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Wherever We Draw Dividing Lines, God Has Already Erased Them (Eph 2:11-22)

I was having a conversation a while back with someone. As sometimes happens when we allow it, the conversation turned to things spiritual. In the course of the conversation I asked this person why they didn’t take part in a church. They said, “God and I are OK, so I don’t really need a church.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say, and, of course, couldn’t think of anything at the moment. So I went deep and offered the profound, wise response of, “Oh . . . OK.”

But that comment has stuck with me. If, as Ephesians says in chapter one (last week), God’s work of saving all creation and all people is now in place, then what do we need a church for? If all obstacles between humanity and God have been removed, then “God and me” are OK. So what’s the point of the church?

These verses in Ephesians give us a glimpse of an answer. The author starts by stating that in the cross, Jesus has “[created] in himself one new humanity . . . thus making peace.”

“One new humanity.” Jesus has created peace by creating one new humanity. Out of divided people, both Jews and Gentiles claiming the way of righteousness, each claiming to be better, each blaming the other for their woes, each focusing on the differences between them, Jesus has created something new in himself. One new humanity, reconciled to God and to each other through the cross. In Jesus the whole household of God is joined together, built together, reconciled together, with Jesus as the cornerstone of the whole structure. If there’s any disunity, it’s our doing, not God’s. We are the ones who put up divisions. And then we have the audacity to use God’s name to maintain these divisions.

The God who is reconciling all creation has also created a church with a particular purpose: to reveal God–which means God’s reconciliation–to the world. We can’t expect the world to get along if we can’t. How can we expect the peace of God in the world when the church isn’t boldly loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? God’s church keeps separating, dividing, splitting and splintering over issues of doctrine or being “more right” than someone else, and then somehow we think the world is going to see God through our actions?

I caught part of the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night included betowing the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner–formerly Bruce Jenner. Regardless of any controversy around how she got the award, I find it sad that it’s the people who claim reconciliation in Christ who are often the most critical of her as a transgendered woman. Either we are reconciled in Christ or we are not. Either we trust God’s work on the cross or we don’t. We can’t have it both ways. If we are reconciled to God in Christ, then we are reconciled to one another in Christ too. It’s the same reconciling work. The cross has made us all one in Jesus.

Yes, each one of us is OK with God, but that means that we have to be OK with each other. The divisions we create–no matter where–are denials of Christ’s work on the cross.

Draw divisions wherever you want: male/female, young/old, long-timer/newcomer, 8:00/10:30, heretical /orthodox, active/inactive, progressive/conservative, gay/straight, Christian/Muslim, natural-born/immigrant. It doesn’t matter. Because God has already made peace between whatever groups we’re talking about. There is now just one new humanity with Jesus as the cornerstone of it. The dividing line has been erased. We are one instead of two, reconciled through the cross. The hostility between any of us has been put to death. In Jesus the whole thing is joined together. To deny another person–no matter who they are–is to deny Jesus.

When we pray today, let’s be sure to pray for our enemies, those we disagree with, those who’ve hurt us, those we are convinced God shouldn’t love. Whether we can love them or not, God already does. Whether we include them or not, God already has. Whether we are reconciled with them or not, they are already OK with God.

There is now one new humanity. We just have to admit it.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Image of God: One Reason I Need the Church

Genesis 1:26-27

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Growing up, I was the nerdy smart kid with few social skills, even fewer friends, and the one who could disappear into the woodwork and become invisible to avoid getting beat up. I always felt I didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough, always fell just short of what was expected.

I believed my self-worth came from what I couldn’t do, which far outweighed what I could do.

I believed my value as a person came from what others said was valuable, which didn’t happen to coincide with my gifts.

I believed my identity was grounded in failure and weakness, which my peers would continuously point out.

I didn’t like myself very much as a kid, because I believed there wasn’t much about me worth liking.

It was all a lie, but the lie had power and I believed it. I believed that those around me knew better than me. I believed that if some people didn’t think I was worthwhile, then I wasn’t worthwhile. I believed it, and in buying into this lie I was depriving the world of a unique glimpse of the image of God. A glimpse that only I could give.

