Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sermon; Proper 27C; Luke 20:27-38


Our journey through Ordinary Time is coming to an end. It began way back on June 23 with Jesus and the disciples arriving in the country of the Gerasenes, casting out a man's demons, and leaving him behind to proclaim the Good News. It will end two weeks from now with Christ the King Sunday. And as we draw this season to a close, we hear passages from the end of Jesus' earthly ministry – that time we refer to Holy Week after he has finally entered Jerusalem for the last time. These readings remind us not only is this season coming to an end, but Jesus is also approaching the end of his earthly life.

So Jesus has entered Jerusalem and soon after finds himself embroiled in several controversies. Four of these show up in Chapter 20, the chapter we hear from today: by whose authority do you do these things; the parable of the wicked tenants; the question of paying taxes to the Emperor; and, from today, the question of resurrection.

As we pick up the story, Jesus is being questioned by some Sadducees about the resurrection. They present Jesus with a ridiculous “what if” scenario about seven brothers and one woman. The brief backstory here is that Pharisees and Sadducees had very different ideas about resurrection, and that was one of their main theological battle grounds. The question posed before Jesus today really wasn't about resurrection, it was about getting Jesus to commit to a particular position for which he could be cornered and attacked. Jesus' answer focuses on resurrection, not a particular doctrinal understanding. This is important not only for Jesus, but for us as well.

Even though resurrection is a core doctrine of Christianity, especially the Resurrection of Christ, it took some time for that doctrine to be codified. And even with that, there was, and still is, some debate about the resurrection of believers.

So . . . resurrection is a key point of doctrine for the Church. That doctrine certainly points to the Resurrection of Christ, it points to the resurrection of believers, and it also points to resurrection in other aspects. Resurrection is not simply a doctrine promising sweet pie-in-the-sky later, but it also promises new life in the here and now. And our belief in new life is rooted in the Resurrection of Christ.

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die. These words from the burial office sum up the doctrine of resurrection beautifully. Resurrection does not mean that we are promised a life without death, it means we are promised life even though we die. Death is part of life. But because of Christ's victory over death, death does not have the last word. Even though we die, we shall have life.

When we were in Montana, Joelene and I served on the Congregational Development Committee. Our job was to go visit congregations who were, in essence, at a standstill or looking for ways to move forward. We got to see a lot of Montana.

We spent two days with people of the congregation. The first day we asked a lot of questions. That was dubbed the “Why are we here?” day because most people had trouble understanding what we were up to. The next day we began tying the pieces together and people started to make the connections. We never knew if our time there would be deemed successful, and most of the time we drove home wondering if the trip was worth it. I think most congregations got some value out of our time with them.

But at one church in particular, there was a great fear of closing. There was a fear that no matter what they did, it wouldn't matter. There was a fear that this was all pointless, but they didn't know what else to do.

During one of our discussions, one woman said, “We don't want to die.” The fear of being a dying church was palpable.

I replied, “What if you've already died?” And I got THAT LOOK.

I continued, “Based on what you've told us and where you are, it seems you've already died. But here's the thing: We're talking about resurrection and new life. Dying is okay if we're willing to live into resurrection.”

That parish turned around and began to do some great things in the community. And they did it because they believed that they had life, even though they had died.

The question the Sadducees asked Jesus, “Whose wife will she be?” misses the understanding of resurrection. Resurrection isn't an extension of this life, so the rules of this life don't apply to the resurrection. Resurrection is all about new life.

When we die, we will be raised to new life. When we are baptized, we are baptized into new life. When we repent of our sins, we state that we intend to live a new life. The church in Anaconda began living a new life.

This is all resurrection. It may not look like Jesus on Easter morning, but it is new life. And in this view of resurrection, Jesus was certainly right: He is God not of the dead, but of the living.

As we close out this season of Ordinary Time, let us remember that God is the God of the living. Let us remember that even though we die, we shall have life. Let us continually look for new life amongst what seems to have died. And let us never fail to make our song, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sermon; Proper 25C; Luke 18:9-14


A couple of weeks ago I was meeting with our Junior and Senior Wardens, Ellen & Lou respectively. Before I go too far, let me just say that these are two of the best people I've had the pleasure of working with as a priest. So anyway, we are having this meeting and somehow got on the topic of local drivers and their habits. It was Ellen who pointed out that newer cars were apparently being built without turn signals. At which point I said that I thought it was only Mercedes', Lexus', BMW's, and Lincoln Navigators that don't come with that piece of equipment.

