Monday, June 29, 2020

Welcome


Matthew 10:24-39
June 28, 2020

This is the end of the pep talk that
Jesus gives the disciples before he sends them out.
the one where he told them
they were sheep sent into the midst of wolves,
and that said that they would be like a sword to peace,
The one where warned them about
persecution, flogging and even death.
At least it ends on a high note.
Or at least a more gentle note: Welcome.
 
Last week we heard that some
people would reject the disciples.
But today, the insinuation is
that some people will welcome the disciples
and their mission and their message about
the Kingdom of God.

And it actually also gives a little lesson to the disciples
About what God values and
how they should behave to others.
Their mission, in a nutshell, is welcome.

Welcoming is a hard word to explain.
We talk about it a lot,
but if you asked me to define it, I don’t know if I could.
well, the dictionary definition is
“to greet someone in a glad or friendly way”
but like a lot of definitions,
it doesn’t quite get there.
Welcoming is a lot of unspoken things together.
Basically, we know when we’ve felt welcomed,
and we know when we haven’t.
  
When someone’s face
lights up when we enter a room.
That can be welcoming.
Or when someone gives us a real hug.
That can be welcoming too.

And when we come into a room,
and a group of people abruptly stops talking.
When people look away,
those things can be unwelcoming.

But then again, sometimes a hug isn’t welcoming.
Sometimes those lit up faces seem false.
Sometimes silence when we enter is respectful
And sometimes it’s welcoming for someone to avert their eyes.

Welcoming is more than just a few identifiable actions.
Welcoming is a feeling that we have for one another
It’s conveyed in our actions, but goes beyond our actions.
Really welcoming someone is to make room
for them in your life or in your day.

Gethsemane is a place of welcome.
We state it in our mission it’s on our sign
and we do a good job of
welcoming new people in our midst.
But there are things we could do better,
and Christianity in general could do a better
job of being welcoming.
  
Many Christians have the best intentions to
welcome everyone.
But real welcome requires vulnerability.
Someone could reject our welcome.
Someone could take advantage of us.
And to welcome someone in – to really welcome them
into our churches and our lives –
means that we will allow them to change the things
that we like, and to ultimately change us.
To welcome means to be open to change

And Jesus values the spirit of welcoming.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Welcome is the first step at the heart of the gospel.
Our neighbors, those strangers we meet,
those people in need,
those that need a cup of water,
those are Christ to us.                                              .

Welcome is the first step to know others
the first step to allow them into our space
to bring them into our circle
to intertwine them into our lives
and make the stranger a part of our new families.
Brothers and sisters in Christ.

The religious leaders at the time of Jesus and
lots of religious leaders now and over the years
try to make Christianity into something more complicated:
following rules, repeating rituals, or following certain,
narrow definitions of purity.
But true Christian spirituality is as simple as welcome.
About being willing to open ourselves up and giving
someone what they need, a cup of water on a hot day.

Everyone can be a part of this.
Even the least among us,
just a simple cup of water is enough.
Not a bathtub. Just a simple cup.

And Jesus doesn’t tell us to make sure they really
need the cup of water, or to ask whether they
will use the cup of water for good things or not.
Just to give it, just to share it.
No questions asked.

And likewise, in Jesus words,
there are no questions asked of the welcomer either.
We don’t know whether the one who shares the cup of water
believes the message that the disciples bring.
Did they believe in Jesus? Do they worship God?
Do they ever share it with others?
We don’t know. They just welcomed.
They just offered the cup of water,
and none of them lose their reward.

Jesus’ way doesn’t get much more complicated than that.
No elaborate systems, no checked boxes,
no obsessions with keeping every code or law.

Because one small welcome can snowball into others
and eventually the world is a place of welcome,
and that place of welcome becomes the Kingdom of God.
  
Bishop Desmond Tutu,
The bishop of South Africa during and after Apartheid,
said this in a sermon in Washington DC
in November 2001, two months after 9-11.

“God says, I have a dream, that all of you - my children -
will realize that you belong in one family.
This is a family in which there are no outsiders; all are insiders. All.
When Jesus spoke about his death, he said,
If I be lifted up, I will draw all -- he didn’t say I will draw some.
He said, I will draw all
black, white, rich, poor, American, Iraqi,
Afghanistan, gay, lesbian, straight.
All belong in this family: Arafat, Sharon, George Bush, bin Laden.
And God says, I have no one except you to help me realize my dream.
Will you help me?  says God.  I have no one except you.”

God dreams about us.
We might dream about wealth or romance or security.

But God daydreams about us, reaching our hands out
to someone new, someone different,
and giving just a cup of cold water to them in God’s name.

God dreams about us welcoming others
and us being welcomed by them.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

This is Gonna Hurt


Matthew 10:24-39
June 21, 2020

Jesus has his disciples huddled together
before he sends them out into the world
in pairs on their mission to spread the Good News.
And this is basically their pep talk.

