a young woman, I have always lived in a church that ordained women.  I have always been a part of a church that valued the contributions women made in ministry, in leadership, and in the world.  It has been a given.

But I often wonder where God is going to change our minds next.

 

“I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another,” Peter says.

 

When I was in Washington, D.C. last week for a leadership fellows training, the church we spent our days at had welcome signs plastered throughout the building.

 

“We love single people, divorced people, widowed and married people,” it says.

“We love people who have not been to church in ages and those who never miss a Sunday.”

“We love people who are in recovery and those who are still addicted.”

 

The list went on and on, but it reminded me that God shows no partiality to one group of people or another.

God wants to be in relationship with all of us.

With the whole of creation.

With you and me.

With black and white and brown.

With young and old, and gay and straight,

with those struggling with mental health and those who love them.

With life-long Americans and with people who have just arrived in our country.

 

When you start to make a list, all of a sudden the people we are supposed to love and share the good news with starts to overwhelm us.

Like the woodpile in my yard, it truly seems incredible and awesome.

The question that’s before us is: what are we going to do about it?

How will this knowledge change our practice?

And if we are going to let God change our hearts and minds and church, where do we need to start moving around the woodpile to make room for everyone to thrive and find a place here?

Spirit of Household Salvation

Religion is social.  Religion is corporate.  Religion is political.

As Christianity spread in the time of the apostles and beyond, it was often not the work of one-on-one conversations and personal confessions of faith, but of corporate conversions… of whole nations turning from one religion to another. 

I did some reading this week about the reformation in Norway in the 16th century.  Up to this point, Norway had been a Catholic country… being converted in the 9th century through the faith of Olav II, their beloved king who was later sainted. 

But with political allegiances changing, suddenly a union between Denmark and Norway was on the horizon.  And Christian III, king of Denmark was lining up to take his place on the Norwegian throne. 

The problem… Christian was a Lutheran.  He had been taught by Lutherans.  He had even traveled as a young man and heard Martin Luther speak in person.  And so his goal was to establish his kingdom as a protestant haven.  

The first step, of course, is to get rid of the Catholic leadership.  In 1536, the Catholic bishops were kicked out and replaced with Lutheran bishops appointed by the new king.  Archbishop Olav Engelbrektsson tried to resist these reforms and keep Norway from being united with Denmark.  There was even talk about establishing Christian’s younger brother John as king… since he remained favorable to the Catholic faith.   The Archbishop tried to do everything he could to resist the change, even helping to plan the assassination of an earl who was traveling to Norway to discuss the union.  Engelbrektsson ended his days in exile.

While all of this was going on in the realms of bishops and earls and kings… What do you think the everyday person was thinking.  Overnight they were transformed from Catholics to Lutherans. They didn’t have a say in the matter, they may not have even noticed a real difference. They were converted, wholesale, as a group.

In our world today, this makes no sense to us. Faith is so private and individualized. We make our confessions and trust in a personal Lord and savior.

But historically, this is the exception and not the norm. For much of history, faith has been a corporate… A communal experience.  Your religion was based upon the faith of your father or master or lord or king.  Your flavor of Christianity was not based upon the nuances that you chose, but the political affiliations and personal whims of someone higher up the food chain.

We could argue for days about whether it is better for faith to be personalized as it is today in our nation, or a corporate experience as it still is in some places today. 

We certainly have known the advantages of being able to have our own say about our faith.  You can know our God personally… you can turn to the scriptures and can find out for yourself what they contain.  You get to decide whether or not you join the church or go to church

But I believe this isn’t an either/or question.  There are some things about having a communal expression of faith that we have lost.  As we dive into this chapter of Acts, we might be able to figure out how not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

David Matson argues that we could see the entire book of Acts as a story about houses….  We start out the narrative with the disciples gathered together in a house and the story ends with Paul under house arrest on an island, telling the stories of faith to those who will come and visit.

Then, throughout the journey of the disciples, they travel from house to house, sharing the faith they have received.  We have heard of Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Ananias… and here in this chapter Paul and Silas meet up with two different families in the city of Philippi.