And with that we were off discussing/ranting about other drivers.

I don't know how many times I've seen people run red lights. And not the “getting caught in no-man's-land where if you try to stop you'll end up in the middle of the intersection” type, but the full on, obviously blatant, “I-don't-care” violation.

And speaking of red lights, there are the people who are lucky they don't lose their front end because they've stopped well-past the stop line, sticking their nose so far out someone is liable to take it off. If I were a truck driver, I'd probably have taken out a baker's dozen by now. Seriously, how much time are you saving by going out an extra four or five feet? Those lines are there for a reason, pay attention to them.

I've seen several people who have used the right-turn only lane to jump in front of everyone going straight. There are people who either think speed limits don't apply to them or don't understand that a sign for 40 doesn't mean to go 25 just in case. Getting back to turn signals, there are people who don't use them at all, but then there are the people who flip them on AFTER they've entered a left-turn only lane. Pro tip: if you put your signal on after you've entered a turn-only lane, you're doing it wrong.

There are the people who lollygag along making no effort to get through a green light when the crosswalk signal is clearly ticking down to zero, forcing those behind to needlessly sit through a red light. Those same people are often the ones who, after the light turns green, decide that they must make up for lost time and speed off well above the posted limit. And there are the people who, when approaching a green light, actually begin to slow down or brake, possibly because the light might turn red.

This is not rocket science, people. Drive something close to the speed limit. Use your turn signals. Merge when you're supposed to. Pay attention to which lanes are turn-only and which ones go straight. I just don't understand why this is so hard. I mean . . . I mean . . . You know . . .

I thank God I don't drive like all those other people out there . . .

I am the Pharisee. I sit in my car with my clerical collar on, my Episcopal shield window decal, and my bumper sticker that proclaims God loves everyone without exception, and I judge the world as it speeds by me, cuts me off, or insists that various road signs don't apply to them. And I'm glad I'm not like them.

We do this not only with our driving, but with other things as well. People uphold themselves as better-than when they notice that some people who claim to be members of the church are rarely or never in attendance. We do it with our pledges, sure that we are giving more than some people who look like they should be giving more. My bishop in Montana talked about his neighbors who had motorcycles, a boat, an RV, three or four cars, and a horse trailer, but showed no evidence of attending any church.

And on a larger and much more insidious scale, there are those churches who loudly proclaim they are so right that anyone not them is wrong and most likely hell bound.

We compare ourselves to and judge others, I think, for a very simple reason – to assure ourselves that we are on the right side. But when we judge others, like the Pharisee judged the tax collector, we lose our ability to show empathy. We can become so focused on how good we are that we lose our recognition of our need for a savior.

In another place Jesus says that those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do; and that he came to call not the righteous but sinners. The funny thing about that, though, is that we are all sinners, some of us just choose to ignore that fact. So whether our sin is theft, adultery, greed, covetousness, jealousy, self-righteousness, or any other number of sins, large and small, known and unknown, done and left undone, we are all sinners in need of a savior.

This was the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee not only lacked empathy, he lacked self-awareness. He spent so much time praising the fact that he wasn't like any of those other people, he couldn't see that he himself was sick.

The tax collector, on the other hand, knew all too well that he was a sinner, he knew he couldn't measure up to the righteousness of the Pharisee, but he was willing to acknowledge how he fell short. Following up on last week, he was dissatisfied with who he was in the eyes of God. He had a vision that he could be better. And he took those first steps to acknowledge his need for mercy.

Instead of constantly telling God and ourselves how good we are in comparison to those other people, let us first work at living up to those expectations ourselves that we place on others. Let us recognize where we have fallen short. Let us empathize with those who don't live into our expectations because you have no idea how much stuff they may be dealing with.

I ask forgiveness for my own driving deficiencies. I thank God I have a savior who understands my faults. And I thank God that I am not like those other drivers, because it just may be that what they are dealing with inside their cars is way more than I am ready to deal with right now.

So when you are passed by a speeding car and you are tempted to praise your own driving skills and thank God that you are not like them, just remember this: That other person may be late to bible study – where are you going?

Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sermon; Proper 24C; Gen. 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8


Last week Dcn. Sue and I spent Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon at clergy conference. It was held in Ocean City this year and, thankfully, we had some great weather and free time to spend on the beach. Also, thankfully, I returned uninjured. Those two things were probably the highlight of the conference. One of the things that often happens at clergy conference is speakers are brought in to discuss a particular topic. This year we heard a few presentations from the College of Congregational Development (CCD). This is a program developed in the Diocese of Olympia to help with congregational vitality. The presentations were primarily an overview of how the CCD looks at addressing change and conflict.