Now, most pep talks, the coach
talks about how the team is going
to win and succeed and how
Jesus and His 12
Ed de Guzman
they should win one for the Gipper
or something like that.

But not here,
Jesus tells them the 
world out there isn’t safe.
Earlier he was telling them
that they’re go as 
“sheep in the midst of wolves,”
they will face anger, arrests, beatings,
persecution, and death,

And today he says, 
“don’t be afraid of those who
can just kill the body.”
And then Jesus says that he has not
come to bring peace, he comes to bring a sword
He tells them that he has come
to set a man against his father
and a daughter against her mother
and everyone against everyone.
It’s almost like he’s sending them into battle.

But it’s a conflict that they are going to cause.
Jesus is saying that the things they he has
sent them out to do: healing, and casting out demons,
declaring peace and announcing the kingdom of God
will bring its own conflict.

You would think that those things would be
well received. That everyone would receive
God’s presence with joy and happiness
and welcome the disciples in. But no.
Jesus knew that in doing God’s mission,
they were going to create conflict.

Now not everything that makes people
angry and upset is God’s mission.
And every conflict that is caused
by Christians is NOT a holy conflict.
Sometime Christians forget about that,
and we just want to make everything a holy battle.

But setting oppressed people free
from their oppression, casting out the
demons that oppress them,
and telling the powerful
that God’s kingdom would be
remarkably different from the Kingdoms they run,
doesn’t always go over well.
It will create conflict.

But this conflict is necessary.
It’s the new world being born.
It’s the old world holding on tightly to its old ways.
And we can’t do this without some pain and suffering.

We are definitely experiencing conflict
now in our world.
I think we felt, for a moment, a couple of months ago
that the virus was uniting us, bringing us together.
But those were the good old days.
Now it seems like wearing a mask or not
is a divisive act in itself.

It seems like everything is volatile.
Everything is a cause for a fight.
And like I said, not every conflict is a holy conflict.
But some are. Some are struggles of the kingdom.
Like our issues over race in this country.

You think that people saying that
“black lives mattered” and that black people
shouldn’t be killed by the institutions that are
there to protect people would be an easy,
unanimous concept. But it’s not, obviously.

Because it’s coming up against the powers
and systems of this country and this world.
The systems that say that one life
is more important than another.
The one that says that some people
need to be disposable.

This call for equality, and to get rid of the
old ways, is coming up against the
system that enabled white people
around the world to justify
buying and selling human beings,
and keeping them as slaves for hundreds of years.

That system and the thoughts that made
it happen for so many years doesn’t
just go away because a couple
of laws were passed or one black
person was elected president.
It’s not going to just let go.
  
That system is still living in our world.
It lives in each one of us too.
That thing in our brains that justified that
and told us that black people are
savages and they are to be feared
and they’re dangerous,
that has been passed down through
our ancestors and our grand parents
and our parents, and still tells us
that white society needs to fear black people
and they need to be controlled.

And to prove it’s not gone,
we still have monuments and
statues in our town squares
honoring the people
who faught to keep the institution of slavery.

So it might seem to an outsider,
that just saying that “Black Lives Matter”
wouldn’t cause a conflict, but it does.
Because it’s coming up against
hundreds of years of saying otherwise.
It’s coming against the powers and systems of this world.

Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace today and I’m not either.

The powers of this world will not go gently.
They live in all of us, and in our actions and lives.
There are things that we will need to give up.
It will mean sacrifice for us, we will lose
some of the things that we hold dear and precious.

But what would you trade for the kingdom of God?
What would you trade for real justice?
Real peace? Real and true equality and harmony?
Your life? your family? your privilege? your comfort?
It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves.
Will be able to bear that cross?
That’s what Jesus is asking his disciples right here.

For God’s kingdom to come, there will be some sacrifices
things will change, and there will be conflicts.
And like Jesus said, even conflicts among families.
These conflicts are just a part of the birth pangs.
This is our world working out its problems.
This is the human race exorcising its demons.
It’s part of bringing about the new life that Jesus promises.
Shedding off the old and letting in the new
it will continue to be painful and difficult.

And all this seems like pretty bad news for the disciples.
And maybe it’s bad news for us.

But the good news is this:
When we die with Christ, we rise with Christ too.
Paul writes to the Romans:
Do you not know that all of us who have been
baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 
Therefore we have been buried
with him by baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the
dead by the glory of the Father,
so we too might walk in newness of life.
  
On the other side of this suffering and struggle,
and conflict will be new life
A new world, a new reality.
A more just world, a more peaceful world,
a more forgiving world, a more loving world,
a world more like the kingdom of God.

That is the story of the cross that we all
bear into these struggles.
The birth pangs will be hard,
but once we hold that new life in our arms,
we will forget all about the pain.

