Church Stuff-More or less

Does the church make sense or do we make it too hard for people to come in? I think yes and yes and the task then is to make it easier. Maybe for someone out there, this will be the case. I write as a Lutheran (or, perhaps a Lutherpalian) although I might seem out of the mainstream from time to time. That's okay, isn't it? Let's blog on.

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Location: Northport, Long Island, United States

Contrary to what Google will tell you, I have been blogging for several year, right here. Look for Churchstuff-moreorless. life was a hell of a lot easier when you could talk to someone to get help. Now, you can't do it on the telephone, you can't do it on the internet. Life was easier and made more sense because people actually cared. Now they will screw you as quickly as they will help you. Unfuck the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunday's sermon a few days early

This is based on the Gospel reading for Proper 8, Mark 5.21-43:
Though the weatherman might disagree, we are into summer and yet another Independence Day soon approaches...
The Gospel has just been proclaimed, a familiar story...Jesus is heavy into his public ministry and scarcely has a moment alone to recharge his batteries.
His dying daughter.
An unclean woman.
Healings abound.
Does one have anything to do with the other?
Is there a connection between patriotism and the Christian faith?
More specifically, is there some connection between American patriotism and the Christian faith?
Independence Day is about being independent. And we Americans are indeed proud of our so-called independent spirit, our individualism. We speak longingly of the frontier where, when the smoke of a neighbor's chimney became visible, it was time to move on.
But Christianity is about dependence -- dependence on the goodness and grace of God -- and interdependence -- dependence on one another as a body of believers. Christianity is about living in community. It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian; I have to agree with the truth of that statement except, perhaps, in some very extreme circumstances.
We tend to link the words "God and country" together as if they are somehow grammatically and inseparably joined. However, when we think about it, we know the link isn't always there. An honorable person, a Christian, will, of course, perform their patriotic duties because fellow citizens are dependent upon their doing their part -- but only to the extent the nation's demands do not conflict with God's commands.
The First Commandment forbids us from having any gods other than the one true God -- the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We are to be loyal to our nation, but as Christians we are not to worship it.
So, we have to be careful when we celebrate nationhood in the church. Some denominations -- I'm thinking of the Mennonites in particular right now -- do not permit a flag in the church. Now the Mennonites I have known are very responsible American citizens, but they are clear on who is being worshiped in the church -- God and not the state.
But, having said these words of caution, I do think there is a clear link between what America is to stand for and what happens in today's Gospel reading from the fifth chapter of Mark. I think we see an intersection of the Gospel and some of our highest national ideals.
The Gospel story begins with Jesus' return from his trip across the Sea of Galilee in which the great storm was encountered and calmed. He gets out of the boat and is immediately surrounded by a huge crowd of people. Just imagine the scene, the masses of people. Imagine it from the point of view of the people in the crowd. You may have been in a similar situation at some time in your life -- in the midst of a crowd of people straining forward to try to see what's going on, to catch a glimpse of the action. You know how difficult it can be to see anything unless you're fortunate enough to be one of the really tall people in the crowd. And you really can't move except in unity with the crowd as a whole. Yet our Scripture tells us that Jairus comes along and steps right up to Jesus, falling at Jesus' feet. I think that says a lot about Jairus' position in the community. He was a leader of the synagogue and the people must've stood aside for him to make his way to Jesus. He was a Very Important Person.
And Jesus takes Jairus' request seriously. Upon hearing about the condition of Jairus' daughter, Jesus "went with him."
But then there's that woman;
that unclean, outcast of a woman;
that woman who is not supposed to be around anyone;
that woman who has, in almost everyone's eyes, been cursed by the very God Jesus represents. She touches Jesus' cloak, and Jesus feels the power go out from him. So he stops and demands to know who touched him.
Jesus knows that her need is greater than just being healed of the bleeding.
She needs to be accepted into the community.
She needs to be assured that she is not cursed by God.
So Jesus stops and listens to her, and calls her "daughter," and tells her to go in peace.
