By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 24:36-53; Acts 1:6-11
This morning is a special Sunday on the church's calendar: Ascension Sunday. It’s rarely accompanied by any fanfare. I don’t think Hallmark produces any greeting cards for it.
Only Luke provides us with the details of Jesus’ ascension… twice in fact: once in his gospel and once in the Book of Acts. Whereas Luke’s gospel gives an account of the earthly ministry of Jesus, Acts focuses on the ministry of his disciples’ (itself a continuation of Jesus’ ministry). And Jesus’ ascension – his being lifted back up into heaven after his resurrection – acts as a sort of bridge connecting the end of Jesus’ ministry to the beginning of his disciples’ ministry. In fact, Jesus’ ascension is the last episode in Luke’s gospel and the first episode in Acts. So it’s clear that Jesus’ ascension – and its implication for the mission of the Church – is of enormous importance to Luke.
But this is also Memorial Day weekend. And, although some focus on an extra day off work, cook-outs and getting the garden ready for summer, its primary purpose is as a day of remembrance; particularly a day to remember deceased soldiers and other public servants whose lives were laid down as a sacrifice for the benefit of others.
Now Ascension Sunday and Memorial Day weekend don't often coincide. But, it’s nice when they do because both provide us the opportunity to reflect on peace: what it is and how it can be attained. The lives we memorialize this weekend were the result of a marked absence of peace in our world… whether that involves a soldier who died in a war halfway around the world, federal law enforcement gunned down because of efforts to end a terror cell or a drug cartel, or a local officer killed while responding to a domestic violence call. Our world is too often characterized by an absence of peace and countless lives have been scarred by hostility and violence. So it is significant that we find numerous references to peace in Luke’s gospel and Acts.
In the scripture I read just a few moments ago, Jesus (on resurrection evening) greeted his disciples with the salutation “Peace be with you.”
In the context of first century Roman occupied Palestine, followers of Jesus must have been longing for peace, true peace; not peace at the tip of a sword. Like so many places in our world today, “peace” by the 1st century Roman definition simply meant that those in power had successfully stamped out resistance; defeated, even annihilated the enemy. But that’s not what Jesus meant. That’s not the kind of peace that governs the kingdom of God. Peace is more than an absence of war. Conflict averted by instilling fear hardly qualifies as peace. For ancient Rome and still for many people today, peace involves the destruction, or at least control, of the enemy. But for Jesus and those who seek to follow him, peace is about something more. It’s about transforming that enemy into a friend. It’s about restoring relationships. We have a tendency to define peace as the absence of violence, just as we have a tendency to define tolerance as the absence of conflict. Yet, tolerance does not mean we "put up" with someone different or peculiar as a neighbor or co-worker. Tolerance means we seek to understand and appreciate our differences. So, too, peace does not mean we cease to fight because we have declared a stalemate. Peace means we take purposeful steps toward reconciliation and understanding; we make deliberate, purposeful gestures of grace. True peace requires extending grace and forgiveness toward others and ourselves. Biblically, peace is not simply about the cessation of war. Biblically, peace is about the healing of broken relationships: our relationship with God and our relationships with others.
On the evening of his resurrection, Jesus' greeting of "peace" is juxtaposed against the disciples’ very understandable feelings of fear and a lack of understanding. That's important for us to notice because that reveals the reason why peace is so often lacking in our world today. Still today, we fear and we fail to understand in contexts of differences and change; when we are blindsided by the unexpected. Even more precisely, we fear because we fail to understand. We fail to remember that Jesus did not seek power and control; Jesus’ ministry was about extending grace and forgiveness toward those who’d done nothing to deserve it; Jesus’ ministry was about extending grace toward some pretty offensive and dubious characters.
Jesus seeks out those who have been wronged as well as those who have wronged others. He seeks out those who have strayed from God, like a wayward sheep who’s lost its way. He even seeks grace for those who have rebelled against God, behaving like the proverbial disrespectful, prodigal son. And, Jesus seeks to bring people into right relationships with one another, as well. In fact, before he returns to heaven, before he ascends, he entrusts that very ministry to his disciples.
