Sunday, July 24, 2011

Discover What You Treasure

First Presbyterian – Lafayette, Louisiana
July 24, 2011 – Ordinary 17 A
Psalm 139
Romans 8:24-28
Matthew 13:44-52

What is it that you treasure? What is it that you cherish? The first things that come to mind for many of us are immaterial things: friendship, love, family. A friend recently posted this statement on facebook, “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today?”

Fortunately for us God is not that transactional, but it does make you think about the value we place on things. Most of us end up with homes filled with things we rarely use or need. Having just moved I can tell you that I suffer from this issue as much or more than anyone.

As a culture we place more value on what we have to own than on what we have to share. I don’t mean to say that we are not generous or that we do not share. I simply mean to say that I don’t believe generosity to be a primary motivator for our actions.

Now, I want to be very clear that my intention is not to scold anyone. My intention is to identify what I believe to be a place of tension between my experience of being human and my understanding of the gospel.

By my experience of being human I mean the patterns I have seen in my life and others that include a desperate search for the presence of God and equally desperate attempts to be independent from the claim God places on all our lives. I see these behaviors all through scripture, and I hear it broadcasted as loud as thunder through statements made in our culture about the things we treasure.

Few people understand this better than those who promote the magical world of Walt Disney. Right now they have a contest running called, Discover What You Treasure. You see? You don’t even know what you treasure, because we are going to tell you. You treasure a theme park and a cell phone, but not just any cell phone. This one helps you find things that you need in the park, including your very own buried treasure!

Summer is a good time to think of buried treasure. The lure of buried treasure has been around as long as there have been valuables to conceal. Every culture has its legends of cities made of gold from King Solomon’s Mines to El Dorado. The lure of something unattainable that can give wealth and power is the fundamental draw of every Pirate story from Treasure Island to the Pirates of the Carabean. And if you go to the website for the most recent film you will find Captain Jack Sparrow standing cruciform with guns blazing.

That is the pinnacle of placing value on things. In the end it is a denial of the presence of God, and a desire to bury the treasure that we have received. I don’t mean to say that movies and entertainment – or even the corporation of the mouse – are inherently evil. I mean to say that they can become at times a very natural expression of our discomfort. I mean to say that it is within our nature to seek that which makes us feel good about life rather than seeking ways to express the goodness of life that is already abundant and in our midst.

The Psalmist seeks to comfort us in our experience of loneliness and alienation from the abundance of God’s love by reminding us that we can not escape the presence of God. God knows every fiber of our being. God even allows for our own wickedness – searching us and knowing us while pulling us and guiding us toward that which is good.

Paul reminds us that we are saved by and through an unseen hope. God’s Spirit even intercedes for us based on God’s desires for us. It is hard to separate and understand my desires apart from God’s. One of the things that I have been struggling with as of late is the ability to see where we are going as a congregation. I want to know what program will effectively develop new membership. I want to know how to communicate our financial needs and encourage faithful giving. I want to support the development of legacy giving through our Endowment Committee. But more than all these things, I want to know that we are effectively proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and offering hope in a world that looks to pirates and buried treasures to fulfill the deepest longings of their souls.

And what is that Gospel? How does Jesus respond to our need for love and fulfillment? Well, if we assume ourselves to be his disciples, he draws us into the house and tells us secrets - secrets that read like the code language in a map to some forgotten island. The kingdom of heaven is like a buried treasure – after finding it you must buy the field. It is like a perfect pearl that you must sell everything to have. It is like a net of fish, but beware because there be the dragons!

Jesus has been speaking in parables to the crowds and explaining them to the disciples, until now. This time Jesus does not explain. This time he simply says, “Do you understand?” And when they say, “Yes.” he affirms them and reminds them that they are not only the keepers of ancient treasures but they are the ones who will reveal treasure to others – treasures both old and new.

And so it is with us. We have been given a map to a place and a description of a treasure that is within our reach. For in hearing the words of Jesus we can truly understand what we treasure, and that is nothing less than the presence of God in our midst.

United Methodist Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote a meditation about these parables and the truth they contain. He describes the treasure we have been given in this way:

The idea of a heaven far away and later
was invented by travel agents with tickets to sell.
Let them make their expeditions to Other Places.
Perhaps from there this land will seem exotic
and they’ll find their way home with new wonder.

But Jesus has no far-off land in mind.
Do you see?— the realm of heaven is not removed
but always inside something, hidden
close at hand, underground, under water, under
your nose. Nearer than your thinking.

