From Everywhere to Everywhere (2.0)

This Sunday, I was making my way back from our bi-annual Global Ministries meeting and so took the opportunity to do a brief rewrite of the message I preached at Ingathering:

This quadrennium, I have the honor of serving on our General Board of Global Ministries:

Last fall, in our opening worship, we read the names of the missionaries who have died in the last four years, like we do on All Saints day.  It was holy and humbling to think about all of those people who had spent their lives serving God wherever they were sent.  But I also noticed that they almost all had very white, very Anglo sounding names.

That evening, and since then, I have met missionaries who remind me that the focus of our global ministries has truly shifted.  Katherine fits that traditional model and is from California. She has served through Global Ministries in a variety of far flung places including Japan, Iowa, and now Nepal.

But Alina is a native Bolivian and she is serving in Nicaragua on behalf of Global Ministries.

Luis is from Brazil and will be heading up the new regional Mission Center in Buenos Aires.

Another leader from Brazil will work with the new regional Mission Center in Africa focusing on Portuguese speaking countries.

There is an African American who speaks Japanese who will serve in the new Mission Center in Seoul, South Korea.

And we heard about a missionary from Zimbabwe who is heading to Canada to serve an African refugee community there. 

Our Executive Director of Global Mission Connections was just elected a bishop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but last year, Bishop Mande wrote:

“Mission used to be thought of as coming from the center (churches in developed countries) and going to the peripheries (people in developing countries). But our sense today is that there isn’t a center anymore—that doing mission lies in mutuality, looking at each other as equal partners and learning from one another. Our heritage from the Wesleyan movement tells us that God’s grace is everywhere and everyone shares in it.” (http://um-insight.net/in-the-church/umc-global-nature/no-center-no-periphery-a-regional-approach-to-mission/)

 From everywhere… to everywhere…

 

Fundamental to the shift in our global ministries is the recognition of prevenient grace.

The idea that God is moving in our lives long before we know who or what God is.

The idea that grace and truth, beauty and holiness, forgiveness and love are not gifts we enlightened people bring to the heathens, but that we can discover God’s work in the midst of people we meet… whether or not they know God, yet.

 

I think the shift we are experiencing in mission is paralleled in Paul’s ministry in Athens.

As we start the scripture reading today, he is preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus on the streets. And the people don’t get it and they don’t get him.

Some translations say they take him, or brought him, others that they asked him, but if you look to the original Greek the word is “epilambanomai” – to lay hold of or to seize. 

The Common English Bible translates this passage… “they took him into custody.”  The people REALLY don’t get him.  Paul is trying to shove something foreign down their throats.

This is the same word used when Simon the Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus’ cross as we remembered on Good Friday.  And it’s a word used twice to describe how Jesus grabs hold of someone to rebuke or challenge and heal them.

Paul is not taken to Mars Hill by choice.

He is brought to the council and placed in the middle of the people…

 

And then something in Paul shifts.  His language changes.  

He realizes that speaking of foreign things isn’t making and impact.

He starts to contextualize the good news of Jesus Christ.

He recalls an altar he saw, “To an unknown God” and uses that altar… in a city filled with idols… to begin explaining the God he has come to know.

What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you… God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him.  In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us.  In God we live, move, and exist.

 

In our Wesleyan heritage, the idea of prevenient grace is that it goes before us.  God’s grace is all around us. In God, we live, move, and exist.  Even if we don’t know it yet.  And by grace, some of us reach out and find God.

 But there is another side to prevenient grace… that God doesn’t just sit back and wait to be found, but actively seeks us.

God enters our lives and our stories.

God takes on our flesh.

God speaks our words and breathes our air and tells stories about our lives.

The incarnation was as much a part of the good news as the resurrection.  

And so Paul, at Mars Hill, adopted an incarnational ministry and spoke the words of the people, pointed to their objects, entered their stories, and showed them where he saw God.

Or as he writes in 1 Corinthians: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… to the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:20-22)

 

Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren, in “Introducing the Missional Church,” claim this is the same type of ministry Jesus commissioned the disciples for – sending them out in pairs into communities, inviting them to live deeply in the midst of strangers… eating what they eat, relying upon their customs and hospitality. It was incarnational ministry.

It is the life so many of our United Methodist missionaries take on – going from everywhere to everywhere.

 

In my work earlier with Imagine No Malaria and now with Global Ministries I am so proud of the fact that we do not seek to impose our ways upon communities, but partner with people and seek mutuality.

We no longer fly into a community and drop off bed nets then leave… we work with local leaders and partners and build community health workers who can help us explore best practices, share with us their customs, and ultimately be that incarnational presence on the ground long after an initial distribution of nets has occurred.

Those same community health workers were also then in place when the Ebola epidemic struck so many Western African countries and we were positioned to make a difference because of the relationships we had already established.

And now, we are applying that same model to our disaster response through UMCOR – not sending in support, but nurturing local leadership to be the disaster response coordinator in places like Mozambique.    

 

Our Global Ministries Board of Directors only meets twice a year to evaluate and govern the work of the staff who do this ministry daily.   And in these past three days when I was in Atlanta, I learned that the biggest challenge and blessing facing our work today is Global Migration.  

65.3 million people today are forcibly living outside of their own country.  

65.3 million.

And while about a quarter of these are refugees fleeing from conflict in their homelands, we are also seeing increasing numbers of people who are being forced to migrate because of climate change.

One of our United Methodist communities in Fiji has been forced to leave their island home because of rising sea waters.  

Changing weather patterns contribute to droughts and immense hunger and poverty that cause others to flee.

