Drop Kick Me, Jesus

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Yesterday after the Iowa – Iowa State game, Chad Leistikow wrote that it was a game “neither team deserved to lose.” [1] You all know I’m a huge Iowa Hawkeye football fan… but I am also the sort of fan who loves to cheer on Iowa State or UNI or any other Iowa team, as long as they aren’t playing the Hawkeyes. But the game yesterday was the sort of game where you were really happy that neither team beat themselves. Sure they both made mistakes, but none they couldn’t overcome. It was a great game.

There was another rivalry game this weekend. Creston/Orient-Macksburg were on the road verses their conference opponent Harlan. This week, five Creston players were kicked off the team after posing in a KKK style image with hoods and a burning cross. The community, including their African-American quarterback, Kylan Smallwood was stunned… he thought of those kids as teammates and friends. One of the families issued a statement – “We sincerely apologize for the hurt and strive we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior… Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.” [2]

The community is only beginning to respond in a way that allows for conversation and healing in the midst of the tension they expereince, although it is yet to be seen how that will play out. In some ways, Friday night’s football game was a chance to return to “normalcy” for a moment, but the real work is just beginning. It will take that whole community, standing up against racism, demonstrating repentance and forgiveness for healing to truly take place. But even a football game can show a glimpse of hope. In an act of solidarity, the Harlan marching band turned towards the Creston fans and played their opponents fight song. It was a reminder that whatever happened on the field Friday night was just a game and really, we are all supposed to be on the same team.

My friend, Laura, is a pastor in Ohio and she is a huge Buckeyes fan. After a frustrating loss last night, she posted on her facebook wall that her faith has given her a different set of lenses to view such heartache. Football is only football. “It is not oppressions, hunger, disease, poverty, devastation, or in this moment hurricane force winds. Keep perspective Buckeye nation.” [3]

Keep perspective, Immanuel.

Because Laura is right. Football is fun and exciting and we all enjoy giving one another a hard time, but we are here to play a different sort of game.

As we heard in our scripture reading this morning, we are called to follow Jesus and to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. As the Message Bible updates this passage in every day language:
“Start running – and never quit!… Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever… When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long list of hostility he plowed through. THAT will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Here at Immanuel, we do believe that God has given us a race to run. For over five years now, that vision has been to “In Christ, live a life of love, service, and prayer.”
Like tackling, passing, and running in football are the basic skills that players must learn and practice, in many ways, love, service, and prayer are the basic moves we utilize in our faith. In everything we do, they help us to run the race of faith.

But one of the things that we have been talking about for more than a year now as the leadership here at Immanuel is that they don’t paint a picture of where we are going. They don’t tell us what the finish line looks like.
How will this church, how will this community, how will this world be different because we have been loving and serving and praying?
So last fall, our Administrative Council began praying and brainstorming with one another. We took the values and priorities that you as a church named in last year’s CAT Survey. We looked at our community demographics. We explored this history of Immanuel and the vast resources that the vision team had put together five years ago.
And today, we want to put some meat on the bones of this vision. If you look at the half sheet, you’ll notice that is still our vision, but we have fleshed it out a little bit.
We believe God is calling us to personally engage in and partner with our community as we live out this life of love, service, and prayer, so that broken people and places might be healed by God’s grace.
If love, service, and prayer are the basic skills that we each will employ, the goal… the endzone if you will, is that this community and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

As my friend, Laura said, there is a lot in this world that is broken.
Broken relationships can be seen all around us: in the partisan division, in racial tension, and in family strife.
Lots of people in this world also experience the pain of broken bodies – we are surviving and thriving in the midst of chronic disease, broken bones, addictions, and poor health.
And there are places that experience brokenness, too. This morning, we look out on the devastation caused by hurricanes and wildfires, but closer to home, we can see the impact of poverty and how our economic choices impact the environment around us.