And, as so often happens, when you hear something in one context, it suddenly shows up in another context. Like a word you've never heard before, but then it pops up seemingly everywhere. That seems to be the case here.

One of the first things the CCD presenters addressed was change. We all know that change is constant. Over time, all things change. One way to determine if an organism is alive and growing is to look at its rate of change. This doesn't necessarily mean that fast growth, or fast change, is always best or healthy. Cancer, for instance, is a group of fast-growing cells, but they are certainly not healthy. Change is constant, but constant change may not be ideal.

That said, they introduced a formula for change to us. It's not so much a mathematical formula as much as it is a logic statement. And it goes like this:

Change can occur when Dissatisfaction, Vision, and First Steps are greater than Resistance. For those wanting to write it out, it looks like this: C = D x V x FS > R

And when looking at this formula, it's important to remember that Dissatisfaction is a neutral term that can be either positive or negative.

So why am I bringing this up? Because today we have two very different, yet similar, lessons. The story from Genesis is, in a nutshell, that famous story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel, receiving a life-changing injury, a new name, and gaining a blessing. The story from Luke is the parable of the persistent widow who finally wore down the unjust judge in order to gain justice. These two different stories are similar in that they deal with change – what the CCD presenters spent time on.

As I said, the story from Genesis is one of the more famous stories from that book. For those who don't remember, Jacob has spent his life playing the trickster. He tricked his father to give him the family blessing over Esau. He tricked Laban while he was herding the flocks. And now he is on the verge of meeting his brother for the first time in years, and rightfully worried that Esau is out for revenge.

Maybe it's now that Jacob wants to change. Maybe it's now that he has become dissatisfied with how he acts and how he is perceived by others. Maybe it's now he has a vision of a new, restored life with family and God.

Jacob wrestles with these things throughout the night, much like we wrestle with changes in our own life. This encounter ultimately changes Jacob. He is blessed, yes, but he is also injured and changed forever. With this change, new possibilities are opened up. But with this change, things will never be as they were.

The gospel lesson is another story of change. The widow was dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. She had a vision for justice. And her first steps were to continually make her voice heard. The judge was the main source of resistance. Eventually he became dissatisfied with the widow and had a vision of being left alone. A change was made.

In the parable, this process is only a few verses long. In reality it takes much longer. Prayer does not cause change overnight. Change can be a long process. Sometimes it takes the persistence of the widow to make that change.

These two lessons have something to say to us today, especially in our relationship with God. Right now we all live and swim in our own personal spiritual relationship with God. This isn't a bad thing, but, like fish in water, we may not even be aware of our spiritual surroundings.

There are a few things for us to consider as we look at these two stories. First, do you have a vision? Like Jacob had a vision to “be better,” and the widow had a vision for justice, what is your spiritual vision? What do you want your spiritual life to look like?

Second, are you satisfied with your current spiritual life? Would your vision for a deeper level of spirituality cause you to be dissatisfied with how things are now?

Third, what first steps might you take to achieve your vision? Can you find time to pray in the morning, at noon, or at night? Would you be willing and/or able to attend an Evening Prayer service? Bible study? The list is endless, but a First Step is necessary.

And finally, if you want to make a change, know that this won't be easy. Like Jacob, you will have to spend time wrestling with an unknown adversary in your quest to get closer to God. You may come out with a limp. And you will be changed. Like the widow, this will take determination and perseverance. And, even though not stated in the parable, that constant and persistent effort changed her so that she was finally able to receive what was given. Likewise, God may also change you through your persistence.

These two stories are about change; and specifically, about a change in our relationship with God. As we look to deepen our relationship with God, we need to ask ourselves this question, “Are we willing to do the hard work of being changed by God, or is the desire to remain the same too much resistance to overcome?”

Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sermon; Proper 23C; Luke 17:11-19


Joelene and I love spending time at the beach. For years while we lived in Spokane we would spend a week every August in Cannon Beach, OR. I had been there several times before we met, and then began taking her with me.