But other severe weather events like hurricanes and cyclones are also increasing, both numerically and in strength, sending many from their homes.

So not only are we needing to listen to the people in local contexts, but we are also learning how to listen to the world around us and are positioning ourselves to be in place to respond and be proactive for the disasters that we know are coming that will impact our ministries.  

 

The work of Global Ministries is from everywhere, to everywhere.

The only question I have for you is… why do we leave it to the work of our missionaries?

Why are we not living out the gospel in our communities in the same way?

Because if our call is really from everywhere to everywhere, then we become aware of the reality that our neighborhood is a mission field, too.

Corey Fields writes, “today, in the attractional model, the church expects the opposite. We program and advertise and try to do just the right thing that will compel others to come to us as the stranger on our turf. It is the church that is to go, however, taking on the flesh of its local context. In the words of Lesslie Newbigin, “If the gospel is to be understood…it has to be communicated in the language of those to whom it is addressed.”  (http://soapboxsuds.blogspot.com/2013/05/taking-on-flesh-incarnational-theology.html )

Our neighborhood is filled with people from nations all across this world.  And it is filled with people who have been in the United States for generations, but for whom the good news of God has become a distant and unknown reality.  

Our churches need to learn more than we teach.

We need to listen more than we speak.

We need to go out into our neighborhoods more than we sit back and wait.

Like Paul, we need to start paying attention and figuring out how to speak in the languages of the people we encounter.

 

Because only by being present with our communities will we ever see how God is already present and how the people of this place live, move, and exist in God.

 

From everywhere… to everywhere… God is present, God is living, God is breathing new life and hope.

 

Scattering Fear and Gloom

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Easter Sunday is a rollercoaster of emotions.

We felt that as we began worship today… instead of starting with the joy of the resurrected Christ, we began with the despair felt by Mary and the disciples because their Lord and Teacher was no longer with them.

You see, for the disciples, Easter morning began with a hopeless situation.

It began with fear of the unknown.

It began with the gloom of death.  

When I wrestled with what I should preach about this morning, I couldn’t help but think about all of the hopelessness and fear and gloom in this world. 

I hear it in the halls of this church, and around our dinner tables… in the grocery store, the halls of work or school… all of the varied and sundry places that we gather in our lives.  

We worry about family who just can’t seem to get their act together.

We struggle with illness or money in our personal lives.

We watch the evening news and everything seems wrong with the world.

After a while, the daily grind starts to take its toll and we become numb to all of that stuff around us. We find ourselves settling into the rut and start to believe that this is just the way it’s going to be.

The violence of the world almost ceases to phase us.  What is a crucified Savior when another bombing in Syria has taken lives?  Another shooting at a school last week?  Another gun related death in our city?     

We can barely keep ourselves abreast of the human rights violations occurring across our planet as war-torn countries continue to destroy the lives of innocent men, women and children. So many of these places of conflict feel utterly hopeless and without end.   It seems that no matter what we do, or maybe because of what we do, new groups and new people spring up to fight, instead of searching for ways to work together and to rebuild lives.

 

In our gospel reading this morning, Mary goes to the tomb and she is not going with expectant hope. She is going to bring spices and oil and to continue to prepare his body for burial.

You see, Jesus was laid in the tomb just before sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath Day and so the women did not have enough time to properly lay him to rest.

As the sun rose on this Easter morning, Mary Magdelene went to the tomb to mourn, to pray, and to say her good-byes.

She was someone who desperately loved Jesus. He was her Teacher and her Master. He offered her new life and a brand new beginning when he cleansed the demons from her life. And ever since that time, she had followed him faithfully. Then, in one fell swoop, everything that she had begun to put her trust into was taken away.

Her Lord was gone.

The disciples who followed him had scattered and those who remained were hiding out in fear of the Jewish authorities.

Mary had no one to turn to and nowhere to go.

The only thing she knew to do was go to that tomb and rehearse a ritual practiced by Jewish women for centuries. She would go to the tomb to honor Jesus and to mourn for him properly.

 

But as our scriptures this morning remind us, when she arrived, everything was in disarray!

The stone was rolled back and her Master was nowhere to be found!

His body was gone!

Desperately, she ran to the house of one of the disciples for she knew that some of them would be there…

They have taken away his body! She cried out….

They have taken him and I don’t know where they have laid him!

Two of the disciples, run back to the tomb with her and find her story to be true. They enter and find the burial clothes there also, neatly folded and placed on the stone. They know that something has happened… but none of them really knows what it means.

 

Mary, in the midst of all of her desperation and mourning saw Jesus standing before her but did not recognize him. She couldn’t see the promise that was right before her eyes!

Jesus even called out to her, trying to scatter her fear and her gloom:

 “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”

As Mary stood in that garden weeping out of desperation she heard her Master call her voice. One moment of startling fear and overwhelming joy – a moment of holy awe – as the significance of what is seen – and what is unseen comes crashing in.

 

And Christ is calling out to us all the time, every day.

He asks us constantly what we are weeping for.

He longs to wipe away the tears from our eyes.

Jesus is Risen. Death could not hold him.

And if it cannot hold him, it cannot hold us.

All that Jesus said about life and death

all that was understood only as idea – as a concept – as a vision

is made real in that empty tomb and in that encounter in the garden.

 

The disciples and the women heard Jesus talk SO MANY TIMES about his death and resurrection and it just never sunk in.

They couldn’t understand the promise because they never believed it would happen.

So when Jesus shared his final meal with them on Thursday night they let him down and failed to remain faithful.