Because the truth is that I am created in the image of God. Not the complete image–certainly not everything about me is Godly. But the deepest, most significant, most authentic part of me is. Because I am created by God, I reveal God. Part of God’s character is part of me. As someone created by God, it cannot be any other way.

If God is good, there is goodness that is authentically part of who I am.

If God is merciful, there is mercy that is authentically me.

If God is forgiving, there is forgiveness that is authentically me.

Do I believe that this is the truth about who I am? Sometimes, sort of. The lies continue to swirl around me, however, and I can’t seem to block them out all the time. Certainly not by myself.

That’s where I need you. Other people who know that they, too, are created in the image of God and so can recognize that. I need people to remind me of who I really am, people who can recognize the lies and point them out, people who know the image of God and can see that in me–expecially at those times when I cannot see it in myself.

That’s what we do for each other. We look for the image of God in one another. We point it out to each other. We expose the lies about our identity and celebrate together God revealed in one another.

We’ve all been lied to. Each of us has believed at one time or another that we are somehow less, that we don’t really matter, that our value is directly connected to others’ opinions, that our weaknesses define who we are. It’s not true. We are all created in the image of God. We all shine forth with God’s love and grace in wonderful and dazzling ways–not because we work up to it, but because it’s at the very core of who we are. Strip away the lies, the self-doubts, the insecurities, and the inadequacies, and the central, authentic identity we all have is people who reflect the holy, generous, gracious image of God.

That’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s something we need to hear. It’s something we need to point out to those around us.

What are the lies about yourself that you’ve believed? Lies that maybe you’ve even lived into? Have you ever believed the lie that you are farther away from God that others? Have you ever believed the lie that you have nothing to contribute? Have you ever believed the lie that you don’t make a difference in the world?

We all fall prey to the lies about who we are. And we all need to see and remind each other of the image of God shining forth. That’s why we will love each other, forgive each other, show compassion to each other; because it’s God’s image among us. And that’s why we point out to those around us how we see God in them: how we see God’s goodness, mercy, love, kindness, compassion shining forth from them. Because they may not be seeing it. We owe each other the truth about who we are. We are people who, no matter what else, are created in the image of a loving, gracious, forgiving, generous God.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Do not Make a Distinction Between Them and Us

Acts 11:1-18

I wonder if you share this thinking: I have this default setting that keeps telling me that God uses Godly people to make good things happen; and God also spends quite a bit of time trying to reform the ungodly people. Do you have that assumption—that God is better able to use Godly people because they are on the same page? And part of that assumption is that we know who the Godly people are. Right? You can name them.

Exactly what the church leaders in Jerusalem thought in this text from Acts. You see, they were Godly people, committed followers of Jesus. They were doing good things. They were organizing a new church in a culture that wasn’t exactly supportive of their efforts. They were so sure of their Godliness that they called Peter out on some of his behavior because it didn’t line up with that. They understood that God only works through the Godly people. Which, of course, was them.

Before we judge them too harshly, understand that they had some reason to think that. Up until then, all believers in Jesus were Jewish. Male circumcision was the sign of inclusion in God’s covenant with Abraham—and there’s no one more Godly than Abraham. Every believer—every Christian—was circumcised. It had always been God’s way. It was a covenant of trust, of relationship, of commitment, of a life given to God. It was Godly. You could tell who the Godly people were. Or at least you could tell who they weren’t.

So they called Peter out on his ungodly behavior, saying, “You had dinner with uncircumcised people? What were you thinking?! Those people know nothing of God. They aren’t Godly—they don’t even know what it means! Now, because of you, they will assume that they are Godly, and will have no reason to actually become Godly.”

But Peter had a different perspective because he was told by God what God was doing. He tells the church leaders exactly what happened. He had a vision of all the ungodly animals coming down in a large sheet. Every food animal that was forbidden, sinful, that separated one from God was lowered in front of him. God not only tolerated, this, God commanded Peter to eat them. Three times this happened, each time Peter refused, saying that he knew that no believer in Jesus could ever eat these things. And each time God answered telling Peter that God decides what is Godly and what isn’t.