Friends, fear reflects our inability to comprehend Jesus' gift of forgiveness, his expressions of God’s grace; and fear betrays our inability to receive that grace in a way that transforms our understanding of ourselves and others. So Jesus offers his disciples peace. He bestows it upon them: peace, a state of being that delights in and celebrates God's forgiveness and grace in our lives and our world. Conversely, violence and strife reflect our inability to accept God's grace and forgiveness for ourselves and for others.
It is, without a doubt, difficult for us to comprehend the peace Jesus offers. But Jesus does not leave his disciples – neither the ones in the bible, nor us today – to figure it out on our own. Jesus blesses us with the gift of his Holy Spirit; the gift we’ll celebrate on Pentecost Sunday next week. In Luke and Acts, the Holy Spirit is the one who will cloth the disciples with power; a power that will, particularly, bless OTHERS; those who have wandered far from God just as the prodigal son who had wandered far from his father. That is the sermon Peter will preach on Pentecost day when the Holy Spirit falls upon him. He will tell the crowd that gathers around them that this story of forgiveness through Jesus is the promised good news; a free gift from God for those who are farthest from him; a chance for them to be drawn near to God and to one another.
At the time of Jesus' ascension, the disciples are still struggling with fear and confusion. But once the Spirit comes at Pentecost, it’s a whole new ball game. The Spirit not only gives them the right words to say; the Spirit gives them the courage to say them. And those words which the disciples speak are words of forgiveness, grace and reconciliation. Words about how Jesus' life, love and sacrifice have drawn us near to God.
People of God, it is the church's task to bring peace to the world; a peace that is the direct result of God's grace and forgiveness. It is a peace that overcomes fear and confusion.
Let me highlight some things our church has done and is doing to proclaim peace in a divided world. We’ve been having a study on World Religions. Last week we had a panel discussion on the three Abrahamic faith traditions. Now we’re not just doing that to be better educated. We’re doing that because in a world where religious differences and misunderstanding have led to so much violence, we want to cast out the fear and confusion that fuel violence so we can dialogue honestly and grow in our understanding of others and overcome attitudes of fear and violence with understanding and grace. Beginning in June, each month we’ll be having a Garden and Grill on our front lawn; an opportunity to invite our neighbors to a cookout. Our Centennial neighborhood is diverse. It includes the homeless; white collar professionals in new condos; grad students; poor, single-parent families and those diverse neighbors rarely come together and sometimes are at odds with one another. We hope our front lawn can become a place of reconciling fellowship, dispelling suspicions, assumptions and misunderstanding and promoting dialogue. What other ideas do you have of things we can be doing as a faith community to drive out fear and confusion and replace them with reconciliation and grace? Jesus calls us to proclaim the gospel of peace.
Finally, as we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow, perhaps we might honor the lives of those we remember not simply by planting flowers at a cemetery or by hoisting a flag – as nice as those gestures can be. Perhaps we might honor their memory by seeking out someone with whom we need to make peace: a relative or a co-worker or a neighbor. You’ve not been violent toward them; but you’ve been avoiding them, gritting your teeth, maybe even trash-talking them. As followers of Jesus, we are called to proclaim that his grace and forgiveness is not only about restoring our relationships with God; but also about bringing healing to our relationships with one another. Peace be with you.
One For All and All For One
One For All and All For One
Scripture: John, chapter 17
Preached on May 21, 2017
@ Trinity U.M. Church, Lafayette
By Tracey Leslie
This morning’s scripture is prayer; a prayer prayed by Jesus on the night before his crucifixion. Now, you might find that to be an odd choice this time of year; you might think it better suited to the season of Lent. But two weeks from today, we will celebrate Pentecost, the religious holiday that commemorates the birth of the Church. And so, this morning’s scripture from the gospel of John is very appropriate because it is a scripture in which Jesus prays for his disciples; in other words, this is a prayer that Jesus prays for us, his Church; a prayer that we might become completely one so that others might come to know God through our oneness or unity.
In the gospel of John, on that final night of his earthly life as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and they shared a meal around the table, Jesus took advantage of that time for some final teaching and to pray to his heavenly Father on behalf of those who sat around him; those who had been an integral part of his life – day in and day out through the mundane and the miraculous – for the three years of his public ministry. He prayed a special blessing over those who loved and trusted him AND on all those who, as a result of their ministry, would also come to love and trust him. So now you see why I say that this morning’s scripture is a prayer for the Church; for disciples throughout history and around the world who love and trust Jesus and share that good news with others.