And when Christ was crucified on Friday afternoon, they were paralyzed by their unbelief and forgot the promises he made to them.

They couldn’t see past their own pain and fear and gloom to remember the promise!

The ancient promises from Isaiah:

“No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

 

And he wants us to see him, to recognize him as the Jesus who is alive – the Jesus who is risen – the Jesus who has the power to bring that new creation to bear on our lives.

But like Mary, our hearts are often so slow to believe, to trust, and to accept he is standing before us.

There are so many things in our lives that we could feel hopeless about:

Loved ones who die too young,

People who work away their lives for a wage that won’t pay the rent,

Hungry families… including the 55,000 people in Des Moines who don’t have enough food on their tables,

But the power of the Easter resurrection didn’t just bring Christ to life.

The power of the Easter resurrection took a rag tag bunch of disciples who barely knew their left from their right as far as following Jesus was concerned…. And turned them into apostles.

It turned these doubting, stammering, disobedient fools into the leaders of a movement that would transform the world!

When Christ rose from the dead, the Body of Christ that is the church was brought to life – a community was formed that would love and cherish and carry on the mission and the ministry of Christ!

Each and every single one of us is a living testimony to the power that Christ’s resurrection had on our world.

Each one of us is who we are today and is in this place this morning because those first disciples experienced the risen Christ.

And because that experienced so radically changed their lives that they had to tell others.

 

So what is this Easter morn?

It is God’s promise of a new day

It is God’s promise of a new life

It is God’s promise of a new world

coming to pass in our midst.

 Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him. And it will not hold us either.

 

Wherever in your heart there is weeping, Christ promises to turn your tears into laughter.

Jesus is risen! Death could not hold him!

And the forces that tear us apart in this world will not defeat him either!

Christ has risen!

And we… as the body of Christ, in this time and in this place… are called to continually live our lives as a beacon of that promise!

We are called to visit the sick and those who mourn and pray for healing in this life or the next.  

We are called to work for those who are struggling and help to create a better way.

We are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

We are called to welcome the stranger and the outcast, the person who is not like you: 

whether that means they were born here or not,

an NRA member or fighting to limit guns,

someone who wants sidewalks in their community or doesn’t,

whatever the color of their skin or whomever they love. 

 

You and I… because of the reality of what we experience this morning… are called to go forth and scatter the forces of fear and gloom in the world.

We are to find small ways to live out and practice the resurrection power in our world today.

Christ is risen!

Let us crown him the lord of Life, the Lord of Peace and the Lord of Love

and may we believe in his power to truly transform our lives.

Amen.

Winter is Over!

Before our Christmas traditions took hold, there were other festivals in the northern hemisphere among folks who were tucked in for winter.  The crops had been harvested and stored, the work was done, and they celebrated…  But in one of the pieces I read this advent from a writer named Gayle Boss,  I was a reminded about a truth in those celebrations: “No matter how glad the party, they couldn’t keep from glancing at the sky… Each day throughout the fall they watched the light dwindle, felt the warmth weaken.  It made them anxious, edgy… When they had eaten up the crop they were fasting on, how would another crop grow?  Throughout December, as the sun sank and sank to its lowest point on their horizon, they felt the shadow of primal fear – fear for survival – crouching over them.”

I don’t know if there are any Game of Thrones fans here this morning, but one of the mottos of one of these houses is “Winter is Coming.” 

It is a reminder that dark and difficult times are ahead.  It is an echo of that primal fear of a long winter.  It is the sentiment that says nothing good happens after midnight.

It is the dread that overcame the people of Narnia as the White Witch took over power.  Her cold power overwhelmed the land and even her touch would turn people to ice and stone. 

The land of Narnia came to be known as the place where it was always winter, but never Christmas. 

And in that place, hope can be hard to find.  Anxiety grows.  Fears are plenty. 

 

The people of Narnia thought that winter might last forever.  Many thought they would never see Christmas. 

And yet some clung to the promises, the hopes, the prophecies to sustain them through the long, dark, cold nights. 

Folks like Mr. and Mrs. Beaver waited, they longed, they believed that Aslan would return to Narnia and that four children would sit on the throne and bring a reign of peace.

 

What I love about the “Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is that there are glimpses of the end of the witches power… the end of winter… long before Aslan ever appears in the story.

 The hospitality of even enemies like Mr. Tumnus.

The snow begins to thaw. 

Flowers start to bloom.

Father Christmas shows up to equip the children with the tools they will need in the upcoming battle.  

Aslan is near and winter is already disappearing.

 

A few days ago, the season of winter technically began in our part of the world.  The winter solstice marks the turning of the seasons and on that longest night, that darkest day, winter began.

And you know,  it was in the dark… At about midnight last night… or this morning… whichever you want to call it, that our Christmas Eve service wrapped up. 

And in the darkness, in the quiet stillness, in the bleak midwinter, something amazing happened. 

We welcomed Jesus into our lives. 

We proclaimed Hallelujah and celebrated the good news of Jesus birth. 

In that hour and season that represents the height of our fears, where nothing good is supposed to happen.  

 

My colleague Melissa Meyers wrote last night about that phrase, but then she went on to list all sorts of blessings of midnight: 

“Midnight is pregnant with possibilities… just waiting to be birthed…

Midnight gives you a chance to start over …

Midnight gives you an opportunity to forgive that person who has wronged you…

Midnight gives you the opportunity to ask for forgiveness…

Midnight gives you the possibility of something new…

Midnight is not the darkness, but a reminder that the dark doesn’t last forever”

 

Midnight is not the darkness, but a reminder that the dark doesn’t last forever. 