One of these households is led by a woman named Lydia.  The bible tells us she is a dealer of purple cloth – a wealthy woman trading a rare luxury commodity.  We know nothing of her husband, but she does well enough for herself that either he isn’t around or isn’t relevant to the story.  She is the head of the household.  And when she hears the story of salvation in her place of prayer by the river, she invites Paul and Silas back to her home and her whole household is baptized. 

The second household conversion happens after a Roman jailer experiences a miracle.  He had locked Paul and Silas up in jail under strict orders to keep them secure.  When an earthquake shakes their bars loose in the middle of the night – he is convinced his life is over.  With the prisoners escape, he will be punished and killed.  Just as he is about to end his life – Paul calls out from the cell… they had not left, even though they could have.

The jailer is so overwhelmed that he wants to know about the faith that has sustained them in difficult times, the faith that has allowed them to be so calm in the midst of distress.  He takes the two back to his home and he and his entire household are saved.

What can we learn from these two tales? 

First:  Lydia and the soldier both experienced conversion outside of their homes…. but took their faith back home with them. And not only that… they took people back with them. 

Now, it would be important here to mention what we mean by a household.  In the Greco-Roman world, the household was the place of residence of a family, but also of all the slaves and grown children under the master of that household’s authority.  The household could be rather large and encompassed all of a person’s business, social, and familial relationships.  The pater familias had unilateral authority over his wife, his children and his servants.

This thing that they had witnessed – the story they had heard – it was too important to keep to themselves.  As the heads of their households, they knew that this faith was not something that only belonged to them but it was meant to be shared.  They opened up not only their hearts, but their whole lives to the power of God. They made sure that this new conversion in their lives extended to EVERY part of their life – their children, their wives, their servants.

When we experience faith and conversion, do we run home and tell our families?  Do we share that faith with our employees?  Do we allow God into every part of our life? Do we make room for him in our homes, in our work, in the places we go to socialize?

One way that we could reclaim this idea of household salvation is to simply open up our whole selves to his power…

Secondly, the scriptures tell us that their whole households were baptized.  The act of baptism is personal.  More than a blanket statement that a whole nation is now Lutheran instead of Catholic, to baptize a whole household means that each person would have come before Paul and Silas to recieve the water.  Young and old. Rich and poor. Slave and free.  The head of the household would have lined them all up and said – you are going to do this. 

It sounds a lot like mom and dad getting the kids dressed up for church and dragging them kicking and screaming to the family pew. 

But it was important in that time and place for the whole household to believe the same things.  In the Greco-Roman world, your household worshipped one god among many.  To bring in idols or religious artifacts related to another deity would have caused your primary god to be jealous.  A master of a household would have had strict control over the faith of those under their authority. 

That sounds harsh to us today, until we realize that every day we make choices about what our family stands for and what we consume. 

We make choices about what food we eat, what television shows are allowed to be watched in our houses, what activities we will or will not participate in.  For a family that is trying to eat healthy, McDonald’s french fries are strictly forbidden.  For a family trying to instil good values in their children, much of MTV might be off the list.  We set rules and boundaries every day and each of those decisions says something about who we are and what we believe.

We also practice in our tradition infant baptism.  And when we baptize children, we are making promises on their behalf.  We are holding their faith for them. We are making decisions about their relationship with God even though they are not even aware of God’s presence yet. 

When we do so, we promise to raise them in the church, to hold that faith for them and to teach them until the day comes when they can accept or reject that faith for themselves.

Until that day comes, our job is to feed them properly (so to speak). If we believe it, we should live it, and live it in our whole lives.

If we think back to the tale of the Norwegian Reformation, the short version of the story goes:  The King appointed a new Lutheran bishop.  The old Catholic bishop appointed a new king… and as we all know from the Ollie and Lena jokes that we sometimes tell, the Lutherans won.

Someone, somewhere up the  food chain made a decision about the faith of the people.  And at the time, they had no say.  At the time, they may not have imagined what it meant.  But as time has gone one, Norwegians by and large identify themselves as Lutherans.  They lived into the faith that was handed to them.  They have claimed it as their own. 

