“Home Is Where Love Is” – June 26, 2016

“Home Is Where Love Is”

June 26, 2016 – Year C – 6th Sunday of Pentecost

Imagine I have the story of Elisha’s call written on this scroll.  Now imagine I have the story of the first Christians written on the scroll in this hand.  If you were to compare both scrolls, you would notice the remarkable similarities.

In the account from 1 Kings 19 Elisha is plowing when he hears God’s call.  He asks to say goodbye to his parents.  In the account in Luke chapter 9 the first Christians ask to bury their dead and complete unfinished business.  Jesus calls for the radical commitment of leaving everything, and to follow without looking back.

Yes, you heard correctly.  Leave everything.  No looking back.  No picking up treasured pictures.  No stopping and gathering the lock-box of ID and personal papers.  And no looking back to the way it had always been done.  No reminiscing about the full Sunday School of the 1960’s.  No reflecting on the simpler days when you were a young parent.  Leave everything.  No looking back.

The journey that Jesus is about to make to Jerusalem is frightening.  The challenge for those wishing to be on this journey is to follow and not put conditions on discipleship.  There is no place for limitations or stipulations on how you will follow Christ.  We are not to say “I will be a follower, however, I will only give of my time to the church as long as it doesn’t disrupt my time with my family.” 

There is a price to discipleship.  This is the mantle we are called to pick up.  To do so, requires a love of self and one another that is deep and profound.  It requires deep self-reliance and self-worth.  Being a Christian requires fasting from fear, doubt, suffering, dependency, and powerlessness.  Discipleship calls for faith that is strong and sure, believing that God is present at all times, especially when we fall into pride and self-preoccupation.

Such discipleship is modelled by both Elijah and Jesus,  In fact, we see similarities between Elijah and Jesus.  Both Elijah and Jesus have recognized that their lives are near the end and they have an important journey that they must make.  Both are dealing with disciples who need a strengthening of Spirit if they are to carry on the mission.  We too need strengthening.  We are weary.  We have given much over the years.  This church is strong and active thanks to the many ways that you serve.  Your commitment to our Syrian refugee family is commendable.  Your ongoing care and compassion toward the bereaved as you cater funeral receptions is impressive.  The folk who keep this building in good repair do a fabulous job.  The crew who take down and put back up the risers and all the other items on the chancel in readiness for a concert ensures that Penticton United Church is shown in the best light.  But with all that said, you are tired.  You have given much. 

Jesus “sets his face” to journey to Jerusalem via Samaria.  He is rejected by the Samaritans because he is going to worship in Jerusalem rather than Mt. Gerizim, their holy sanctuary.  Jesus is not discouraged by this rejection.  James and John want to call down fire from heaven as Elijah did.  This would certainly show who Jesus is, just like it had revealed God’s presence at Mt. Carmel and changed the people into believers.  Jesus responds instead from a clear focus and determination – from a peace within – from the call of the “still small voice.”  He knows he must meet his destiny in Jerusalem and so he continues on.  The way will not be easy.  Would be followers are reminded there will be tough choices that require clear vision and determination.  They must be prepared to leave loved ones behind, face homelessness, and not look back.  The call is to journey with trust into God’s future.  The demands of the new order are absolute.  There can only be one focus.

If you have ever tried using a hand plough you know how important it is to keep your eyes focused straight ahead.  There cannot be a straight furrow without looking forward.  A dance, gymnast, or figure skater knows that to do a pirouette successfully you must have a spotting point.  That point is your focus that prevents sloppy technique and ensures no stumbling. 

A Christian knows that clear vision ensures moving forward towards the ways of Christ-centred living.  How do we go about doing that you wonder?  It involves asking 2 questions.  The first is, “What would Jesus do?” and the second is, “Does it affect the coming of the kingdom of God?”.  The first is, “What would Jesus do?” and the second is, “Does it affect the coming of the kingdom of God?”.  If you keep both of these questions front and centre in your mind, then you are likely to be living a Christ-centred life.  I fully realize that sounds like a lot of mental gymnastics, but if you practice these questions over and over in every situation you face, they soon will become second nature.

In this very secular based day and age, I believe we need to reflect long and hard on today’s scripture texts.  They challenge us and encourage us.  They show us a faithful way of transformative living.  We are called to be faithful disciples.  Perhaps you hear it as an invitation to invite a friend or neighbour to worship.  Possibly you experience a call to offer your time to make phone calls on behalf of our church, as we undertake a couple of new initiatives.  Some of you may feel the urgings to sign up to help with the coffee time after our worship service.  Others still may hear Christ talking to the hungry and are inclined to help at the Soupateria.  And the list goes on.

A Methodist mission team set out to restore a roof of a downtown outreach centre.  William, the project director, noted that one of the team members – Chuck, a man in his 40’s – had bandages on his fingers.  Being concerned, William asked him if he had injured himself and di he need to seek medical attention.  Chuck said, “No, you see, I have a disease that causes poor blood circulation, so I have to protect my fingers from damage.  This type of work causes my skin to break down and to split.”  William was stunned, for here was a man who was willing to suffer great pain and possible injury so that he might demonstrate God’s love to people he didn’t even k now.  Here was a man who understood what it was to “set his face towards Jerusalem.” 

Still, William suggested that Chuck take it a bit easier.

