Sunday, October 30, 2016

“How Long?” (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4)

God’s perception and our perception are not always the same.

A man was praying to God and asked the question, “Lord, how long is a thousand years to you?”  And, surprisingly, the Lord answered: “A minute or two.”  Impressed that the Lord answered him, the man pressed on, “And, Lord, what is a million dollars to you?”  Again, the Lord answered him, “Oh, about a nickel.”  Buoyed by God’s willingness the man pressed on with one more prayerful question, “Lord, could I have one of those nickels?”

Now there was a long pause in the conversation . . . then God replied, “Sure, in a minute or two.”

God answers prayers . . . and, I am sure that gentleman will get his million dollars in about a thousand years . . . but, God answers prayers in God’s own time.  Which is frustrating for most of us who live in this day and age of pretty instantaneous results . . . rarely do we have to wait for much of things that we want in life . . . we live in an age of instant gratification.  We want things fast.  We don’t want to wait around.  Whether it is in our everyday lives or our spiritual lives . . . we want it now.  Thus we experience frustration when we do not get what we want when we want it.  It is especially frustrating when it comes to our requests for God’s presence and intervention in our lives.

Ask the prophet Habakkuk.  This virtually unknown minor prophet has a conversation with God . . . a conversation that had been apparently put off for quite some time as Habakkuk had been praying to God to intervene in the lives of God’s children to right the world of all the moral corruption he was witnessing among God’s people.  Habakkuk was a morally sensitive soul who could not turn away from the oppression of the weak, the dismissal of the poor, dishonest dealings, constant fighting and public conflict, the destruction of the fabric of social life, endless litigation--in short, what he saw was the wholesale abandonment of God’s will by the people whose sole purpose was to be a visible witness to God’s way with the world.  Over and over the prophet prayed for God to act . . . to do something.  Despite endless prayers to God, Habakkuk felt that his prayers fell on deaf ears.  He was frustrated.

Finally, in frustration, he cries out, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”

Much to his surprise, God answers him.  

I don’t think it was quite the answer that he was expecting, but God answered him.  God assured Habakkuk that something was going to happen . . . that righteousness and justice would win out . . . and, then added, “When I get around to it.”

There is nothing more frustrating to talk to someone who you think is listening . . . think are understanding what you are saying . . . expecting results . . . only to be told that they will do something about it when they “get around to it.”  No one likes to hear that answer.  

I have worked with a lot of people throughout my life that I learned never get around to what they were going to do until they got “around to it.”  And, for a while I used to have one of those wooden round coins that had the words, “tu it”, printed on it.  Whenever they answered my request with the phrase “round to it”, I would pull that wooden coin out and flip it to them.  I would be giving them a “round tu it”.  I thought it was funny, but rarely did the person I offer it think it was funny.

That is what God tells Habakkuk.  God is going to do something and it will be in God’s time that it is done.  The children of God will get what is coming to them . . . they will suffer the consequences of their actions . . . and, in time, it will all straighten itself out.  Besides, hasn’t God always come through with what God has promised?  In the meantime, the people will have to wait until God gets around to it . . . in God’s time.

Again, this is not quite the answer that Habakkuk is expecting.  But, Habakkuk is person of prayer.  Instead of getting upset and indignant about what God is saying, he takes God at God’s word . . . he plans on positioning himself on the lookout for what God will do and say next.  He trust God is already at work, even if he cannot see it.  He trusts that God has more to say, and he commits himself to waiting on God rather than taking matters into his own hands.  This is not quite what any of us would expect . . . Habakkuk taking a disposition of waiting with confident trust in God.

Waiting around doing nothing doesn’t seem like doing much of anything.  Waiting, in our estimation, is worthless; and, yet, in the spiritual life--in the scriptures--we learn over and over again that waiting is to be active, to do something, something very important.  One scholar tells us that waiting is the most important thing that we can do, since waiting is an expression of faith, of being open and receptive to God, to God’s action, to God’s voice, to God’s answer.  Waiting is to be patient, which means “to suffer”, or to be acted upon rather than acting, to be receptive to the action of others.  To wait and to be patient is to trust that God is at work even if we can’t see or understand what God is doing at any given moment of time.  It is faith in God and not in ourselves . . . a willingness to accept God’s will as it comes to us each day as God continues to be God.

