Lost.

Luke 15:1-10 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep 

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and
rejoices.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine right- eous persons who need no repentance. 

The Parable of the Lost Coin 

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins,if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” 

Have you ever lost anything? I know I have. Especially car keys! I try to put my keys in the same place all of the time, but sometimes I don’t. Then, when I’m running late, try- ing to get out the door, the sense of panic as I rush around trying to find them. Then, when I do find them, the sense of relief!  I now have this thing called a “tile” that I have on my king ring and iPhone…it helps me keep track!  

As I was preparing this sermon this week, I thought a lot about our national and in- ternational climate that we find ourselves in. It seems like we’ve lost a lot in our dia- logue, or lack of dialogue with one another. We are content to toss out civility and even share outright lies, make up things on the spot or make huge statements that contribute to relational breakdowns and anxiety. We have lost something, and in this time in our cul- ture, are we willing to look for something of greater value or simply just accept it? 

This morning our gospel lesson is about losing something and then finding it. The con- text is interesting. Tax collectors, folks who were not well thought of in Jewish society at the time. They’d often collect more than what was required for taxes to the occupying forces of Rome in order to enrich themselves. Then there were the sinners…folks who had somehow found themselves outside of community because of something they’d done or not done. But, they all felt accepted for who they were and they gathered around Je- sus. 

Jesus didn’t condemn folks or try to control them. He didn’t want to put stress on them, he simply loved them and accepted them. He believed in them. Jesus knew their imper- fection, they weren’t hiding anything, and somehow they knew that Jesus embraced them in their humanity. 

On the other hand, we also have the Pharisee’s hanging out. These were the people on the inside of the religious structure. They followed the rules and they even made many of the rules, most of which were not what God had intended. These religious leaders, these insiders, were complaining and grumbling as they often did. They wondered aloud why Jesus would welcome these sinners and even eat with them, which in that culture meant bringing them into friendship. 

Quite a contrast. The sinners were experiencing hospitality and radical grace from Je- sus…so were the Pharisees. Yet, the sinners were drawn in closer to Jesus and the Phar- isees, for the most part, kept their distance and complained. 

So, Jesus goes into these two parables. The first about losing one sheep out of a hundred. Some might say why go after one, take care of the rest…you still have 99. Yet, Jesus is saying that this sheep matters, that we all matter. And, if one of us is lost or feels margin- alized, then leaving the majority and going after the minority is God’s imperative. Work hard to find that lost sheep. 

Then, when finding it, call the neighbors and friends over, have a celebration. 

The story goes on to say that’s exactly what happens in the universe all around us, that’s what God does…God rejoices when one sinner, someone who’s maybe feeling lost, re- pents. 

Again, we’ve said this before about repent, in Greek it’s metanoia, which means to change one’s mind, which then also begins to change one’s heart. When that happens, conversion or transformation can take root. 

In a similar way, Jesus talks about a woman who loses a coin. She lights a lamp, sweeps, does some work in her house to find that coin. She has 10, so losing one still leaves her with 9. But, she still knows something is missing. When she finds it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and celebrates as well. 

Again, the writer says God does the same. 

Jesus is trying to tell us that we all experience being lost. And that God wants us to be found and is searching us all out. Sinners and Pharisees. When we experience things in our lives where we know something is missing inside of us, or maybe even outside of us. When we know we feel empty or alone, or when we have done something to others or others have done something to us, that those can be opportunities to search for something of great value within us and with others. 

The sinners, well, in this story, they repent and move forward. Jesus isn’t trying to con- trol them, on the contrary, he’s freeing them and leading them towards a great treasure. Relational connection within themselves, others, and God. Life begins to be a joy and a cause for celebration. 

On the other hand, the religious leaders can’t let go of their stuff. When they lose it, they simply circle the wagons, silo themselves off, they don’t do the hard work of searching 

for what is lost, but settle for what they have left. When they see Jesus, when they expe- rience the crowds coming around Jesus, they grumble and complain that Jesus is doing right or the way they’ve always done things. So, they end up becoming more bitter, more anxious. 

Yet, Jesus doesn’t give up on them either. They may not know they are lost, they may not even want to be found. But, they are still human and still connected…so their is hope for them also to experience God’s love and to celebrate and experience real life. 

There’s a lot in this morning’s passage for us. Where do we find ourselves in these sto- ries? Are we lost and are we willing to look for what we’ve lost? Are we willing to do the work to find ourselves in a place of growth and love in our lives? Or, are we OK to settle for what we think we have? Are we willing to know who we are and look at our- selves with honest first before we complain and grumble about what others do or don’t do? Will we choose bitterness and lostness or celebration with each other and joy in friendships? 

Disciple?

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26″Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

One of my passions over the years has been backpacking.  I’ve had some amazing trips throughout the US and Canada.  I’ve also taken groups of high school students on some amazing adventures, as well as with friends and family my age.  I haven’t done as many lately with my kids being older and out of the house, but I’ve enjoyed those trips immensely.  

I even like the process of preparing for a backpacking trip.  During COVID, my son and one of his best friends, Riley, really needed some adventure.  So, Riley’s dad, Jerry, who’s also a good friend and neighbor of mine, got together and decided that we could plan a covid safe mountain climbing trip to Colorado.  We had several planning sessions with our sons…we had limited time, less than a week to actually go…that meant a day or so traveling, 4 days in Colorado, and a day-ish driving back.  At first the sons wanted to climb 4 14’ers (mountains over 14,000 feet) in four days…having done a few 14’ers before, even if our boys were pretty fit, that would not work!  So, we paired it down to 2 14’ers, one 12,000 foot alpine lake, and some fun in the Great Sand Dunes and Garden of the Gods in southern CO.  It went great!  

We planned meticulously, all of us contributing something and distributing who would carry what.  We planned for contingencies, and we made sure that we had everything lined up in case of emergencies, our route we’d take, etc.  And, since it was during the pandemic stage of COVID, we were extra careful and made sure we didn’t make stops in places in Missouri or Kansas that were covid hotspots.  

We wanted to make sure that we had “counted the cost” of what it would take to do this trip and to do it well.  We did have some unforeseen issues, as often happens when you are on an adventure, some things unplanned, but because we had counted the cost, were prepared, we were able to overcome some things and had an amazing adventurous journey together…and great stories to share!