Jesus takes time for the outcast, for the rejected, for the woman pushed to the very margins of society.
That woman is every bit as important as the daughter of a prestigious synagogue leader. For that matter, she is as important as the synagogue leader himself.
Social standing means absolutely nothing to Jesus.
Jesus welcomes all who seek him.
And, at its best, the United States of America welcomes those who seek new life within its borders.
In the harbor of New York City, on a small island stands a lady who waits to welcome the world. Beneath her feet are the words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Oh! How these words reflect the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They speak words of welcome just like Jesus does. They say all are welcome in this great land, just as all are welcome in Jesus' kingdom.
This is something we can hold up as pleasing to God. This is something worthy of God's blessing.
To the extent that we as a nation live by these words, it is perhaps appropriate to link "country" with "God."
For when we are about the business of welcoming people into community with us, we are doing God's work. That is some of the most important work we do for God. For it is in this welcoming that healing and life comes about.
It is in this welcoming that others can find the eternal life offered by God through Jesus Christ.
The greatness of America is, I believe, largely attributable to its welcoming of peoples "yearning to breathe free" -- Germans, Irish, English, French, Italians, Scandinavians, Poles, Hungarians, Russians. Jamaicans, Haitians, Cubans. Mexicans, Salvadorians, Hondurans, and Ecuadorians. Iraqis, Afghans, and Iranians. We welcomed these people, we continue to welcome these people, into America by allowing them to enter. For this God has blessed us. Sadly, the people of America often do not welcome the newcomers -- we are in fact hostile toward them -- and I think for that reason the blessing is less. The residents of America cannot claim the fullness of the blessing that would have been available to America if we truly opened our hearts to all of the newcomers.
We are to welcome people not just because, as the writer of Hebrews warns, we might be entertaining angels unawares, but because all people possess the image of God. God's people are to be a welcoming people. I can think of nowhere else other than this place, this house of God, this community of believers, for this to be true. We people of Epiphany are indeed a congregation of immigrants. My great-great grandfather arrived in NY from Germany on April 24, 1857, maybe your ancestors did as well. Maybe you came to our country 100 years later or so from a Caribbean island. Maybe you’ve come to the US from a Latin American country post Y2K. Maybe you have more recently arrived from France or Poland. It matters not, for we are indeed a congregation of immigrants and we know what it is like to have been newcomers searching for a welcome.
So, in preparation for this coming Independence Day, I invite you to reflect on your welcoming skills. Our ideals as a nation call us to welcome those from other lands to share in our bounty. But think about welcoming on a more personal level. How welcoming are you to new people in our community? How welcoming are you to our guests or to these new members in our church? Do you greet them at fellowship time and spend some time talking with them? Do you invite them to sit down with you and participate in the refreshments. Or do you just leave that to others? At the potluck, do you make a point of sitting at a table with them and actually talking to them?
Do you do it even if they don't look like your "kind of people"?
Jesus reminds us today that we are not to leave people on the margins, but that we are to welcome them into our fellowship. Let us keep that reminder in our in the front of our hearts and minds as we go out into our world this week.
Our God is a welcoming God. The greatest welcome we can extend to anyone is to invite him or her to join with us at God's table. There is no better way to demonstrate our unity as one people in Christ -- to make the point that in Christ's church NO ONE IS ON THE MARGINS -- than to participate together in the Holy Communion.
As Paul says to the church in Corinth, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." In God through Christ Jesus, there is no distinction.
Black, brown, white, or something in between, we who are many are one body.
We who speak English, nosotros que hablamos Español, we who are many are one body, nosotros que son muchos somos un cuerpo.
Male and female, young and not so young, gay or straight, we are one body.
Let us not, here at Epiphany, push any to the margins but, rather, let us welcome each other to the table, the table where God calls us all to be fed by God with the body and blood of the Son, Jesus our Lord. And strengthened by this Holy Meal, may we take the unity that we share here, at this table, with us that we might truly be welcoming people. Amen


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