So, Habakkuk waits.

What is he waiting for?  What is the vision that God gives to Habakkuk to share with the people?  To wait . . . to wait for the truth . . . the truth of what is going on, what is truly worth waiting for and will certainly come.  The Lord says, “. . . but the righteous will live by his faith.”  The righteous will live by this faith.

We are waiting for God.  Faith is trusting in God.  Faith is a willingness to trust that God knows best and will bring our lives and the world to a good completion.  This is God’s will for the world, what God has promised and what we, by faith, trust will surely come in God’s good time and in God’s good way.

And yet, as we sit here this morning, waiting for God, we wonder, “How long, O Lord?”  The truth of the matter is that none of us truly knows . . . even though lots of people through the ages has tried to predict it.  We do not know.  We just trust that God knows, and we trust that God knows what God is doing.  This trust is not based on some wishful thinking, but it is grounded on solid ground . . . something firm . . . something strong enough to sustain us.  Our faith rests on God’s sure and certain promises spoken in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Such faith is what keeps us going . . . each and every day, each and every moment.

In faith we live.  This does not mean that we simply do nothing; no, what we do is the desire of God . . . it is to build the kingdom in our time and place.  It is to be people of faithfulness despite what the world around us is doing or what the world around is throwing at us . . . it is to seek that love of the Holy--the love of God and be in relationship with God . . . it is to love others as God has loved us . . . it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  This is God’s gift to us . . . it is God’s doing, which is why it frees and empowers us to find great pleasure in living a life following God’s will, delighting in God’s ways rather than our own.

In the end God wins . . . we profess this belief.  The end will come when it is God’s time . . . when God gets around to it.  In the meantime, we wait.  We wait with faithfulness . . . we live faithfully . . . we listen to the word of God . . . we witness the presence of God around us . . . we gather to worship . . . we break the bread and lift the cup.  We wait.  In the waiting we find the presence of God all around us.  Such is the gift of faith.  Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"In the Eyes . . ." (Luke 18:9-14)

“What would you look like
if you saw yourself through the eyes of God?”
(Oprah Winfrey)

Compared to what?

I believe that that is a powerful question.  A powerful question that each of us needs to ask ourselves whenever we get into one of those moods in which we are feeling down about ourselves, about our station in life, about the way that we perceive ourselves . . . when we are down and depressed . . . when we feel as if the world is judging us.  It is a powerful question that we need to ask ourselves when we are weighing our self-worth.  Compared to what?

As the followers of Jesus we find our value in the eyes of God.  We find our value in the eyes of God who created us in the image of God . . . we find our value in the God who loves us for who we are . . . we find our value in the God who loves us and forgives us and desires an intimate relationship with each and every one of us.  In the eyes of God we are all loved and desired . . . just the way we were created.  Because of this, I pondered, why do we get so hung up in what the rest of the world thinks?

In our scripture reading this morning we have a situation in which Jesus tells a parable to a group of individuals who were pretty confident that they were among the faithful and that others were far less worthy.  The scene is the temple.  There are two individuals who have come to pray.  The first is  is a Pharisee . . . a person of position within the community because of his membership in a group.  He prays.  In his prayer he points out to God that he is not like other people . . . he is worthy of God’s love because he follows the rules . . . he follows the rules and regulations of the faith . . . he practices the dogma . . . he follows the rituals . . . he does everything that is viewed as being righteous . . . he fasts, he tithes . . . he does it all.  This is the prayer that he offers God.  In the eyes of others, he is a righteous person.  And, just to emphasis the point, he points to the other person gathered to pray.  He tells God that he is not like that sinner. He prayed about himself and only himself.

The other person gathered to pray is a tax collector.  In the Jewish culture a tax collector is a despised person.  A tax collector is one of their own who has shifted alliance to side with the enemy . . . to profit off the enemy . . . a traitor to the people of God.  Yet, this individual takes a different approach to prayer . . . he did not posture himself in a cloak of importance.  No, he stood there and beat his breast . . . he would not allow his eyes to gaze towards heaven, to the place of God . . . and, he moaned a prayer of mercy and forgiveness as he admitted to God that he was a sinner.  A sinner unworthy of God’s grace and forgiveness.