While he’s puzzling about this some unbelievers came from Caesarea. “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” Make no distinction between us as Godly people and them as unbelieving, ungodly, unrighteous people. So he ended up baptizing them.

What are our assumptions today about who is Godly and who isn’t? By what standard do we impose status of Godliness? Who do we assume God will bless? Those who pray a certain way? Who wear certain clothes? Whose children behave in particular ways? Who live a life-style we approve of? Think for a minute about who you believe to be “ungodly.” . . . “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

So you imagine Peter’s surprise when he was informed by God to go with these pagan unbelievers. You can imagine Peter’s shock when God said I’m coming to them, too, just the way they are. Even though they believe differently than you and understand differently than you. You see, Peter, God is powerfully at work well outside your standards.

Well, God is powerfully at work well outside our standards, too. God can and does reveal God’s reign through people with dirty clothes, through disruptive children, through people who don’t pray articulately, through those whose morals and ethics are different than mine.

Peter finally got that. God will do what God does, through those God calls to do it. God decides who is Godly and who isn’t. Not us. And God declared these people from Caesarea to be Godly. “The Spirit told [Peter] to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

So he told the leaders in Jerusalem. And (here’s the miracle) all those pastors in Jerusalem got it too. They came to understand that they weren’t any more Godly than anyone else. If they saw God at work somewhere, somehow, they were to get on board. If they understood God to be loving people different than them, they were to love them too. And so they did. They praised God for working in the lives of people they had previously considered ungodly.

The honest question for us is who do we consider to be ungodly? What if God is teaching us something about God through them? What if God is working in Godly ways through them? “The Spirit tells us to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” That’s hard enough.

But here’s the really difficult thing. What if God is working in Godly ways through you, just the way you are right now? What if you have something to teach the world about who God is and how God works, today? What if, even if you think of yourself as not particularly Godly, God is showing love in the world through you right now? What if God has declared you Godly.

God will do what God does, through those God calls to do it. God decides who is Godly and who isn’t. Not us. And God declares you Godly people today, right now. “The Spirit tells us to go with each other and not to make a distinction between us.” God made you to reveal God to the world. Just the way you are.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Sermon

 

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A Safe Place to be Vulnerable–Lent 5

5th Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21; John 12:1-8

 So, what do you think of Mary of Bethany in this gospel text? She takes perfume that’s worth almost a full year’s salary, ad pours it on Jesus’ feet—the work of a slave. Then she wipes it with her hair—a scandalous act for a woman. What are one or two words you might use to describe her? Free spirit? Grateful? Overly dramatic? Devoted? Wasteful?

The word I think I would use is “authentic.” She is being herself in a very unique situation. Her brother, Lazarus, has just been raised from the dead by Jesus and she is responding to that. And she’s doing it in her own, unique, genuine, and authentic way. John writes that her anointing of Jesus’ feet with this expensive perfume is a preview of his being anointed for burial. Of course gospel-writer John would find deep meaning in this act and relate it to the cross. That’s what he does. But I’m not sure in this story that Mary of Bethany had that in mind at all. Her actions are her own, with her own motives of gratitude and devotion. She is being, well, Mary. And she’s not trying to impress Jesus, Judas, or anyone else. She is responding to her brother’s restored life in an authentically “Mary” kind of way: by breaking open an extravagantly expensive jar of perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet with it, then wiping his feet with her hair.

Her response doesn’t meet Judas’ approval—even though many would say that Judas has a point. Judas is one of the twelve insiders whom Jesus picked, but his criticism doesn’t stop her at all. It doesn’t even matter to her. Her response to Jesus compassion isn’t influenced at all by what others think. Not only is that authentic, but it’s courageous. Because by acting in an authentic way, she’s opening herself up for public ridicule. She’s quite vulnerable to that right now.

Jesus, however, loves her response with the perfume. Not because it’s the right one or one that he approves of, but because it’s authentic for her. Her response to Jesus’ compassion comes from the core of her identity. It’s not meant to gain approval, not for anyone else, but just a response that comes from deep within her heart.