Heaven is not up, my friends, but in.
It is the Seed of the World,
the Soul at the heart of all things,
the source from which all things emanate.
The realm of heaven is the heart of a cry,
the energizing dream,
the love in a love song.

The Holy One is the Center of All Things,
and we radiate from her like light,
like laughter, like the smell of a rose.

This mustard seed vibrating with delight
becomes the million million things you see
and when you reach to the center,
the love at the heart of each moment,
the soul of the person before you,
you are there.

You who are wandering
on the fringes of the royal estate,
who stand out in the outer darkness
and see the feast within, look:
the door is open.

The central message of Christianity is not about the limitation of space at the table. The central message of Christianity is about the abundance of God’s grace poured out for me and for you. 

That is the treasure we have found in this space and in this time that we share. That is the treasure available in every chance interaction. There is no question about God’s self revelation or God’s love for you and for me. There is only the question of how we will respond – how we will show others what we treasure. May God bless, receive, and be glorified by even our most humble efforts. Amen


Saturday, July 16, 2011

In the Meantime

First Presbyterian Church - Lafayette, Louisiana
July 17, 2011 - Ordinary 16 A
Genesis 28:10-19a
Romans 8:12-25

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Who, or what, is God to you? This is a question I often start with in discussions of faith with groups ranging from confirmation classes to new classes of elders. It is a simple question with a seemingly obvious answer. Yet many of our descriptions of God are limited to particular actions that we claim to be God’s actions. That is why H. Richard Niebuhr once argued that Western culture is not, as we like to claim, monotheistic. Instead he claimed that we are polytheistic. For Niebuhr, God is a center of value - a place from which we determine the value of other things and by which we organize our priorities.

That changes the question a little bit. The question, “Who is God?” then becomes, “Who or what is the center of value for your life?” Chances are that this question might have more than one answer depending on the topic. As a parent I am oriented around the care of my children. As a husband I am bound to partnership with my wife. The list goes on.

A modern parable that addresses the idea of centers of value is the movie, The Blind Side. If you haven’t seen it I’m going to ruin it for you. It is based on the true story of a rich white woman who takes pity on a poor young black boy and nurtures him into a successful professional football player. There is so very much more to the movie than that - I haven’t spoiled it yet.

Throughout the film the characters express varying levels of Christian faith, but the faith they express is primarily idealism and altruism. All of that becomes compromised when true faith mandates involvement in actual relationships.

Relationships are risky. Relationships are messy. The climax of the film comes when the young man, Michael Oher, has been recruited for the football team of Ole Miss, the alma mater of his adopted parents - to which they contribute generously. Accusations are made about ethics and intentions. Michael finally confronts his adopted mother and says, “Did you do this for me or for yourself?!” Even with the purest motives, I doubt any person can truly answer that question - for there is both wheat and weed growing in every soul.

Even Jacob, after seeing a vision of God and hearing God’s commitment to him, immediately set parameters on the relationship. As we read on we find Jacob saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.”

O Jacob! What is God to you? Surely the Lord was in that place, and you did not know it! Surely God shows up in places we never expect or want God to be in - and we don’t know it!

Another question I often ask is, “How or when have you experienced God’s active presence in your life.” Sadly, you would be amazed how many people do not immediately think of worship. I would even say that the majority of people I have asked that question to are not sure that they have ever experienced the presence of God.

Most people assume that it has to be something terrible or wonderful, like Jacob in a dream or Isaiah in the temple. Some assume it can only be in times of divine intervention like a car wreck that should have killed you. It used to be assumed that a near death experience equated to faith because there could be no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.

Unfortunately, or maybe not, that is no longer the case. I say maybe not because I have hope that Christian faith offers something that neither requires the threat of death nor looses anything without it. In fact, my hope is that Christian faith causes more problems than it solves.

You see, we tend to praise our own initiative. We like to anoint rocks. We tend to think that we can and should be able to figure things out. Sometimes we can, and sometimes we do, but today’s passages remind us that ultimately we are indebted to God alone.

Paul writes to the church in Rome in order to declare the mystery of faith - that God has chosen to adopt us, to include us, to make us citizens of a kingdom we have no claim or share in. This claim that God has placed upon us does not protect us from suffering. In some cases it even encourages it!