The scene was a picture of contrast.  Two different ways of praying to God.  One the way of the righteous of pointing out to God how much better they were than those around them; the other, a way of letting God know it was just privilege to even have the opportunity to offer a prayer . . . a prayer asking for forgiveness.  All of this was done in the presence of those who were confident in their own righteousness.

Imagine their shock when Jesus affirmed the tax collector over the Pharisee . . . proclaiming the tax collector as being more faithful than the practicing and self-appreciating Pharisee.  In the eyes of God, the tax collector was the more worthy in the eyes of God.

There is a phenomena that surprisingly guides our lives whether we are aware of it or not.  That phenomena is based upon a simple premise.  In our lives we have many personas that dictate the way that we see the world around us.  These phenomenons are based upon the many aspects of our lives that we are.  For example, I have a lot of different aspects in my life . . . I have been educated to look at life as one who deals with people with disabilities thanks to my college degrees in special education and speech pathology.  I also have the view that comes from the fact that I got a degree in counseling.  I also have the fact that I was raised under the guidance of a father who was in the military.  I am a parent . . . a spouse . . . an individual.  Then, to top it all off, I have a religious degree that casts it shadow over the whole of my life.  These are lenses in which I see the whole world on a daily basis.  Through these lenses I see life.  Through these experiences of life I judge myself and the world I live.

Sadly, these are the lenses of experience that really do not matter.  What matters is how God sees it.

Oprah Winfrey, who needs no description, asks a poignant question: “What would you look like if you saw yourself through the eyes of God?”  She poses a wonderful question.  In her question she does not want to know what other people think . . . what the world thinks . . what the family thinks . . . not our best friend . . . not the minister . . . no one.  The question is posed to ask us what we would look like if we could see ourselves through the eyes of God.  She wants to know, in our own words . . . in our own thoughts . . . how we think that God views us as individuals.  Who are we through the eyes of God?

Are we the self-righteous who only care about how we weigh in compared to what society deems as worthy . . . or do we see ourselves through the eyes of God?  Through the eyes of God who sees us for who we are created to be . . . people with faults . . . people with fears . . . sinners as the tax collector proclaimed himself to be?  That is the question.  Compared to what?

In our scripture lesson the crux of the argument is in within whose eyes each of us finds our value.  Is it in the world’s view . . . or is it through the eyes of God?

Earlier I stated that we see the world and ourselves through the lenses we have accumulated through a lifetime of experience.  Those lenses dictate the way that we see ourselves and the world around us.  Everyone does it . . . that is the way that we live.  Yet, as the followers of Jesus, we are not asked to view the world through the lenses of our experience . . . we are asked to view the world and our lives through the eyes of God.  In everything we are asked to view it all through the eyes of God.

Jesus tells the crowd gathered around him that the individual who is willing to lay the truth out there for God to hear is more worthy than the individual who just is going through the motions of what society expects.  God wants an honest heart, not a dogmatic heart.  

Compared to what?

Isn’t that the question?  When we take the time to pause and take stock of our lives . . . whose eyes are we judging that life by?  The world in which we live, or through the eyes of God?  More often than not, it is through the eyes of the world in which we live.  In the end, it is through the eyes of God that matters.

Jesus said it plainly.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Thus comes the blessing.  A blessing that comes from those who are willing to allow themselves to be seen through the eyes of God.  It is through the eyes of God that we find value as human beings.  Good or bad, it is what God thinks that matters.  Think about it.  Amen.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

“No More” (Jeremiah 31:27-34)

I am pretty certain that all of us have seen them . . . they have been syndicated in the newspaper since the early 1970s.  They were a single panel comic strip written and drawn by a New Zealander named Kim Casali since the 1960s.  At the top of the comic were the words, “love is” . . . then came a simple drawing of a male and female character--usually giving each other googly eyes . . . and, and then, the rest of the phrase, “. . . being able to say you are sorry.”  For over 50 years this simple little comic strip has graced the pages of newspapers all over the world telling its readers what love is.  