And that’s why we usually don’t behave authentically.

When you respond to Jesus (or anyone) in an authentic way, it leaves you vulnerable. Look at the criticism Judas levels at Mary. It’s harsh. He’s not just criticizing her actions, because her actions are coming from the depths of who she is. He’s criticizing her as a person. And if it wasn’t Judas saying it, how many of us would agree with him (because if he says it, it must be wrong)? How many of us would look at each other, roll our eyes, sigh, and whisper to one another, “There she goes again. She is just so strange.” And then we’d avoid her, gravitate toward others who also think she’s strange, and end up excluding her.

Mary is taking a tremendous risk by being authentic. Authenticity makes you vulnerable because it opens us up to pain that is so easily inflicted by those around us.

We live in a culture that doesn’t want us to recognize—much less admit—our vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be weak. It is considered wimpy. Buck up, we say. Be strong, we say. Tough it out, we say. Our heroes are people of strength and power. They aren’t vulnerable, they never back down, they never give in, they are never weak.

Mary has the courage to be authentic in the face of what others think about her. She does this extravagant thing because she has been touched by Jesus’ compassion and grace. When you are most vulnerable and you are met with compassion; when you are most vulnerable and are met with love, you are given new life.

I think that’s the church at its best. A place where you are met with compassion and love when you are most vulnerable. You see, that’s how Jesus continuously meet us—when we are weakest and most vulnerable, he comes to us in love, compassion, and grace.

At our Lenten devotion time last Wednesday, those at our table were talking about this text. The question we were dealing with had to do with Mary of Bethany’s extravagant gratitude. What were we grateful for, the question was asked? Many said that this congregation was pretty close to the top of the list. Several people shared that when they were living their lives in hard places, this was a safe community for them. They were welcomed, cared for, and held without any expectations or assumptions. They could be authentic in their pain, in their weakness, and in their vulnerability without much fear of reprisal or criticism. A safe place to be vulnerable—a safe place to be authentic.

I have a friend who experienced the death of a family member a while ago. She has spent the last several months being very vulnerable with a group of friends who’ve held her, walked alongside her, prayed with her during her journey of grief. She has cried, anguished, lamented, and shared her journey—trusting that no one would tell her to be strong, or to quit being so tearful, to get on with her life. Her grief is authentic, and her journey through it is just as authentic. Not looking for approval, just a safe place to be vulnerable—a safe place to be authentic.

Can you imagine the freedom that would come with that kind of safety? To know that you can express what truly in your heart, knowing that you will only be loved in return? That’s who we are in Christ. That’s what it looks like when the church is authentic.

I pray you would find this to be an authentic community here at LCM. I pray you would feel free to be authentic here. Jesus has touched us with compassion and love, we are free to respond in an authentic way. We are free to live in an authentic way. We are forgiven; we are loved; we are free. In that, we are given new life.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Sermon

 

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God Loves Dysfunctional Families–Even Yours: 4 Lent

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Of all the parables Jesus tells in the gospels, this is, I believe, my favorite one. For some reason, God has captured me with this story. No matter where I am in my faith journey, God speaks to me in it.

Let me tell you what God is saying this time. This story is not about a son repenting but about how deeply the father loves him. This is not about the son coming home but about the father’s joy at feeling whole again. This is a story about the joy of a father overflowing out of himself into the whole town! He’s grieved the loss of one of his sons. He’s longed for both his children be in the house, was desperate for his love to be made complete in a relationship with both kids. And now it seems to have happened! The son who left has come back. The one who was lost is found. His family is restored! Broken relationships are whole again! They get to start anew, all is well, all is forgiven. Though the younger son has a speech all practiced, the father isn’t even listening—because the father’s deepest desire is fulfilled: his relationships with those he loves are whole again.

But there’s a new problem that develops at the end of the story. At the beginning of the parable the younger son removes himself from a relationship with the father; now at the end the older son is doing the same thing. He cannot share his father’s joy. He is separating himself.