We believe God has called us to love and serve and pray in each of these places.
We can help people heal relationships, reconcile, and learn to talk to one another again – like we did with our Cookouts and Conversations this summer and will do with the “My Neighbor is Muslim” study this fall.
We can be present with one another in the midst of pain and loneliness and isolation – like we will when we train folks from Immanuel to go out and visit our homebound seniors next week and like we do when we go out with Joppa to the check on the homeless.
And we can pool our resources to make a difference all across this world – whether it is through disaster relief and health kits, through donations to the food pantry, or through the Season of Creation organized by our Green Team.
God is calling you and me to love, serve, and pray… to practice those basic skills… so that God’s goals might be reached.
But basic skills alone will not help us get to the end zone.
In football, you put those things together in strategic plays. Those are the ministries of our church. Whether it is choir or children’s church, Ratatouille or Under the Bridge Casseroles, Re:Ignite or Men’s group… every activity we do, is aiming for that end zone and helping us to live out God’s mission in this church.

The other thing that I have learned after many disappointing seasons watching my favorite team is that in order to be successful and reach that end zone, every single player has to play every single quarter. And the coach needs a game plan that will help those players be successful.
If you flip to the back side of this sheet, you will find our game plan for ministry here at Immanuel. We can each practice our basic skills… but part of being on this journey together is that we should all be moving the same direction.
And as your pastors and your staff and your leadership, we think there are four different areas, four quarters of this game that we all have to play in if we are going to be successful.

  1. We need to worship together. If we don’t show up in this place to hear the story of God’s love and grace and to renew and strengthen each other, we will not reach the end zone.
  2. We need to connect with one another. We need to reach out in love and help one another out. We need to build relationship both inside and outside of this church.
  3. We all need to grow. Each one of us should be a part of a group that is helping us to grow in our faith and use our gifts and as we mature, we should be helping other people to grow in their faith as well.
  4. We need to go out into the world and serve. Through financial gifts, through hands-on mission, we can only help this world experience God’s grace if we get out of this building.

Friends, this is our game plan. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will live lives of love, service, and prayer and this world will experience God’s healing and wholeness.

And the best news is that we don’t have to do this alone.

There is this country gospel song called “Drop Kick Me, Jesus” by Bobby Bare and Paul Craft and it reminds me that God has our back in this work:

 

Make me, oh, make me, Lord, more than I am
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly temptations below
I’ve got the will, Lord, if you got the toe.

Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life
End over end, neither left nor the right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life

 

[1] http://www.hawkcentral.com/story/sports/college/iowa/football/2017/09/09/leistikows-first-word-hawkeyes-win-cy-hawk-classic-neither-team-deserved-lose/649140001/

[2] http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/sports/high-school/2017/09/09/creston-game-frayed-nerves-calls-unity-after-photo-students-white-hoods-confederate-flag-rocks-town/647639001/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/laurakennedyjaissle/posts/10154632317611986

Two Texts: Privilege and the Beloved Community

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In my life, I have been pulled over by a police officer perhaps half a dozen times.   One was for a broken taillight and the rest were for speeding.

Every single time, my heart rate rose and my palms got sweaty. I was nervous. I felt guilty. I knew I was in trouble.

But never, ever, did I fear for my life during a traffic stop.

Never have I ever felt unsafe in the presence of an authority figure.

And never, after one of those stops, have I received a ticket.

 

Contrast my story with that of a woman named Sandra Bland, who was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change on July 10 this summer.

Maybe her palms got sweaty. Maybe her heart rate started to rise. Maybe she was nervous or had feelings of guilt. Maybe she knew she was in trouble.

Maybe she feared for her life.

Maybe she felt unsafe in the presence of an authority figure.

Maybe her fight or flight instinct kicked in.

As the conversation between her and the officer escalated, Sandra Bland was arrested.

 

Will you pray with me.

Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds be holy and pleasing to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

 

Three days after Sandra Bland was pulled over for failing to signal when she changed lanes, she was found dead in her jail cell.

It was my first day back in the office after my renewal leave, and I decided that morning that I wanted to do this series in worship.

Because we live in world where I, a white woman, am pulled over for speeding and I am sent on my way without a ticket, and where another person, an African-American woman, is pulled over and ends up dead.

Maybe she took her own life. Maybe she was murdered.

I honestly have no idea. And I’m not sure that it matters, because either way, the result is the loss of her life.