One of the defining qualities of these simple little comics is that when describing what love is it seems that love is defined as an action.  Rarely is it defined as an object or thing, but as an action.  With this in mind, I think that whoever said that love was a verb, not a noun, probably had it right.  Love is defined by action . . . defined by what one does . . . by how one lives.  It is not a state of mind.  It is not a feeling.  Love is a verb.  Verbs denote action.

In the beginning of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel the relationship was to be marked--to be chosen--to be God’s people.  In return for being chosen as God’s people, the people were to love God.  This was the foundational piece of their faith . . . it was their greatest commandment . . . “Hear, O Israel!  The LORD our God, the LORD is one!  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)  This is what the Jews know as the Shema.  This is what stood as the heart of the Jewish faith.  It was a familiar to the average Jew as the Lord’s Prayer is to the average Christian.  Recited twice a day by the faithful.  And yet, the children of God in our story this morning are reminders that the chosen could not do it.  They are in exile because of their failure to simply love God.  It was all in their heads and not in their hearts.  It was ritualistic and dogmatic.  It was a noun.

But we all know that love is not a noun . . . love is a verb . . . love is action.  The actions--or in this case, inaction--betrayed them.  They did not live out their love of God in their daily lives, and in return they were not really loving God.  The prophets tried to warn them, but they did not listen.  The end result?  Well, they were exiles in a strange land . . . far from the homeland they loved . . . far from the temple where God resided . . . they were exiled.  In their minds they were forgotten . . . the last of the chosen people.  The consequences of their sinfulness of not loving God was brought down upon them as a whole . . . as the children of God.

Last week we heard the prophet Jeremiah implore the people to make the best of their situation; but, more importantly, he implored them to be faithful.  This week he continues to push hope upon the people in the words that are shared.  He continues to push the people to be faithful.  And, he pushes the people to understand that things have changed.  Yes, they are still the children of God . . . yes, they are still the chosen ones . . . and, yes, God loves them, forgives them; but, God also ups the ante.  There comes a twist in the covenantal relationship . . . no longer is the community viewed as a whole for their actions, now each individual would be viewed individually for their love of God.  From the communal ownership of faith now comes the individual ownership of one’s love for God.

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke the covenant, though I was a husband to them.  This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel at that time.  I will put my law in their minds and in their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me. From the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  

No longer would the relationship between God and the people be defined by what they knew, but it would be defined by how they lived.  People would know them by their love, not their words or rituals.  This would be upon each person’s heart.  He emphasized this through his answer to the question about which was the greatest commandment.  He began with the Shema and then added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  He declared that from these two came all the laws and words of the prophets . . . it was the call of the faithful.  To love God and one another.  After the resurrection was this not what Jesus admonished Peter to do three times . . . to show him . . . to show him his love in how he acted and lived his life?

From loving God to loving one’s self to loving others . . . it is written upon the people’s hearts.  It is responsibility of each of the faithful.  If it is lived out faithfully then the Kingdom of God exists.  What becomes the responsibility of the individual also becomes the responsibility of the community . . . of the whole family of God.  To love God and one another.

No more . . .

No more shall we live our faith in our heads.

No more shall we only live our faith through the words we proclaim.

No more shall we live our faith through rituals and going through the motions.

No more shall faith be noun.

Instead our faith will be shown in the way that we live our lives.  Our love for God will be expressed in how we treat ourselves and one another.  Our faith will be in our actions.  Our faith and love for God will be a verb . . . something that demonstrates how great our love really is.  As the hymn states, “And they will know we are Christians by our love, and they will know we are Christians by our love.”  They will know that we are the followers of Jesus by our actions of how we love one another.

Nothing has changed since those words of Jeremiah.  Nothing has changed since those words of Jesus.  Nothing has changed since the actions of Jesus.  And, yet, I think that many of us wonder if we are any closer to realizing this dream of God’s of paradise . . . a place we call God’s Kingdom.  

In Jeremiah’s words the sun is breaking the darkness and bringing hope.  In Jesus the light shines a little brighter casting shadows upon what could be.  And, in our time we have the opportunity to move out of the shadows into the light of a new day . . . an opportunity that can only be realized if we truly begin to love God, ourselves, and others through the way we live our lives.  When we allow our faith . . . allow our love . . . to move from being a noun to being a verb.