Cannon Beach is a cute little tourist town about an hour due west of Portland. It's home to two famous rock formations – Haystack Rock and the Needles. It has “singing sand,” sand that squeaks when you walk. It's home to the largest and longest-running sandcastle contest in the Northwest. And it is the official terminus of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For me, it's a place of quiet healing and rejuvenation. Walking through the surf, flying a kite, exploring beach and stores, watching the sunset, and late night bonfires, along with the smells and sounds of the ocean, always did my soul good. And Joelene has her own memories and special places there.

The interesting thing is that neither of us grew up by the beach. I moved around a lot as a kid, and my parents liked to camp and hike. So we spent time at various campsites in the Cascade Mountains. Joelene grew up in Wenatchee, surrounded by the Cascades. But we both find ourselves drawn to the beach. This is actually typical of people out west as we often say, “People from the mountains escape to the beach, and people from the beach escape to the mountains.”

There's some truth to this. It's not that we don't, or stop, seeing the beauty around us; but that it becomes oh too familiar. When you see all 14,410 feet of Mt. Rainier on a daily basis it tends to lose some of it's majesty. Or out here, where we are surrounded by the history of our country, how many of us have stopped to read the plaque about the Battle of Funkstown?

Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us of the beauty around us. We either want to show off our neck of the woods, so we play tour guide, finding a new beauty ourselves; or the visitors point us in new directions that re-open our eyes so we can see what's around us.

Today we have the healing of the lepers. Jesus, in the Lukan procession of events, is on his way to Jerusalem and his Passion. A group of ten lepers approach and beg for mercy. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, and it is while they are on their way to do so that they were made clean. One, a Samaritan, returns to give thanks.

Before I get too involved, here are a couple of things for you to think about in your own personal studying/reading of scripture: 1) Did the instruction to go to the temple priests apply equally to the Samaritan foreigner as it did to the other nine Jews? And, 2) Why does Jesus seem upset at the nine Jews for doing exactly what he commanded? As I said, you can ponder those on your own.

One of the things I want to point out here is that all ten were healed, but only the Samaritan returns to give thanks, and only the Samaritan was “made well.” Jesus tells the Samaritan that his faith has made him well. The word that is translated here as “made well” shows up in a few other places in Luke and is translated as “saved you.” For the Samaritan, his return to Jesus has literally saved him.

This story of the nine Jewish lepers and the one Samaritan leper is the story of the mountains and the beach.

By virtue of being Jews and descended from Abraham, the nine lepers were part of God's chosen people. They were the beneficiaries of God's presence and grace that were poured out upon them. The Samaritan foreigner, according to Jewish law and custom, was not. He was outside the requirements of Judaism, and as a foreigner, was generally despised by the Jews.

The Jews, despite being lepers, lived with God at the beach. When Jesus brought the healing presence of the beach to those ten lepers, nine of them were oh so familiar with it that it was almost expected that God would do this for them. Like the rich man from two weeks ago, they had become blind to the majesty and presence of God.

The Samaritan, however, had lived his whole life in the mountains. When Jesus healed him, it was as if he saw the beach and ocean for the first time. His eyes were newly opened to the splendor and majesty of God. And it is that first experience of God working in his life that ultimately saved him.

As Christians and Episcopalians we just might be in the same boat as the nine lepers.

As Christians we have been adopted by God through our baptism. To paraphrase Paul, “We have been grafted onto the tree of God.” Through being called by Christ, our faith, and our baptism, we also are part of the family of God. As Episcopalians we are part of a particular branch of that family tree. We are overly familiar with the liturgy and the BCP. And we may have become oh so familiar and blind to the majesty and presence of God in our lives. We've been at the beach too long.

But every once in awhile we can have our eyes opened. A visitor to the church who experiences the beauty of this place for the first time. A seeker who finds a dignified beauty in the liturgy, or becomes moved by everything that goes on here. Those people are the Samaritan of today. Those are the people who see the beach for the first time. And those are the people who, because of that first beach experience, are not only healed but saved.

The stories of both the rich man and Lazarus and the ten lepers of today remind us that it's oh so easy to become blind to the world around us. The rich man was blind to the needs and presence of Lazarus. The nine lepers were blinded by a comfortable familiarity with God.

This is our beach. These are our mountains. Today's story is reminding us that the presence of God is right here in our midst. Let us not, like the nine lepers, become so familiar with the presence of God that we become blind to the majesty of God. Instead, let us be so present in, and so aware of, our Worship, Welcome, Service, and Encouragement that we, like the Samaritan, have our eyes opened to the majesty and presence of God that we are not only healed but are made well.