In the same way, our children and grandchildren might live into the faith that we hold if we continue to bring them to this place… if we nurture them in the traditions that have sustained us… if we lead them to the Christ we have come to know and love. 

Your faith extends far beyond your life.  It extends to all of your relationships.  It extends to your family and friends and into every part of your life.  Let Christ in. Let Christ change you.  And let Christ have your relationships also. 

when the storms of life are raging #gc2012

Our General Conference has been full of metaphors of water.  Storms, wind, rain, water, shoreline, sails, rope, salt, you name it – we’ve shared the image.  And it has been extraordinarily powerful when those symbols have captured the moments we have experienced:  healing, encouragement, etc.

But that metaphor is also difficult when you feel like the waves are going up and down and up and down and a storm is brewing and the waves get higher and higher.  General Conference is like that.  Highs and lows.  It is an emotional roller coaster of worshipful moments that help you soar in praise of God and then lead you into deep lament and repentance.  It is the political thrill of watching legislation you deeply care about get discussed and perfected and pass… and then the heartbreaking disappointment when the church fails to act, or muddles the process, or goes in a direction that you feel is not God’s will. 

Someone described it as inducing its own special kind of PTSD.  And perhaps I didn’t quite realize what they meant until I found myself literally holding my breath, arms out in prayer over the whole delegation, waiting for the seconds to count down as the vote was cast for the church restructuring.  The plan was not, and is not, perfect.  We tried to work on some amendments and managed to increase representation from the central conferences, but did not pass what I believed was an important amendment to retain the independence of GCORR and GCSRW.  Those two agencies are now subsumed into a “committee on inclusiveness,” and the failure of the amendment was devastating for me.

What troubled me the most is that there were still so many perfections and corrections that needed to be made to the plan but we didn’t take the time to make them.  The UMW board was changed without us realizing it.  The numbers don’t quite add up right on other boards.  There are errata everywhere. But lunch was coming up, and we went to the vote… with 20+ white cards waving in the air (the symbol for a question, amendment, point of order, etc.)

I’m not sure what the implications of our restructure will be yet.  I fear that we have pushed our monitoring agencies to the side and they will not have the voice they need to have to keep us from letting racism, tribalism, or sexism exclude people from the table.  In the conversations about the loss of guaranteed appointment, I have heard from so many who fear that because they are a woman or black or don’t speak with english as a first language, that they are now in danger… not because they are ineffective, but because they do not feel like they have respect or are seen with dignity as a person who truly has a calling and gifts and graces.  I have been blessed in my personal experience not to have to carry that kind of fear, but I have heard their pain and it made me remember how truly these (former) commissions have been… not only in the U.S. but also across the globe… and how much work there still is to do.

Last night, we refused to deal with an amendment to the constitution that would add “gender” and “age” to the list of things we are to be inclusive around.  But we couldn’t imagine the future with kingdom eyes and for the third general conference in a row, we did not pass the amendment.  We actually referred it back to the commission that brought it to the body. It made my heart hurt. I wanted us to stand up and take that simple stand and we refused to do it. And then we worshipped and were invited into a liturgy that spoke of welcoming woman and man and all different kinds of people and it just about broke me. 

Someone posted on twitter today: At least in worship I feel like a United Methodist.  And yet, in that service, I felt like we couldn’t truly speak those words.  We as a body had failed to live into those words only an hour before.  The only thing that saved me was the jazzy blues lament… Lord, have mercy.  It was only because we lamented and cried out and (at least for me) begged for forgiveness that I could ride the wave to the next high point and look out over all that we are and all we try to do and get some perspective. 

I was reminded this afternoon that although the waves are tumultuous this week and what we do may or may not have far reaching implications… on Sunday, I will be back in my local church.  And I’ll be in the water again… only this time the waters of baptism as I bless, anoint, and name the grace of God that is already pouring into the life of little Joselin.  And right there is where I belong.  Speaking love and grace.  Nurturing life and discipleship. Refusing to give in to the waves of doubt and fear and confusion.  Holding steady, knowing Jesus is at my side. 