May God grant us . . . all of God’s children everywhere . . . the wisdom to embrace and live this covenant, and the courage to live it in action each day, so that it may go well with us and with our neighbors.  May we be strong in our love for God to say to the world around us, “No more.”  Jesus has shown us the way.  Amen.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

“Making the Best of It” (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7)

Hope . . . we all need it.

Years ago I heard a story about two little boys who were wishing for a pony for Christmas.  They really wanted a pony.  Come Christmas morning they both tore off for the barn to see whether or not Santa Claus had brought them a pony. Running into the barn they found a huge pile of manure . . . a huge pile.  The older brother stopped in his tracks . . . the younger brother jumped right into the middle of it  The older brother saw nothing but a big pile of manure . . . and, he was confused as to his brother’s actions of jumping right into the thick of it all throwing manure left and right.  The older brother realized that there was no pony, and he wonder what in the heck his younger brother was doing.

In astonishment, the brother asked the younger one, what is the world he was doing.  To which the younger brother answered, “With such a huge pile of manure there has to be a pony in there somewhere!!!”

Hope . . . optimism.  That little guy had a whole bunch of both.

In our scripture reading this morning, the chosen people of God--Israel--are struggling with their situation.  They are in exile . . . captives of Babylon . . .captives because they chose not to follow the will of God,   For choosing not to follow the will of God the people have suffered a humiliating at the hands of the Babylonians and have become exiles in a foreign land.  They now live in a another country . . . a land that is foreign to them.  They cannot go home . . . they are stuck in a place that is unknown and foreign to them.

So, what are they to do?

Well, to be honest, they are like that little boy sitting in the pile of manure . . . certain there is a pony somewhere in the midst of all of manure.  The question becomes whether or not they are going to accept the pessimistic view of the older brother or the optimistic view of the younger brother.  That is the question.

As the children of God, this was a tough choice.

On the one hand, they remembered the promises of God . . . to create them as a great nation . . . to be more numerous than the stars in the heavens.  On the other hand, they were up the creek without a paddle . . they were exiled from their own country and made to live in a foreign land.  The language was different . . they culture was different . . . they were in an unfamiliar place.  They were in a quandary . . . what were they to do? Well, the prophet Jeremiah has a few choice words to say about it.  The prophet Jeremiah tells them to make the best of it.

As you listen to the words of Jeremiah, he tells the people to make the best of tt . . . no matter what is thrown at them, they are to make the best of it.  To go with the flow because God will take care of them.  Thus it is that the prophet tells the people to settle into their new environment . . . to adapt to what is.  The prophet tells them to make the best of it.  After all, is there exile not the result of their failure to do as God expect . . . is it not a consequence of their own action . . . or should we say their non-action.  Thus they are stuck in Babylon.  They have two choices . . . fight it or follow in line.

Here the prophet Jeremiah reminds them that it is better to be safe than sorry.  After all, the promises of God never change.

The promises of God are eternal.    They never ever change.  The goal is always to do God’s will.  Jeremiah believes it . . . Jeremiah preaches it.  It is pretty simple . . . God’s way or the highway!

We live in a of time of great unrest . . . so, what are we to do?

As the followers of Jesus we are to make the best of it.

Though few of us have ever experienced the situation that is shared in our scripture reading, we do have the ability of choose.  Are we pessimists or are we optimistics.  The choice is entirely ours.  If God gives you a bunch of lemons . . . make lemonade.

In the situation of God’s children in this particular reading they are in a bad situation . . . life is suddenly different . . . life is hard . . . and, no one asked to be there.  They are in a foreign land with strangers . . . strangers that are their enemies . . . strangers that are now their captors.  They have been humiliated and embarrassed . . . and many even wished they were dead than where they are.  Life is ruined and as far as some are concerned it is over.  Then they get this letter from the prophet Jeremiah telling them to make the best of it.  Again, we all know that this is easier said than done.