And I’m hoping you may have noticed that the portions of this prayer that I read focus around this central theme within Jesus’ prayer: the theme of unity or oneness. Jesus prays: “may they be one as we are one.”
Years ago at my church in Gary there was a young man who lived near the church and – on his own – walked to worship nearly every Sunday. He was a thoughtful young man and one day asked me why there were so many different kinds of churches. If we all worshipped Jesus, why did we need so many different denominations? I imagine that’s a question lots of people ask. But frankly, I’m not sure it’s a question of much importance in our current culture. From an historical perspective, denominations were the result of schism and disunity. But I doubt many of us today, as we head to church on Sunday, give much thought to the differences among Catholics or Presbyterians or Baptists. Research tells us many church members can’t even tell you the reasons or the differences that caused those historic schisms. So I don’t believe that denominations in today’s culture are a demonstration of disunity. They’re more about personal preference in styles of worship, location, architecture, what ministries are offered, where one’s friends attend, etc.
But I think the unity for which Jesus prays is something very different: “may they be one as we are one.”
Of all our gospels, the gospel of John employs the most intimate language to describe the relationship Jesus shares with his disciples. Jesus is more than their teacher, their rabbi; Jesus is their friend. He says so on this last night of his life, just shortly before he prays this prayer. He says, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”[i]
And this concept of unity, I believe, is inexorably linked to this intimacy. Let me say that again: I believe the unity for which Jesus prays isn’t about ideological or even theological uniformity; but rather, it is about intimacy, a relational closeness. Jesus prays to the heavenly Father: “may they be one as we are one.”
As Jesus sat at the table with his disciples on that fateful final night of his earthly life, he employed a metaphor to describe the nature of the relationship he shared with his disciples. He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”[ii] Using this metaphor of a grapevine and vineyard, Jesus describes himself as the vine, his disciples as branches on the vine, and the heavenly Father as the one who keeps or tends the vineyard so that it will be healthy and fruitful. This is a metaphor that is intimate, organic, nurturing.
We are not commanded merely to believe in the existence of a god; we are invited to enter into relationship with a heavenly Father through his Son who came to make this God known in an authentic and personal way; a Son who prays “may they be one as we are one.” As Jesus unpacks this vineyard image, he is clear – frankly blunt – in describing that branches yielding fruit do so because of their connection with the vine. If they are disconnected from the vine, the branches wither up and die. And so the concept of unity is not so much about theological propositions or concepts as it is about being bound together relationally. Because we are bound to Christ, we are bound to one another. The intimacy of our relationships with one another should be reflective of the intimacy shared between God the Father and God the Son.
Friends, the unity that Jesus prays out upon us is not about us being like robots that always think and act and speak the same. Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. We can disagree over concepts and ideas and still be unified because unity is about relationship. It is about how deeply and firmly we are relationally bound to Jesus AND bound to one another through Jesus.
So, let me cut to the chase. As a Church, if we fail to foster authentic relationships with one another, we disregard – even disrespect – the prayer Jesus prayed on our behalf. This prayer is what Jesus desires for us; what he seeks for our lives. Remember, this prayer encompassed more than the disciples in the room that night. It is about subsequent generations of disciples; season after season of fruitful branches. Jesus desires for us to be as close to one another as he is to his heavenly Father. “May they be one as we are one,” he prays. That is how we live eternally. Eternal life in John’s gospel isn’t about going to heaven when we die. It is about being drawn – right here and now – into a deep and intimate relationship with God because of and through our relationship with Jesus AND… AND with one another. That is eternal life.
In other words, if Trinity is your church home, but the people in this room with you this morning aren’t the people you are living your life with day in and day out; then something has gone wrong, terribly wrong. Too many people today believe that religious faith is a private thing; but it’s not. Faith is communal; it’s about relationships and faith can’t exist independent of a faith community. It involves more than our relationship with Jesus; it involves our relationships with one another. The depth of our relationship with Jesus and the depth of our relationships with one another are not two separate things; at least not according to Jesus. We are called to live as one, in unity, a living organism, a body, a fruitful vine. “May they be one as we are one,” Jesus prays.
I’m concerned that many folks today define “church” as a not-for-profit organization. Now, it’s true that for the sake of legality and tax code we are categorized as an NPO. But Church is much more than an organization where we serve on committees or show up to put in our volunteer hours. Church is, first and foremost, about relationship.