Our passage this morning finds the writer of Luke picking up the journey motif again with Jesus.  Jesus in on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples with a large crowd that was following him.  Many of the folks in that crowd were probably neutral in terms of what they thought of Jesus, maybe just curious, but they were still drawn to him.  I believe that Jesus, when he turned around and addressed the crowds, was wanting to draw as many of them who were willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear, the cost of what it means to truly follow him.

Jesus goes on to say that one must hate his father, mother, wife, children, siblings…even their very lives to follow him.  When we read that today, we have a very black and white understanding.  But, in the first century, where family ties are central and there is an honor and shame culture.  Jesus is trying to break through to the crowds that there is a deeper community, deeper relationships, than simply familial relationships, that we are all bound together in our shared humanity, and we are being called into a new way of living and being with one another.  Jesus is telling the crowd that there is a deeper priority than even familial connections.  Jesus is essentially saying that our first love lies within and without, the Christ DNA that has been in us since the beginning and gives us a deeper identity than anything or anyone else.  This is what it means to be a disciple…but, also disciple is a growth process towards awareness that leads to friendship.  Remember Jesus’ words at the last supper?  “I no longer call you disciples, but friends.”  And, that friendship is both light, free, and a process…just like any relationship.  

Now, there are some tough words in this passage…take the word hate as understood by a first century audience is equivalent to disgrace.  Are you willing to be shamed, to risk your honor, by walking towards a love for all of humanity, to follow Jesus, the reformer of a system that you’ve been brought up in?  Are you willing to risk everything to be a part of the ethos and reality of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is sharing?  

If you are, count the cost.  Jesus goes into the metaphors of building a tower and a war campaign…build a strong foundation first, but also build something on top of that foundation.  If you are going to wage a war, do you have enough fighters.  I wouldn’t read into the metaphors too much other than Jesus is using some imagery that folks could understand, contemporary examples, that’s telling the crowds that following him is more than simply showing up at an event or at the temple occasionally, it’s all about a deeper rhythm of living.    

It’s also about letting go.  We hold on to so much.  We hold on to our shame, our image of honor, or possessions such as material wealth, even those possessions we hold in common like a neighborhood, a country, or even a church.  Yet, Jesus is saying that we should let go of all of that to work towards a better vision of what God intends…discipleship to friendship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a great German reformed theologian. He wrote some great books like the Cost of Discipleship where he says that the grace we have isn’t cheap…it has a cost, it is painful as witnessed in our lives and in the crucifixion of Jesus.  He also says that discipleship isn’t cheap, nor easy.  We are invited into a better story, a better way of living, yes, but that comes at the cost of having to look deep inside of us to where our loyalties lie, to be aware of what it means to ask ourselves hard questions and be willing to trust in the mystery of God around and in us, and of God’s vision for our lives.

One of Bonhoeffer’s books is the Life of the Beloved.  In it Bonhoeffer says that we need to “kill our wish dreams” for our lives and the church.  Why?  That seems harsh, especially as we often talk about having a vision for our lives and our church.  What Bonhoeffer is driving towards is that are wish dreams are more about us than what God intends…which is a much larger, much more expansive, and deeper wish dream or vision for us and for the church.  Yet, we have to let go of our dreams and work on listening to God’s voice in others and in us and around us to sense what God’s dream for us will be.  

Jesus is reminding us that God does give us grace and grace is found in the very being of God’s character.  Also, God’s covenant loyalty is to us…all of us, in community with us.  

Friends, we are in community.  And community takes hard work to build.  When we build it on love, when our loyalties are with God and understand deeply that God’s loyalty is to us, when we do the hard work of not only counting the cost, but carrying the cross of Jesus’ work on our behalf, of living into the lifestyle and the work of following Jesus, then we can begin to see and experience God’s vision for us, we can go on a journey with God that will lead to our growth, and to our collective growth as a church in our neighborhood placed in our city.  

We are reminded of God’s calling to us to be that community that God calls in scripture the body of Christ.  Jesus is not only calling us through the scriptures to follow him, to bid farewell to whatever is holding on to us or that we are holding on to that prevents us from following, but through Jesus being present with us now, in this space, and in all of time…this sacred moment is to remind of God’s work in our midst on our behalf.

One Body (English and Nepali)

एक शरीर (अंग्रेजी र नेपाली)

1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Colossians 3:11 (English and Nepali); १ कोरिन्थी १२:१२-१३; कलस्सी 3:11 (अंग्रेजी र नेपाली)

1 Corinthians 12:13

13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Colossians 3:11

11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

१कोरिन्थी१२:१३

१३किनकिएउटैआत्मामाहामीसबैएउटैशरीरमाबप्तिस्मालियौंयहूदीवाग्रीक, दासवास्वतन्त्ररहामीसबैलाईएउटैआत्माबाटपिउनलगाइयो।

कलस्सी 3:11

11 त्योनवीकरणमाअबग्रीकरयहूदी, खतनारखतनानगरिएका, बर्बर, सिथियन, दासरस्वतन्त्रछैनन्, तरख्रीष्टसबैरसबैमाहुनुहुन्छ!

Last week, I had the privilege of baptizing 4 folks.  It was really fun…I love baptisms, one of the cool things we get to do as clergy.  

The first passage this morning reminds us that we are all baptized into one body.  As we share every communion Sunday, every baptism, that our baptism is “one baptism”.  That Jesus is baptized for all of humanity.  Therefore, all people…everyone, are covered under the baptism of Christ.  

Paul takes Jesus’ baptism to its logical place, and also as demonstrated through Jesus’ actions, not only in baptism, but through Jesus’ inclusive actions.  

The systems of the world have been set up to “divide and conquer” to say that everyone is different and some folks may be better than others, that there are different classifications of people.  Paul, is stating clearly, that’s not what God set up, not what God intended.

Jews, Greeks, slaves, free, male, female.  All are one.  We all have the same fountain of God’s Spirit residing deep within us, calling us towards one another.

Yes, we may have different opinions, different backgrounds, traditions, etc.  But, at the end of the day, we are all one people…

That means that we have to resist the voices of our day, and throughout history, that dehumanize others…we cannot be about that.  We are one family.  