Isn’t that the way with families, though? You kind of get one relationship doing OK and another one fractures. In spite of the love you share, something goes wrong, a misunderstanding takes place, a word is spoken carelessly, an unwise decision is made, and everyone is affected. It just seems like when one relationship is finally doing OK, there’s a new misunderstanding with someone else.

Families are complicated. They’re messy. Every family at a deep level understands itself to be somewhat dysfunctional. Quirks, weird behaviors, painful issues that aren’t talked about, unresolved resentments that can stay under the surface, situations where you kind of have to walk on eggshells to keep the peace. Families are difficult. They can sometimes be hard work.

The only thing families have going for them is love. If the basis of family relationships is everybody behaving well, then no family has a chance. It’s not good behavior, it’s just loving each other. If in some imperfect, broken way, we manage to do that, that’s the best we can do. Everything else has to fit somehow around that.

That’s expressed in this parable. A strained family with damaged relationships. Two different brothers, each with his own brokenness. One runs away to find his own life, the other thinks good behavior will give him life. But it is the father’s great love for both of his sons that is the point of the story. Simple unconditional love for his two very different sons. A love that reaches out to each one, that includes each one, that drives his relationship with each one.

If good behavior was the foundation of their relationship, the older son would be the favorite. If individuality and self-expression was the foundation of their relationship, it would be the younger son. But that’s not the case. The father just loves his children. Period. That’s all the matters, it’s the bottom line, it’s the foundational piece.

So, of course the father will welcome the prodigal son back home. Of course he’ll run out to him in a very undignified fashion, give him robes, rings, parties, fatted calves.

And, of course the father goes out to the son who has always been obedient to bring him into the party. The father doesn’t love this older son any less, doesn’t appreciate him any less. But this is a celebration of the father’s love and joy that that has been restored and simply can’t be contained. It’s spilling out everywhere! The father thinks everybody should be celebrating! A fatted calf is way more than one family can eat; the whole town is included! Everyone is invited to share in the joy of the father, because this son of his—one of the sons that was lost and that he loves so deeply—is now found.

Whether that son leaves again or not isn’t the point. Whether the other son continues comes to the party or not isn’t the point. The father loves them both, no matter what. When love wins out, that’s a cause for celebration.

This is a story of the power of a father’s love. Of God’s love.

And it’s not based on good behavior; it’s not based on obedience. It’s not based on fixing brokenness or repentance or anything else that we do or don’t do. It’s a story of God’s love for each one of you. Prodigal, obedient, reckless, faithful, inside, outside, connected, on the fringes. You cannot make God love you more with obedience or repentance, and you cannot make God love you less with disbelief or selfishness. God’s love for you simply cannot change. Period. God has a death and resurrection invested in you. God’s love isn’t going anywhere.

And here’s where it gets fun. Sometimes, we see God’s love win out. Sometimes we get to see one of God’s beloved children get a new start, experience real forgiveness, recognize that they have been touched by grace. Sometimes we even get to be part of that. But always, we are invited to celebrate. God speaks in this parable. And the point isn’t to call sinners to repentance as much as it is to invite everyone to celebrate God’s love.

If we do nothing else in worship, we should at least celebrate the reality of God’s love that has made us new. Sometimes we get to see that in real ways. Always we get to celebrate it. God’s love is for all people. God’s love wins out. You are forgiven, and we’re all invited to that celebration.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Grace is Spilling Over the Edges

Mark 7:24-37

 Wait a minute. Are we hearing this right? Did Jesus just call this woman a dog? Did he actually tell her that healing her daughter would be like taking a child’s meal away from them and giving it to a stray mutt? Is he saying that this woman is outside of God’s grace and love? Is Jesus wrong? Or just rude? Or is everything else we’ve come to know in our Christian faith not true?