 

And it’s not only midnight… it is right now, in this cold, dark, time when everything else is stripped away and seems lost and full of fear that we actual glimpse the most profound sign of hope .

That longest night of the year… this season of cold and reflection and barren earth… it is not the darkness either, but a reminder that the dark will not last forever.

It is in that amazing moment when all seems the darkest, the coldest, the loneliest, that God creeps into our lives, our world, our hearts. 

The beginning of the winter season is actually the moment when the light begins to return to the sky.

It is the moment the days grow longer.

 

Gayle Boss reflects upon this, she notes that “to their and our abiding fear of a dark ending, the Church spoke of an advents: a coming.  Faith proclaimed, When life as we know it goes, this year and at the end of all years, One comes, and comes bringing a new beginning.”

Every midnight is a new beginning.

Every year end is a new beginning.

Every time winter begins with the solstice and the longest night, the reality is that the days are already growing longer. 

Winter is not coming. 

Winter is already over.

The power of cold and death and barrenness cannot remain. 

The White Witch is defeated before the battle has even begun in the land of Narnia.

 

Heidi Haverkamp writes in the reflections we have been reading this Advent and Christmas season that the power of the White Witch was “foiled by the faith and perseverance of a group of otherwise small and humble creatures who have been surviving under her tyranny… Their watching and waiting have prepared the way for Aslan’s coming.”

 

Today, we proclaim that God has come near. 

We celebrate that the Christ Child has entered our human lives to wipe away the despair and fear, the hatred and sin. 

But like those people of Narnia… although we know that winter is already over… although we know that in God’s time the powers of this world have already been defeated… still the final battle has yet to be fought.

We wait… still.

We hope… still.

We long… still.

Waiting for the final victory of Jesus.  Waiting for the second coming of our Lord. 

And living every single day as if the powers of this world cannot hold our hearts. 

 

As Melissa Meyers wrote in the wee hours of the night:

“Midnight is not the end of the story, but only the beginning…

Midnight invites you into the story of resistance, subversion, radical inclusion, and peace…

Midnight brings us a thrill of hope as the weary world rejoices…

Midnight births a King of Kings that changes the world in ways that we continue to discover…

Midnight brings to us the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Emmanuel… “

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

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. 

Practice These Things…

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Last week, we broke bread in spite of our differences.

We shared at the table of the Lord with people who would vote differently than us and with some who would not or could not vote at all.

And we touched [will touch] the waters of baptism and remember our baptism in Christ and that we are all children of God.

And we did so because our heritage… our inheritance as a church… our tradition as people of God… is to overcome any division among us.

Paul exemplified this in the way he gave thanks for the Gentiles in Ephesus… in spite of the vast sea of differences between them.

 

In today’s scripture reading, Paul is writing to a different community… to the people of Philippi in Greece.

This, too, was a diverse community, and one of the interesting features is that there were many descendants of Roman army veterans living there.

 

Later on this morning, we will share together in a potluck meal and celebrate and honor our veterans… all of those who have faithfully served our country, who sacrificed in countless ways for us.  Every step of the way, they put the rights, the lives, the needs of other people above their own.

 

I believe that self-giving spirit… that spirit of love that would cause someone to lay down their life for another person… is part of what has made our country great.  We don’t sit back when people are in need, but we show up.  We have showed up to fight back tyrants and dictators, oppression and evil… and not always because it was on our doorstep, but because it was on the doorsteps of others.

 

All throughout the letter to the Philippians, you can see that kind of self-giving spirit we honor in our veterans.  Practice these things… practice that holy, radical, sacrificial love… Paul writes.

And yet, the context of Philippi was very different.  This was the site, if you appreciate history, where Brutus and Cassius were finally defeated by the armies of Marc Antony.  And much of the land was taken away from the original inhabitants and given to the soldiers and their families as a reward.

 

This was a place of division, dislocation, and disparity and the gospel of Jesus Christ took root in the people who were the most vulnerable in this community.

For some, everything had been taken away from them:  their citizenship, their land… everything that made them who they were.

Until they found their identity in Christ.

And as Paul writes this letter of encouragement to these displaced people, that identity, that love, that faith is what he reminds them of over and over again.

 

In chapter 3 he writes:  “All these things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ.  But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”

 

These are not empty words of someone who had privilege… as Paul was.  As a Roman citizen, he had rights that many of them had just recently lost and this might have felt like salt thrown onto open wounds…

Except, Paul really did let go of all of his power and privilege for the sake of the gospel.

This letter is being written from a jail cell – because Paul is awaiting trial for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

He is living out with his very life every word he writes on the page… including the call to “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.  When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (2:5-8)

Practice these things…

In every part of this letter, Paul reminds the church at Philippi to put others ahead of themselves.  To love fiercely, in spite of what might happen.  To overcome conflict and difference, anger and fear.

 

And friends, that’s not easy.

When there are deep divisions in a community it is easy to hunker down with people who are like-minded, to grumble and argue, to weep and be overcome with discouragement or to hold our victories over one another.

But Paul tells us to be grateful.

Paul tells us to rejoice.

Paul tells us to let love reign in our hearts.

The key to unity we heard last week… the key to overcoming division… is gratitude for the people who are different than us.

It is echoed all throughout this letter, too.

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.  Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.”  (2:2-4)

And in our scripture this morning, from the Message translation:

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. (4:4-5)

 

Friends, I need you to know that there is real pain and fear across this nation right now.