Baptism, Christ’s baptism, reminds us that we are one…it’s as if God is constantly calling us towards wholeness, restoration.  

It’s also interesting to note that baptism is simply a reflection of God’s faithfulness to us.  It also became a helpful tool in the early church.  To convert to Judaism, males had to be circumcised.  Not a good argument for many….and certainly not fair to both sexes!  Baptism was settled on as a marker of being a Jesus follower that was fair and a lot less painful!

Paul continues to remind us that Christ is all in all.  And, remember, Christ is not Jesus’ last name.  It’s better to say Jesus “the Christ”.  It simply means the promised one, the anointed one…the messiah…and it’s a phrase that was around before Jesus came on to the scene.  

Yet, it’s a profound title.  It means that Jesus was the promised one.  The one human to show us struggle, suffering, and that love does win…this presence of life, life to the full, is in all things and in all people.  YOU, me, all of us, have Christ in us and all around us!  

So, friends, as we celebrate today with our Nepali friends, may we be reminded that the divine resides in all of us…that Christ is all in all, that we are one body.  We may have different languages, different customs, but we share the same heart.  

As we look at one another today, it’s my hope that we simply embrace the diversity, and know that God’s image is in each face, each moment, and that the image of God is one…and is diverse…and is beautiful.  

गत हप्ता, मैले ४ जनालाई बप्तिस्मा गर्ने सुअवसर पाएको थिएँ। यो साँच्चिकै रमाइलो थियो…मलाई बप्तिस्मा मन पर्छ, हामीले पादरीको रूपमा गर्न सक्ने उत्कृष्ट चीजहरू मध्ये एक।

आज बिहानको पहिलो खण्डले हामीलाई सम्झाउँछ कि हामी सबै एउटै शरीरमा बप्तिस्मा लिएका छौं। जसरी हामी हरेक सामुदायिक आइतवार, हरेक बप्तिस्मा साझा गर्छौं, कि हाम्रो बप्तिस्मा “एउटा बप्तिस्मा” हो। येशूले सम्पूर्ण मानवताको लागि बप्तिस्मा लिनुभयो। त्यसकारण, सबै मानिसहरू… सबैजना, ख्रीष्टको बप्तिस्माको अधीनमा छन्।

पावलले येशूको बप्तिस्मालाई यसको तार्किक स्थानमा लैजान्छन्, र येशूका कार्यहरूद्वारा पनि बप्तिस्मामा मात्र होइन, तर येशूका समावेशी कार्यहरूद्वारा पनि देखाइएको छ।

संसारका प्रणालीहरू “विभाजन र विजय” को लागी स्थापित गरिएको छ कि सबैजना फरक छन् र केहि मानिसहरू अरू भन्दा राम्रो हुन सक्छन्, त्यहाँ मानिसहरूको विभिन्न वर्गीकरणहरू छन्। पावल, स्पष्ट रूपमा भनिरहेका छन्, त्यो परमेश्वरले स्थापना गर्नुभएको होइन, परमेश्वरले चाहेको कुरा होइन।

यहूदी, ग्रीक, दास, स्वतन्त्र, पुरुष, महिला। सबै एक हो। हामी सबैसँग परमेश्वरको आत्माको एउटै झरना छ जुन हामी भित्र गहिरो बस्छ, हामीलाई एकअर्का तर्फ बोलाउँछ।

हो, हामीसँग फरक फरक विचार, फरक पृष्ठभूमि, परम्परा, आदि हुन सक्छ। तर, दिनको अन्त्यमा, हामी सबै एउटै मानिस हौँ…

यसको मतलब यो हो कि हामीले हाम्रो दिनको आवाजहरूको प्रतिरोध गर्नुपर्दछ, र इतिहासभरि, जसले अरूलाई अमानवीय बनाउँछ … हामी त्यसको बारेमा हुन सक्दैनौं। हामी एउटै परिवार हौं।

बप्तिस्मा, ख्रीष्टको बप्तिस्मा, हामीलाई सम्झाउँछ कि हामी एक हौं … यो जस्तै हो कि परमेश्वरले हामीलाई निरन्तरता, पुनर्स्थापना तिर बोलाइरहनुभएको छ।

यो पनि चाखलाग्दो छ कि बप्तिस्मा भनेको हामीप्रति परमेश्वरको वफादारीको प्रतिबिम्ब हो। यो प्रारम्भिक मण्डलीमा पनि एक उपयोगी उपकरण बन्यो। यहूदी धर्ममा परिवर्तन गर्न, पुरुषहरूको खतना गर्नुपर्थ्यो। धेरैको लागि राम्रो तर्क होइन … र निश्चित रूपमा दुवै लिङ्गका लागि उचित छैन! बप्तिस्मालाई येशूको अनुयायी भएको चिन्हको रूपमा स्थापित गरिएको थियो जुन निष्पक्ष र धेरै कम पीडादायी थियो!

पावलले हामीलाई सम्झाउन जारी राख्छन् कि ख्रीष्ट सबैमा हुनुहुन्छ। र, याद गर्नुहोस्, ख्रीष्ट येशूको अन्तिम नाम होइन। येशूलाई “ख्रीष्ट” भन्नु राम्रो हुन्छ। यसको अर्थ मात्र प्रतिज्ञा गरिएको, अभिषिक्त व्यक्ति… मसीह… र यो एउटा वाक्यांश हो जुन येशू घटनास्थलमा आउनुअघि नै थियो।

यद्यपि, यो गहिरो शीर्षक हो। यसको अर्थ येशू प्रतिज्ञा गरिएको व्यक्ति हुनुहुन्थ्यो। हामीलाई संघर्ष, पीडा, र त्यो प्रेम देखाउने एक मानवले जित्छ … जीवनको यो उपस्थिति, पूर्ण जीवन, सबै चीजहरूमा र सबै मानिसहरूमा छ। तपाईं, म, हामी सबै, हामी र हाम्रो वरिपरि ख्रीष्ट हुनुहुन्छ!