 Those who find their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

God’s love and the kingdom of God will be hard won,
but our new world,
born in the resurrected Christ,
 will be worth it.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Ready for the Kingdom


Matthew 9:35-10:8
June 14, 2020

We have been away from Matthew for quite a while
spending our Easter mostly in the book of John.
We come back here in Chapter 9
and lots has happened before this:

To summarize:
Jesus was born, his life was threatened by Herod,
innocents were slaughtered,
Jesus was baptized,
he was tempted in the desert,
He calls a few disciples,
starting in chapter 5,
Jesus gives the sermon on the mountain
which lasts for three chapters in Matthew,
He comes down from that mountain,
and he heals some, and he calms the storm,
then he casts demons out of a man,
and sends them into a bunch of
swine who throw themselves off a cliff.

Then in the middle of chapter 9,
Jesus finally calls Matthew the Tax collector
and his 12 disciples are complete.
And we come to today’s gospel reading
which says, Jesus and his disciples went to lots of
cities and villages and did amazing things:
casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead.
Then he sends those disciples out to do the same.

So this isn’t just a story about an amazing
man who does impressive and miraculous things
and tells people the good news.
This is a story a man who did
impressive and miraculous things
and then sends other people out to do the same.
  
He tells the disciples that “the harvest is
plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
Meaning there is a lot of produce to pick,
but no one to go pick it.
Meaning that there are a lot of people who
could be following the Way of Jesus
but there’s no one to show them
and tell them about it.

Is that the same for us now?
I don’t know if most people would say that.
We’re told that no one is interested
in the church any more
Christianity is in decline
the youngest generation of adults is leaving the church
in droves, or they’ve never stepped foot
into a church or heard much about Jesus in the first place.
If you are a young person in a church,
you are an anomaly,
and it’s only going to decline more as time goes on.
The word on the street is “there is no harvest any more”

Church people keep looking back at the past
and wishing we had the kind of harvest they had in the
50’s or the 70’s or even the 90’s:
all the potential Christians
to come to worship and fill our pews.

But honestly, I think the harvest is still there.
They are still longing to hear the good news.
They’re just don’t want to do it the way we’ve always done it.

When Jesus sent out those original disciples
he wasn’t looking at them to fill pews in a worship.
His instructions were to “proclaim the good news
the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
That could be done a whole lot of ways.

At the start of the gospel today,
it says Jesus had compassion for the crowds of people
because it says they were harassed and without a leader.

This past two weeks we’ve seen crowds of people
protesting after the death of George Floyd.
Most of the people protesting are young.
Some say this is a generational protest like
the anti-war protest in the 60’s.

These young people millennial and generation Z,
these are the people who they say have no interest
in God or Jesus who we’re told we have nothing
spiritually in common with.

But they are congregating together in community.
They are singing songs together.
They’re protesting against violence,
they’re hoping for an end to racism and hate,
they’re longing for real justice and real peace,
they’re hoping for a country and a government
 that is reformed, that tries to help people
instead of incarcerating them.

The crowds that we have seen in the streets of Columbus,
and Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles,
Seattle and in every state of the country,
and in France, and Italy, and the UK and all over the planet –
ALL of those people are hoping and praying
for the same things we have been hoping and praying for.
They are ready for the good news.
They are waiting for the Kingdom of God.

I was watching a piece on CBS news
and they were interviewing a young
Black activist who was a leader of one
of the protests, he said,
“We are looking forward to a world
that I’ve never seen, but I know is true.”
That’s the kind of stuff we say!
I think if Jesus saw these crowds,
he would have compassion for them too.
He would see a crowd that has been harassed
in some of the worst kind of way.
He would see a group of people ready for the good news.
he would tell us that the harvest is plentiful
but there are not enough of us willing to do the work.

These people may not want to sit in our church
every week and sing the hymns that we like
and do things the same way that we like to do them,
But they are dreaming the same dreams we are.
They are hoping for the same things we hope for.
They are longing for the kingdom of God too.

We have known for years that we as a church
need to do ministry differently,
that we can’t be doing the same thing
the church has done for centuries and expect
the same results.

But the mission that Jesus gives us is the same
as those disciples were given.
Cast out those demons:
the demons of racism, and apathy and complacency,
heal those sick with the pain of oppression,
and poverty, and hopelessness, and defeat,
raise our cities and countries from the dead,
release ourselves and others from being
captive to the suicide machine
that we’ve all been caught in.
And proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God is near.
It’s coming. Can you feel it?

There is a lot of work for us to do.
And we have to figure out just how to do it
in this new reality that we’re living in.
  
Art On Columbus, OH building
@Chinezexo & @Amaraokpalaoka
On Friday, Bob and I drove downtown
to see what was going on there.
And there were lots of 
windows boarded up
But there was also 
lots and lots of art on those boards.

Beautiful, astounding art made 
in the past two weeks.
and this was one of the paintings.

It cites psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,[a]
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.


The harvest is plentiful.
Go out and tell everyone the good news:
The kingdom of heaven has come near.