Amen.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sermon; Proper 21C; Luke 16:19-31


Today we have the second of two parables revolving around wealth. The first came last week with the story of the shrewd manager; and if you don't remember that story, it's because we interrupted our regularly scheduled readings to transfer the Feast of St. John. Today's story is the well-known parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

To recap . . . Lazarus lives in pitiful conditions outside the rich man's gate where he receives no aid whatsoever. They both die and Lazarus ascends to heaven while the rich man descends to hell. The rich man pleads for mercy, receives none, and then begs for Lazarus to be sent as a messenger to his siblings. The clinching line is, “If they didn't listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead.” – An obvious allusion to the resurrection of Jesus.

As usual there is a lot going on in this passage, but I want to focus on the interaction between the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus paints a picture for us of the rich man. He doesn't just say he's rich, but that he dresses in purple and fine linen, giving us a picture of royalty. Purple was the most difficult color to manufacture, therefore it was the most expensive of fabrics. He also feasted sumptuously every day, giving us a picture of someone who never had a PBJ in his life. And he lives in a gated community.

Notice, though, that Jesus never condemns the rich man for being rich. He never tells us that the acquisition of wealth is a bad thing. He just channels his inner Joe Friday and gives us the facts – he was rich, he dressed well, he ate well, and he lived in a gated community. Nothing wrong with that.

Lazarus, on the other hand, is a poor man who has camped out by the gate of the rich man. He is covered with sores. He can't afford to receive medical treatment, so he relies on dogs to come and care for him by licking at those sores. He longed to satisfy his hunger with the scraps from the rich man's table, but was never able to. This scene has always reminded me of the opening scene in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” where Nick Nolte's character is digging through the trash bins looking to feed himself and his dog.

As the story continues, they both die, Lazarus ascending to heaven and the rich man descending to hell. Note, though, that the rich man doesn't go to hell for being rich. The rich man goes to hell for being blind.

In August of 2001 my family moved to Evanston, IL, just north of Chicago. The first time we were in the city my daughter wanted to help every destitute person she saw. It was distressing to her to see so many people in need being ignored by so many more. But the longer we lived there, the more we got used to it. Keep your head down. Look straight ahead. Don't look anyone in the eye. Don't acknowledge anyone.

This was the sin of the rich man.

Yes, he probably suffered from the sin of greed. Yes, he probably suffered from the sin of gluttony. He may have committed the sin of theft. He probably committed a whole host of other sins we can only imagine. But the most egregious sin was in not recognizing, or even seeing, a fellow human being.

Maybe it was due to the social strata of the day. Maybe it was due to contempt. Maybe it was due to fear. But whatever the reason, the rich man was blind to the poor man lying outside his gate.

This parable isn't about the evils of being rich. This parable may be about how we choose to use or not use our riches. This parable is most certainly about how we see and relate to our fellow human being.

That is the question before us today: How do you see or not see your fellow human being?

One of the things I appreciate about Community Cafe, which we just hosted yesterday, is how it's set up. There are plenty of feeding programs set up like a cafeteria assembly line where the people come through, getting plates dished up, with little to no interaction. We're different. We set people at tables and interact with them. They are invited to receive personal hygiene items. Waitstaff takes their order and brings them their food. A dessert tray is brought to their tables. I wander around meeting and greeting. In short, they are not pieces of an assembly line, but they are people to be seen.

Years ago I remember a story of a homeless man sharing his experiences. He said something along the lines of, “If you can't or won't help me, that's fine; I don't expect everyone to give me money or food. But don't ignore me. At least tell me you can't help.” He had a deep desire to be seen and to be given the common courtesy of being recognized as a fellow human being.

A lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?”

And Jesus replied, “ 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' And the second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'.”

Today's parable is reminding us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Today's parable is reminding us that if we are blind to the people around us, then we fail to live out this commandment. This parable reminds us that we are to respect the dignity of every human being, whether they be a rich man in purple robes or a poor man lying at our gate.

We might not be able to solve the poverty problems, but we should certainly be able to see those around us who are in need. And by seeing them we can begin to recognize their humanity and worth based solely on the fact that they, also, were created in the image of God.

It doesn't cost us anything to treat others with dignity and respect; but it will hurt us immensely if we willingly remain blind to the world around us.

Open your eyes, for the world is at your gate.

Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sermon; 14 Pentecost/Proper 19C; Luke 15:1-10


Today we get two very familiar parables: that of the one lost sheep and that of the one lost coin. We have heard these parables so many times we probably are already mentally jumping to the end . . . “Yeah, yeah . . . lost sheep, lost coin, let us rejoice and celebrate, yada, yada, yada.” And there probably isn't anything I can say about these stories to put a different spin on them or present them in a way you've never heard.

Which is why I'm not going to address the parables. Instead, I want to focus on the first two verses of today's passage: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and Scribes were grumbling and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them'.”

The first thing I want to address is the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. In all times and in all places, there are people who have come to believe in their own self-righteousness to such an extent that they spend more time condemning others rather than examining and correcting themselves or trying to see the good in others. They find the obvious sins, or work to invent sins, committed by others in order to whitewash their own sins. In a couple of other places Jesus talks about logs and motes, and white-washed sepulchers.

We've all done this at one time or another, and we often do it to make us feel better about ourselves or to justify our own actions. But the truth is that, in one way or another, we are all sinners. Some sins may be big – mistreating our fellow human beings, racism, abuse, theft, etc. Some sins may be small – a lie here or there, talking behind someone's back, neglecting to point out that the cashier gave you too much change, etc.

We are all sinners. I wrote about this in a Wednesday Word. No matter how often we clean, dirt and grime still have a way of building up. No matter how righteous we seem to be, sin still creeps in.

This was the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, and it is the hypocrisy of the Church today, that they (we) think we are better than everyone else and spend our time condemning others rather than cleansing ourselves.

Aside from recognizing that we are all sinners, there's another point I want to look at. That is this theme of drawing in and welcoming.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.

Last Monday we resumed the adult bible study class and began an in-depth look at Hebrews. We managed to get all the way to Verse 4 of Chapter 1. That opening paragraph has a lot in it, and it is particularly relevant to our gospel today. In short, it talks about God speaking to our ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets, and now to us by a Son who is the reflection and exact imprint of God's very being.

God has spoken to us in many ways (clouds, dreams, burning bushes) and through prophets in an attempt to bring us back into relationship with him, back into full communion. But now he speaks to us by his Son, Jesus, the exact imprint of God. Jesus is the right word, and not only the right word, but THE Word that people need to hear. Today the gospel tells us of a time when sinners and tax collectors recognized this and came to hear that word.

We are part of the body of Christ. Do we live in such a way, do we speak in such a way, that people around us come to listen to the word of God as spoken through us? If not, then we need to ask ourselves how we can better speak the word of God so people will want to hear it.

So that's the first part, that people were coming to listen to Jesus.

The second part is that Jesus welcomed and ate with those outcasts. This obviously upset the Scribes and Pharisees, but it didn't bother Jesus. If people come to listen to the word spoken, we must then work on welcoming them. I don't know what that welcome looked like for Jesus, but I have an idea of what it looks like for us.

Welcoming means more than handing them a bulletin and saying, “Good morning.” If we see an unfamiliar face, it means introducing yourself with your name and, “I don't believe we've met.” If it turns out they are visiting, it means asking if they are familiar with the Episcopal church and/or service. If they are unfamiliar with our liturgy, it means asking if they would like to be seated next to a parishioner. It means that if a visitor is seated next to you, you make sure they're on the right page in the right book – maybe even handing them yours first. It means inviting them to coffee hour, and then not abandoning them. It means recognizing that crying babies in church are signs of growth and should be celebrated. It means wearing your name tag.

These are all things we do fairly well. After all, it's part of living into our mission to Worship, Welcome, Serve, and Encourage. But just because we do it well most of the time doesn't mean we do it well all of the time. Which is why we need to be constantly reminded to be hospitable and welcoming – so that that part of our mission doesn't get neglected.

And when we truly welcome those who come into our midst, we just might find we fall on the wrong side of the religious judges wondering why we eat and welcome sinners and others of their ilk. The only truly acceptable answer to that question is, “Because Jesus did it.”

Today the gospel passage is focused on finding and rejoicing over the one that was lost and then found. But before we get there, we must pay attention to how this passage starts. It starts by recognizing we are all sinners, so we shouldn't be quick to condemn others. It starts by understanding that, like Jesus was the reflection of God's glory, we are the reflection of Jesus Christ, and we should live lives that reflect Jesus in such a way that others will want to draw near to hear the word of God. It starts with us being willing to welcome those other people into our midst.

And if we do those things well, then I believe the lost will be found and there will be much rejoicing.

Amen.

Monday, September 09, 2019

checking in

Just wondering what's going on.