Yet God’s claim on our lives involves us in something that is larger than we can imagine - something that all of creation has been longing for since the dawn of time. And so we have this hope that we might experience in the here and now some glimpse of the eternal, some experience of the Holy, some invitation to be received as beloved even though we live in between the promise and the gift.

And in the mean time, what do we do about the weeds? What do we do about the feeling, the conviction, the deep sense of knowing we have that some folks just don’t get it and they could be messing this up for everyone?!

And Jesus said, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Not to be cavalier or flippant, but I would suggest that there is but one Creator. I will even state that although there are sin sick souls in this world, there are yet wheat and tares in each of us. It is not up to me or to you to say who God will take in or who God will cast out. It is up to me and to you to say that our hope in this life and the life to come is found in the transforming power of Jesus and the opportunity to respond. It is up to you and to me to say how we will experience the presence of God in the messy, ordinary, and extra ordinary relationships we find ourselves to be a part of.

Walter Wangerin, Jr. wrote a short story about encountering God in the mundane and messy. The story is called “To a Lady with Whom I've Been Intimate, Whose Name I Do Not Know.” In this story he writes about a chance encounter with a woman in a convenience store. By his description she is overweight and buying items that indicate a solitary and unhappy life. She drops a quarter and he violates a social taboo by picking it up, greeting her, and sincerely asking how she is doing.

The woman snarled at him, grabbed his wrist forcefully with one hand and snatched the quarter with the other before leaving in a huff. In reflection, Wangerin writes:

“Ah, you. You.

How much I must have hurt you by my question. Was that mild commonplace too much a probe, too lethal, too threatening for the delicate balance your life has created for itself? Does kindness terrify you because then, perhaps, you would have to do more than imagine the Harlequin, but then would have to be?

I think so.

To cross the gulf from Life Alone to Life Beloved—truly to be real, truly to be worthy in the eyes of another—means that you are no more your own possession. You give yourself away, and then games all come to an end. No longer can you pretend excuses or accusations against the world; nor can you imagine lies concerning your beauty, your gifts and possibilities. Everything becomes what it really is, for you are seen and you know it. “How are you” triggers “Who are you.” And it wasn’t so much that I said it, but rather that I meant it and that I awaited an answer, too—this caused the lonely She to know her loneliness, even in the moment when I offered you the other thing: friendship.

It’s frightening, isn’t it?

To be loved, dear lady, you must let all illusions die. And since, between the bathroom and the kitchen, between People magazine and the Harlequin, your Self was mostly illusion—at least the acceptable self—then to be loved meant that your very Self had to die—at least the acceptable self.”


Dying to ourselves and rising again in Christ - that is the formula of our baptism.

Death and resurrection - that is the invitation of this table. So, come, you who have much faith and you would want more. Come and experience the Holy in the midst of the mundane.

Beloved of God - the One who is, was, and always shall be awaits you and me here and now so that we may continue to experience, express, and explore the love of God in this life and in the life to come.

To God be the glory, both now and always. Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Impossible

First Presbyterian Church - Lafayette, Louisiana
July 10, 2011 - Ordinary (15A)
Genesis 25:19-34
Romans 7:13-25
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Many of you know that I spent some time with my grandmother last weekend as she was, and still is, in hospice care. It was a holy time that I will cherish. During that time I experienced things that I knew to be possible and a few that I never expected to happen. Nothing particularly miraculous happened - unless you consider the miraculous quality of every moment of life. By that I mean the fact that we live and move and exist on this tiny spec of dust called earth that hangs in the vast expanse of the universe.

It is a miracle to me that we are breathing, that actions taking place on a subatomic level all around us allow us to blissfully choose to be kind or rude, generous or selfish, grateful or unappreciative. We can even be all of these at once depending on the person or the situation. Tens of thousands of variables effect our decisions at any given moment.

Since the miraculous is so hard to define - and may indeed be different for each of us - let’s stick to what we know. I can tell you that I did not expect to have any more meaningful conversations with my grandmother, and yet God gave us this gift. I did not expect to see friends that I have not seen in spans ranging from 2 - 30 years, and yet God gave me this gift. I did not expect to have the time to read a book or see a movie, yet God gave me this gift.

The movie was my first 3-D experience - Transformers 3: The Dark Side of the Moon. I experienced realms of perception of sound and light in this film that I simply did not know existed. Often it takes something that is outside of our normal experiences – something like loss, reunion, or just the decision to experience new things – to realize the possibilities that we walk by and dismiss as impossible every day.