त्यसोभए, साथीहरू, आज हामी हाम्रा नेपाली साथीहरूसँग मनाउँदै गर्दा, हामी सबैमा परमात्मा वास गर्नुहुन्छ भनेर सम्झाउन सकिन्छ … कि ख्रीष्ट सबैमा हुनुहुन्छ, हामी एउटै शरीर हौं। हाम्रो भाषा फरक फरक हुन सक्छ तर हाम्रो मन एउटै छ।

आज हामी एकअर्कालाई हेर्दा, यो मेरो आशा हो कि हामीले केवल विविधतालाई अँगाल्नेछौं, र थाहा छ कि परमेश्वरको छवि प्रत्येक अनुहारमा, प्रत्येक क्षणमा छ, र परमेश्वरको छवि एउटै छ … र विविध छ … र सुन्दर छ।

Crippling.

Luke 13:10-17

Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things being done by him.

Reading the gospel passage this week, I kept on thinking what it could have been like to be this crippled woman.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have been crippled for 18 years.  The thoughts and voices that build up in your head.

I’ve not been crippled, but I have been injured.  I’ve actually been nursing an injury recently…Achilles Tendinosis…was hoping to run a marathon this fall, but not sure. 

A few years back, when I was training for the Boston Marathon, I injured myself then as well.  I was able to train with the injury, but I knew it wouldn’t heal fully until after the race itself and with rest.  In the race, the injury  kept getting worst, it was painful, but the part that was the hardest were the voices in my head and trying to navigate some decisions.  Can I get through this day?  Will I need to stop at the medical tent?  Will someone be able to help me?  Luckily I did stop and eventually found someone that could help me stabilize my leg injury and get through the race.  Yet, there were times when I thought I may have to drop out.  Yet, even in those times, I was surrounded by crowds of people that kept me going.

But, that was a temporary thing.  I knew that I would heal, I had confidence that I could get through this somehow.

That may give me a window of what it means to be crippled, but I still can’t quite comprehend what it must have been like for this woman.  For 18 years she probably didn’t have crowds cheering her on.  As a cripple, in that society, she was considered on the margins, outside of society.  Even the religious order of the day did not fully embrace her in her humanity.  They seemed to be more focused on their sense of order, propriety, or doing the things they way they’ve always been done that they had forgotten their own shared humanity.  They had reduced religion to rules and not relationships.  They were blind and deaf to God’s very heart of relationship and could not recognize this woman’s humanity….they could not even recognize Jesus as the messiah, the one who came to give us our humanity back.

Our passage doesn’t say what she was crippled with, but that she was crippled by a spirit.  She was so harassed by something that it physically affected her.  

I can somewhat relate to that, so can many of us.  We can be crippled by spirits of fear, anxiety, the unknown, even change.  We can let the spirit of our selfishness, I call that our small e egos, that we are crippled if you will to doing the hard work of self and others awareness.  Those spirits of selfishness, anxiousness, fear, loneliness, can lead to physical issues.

I think this woman knew that she could not live as she had lived for almost two decades.  She didn’t want to be crippled, yet it was what she knew.  She meets Jesus and she sees someone who can help her.  She begins the process of awareness.  She knows she needs to change, she knows that she wants something better, she takes a risk in trusting someone else.  Jesus sees her, Jesus touches her, Jesus heals her.  And, she dances. She’s been given life!  

As she celebrates, as something good happens, how did the religious rulers respond?  Well, again, they focused on the negative, they couldn’t see beyond themselves and their rules to the opportunities of restored relationship.  Jesus had compassion on the crippled woman, and the blindness of the religious leaders.  He healed the woman, yes, but he also calls out the religious leaders.  Jesus goes on to point out that they would take care of their animals on the sabbath, so why shouldn’t Jesus take care of this woman?  In other words, the religious leaders had become so stuck in a way of thinking, they couldn’t see their blind spots, or notice others.  Jesus doesn’t say much else, he just points out the obvious, this woman, one of us,  a human being, has been healed.  The religious leaders were shamed a bit as it says, and maybe, just maybe, they knew they had been focusing on the wrong things.

Friends, I don’t know where you are today.  Maybe some of us have been stuck in a certain way of thinking for a long time and it’s crippling us…maybe you have experienced change or are getting ready for a big change.  Maybe something is happening in your job, in your education with this new year, maybe you are afraid of what the future may bring you.  

I believe that, just like this woman, when we are met by Jesus, when something inside of us is touched by the divine, and we are given the chance to be healed, we should not be afraid to let go of what has been crippling us.  It starts with our hearts being moved, then our minds being healed as we move towards awareness of our deeper selves, then healing can take root and work within us, moving us towards joy and away from what is crippling us. 

I believe that Jesus came to heal us beyond in the depth of who we are…we live in the body of Christ to move towards a sense of wholeness, relationship, and joy in the moment no matter what may be waiting around the corner.  To be healed, to let go of what is crippling us can be hard work, but when we allow ourselves to be touched by the divine, touched by God, allowing ourselves to be dependent on one another and brought into community, we can then dance and celebrate.  

Watch.

Luke 12:32-40 

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Watchful Servants

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he[a] would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 

As we’ve discussed, the gospels say a lot about the Kingdom of God, or God’s Presence. It is in our midst, its embodiment is deep and abiding relationship with ourselves, one another, with and through God. In so many ways, we cannot see or hear the Kingdom if we are not striving for authentic relationship with each other, ourselves, and God. It’s all one thread that weaves throughout life. 

This morning, our text says that God is giving us God’s Presence, this is our treasure if you will. 

Now, when I see that word treasure, I think of maps with an “X” on them marking a treasure chest.

As a kid, I would romp around on our family’s property.  We had about 7 acres and 4 of those acres were woods…our property also was connected to my Uncle’s property, which was also about 7 acres.  Beyond that, we had probably dozens, if not hundreds of acres around us with woods, streams, hills, and even small lakes.  Our neighbors were also pretty friendly, so adventuring throughout the woods was like an escape into a kid’s imagination with pirates, Robin Hood, and so many other stories made up.  

Also, in those woods, my dad would host our church’s youth group in the fall every year.  We’d have a big hayride that would end up in a clearing in those woods with a huge bonfire where we’d sing songs, cook hot dogs and marshmallows, and play games on the edges, in the dark…but, that bonfire always called us back towards seeing one another and give us a sense of presence…magical nights!