  “No, I won’t take it easier,” said Chuck.  “You see, I have advanced cancer and I only have a few months to live.  I had to take a massive dose of chemotherapy in order to come.  I may not have long to live, but until I die, I choose to live.”  May we too, choose to live.  And may we do so faithfully.  Amen.

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“Attending to Jesus” – June 12, 2016 – Year C

“Attending to Jesus”

June 12, 2016 – Year C – 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Imagine that you have been invited to dinner at Simon’s home.  Among the guests is Jesus and a woman, described as a sinner.  If there were other guests, we are not told about them.  Reclined at a table as one did in those days, we can imagine ourselves smelling the food cooking. 

But what is it about this prostitute who is anointing Jesus’ head with costly perfume, and washing his feet with water hauled from the community well?  Why is she doing this?  In fact, why is she invited?

Why did Simon the Pharisee even know this sinful woman, we wonder.  But let’s face it, Pharisees were none too popular themselves.  They were often thought of as sinners equal to the tax collectors and the prostitutes.  So, we have Jesus dining with some unsavory characters. 

The writer of the Gospel of Luke describes an amazingly varied group of individuals forming one new community.  This is a family that stays together because it eats together.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Simon is a fabulous analyst.  He apparently invited Jesus to his home in order to observe Jesus.  When the sinful woman approaches Jesus, touches Jesus so incredibly intimately, and perhaps even contaminates Jesus so that he takes on the woman’s unclean status, Simon just stands back and watches.  When Jesus does nothing to stop her advances, Simon comes to a conclusion about Jesus.  This man cannot be a prophet, says Simon to himself.  If he were, he’d know what kind of woman we have here – how inappropriate her touch is – how he is associating himself with sinners.  No, thinks Simon, Jesus’s reputation is overstated.  Jesus may be clever at drawing commoners and poor people, but he’s definitely not a prophet, was Simon’s conclusion!

In short, Simon has Jesus in his home, but he’s not practicing hospitality.  He’s practicing analysis.  Simon is building walls.  Simon is separating those who belong in the community from those who don’t.  Saints are in, but sinners are out.  And Simon knows who fits in which category.

Unfortunately, wall-building analysis continues to produce hospitality paralysis in the church today.   As the preliminaries are in full swing in the United States we have heard way too much about walls.  But it is not just Donald Trump who proposes walls.  There are great divides in churches today.  Let’s think about ourselves.  We take pride in our church being a little more liberal theologically than some of our more evangelical churches.  But note how labels divide us.  We face divisions because our worship service is designed to appeal to folk who love singing hymns rather than choruses – hear piano and organ rather than praise bands – hear a sermon rather than a lesson on a single scripture verse – and the list goes on.  There is a wall based on age as we do not invest in staff that focus only on youth and young adults.   Churches that attract young people and young families have paid staff who devote time and much energy to this age group only.  While we may cry out that we would like to see more young families in our congregation, we fail to provide the kind of hospitality that attracts them.   But, wow, we do ministry to older adults well!

Jesus takes Simon to task for his lack of hospitality.  The writer of this account uses some rhetorical means to point out that Simon’s conclusions about Jesus couldn’t be further off target.  Jesus, the prophet who is more than a prophet, not only knows what kind of a woman is touching him but also what Simon has been thinking.

Hospitality is so clearly demonstrated by the woman.  The writer emphasizes her actions by having Jesus, the authority figure in the story, develop the contrast.  Jesus recounts not only the woman’s hospitable, community-building actions, but also Simon’s wall-building non-hospitality.

The woman offers the model for true community.  Gracious hospitality grows out of love for Jesus.  Having experienced the wondrous power of Jesus, one’s heart is forever changed.  Devotion to Jesus is a result of being accepted and loved into wholeness. 

Hospitality is at the core of Christian living.  Hospitality is the loving response of those who’ve experienced healing and forgiveness.  As we read throughout the Gospel of Luke, it seems that hospitality is more easily practiced by outsiders, especially women, than by analytical insiders, who are prone to misread acts of hospitality.

Last week at our congregational meeting, we passed a motion that we would practice hospitality.  Individuals and families are committing themselves to extend welcome to newcomers to the congregation by inviting them to their homes or out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner.  This radical welcome is certainly an act of hospitality.  But, it is far more.  This is how relationships are built.  This is how church family is nurtured.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela demonstrated the way hospitality breaks down walls of division.  When he was inaugurated as President of South Africa after the fall of apartheid, he faced a troubling question:  Who would be given the seat of honour in the first row at the inauguration ceremony?  If he seated the African heads of state in the front row, he risked alienating the Western powers.  If he seated the leaders of the West in the place of honour, he risked offending the Africans.  Mandala reportedly resolved the problem and paved the way for reconciliation by seating his former prison guards in the front row.  His administration was marked by a strategy of reconciliation.

The administration of the reign of Jesus is marked by that kind of strategy.   In a few minutes we will leave this sanctuary and many of us will head to Manitou beach in Naramata.  We will join our friends from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church and St. Saviour’s Anglican church in a shared picnic.  Together we will live out a way of hospitality that crosses denominational boundaries.  We will experience hospitality as we get to know one another in a warm, fun environment.  We will extend hospitality knowing that we are loved and forgiven by God.  We will participate in the gracious way of hospitality as we live out healing and reconciliation.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.