There have been acts of hate and violence and aggression in our communities and neighborhoods.  And in this neighborhood, there are families who fear they will be separated and there are people who have been targeted because of their gender, or sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity, or even because of the clothes they are wearing.  I cannot and will not utter the hateful and horrendous words that have been used to diminish the value of our neighbors.

There have also been acts of violence as a part of generally peaceful protests and marches.

 

So I need you to know that I am not calling for a unity that blissfully ignores conflict.

Paul is not calling for a unity that ignores the trials and tribulations of our brothers and sisters and siblings OR neglects truth-telling and accountability.

Paul is in prison because he refused to be silent… because he challenged the powers-that-be with the radical love and gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

No, the type of unity Paul speaks of is a unity of resistance against the forces of this world that seek death, division, oppression, and hatred.

Paul calls us to “be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt.  Among these people you shine like stars in the world because you hold on to the word of life.”   (2:15-16)

Stand firm in your faith, in spite of your enemies.

Be united in love and compassion.

Be united against injustice.

Be united against hateful rhetoric.

Be united in protection of the most vulnerable.

Put into practice all that we have learned from Paul – and won’t worry about it, don’t be paralyzed by fear, but lift up petitions and supplications and praises to God.

As Paul writes to the people of Phillipi:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse… (4:8)

So let me close by telling you a story… a first-hand account from a Muslim woman:

Yesterday my husband and I attended a football game, it was Duhur time and we needed to pray.

Finding a place to pray at a football stadium is tough, but we managed to find an empty corner.

I was a bit nervous to pray because it wasn’t private at all, particularly in front of everyone, maybe i’m silly but i’m always paranoid i will get attacked while focused in prayer. My husband started praying and i get approached by stadium security.

I thought in my head, here comes this guy, he’s gonna escort me out and tell us we can’t do this here.

I was wrong…

he came up to me and said “i am going to stand here and guard you guys to make sure nobody gives you any problems, go ahead and pray.”

He allowed us to pray and stood in front guarding us to make sure we are safe. When i finished he came up to us shook our hands and told us to enjoy the game.

The key to unity… the key to overcoming division… is gratitude for the people who are different than us.

The key to unity is to listen with grateful ears the stories of another person… even if it is a story of hurt and fear and pain… it is holding open spaces for people when they are scared… standing by their side when they are in pain.

The key to unity is to seek out someone who is different from you and to tell your story – even if it causes conflict BECAUSE we are grateful they are part of our community and because we want to continue to be in relationship with them.

The key to unity is to practice what is good and true and holy… putting others before yourself and giving thanks to God that they are in your life…

May it be so.

 

 

A Different Kind of Proof

A man named Bob Ebeling thought he was a loser.

Mr. Ebeling was an engineer on the Challenger Space Shuttle and discovered that the O-ring seals in the rocket might not hold up in the cold temperatures of the 1986 launch.

He and fellow engineers pleaded with NASA to stop the launch, but they decided to go ahead anyways.

He went home, knowing the shuttle would explode. “And it did, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died.” (NPR 2/25/2016)

In an interview with National Public Radio, Mr. Ebeling shared that for thirty years has been carrying the guilt and the burden of the loss of life on that day.

Lots of people told him that it wasn’t his fault…

That he had done everything he could…

But he couldn’t forgive himself.

He believed one of the mistakes God made was picking him for the job.

And because NASA and the contractor in charge of the launch had never given him confirmation that he had done the right thing, he didn’t believe it.

 

What fascinates me about this story is that Mr. Ebeling did the right thing. He told the truth. He did everything he could to prevent the launch. And after his story first aired in January of this year, calls and letters poured in to his home. People who had been close to him. People who had worked with him. Complete strangers who had been moved to write and let him know that he wasn’t a loser, but a hero.

And yet, he wouldn’t believe… he couldn’t forgive himself…

Unless there was a specific act of proof – a call or a letter from NASA themselves.

 

I hear in his story the same kind of need to know and to find proof that I hear in our gospel lesson this morning.

Women trek to the tomb are the break of dawn. And they have no idea what to make of the stone rolled away. The body of their Lord is no longer there. What they are experiencing doesn’t make any sense until the angels appear and remind them what Jesus had told them: that on the third day, he would rise. And they remember.

Can you imagine their amazement?

They rush back to the disciples and tell everyone about what they have discovered. They tell them about the tomb. They tell the crowd: He Is Risen!!!!

And no one believes them.

They need proof.

They need something more concrete.

They need to see it to believe it.

 

And so Peter runs to the tomb himself, looks inside, and sees nothing but a cloth.

And the scripture says… he returned home, wondering at what had happened

But what I find amazing is that this account leaves out a key detail:  It never says he believes.

And I think if I had showed up there, I would have been surprised and amazed, but I’m not sure I would totally understand what had happened.

I think he was unsure.

Filled with doubt and questions.

He didn’t have enough proof to believe that what the ladies had told him was true.

Unless there was a specific act of proof…

 

Friends, it isn’t easy to believe the story that we share with you this morning.

Resurrection? Yeah, right.

We haven’t seen it or experienced it.

We can’t go back in time and run to the tomb ourselves.

Angels aren’t popping in to worship this morning to tell us how it is.

If even the disciples had a hard time believing, how are we supposed to understand this good news?

Where is the proof? Where is the concrete evidence?

 

Mr. Ebling wanted a word from specific people in order to forgive himself.

And he got it. He got a call on the phone from one of the vice presidents for the contractor, Thiokol who told Mr. Ebling – you did all that you could do. (NPR)

And George Hardy, a NASA official involved in the Challenger loss wrote to Mr. Ebeling – “You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you.”