And to be honest, I can’t know the heart of the arresting officer to know if he treated her differently based on the color of her skin.

The problem is, I have heard her story too many times.

In November of last year, Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble, our bishop, shared his story as part of lecture at Cornell College:

In 1974, when I was a second year college student, I, along with my younger brother James, went to visit our older brother in California. He lived near Palo Alto, California and was working for Hewlett Packard as a computer engineer.  While traveling to his apartment in his Volkswagen Beetle we were stopped by police who questioned my brother and asked for license and registration. Even though he produced his license, registration and work identification we were still told to exit the car with hands up. Additional squad cars arrived and with guns drawn on them, three young African American men were handcuffed and taken to jail. We remained handcuffed for about 45 minutes and were then released after being told that my brother’s car was not stolen but we looked out of place and suspicious driving in that community. My older brother, John, now a college professor, was, at the time of the incident, a graduate of Northwestern University and Stanford University. 1974 was a long time ago, but thousands of African Americans have similar stories.  A recent CNN special highlighted one college student in New York who had been stooped and frisked over 100 times. (http://iowabeencouraged.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2015-01-06T11:01:00-06:00&max-results=1&start=6&by-date=false)

What I do know is that this is not the regular experience of my white brothers and sisters.

What I do know is that this is not about conflict between African Americans and police officers. That might be one facet or symptom of what is going on, but that’s not what this is about.

 

We, all of us, have stopped seeing the image of God in the eyes of another person.

We have become comfortable in our own stories and situations, in our own class or race or gender, and we have stopped reaching beyond them to be in real relationship with other people.

We have started to believe that their lives don’t matter to us.

 

Perhaps Jesus saw this happening around him when he told a story to a man who would have been his disciple:

There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’ (Luke 10:30-35, MSG)

The priest decided that the life of this man didn’t matter.

He responsibilities to attend to and couldn’t defile himself.

The Levite decided that the life of this man didn’t matter.

He had an image to maintain.

They had other things to worry about.

They were special.

They were different.

And that man didn’t matter.

 

The Samaritans were mixed race people who were often thought of as lesser than their Jewish cousins. He would have been bound by the same rules as the priest and Levite when it came to touching a bleeding, dying man.

Yet the Samaritan stopped.

The Samaritan believed that this life… that every life… holds the image of God and is of sacred worth.

The Samaritan went out of their way to show love and care and mercy towards this person.

 

Privilege can be defined as a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed by someone beyond the advantages of most.

It can be defined as the position someone holds that exempts them from burdens or problems.

Privilege is always social. It describes our relationship to other people and how we are either the beneficiaries of that position, or we are the group that privileged status is being compared to.

 

Religious Privilege is being a Priest or a Levite instead of a Samaritan and feeling like you are immune from having to stop and check on the welfare of another human being.

Male Privilege is making 17% more money working the same job than your female counterparts.

Class Privilege is being able to choose to eat healthy food if you want, because you live in a neighborhood with grocery stores or you own transportation to get you there and back.

Ability Privilege means that as a healthy person, you don’t have to think about your daily pain level when planning activities and events.

Racial Privilege is getting a cut, opening the first aid kit, and the flesh-colored band-aid matches your skin tone.

 

And what we discover in this world is that we are never simply one of these things.

Some of us experience multiple advantages and privileges based upon who we are.

Some of us experience a mixture of them all.

Some of us find ourselves at the intersection of multiple social disadvantages and burdens.

 

Our world today is not the Beloved Community envisioned by Dr. King or the Kingdom of God lifted up by Jesus and described by Paul.

It is not a place where Jewish and Palestinian kids can go to school in peace.

It is not a world where transgender women and straight women experience the same judicial system.

This is not a country where black boys and white girls will grow up with the same opportunities.

And the biggest problem is that we who experience the advantages often don’t even realize the privileges we hold.

We are so caught up in our own experiences that we don’t see that of others.

Just this last week, I got an email from our Commission on Persons with Disabilities in our annual conference. In the process of planning annual conference worship, I tried hard to include people who spoke various languages, genders, ages, ethnicities… and the email was a gentle reminder that no one who led worship had a physical disability.