Though it is a different context – the idea of the impossible existing alongside the possible is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapter 7, Paul is addressing the complicated question of the importance of the law, the Torah, and its application for living. Jesus did much the same, though he focused on particular practices within the law (Sabbath keeping, justice, ethical behavior). Paul is instead talking about the human condition and the covenantal nature of our relationship with God.

So, although Paul uses “I” language and particularly talks about his own internal conflict, he is speaking to a particular people about what it means to be God’s people. Neither of these should be lost as we ponder the riddle of his words: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

What does it mean to us that Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, the evangelist who brought the Christian faith to the gentiles – Paul formerly Saul of Tarsus, struggles in this way? It means that each of us must struggle in the same way. It means that just because we have done the best we can do to confess and turn aside from particular actions of defiance to God there is yet something within us that yearns to take us in another direction.

Maybe it is a hunger. Maybe it is a fear. Maybe it is a desire that is disguised as a hope. Whatever it is that haunts us and gives us the desire to become self-defeating, Paul has named it as sin. The simple way to read this passage is to say, “Aha! See. The Devil made me do it.” Well, not so fast. Paul tells us that he is to blame – not the law, not the devil, but Paul. Why, because he is a human being. Because he has learned through the indwelling Spirit of God that anything he wants is tainted by the simple desire to find benefit and comfort for himself as long as he is given air to breath on this rock spinning through space. But fortunately for us, that is not the end of the story.

Some time ago I was reflecting on this passage and looking over some old sketches, and I found an image that repeated itself. It was a person hanging from chains at the wrists. As I continued to draw the image over the course of several years the cuffs began to disappear from the wrists even though the person was still holding on to the chains.



A friend suggested this meant something and that I might find meaning through scripture. Somehow God led me to this passage from Romans, and I realized that I had found my answer. The chains represented things that the figure had come to love: some were patterns of behavior, some were destructive, some were things that had once been helpful – even relationships and the expectations of friends and loved ones. All around the figure swirled the fires of chaos, and the person could be free but chose not to. That is how I have come to understand the internal conflict that Paul has described. Again – fortunately for us, that is not the end of the story.

For Paul cries out from his chains to acknowledge his limitations and give thanks to the God who has none saying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.” 

Why? Because the wolf is always at the door. Because we come in from the field to smell the stew our brother has prepared and we are hungry. Why else would the law tell us not to covet? Earlier in Romans 7:7-8, Paul suggests that the law tells us not to covet just so that we know that we are doing it in the first place. Without the law, we would not know sin to be sin. Without a speed limit, we would not know that we were speeding. And here we have this story from the patriarchs that shows why we have always been blind to sin.

Esau comes in from the field and says, “What good is a birthright if I am going to starve!” Now I don’t know how hungry he was, but I doubt he was at death’s door – and I doubt that, being the firstborn, this was his only option. Whatever his motivation was, Esau was not just giving up the perks of the firstborn – a double share of the inheritance (no stew is that good!). He was giving up on his responsibility to the family. As the firstborn, he was responsible to see that the family and all of their descendants, crops, and livestock were accounted for and acknowledged before God with appropriate sacrifices and other rituals. There was no temple or priestly order. There were families, clans, and expectations for sons and daughters. Esau was not simply rejecting his inheritance. He was choosing to be self centered and driven by that which pleased him.

So here we sit with our chains and our hunger, longing to be free, to be transformed, to be fed. Jesus knows we long to be free, to be transformed, and to be fed. So, he tells us a story. He tells us a story so that word can become bread and freedom can be found in the chains we hold in our hands.

The parable of the Sower is so simple. Those who ignore the word of God are the ones on the path eaten by crows. Those on rocky ground have heard it but are not rooted in the truth of God’s word. Those in the thorns are strangled by the competition of the world, and finally those in good soil are the ones who hear and obey and yield good results.

So simple, yet there is so much that can be assumed about each of these statements. If we assume that God is the Sower and we are the seeds, there is comfort in the knowledge that we do not choose where we are sown. Yet I would not take that too far. This story is not an indicator of an unkind God who only expects certain seeds to yield. It is instead a description of the way things are.

We could also assume that the seed is the Word of God (the knowledge of Jesus as Savior), and we are the ground. That is the traditional approach (even though the text does not directly support it), but that also leaves us without much choice. We are either stranded in our sin or basking in the rewards of our faithfulness.