Later, as an adult, I enjoyed going through those woods, not only remembering, but finding other treasures as those woods kept on pulling me in.  I had to have a watchful eye, ear, and open heart to receive the gifts of those woods. 

God’s Kingdom, our treasure, the Presence of God…keeps on pulling us in towards new treasures within and without…it’s in our midst, all around us, pulling us towards each other and God…finding the gift of the joy of being connected with each other and God’s purposes in our lives together and with God.  But, again, we have to be on the watch to see that treasure.  

And, God’s Kingdom, our treasure, is about putting material possessions in their proper place, which is a place of not holding on too tightly. 

As we talked about in previous weeks, we can’t take our material possessions with us, and that’s not God’s economy or measurement of wealth. God values relationship, that’s what gives the energy for creating, saving, sustaining…that’s the treasure. 

So many times, we hold on to material treasure, but Jesus is saying that we are called to share it, to be give it away. To bless the poor and one another. Why? Well, certainly to meet needs, but also to empty ourselves of possessions that keep us separated from one another. It’s also meant to say that if we bless others, take care of them as best we can, we can then have the joy of entering into relationship with them. 

God’s kingdom treasure is about taking away barriers that may keep us from embracing others, ourselves, and God. God’s Kingdom treasure has much more to do with our becoming fully human as we were created to be in the first place. 

When we are able to love and share freely with others, to move from transactional relationships to truly transformational relationships, we experience joy and purpose. When we invest in others, that is a deposit of treasure that cannot be destroyed. However, as our scripture says, we can let thieves in that steal away that joy…we listen to voices that are divisive, mean spirited, anxious, and lead us towards a sense of deep selfishness and even a loss of self. 

Jesus tells us this morning to take stock on where our treasure lies…if it is with things that pull us apart, then we will be fragmented and produce nothing good and cause us to be in states of deep separation from one another, but if it’s on the Kingdom of God, then it will bring unity, peace, and bear good fruit that blesses others. 

We must be on watch for the Kingdom of God in our midst. God’s desire is to give us God’s self, it brings God pleasure to be with us. We are given purses that don’t wear out… God’s presence is with us, holding us in tension and in beautiful ways. 

We are called to be aware of God’s presence around us, to keep our lamps lit in the darkness in order to recognize when God, the master of the banquet laid out before us arrives. This master is hosting an amazing gathering for us, wanting us to have glimpses of love and grace…wanting us to be awake, alive to the wonderful work of becoming more human in the way of Jesus. 

Jesus also warns us to be on the watch for the leaven of the Pharisees, the substance that they want to give us, the substance of control and scarcity, leads us to a misunderstanding of God’s purpose. God does not simply desire piety from us, God desires live, abundant life. The leaven that God offers fills us, nourishes us, makes us come alive. There is a thief that comes to steal from us the fullness of God’s presence in our lives, God’s joy and revelry in who we are in our humanity, yet Jesus comes to make us aware and to live in the present moment with God and others. 
In this parable, there are three things to be aware of: 

  1. The master provides for this who have eyes to see, who have been faithful with keeping their lamps lit…those who want to see. 
  2. Jesus calls us to be vigilant. 
  3. Jesus wants to reveal to us the nature of what it means to be truly human as God
    intended.

Friends, let us keep watch for God’s actions on our behalf through Jesus, let us see that God’s leaven is Jesus…and Jesus’ body, Jesus’ life nourishes us…let us also remember that Jesus poured life into us, giving us the courage to live as the truest humans we can be…it takes time and practice, but this action reminds us of Jesus’ coming to us to call us into being the people we were created to be, the people we’ve always wanted to be

Leadership.

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Our last value that our elemental leadership team came to was “Leadership” and how to develop leaders.

I’ve used this gospel lesson before, I’ve even talked about my dad wanting me to be as passional about fishing as we was.  I grew to enjoy it a bit, but never was like him in his love for it.

But, this gospel lesson has some great things about leadership.  You see, even though I wasn’t a fisherman, I did grow in my understanding of who I am…and I still am growing.  And, one thing about my dad, he was authentic, and I think I share that authenticity.  

It’s fascinating to me that all of the values that we have come up with as a church:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership are all interconnected and feed off of each other.  

What causes them to grow is a deep sense of leadership within each of us.  We may be sitting here thinking we are not leaders, but we are.  All of us.  That leadership starts when we sense a spark within us.  A longing being met by a moment in our lives.  This is true for us individually, and collectively as a church.

In my doctoral project that has now begun, we met last week and talked about forming community and that it starts with the speed of trust.  This group of church and community folk gave over trust to one another from the beginning, but as we’ve shared, have been vulnerable, that trust is growing and we are seeing gifts within each other.  And, we are seeing leadership within our group arise…within all of us.  I may be the convener of this group, but I’m also being present and leading and following in so many ways.  I am also a co-learner in this process and it’s leading me, and others, towards growth.  

That’s what Jesus is doing in this morning’s gospel lesson…and Peter is following his lead, giving him some trust.  

Let’s look at this passage a bit.  We find Jesus right after the story where Jesus was preaching in his hometown of Nazareth and the folks wanted throw him off a cliff that we read last week.  He is at a lake and there are so many people crowding around him to hear him that he gets into a boat and pulls out on the water so he can speak.

When he’s done, he tells Simon, later to known as Peter, to throw down their nets again in deep water.  

Peter protests, he was a good fisherman.  

They grew up around it, it gave them fellowship, a source of income, and they were good at it.  

They had fished all night.  They knew the right places, they had the right technique, they had the correct bait to attract fish, yet, they caught nothing.  All night, nothing.  

I’m sure they are thinking, how would that help?  We know these waters, we know how to fish…moving our nets a few feel won’t do anything.  Yet, they had fished all night with no results.  They were doing what they always did which got them something in times past, but nothing on this day.

So, they take a risk, trust this guy on the beach, and throw their nets out again.  What happens?  They trusted, had some faith, and they caught more fish than ever before!  

Friends, this passage can speak to us in our personal lives and in lives together as .  There may be things that we’ve done for a long time in our lives that simply are not working anymore, we need a fresh perspective, maybe we need to put our nets somewhere else.  We all need to have a deeper trust in the Divine.  We certainly need to slow down, and listen to the voice of God calling us to put our nets out again…and to trust.  