Privilege is looking up at the stage at annual conference or up in the front during worship and knowing that the person who is there looks or talks like you.

I know how important that is, because I remember when I looked up at the stage and saw a woman preaching and I thought… I could do this.

Yet, because of my social location, providing that same opportunity to someone who was differently abled didn’t even cross my mind.

But it does now.

 

In our video this morning, Bishop Warner Brown, the President of our Council of Bishops tells us that:

Hope occurs in the places where we meet people. It involves where people live, where they work, where they face the challenges of life.

Hope occurs in the places where we meet people who don’t look or talk or move like us.

Hope occurs when we let love and not fear rule our actions.

Hope occurs when we cross over the road to where we see someone who is at a disadvantage – whether they have been injured or oppressed or are struggling or are behind – and we stop to see the image of God in them.

Hope occurs when we shed our own privilege and step out of our comfort zones to meet someone where they are.

Hope occurs when we listen more than we speak about our life experiences.

 

As we hear in 1 John, chapter 4:

This is love… not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son to sacrifice his life for us.

And if God loves us in this way… so we should love one another in this way.

Love without fear.

Love without privilege.

Love without question.

Love.

Outside – In

Over the past eight months, I have learned a lot about the people of Immanuel UMC.  I had heard you were friendly and welcoming, hospitable and that this was a caring church, but those are really just words until you see them lived out in people’s lives.  And having a fresh set of eyes – an outsiders eyes – I want to share just a few things I’ve learned. I’ve learned that you are quick to show up at the bedside of a friend and have often have visited before either of us pastors hear someone is in the hospital or is sick. I’ve discovered the joy filled welcome that so many greeters offer to those who walk in the doors on Sunday mornings. I see the care that is taken to make this a hospitable and welcoming place – from the pots of coffee that are prepared to the flexibility to adapt and use this space differently, like you did with the nursery and library moves. On the sign outside our building, it says “All Welcome!”  and you really want everyone to feel welcome here.   But I must share that I also come as an outsider that looks and talks a whole lot like many of you do here in the church…. And on the surface, whether we intend for it to or not, that is itself a barrier for people who may not look or speak like the majority of those in this room. Being a part of this church, I can now see and name the multitude of ways we are diverse.  We have a wide range of ages – from four week old babies to 104 year olds!  We are people who are wealthy and who are struggling financially.  We are healthy and we are in need of healing.  Some of us have been educated by the streets and some of us have taught in universities.  We vote republican and we vote democrat.  And perhaps the most striking dichotomy of all:  Some of us are Hawkeyes and some of us are Cyclones and some of us are Panthers and some of us don’t fit into any of those categories, but we still somehow are able to worship together 😉 We have made room in this place for all of this difference. God is good!   Yet, there are still people missing from our midst. There are still people in this neighborhood and in this larger community who do not know that they would be welcome here. Even inside this caring, loving community, there are still people who feel like they simply don’t quite belong. Our sign outside might say, “All Welcome…” but do we truly live that out with every fiber of our being?     In our gospel reading for this morning, the question of who belongs is lifted up. One afternoon, Jesus is hanging out with some of his disciples… who were all Jewish, both ethnically and religiously.  In other words, they would have looked and talked the same. Philip and Andrew were out and about in the community when they encountered some Greeks who were in town for the festival.  And these Greeks approached the pair and asked if they might see Jesus. What is interesting is that these are the same words that were used when Philip and Andrew first met Jesus… He asked them to “come and see.”  So, these Greeks want to do more than just meet Jesus – they want to become followers OF Jesus. I can imagine Philip and Andrew turned to each other and started whispering. “They want to see Jesus?” “But they are Greek!” “Um…. Let’s go ask first…”   What was the big deal? First of all, in the gospel of John, the disciples understood themselves to be part of a Jewish movement. They were traveling the countryside, preaching good news to the poor, but most of those people looked remarkably like them.  Yes, there had been that one encounter with a Samaritan woman, but for the most part, this was a Jewish movement for Jewish people. This is only the second time in John’s gospel that Jesus encounters gentiles, people outside the Jewish community. Second, I have always found the disciples to be a bit thick.  It takes them a little longer to catch on than we would like.  They tried to keep the children from Jesus, but he welcomed them.  They watched as he embraced sinners and prostitutes and outcasts. Yes, the ethnicity of these Greeks set them apart from Jesus’ disciples.  