Some of you know that my dad died from Alzheimer’s. By the time of his diagnosis, my mom and brother were already deceased. It was left to my sister and me to care for my dad. My dad and my sister lived back in Johnstown, PA and so about four times a year, I would take almost a full week and go back to Johnstown to help my dad and sister with doctor appointments, his living arrangements, his bills and finances, assessments of his health, etc. Those were important tasks. But I didn’t go to Johnstown because there were important tasks to be done; I went because I loved my dad and I love my sister. Hard as it was, I wanted that time with my dad. I wanted to keep as much of a connection with him as was possible. I wanted to support my sister and encourage her. She was the one doing the heavy lifting; being there day after day, year in and year out. At some point on each visit, she and I would go out to dinner together to just enjoy some time with one another. We could laugh; we could cry; we could just be together. My sister and I were joined together through this amazing man who’d given us life and raised us so well and taught us how to live. Those trips to Johnstown included tasks and duties; but they weren’t about those tasks and duties. They were about relationships. And that’s what Church is about.
Yesterday morning a bunch of us showed up for the garden planting. By 10 o’clock – our formal start time – it was raining. I got there late… ‘cause it was morning and I’m not a morning person. Folks were down in the Friendship Room sitting around the tables eating donut holes and we sat there for about 45 minutes and talked. Was it because we didn’t have anywhere else to go or anything else to do? No; we’re all busy people. But we sat around the tables and talked because that’s what friends and family do; we share our lives.
Brothers and sisters, just this week Trinity received notice from the conference that we were awarded a grant to fund some new outreach initiatives and those initiatives are all about relationships; relationships with Jesus and with one another. That little song we learned in Sunday School is good theology: the Church is not a building, the Church is not a steeple; the Church is a people… people whose lives are sustained not only through our relationship with Jesus but also through our relationships with one another.
Jesus didn’t pray that we’d show up for worship 3 weeks out of 4 each month. He didn’t pray that we’d show up each month for our committee meetings. Jesus wants for us something far more important than “showing up.” He wants us to be united to him and to each other. That’s why he prayed, “May they be one as we are one.”
Now, I’m not saying you need to show up every time the doors of the church are unlocked. Some people are introverts and they need a little time for themselves. Likewise, there are seasons and situations in people’s lives that might make it difficult to be as engaged at church. But if that’s been the story of your life for more than a couple of years, then something’s gone amuck… ‘cause here’s the thing: if, for example, someone is missing out on being here because they’re caring for a sick spouse; well then, from time to time, we ought to be calling them and saying things like, “Hey, I’d like to sit with your husband/ your wife this Sunday so you can go to church and then out to lunch and have a chance to connect with folks.” That’s what Church is about. For the Church to truly be the Church, we need to do life together because Jesus desires for us to be as close to one another as he is to the heavenly Father.
Jesus prays, “May they be one as we are one.”
So, I thought I’d end my sermon this morning with just a few practical applications for how to live out our life together; to live into the kind of unity and oneness Jesus prays for us.
[i] John 15:15 b
[ii] John 15:5a
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Acts, chapter 10
A rope walks into a bar and walks up to order a drink. The bartender walks over and takes a look at him and says, “Hey, you’re a rope. We don’t serve ropes in this establishment. You’re gonna need to leave.”
So the rope leaves the bar; kind of frustrated, a little angry. He decides to try again the next day; maybe it’ll be a different bartender. So, once again, the rope walks in, walks up the bar to order his drink. But, it’s the same bartender and the same spiel: “Hey, I recognize you. You’re that rope that came in here yesterday. I already told you, we don’t serve ropes in this establishment. You’re not welcome here. Go; and don’t bother coming back.”
The rope leaves; he’s even more frustrated than the first time. But then he gets a brilliant idea. He ties himself in a knot and he takes the portion of rope above the knot and separates the strands so they appear frayed. He walks back into the bar and boldly walks up to place his order. The bartender walks over suspiciously, “Hey, aren’t you that rope that was just here?” “No,” says the rope. “No, I’m a frayed knot.”