Jesus is deep in Gentile territory, apparently trying to get away from the constant demands of the Jewish crowds. This Syrophoenician Gentile woman comes up to him, begging for him to heal her daughter. Even way out here she’s heard of what Jesus has done. She breaks all kinds of taboos, takes a huge risk out of love and concern for her child. And Jesus says, “no,” that he came for the Jews, not people like her. Then he insults her by calling her a dog. What is going on? This isn’t the Jesus we know and love. This isn’t the one who gave up his life, bringing forgiveness and life into the world’s sin and death.

There are some things to ponder here, to be sure. Maybe Jesus is trying to make a point to his disciples about their own self-righteous attitudes. Maybe he’s a racist. Maybe even he doesn’t yet understand the extent of God’s love and mercy. We can spend the rest of our lives trying to figure that out. That would be fun. We could get into some really good arguments about it. Maybe we should. But that would leave out the end result of this story: God’s grace finds a way. God will not be stopped from loving those furthest away, least deserving, beyond our radar.

When Jesus tells her that he won’t heal her daughter because that would be like taking food from a child and throwing to a dog, her reply is pretty gutsy, don’t you think? She doesn’t argue with him. She doesn’t get offended. She challenges him. She says that even the dogs get crumbs from the children. She’s is saying that God’s grace and mercy are bigger than Jesus is letting on. God’s love includes her! Is she schooling Jesus about God’s grace?

But she’s right, isn’t she? When a family sits down at the dinner table, where is the dog? Always under the table by the kids. Why? The children will always give crumbs under the table; or more. Sometimes they do it on purpose, sometimes they do it just because they’re messy.

This Gentile, foreign, very non-Jewish woman somehow understands that every time anyone tries to put a limit on God’s grace, that grace spills over the edges. Mercy, love, and forgiveness—the things of a joy-filled life—are always spread further than we think. Include those who we may not want included. They are always spilling outside the lines, beyond the boundaries, further than we are comfortable with.

I had a facebook friend, someone I’ve known since I was in Jr. High. He had posted last week that God’s grace and forgiveness are for those who decide that Jesus is their personal Lord and Savior. I responded with a challenge to that. I said that God’s grace is even more for those who do not—or cannot—make that decision. He dropped me as a friend. Very loudly. He had a hard time with God’s grace extending outside the lines he had drawn—lines of decision and understanding. God’s love and God’s forgiveness always go further than we are comfortable with. God includes more people than we would gather at the table. God has plenty of forgiveness; for those at the table, for those under the table, even for those who cannot get to the table. Wherever we draw the line, God’s grace is bigger.

During these last several weeks since Act of Grace (our music leaders at 10:45 service) began a two-month sabbatical, we’ve contemplated what God desires from our worship at LCM. The Spirit moved, and we discovered that the purpose of “worship at LCM is to create an atmosphere where God’s unconditional love can be experienced through the gathered community and translated into everyday life.”

What struck me about that realization is that God’s love and grace aren’t just experienced by a mystical, spiritual transaction between each individual and God. It is also experienced through the love we show to those God gathers here. Even though we are Gentiles, we really are the children at the table! We who are part of LCM feast all the time on God’s forgiveness, God’s love, and God’s generosity. Sometimes we deliberately spill God’s grace under the table; sometimes it’s just our nature and we do it because we’re messy.

LCM is the place where people come because they are starving for grace, love, and forgiveness, and they are hoping for it to spill over the edge of the table even to them.

They don’t come because of our doctrine. They don’t come because of our excellent theology. They don’t come because of our outreach programs. They don’t even come because of the extraordinary preaching. They come for crumbs of grace; a taste of love; a morsel of forgiveness.

Who is sitting under the table today? Who is hoping for crumbs? Who is needing to taste God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness through you? Many who are here today are filled to overflowing, and some are starving. Here, we are spilling over the edges of the table with grace. There’s more. There’s always more.

Come to the table. God’s grace is spilling over. There’s plenty here. Eat your fill. You are invited. God’s grace cannot be contained. It is for you.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Sermon

 

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The Struggle to Belong (5 Pent B)

5th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Lamentations 3:22-33; 2 Cor 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Jesus heals two people today. Apart from both being female, they are worlds apart. One is young, the 12 year old daughter of a prominent Jewish leader, whose family likely has prestige, respect, and money. Her father will use his position to advocate for her. The other is unnamed, alone, and likely impoverished. She’s had  to contend with a 12 year continuous menstrual flow. There is no one to speak for her, to advocate for her. Both come to Jesus seeking help. Both receive it, but again in bizarrely different ways.