And it started to make a difference.

And then came a statement from NASA itself: “We honor [the Challenger astronauts] not through bearing the burden of their loss, but by constantly reminding each other to remain vigilant… and to listen to those like Mr. Ebeling who have the courage to speak up so that our astronauts can safely carry out their missions.”

That was it. That was the thing he wanted to see and hear. The proof he needed to let go of his burden of guilt.

 

The disciples wanted to see it with their own eyes… to touch their Rabbi with their own fingers.

And Jesus appeared to them.

He showed them his hands and feet. He ate a piece of fish with them. He personally reminded them of everything he had said – that he was supposed to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.

They got the proof they wanted.

 

But there is something that those disciples didn’t quite understand…

something that Mr. Ebeling didn’t quite understand…

something that we don’t quite understand whenever we are looking for a specific piece of proof or evidence… something concrete to demonstrate truth.

 

Yes, Jesus gives them the proof they wanted – he shows them his physical resurrected self – but the proof they needed was still to come.

Jesus isn’t there to show them his body. He is there to send them forth to live out his message.

“A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending you to what my Father promised.”

 

What if we have it all wrong?

We always say, “seeing is believing.”

But what if DOING is believing?

 

What if in the very act of living out the resurrection and the good news of Jesus Christ we find the proof we are looking for?

What if we are looking for proof instead of living out the proof with our very selves?

 

You see, Jesus, didn’t ask us to intellectually understand the resurrection.

He didn’t ask us to be able to explain it scientifically.

He doesn’t want us to have a philosophical debate with people about it.

Jesus wants us to live it.

To change our hearts and our lives.

To go out in the world and turn it upside down.

He started a resurrection insurrection and Jesus rebelled against the powers of evil, sin and death… and now he calls us to follow him in turning the forces of destruction on their heads.

It is in the process of living it, that we discover just how true and real the power of the resurrection is.

 

Over the last few weeks here at church we have been reading this book, Renegade Gospel. And it hasn’t been an easy book. The author has challenged us time and time again to get out there and live our faith!!!

That has been a hard message to swallow, because so many of us feel like we aren’t doing as much as Mike Slaughter asks of us. We feel guilty because we don’t go as far as he asks us to go. We aren’t sure we are ready to give it our all.

But what Slaughter reminds us in the very last chapter is “that an abundance of faith is not necessary.” Jesus told the disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed could change the world. “It’s not about how much faith you have, but how much of what you have that you commit to action.”

You don’t have to believe every single word of the gospel to live out the power of resurrection.

You can have all kinds of doubts and questions and you can still live out the power of the resurrection.

 

I’m begging you… don’t sit back, waiting for definitive concrete proof before you decide to become a Christian.

I’m not sure it’s there.

But what I do know is that when I live out my teeny tiny little mustard seed faith and trust in the power of resurrection, I find intangible, mysterious, holy truth everywhere.

I find it in this room when I hear the stories of healing in this life and in the celebration of a life that will continue in the next.

I find in in a letter I received from one of you this very morning that describes how you have awakened to a new understanding of faith and discipleship.

I find it at the food pantry in the hope that comes to life on the face of a mom who was desperate.

I find it in the pile of goods and sleeping bags and food that are outside the sanctuary, waiting to be delivered to homeless people through Joppa.

I find it in the discovery on a child’s face when they learn a new word.

 

Mike Slaughter writes that “the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to his followers in a very personal and real way. But he made clear its impossible to know him apart from the commitment to become intimately involved in his life and mission. Intentional participation in his life and mission is part and parcel of faith. Faith is a verb!!!”

So friends, don’t wait for proof.

Don’t spend thirty years of your life waiting for some kind of external validation.

Just follow Jesus.

Go where he sends us.

Join the incredible movement to transform this world!

Live it out by showing forgiveness and grace to every person you meet.

Live it out by praying for the sick.

Live it out by loving the unloveable.

Live it out by holding the hand of someone who is dying.

And you will find the proof you are looking for…

Because Christ is risen!

See(k)ing Jesus

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I’m sometimes asked what the difference is between Christians who are out there serving people in the world and regular, ordinary people, who are out there serving.

So many of our businesses here in Des Moines are great proponents of volunteerism. Every time we go to a Meals from the Heartland event, or collect stuff for the food pantries or the schools I hear about Wells Fargo or Principal or Hy-Vee doing the same sort of thing.

Is there anything different about the character or the content of what we do as people of faith?

Most days, if we are honest, probably not.

Should there be?

Absolutely.

But what is it?

 

Mother Teresa was once showing a bishop the community she served. It is said that she asked the bishop, “Would you like to see Jesus?”   She then took him around a few corners to a man laying on a leather pallet who had clearly visible things crawling on his body. The bishop stood there in shock, but Mother Teresa knelt down and wrapped her arms around him, holding him like a baby in her arms.

“Here he is,” she said.   To which the bishop replied – “Who?”

“Jesus” was her answer. “Didn’t he say you’d find me in the least person on earth? Isn’t this Jesus challenging us to reach out and love?” (wright-house.com/religions/Christianity/mother-teresa.html)

 

Seek and you will find.

That is what our gospel reading says.

Or as Michael Slaughter reminds us in “Renegade Gospel” – the passage uses the present continuous tense… Ask and keep on asking… Seek and keep on seeking…

 

The bishop wasn’t looking for Jesus and couldn’t see him in the suffering of the man on the pallet. But Mother Teresa was. She was looking for him every day. She was seeking Jesus every day. She knew that in every moment she was serving, she was doing it to Jesus.