But the children of God in this situation forget.  Jeremiah reminds them.  Jeremiah reminds them that they are still the children of God.  Jeremiah reminds them that the promises of God are still theirs.  And, Jeremiah reminds them that they are still to go about the business of doing God’s will . . . of doing God’s will even in a situation that seems rotten to the core.  God will not abandon them or forget them.  At the same time, God is not going to rescue them from a situation that came from their own hands.  Consequences are consequences.  Thus Jeremiah urges them to make the best of a bad situation.  If they do that, well then, things will turn out alright.

I imagine that most of us would more readily identify with those who are in exile in this passage . . . not quite sure what good could ever come out of making the best of a bad situation.  None of us enjoys life when it throws us a curveball and messes everything up.  None of us likes it when our lives get turned upside down and dumps us in the muck.  And, yet, it seems to happen more often than we are willing to admit.  Thus we moan and groan . . . we lament about how bad things are . . . and, then, we do it some more.  And, like the children of God in the scripture reading this morning, we forget.

We forget that we, too, are the children of God.  We forget that the promises of God never change.  We forget that we have a role to play in God’s will and desire to establish the kingdom that never ends . . . that we have a part in it all.  We forget that God is not going to abandon us.  And, because we forget, we flounder in our faith.  Floundering in our faith, we moan, groan, and lament.

Thus we are reminded this morning through the words of the prophet Jeremiah . . . never forget!  Never forget that we are the beloved children of a loving and graceful God who will never, ever abandon us . . . not in our good times which are easy to celebrate, or in our bad times which are more difficult to understand and to acknowledge as more of a complaint than a blessing.  Jeremiah tells the people that it is their choice . . . make the best of it or perish in their own faithlessness.  In Jeremiah’s words he presents hope.  Doing something is better than doing nothing.  Make the best of it.  As someone once said, “Life is what you make of it.”  It is their choice.

It is the same for us.

It is our choice.

May we choose God and God’s will.  May we make the best of what we have been given.  Amen.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

“Extending the Table” (Luke 17:5-10)

“The miracle of Communion means the rich bowing down
with the poor, the learned with the unlearned, the clean with
the filthy, the master with the slave, the privilege with
the deprived, the white with the black, and the black with the white”

Rosa Page Welch is probably not a name familiar to many of us here this morning . . . but, she should be.  First of all, she was an amazing singer who sang for audiences all over the world proclaiming her voice to be the voice of an angel . . . acclaiming her as a great woman of God.  Secondly, she was a missionary called by God to bridge the gap between blacks and whites during a time of segregation in our country.  Her desire was to spread the good news of God’s love for all people, and desire for all people to work together.  Third, she was a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) . . . a life-long member.  And, lastly, she was black.

The issue of unity as the children of God was personal.  Much of her life was spent fighting this barrier between races.  Despite the fact that she could be hailed as a “woman of God” having the voice of angel . . . acclaimed by many . . . she still could not use the bathroom or eat in the many places she performed.  And, yet, she endured in her witness towards inclusion and unity for all people as the children of God.  It was her calling.  In a story her daughter, Linne, told she mentioned that her mother’s constantly having to be on the road singing and witnessing had put a strain on the family.  As she recalled a time when she was nine years old, her mother getting ready to walk out the door, she sat at the top of the stairs crying and pleading for her mother to stay.  Her mother replied, “I have this calling.  Where God had called, I must go.” (“I have a calling . . .” by Deborah Phelps in the Women of Faith magazine in the summer of 2009.)

It is on this Sunday, which is World Communion Sunday, that I began this sermon with Rosa Page Welch’s words.  World Communion Sunday has been celebrated since 1933.  The brainchild of a Presbyterian minister by the name of Hugh Thompson Kerr.  His idea was to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity--in which everyone might receive inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.  From this simple beginning it has grown to be annual celebration in many denominations and churches throughout the world--including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); after all, we are a people of the table.  It is a symbolic call towards unity . . . unity as the children of God in God’s kingdom.

