Monday, January 19, 2015

“Welcoming Every Gift That Comes Along” (Luke 24:13-35)

What a week!

Last Sunday I left Billings at 4:20pm—long after the snow had begun to fall.

I reached Joliet at 6:00pm.

That’s an extra 45 minutes for the commute.

What do you do when every street is snow-packed, and the interstate is ice-packed, and it’s still snowing?  You drive slowly, and pray.

Eli and I encountered 11 cars in the ditches, one jack-knifed semi tractor and trailer, 4 police cars and 2 ambulances. 

Once we pulled into our driveway in Joliet I refused to get behind the wheel of my truck for 2 days.  I was that done!

As if that wasn’t enough, mid-week ushered in frigid temperatures and wind, wind, wind.

The wind was ferocious.

Because we have a few bird-feeders dispersed throughout the yard, both in the front of the house and in the back, the wind deposited black oil sunflower seeds ALL OVER the neighborhood.

It looked like the chocolate chip fairy had sprinkled her loot all over the snow-packed lawns.  “I hope my neighbors think sunflowers are beautiful,” I thought to myself, “Because when spring appears and warms the soil, these seeds are going to sprout!”

I’m reminded of Jesus’ Parable of the Generous Sower found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  What do we hear?  “A Sower went to sow some seeds and the seeds landed everywhere.”  Jesus must have been thinking about Montana in January!

Although we have a tendency to focus on the variety of soils on which the seed fell—meaning us—the Good News is the Sower!    God scatters God’s very self quite freely; God’s holy Spirit, God’s Christ.  Whatever soil we might be upon collision with the Spirit:

…we all are touched. 

We all have the potential to grow INTO the image of God:

*non anxious

In Jesus’ parable of the Generous Sower Jesus helps us to understand that people are God’s workshop.  God sows—and we grow when and how God wants us to grow!

From God’s perspective it seems we are quite valuable, not because we say yes to the work of the Spirit, but because the Spirit says yes to us!  No matter what shape the Spirit finds us in—it still plants itself WITHIN us, working the soil of our hearts.

In the cartoon script Dennis the Menace, Denis returns home with a handful of chocolate chip cookies—crumbs flying everywhere as he stuffs them in his mouth.  His mother gives him one of those MOM looks.  Dennis notices and says to his mother, “Mr. Wilson doesn’t give me cookies because I am nice.  Mr. Wilson gives me cookies because HE is nice.”

So it is with God.

What I am talking about is a valuing of the human being.

Christ is maturing in all of us!  It’s quite an amazing feat.  And quite easy to miss.


In our story today from Luke’s gospel the resurrected Jesus comes along side of a few of his friends.  But they don’t recognize him at first.

He strikes up a conversation.

There’s quite an exchange.

But it’s only at the end of the day---when they are eating that they realize whose company they are in!

Is that how it is with us?  How easy is it for us to recognize that we are in the company of the Spirit?   

Often we are dull to the inroads God is making in our souls until we reflect back.

And that’s exactly what Jesus’ friends do today.  They reflect back, and they observe a change in their energy when they were in the presence of the resurrected Jesus.  They say, “Our hearts burned within us when Jesus spoke to us and explained the scriptures to us.”  What they are describing is a spiritual experience; energy, joy, a “shining in the soul.”  This experience culminates in an awareness of the intimate presence of Christ.

How do you and I talk about our intimate presence of Christ?  After all, we are God’s workshop.  God visits us like God visited Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the Wise Men and Jesus.

I’d like us to take a couple of minutes and reflect on what we are hearing today:

YOU are God’s workshop.

YOUR NEIGHBOR in the pew is God’s workshop.

Your NEIGHBOR on the street is God’s workshop.

No matter the condition God finds us in, God still plants God’s spirit within us and begins to work the soil of our heart on GOD’s terms in and God’s time.

SPRITUAL EXERCISE:  Let’s close our eyes.  And while they are closed, let people’s faces come to mind—your family and friends---your work—your neighborhood—your church.  Every time a face comes to mind, say to yourself “This person is loved by God.”  Thank God for sharing this wisdom with you.

Now, what does this awareness ask of you, of me, of all of us who desire to form a welcoming community that follows the call of Jesus to love God and Neighbor?

Remember our purpose statement?  Let’s say it together:  To form a welcoming community that follows the call of Jesus to love God and Neighbor?
I think what we are trying to describe on paper,

And ascribe to in action,

Is quality—a common life together characterized by mutual trust and respect.

But where do we begin?  We begin with this statement:  This person and THAT person are loved by God.  We start with a valuing of people.  If we can live out of this awareness, perhaps the welcoming will take care of itself—the tender effort to receive everyone.  Every person that comes along is God’s gift—we didn’t make them happen—how could we let them go unnoticed, or unloved?
Let us pray:  Loving God, we are growing in our understanding that we are instructed and formed by you through the whole human community.  Oh that we grow in our valuing of humanity and the human condition!  May we leave room for others.  May we welcome others as we would like others to welcome us.  Amen.

(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener, Central Christian Church in Billings, on January 11, 2015.)

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