If we assume instead that we are the Sowers – empowered by God to demonstrate the salvation we have received through Jesus Christ – then a whole new realm of options and accountability opens up to us. For we may sow randomly on the path, idealistically in the rocks, or competitively in the world, but nothing will grow apart from the word we share that is consistent with actions that demonstrate the heart of God.

The world is hungry for transformation. You can see it all over thousands of TV channels broadcasting into the ether. Homes, restaurants, even human bodies are transformed because of the desire of the unloved to become valuable to someone or something. What more fertile ground can there be for the church? Might this be an invitation to look at the chains in our hands and let them go? If we are willing to – and if we will look close enough – I believe we will find that the chains have indeed become seeds that we may sow to the glory of God!
[Then I held out my hand and spilled seeds all over the pulpit and the ground.]

Now, I would also suggest that if you are worried about who will clean up the mess I just made you may have missed the point. For, you see, we hold both chains and seeds in our hands. Fortunately for us, that is not the end of the story but rather a new beginning!

For the Lord will bless the seeds we sow today. The Lord will bless these seeds if we, as followers of Jesus, can be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and willing to walk where God will lead us.

God will bless these seeds if we can be open to transformation and renewal and make every effort to accomplish that which God has called us to do. Who knows? We might just encounter the unexpected – or maybe even the impossible. And to God be the glory, both now and always. Amen.

Sin Boldly

First Presbyterian - Lafayette, Louisiana
June 26, 2011 - Ordinary (13A)
Genesis 22:1-14
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

I was out running some errands with a congregation member about a week ago, and we ran into one of those traffic jams that are caused by a very few people trying to go the same way to get to different places. In her frustration, she said something along the lines of, “Come on, now. Somebody do something - even if it isn’t right!”

I wonder if anyone else has ever felt that way. Sometimes our fears can paralyze us. Sometimes our fears can motivate us - but I’m not sure that reacting to fear is always the best course. Trials can be so prevalent in this life that it is hard not to find ourselves reacting from a fight or flight position in multiple areas of our lives.

Peter Steinke is a Lutheran Pastor and author who often talks about the church in terms of its health. He refers to the human tendency to react out of fear as making decisions from the most base portion of our brain, that same portion that we share with reptiles and other creatures we believe incapable of rational thought. He believes that when we are stressed we are much more likely to react than to respond intentionally.

I’ve often wondered how this connects to our passage in Genesis. The words of the story tell us that God spoke to Abraham, telling him to go sacrifice his son - his only son, the child of his old age, the only possible heir to fulfill the promise God has made to him about becoming the father of nations. Yeah, he told him to sacrifice that son. So what does Abraham do? He rises early in the morning to sacrifice his son.

Now, to be clear, at this time there was no set religious right and practice of sacrifice that was exclusively Jewish. Sacrificing your first born was not an uncommon request of a Deity. So, what looks extreme to us is not particularly extreme culturally to Abraham. Still, there is no way that this experience was an easy one for Abraham. We have no way to know what he thought or felt, how difficult it was to bind his son, or if there was a point that Isaac (whose name means laughter) realized he was going to die at his father’s hands.

What we know is that Abraham, through his long lifetime of experiencing God’s grace, was willing to let go of all that he held dear because he believed that God’s will was bigger than his own. Perhaps even more importantly, we also know that this is the beginning of God’s efforts to be revealed as a God who is unique, different, and holy.

(Unfortunately I could not figure out how to import Hebre fonts for this part)
[YHVH] is the Hebrew word that began to describe this indescribable God. It is an unpronounceable word. Some have inserted vowel sounds to say Yahweh. Others simply read the word as [Adonai], which means “The Lord.” Here, in this story, we can be assured that , , The Lord is the God that will not accept human sacrifices. That may sound odd to our modern sensibilities, yet every day we face the expectations of others who crave our allegiance and expect us to give over our lives in exchange for blessing. Yet all God truly wants is our faithful response to the gifts already given. YHVH, Adonai, The Lord is the God who provides, and YHVH, Adonai, The Lord is the God who distributes grace and mercy to those who are faithful and to those who suffer needlessly.

Grace means to be spared the punishment you deserve. Mercy means unmerited favor. Think about it - because of God’s action on our behalf and our ability to be open to it, we do not get what we deserve because we are too busy receiving what we don’t deserve.