This morning we’re going to look together at a bible story that takes an entire chapter to tell. Because of its length, I’m going to break up the story and intersperse it (in my own words) with my message. This is a story that reveals so much about the nature of God and how God is at work in our lives and our world. Part of what it reveals is the striking difference between God’s nature and ours in regards to how we perceive others. As human creatures, we judge by human standards; we label people. To those outside the Church, we may appear as those who claim the right to decide who does and doesn’t get served by God’s grace. Those on the outside may even feel that Church is a place where they will be compelled to become something other than what they truly are if they want to be welcomed.
As human creatures, we struggle with issues of boundaries and we resist change. Predictability and categorizing allow us to become comfortable while change and our culture’s growing pluralism unsettle us. If we are honest with ourselves, we all struggle with certain people who do not seem to belong or fit; they make us uncomfortable; they may even evoke feelings of anger or fear. They offend us in ways we may not be able to explain or justify. Perhaps we have a visceral response to them: our stomach churns, our jaw tightens. We may see many of the changes taking place in our culture as threatening to Church as we grew up knowing it, loving it, and basking in it. Grace is a tremendous thing when it is extended toward us; but a grace that encompasses people and experiences that are strange or offensive to us, is a very different story...
A story found in Acts, chapter 10, where we are introduced to a man by the name of Cornelius. Remember that Jesus and his original followers were all Jews. But Cornelius was a Gentile; a Gentile who worshipped the God of Israel and, although he wasn’t circumcised and probably didn’t pay attention to things like the kosher food laws, Cornelius was attentive to some of the essential Jewish spiritual disciplines or practices (the kinds of practices we looked at during our Lenten study this year). Cornelius was generous towards the poor and he prayed “constantly” according to the bible story. He was likely praying when he had this vision because the hour of his vision corresponds to a Jewish prayer time. He was also, incidentally, an official in the Roman army.
So our bible story begins:
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a captain of the Italian Guard... He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to worship; he was always helping those in need, and he prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o'clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God come and say to him, "Cornelius." Cornelius stared at him in fear and said, "What is it, sir?" The angel answered, "Your prayers and your mercy and charity have captured God’s attention. Now here’s what you are to do: send men to Joppa to get Simon, who everyone calls Peter; he is staying with Simon, a tanner, whose house is down by the sea."
And that is all the angel says. So Cornelius dispatches his servants to go find Peter.
The next day, as Cornelius’ servants are approaching the home where Peter is staying, Peter is praying. Peter’s hungry and our bible narrator tells us that he falls into a kind of trance and sees a vision. Something like a large sheet comes down out of the heavens and on it are a variety of animals that law-abiding Jews would never eat. They’re animals that God declared off-limits to the Jews way back when God entered into a covenant relationship with them during their crossing of the wilderness from Egypt into the Promised Land. The animals Peter sees served up on this sheet are not on the menu for any serious Jew. But Peter hears a voice instructing him to eat. Peter objects but the voice instructs him, “If God says it’s okay, then it’s okay.” And at that very moment, Cornelius’ servants arrive. The timing couldn’t be better. I love the way the bible translation The Message relates this part of the story:
“As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up… They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought [and no doubt, confusion], didn’t hear them, so the Spirit whispered to [Peter], ‘Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.’”[i]
Meanwhile, Cornelius is so excited about all of this that he’s packed his house with friends and relatives and they are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of Peter. Cornelius, we might note, has a great deal more clarity, confidence (and joy) about what’s unfolding than Peter does. When Peter and some of his friends show up at Cornelius’ home Peter’s still not really sure why he’s there. He makes a rather lame introductory speech about how God has shown him not to call anyone profane or unclean. If you read between the lines, a more direct rendering might be this: “I don’t really want to be here with all you unclean Gentiles. I find it really objectionable; but God told me I had to come so I did.”
Next, Cornelius shares his testimony with Peter of how he was praying and heard this voice from the heavens, etc. etc. And he wraps it up by commenting that here they all are, gathered together to listen to what God has told Peter to say to them.
And what Peter says is the gospel, the summary story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter acknowledges that this gospel is for everyone; but he isn’t shy about placing it firmly in the context of Judaism. He explains that Jesus was God’s message to Israel; inaugurated with the ministry of John the Baptist. Peter notes that Jesus’ mission unfolded within Judea and Jerusalem (Jewish territory) and that who and what Jesus did were a fulfillment of Jewish prophecy.