Carnival Mirrors

Two summers ago, our family was on vacation at Lake Okaboji in northwest Iowa. We had this tiny little house rented and with six adults and two kids and a baby, we needed to be out and about as much as we could!

One of the days we were there, we went to Arnold’s Park – this lovely little amusement park right on the shores of the lake. As we walked into the main area of the park, we climbed through a tilted house. I remember being inside buildings like this as a child, but something about walking crooked with the ceilings shrinking above you feels very odd and disconcerting as an adult!

And then, the first thing we found inside of the park was the house of mirrors.

My niece grabbed my hand and dragged me to the entrance. As we stood in front of the skinny mirrors and the fat mirrors and the wavy mirrors, she giggled and pointed as the images of each of us transformed into creatures we didn’t recognize. I had mile long legs one minute and a neck as tall as a giraffe the next. We laughed as we told stories about what it would be like to live lives with really tall tummies and itty bitty heads.

However, as an adult I have to admit, these mirrors are a lot less amusing. The distortion of these mirrors brings into greater focus small and insignificant parts of ourselves. They either expand them out of proportion or they reduce them to nothing. Our noses grow fat and wide. Our stomachs suddenly look thin. Or vice versa.

And in doing so – the truth of our bodies comes out. Our thighs might be a little larger than we would like. Our shoulders might be narrower than we assumed. That little gap between your teeth has a spotlight shown on it.

This morning, we are going to explore how Jesus helps us to see the truth in our distorted views of reality.

Charles Campbell is a preaching professor at Duke University and he tells this story about how Jesus would like to shake up our perceptions. Campbell was watching and interview on television with Dr. Phil, the famous tv psychologist. Dr. Phil was asked, “If you could interview anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be?” And immediately, he responded: “Jesus Christ. I would really like to interview Jesus Christ. I would like to have a conversation with him about the meaning of life.”

Well, Campbell was watching this on television and tells of the inner dialogue he was having at the moment. He wanted to shout out at the television and to Dr. Phil: “Oh no, you wouldn’t! You would not want to sit down with Jesus, treat him like an interviewee, and ask him about the meaning of life. You would be crazy to do that. He would turn you upside down and inside out. He would confound all your questions and probably end up telling you to sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me. No, Dr. Phil, you do not really want to interview Jesus, and I do not want to either. It would not go well.”

Jesus sounds like a nice and simple guy… a gentle soul… a friend to walk beside you and share your thoughts with… but in reality, Jesus turns our worlds upside down and inside out. He does the unexpected, he shows up in places we try to stay away from, he loves the unloveable, he calls the unworthy, and he brings us life through his death. And sometimes in doing so, he reveals the most difficult truths about our hearts.

His ways are not our ways – and as we walk with him, we have to be willing to let our distorted views of the world fall by the wayside so that we can see the reality of God’s love.

The main distortion that we encounter when we meet Christ is the false belief that we are good enough, that we have the answers, and that we fully understand God. This is the mirror that makes us look tall and big and fat and grand. It puffs us up, it fills us out, and we start to believe we are more important and more knowledgeable than we really are.

You see, this false understanding of faith, of religion, and of themselves is what got the priests and elders into so much trouble in our gospel reading this morning.

To put this story into context, Jesus had just come into Jerusalem the day before. The long list of things he accomplished that day included: riding into the city on a donkey and in righteous anger overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. He was literally turning things upside down!

And so when he comes back to the temple the next morning, the religious leaders are in a grumpy mood. They want to know who this guy thinks he is and so they approach him and say very bluntly: Show us your credentials – Who authorized you to teach here?

Oh, those poor leaders. They had no idea what they were about to get themselves into. Jesus may have looked like a country bumpkin rabbi just in from the hills, but they were dealing with the Son of God. And when you ask Jesus questions… you never get the answers you expect.

Instead of giving them an answer – Jesus himself asked them a question. Jesus shed light on the true nature of their question.

Authority.

Who has it? And where does it come from?