At a minimum, their accents would have distinguished them.  But maybe they dressed different and had a lighter hair and fairer skin.  But Jesus had shown again and again that all sorts of people were welcome.   Can you picture it? They walk up to Jesus, with the Greeks standing not too far behind them and they ask: “Hey Jesus,  do you want to see those people, or should we send them away?” We want Jesus to answer with something like –“ Sure!  Have them come over!”   or “You guys just don’t get it… of COURSE I want to see them.” But he doesn’t. Jesus instead, for all to hear, starts talking about how you have to die to bear fruit. That he is going to give up his life and anyone who wants to follow him must give up theirs as well.   When we think of it in the context of this diversity, Jesus’ words make a bit more sense.  Standing before him are Andrew and Philip, the first Jewish disciples… and behind them are those who might become the first Greek disciples. Will they be able to get along? Will they be able to set aside their differences to follow him? Or will their pasts get in the way of the future God has planned for our salvation?   This parable of sorts that Jesus offers is all about their identity.  They can cling to their heritage and their labels, but if they do so they will always remain strangers.  They will remain in their differences and never be lifted up with Christ. But if they let go of their worldly identity… their distinctions as Jews and Greeks… then they will come to know true life in the community of Jesus Christ. Jesus is asking them, and us, to declare our allegiance.  Jesus invites us to let go of our labels – Jew or Greek, male or female, young or old and to take on a new identity as the servant of Christ… to identify ourselves not by any characteristic of this world, but to claim our identity in Jesus’ death and resurrection.   I am white.  I am a female.  I am American.  I am United Methodist. But first and foremost and more important than any of those other labels, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. And the question raised by this parable is what kind of sacrifices do we need to make… what do we need to risk… in order for the world to know that is the core of our identity?   Whether we want it to or not, all of those other identifying characteristics can get in the way of the world knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ. The color of our skin can be a barrier. The way we talk can be a barrier. Our nationality can be a barrier. And if we want others to see Jesus in us… If we want others to know and follow him who died to save us all… then it is up to us to cross whatever barriers might exist and be present with people where they are.   Recently, Samsung put together an ad that describes the kind of hospitality and love that helps someone who feels like they are on the outside experience what it might like to be in. Muhareem is deaf and his primary language is sign language.  Yet as he encounters neighbors and strangers in the world, they don’t speak his language. But what if they did? What if a whole neighborhood decided to cross a barrier and meet Muhareem where he is?   What sacrifices can we make? What risks can we take? What barriers can we cross to help others see Jesus? God loves all sorts of people who live outside of these four walls.  Single dads.  Drug addicts.  The homebound elderly.  Children who are competing for first place in a contest. Folks who partied too much last night. So the question I leave us with today is what might Jesus be asking us to do to cross a barrier and share the love of Christ with them today? What might we, as a church, let go of, so that the world might know Jesus?

No More Denial

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.

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.

And so it was a wake-up call to remember at General Conference this year that this church has not always welcomed everyone.

Of the many things we celebrated – one was the fortieth anniversary of Cosrow – the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.  CSRW has worked tirelessly these past forty years to make sure women have had a place in the church… and continue to work hard in places like Nigeria, Tanzania and the Congo to help the United Methodist Church there continue to affirm the calling of women in a culture that has traditionally been led by men.

We also had a time of celebration of full-communion with our African Methodist brothers and sisters.  For students of history, the historically black Methodist denominations in our nation were formed out of discrimination and exclusion… beginning with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The AME Church was founded in 1816 by Richard Allen who left the Methodist Episcopal Church.  At the time, black congregants were segregated to the second floor gallery and although the church affirmed his calling to be a pastor… Allen was only allowed to preach to and minister to other black Methodists.

After the AME Church came other Pan-Methodist denominations like the AME Zion church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church.

Twelve years ago, the United Methodist Church repented of our acts of discrimination and exclusion towards our brothers and sisters and this year, we celebrated full-communion together.  We now recognize one another’s churches, share sacraments, and affim the clergy and ministries of one another’s denominations.