Now, Peter’s been preaching this sermon about Jesus pretty frequently. He’s got it down pat. It’s a good, solid, expository routine. But then God throws Peter a curve ball. As he’s speaking, before Peter even has a chance to wrap up his sermon with whatever might have been the first century equivalent of the modern-day altar call, the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and all his Gentile buddies. They begin to speak in tongues, praising God. Just like the apostles did on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Poor Peter. He must have been really blown away. I mean, it’s hard enough for Peter to cross the threshold into the home of this unclean Gentile; that would have been an enormous theological stretch for Peter (and one he never would have taken if God hadn’t pushed him across the boundary of that Gentile threshold).
But now God has even gone and messed up the good, orderly sequence of conversion. You see, we find this logical process of conversion throughout the Book of Acts. The apostles preach, then people repent, then they’re baptized and then – then – they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But this time Peter hasn’t even had a chance to consider baptizing them when the Holy Spirit falls upon them. What on earth was God thinking? What kind of chaotic, willy-nilly plan is this?
And so, the story wraps up with a change to Peter’s tune when he addresses the good Jewish “Jesus-disciples” who are there with him; he says to them, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” “Exactly as we did”… and with those words, Peter is led to confess that the Church is much bigger and far more inclusive than he could have ever imagined; that it may not be his place to say who is in and who is out, who should or shouldn’t be served by the grace of God through the Jewish messiah, Jesus.
Friends, this story of Cornelius is a far more radical story than we today could ever begin to imagine. For this Cornelius character is not just any Gentile. He’s an officer in the Roman military during a period of history when the Jewish people were forced to live under the thumb of Rome. It was people like Cornelius, members of the Roman military, who were occupying and defiling their holy land. This Cornelius guy is not one of God’s chosen people, he has the wrong blood running through his veins and he works for a boss everyone loves to hate…
And yet, despite all that, Cornelius is sincerely seeking God and, whether God’s people are ready for it or not, God will welcome Cornelius into the Church with open arms.
You know, as I already mentioned, Peter has a good stock evangelistic sermon for these situations and it always includes a call to repentance… a component that is noticeably missing from this sermon… which makes one wonder: maybe this time it was the preacher and the Church that needed to repent. You see the Greek word for repentance in the New Testament means, literally, “a change of mind”. And, in this particular case, it was Peter, the apostle par excellence, who needed a change of mind and heart.
Friends, whether we like to admit to it or not, we all draw mental boundaries and borders and sometimes it’s hard for us to confess that God doesn’t see people like we see them. Even at this very moment, it’s likely that most of us are thinking of someone we know that we consider prejudiced or judgmental in their thinking. We might be thinking, right at this moment, “Well see, this story proves they need to repent.” And yet, if push came to shove, if a line-up of “objectionable characters” were paraded through our sanctuary like that sheet full of unclean animals was placed before the eyes of Peter, there’d be someone in that line that we’d each recoil from and we could likely find some verse from scripture to justify their exclusion. But folks, Peter had an entire Old Testament to justify his attitude toward Cornelius. Yet whether Peter approved of it or not, God had the right and God chose to change – to erase – those boundary lines.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, this sermon reminds me of my mom who so powerfully expressed the hospitality and welcome of God. My older brother was a character growing up. He turned out fine; but there were some pretty rough years and he had some pretty “out of bounds” kinds of friends. You wouldn’t have expected that those friends would have been so drawn to a church-owned parsonage. It sure wouldn’t have seemed to be a likely hang-out. But it was because my mom showed so much kindness toward those young people. I can remember many afternoons and evenings playing in the living room while my mom sat talking with one of them at the kitchen table serving up a kind smile, a welcome heart, a listening ear… and usually some homemade baked goods. Even when my brother grew up and moved out, they still came around because they knew my mom would always welcome them and listen to them and never judge them. She would serve them the gracious, welcoming presence of Jesus. Decades later, some even attended my mom’s funeral.
Friends, at the end of time, God won’t require the assistance of any of us to judge the eternal fates of others so why should we worry about offering our judgment now. Out there beyond the walls of this church are people who need to know that God welcomes them and God is counting on us to convey that welcome. It may even be someone you already know. The Spirit’s prompting will probably be more subtle than a sheet full of animals dropping out of the sky. But if we pray and we watch and we listen, who knows?
[i] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene Peterson; NavPress; 2002; p. 1988
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