 

Seek and keep on seeking and you will find.

The problem is, we aren’t always paying attention to Jesus.

 

I think one of the fundamental differences between Judas Iscariot and Mary in our other gospel text this morning is that the first was focused on himself and the second was seeking Jesus.

As _________ shared with us this morning, Jesus and the disciples were with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. And in the midst of the gathering, Mary takes this extravagantly expensive bottle of nard and anoints Jesus feet with the ointment.

This story itself appears in different ways in different texts.

In some cases the woman is unnamed, in another she is Mary Magdelene, and here she is identified as a different Mary.

In Matthew and Mark, the story comes earlier in the timeline and the woman anoints his head – a prophetic act that symbolizes his kingship.

But here, H. Stephen Shoemaker points out, that she anoints his feet, which would signal instead his imminent death. She, unlike the disciples, unlike Judas or Peter, had already accepted the true meaning of his teaching- that he was about to die. (Feasting on the Word)

There Jesus was, in the flesh, right in front of both of them.

 

Seek and keep on seeking and you will find.

 

But the gospel of John points out that Judas was so focused on that bag of money and his own selfish interests that he wasn’t even paying attention to Jesus.

Mary, on the other hand…

Mary sees Jesus in front of her, plain as day. She sees the suffering he is about to undergo. She sees his fear and pain. She sees his holiness.

Mary knew that this might be the last time she saw Jesus before he made the final trip to Jerusalem.

She knew their time together was short.

And she knew she could do this one thing for him. She anoints his feet in an act of worship showing her love and reverence for him. That was all that mattered.

 

When I heard that story about Mother Teresa, embracing the man who was suffering, I thought of Mary and Jesus. The tenderness of the physical touch. The dignity bestowed. The compassion and love that were offered through the embrace.

Love is costly.

Whether it is expensive perfume or the risk of embracing a diseased stranger, love is costly.

To use a word we shared last week – love is prodigal.

It is extravagant and sometimes appears wasteful. It is overwhelming and too much. And sometimes, by its very nature, it is immensely temporary.

In his reflection on this text, William Carter notes:

“Lots of extravagant gifts are put into the air, where they soon evaporate. A church choir labors to prepare and intricate anthem, and three minutes later it is gone. The teacher prepares the lesson, stands to deliver, and then the class is adjourned. Mourners provide large arrangements of flowers to honor those whom they grieve. Saints donate large sums of money for their congregations to spend. Why do they do this? Love has its reasons.” (Feasting on the Word)

 

Where Judas saw wastefulness and a hit on his personal pocketbook, Mary saw an opportunity to pour out extravagant love to her Lord and Savior.

Even his excuse – Hey! We could have spent this money on the poor – comes off as a limited perspective. For Jesus, in turn, quotes from Deuteronomy 15:

“Give generously to needy persons. Don’t resent giving to them because it is this very thing that will lead to the Lord your God’s blessing you in all you do and work at. Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.”

 

And what I can’t help but hear in his response is the reminder that while Mary had the opportunity to pour out extravagant, generous love to Jesus in that moment, in just a few weeks, he would be gone.

And then, their responsibility, OUR responsibility, is to pour out that same extravagant love to the poor in our midst.

Give generously.

But you see, Jesus changes the dynamics of that exchange.

Because, now, it is not simply because it is a command from God on high.

Now, we do so, now we give and love and get down on our hands and knees to serve because whatever we do for the least of these, our brothers and sisters, we are doing it for Jesus.

 

That, friends, is the fundamental difference that we can offer the world.

We can love our neighbors as we would love Jesus, himself, present in front of us.

As we serve the homeless here in Des Moines – and a group is going out to do just that with Joppa this afternoon – you can serve them as you would serve Jesus.

As Slaughter writes in chapter four, “When Jesus walked Planet Earth, everyone could see him in the flesh – friends, followers, and foes. We no longer have that opportunity. Now that Jesus’ physical presence is removed, the world can no longer see him, but we can. Those who are born of the Spirit are able to experience and see him today. When we ask, seek, and knock in expectation, we find what we are looking for.” (p. 82)

 

Seek and keep on seeking and you will find Jesus right in front of you.

 

Too often, we miss out on the opportunity to truly love extravagantly because we are too focused on ourselves.

Or because we are going through the motions.

Or because we simply aren’t paying attention… because we don’t realize Jesus is right in front of us.

 

The world can no longer see him… so they do good deeds and they serve their neighbors and think nothing of it.

But friends, the essential character of HOW we serve is different, because when we look into the eyes of someone who is sick or dying or struggling, we don’t see an opportunity to do good… we can see Jesus.

 

When did you see Jesus?

When did YOU last see Jesus Christ?

When did you interact with him?

When did you hold his hand?

When did you share a meal with him?

When did you visit him?

When did you offer him a cup of water?

 

And when you saw him… how did you show your gratitude and love to him?

Prodigal Rabbi

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A couple of weeks ago, Trevor and I were at a workshop about how we change our thinking in the church from membership to discipleship.

We talk a lot about membership. We are preparing our confirmation students to become members. We are about to have a new member class. And it’s almost like once you cross that magical membership threshold, then that’s it. You’ve done it. You have reached the peak of your faith journey.

And that’s because we don’t have a process in place to help all of us continue to grow in our faith beyond that point.

So in this workshop, we talked about making the shift to discipleship as our primary focus. A life-long journey of following Jesus.