That last part is not as simple as it seems, though. Being busy receiving does not mean that we are sitting back and doing nothing. It means that we spend a lot of time doing things that we believe are active responses to God’s love for us. It means that we probably should even be open to letting go of the things - even the people - that are closest to us, all the while keeping our eyes open for the ram in the thicket.

Sometimes in our zeal to be faithful we will be wrong. There will be things that you thought God gave you to enjoy that you must give away. There will be relationships that you are called to nurture toward separation. Every parent knows this, and every parent has some moments when they would prefer it to come sooner than later!

In the end there will be times in all of our lives that we fall short of the mark. There will be times that we sin individually. There will be times that we sin corporately. Paul talks about such things in his letter to the Romans. The reading we shared today is like the center of a stack of buttered pancakes. It’s the part that makes the others parts good, and part of it is the fact that it begins with the word, therefore.

Obviously there is more to the story. Even in the beginning of this passage we are pointed to the choice before the choice. How can we let sin drive the bus when we are not bound to it? Paul is again telling this mixed audience of Jews and proselytes that following the letter of the law as if the words of the law were God makes them slaves to a practice, not recipients of grace.

In verse 15 Paul cuts deeper into the idea he set up in verse 1. He began his argument by asking, “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound.” Then he follows it up with, “Should we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? No, of course not!” So says Paul, and we smile knowingly because of 2 Millennia of experience and knowledge of sin and grace.

Or at least we think we know about it. Usually we talk about sin in terms of sinful actions. I doubt Paul would disagree that some actions are particularly sinful, but why? The sinfulness that Paul is claiming that we are released from is the orientation that leads to those actions - an attitude of self centeredness instead of God centeredness.

Although there is clearly a sense of individual choice and activity, I think it is significant that Paul uses mostly plural pronouns. We are in this together. We have to consider the choice before the choice as a community. We have to consider where our motivation comes from as individuals.

Sometimes that gets us in a jam. Sometimes in our lives, in our politics, even in our church it feels like someone needs to do something - even if it is the wrong thing; at least it will get us moving. Sometimes we long to do as Martin Luther once wrote. Sometimes we want to “Sin Boldly.”

That was part of a letter he wrote to a colleague in 1521, discussing a wide range of topics. Luther wrote, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

Perhaps you could boil his argument down to, “Somebody do something! You probably will be wrong. Just remember to put more faith in God’s ability to love you than in your ability to love God.” The choice before the choice is not yours or mine. The choice before the choice belongs to Christ Jesus alone.

And this Jesus sends us out like the first disciples. This Jesus comes to us in forms we do not always recognize. This Jesus teaches us what it means to offer hospitality. Often times we think of Jesus being present when we help someone or do something good. We think of hospitality when it comes to providing a church program or event. How often do we think of hospitality as the way in which we might meet Jesus in the face of a person in need? How likely is it that we might believe that we can receive from such a person?

That’s a hard question that is laced with moral superiority and pressure. The reality is that it is much messier than that. When I am asked to, or feel moved to, help someone, I have come to see that there are times I still feel taken advantage of. Yet there are also times when I find sweet communion in sharing the stories of pain and suffering and God’s presence in the midst of it that cannot be found any other way. So, sometimes I feel that I am the disciple, reaching out with the very hands of Christ.

Sometimes I am the “little one” receiving refreshment for my soul because I’ve been called to be hospitable. Usually, if I’m doing things right, these two experiences intermingle and one begins where the other ends.

So, here we are with this “both/and” type of faith. It is both individual and corporate. We are called to be hospitable and to receive hospitality. Some say that this is the way forward for the church. Some say that we need to return to hospitality as a fundamental aspect of our fellowship. I don’t mean simply being nice or even being invitational. I mean hospitality as an evangelistic orientation. I mean becoming a community that does not tell people that they are welcome so much as we demonstrate a desire to share the faith we have received and by which we are saved.

That statement does come with a warning label though. It may mean giving some things up. It may mean letting go of defenses. It may even mean being wrong about a thing or two in order to be right about the things that truly matter. But don’t worry - YHVH, Adonai, The Lord is the God that will not accept human sacrifices. YHVH, Adonai,The Lord is the God who provides, YHVH, Adonai, The Lord is the God who distributes grace and mercy to those who are faithful and to those who suffer needlessly, and YHVH, Adonai, The Lord is the God who chose you before you ever had a choice.

May God guide us all as we seek to live the choice that has been made on our behalf. Amen.