These religious leaders had been trained. They had studied long and hard. They spent their days in the temple. They have the full weight of their culture and the institution behind them. They firmly believe that they speak for God.

And if they speak for God, then this man, this ruffian, this Jesus of Nazareth clearly does not. They want to keep things in good order, according to the traditions and the way things have always been.

But Jesus is ready to turn the world upside down.

And so he asks them a question in return: Was the baptism of John from God or from man?

He trapped them.

If they said John’s baptism was from God – then they were legitimizing his movement and in doing so, legitimizing Jesus who stood right before them.

But if they said that it was only from man – then they might have had a riot of the people on their hands… all around them were faithful people who had traveled out to the Jordan river to repent of their sins.

The distortion of their mirrors fell away. They came face to face with the truth. This Jesus did not fit in a box. Their privilege and power were more important to them than the right answer and so they responded simply – we don’t know… hoping it is the end of the story and they can return quickly to the way things were.

But Jesus doesn’t stop talking.

Instead, he tells them a story. The story of two children sent by their father into the vineyard to work. One of them refuses, but goes to work anyway later. One of them says they are going to, but never actually ends up working.
Everyone knows it was the first son who did the father’s will. No questions there.

But Jesus looks the priests and leaders straight in the eye and all false distortions fall away:

“ Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to preced you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing the right road. You turned your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.” (The Message 32)
Photo by: Chris
(http://vivid-blog.blogspot.com/2009/05/fun-house-mirrors.html)

Staring into the funhouse mirror, these leaders thought they were being faithful by saying the right words and going through the right motions. But they were so busy looking at the faults of others that they never took the time to see themselves as they truly were. They never took the time to actually live out God’s will. They never stepped away from the mirror to see their own sin and to repent.

As Christians today, that is often our greatest failing. We get so wrapped up in being a part of the church, in wearing the name of Christian, in spouting off moral precepts, that we forget to look at ourselves.

When we let Jesus show us who we truly are… a hard and difficult process… may we have the courage to look away from the mirror and into the eyes of our Savior. May we have the courage to follow him.

But while we are talking about distortions, I think it is also important to look at the flip side of the distortion… the one that makes you look smaller than you really are. That shrinks your head and whittles your body away to nothing and makes you small like a child.

In the story of those two sons, there was the one who said he would obey his father but never did.

And then there is the story of the one who said he wouldn’t.

I always wonder about what makes him say no.

Did he have other things to do? Kids to take to soccer practice, maybe?

Was he planning on other less than noble deeds like going out and getting drunk with his friends?

Did he doubt his ability to actually perform the work?

Was he just being stubborn?

Whatever was going through the first son’s mind… he refused to do the will of his father.

Just as there are many of us who have been in the church from the beginning of our lives, there are many here this morning who took a long time to get here. We had other things to keep us busy, distractions, feelings of unworthiness, and the pride of wanting to do things our own way.

But our false images of ourselves can fall away too. Like the tax collectors and the prostitutes, we can turn around, repent, and say yes… even if we have spent our whole lives up to this point saying no. We can see our true selves, and then lay our lives at the feet of Jesus and follow him.

When we really engage with Jesus, our carnival mirror distortions come into focus. And every single time we find out that he has very little care for what our lives have been in the past but really wants to know if we are going to let go of those funhouse mirrors, take off our false perceptions and see his reality instead. Jesus does not want our distorted image of ourselves… Jesus was us. He wants us to believe in him and to follow him.

As Paul wrote in Philippians, Jesus laid aside his glory to become one of us. He humbled himself even to the point of death on the cross so that each one of us could see the truth – that Jesus is Lord and that he is our reality.

Everything that we do, everything that we have, everything that we are comes from God. That is the truth we find when we look him face to face. He turns our lives upside down and yet does not leave us on unsteady ground.

No, he invites us to join in the heavenly parade of the crooks and the prostitutes, the gamblers and the addicts, the self-righteous and the stubborn… Jesus invites us to take our place among all of those who have said goodbye to their old ways and are now marching joyfully toward heaven.

Amen and Amen.