And, fishers of humans?  That simply means that we are called to connect, to love, and to build genuine friendships…but it starts with trusting ourselves, others, and God’s prompting.   Leadership starts with trusting and then hearing the call deep within.  

As we do this, we will find ourselves in the midst of conversion.  Conversion is a lifelong process.  The Benedictine monks got it, they would pray for Stability, Obedience, and Conversion daily.  It’s interesting to me that Benedictine monks have been models of leadership for centuries.  A key element of that leadership is listening, I read this about the Benedictine rule of obedience this week, check this out:

I’ve often marveled, that the first word of The Rule of St. Benedict isn’t pray, worship, or even love. It’s listen. This small, unobtrusive word speaks in a whisper. To anyone who studies Benedictine spirituality, the phrase listen . . . with the ear of the heart becomes so familiar we can easily lose sight of how revolutionary it is. Listening in the Benedictine sense is not a passive mission. Benedict [c. 480–547] tells us we must attend to listening. In some translations of The Rule, we are to actively incline ourselves toward it, and nurture it in our everyday activities. Listening is an act of will. . . .

Listening cracks open the door to another Benedictine concept from which most of us would rather run,—that of obedience. . . . Obedience comes from the Latin, oboedire, to give ear, to harken, to listen. The Benedictine writer Esther de Waal says that obedience moves us from our “contemporary obsession with the self,” [or I would ‘ego’’] and inclines us toward others. . . . . [St. Benedict] moves beyond the common understanding of the word as solely an authoritarian, top-down dynamic. He stresses instead mutual obedience, a horizontal relationship where careful listening and consideration is due to each member of the community from each member, as brothers and sisters. It is by this way of obedience, he says, that we go to God.

This church, our lives, we are in the midst of conversion.  All of us, myself included, are moving towards new chapters in our lives.  That is good news for me, for us, and for all of those around us.  This conversion starts with listening, true listening…which leads us towards trust, towards faith, and towards leadership 

Jesus’ call to Peter, and to us, is to trust what he sees in us.  Jesus sees you and me.  God’s Spirit dwells within Jesus and within us and is calling us towards using our gifts to lead, to take some risks, to trust.  Now, it’s unusual in those days for a rabbi as Jesus was to call his followers to follow him.  We often don’t see the gifts that we have, but Jesus does and is calling us to use them to build relationships with ourselves and others.  Jesus sees Peter and the future disciples fishing and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men.  He doesn’t tell them to form a study, a committee, or go to seminary, he tells them to simply do something they understand.  Fish.  But, to go after others, to pursue friendships with others and include them into community.

Saying Yes to Jesus can be crazy, adventurous, and overwhelming…sometimes heeding God’s call on and in our lives may take us into dark places…but, we are not alone.  Our identity as Christians is simply a follower of Jesus….and Jesus followers are willing to trust and take risk.  Friends, this world is crying out for those of us who claim to be Jesus followers to hear the call on our lives to follow the depths of our heart as deep calls into deep…as God calls into God’s self residing within us to come forth out of the tomb of death that the systems of this world want us to stay in…calling us to new life, true life, our true selves.

Spiritual Gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:4-31

Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

One Body with Many Members

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work powerful deeds? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Our fourth value that our Elemental Leadership team came up with in our process was “spiritual gifts”.  We are called to bring God’s Spirit, God’s gifts, into all that we do and are.  

First of all, everything in life is gift, really…we don’t really earn much, life is given to us…it’s all in how we use those gifts and allow them to grow…we know thought that there are folks who use their gifts for malice…look at Russia’s war on Ukraine, look at systems that keep most of the world in poverty, look at gun violence and those who yield weapons of war for destruction on innocent victims, and look at some of our own politicians who grift off of our taxes that are supposed to be used for the common good.

Yet, we are Kingdom people, called to see our gifts as something to be used for the common good.  As we’ve discussed, the gospels say a lot about the Kingdom of God, or God’s Presence.  It is in our midst, its embodiment is deep and abiding relationship with ourselves, one another and with and through God.  God’s Spirit, God’s very presence, resides within us, is a gift. In so many ways, we cannot see or hear the Kingdom if we are not striving for authentic relationship with each other, ourselves, and God.  It’s all one thread that weaves throughout life.

As a kid, I would have gifts that were of value to me, things like baseball cards, toy soldiers, a favorite souvenir, or something.  I’d put them in a special place where they’d be safe just in case someone broke into our home.

Later, as an adult, I’d have a safety deposit box, which I still do as many of us do.  In that box, we store things that we value or that we simply want to keep safe as they may be hard to replace.  

Yet, God’s Kingdom, God’s Presence can’t be locked away, it’s in our midst, all around us, pulling us towards each other and God…finding the gift of the joy, as well as the beautiful struggle, of being connected with each other and God’s purposes in our lives together and with God.  

And, on the contrary, God’s Kingdom, God’s Presence, is about putting material possessions in their proper place, which is a place of not holding on too tightly.  

We can’t take our material possessions with us, and that’s not God’s economy or measurement of wealth.  God values relationship, that’s what gives the energy for creating, saving, sustaining…that’s the ultimate gift and that’s eternal

So many times, we hold on to our gifts, but Jesus is saying that we are called to share it, to be give it away.  To bless the poor and one another.  Why?  Well, certainly to meet needs, but also to empty ourselves of possessions that keep us separated from one another.  It’s also meant to say that if we bless others, take care of them as best we can, we can then have the joy of entering into relationship with them.

God’s kingdom gift is about taking away barriers that may keep us from embracing others, ourselves, and God.  God’s Kingdom gift has much more to do with our becoming fully human as we were created to be in the first place.

When we are able to love and share freely with others, to move from transactional relationships to truly transformational relationships, we experience joy and purpose.  When we invest in others, that is a deposit of treasure that cannot be destroyed.  

And, we’ve been given specific gifts to use as a particular part of the body of Christ as our scripture says today.  Gifts that have their place in a larger collective, and when we put them together, learn how to collaborate, watch out!  We find things moving, we find ourselves unified.  

Friends, we are all gifted!!!!  And, we discover those gifts though the power of relationship.  

However, as John 10:10 reminds us, we can let thieves in that steal away that joy…we listen to voices that are divisive, mean spirited, anxious, and lead us towards a sense of deep selfishness and even a loss of self.  