 

But what does it really mean to be a disciple?

 

Rob Bell shares in his video series Nooma what it really meant to be a disciple in Jesus’ time.

He describes how most little Jewish boys and girls would have been instructed in the Torah – the first five books of the bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And by the age of 10, they would have memorized the Torah. They would know it by heart.

When they got to about 10, many of these boys and girls would then go and learn their family trade, but the best of the group would continue to the second level – where they would spend four or five years learning and memorizing the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. Joshua through Malachai.

And at the age of 14- or 15, many more of these students would learn the trade of their families, but the best of the best would try to continue on and would seek out a rabbi and apply to be one of their disciples. “A disciple just doesn’t want to know what the rabbi knows. A disciple wants to be like the rabbi and wants to learn to do what the rabbi does.”

When you went to seek out one of these rabbis, they would grill you and find out what you knew because the rabbi wants to know if you had what it takes to follow them, to be like them. And many would be turned down. Only the best of the best of the best were invited to come and follow that rabbi. And you would leave EVERYTHING behind – your family, their trade, your home and village – and you would devote your entire life to being like your rabbi, learning to do what your rabbi does. This is what it means to be a disciple.

 

But, something shifts when Jesus comes around.

In Luke’s gospel, he goes out and calls his first disciples and they aren’t the best of the best of the best.

They are fishermen.

They are young men who went back home to practice the family trade after the first or second level of education.

Jesus isn’t seeking the best of the best of the best.

Jesus doesn’t think that you have to be the smartest or wisest or most clever person in order to follow him and be his disciple.

He thinks that Simon Peter and James and John and Levi and all of those ordinary people have what it takes to be his disciple… to learn from him… to know what he knows… to do what he does.

 

I think it starts to make a whole lot more sense for me, knowing this, why the Pharisees were so mad at Jesus.

Because many of those Pharisees were rabbis; those who accepted the best of the best of the best to be their disciples.

And they looked around and saw Jesus hanging out with the riff-raff. With the not-good-enoughs. With the nobodies. And in that sense, Jesus was giving their profession a bad name!

They saw him taking his gifts and his knowledge and wasting them by giving them to just anybody. Instead of calling the best of the best of the best, Jesus was calling the least and the last and the lost. They thought he was recklessly wasteful and extravagantly generous.

 

I used those words when I first arrived at Immanuel to describe Jesus.

It was a sermon on the parable of the sower – who scattered seed wherever he went, without regard for whether or not it would grow. I remember some of you gasped in shock as I started throwing sunflower seeds all over the front of the chancel area!

And that day, I used the word “prodigal” to describe that sower. Because to be “prodigal” means to be recklessly wasteful and extravagantly generous.

 

It is the same word used in our gospel lesson for this morning.

The prodigal son is recklessly wasteful and throws away his father’s fortune … but that same word can also be used to describe the father who welcomes him back home. If we continued just a few verses in the story, the older son is upset at the prodigal nature of his father’s love for this lost and useless brother.

The dad in this story is filled with compassion when his boy returns home. He runs out and surrounds him with love. He gives the boy the best of what he has. He kills the fatted calf. He is extravagantly generous, pouring out love and grace and forgiveness in his rejoicing.

 

In fact, all three of these parables about the lost things – the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son – are reminders about the lengths God will go in order to demonstrate love for us.

They are reminders about the extravagant, reckless, wasteful, abundant grace and mercy of our God.

A God who loves us so much, we were given the Torah, the law, the teaching to guide our way.

A God who loves us so much, the prophets were sent to call us back into relationship with God – over and over and over again.

A God who loves us so much, that God became one of us, walked among us, taught us, and called us to follow.

 

Our God doesn’t care if you are the best of the best. Our God doesn’t care about your background or age. Our God doesn’t care about your skills.

Our God looks at you and sees infinite worth and potential.

Our Jesus, our Prodigal Savior, looks at you and is willing to give up everything to seek you out and find you.

Our Rabbi looks at you and thinks – you can do what I can do… you can be like me.

 

And so Jesus invited those disciples… and now us… to follow in his footsteps… to be covered in the dust of our rabbi… to set everything aside and become like Jesus.

As Michael Slaughter puts it in chapter 3 of Renegade Gospel:

“When I confess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, I commit to follow Jesus in a lifestyle of sacrificial service, walking in the dust of my Rabbi. Whatever my Rabbi values, I value. Whatever my Rabbi thinks about God, I think about God. Whatever my Rabbi thinks about people, I think about people… I act like my Rabbi, talk like my Rabbi, love like my Rabbi, and give my life away for my Rabbi’s mission.”

 

You may have noticed around this building the signs for this “Renegade Gospel” study we are doing, and it includes the quote – Jesus didn’t come to start a religion.

Well, I think today, we are reminded that Jesus didn’t come to make members of Immanuel United Methodist Church.

In fact, our mission as a church has nothing to do with membership… we have said clearly that we are called to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”

Jesus came to invite people like you and me – ordinary, everyday people – to come and follow him.

Jesus came to invite the least and the last and the lost into a lifelong relationship with him.

Jesus came to invite us to grow more like him every day.

To love more like him every day.

To forgive more like him every day.

To turn this world upside down and transform it with God’s power every day.

And we are empowered to keep working toward the day when we don’t simply know what Jesus knows, but we do what he does.

That’s what this place is for. We are a community of disciples, trying to be more like Jesus every single day.

We are a community of disciples, gathered to be re-energized and strengthened to go out into the world, and live, in Christ, a life of love, service, and prayer. Amen.