I’m not quite sure the purpose behind World Communion Sunday has been accomplished . . . this idea of unity and interconnectedness; but, I can say that it does serve as a nice reminder that all are a part of the family of God no matter what branch they come from.  At least for one day, we can say with some certainty that there are other followers of Jesus who have gathered around the table, broken the bread, and lifted the cup in remembrance of what Jesus has done for all of us.  We can say that on this day, we are not the only ones at the table.  But, as far as accomplishing its goal of uniting the body of Christ into one body . . . well, I think it is safe to say that we are still a ways off from that.

At the same time, I don’t think that means we quit trying.

After all, we are called as the followers of Jesus towards being a “movement towards wholeness.”  That “movement towards wholeness” is a call towards establishing God’s family . . . God’s kingdom . . . here on earth.  It is a movement towards inclusion.  It is a movement toward finding a place at the table for everyone . . . all of humanity that has been created in the image of God.  It is extending the table.

When Dana and I got married, we had a simple two-seater table.  The table was big enough for the two of us to gather and eat.  Then we started having children . . . and, with each child the table grew so that all could have a place at the table.  Then some of the children went off and got married, starting having children of their own.  Dana and I realized that we needed to get a bigger table . . . or at least a table with extensions; and, that is what we did.  We now have a table that easily seats all eleven members of our family whenever we gather to eat . . . plus we have the capability of extending that table to include even more.  We extended the table so that all could be included.  We want everyone at the table . . . our family and our friends . . . the strangers who appear at our door . . . the wayfaring pilgrim.

Throughout my ministry I have always appreciated the meaning and message of World Communion Sunday . . . this call for unity and inclusion among the faithful.  It is a good start.  I say that it is a good start because it begins to expand our understanding of the family of God.  On the other hand, it is only a good start.  Over the years I have begun to see that the family of God goes beyond the fellowship of the faithful . . . goes beyond the boundaries of the churches.  The family of God includes all people in all places . . . after all, they resemble the One who created them . . . they were created in the image of God.  They are our brothers and sisters.  They deserve a place at the table with the rest of us.  Thus I think that the idea of World Communion Sunday needs to be bigger . . . needs to be more inclusive . . . if it is ever to be the family of God in God’s kingdom . . . if it ever going to really be that “miracle” that Rosa Page Welch described it as.  

In our scripture reading this morning, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith.  Jesus tells them that if they really had faith they could do anything . . . even the ability to have bushes replant themselves where they desire.  Then he tells them to imagine something . . . they have a servant who works hard for them--plowing the fields or tending the sheep.  At the end of the day he asks them whether they invited the servant in to eat a meal or do they have the servant prepare and serve the meal before allowing the servant to eat?  Well, of course everyone has a role to play and status to uphold . . . the servant would do what a servant is supposed to do . . . prepare and serve the meal.  Jesus asks if they would show appreciation towards the servant for doing his or her job . . . of course not, it was the servant’s job.  That is just the way things are done.

But, for Jesus this is not good enough.  Faith goes beyond going through the motions of what is expected.  Faith is tearing down the walls, removing the barriers, and including everyone.  He tells the apostles: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Doing the expected is not good enough.  The followers of Jesus are to go beyond the expected and to do the unexpected . . . they are to increase their faith in demonstrating the power of God’s love.  They are to get into the business of creating miracles.  They are to invite everyone to the table . . . just as God created them . . . they are about extending the table so that everyone has a place.  

As a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation our greatest precept is the table . . . the Lord’s Supper . . . Holy Communion.  We believe that whenever we are gathered we should come around the table to break the bread and lift the cup.  We celebrate the holy meal each and every Sunday and a few times in between.  We believe in the power and the message of this table.  As a congregation we also believe that Jesus invites everyone to this table . . . everyone.  This is the miracle of communion that Rosa Page Welch speaks of.  Thus we let everyone know that no one is denied his or her place at the table no matter who they are, what they represent . . . all are welcomed.

Thus it is at the table that we have the opportunity to increase our faith . . . to be more than is expected . . . to be miracle workers.  The opportunity is there for the taking as the table represents the kingdom of God in its finest and most complete.  The opportunity is there if we take that practice and apply it to our everyday lives . . . if we move towards being the kingdom of God in this moment and the moments yet to come as we live our lives daily.  We are to extend the table.

Yes, communion is a miracle.

Let us live the miracle.  Amen.