Paul is reminding us that we are all gifted, and that we’ve been given the ultimate gift of connection and communion with ourselves and others through God’s Presence and in our being the body of Christ…if we forget who we are and listen to the voices of the systems of the world, the cult like voices of personalities only concerned with themselves that, those voices that pull us apart, then we will be fragmented and produce nothing good and cause us to be in states of deep separation from one another, but if we remember who we are, gifted persons make in the image of God and living as members of the Kingdom of God, then it will bring unity, peace, and bear good fruit that blesses others.

We must be on watch for the Kingdom of God in our midst.  Let us use our gifts for the common good and not on cultural biases that divide us!  Amen?  

Diversity.

Acts 17:22-28 – 22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all peoples to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps fumble about for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we, too, are his offspring.’

Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 1:16-17 – “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

Revelation 7:9-10 – “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'”

As I write this sermon, I just finished a day at Ohio State University’s student and family orientation.  (Go Buckeyes!)

It’s fitting to be speaking on diversity this week as I was in the middle of about 500 students and families that were from all walks of life, different ethnicities, and so much amazing energy.  

Later, I would eat dinner at a brewery just a few blocks from where we are staying, and again, as I sat there in their courtyard, people watching as my dad used to do, I was amazing at the brewery workers and clientele…black, white, Asian, Hispanic…preppy folks, tattooed folks, beards, long hair, crew cuts…I even noticed some Christian t-shirts!  

Then, when you look at our zip code, where our church is located, the diversity is amazing, 57% white, 33% black, 8% other…and, the black and other is increasing…especially the other as we look at our Nepali friends moving in to the neighborhood. 

Friends, our church resides in a very diverse neighborhood, in an incredibly diverse world…and I think that makes God’s heart sing.  The variety of peoples, not only ethnically, but with tastes, opinions, beliefs, talents, etc. makes like so interesting.  

God must have an amazing imagination!!!  

I was pleasantly amazed at first when our church’s elemental leadership team picked “diversity” as one of its 5 core values.  But, it makes sense.  We all know that it’s an aspiration of our church to be community engaged…and, even though we may not think much about it, deep down, we want to be diverse.

Our passages this morning speak to diversity and staying curious.  Paul is walking around a foreign city.  He’s Jewish and is in Athens, Greece.  It’s a foreign place to him…yet, he doesn’t put it down, instead he listens, he notices, and he sees and hears God in the marketplace, the gathering place, of Athens.  

As we walk in this neighborhood, engage it in different ways, in all of its diversity, we cannot judge it, we cannot condemn it…and I hope that it doesn’t scare us…I know different can be hard for some of us oftentimes….especially in a constantly changing world…but if we want growth in our lives and in the lives of others, we have to listen and see where God is moving and get behind where the Spirit leads us…actually loves us towards…this will change us, just like it changed Paul.

Paul, and the other disciples, could have just stayed with “their” people, with what they were comfortable with…but God had others plans.  God wanted them to see God’s self in the gentiles, the foreigners, the folks that didn’t look, believe, or act like them.  

Our story with Paul also says that our very being is wrapped up in God.  A God that is diverse and beautiful.

Yet, we are also one in our diversity.  Friends, we have to remember Paul’s other words as well.  God is in all and lives through all…ALL.  We cannot tolerate those systems that are set up to keep us apart…we cannot accept patriarchal misogyny anymore, we cannot tolerate racism, sexism, or elitism….we have to model what Paul is telling us…there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, we are all one.  There is no “other”, it is only “we”.  

There will be a day in the next few years where this building will be full of people…diverse people, maybe not as much on a Sunday morning, but throughout the week.  Not just an event like the Ukrainian food festival, but most days…I see our hallways and rooms filled with activity and people that reflect the make up of our community in our future in some form.  In the meantime, before that happens, we have to listen and we have to ask questions.  We are moving in that direction as we speak…in big and small ways.  

Learn to embrace diversity, to look at people and history in a way that reflects curiosity and listening…you’ll be surprised at how much you will grow…and love…and become more like the amazing, diverse, and loving body of Christ.  

Amen?!  

Partnerships.

Jeremiah 29:4-14

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Philippians 1:3-11

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

I thank my God for every remembrance of you, always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, for all of you are my partners in God’s grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the tender affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.    

Philippians 1:27-30

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel 28 and in no way frightened by those opposing you. For them, this is evidence of their destruction but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well, 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.      

The second value that our elemental leadership group came to was the value of partnerships.  We know that we have a congregation rich in talent, we also know that as we mature, we become more humble and know that we want, we need, partners, or friendships willing to collaborate with us so that we can grow in our own lives and the life of the church.

A great illustration of that is the Ukrainian food festival.  There is no way we could have pulled that off by ourselves, even though we have amazing talent in our church and host the best Mett Sausage dinner in America, this was a unique opportunity that landed in our laps, we simply said yes to new friends to use our kitchen and campus for a fundraiser to help Ukraine from a Russian dictator and his military.  

Our church was filled with Ukrainians for a few weeks, and then, on the day of the event, we had around 3500 folks come.  Even though we had probably around 40-50 volunteers from the church, we needed the expertise and the human power of the dozens, even hundreds, of Ukrainians working alongside us, as well as other partners.

Partnering with others helps you to grow, as well as those you partner with.  When I coached cross country, I was always looking to build a team.  

You may think cross country is an individual sport, but when you have a group of folks pulling for each other, knowing where one another is, feeding off each other, then you can propel yourself to the finish line and do well as a team.  When our girls cross country team got past districts as the district runner up and made it to regionals for the first time in Finneytown history, we had a great group of young ladies that ran well together…especially McKenzie Jones and Julie Brueggemeyer.  They became best friends, and still are to this day.  They always knew where one another was on the course on race day and fed off of each other, pushing each other.  They also trained together…they had, and have a bond that is seemingly unbreakable.

Friends, that’s what we are looking for as we partner with others.  True friendship.  Bob and I continue to reach out to Oksana, Jane, Sergii, and Christiana.  