But I’m fascinated by this unnamed woman. She is unique and intriguing. Bleeding, flowing, having a constant period for 12 years—probably her entire adult life. She’s seen every physician, every healer, every quack she could find. No one has been able to help her. She’s sought out and tried every treatment out there, and not only is she still suffering, but she’s become steadily worse. Not only that, but now she’s become destitute because she’s spent every cent she ever had on these treatments. So now not only is she still suffering more than ever, but she continues to feel alone and unclean in the sight of God and her community.

You see, for Jews in that day there were three types of uncleanness that made a person “untouchable,” that separated them from their family, their church, their whole community: leprosy, contact with the dead, and bodily discharges. Jesus deals with two of these today.

But this woman has been unclean, untouchable, and isolated for 12 years. It’s not just the flow of blood she wants fixed. It’s the cultural ramifications of that. She aches to belong, to be part of a community, to be touched by another person again, to have people she can care about and who care about her. Having a group of people that claim you, love you, and know you makes us human. Belonging isn’t a luxury, it is life.

This woman was so desperate to be restored to community that she broke several more laws. She’ not staying separate from the crowds but is in the thick of them, bumping into people, making everyone she contacts unclean. It might be considered an act of extreme selfishness, or it might be incredible desperation. If only I can touch his clothes, I will be made well. She believes that Jesus is her only hope, and she will do anything to be restored to a caring community that claims her as one of their own. She’s terrified and desperate. She, apparently, is willing to do anything to be healed, and therefore part of a community, again.

I’m not sure she’s that different from many of us. Look at the lengths we go to in order to be accepted, loved, part of some community. Gangs are often comprised of young people yearning for acceptance by a group where they feel they belong. The way we dress is a statement about who we identify with, who we want to accept us. Drug and alcohol use, sex partners, physical appearance, tattoos, hair styles have more to do with where we want to belong and who we want to identify with than with anything else.

Just like this unnamed woman with a period lasting 12 years, we yearn to belong. We ache to be part of a community that welcomes us, values us, appreciates us, cares about us.

And a mere touch of Jesus’ clothes will restore us.

Moving through the crowd, finally she gets close enough to Jesus to brush the edge of his outer robe. And immediately the flow of blood stops. She is healed. Now she thinks she can slip away unnoticed and start over with her life. Maybe she can prove to the priests she is clean and perhaps she’ll be accepted into her community again. But it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Jesus knows. He knows what she has done. And he’s searching for her. The jig is up. She’ll never get away with this. She’s made lots of people in the crowd unclean. She’s made Jesus unclean. She’s interrupted him from getting to the bedside of a powerful leader’s daughter who is at death’s door. If Jairus’ daughter dies, she’ll be blamed because she delayed Jesus.

So, trembling with fear, she falls down in front of him and confesses everything. What will Jesus do to her?

And here’s what he does. He calls her “daughter.” Not stranger, not thief, not “hey, you!” But “daughter.” Like they were related. Like they knew and loved each other. Like she belonged. It’s been 12 years since anyone has been close enough to speak to her like that. And rather than punish her or shame her or condemn her, Jesus commends her! “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” You are not only restored to your community, you are restored to God.

This unnamed woman, rejected by everyone else, is loved and valued by Jesus. All of us here today, all of us who can sometimes go to great lengths to be accepted, are loved and valued by Jesus. We belong here. You belong here. Because here we can touch Jesus’ clothes. Here he listens as we tell him our whole truth. Here he calls us “daughters and sons.” Here we are healed. Here we are valued.

So, daughters. So, sons. You are loved, right here, right now. You are welcomed, right here, right now. You are valued, right here, right now. You are healed of your isolation. You are not only restored to a community that cares about you, you are restored to God. Go in peace, your faith has made you well.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Sermon

 

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