I think that it is important to have this backdrop of our own exclusion, presumptions, and history of discrimination as we read our text from Acts for this morning.

You see, Peter has been sent on a missionary journey to the home of Cornelius… a gentile.  A Gentile is a non-jew, someone who was not a part of the family of Israel, someone who was an outsider as far as the faith was concerned.  Gentiles would not have been allowed into holy places of the Jewish temple. They were excluded because they were unclean.  They were different.  They were not welcome.

But while Peter is in this community, he has a vision of the clean and unclean joining together.  He has a vision of a new sort of body of Christ.  And when he goes to preach to Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit descends upon them and they recieve 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.

I wonder if at various points throughout our history faithful folk stood up and exclaimed about women or people of color:  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?

I wonder what kinds of upside down realizations helped people to reverse traditionally held views about who was outside of the call and power of God?  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.

And I wonder where we need to have our worlds turned upside down once again?

In a small community like Marengo, we are not exceptionally diverse.  And so when we come to church we find a lot of people who look and think and talk like we do.  Or at least it might appear that way.

When we dig deeper, we find that we are young and we are old.  We are rich and we are poor.  We are healthy and we are in need of healing.  We have been educated by the streets and we have been taught in universities.  We vote republican and we vote democrat.  And yet, we have made room here in this place for all of this difference.  God is good!

And yet, there are still people missing from our midst.  There are still people in this community and in this world who either do not know that they are welcome here or who actively feel excluded from this community and from leadership in our church.  Our sign outside might say, “All Welcome…” but do we truly live that out with our lives?  And do we actively let people know with our words and our deeds that they truly can enter this building and be a part of our community? Do we go out into the world to discover where the Holy Spirit is active and moving in the hearts of children of God?

In our gospel lesson this morning, we are reminded that we have been chosen by God.  We are friends of Jesus… but not because of anything special that we have done to deserve that recognition.  No, God chooses who God wants.  And as we look through history we find that God choose people like the murderer, Moses; the deciever, Jacob; the prostitute, Rahab; the tax collector, Matthew; and the super-religious, Saul.

In spite of our pasts, in spite of our present, in spite of where we were born or who we were born, God has chosen to love us.  And God also chooses to love people outside of these four walls.  The Holy Spirit is out there in the world right now moving among people in this community:  parents with little kids; single moms; drug addicts; gays and lesbians; the elderly who are homebound; folks who partied too much last night; and people who don’t want to know Jesus Christ.

God is out there moving!  It was the Holy Spirit that led our apostle Peter into the community of Caesarea and into the household of Cornelius.  Cornelius may have been a Gentile, but God was moving in his life.  Cornelius actively supported the local synagogue and Jewish ministries… even though he was not allowed in the Temple to worship like those who were born Jews.

God chose to speak through him.  God chose to act through him.  And Peter was the one who needed the wake up call to see that the Holy Spirit could move even outside of the traditional bounds of faith.

In his farewell message to his disciples, Jesus not only called them friends, but he also reminded them that they were sent.  Sent out into the world to point to where the Holy Spirit is moving.  Sent out into the world to love the people, to love the creation, and to bear the fruit of the gospel.  And as we go, we need to remember that God can and does choose people who don’t look like us, talk like us, love like us, minister like us.

In May of 1956, the Methodist Church began to ordain women with the same full rights as men.  And in May of 2012, the United Methodist Church voted to fully recognize and value the ordination and sacramental authority of men and women that our church had shut the doors to 200 years ago.  And this General Conference, we began to make the first steps towards reconciliation with Native American brothers and sisters – who we as United Methodists have actively pushed to the margins of society.

As we experienced those acts of repentence at General Conference, my heart couldn’t help but wonder who we are leaving out today and are not yet ready to even admit… who are we still excluding?  Who has God called while we remain in denial?  May we have open eyes and open hearts and open minds to see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people in this world.  May we always be ready and willing to share this church and this ministry with all of those whom God has chosen.  And together, as friends of God, may we all go into this world ready to bear the fruit of the Gospel.