Our passage in Jeremiah this morning tells the story of our need for partnerships.  When our church’s bible study read this, we, like the Jewish folks in exile, may feel like we are in a foreign land at times.  That culture is changing and we often don’t know where we stand.  Yet, God reminds us to be all in where we are, wherever we are.  God told the Jews in exile, in a foreign land, to build houses, grow families, and work towards the benefit of the city.  In other words, partner and work for the common good.  

We are called to do the same today.  To work for the common good of where we have been placed, however we have been placed here.  That involves making genuine, authentic friendships.  

God has a purpose for you, for us.  For this congregation.  Are we willing to trust, to ask questions of God and one another?  To engage our neighbors for their well being?  Not for conversion or just to add another name on the church membership role, but to work towards their benefit?  And, in that process of trust and engagement, of friendship, to allow ourselves to grow and adapt?  

The church that Paul wrote to in Philippi, the Philippians, bound together in an inclusive community that was a blessing to Paul as they partnered with him and with the folks around them.  We sense that in the intro this letter, “I thank my God every time I remember you”.  And notice the word partnership, it is repeated literally a couple of times, but other words are used as well.  Paul felt a deep connection with these folks.  

There’s also the word “righteousness”.  We’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating:  when you see the word “righteous” in the Bible, it’s more about being in right relationship than being “right”.  It’s what Peter Block reminded us of often when we embark on any meaningful work together, it is more important for us to be right or to work together.  

Yes, there is suffering, there is hardship as Paul writes, yet we are not alone in it.  We struggle together and we enter into other’s struggles.  As we do, we know we can work through it together and the struggle brings us closer together.

When I coached my daughter and her friends, I reminded them often that running is a joy, and it’s suffering, together.  It formed a bond and strength within them and so many others.  

Friends, this church understands this, we are willing to suffer, to engage, to build friendships as we merge with the community and find folks willing to partner.  God, residing deep within us and residing deep within this neighborhood is calling us towards one another.  We have amazing partners in this community, and we are strengthening those partnerships even as we speak today…this week and month is full of possibilities and opportunities for our church.  May it be so.  

Authenticity.

Colossians 1:3-8; 3:9-11

Paul Thanks God for the Colossians

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

As we mentioned last week, today we are starting a sermon series for the month of July on the amazing work that our elemental leadership did.  In that work, we came up with a vision of building relationships through the neighborhood, partnerships, and other faith communities.  We also came up with values that are important to our church, these five values are what I’m preaching on for the next 5 Sundays, the month of July.  Those values are:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership.

The first value is “authenticity”.  Being authentic according to the definition is this:  “the quality of being authentic” and “Put simply, authenticity means you’re true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you’re under to act otherwise. You’re honest with yourself and with others, and you take responsibility for your mistakes.”

What it doesn’t mean is simply “saying it like it is”.  That’s often said by different people when they are trying to defend their opinions.  Being authentic though is deeper, it’s being real with yourself, asking the hard questions, doing the work of letting the Spirit of God that resides deep within each of us to emerge and to allow our true selves to emerge.  

Sometimes that can be very counter cultural.  Just look at Jesus, Jesus came to present what it means to be authentically human, made in God’s image.  That humanity challenged the dehumanizing systems of his day…and continues to challenge the systems we live in today.  That challenge got him killed as it threatened the status quo.

Yet, it also gave birth to the movement that we call the church, calling us to live towards a deep sense of faith, love, hospitality, oneness with all peoples, renewal, and a deep sense that all things and all people are connected and we should get on with loving ourselves and others.

I have met folks like that throughout my life:

My friend Jay Borck who always listened, believed in me in my twenties.  He won so many people over with his authentic, oftentimes quiet, charisma.  You knew he was there for you and you wanted to be there for him.  And, he never judged you.  

My friend Ron Thomas who was my roommate when I lived in Atlanta.  He was pretty conservative in his theology, but always showed a willingness to listen and to have empathy.  He put up with a lot having me as a roommate, but his heart was and is so pure, even as he continues to ask questions in life.  

Sean Gladding is a friend that many of you have met and have now become friends with.  He has been there for me these past several years, listening, never judging, allowing me to be vulnerable even as he is vulnerable with me.  Every time I think of Sean or I’m with him, I feel a deep sense of soul connection.

And then there’s also Dr. Scott Hagley.  Scott has been a friend for several years.  He’s also the one who encouraged me to pursue my doctorate at Pittsburgh Seminary.  He’s in charge of the program I’m in, my doctoral project and thesis first reader, my faculty advisor, and a close friend and confidante.  All along the way he’s been able to simply be himself in all of those roles, his true self, and consequently, it has been a great learning experience.  More than what I could have hoped.  And, I’ve been there for him.

Paul in his letter to Colossians is saying some similar things.  He loves the folks in this church, they have a collective authenticity and he is simply sharing that with them.  He is thankful for them and is giving testimony to their authenticity that is producing fruit.  He even singles out Epaphras, a Colossian, who lived out his humanity with authenticity.  

So, friends, again, we are called to live in authenticity with one another, and with ourselves.  The marks an authentic life:  vulnerability, listening, faith, kindness, connectedness, being real and with, empathy, and loving well.  And, I think that our church is growing tremendously in authenticity as I see those characteristics in each of you individually and collectively, and I thank God for it!

How do we get to deeper authenticity?  Self focus, awareness…and as Mary Lasoncsyk said last week, prayer.  Prayer can clear us up, open us up, to becoming who we want to be…not prayers simply asking for this or that, but sitting in quiet, with ourselves.  John O’Donohue, the great Irish writer, philosopher, poet says this:

“Prayer makes a clearance.  It this liberation of God from our hungers, needs, and images.  Prayer allows God to be God.  And prayer also allows our secret selves to be themselves.  This is a recommendation that Meister Eckhart makes again and again:  be who you are.  This is one of the great spiritual duties.  It touches the crux of our identity.  So many of us are so dragged away from the identity that we are, we are dragged to all kinds of externality.  We are chasing the wind and missing ourself.  A great spiritual axiom is:  sit down, slow down, and to try to be who you are.  If a person could be who they were, they would retain an inner coherence, regardless of the turbulence around them.”

Friends, tomorrow is the 4th of July, a day of freedom…may we become free to be our truest selves as made in the expansive image of God connected to ourselves and one another, in communion if you will, through the power of God’s Presence in us and around us.